by Chuck Ross
The U.S. attorney investigating the origins of the Trump-Russia probe is seeking grand jury testimony from a group of computer scientists behind a since-debunked allegation that Donald Trump’s real estate company had covert computer contacts with a Russian bank, according to a report.
The New Yorker reports that John Durham, the U.S. attorney for Connecticut, has contacted the scientists in recent weeks seeking their testimony.
According to the magazine, investigators have told potential witnesses they are investigating whether two pseudonymous computer experts gave false information to the U.S. government regarding a covert communications channel between the Russian bank, Alfa Bank, and the Trump Organization.
Hillary Clinton emphasized the allegation of a possible link between Trump and Alfa Bank when it appeared in the press days before the 2016 election.
Durham’s use of a grand jury to investigate the allegations about Alfa Bank indicates a new front in his sprawling probe.
Attorney General William Barr appointed Durham in March 2019 to investigate FBI, CIA and other agencies’ Trump-related intelligence gathering activities. Durham has focused heavily on the findings from a Justice Department inspector general’s investigation into the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign.
A report from the IG addressed an allegation about Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization that first appeared in Slate magazine on Oct. 31, 2016.
According to the Slate story, a computer scientist who went by the pseudonym Tea Leaves discovered suspicious computer traffic between email servers for Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization.
The Clinton campaign seized on the story at the time, saying that it indicated that Donald Trump was secretly conspiring with Russia.
The IG report discounted the allegation completely. It said the FBI investigated the computer traffic but determined by February 2017 that there were no links between Alfa Bank and Trump’s company.
According to the The New Yorker, computer scientists who spoke to Slate for its story in 2016 and to The New Yorker for a story in 2018 have been called to testify before Durham’s grand jury.
Alfa Bank has vehemently denied that its computers were used to communicate secretly with Trump’s company. They have alleged in several lawsuits that the computer traffic cited in the Slate story and provided to investigators was fabricated.
The origins of the Alfa Bank theory have been traced back to July 2016.
Steele had been hired to work on behalf of the Democrats to investigate Trump’s possible ties to Russia. Steele investigated the founders of Alfa Bank after the meeting with Sussmann. He also told a State Department official about the alleged Alfa-Trump links during a meeting on Oct. 11, 2016, according to notes from that encounter.
Sussmann briefed James Baker, the FBI’s top lawyer through 2018, about the allegations on Sept. 14, 2016, Baker told Congress.
The New Yorker also reported that Durham is seeking the testimony of Daniel Jones, a former FBI agent and consultant who joined forces with Fusion GPS and Christopher Steele in early 2017 to continue investigating Trump’s possible ties to Russia.
The New Yorker reported in its 2018 story that Jones provided the Senate Intelligence Committee with the Alfa Bank evidence in 2017.
Jones told the FBI in March 2017 that a group of 10 wealthy liberal donors funded his organization. Groups controlled by George Soros, the progressive billionaire activist, have given more than $1 million to Jones’ organizations.
A spokesman for Durham’s office declined comment.
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