Failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton approved a plan during the 2016 campaign to feed false allegations of Trump-Russia collusion to the media, her campaign manager said Friday.
Testifying to a federal court in the trial of Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann, Robby Mook noted that Clinton signed off on a scheme to send journalists data about possible links between Donald Trump and Russia's Alfa Bank. The effort was successful, as a news outlet just days before the election published a story that alleged covert connections between Trump and the bank. The allegation has since been debunked, with the FBI finding there was not a nefarious link between Trump and Alfa Bank.
Mook's testimony is the first confirmation that Clinton was involved in the decision to give the Trump-Alfa Bank story to journalists. Mook said that campaign leaders "weren't totally confident in" the allegations and wanted to share them with reporters to investigate further. Mook said he discussed the strategy with Clinton, who okayed the plan.
Slate on Oct. 31, 2016, published a report that said a team of anonymous computer researchers had discovered that Trump's real estate company, the Trump Organization, had a secret communications channel with Alfa Bank. Unmentioned in the story was that the computer researchers were collaborating with Sussmann and other political operatives working for the Clinton campaign.
Mook was asked at the trial to read a statement Clinton released that touted the Slate story. Clinton wrote that "computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank." She linked to a statement from Jake Sullivan, her foreign policy adviser, that said the story "could be the most direct link yet between Donald Trump and Moscow."
Sussmann is on trial for allegedly lying to the FBI's general counsel during a Sept. 19, 2016, meeting at FBI headquarters. Special Counsel John Durham, who is prosecuting the case, alleges that Sussmann lied to the FBI lawyer, James Baker, by denying he provided the Alfa Bank data on behalf of a client. Sussmann has denied the charge, but text messages revealed this week at trial show that Sussmann told the FBI lawyer he wanted to have a meeting in his personal capacity, not on behalf of a client.
Clinton has not addressed her role in spreading fake news about Trump.