Newly released CIA memoranda suggest the tech gurus behind the Alfa Bank hoax also tracked Donald Trump’s movements to devise another collusion conspiracy theory. While smaller in scale than other aspects of Spygate, the Yotaphone hoax represents an equally serious scandal because it involved both the mining of proprietary information and sensitive data from the Executive Office of the President (EOP) and the apparent surveillance of Trump’s physical movements.
When Special Counsel John Durham charged former Hillary Clinton campaign attorney Michael Sussmann in September 2021, the indictment focused on the Alfa Bank hoax that Sussmann, tech executive Rodney Joffe, and other cybersecurity experts had crafted. The indictment detailed how Joffe and other tech experts had allegedly mined data and developed “white papers” that deceptively created the impression that Trump had maintained a secret communication network with the Russia-based Alfa Bank.
Then, allegedly on behalf of the Clinton campaign and Joffe, Sussmann provided the Alfa Bank material to the media and to the FBI’s general counsel at the time, James Baker, with Sussmann falsely telling Baker he was sharing the “intel” on his own and not on behalf of any client. That alleged lie formed the basis for the one count, Section 1001 false statement charge against Sussmann.
There’s Another Alleged Lie
The 27-page indictment, however, also spoke of Sussmann sharing “updated allegations” on February 9, 2017, to another U.S. government agency, namely the CIA, while allegedly repeating the same false claim that he was not sharing the “intel” on behalf of any client. From the framing of the indictment, it appeared that what Sussmann had shared with the CIA concerned the same Alfa-Bank data provided to the FBI several months earlier, albeit updated.
But then two months ago, as part of the government’s “Motion to Inquire Into Potential Conflicts of Interest,” Durham’s team revealed for the first time that when Sussmann met with the CIA in early 2017, he provided agents with internet data beyond the Alfa Bank conspiracy theory. This data, Sussmann claimed, “demonstrated that Trump and/or his associates were using supposedly rare, Russian-made wireless phones in the vicinity of the White House and other locations.”
The “supposedly rare, Russian-made wireless phones” were “Yotaphones.” Following Durham’s filing of the conflicts of interest motion, it appeared Sussmann bore responsibility for peddling a second conspiracy theory to the CIA. But the details contained in the government’s motion proved insufficient to understand the Yotaphone angle to Spygate. That all changed on Friday, when the special counsel filed two CIA memoranda memorializing what Sussmann said about the Yotaphones and the data Joffe and his tech experts had compiled.
What Sussmann Told the CIA
The first memorandum, dated January 31, 2017, summarized what Sussmann told a former CIA employee in hopes of scoring a meeting with the CIA. Sussmann said his client “had some interesting information about the presence and activity of a unique Russian made phone around President Trump.” Sussmann claimed the activity started in April 2016 when Trump was working out of the Trump Tower on its Wi-Fi network. That phone was also used on the “Wi-Fi at Trump’s apartment at Grand Central Park West,” according to Sussmann.
The memorandum then noted that “when Trump traveled to Michigan to interview a cabinet secretary, the phone appeared with Trump in Michigan.” The unnamed cabinet secretary apparently refers to Trump’s education secretary Betsy DeVos, whose husband Richard DeVos was chairman of the Michigan-based Spectrum Health in 2016.
According to the notes, Sussmann also told his contact that “the phone was never noticed in two places at once” and was seen “only around the President’s movement.” The memo noted that once, when Trump was not in Trump Tower, the phone was active on the Trump Tower WiFi network. Then, “in December 2016, the phone disappeared from Trump Tower Wi Fi network and surfaced on [the Executive Office Building] network,” the memorandum said, with Sussmann claiming it was the same Yotaphone and that it “surfaced” at the Executive Office Building after Trump moved to the White House.
The Yotaphone is rare, Sussmann told his contact, with only about a dozen or so present in the United States, and Russian government officials often receive a high-end version of the phone as a gift. According to Sussmann, the Yotaphone connected to Trump made a number of WiFi calls to Moscow and St. Petersburg from April 2016 until February 2017.
Adding Some Pressure to the Deal
Sussmann did more than merely pass on this information, however. He also “claimed that his client did not want to provide this [information] to the FBI as he knows that the FBI did not have resources to deal with these issues,” but also that the source—or Sussmann, it is not clear which—“did not trust the FBI” because Sussman is “openly a Democrat” and “does lots of work for the DNC.” Sussmann added “that his client would most likely only provide the data to senior bona fide [redacted] officers (active duty) and if there is no interest, he would most likely go to [the] New York Times.”
To further push for the CIA meeting, Sussmann then stressed that, given that he is “an experienced attorney with full clearances and lots of [redacted] experience, he believes that this client is telling the truth as he knows it.” “He cares about the security of the country” and wanted the CIA “to know about the Yotaphone activity close to the President,” Sussmann claimed.
Sussmann’s preview of this Yotaphone “intel” to his contact served its purpose, with the CIA arranging to meet with Sussmann in person less than two weeks later, on February 9, 2017. At that meeting, Sussmann again noted that he was passing the current information directly to the CIA “based on how the FBI had handled” the information he had previously provided that agency.
During Sussmann’s February 9, 2017 meeting with the CIA, the memorandum notes that Sussmann provided the agency thumb drives with separate data files for the Yotaphone by the location of the “domain name system” or DNS lookups, including one for Trump’s Central Park apartment, one for the EOP, one for Spectrum Health Care, and one for the Trump Tower. That data, Sussmann told the CIA agents, related to DNS information, “indicat[ed] that a Russian-made Yota-phone had been seen by [Sussmann’s contacts] connecting to the WiFi from the Trump Tower in New York, as well as a from a location in Michigan, at the same time that then-candidate Trump was believed to be at these locations.”
These People Were Watching Trump For Years
The data included in those files, however, reflected but a segment of the DNS lookups by the Yotaphones. The special counsel discovered that fact when it obtained more complete DNS data from a company that assisted Joffe in assembling the Yotaphone allegations. For instance, the more complete data assembled by Joffe and his associates showed the DNS lookups involving the EOP began at least as early as 2014, but Sussmann omitted that detail when providing the material to the CIA.
That Joffe and his associates had assembled more complete DNS data related to the Yotaphones than that provided to the CIA—data that disproves the Trump-Russia collusion theory—is a huge scandal: Those allegations indicate an intent to deceive by omission.
But it is not merely what data wasn’t provided to the CIA, it was what data was provided and how it was gathered.
From Durham’s earlier filings, it was already clear that Joffe had culled the DNS data by using proprietary information related to the Trump Tower, Trump’s residential building, and Spectrum Health, as well as exploiting sensitive data from the EOP. At the time, the corrupt media downplayed the misuse of the EOP DNS data by focusing on the fact that Joffe and his crew had accessed the EOP data while Barack Obama was still president. But these newly released CIA notes establish that the EOP DNS data specifically targeted Trump “after his move to the White House.”
The memoranda expose two additional troubling details. While the earlier court filings created the appearance that the DNS data had merely been pulled from locations connected to Trump, the memoranda speak of the phones connected to “Wi-Fi used at Trump’s apartment.” It thus appears that the DNS data directly targeted the Wi-Fi networks specifically used by Trump.
Even more disconcerting are the repeated references in the memoranda to Trump’s physical location during the DNS lookups, whether at the Trump Tower, in Michigan, or at the White House. Sussmann even claimed, according to one of the CIA memoranda, “the phone was never noticed in two places at once, only around the President’s Movements.”
These newly revealed details suggest that Joffe and his team were surveilling Trump’s movements, leading one to wonder whether they were doing so by geolocation technology. The four data files Sussmann provided the CIA related to the Yotaphones likely hold the answer to that question.
Democrats Sicced the CIA on the President
But no matter how Joffe and others tracked Trump’s movements, that a political enemy of Trump would provide the CIA fraudulent-by-omission data to prompt an investigation into the sitting president of the United States is horrifying. These memoranda also make clear that was the goal, as Joffe had Sussmann bypass the FBI and go to great lengths to get the “intel” in the hands of the CIA.
In fact, Sussmann first attempted to peddle the Yotaphone data to the CIA in mid-December 2016, when he communicated with the CIA’s general counsel, Caroline Krass. But when those efforts failed, he contacted a former CIA employee, threatening to go to The New York Times if the CIA didn’t bite.
As noted above, the ploy worked, resulting in Sussmann’s meeting with two CIA agents on February 9, 2017. The memorandum from that meeting also suggests Sussmann wasn’t shooting straight with the CIA.
A Pyramid of Lies
Foremost, of course, was Sussmann’s claim “that he was not representing a particular client,” even though the previous month he had told the former CIA agent his client “cares about the security of the country.” Also, according to Durham, Sussmann continued to represent Joffe during this meeting.
Relatedly, Sussmann told the CIA that his “contacts” “preferred anonymity, citing a potential threat from the Russian Intelligence Services.” But as other court filings established, Joffe had previously shared information with intelligence agencies directly, making a claim he sought anonymity for safety reasons suspect.
Also false, according to the special counsel, was Sussmann’s claim during his February 9, 2017 meeting with the CIA that “one of his contacts,” who was a “clearance holder,” had collected the data from his “private collection.” While that may have been true about the data collected for the Trump Tower, Trump’s Central Park West apartment building, and Spectrum Health, the data related to the EOP was accessed and maintained by Joffe’s employer “as part of a sensitive arrangement whereby it provided DNS resolution services to the EOP.”
Joffe’s exploitation of the government’s EOP data to take down the president of the United States presents another huge scandal.
Sussmann also told the agents that while his firm supported several Democratic causes and officeholders, including the Democratic National Committee and former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, his “work was unrelated to his reason for contacting the CIA.” But Joffe’s motivation in continuing to target Trump was far from apolitical, and Sussmann knew this.
While the special counsel’s office did not charge Sussmann with making a false statement to the CIA, Durham’s team seeks to present evidence of Sussmann’s representations to the CIA as evidence of his motive and intent to also deceive the FBI. But the scandal here goes much beyond Sussmann, and the Yotaphone hoax far surpasses what the public seems to realize—and represents yet another instance of Trump’s enemies spying on him.
Margot Cleveland is The Federalist’s senior legal correspondent. She is also a contributor to National Review Online, the Washington Examiner, Aleteia, and Townhall.com, and has been published in the Wall Street Journal and USA Today. Cleveland is a lawyer and a graduate of the Notre Dame Law School, where she earned the Hoynes Prize—the law school’s highest honor. She later served for nearly 25 years as a permanent law clerk for a federal appellate judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Cleveland is a former full-time university faculty member and now teaches as an adjunct from time to time. As a stay-at-home homeschooling mom of a young son with cystic fibrosis, Cleveland frequently writes on cultural issues related to parenting and special-needs children. Cleveland is on Twitter at @ProfMJCleveland. The views expressed here are those of Cleveland in her private capacity.