How a battle over Trump computer accusations is playing out in court

A long-running fight over accusations of computer links between Donald Trump and a Russian bank has intensified recently, shedding new light on how the government uses obscure Internet data to hunt for hackers and underscoring how the legal battles rage on regarding the 2016 presidential race.


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The computer data dispute centers on an allegation that surfaced at the very end of the campaign — that a server tied to the Trump Organization was in repeated contact months earlier with a server for Russia-based Alfa Bank. The claim was based on records from the Domain Name System, or DNS, a kind of digital phone book that matches domain names, usually a jumble of words, to Internet protocol addresses, which are numbers. Such records show when one computer seeks out another, but the logs don’t explain the substance of any communication.

When the claim first surfaced, some computer researchers argued that the DNS data, while not definitive, indicated human communications between the Trump Organization and Russia. Other experts dismissed that idea, saying the nature of the data made it easy to create a fake trail.

The fight over what the Alfa Bank computer data did or didn’t show largely faded from public view. But it roared back to life this fall.

In September, special counsel John Durham indicted Michael Sussmann, a lawyer with ties to Democrats, on charges that he lied to the FBI in 2016 about who his client was when he brought the bureau information about the Alfa Bank computer allegations. Sussmann has pleaded not guilty.

Separately, Alfa Bank is suing a number of unknown hackers — “John Does” — who the bank claims fabricated data to “create the false appearance of a covert communication channel between Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization.” As part of that lawsuit, the bank has sought to subpoena the researchers who initially raised concerns about Alfa’s DNS records.

[Researcher who was primary source of Steele dossier arrested, charged with lying to FBI]

Lawyers for some of those researchers argue Alfa Bank’s suit is an improper effort to use information from Durham’s investigation to help Russian interests better understand…