Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough have dropped a lawsuit on behalf of a Russian bank that sought information about efforts to tie the bank to the Trump Organization ahead of the 2016 election.
The move to drop the suit comes as major law firms face growing pressure to dump clients with ties to the Kremlin amid Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine and the raft of sanctions Western governments have imposed on Moscow in response.
Skadden and Nelson Mullins represented Alfa Bank, one of the largest financial institutions in Russia, which was at the center of sensational allegations surrounding Russian election interference during the 2016 campaign. The claims have now come under renewed scrutiny by Special Counsel John Durham, who is examining the FBI’s handling of the Russia investigation.
Alfa Bank published a one-sentence notice dated March 4, published online Wednesday, voluntarily dropping the lawsuit. Days before on Feb. 18, the bank’s lawyers asked a judge to give them more time to investigate the identity of the defendants, a request the judge granted.
Skadden litigation attorneys Margaret Krawiec and Michael McIntosh backed Alfa Bank in the lawsuit along with Terrance “T.W.” Anderson Jr. and Jonathan Etra at Nelson Mullins. Representatives for both firms did not return requests for comment.
The suit, which was filed in June 2020 in state court in Palm Beach County, Florida, alleged that Alfa Bank was the victim of “deliberate, malicious and damaging cyber activity” before and after the 2016 election to falsely tie the bank to Trump and his campaign. Hackers used spoof emails to create the illusion that Alfa Bank servers were communicating with servers at the Trump organization, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit did not identify the “cyberattackers,” but the bank has issued several rounds of subpoenas since 2020 in an attempt to locate them. The judge gave a 120-day extension to the bank’s lawyers following a Feb. 23 hearing, according to court documents.
The suit alleged that the manipulated data was discovered by cyber-researchers and eventually turned over to the news media and the FBI, which was conducting a highly publicized investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible coordination with the Trump campaign. The internet data was held up as evidence of communication between the Trump Organization and a bank with purported close ties to the Kremlin.
But the FBI later discounted that evidence and it was not mentioned in Special Counsel Robert Mueller III’s report on Russia’s interference campaign.
The allegations, however, have recently received renewed attention from Durham’s probe, which is scrutinizing the origins of the FBI’s Russia investigation. Durham has charged former Perkins Coie partner Michael Sussmann for allegedly lying to the FBI when he presented evidence of the Alfa Bank-Trump Organization connection to the bureau in a meeting before the 2016 election.
Sussmann allegedly told the FBI that he was not working on behalf of a client, when he was in fact representing both Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign and a technology executive who was paying the team of researchers that uncovered the Alfa Bank data, according to Durham’s indictment.
Sussmann has denied the allegations and a trial is scheduled to begin in May.
In recent months, Alfa Bank’s legal team has aggressively pursued discovery to find the identity of the hackers who allegedly tricked the bank into communicating with the Trump Organization.
But after Russian troops stormed across the Ukrainian border late last month, Big Law has scrambled to sever ties with clients linked to the Russian government and closed their Moscow offices en masse.
The U.S. and Europe have moved to isolate the Russian financial industry since the invasion, including placing new restrictions on Alfa Bank, though the sanctions are not as severe as those imposed on banks owned by the Russian Federation.