Central witness in Michael Sussman trial begins testimony

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Special Counsel John Durham’s star witness in the trial of a cybersecurity attorney with ties to Democrats began testifying on Wednesday, saying he was not ‘wanted’ Michael Sussmann, the attorney accused of lying to the FBI in the heat of the 2016 presidential action.

The testimony of former senior FBI official James Baker is critical to the prosecution because he is the only direct witness to Sussmann’s alleged lie. The special advocate must prove not only that Sussmann lied, but also that it was relevant to the work of the FBI.

The charge revolves around a meeting the pair had on Sept. 19, 2016, in which Sussmann brought allegations to the FBI that a Trump Organization computer was in secret communication with Alfa Bank, based in Russia.

The Durham office was established by President Donald Trump’s Justice Department to investigate allegations of possible wrongdoing by federal agents who investigated the 2016 Trump campaign.

The special prosecutor accused Sussmann of lying to Baker by saying he was not acting on behalf of any particular client when he turned himself in to the FBI. Prosecutors allege Sussmann was actually acting on behalf of Hillary Clinton’s campaign and a technology executive, Rodney Joffe. Sussmann denied the charge.

Michael Sussman trial: what you need to know

Baker’s testimony is probably the most important evidence in the case, as he and Sussmann were alone at the meeting, and Baker apparently took no notes of the conversation.

Baker, who now works as senior counsel at Twitter, served as general counsel for the FBI when Sussmann contacted him to share research data and allegations with the bureau. In court, Baker read a text that Sussmann had sent him the day before to arrange the meeting.

“Jim – This is Michael Sussmann. I have something urgent (and sensitive) that I need to discuss. Do you have availability for a short meeting tomorrow / I come alone – not on behalf of a client or company – I want to help the Bureau. Thank you,” Sussmann texted.

Baker said the two men agreed to meet at FBI headquarters the next day. The text was discovered just a month or two before the trial; when asked why it had taken Baker so long to find it, he replied that he had not been asked to search before.

“Frankly, I’m not looking for Michael, and this isn’t my investigation, this is your investigation,” Baker told Assistant Special Counsel Andrew DeFilippis. “You ask me a question, I answer. You ask me to look for something, I look for it.

Opening statements in the Sussman trial

Wednesday’s testimony ended before Baker could describe his face-to-face conversation with Sussmann, including what he concluded about Sussmann’s motivation for presenting the information. He is expected in the witness box on Thursday morning.

Baker’s appearance came shortly after Sussmann’s lawyers suggested they could seek a mistrial, as a previous witness, Democratic attorney Marc Elias, suggested a particular question should be answered. by the accused.

In criminal trials, prosecutors and witnesses are not supposed to imply that defendants must testify. Sussmann’s attorney, Sean Berkowitz, said the witness exchange with prosecutors was inappropriate and unfair, and that he was considering whether to formally request a mistrial. U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper said he would hear the defense team’s argument but was unlikely to grant such a request.

Earlier in the day, Elias testified about the tumultuous 2016 presidential election while working as the Clinton campaign’s top lawyer. He testified that he never ordered or authorized Sussmann to take the allegations of computer links between Trump and Russia to the FBI – testimony that could help convince the jury that Sussmann was acting on his own initiative when he met Baker , and undermined the accusation that he lied to the FBI attorney.

Elias argued that it was not necessarily helpful to the Clinton campaign for Sussmann to pass the information to the FBI; some Clinton advisers had hoped the New York Times or another outlet would write about the allegation, and FBI involvement might slow or delay such a story.

Sussmann trial to test the credibility of key figures in the 2016 presidential race

Prosecutors argued that Sussmann, acting on behalf of the Clinton campaign, was trying to implement a three-part strategy of seeking derogatory information about Trump, releasing the information, and getting the FBI to investigate.

Ultimately, when the FBI investigated the computer data Sussmann brought to them, agents concluded there was nothing suspicious about it.

At times during his testimony, Elias recounted his intense dislike of Trump as a candidate, in particular his suggestion that Russia go after Clinton’s emails even after certain emails from Clinton and the Democrats have already been hacked and leaked.

Between the Russian hack and Trump’s renewed invitation to the Russians, Elias said Clinton’s campaign was “absolutely” under attack.

Elias also criticized the FBI’s handling of these issues, saying that in 2016 the bureau did “nothing to prevent bad things from happening” while “taking public positions around this time period that were, in my opinion, unfair and putting a thumbs up against Secretary Clinton.


Washington

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