A Democrat-linked attorney accused by Special Counsel John Durham of lying to the FBI in 2016 was found not guilty by a federal jury in Washington on Tuesday after a nearly two-week trial that served as a Durham’s first in-court test of the over-threes. year-long investigation into the Russian investigation.
Michael Sussmann was indicted by Durham last year for allegedly tipping a senior FBI official in September 2016 about a potential connection between computer servers at then-candidate Donald Trump’s company and the Russian bank Alfa – and lying about who he was representing at the time.
“While we are disappointed with the outcome, we respect the jury’s decision and thank them for their service. I would also like to acknowledge and thank the investigators and prosecution team for their dedicated efforts in the search for the truth and justice in this case,” Durham said. in a report.
“I told the FBI the truth and the jury clearly acknowledged it with their unanimous verdict today,” Sussmann said outside the courthouse after the verdict. “Although I have been falsely accused, I am relieved that justice has finally prevailed in my case.”
Over several days of testimony and displays of evidence presented in DC District Court, Durham prosecutors sought to convince the jury that Sussmann had taken the information to then-FBI General Counsel, James Baker, as part of Sussmann’s work for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and a technology company. executive who had worked on the data assembly.
“He knew that if he told Mr. Baker he was there on behalf of the Clinton campaign, the chances of the FBI investigating would be diminished,” Assistant Special Counsel Jon Algor said in closing arguments Friday.
They alleged that Sussmann organized the meeting in hopes of generating an “October surprise”, to raise awareness that the FBI was investigating a potentially suspicious link between Trump’s campaign and Russia at a time when Russia was leading its hack-and-dump campaign. against the Democrats.
While Sussmann’s attorneys acknowledged that he at the time represented the Clinton campaign and a technical executive named Rodney Joffe in handling the allegations, they asserted that Sussmann’s intent in arranging the meeting with Baker was to ‘alert the FBI to what he believed to be information and notify them that the major news outlets were also pursuing him as a story.
In their closing argument on Friday, Sussmann’s lawyer, Sean Berkowitz, accused the Durham team of pushing baseless “political conspiracy theories” through their prosecution of Sussmann, who he says provided the information to Baker in good faith.
Following Sussmann’s meeting with Baker, according to his lawyers, the FBI was able to convince The New York Times not to report the Alfa Bank allegations while investigators assessed the data – which they said did not show nothing bad. When The Times finally reported on the Alfa Bank affair, it was part of a pre-election article titled “Investigating Trump, FBI Sees No Clear Link to Russia.”
“The meeting … is the exact opposite of what the Clinton campaign would have wanted,” Sussmann’s attorney Michael Bosworth said last week.
The two-week trial featured testimony from a host of current and former law enforcement officials as well as key former Clinton campaign figures.
While the charge against Sussmann was narrow, in the months following his indictment, Durham used the case to present other evidence that prosecutors suggested showed a larger conspiracy, alleging that the Clinton campaign and other political operatives have sought to shell and spread false accusations to smear Trump. and using the country’s law enforcement as political tools.
But Marc Elias, the former general counsel for the Clinton campaign, and Robby Mook, the campaign manager, testified that there was no discussion at the highest levels of the campaign about the order or the permission for anyone to take Alfa Bank’s allegations directly to the FBI.
While Mook acknowledged that Clinton herself had at one point approved releasing the unverified allegations to the press so reporters could “check” and report them, he sought to throw cold water on the fact. that the campaign thought it would have benefited from getting the FBI involved.
“Going to the FBI doesn’t seem like an effective way to get information out to the public,” Mook said.
Mook said that after Clinton allowed the Alfa Bank data to be sent to reporters, a press official — not Sussmann — was assigned to pass it on to reporters. A report on the allegations was later released by Slate days before the election, although it made no mention of the FBI’s investigation into the data.
Sussmann’s lawyers have also focused their strategy on reducing the testimony of star government witness Baker, who said during an interrogation by the Special Counsel’s Office last week that he was “100% convinced” that Sussmann had told him at their September 19 meeting that he was not there. on behalf of a particular client.
That testimony, Sussmann’s attorneys noted, directly conflicted with past statements Baker had made in sworn interviews with congressional investigators and the DOJ inspector general — where he said he believed that Sussmann was there on behalf of anonymous cybersecurity experts or didn’t remember. whether Sussmann had mentioned representing clients in any way.
But prosecutors also filed evidence this week showing Sussmann billed for several USB drives he purchased days before the Clinton campaign meeting — two of which, according to Durham, Sussmann provided Baker at their meeting that included unverified data purporting to show a connection between Trump Bank and Alfa.
Additionally, they reported several hours of time entries that Sussmann billed the Clinton campaign and technical director Rodney Joffe before and after the meeting with Baker, where he wrote that he was working on “confidential” issues that , according to Durham, were referring to the Trump-Alfa bank allegations.
“If an adversary had brought this information, [the FBI] would like to know more about it,” Algor said. “They would question the credibility of the source and whether the FBI was used – played by politics.
In the three years since Durham was originally tasked with investigating the origins of the Russia investigation, he has secured a guilty plea from a former FBI lawyer who admitted to doctoring a email used to support a surveillance app targeting a former Trump campaign aide.
The only other indictment brought by Durham aside from Sussmann was against Igor Danchenko, a senior analyst who contributed to the now infamous Steele dossier, who was charged last year with five counts of lying to the FBI on the identity of its sources for claims in the file. Danchenko has pleaded not guilty to all counts and his case is due to go to trial in Virginia in the fall.
The FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election was not launched as a result of the Alfa Bank allegations or the Steele dossier, and was ultimately not factored into the findings released by Special Counsel Robert Mueller following his two-year investigation. Although Mueller’s investigation uncovered numerous instances of contacts between Trump campaign officials and people connected to the Russian government, he determined that the evidence did not support charging individuals for participating in a conspiracy. criminal with Russia.