Durham prosecutor says Sussmann used connections to share Trump dirt with FBI

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A lawyer working for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016 used his connections to senior FBI officials to fuel an investigation into the Republican nominee Donald Trump, a prosecutor, told jurors during opening statements in the attorney’s trial on Tuesday for allegedly lying to the office.

The attorney in question, Michael Sussmann, is in DC federal court for the first trial stem from the work of Special Counsel John Durham, who spent three years investigating whether federal agents unfairly probed the 2016 Trump campaign for possible links to Russian election interference.

Durham sat in the courtroom on Tuesday but did not address the jury.

“Evidence will show that this is a matter of privilege – privilege of a well-connected DC attorney with access to the highest levels of the FBI,” Assistant Special Counsel Brittain Shaw said. Sussmann, she told the jury, thought “he could use the FBI as a political tool.”

Political supporters are watching the trial closely as a re-examination of some of the most controversial events of the 2016 presidential race, including the role played by the FBI. Trump and his supporters say Durham’s work shows FBI mistreated Trump; Democrats accuse Durham’s mission of being tainted by a thirst for settling scores against the former president’s perceived enemies.

What to know about Michael Sussmann’s trial for lying to the FBI

In September 2016, Sussmann provided the FBI with potential evidence of computer communications between Trump’s company and Russia-based Alfa Bank. the lawyer is accused of lying when he told the FBI he was not providing the information on behalf of a particular client; in fact, according to prosecutors, he was working for the Clinton campaign and a tech company executive, Rodney Joffe.

Sussmann denied the charge. His lawyers insist he never meant to mislead the FBI. And they say a lie about his clients’ identities would be irrelevant because the FBI already knew he was working for the Democrats.

The FBI investigated the computer allegation and decided there was nothing suspicious about the data. But prosecutors say Sussmann’s alleged deception caused the FBI to treat the tip more seriously than officers would have if they knew it came from a Democratic campaign.

“Some people have very strong feelings about politics and about Russia,” and about Trump and Clinton, Shaw told jurors. These issues, the prosecutor insisted, are not the subject of the trial. “We are here because the FBI is our institution. It should not be used as a political tool for anyone. Neither Republicans, nor Democrats, nor anyone.

Shaw said Sussmann’s advice to the FBI “is part of a larger plan” by the Clinton campaign to plant stories in the media and goad the FBI into investigating Trump in the final days of the heated political fight.

“It was a plan to create a surprise in October on the eve of the presidential election,” she said, adding that the plan “was largely successful.”

Sussmann trial will revisit controversial figures from Trump-Clinton presidential race

Sussmann’s attorney, Michael Bosworth, told the jury on Tuesday that the case was not about privilege but about the long-term relationships that Sussmann had as a former Justice Department prosecutor.

Sussmann’s meeting with the FBI’s top lawyer, James Baker, was not what the Clinton or Joffe campaign wanted, Bosworth said. But Sussmann did it anyway, Bosworth said, because he felt the FBI deserved notice that a story about the bank’s alleged ties to the Trump Organization was likely to appear in the near future. the New York Times.

“Relationships are important, especially in the small world of national security lawyers,” Bosworth said. “Do you think Mr. Sussmann would waste his career, his life, to lie to this guy?”

Bosworth ridiculed prosecutors’ argument that the FBI did not understand who Sussmann’s clients were, showing jurors emails and internal FBI reports that were “littered” with references to Sussmann as an attorney for the Democrats. He said any witnesses who claimed otherwise were less than accurate.

“Judge the FBI by what it’s done, not what it’s saying now,” Bosworth told jurors.

Before the trial even began, U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper tried to tone down the political overtones, telling a prospective juror Monday: “We are not here to challenge the 2016 elections. … Donald Trump is not on trial. Hillary Clinton is not on trial.

But, by its very nature, the case will delve into some of the still-debated issues of this campaign. The two-week trial will explore the often opaque world of opposition research, lawyers and the FBI’s role in the election as Trump and Clinton vied for the presidency, and federal agents conducted very different around each of them.

FBI Supervisory Special Agent Scott Hellman testified that he was assigned to look into the allegations and the computer data Sussmann provided, but was not told at the time where they came from. . It included an executive summary claiming that the Trump Organization “used a highly unusually configured ‘secret’ mail server in Pennsylvania” to conduct “direct communications between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank to the exclusion of all other systems”.

Hellman said he studied the data and, within a day, concluded that it did not support the allegation about direct communications. “The assumption that you would have to make is so far reaching, it just didn’t make sense,” he said.

The officer also testified that he would have liked to know where the information came from to help him in his analysis. But knowing “would not have mattered from a technical point of view. I still would have done the same technical analysis,” Hellman said.

Sussmann’s defense attorney, Sean Berkowitz, read internal FBI messages Hellman wrote at the time and suggested they showed the agent was too quick to dismiss the Alfa Bank allegations. , which were later investigated further by another branch of the FBI.

In one of the posts, Hellman wrote, “The more I read this thing it seems a little 5150 to me,” referring to a section of law that allows individuals to be involuntarily admitted for mental health treatment. When asked what he meant by that remark, Hellman replied that he meant that perhaps the person behind the Alfa Bank allegations “suffers from a mental disability”.


Washington

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