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Jury Deliberates Fate of DC Attorney, Legacy of John Durham Inquiry: NPR


Special Counsel John Durham, the prosecutor appointed to investigate potential government wrongdoing at the start of the Trump-Russia investigation, arrives at the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse, Monday, May 16, 2022, in Washington.

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Jury Deliberates Fate of DC Attorney, Legacy of John Durham Inquiry: NPR

Special Counsel John Durham, the prosecutor appointed to investigate potential government wrongdoing at the start of the Trump-Russia investigation, arrives at the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse, Monday, May 16, 2022, in Washington.

Evan Vucci/AP

Jurors will return to the federal courthouse in Washington on Tuesday to deliberate the fate of attorney Michael Sussmann — and the legacy of the man suing him, Justice Department Special Counsel John Durham.

Sussmann is accused of lying to the FBI about whether he was working for a client with Democratic political interests when he brought allegations to the office about questionable ties between a Russian bank and the Trump Organization. shortly before the 2016 election. Prosecutors said Sussmann wanted to use the FBI and major news outlets to deliver an October surprise that would give the White House to Hillary Clinton, who was running against the former president. Donald Trump in this election.

The closely watched case amounts to the first courtroom test for Durham, a prosecutor known for prosecuting gangsters and corrupt officials who was appointed by former Attorney General Bill Barr to investigate the origins of FBI investigations about President Trump and Russia. But his investigation, which has now spanned three years, has found no explosive evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the FBI. Instead, in this case, the FBI is the victim.

At the start of the trial, Judge Christopher Cooper told prospective jurors they would not contest the 2016 presidential election. But testimony from Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager and general counsel and a series of Former FBI officials whose work Trump has criticized have helped cast a political shadow over the case.

During the two-week trial, attorneys from the Clinton campaign, Sussmann’s former law firm and even Obama’s former White House attorney Greg Craig lined up for a seat in the room. of hearing. Craig won an acquittal in the same courthouse three years ago for his Ukraine-related lobbying work.

Determine if Sussmann lied to the FBI

In closing arguments on Friday, prosecutor Jonathan Algor told jurors that Sussmann, a former cybercrime prosecutor, wasn’t really worried about Russian interference when he tried to expose strange ties between Trump and Alfa Bank. .

“It wasn’t about national security. It was about promoting opposition research on opposition candidate Donald Trump,” Algor said.

Algor said the largely circumstantial evidence in the single-counter case is “overwhelming” and includes Sussmann’s legal billing records, calendar entries and his testimony before a congressional panel in December 2017.

The Durham team’s key witness was former FBI general counsel James Baker, who met with Sussmann in September 2016. Baker took no notes of the meeting and offered conflicting accounts of what Sussmann had told him about the customers. Months before the trial, Baker said he had gone through his old text messages and found something significant: lines from Sussmann the day before they met, saying he “came on his own – not on behalf of of a client or a company”.

Sussmann is only accused of making a false statement on the day of the meeting, not in the text message. But prosecutors cited it as an important clue.

“Under the law, no one has the right to lie to the FBI,” prosecutor Andrew DeFilippis said. “This case isn’t about politics. It’s not about conspiracies. It’s about the truth.”

Jury Deliberates Fate of DC Attorney, Legacy of John Durham Inquiry: NPR

Attorney Michael Sussmann leaves federal court in Washington, April 27, 2022.

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Jury Deliberates Fate of DC Attorney, Legacy of John Durham Inquiry: NPR

Attorney Michael Sussmann leaves federal court in Washington, April 27, 2022.

Jose Luis Magana/AP

On the witness stand, Baker said he was “100 percent” certain that Sussmann said he went to the FBI alone at the meeting. But the defense team pointed to several inconsistencies, including whether the issue would have even mattered to the FBI, which was investigating Russian election interference at the time. They said Baker testified that he did not remember things 116 times during the trial.

“The case is over, beyond a reasonable doubt, if you don’t believe Mr. Baker’s memory,” defense attorney Sean Berkowitz said.

Berkowitz said Baker and two other FBI witnesses for the government had themselves been investigated at one time or another, and he said they had motives to ‘refresh’ their memories. in order to curry favor with the special advocate.

“Opposition research is not illegal,” Berkowitz said. “If that were the case, the prisons in Washington, DC, would be overcrowded.”

He called the government case “smoke, mirrors, noise” and said it should never have been brought.

Sussmann decided not to testify on his own behalf and presented only a few witnesses, including two former DOJ colleagues who told the jury about his deep family ties and integrity. He quit his job at Perkins Coie law firm after the indictment and did not work while preparing for trial.

If the Washington, DC-based jury convicts him, it’s unclear whether Sussmann will face much, if any, jail time.

Judge Cooper told jurors on Friday they should not wonder how, if at all, the defendant would be punished during their deliberations. It is, he says, a job for the judge.


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