Discussions are under way in the process of investigating Trump and Russia

WASHINGTON “A lawyer for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016 hid her party interests from the FBI while conducting a ‘purely opposition investigation’ involving Donald Trump and Russia in the weeks leading up to the election,” a prosecutor said in closing speeches Friday. the lawyer.

But Michael Susman’s legal team denied prosecutors’ allegations that he lied. And even if jurors believe Susman lied, the defense said the alleged false statement didn’t matter because it provided national security information that the FBI would investigate, regardless of the source. At the Sussmann summit in September 2016, the bureau was already investigating whether Russia and the Trump campaign had negotiated to influence the election won by Trump in November.


“The weather is very controversial. The Russians had hacked the DNC. They dropped emails. And there was an ongoing FBI investigation, nonetheless, “Sussmann’s lawyer Sean Berkowitz told the jury, citing the Democratic National Committee. “And that was considered incredibly serious.”

The case is the first courtroom test of Special Prosecutor John Durham’s work since he was appointed three years ago to look for government misconduct during an investigation into potential links between Russia and the Trump campaign. The jury began deliberations on Friday afternoon.

The conviction will be welcomed by Trump and his supporters, who turned to the Durham investigation to undermine the original Trump-Russia investigation, which they have long considered politically motivated. But the case against Sussmann is narrow in nature, involving a peripheral aspect of this investigation and allegations of misconduct by an adviser to the government, not by the FBI or any other federal agency.


Nevertheless, two weeks of testimony in federal court in Washington revealed the extent to which democratic interests, opposition research, media and law enforcement were entangled on the eve of the presidential election.

Prosecutors described Susman as determined to launch an investigation against Trump, which could then be revealed to the media and give negative stories about his campaign.

“It was not about national security,” said Jonathan Algor, a prosecutor with the Durham team. “This was to encourage opposition research against opposition candidate Donald Trump.

Sussmann is charged with a single charge of making a false statement. The charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, although if convicted, Susman is likely to receive much less – if any – imprisonment. He did not speak during the trial.

The case turned into a meeting on September 19, 2016, at which Sussman presented FBI chief attorney James Baker with computer data that Susman said suggested a secret reverse channel for communication between a Russian-based bank and the candidate’s Trump Organization.


Such a reverse channel, if it existed, would have been explosive at a time when the FBI was investigating Trump-Russia ties. But after evaluating the data, the FBI quickly determined that there was no suspicious contact at all.

Prosecutors say Susman lied to Baker, saying he did not attend the meeting on behalf of a specific client. They say he was actually there on behalf of the Clinton campaign and another client, a technology chief executive, whom Durham’s team said commissioned researchers to search for Internet traffic involving Trump aides and Russians.

Prosecutors say Sussman lied to his clients to make the material more credible because he thought the information would not be investigated if the FBI thought it was just a Clinton campaign opposition investigation.

“The defendant knew he had to hide his clients if he had a chance to turn his charges over to the FBI – and that, ladies and gentlemen, was the reason the defendant lied,” Algor said.


In order to be convicted, prosecutors must show not only that Sussman lied, but also that the lie was substantial, namely that it mattered, or at least could have mattered, to the work of the FBI.

Algor said that the fact that Sussman repeatedly charged Clinton’s campaign for his work on Alfa Bank was proof that he had acted on behalf of the campaign when he met with the FBI. But Berkowitz noted that Susman charged his taxi ride to FBI headquarters for the meeting at his law firm, not for the campaign.

Berkowitz also tried to question what was said at the meeting. Prosecutors showed the jurors a text message sent by Susman to Baker the night before the meeting, in which he requested a hearing on a sensitive issue and said he would come alone, not on behalf of a client.

But Berkowitz reminded jurors that the only false statement charged was made during the meeting the next day, and that no one could be sure what exactly had been said, as Baker and Susman were the only participants and neither one of them made no remarks.


Berkowitz also suggested that it was technically correct for Susman to assume he was not acting on behalf of a client because he had never asked the FBI to do anything with the information he provided.

“When you go somewhere on behalf of a client, you stand up for the client, you want something,” Berkowitz said. “Mr. Sussman didn’t ask Jim Baker for anything.

The two sides also quarreled over Baker’s testimony, with Berkowitz quoting dozens of cases in which Baker said on the stand that he did not remember or could not remember anything.

Prosecutors took advantage of the fact that Baker said he was “100% sure” that Susman had told him he was not acting on behalf of a client and that he probably would not have taken the meeting if he had been told otherwise.

“Ladies and gentlemen, would James Baker be sworn in as a former FBI official and be punished for perjury if that was not true,” another prosecutor, Andrew DePhilippis, told the jury. “No, he wouldn’t do that. None of us would do that, we wouldn’t take that risk. “


Durham has accused three people so far. The case against Sussmann is the only one that has reached the court.


Follow Eric Tucker on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/etuckerAP

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Discussions are under way in the process of investigating Trump and Russia

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