© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Attorney Michael Sussmann departs the U.S. Federal Courthouse after opening arguments in his trial, where Special Counsel John Durham is prosecuting Sussmann on charges that he lied to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) while providing
By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A jury in Washington on Tuesday found a former attorney for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign not guilty of lying to the FBI when he met with the bureau in September 2016 to share a tip about possible communications between Donald Trump’s business and a Russian bank, spokespeople for the defense team and government confirmed to Reuters.
The verdict to acquit attorney Michael Sussmann was a blow to Special Counsel John Durham, who was appointed by former Attorney General William Barr during Trump’s administration to probe any missteps in the FBI’s investigation into whether Trump’s campaign was colluding with Russia.
“While we are disappointed in the outcome, we respect the jury’s decision and thank them for their service,” Durham said in a statement. He also thanked prosecutors and investigators for their “dedicated efforts in seeking truth and justice in this case.”
Sussmann was accused of lying to the FBI’s former top attorney James Baker at a Sept. 19, 2016, meeting when he said he was not representing any clients as he passed along technical data and white papers that claimed the Trump Organization was secretly communicating with Russia’s Alfa-Bank.
The research was later debunked.
Durham’s team, however, claimed that Sussmann was actually representing two clients: Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and Rodney Joffe, a technology executive who personally oversaw the research into the since-debunked tip tying Trump to Alfa-Bank.
The case against Sussmann was Durham’s first to go to trial, and was seen as a crucial test because it rested on a single alleged false statement made in a room with only two people, neither of whom took any notes or recorded the meeting.
Baker, Durham’s star witness in the trial, had previously given conflicting testimony to Congress and the Justice Department Inspector General about his recollection on whether Sussmann was meeting with him on behalf of any specific clients.
However, Baker testified during the trial that he was “100% confident” Sussmann told him he was not representing any clients – a recollection that was also bolstered by a text message Sussmann sent him a day before their meeting in which Sussmann told Baker: “I’m coming on my own – not on behalf of a client or company.”
During the trial, prosecutors portrayed Sussmann, formerly a partner with the law firm Perkins Coie, as a privileged high-powered attorney who tried to exploit his political connections by planting damaging and false information about Trump in order to bolster Clinton ahead of the 2016 presidential election.
Sussmann’s billing records, they said, also showed that he was representing the Clinton campaign on the Alfa-Bank matter.
Sussmann’s defense team, however, denied that he lied to Baker, and said he was never directed by the Clinton campaign to share the Alfa-Bank tip with the FBI.
Multiple witnesses including the Clinton campaign’s former top lawyer Marc Elias testified that Sussmann never sought permission to share the tip, and that doing so was not in the campaign’s best interest.
The defense also presented seemingly exculpatory billing records which showed that Sussmann billed his law firm for his cab ride to the FBI, and not the Clinton campaign.