A federal jury will resume deliberations Tuesday in the trial of a former Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer accused of hiding his political agenda when he gave the FBI “pure opposition research” purporting to link Donald Trump to Russia in the closing weeks of the 2016 presidential race.
The jury considered the case against Michael Sussmann for about three-and-a-half hours after hearing closing arguments Friday before being released for the long Memorial Day weekend. In the unlikely event they reached a verdict during that time, it would be read first thing Tuesday morning.
The trial is the first to result from special counsel John Durham’s three-year probe into the controversial Trump-Russia investigations conducted by the FBI and former special counsel Robert Mueller, which the former president has repeatedly branded a “witch hunt” and a “hoax.”
Sussmann is charged with a single count of lying to the government for allegedly claiming he wasn’t “acting on behalf of any client” when he met with then-FBI general counsel James Baker on Sept. 19, 2016.
During that meeting, Sussmann handed over two thumb drives of data and three “white papers” supporting the since-debunked notion of a secret back channel between a Trump Organization computer server and Russia’s Alfa Bank.
The evidence presented against him by Durham’s team over the past two weeks included damaging testimony from Baker, who said he was “100% confident” Sussmann told him “that he was not appearing before me on behalf of any particular client.”
Who’s who in the case
- Michael Sussmann: Cybersecurity lawyer who worked for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign; charged with lying to the FBI
- Rodney Joffee: Former tech executive and Sussmann client who told him about a purported cyber back channel between the Trump Organization and Russia’s Alfa-Bank
- Christopher Steele: British ex-spy hired by Fusion GPS; compiled the infamous “Steele dossier” of reports on Trump and Russia
- John Durham: Special counsel investigating potential criminality in the government investigations of former President Donald Trump’s purported ties to Russia
- James A. Baker: Former FBI general counsel; received Alfa-Bank information from Sussmann
- Marc Elias: Clinton campaign general counsel, former partner of Sussmann’s at Perkins Coie law firm
- Judge Christopher Cooper: Presiding over Sussman’s trial in Washington, DC, federal court
- Peter Fritsch and Glenn Simpson: Former Wall Street Journal reporters who co-founded the Fusion GPS research company; worked for Clinton’s campaign
- Andrew McCabe: Former FBI deputy director; allegedly contradicted the basis for the charge against Sussmann during a 2017 briefing
Baker, who now works for Twitter, also said he never would have met with Sussmann if he’d known his friend and former Justice Department colleague was there representing Clinton’s campaign.
“That would raise very serious questions, certainly in my mind, about the credibility of the source and the veracity of the info — heightening, in my mind, whether we were going to be played or pulled into the politics,” he said.
Former Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook also revealed under cross-examination by the prosecution that the Democratic candidate personally authorized sharing the Trump-Russia dirt with a reporter even though it hadn’t been verified.
“She agreed to that,” Mook said.
Billing records introduced into evidence last week showed that Sussmann, a former partner at the powerhouse Democratic law firm Perkins Coie, charged Clinton’s campaign for more than three hours of “work and communications regarding [a] confidential project” on the day he met with Baker.
Sussmann declined to take the witness stand in his own defense.
During closing arguments, prosecutor Jonathan Algor called the material that Sussmann gave the FBI “pure opposition research” and accused him of falsely passing it along under the guise of protecting national security.
“It wasn’t about national security,” the prosecutor said. “It was about promoting opposition research against the opposition candidate.”
Defense lawyer Sean Berkowitz argued that the FBI was fully aware of Sussmann’s ties to the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, saying they were virtually “tattooed on his forehead.”
“Opposition research is not illegal,” Berkowitz added.
“If it were, the jails of Washington, DC, would be teeming over.”
If convicted, Sussmann would face a maximum of five years in prison.