WASHINGTON — Former Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann lied to an FBI official because he knew the bureau would have been more skeptical of since-discredited allegations of a Donald Trump link to Russia had they known he was acting on behalf of the Clinton campaign and an internet executive, a federal prosecutor charged Friday.
“He knew he had to conceal his representation of the Clinton campaign and Rodney Joffe to push the Alfa-Bank allegations to the FBI,” prosecutor Jonathan Algor told jurors in his closing argument in DC federal court.
“The chances of the FBI investigating would be diminished, would be seriously less” if Sussmann had been up front with former FBI general counsel Jim Baker about his clients, Algor added.
Sussmann’s two-week trial on a single count of lying to the FBI drew to a close Friday as prosecutors from special counsel John Durham’s team and Sussmann’s defense attorneys delivered their summations in the case.
Sussmann is accused of lying to Baker about his motivation for turning over the since-debunked information on two thumb drives and other “white papers” that purportedly showed a secret communication channel between the Trump Organization and Russia’s Alfa-Bank.
In his presentation, Algor presented the jury with billing records that allegedly show clear evidence that Sussmann was working on behalf of the campaign and Joffe as he gathered the Alfa-Bank material and turned it over to the FBI.
The records include a number of times he billed hours to the campaign in September 2016, during the weeks leading up to his meeting with Baker at FBI headquarters.
“Work on white paper,” Sussmann wrote on an 8.1-hour bill to the campaign on Sept. 5, according to evidence Algor presented.
He also highlighted flash drives Sussmann bought at a Washington, DC, Staples that is blocks away from his former law firm’s office on Sept. 13, 2016, and billed the campaign for.
The day after he purchased the drives, he billed the campaign for meetings with Joffe and others “regarding confidential project,” Algor showed jurors.
“What is the confidential project? Use your common sense: It’s the Alfa-Bank project,” he added.
To secure a conviction, Durham’s team will have to convince jurors that the alleged falsehood was “material,” meaning it had the ability to affect actions taken by the FBI.
In his closing argument, defense attorney Sean Berkowitz hammered the bureau’s investigation into the Alfa-Bank material, suggesting it was so bungled that any motivation of the source of the allegations couldn’t have affected the case.
“It was shoddy. It was an embarrassment,” he said, noting FBI agents in headquarters withheld Sussmann’s identity from field agents investigating the matter.
Berkowitz also showed that another agent dismissed the information off the bat as something that could’ve been written by someone with a “mental disability.”
He also showed jury instructions to the panel, which say a statement could be “relevant” but not “material.”
During the trial, prosecutors grilled Bill Priestap, the former assistant director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division, about whether Sussmann’s motivation would have been “important” information to have.
“I guess I’d say it’s relevant, not dispositive,” Priestap said on the stand, which was highlighted by Berkowitz on Friday.
Throughout the trial, Sussmann’s defense has sought to undermine what effect his motivation could have had by attempting to show jurors that FBI officials already knew that he was an attorney for the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
“Mr. Sussmann had DNC and [Hillary for America] tattooed on his forehead,” Berkowitz told jurors.
In his rebuttal to the defense’s closing argument, prosecutor Andrew DeFilippis said Sussmann’s affiliation with partisan clients is precisely why he had to lie to Baker in the meeting.
“It was the motive,” he told the panel, adding that he had to “lull Baker” into believing the data was from a neutral cybersecurity source and a matter of national security.
If convicted, Sussmann faces a maximum of five years in prison.