Sussman, who worked with Clinton, was acquitted of lying to the FBI in 2016


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A federal jury threw a major setback for Special Counsel John Durham on Tuesday, acquitting well-connected attorney Michael Sussman on charges that he lied to the FBI in 2016 while acting on behalf of Hillary Clinton’s campaign — a trial that sought to revive the controversy over the FBI’s role. in those elections.

Two jurors told the Washington Post that the verdict, which came after less than a full day of deliberation spread over parts on Friday and Tuesday, was neither a close decision nor a difficult one.

“Politics was not a factor,” a jury spokeswoman said. “We felt really comfortable being able to share what we thought. We had brief notes and were able to tackle questions together,” she said, declining to give her name as she left the courtroom.

“Personally, I don’t think she should have been sued,” she added, saying the government “could have spent our time more wisely.” Another juror told The Post that in the jury room, “everyone saw it the same way.”

Sussman was accused of lying to a senior FBI official in September 2016 when he made allegations to the FBI that there was a secret computer communications channel between the Trump Organization and Russia-based Alpha Bank. FBI agents investigated the data but concluded that there was nothing suspicious about it.

Durham, who was hired three years ago during the Trump administration to search for potential wrongdoing among federal agents who investigated Trump’s 2016 campaign, alleged that Sussman lied to the FBI when it claimed he did not provide information to them on behalf of any agent, when, prosecutors alleged He did so on behalf of the Clinton campaign and Rodney Joffe.

Sussman, the first person Durham indicted to go to trial, said out of court that “in my case justice ultimately prevailed. … I look forward to returning to the work I love.”

Durham did not speak out of court, issuing a statement that said: “While we are disappointed with the outcome, we respect the jury’s decision and thank them for their service.” Durham is planning another trial in the fall for a researcher accused of lying to the FBI about his search for Trump.

Gregory Brewer, a former US attorney general and senior FBI official, said the acquittal “was not a surprising result given the lack of evidence” and the way false data laws have historically been enforced.

“The special counsel was only hired because the former president wanted an investigation that could point to him for political reasons during the campaign, and he (former Attorney General William B.) gave him one bar,” Brewer said, noting that much of what Durham did had already been scrutinized. Comprehensively by the Inspector General of the Ministry of Justice. “This quick innocence,” he said, “should mark the end of this chapter.”

In closing arguments, prosecutors told the jury that Sussman believed he had a “license to lie” with the FBI at the height of the 2016 presidential campaign. Sussman’s lawyers responded by saying that the case against their client was based on a “political conspiracy theory.”

Over the two weeks of testimony, the case reframed some bitter controversy from the Trump-Clinton contest.

Sussman Clinton, the FBI, and the press are also targeted by prosecutors

The jury eventually dismissed the prosecution’s allegations, apparently influenced by the argument of Sussman’s attorney, Sean Berkowitz, who said the prosecution was trying To turn a short 30-minute meeting over five years ago into a “giant political conspiracy theory”.

The jurors were tasked with answering a fairly simple legal and factual question – whether Sussman lied about his client and whether that lie was relevant to the FBI investigation. Prosecutors argued that Sussman’s lie was fair One part of a larger scheme by Clinton loyalists to use the FBI and news reporters to launch a harmful last-minute ad against Trump that would tilt the election to Clinton.

“You can see what the plan is,” Assistant Special Counsel Andrew DePhillips told jurors in federal court in DC. “It was in order to create an October surprise by providing information to both the media and the FBI to get the media to write that there was an investigation by the FBI.”

Despite repeated references in the trial to Clinton, Trump and other political figures, the attorney general insisted that “this case is not about politics, it’s not about conspiracy, it’s about the truth.” Devillips said Sussman lied, because if he told the FBI he was acting on behalf of Clinton, the FBI was unlikely to look into his evidence or open an investigation.

Prosecutors displayed jury emails, billing records for law firms, and even Staples’ receipt of thumb drives linking Sussman to the Clinton campaign. But Berkowitz said that a lot of witness testimony showed that the Clinton campaign did not want to take the Alpha Bank allegations to the FBI, because they preferred to see a news story about the case and feared the investigation would complicate or delay such stories.

“There is a difference between having a customer and doing something for them,” Berkowitz said.

He ridiculed prosecutors for portraying them as nefarious efforts to research harmful information about Trump for the sake of a campaign.

“Opposition research is not illegal,” he said, adding that if that were the case, “Washington, D.C. prisons would be overcrowded.”

What is at stake in the Sussman trial

Berkowitz readily admitted that Sussman spoke to reporters as part of his job, including reporters for the Washington Post and Reuters. He said the plaintiffs brought the case because they suffered from “tunnel vision” due to news articles in Slate and the New York Times that appeared on October 31, 2016, and – he said – had little impact on the campaign.

“This is the story? This is the leak? This is the plot?” Berkowitz said.

The main witness at the trial was James Baker, who was the FBI’s chief counsel when he met Sussman on September 19, 2016. Baker told the jury that he was “100 percent confident” that Sussman had insisted that he was not acting on his behalf. clients and that if he had known, he would have handled the conversation differently and may not have agreed to the meeting at all.

Since Sussman did not testify, Baker provided the only direct witness account of the conversation. Sussman’s lawyers have repeatedly challenged Baker’s credibility, noting that in a previous interview, Baker said Sussman had been representing cybersecurity agents; In another part, he seemed to say he didn’t remember that part of the conversation. In response to questions at the witness stand, he said he does not remember 116 times, according to Berkowitz.

Baker, who now works for Twitter, testified that Sussman told him that a major newspaper – later learned to be The New York Times – was preparing to write about the allegations. This seems to concern Baker, who He said he knew that a news story was likely to cause any suspicious communications to stop, so he wanted the FBI to be able to investigate before an article appeared. Prosecutors say it was Sussman himself who made the allegations about Trump to The Times.