Did Hillary's lawyers manufacture the Mueller Russia probe? A jury will release a verdict this week
Yes, I'm sick of Donald and his big mouth. That doesn't mean that Hillary isn't a ....expletive deleted.
Case Against Ex-Clinton Campaign Lawyer Michael Sussmann Goes to Jury
The verdict, expected next week, is a key test of special counsel John Durham’s three-year probe
By Aruna Viswanatha, WSJ
May 27, 2022 1:09 pm ET
WASHINGTON—Jurors began deliberating Friday whether lawyer Michael Sussmann lied to the FBI in September 2016 about his motives for bringing it research allegedly linking Donald Trump to Russia, after a two-week trial that has laid bare lingering disagreements over what happened during that tumultuous presidential campaign.
*It wasn’t about national security, it was about promoting opposition research against the opposition candidate, Donald Trump,” prosecutor Jonathan Algor said in closing the prosecution’s case before the jury Friday morning.
In response, a lawyer for Mr. Sussmann, Sean Berkowitz, said: “This is a case about misdirection,” saying prosecutors used sleight of hand to transform a short meeting his client had with the FBI’s general counsel into a “giant political conspiracy theory.”
The verdict, expected next week, is a key test of special counsel John Durham’s three-year probe, this being the first case he has taken to trial. He was appointed during the Trump administration to examine how the U.S. government handled allegations of ties between the Trump campaign and Russia in 2016.
In September, the special counsel’s office obtained an indictment of Mr. Sussmann that accused him of misrepresenting his motivation for providing information to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about a purported secret computer connection between a server connected to Mr. Trump’s company and a Russian bank. Mr. Sussmann’s lie, prosecutors allege, is that he said he was turning the material over to the bureau out of civic concern rather than on behalf of his clients, which included the presidential campaign of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
FBI investigators dismissed the server allegations within weeks in 2016, but the episode has continued to reverberate for years. Mr. Sussmann pleaded not guilty and has maintained he provided the information to the FBI based on genuine U.S. national-security concerns, even though he had separately worked on the research on behalf of the Clinton campaign. “Mr. Sussmann is a serious national-security lawyer,” Mr. Berkowitz said in his closing arguments, adding his client had felt compelled to pass on “what he believed to be credible data” from a top expert.
Mr. Sussmann’s legal team has also pointed to evidence showing FBI officials knew of his Democratic affiliations, given that he interacted with the FBI many times that summer on behalf of Democratic groups.
Republicans have said Mr. Durham’s allegations expose actions they view as having improperly undermined Mr. Trump’s early days as president.
“A lot of Americans are concerned with the fact that a campaign lawyer for the Clinton campaign could go to the FBI and provide information to the FBI that led to an investigation of the opposite party, and it seems to not have held much water,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) said at a hearing with the FBI director this week.
Democrats and other allies of Mr. Sussmann, meanwhile, have said his prosecution was politically motivated and based on thin evidence. They point to the context in which the allegations emerged, at a time when Russian hackers were stealing Democrats’ emails and making them public, an action that U.S. intelligence later described as an effort by the Kremlin to help Mr. Trump. Russia has denied it meddled in the campaign.
According to the evidence presented at trial, on a Sunday evening in September 2016, Mr. Sussmann, a prominent cybersecurity lawyer in Washington who had also represented Democratic groups dealing with the email breaches that summer, sent a text message to the FBI’s general counsel, James Baker, saying he had something sensitive and time-sensitive to discuss, not on behalf of any client. They met the next day in Mr. Baker’s office at FBI headquarters.
Mr. Baker didn’t take notes of the meeting but he briefed two other officials soon after, and both of them jotted down that Mr. Sussmann didn’t bring in the information for a client. One of them also noted that he represented Democrats.
Neither official remembered those conversations with Mr. Baker when they testified this week, and jurors saw and heard conflicting evidence and testimony about what FBI officials believed about the source of the information and how important knowing the source was.
Mr. Baker testified last week he was “100% confident” that Mr. Sussmann had told him he wasn’t providing the information on behalf of any particular client, leading the bureau to treat it more seriously than it otherwise would have. But Mr. Baker had described the episode differently in past interviews, and other FBI officials said that while the motivation of the source was important, it wasn’t a dispositive factor in how the FBI treated the information.
Mr. Sussmann billed the Clinton campaign for his work on the server allegations, including for 3.3 hours on the day he met with Mr. Baker, according to records from his law firm at the time, Perkins Coie. But that billing entry didn’t include any reference to a meeting, which were generally cataloged in his other entries. Other law-firm records from the same day showed Mr. Sussmann billed his cab rides to and from the FBI to the law firm, rather than to any specific client.
Mr. Sussmann didn’t testify in his defense. His lawyers have suggested that several witnesses altered their testimony after being threatened with prosecution, while prosecutors attributed the changes in testimony to witnesses re-examining notes and other documents more thoroughly.
Mr. Sussmann’s interactions with the media about the same research have also factored into the trial. Prosecutors have argued that Mr. Sussmann brought the information to senior levels of the FBI to quickly provoke an investigation, which would in turn give reporters a reason to write about the allegations and bolster their credibility.
Mr. Algor, the prosecutor, pointed out that Mr. Sussmann had been talking to reporters for weeks before going to the bureau. If he and his clients were “so concerned about national security, would their priority be meeting with the media, or flagging it for the FBI?” he said.
While Slate ran an article about the allegations, some emails introduced at trial showed that some reporters weren’t confident in the analysis and were reluctant to publish stories about it. The Clinton campaign’s manager testified last week that Mrs. Clinton approved of the effort to provide the research to the press but said the campaign never directed Mr. Sussmann to go to the FBI.
Mr. Sussmann’s lawyers have maintained that doing so would have been expected to delay rather than expedite media attention, and that he provided the information because he found it to be credible and concerning.
“Nobody from the client asked him to go or authorized him to go. And it’s even more significant than that: It wasn’t in their interest to go,” Mr. Berkowitz said.
Write to Aruna Viswanatha at Aruna.Viswanatha@wsj.com