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Trial in connection with Russia probe ends with debate: did lawyer lie?

WASHINGTON – A lawyer for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign concealed his partisan interests from the FBI when he pushed “pure opposition research” related to Donald Trump and Russia in the weeks leading up to the election, a prosecutor claimed Friday during closing arguments in the trial Attorney.

But Michael Sussmann’s legal team dismissed prosecutors’ claims that he lied. And even if the jury believed Sussmann lied, the defense said the alleged false testimony didn’t matter because he was presenting national security information that the FBI would have investigated regardless of the source. At the time of Sussmann’s September 2016 meeting, the office was already investigating whether Russia and the Trump campaign were colluding to influence the elections Trump won in November.

“You wouldn’t have done anything differently. And it makes sense: They were getting actual data that had national security implications,” said Sussmann attorney Sean Berkowitz.

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The case is the first courtroom test of Special Counsel John Durham’s work since he was appointed three years ago to look for government wrongdoing while investigating possible links between Russia and Trump’s campaign.

A guilty verdict would be hailed by Trump and his supporters, who have looked to the Durham Inquiry to undermine the original Trump-Russia Inquiry, long viewed as politically motivated. But the case against Sussmann is tight-knit, involving a peripheral aspect of this investigation and alleging that a government tipster, not anyone in the FBI, was guilty of wrongdoing.

Nonetheless, the two-week testimony in federal court in Washington has shown the extent to which democratic interests, opposition research, the media and law enforcement agencies have been entangled in the run-up to the presidential election.

“It wasn’t about national security,” Jonathan Algor, a prosecutor on Durham’s team, said of Sussmann’s concerns. “It was about promoting opposition research against opposition candidate Donald Trump.”

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Sussmann is accused of a single false statement. Those charges carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison, although if convicted, Sussmann is likely to receive far less, if any, prison time. He did not take a stand during the trial.

The criminal case revolves around a September 19, 2016 meeting at which Sussmann presented the FBI’s top attorney James Baker with computer data that Sussmann said revealed a secret communications channel between a Russia-based bank and the Trump Organization, of the candidate’s company.

Such a back channel, if it existed, would have been explosive information at a time when the FBI was investigating ties between Trump and Russia. But after evaluating the data, the FBI quickly determined that there was no suspicious contact at all.

Prosecutors say Sussmann lied to Baker by saying he did not attend the meeting on behalf of a specific client. They say he was actually there on behalf of the Clinton campaign and another client, a technology executive who the Durham team says hired researchers to look for internet traffic linking Trump aide and Russia are involved.

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Sussmann lied about his clients, prosecutors said, to add credence to the material and because he assumed the information would not be investigated if the FBI felt it was being driven by the Clinton campaign.

“The defendant knew that if there was a chance to bring his allegations before the FBI, he had to hide his clients — and therefore, ladies and gentlemen, the defendant lied,” Algor said.

Algor said the fact that Sussmann repeatedly billed the Clinton campaign for his work on Alfa Bank affairs is evidence that he acted on behalf of the campaign when meeting with the FBI. However, Berkowitz noted that Sussmann billed his cab ride to FBI headquarters for his law firm’s meeting, not the campaign.

Berkowitz also tried to cast doubt on what exactly was said in the meeting. Prosecutors showed the jury a text message Sussmann had sent Baker the night before the meeting, requesting a meeting on a sensitive matter and saying he was coming alone and not on behalf of a client.

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But Berkowitz reminded the jury that the only false statement indicted was made during the following day’s meeting and that no one can know exactly what was said because Baker and Sussmann were the only participants and neither took notes .

Berkowitz also suggested that it was technically correct for Sussmann to suggest that he was not acting on behalf of a client because he never asked the FBI to do anything with the information he provided.

“When you go somewhere on behalf of a client, you’re advocating for a client, you’re asking for something,” Berkowitz said. “Mr. Sussmann didn’t ask Jim Baker for anything.”

Although Baker testified when questioned by a prosecutor that he was “100% certain” that Sussmann told him he was not acting on behalf of a client, Berkowitz cited 116 cases in which Baker claimed he could not get the answer remember or remember.

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https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/05/27/trial-tied-to-russia-probe-ends-with-debate-did-lawyer-lie/ Trial in connection with Russia probe ends with debate: did lawyer lie?

Sarah Y. Kim

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