WASHINGTON – The jury began deliberations on Friday In the federal criminal trial Michael Sussman, a prominent political and national security attorney who was accused by Trump’s special counsel of lying to the FBI about an alleged relationship between Donald Trump and a Russian bank.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys Friday morning presented their closing arguments to the jurors, who will now decide whether to convict or innocence Sussman. Sussman denied the charges and strongly challenged prosecutors.
In an hour-long presentation summarizing the case of special counsel John Durham v. Sussman, plaintiff Jonathan Algor presented jury documents from the Perkins Cowey law firm where Sussman worked, which in 2016 represented Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee. DNC records show that the company billed the Clinton campaign for meetings and other communications that Sussman participated in during the summer and fall of 2016 that were related to what was described in billing records as a “secret” project.
On September 18, 2016, Sussman, who was previously at the Department of Justice and because of his continued involvement in national security issues, sent a special security clearance to FBI headquarters, James Baker, an old friend who then served as the bureau’s director. General Counsel, text message requesting a meeting to discuss “something time-sensitive (and sensitive).”
Sussman told Baker, “I’m coming on my own – not on behalf of a client or company – and I want to help the office.”
The next day, Baker met him at the FBI headquarters for about half an hour.
In closing presentations to the jury, two plaintiffs on the Durham team reviewed the extensive chronology of message traffic entered into evidence that showed Sussman repeatedly billed the Clinton campaign before and after his September 19 meeting with Baker for work on secret project.
Baker who testified during the trial as a witness, He told the jury he was “100% confident” Sussman told him during their meeting that he had not contacted him on behalf of a particular client.
“I’m not here on behalf of any particular client,” Baker told him. During their meeting, Sussman handed Baker memory cards and a package of printed documents outlining allegations about alleged computer message traffic between Alpha Bank, a Russian financial institution owned by oligarchs close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the Trump Organization.
Baker and prosecutors did not provide any written notes of the meeting, which is the focus of the Durham indictment. Shortly after the meeting, Becker called Bill Priestap, the FBI’s head of counterintelligence, to discuss Sussman’s allegations. Becker testified that he told Priestap that the case raised by Sussman was urgent and that Sussman was not representing a particular client.
However, notes about the conversation by Priestap that were entered into the evidence and cited by prosecutors during closing statements stated that Sussman represented the DNC. The FBI subsequently opened a full-scale investigation into the alleged Alpha Bank/Trump link, even though investigators concluded before the November 2016 elections that the allegations lacked substance.
Algor told the jury that less than 12 hours after his meeting with Baker, Sussman had logged 4.5 hours of work on written material and a classified project. The attorney general said that two months later, however, Sussman moved to review billing records to show he had paid the Clinton campaign 3.3 hours to work that day.
Algor told the jury that the defense attorney “will try and convince you that this is a misunderstanding,” but the jurors should come to the logical conclusion that given Sussman’s written letter about the client’s non-representation and Baker’s testimony that no client was mentioned. At the meeting, Sussman’s statement that he was not acting on behalf of a client was incorrect.
Defense attorney Sean Berkowitz called the prosecution’s case and argument a “giant political conspiracy theory,” asserting that because the plaintiffs lacked evidence, they were trying to mislead the jury.
Berkowitz said Sussman received what he believed to be reliable and reliable data from Rodney Joffe, his legal client who considered him an expert in the types of data systems at Alpha Bank’s allegations center. Berkowitz said Sussman provided the data to a New York Times reporter.
But he said there was a serious disagreement between Sussman’s defense and prosecutors over what Sussman actually said to Baker during their September 19 meeting. He said Baker said on 116 occasions that he did not remember the details of the conversation.
Berkowitz said Sussman asked Becker to take any action she “believes appropriate” and added, “There is a difference between having a client and going somewhere on their behalf.”
Berkowitz also noted that Clinton’s 2016 campaign manager and Mark Elias, Perkins Coe’s attorney who was Clinton’s chief campaign attorney, both testified that they did not authorize or direct Sussman to pass the Alpha Bank allegations to the FBI. Berkowitz insisted that “his departure was not in their best interest”.
He asked how Becker could be 100% confident in what Sussman did or did not say at their September 19 meeting, at which he took no notes of what was said.
In response to Berkowitz’s arguments, another member of the prosecution team in Durham, Andrew DePhillips, told the jury that five months after going to the FBI, after Trump was sworn in as president, Sussman met with CIA officials about the Alpha Bank allegations. He told the agency that he “does not represent a particular client.”
Judge Christopher Cooper asked the jurors to consider the verdict, but advised to leave the courtroom on Friday afternoon and noted that no verdict in the case is expected to be announced, or likely to come to a jury, until next Tuesday at the earliest. .
Sussman’s trial is the first case brought to trial by the Durham team since it was formed late in the Trump administration. Last year, Kevin Clisesmith, a former FBI attorney, pleaded guilty to falsifying an email that other officials used to justify spying on a Trump campaign adviser, and he was sentenced to one year in prison.
Durham’s false charges are still pending against Igor Danchenko, a Russian who was the source of some of the allegations against Trump contained in the controversial anti-Trump “dossier” prepared by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele for Clinton campaign agents.
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