WASHINGTON -- Defense attorneys for a Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer charged with lying to the FBI during the Trump-Russia probe showed jurors handwritten notes on Wednesday aimed at undercutting allegations that he misled the federal government about his legal work.
Michael Sussmann is on trial in Washington’s federal court, accused of lying to the FBI’s general counsel during a September 2016 meeting in which he presented computer data that purported to show a secret communications backchannel between Donald Trump and Russia. The FBI investigated but quickly determined no link existed between the Trump Organization, the former president’s company, and Russia-based Alfa Bank.
Prosecutors allege he misled the FBI by saying he was not attending the meeting on behalf of a particular client when he was actually representing the interests of the Clinton campaign and another client — a technology executive who had provided him with the data.
The case was brought by special counsel John Durham, a Justice Department prosecutor appointed in 2019 to investigate potential government misconduct in the early days of the inquiry into potential ties between Russia and Trump's 2016 campaign. Sussmann is one of three people charged so far by Durham and his team of prosecutors.
Sussmann’s lawyers deny that he ever lied. They say his legal representation of Democratic interests was already well-known to James Baker, the FBI lawyer to whom he made the alleged false statement, and that he came to the FBI to raise concerns about a potential national security threat.
Prosecutors rested their case on Wednesday. It remains unclear if Sussmann will testify in his defense later this week.
Defense lawyers called as their first witnesses former senior Justice Department officials who attended a March 6, 2017, meeting at which FBI leaders briefed them on the status of investigations into potential coordination during the 2016 presidential election between Trump's successful campaign and Russia. Among the topics that came up at the meeting were the Alfa Bank claims.
One of those ex-officials, Tashina Gauhar, took notes from the meeting in which she wrote that the Alfa Bank allegations were brought to the FBI by an attorney “on behalf of his client.” She said she didn't recall who at the meeting said that, but said that if she had written that down, then "that’s what I would have heard at the briefing.”
One of Sussmann's lawyers, Michael Bosworth, sought to persuade jurors about the credibility of Gauhar's notes by asking, mostly rhetorically: “When senior leaders of the FBI come to brief senior leaders of the Department of Justice, do they try to get it right? Do they try to present truthful, accurate information to the Department of Justice?”
Another participant at the March 2017 meeting, Mary McCord, at the time the Justice Department's top national security official, took similar notes about the fact that the Alfa Bank claims came to the FBI from a lawyer.
Earlier Wednesday, prosecutors showed jurors billing records indicating that Sussmann repeatedly billed to the campaign “general political advice” and legal work related to the Alfa Bank server issue. The records were introduced to bolster their claim that Sussmann was acting on behalf of the Clinton campaign when he shared the data with the FBI.
Defense lawyers, however, noted that Sussmann billed the taxi ride to the FBI building for the meeting on Alfa Bank to his law firm at the time, Perkins Coie, rather than to the Clinton campaign.
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