During closing arguments Friday, a prosecutor claimed that a lawyer representing Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign concealed his partisan interests to the FBI. He had pushed "pure oppos research" about Donald Trump and Russia in weeks leading up to the election.
However, Michael Sussmann's legal counsel refuted the claims of prosecutors that he lied. Even if jurors believed Sussmann lied, the defense claimed that his alleged false statement was irrelevant because he was presenting national-security information that the FBI would have investigated regardless of the source. The FBI was already investigating Russia and Trump's collusion at the time Sussmann met in September 2016.
It was a very contentious period. Russian hackers had hacked DNC. They were also leaking emails. "And there was an ongoing FBI probe irrespective of that," Sussmann lawyer Sean Berkowitz said to jurors. He was referring specifically to the Democratic National Committee. "And that was viewed extremely seriously."
This case marks the first courtroom examination of John Durham, the special counsel. He was appointed three years ago to investigate government misconduct in the investigation into possible ties between Russia's campaign and Trump's campaign. Jurors began deliberating on Friday afternoon.
Trump and his supporters would cheer a guilty verdict. They have long looked to the Durham investigation as a way to undermine the original Trump-Russia probe, which they consider politically motivated. The case against Sussmann, however, is very narrow and only concerns a small part of the probe. It alleges misconduct by a tipter to the government, rather than any federal agency or the FBI.
Prosecutors portray Sussmann, who they say is determined to get Trump's attention and expose him to the media.
Jonathan Algor, Durham team prosecutor, stated that "it wasn't about security." "It was about opposition research against Donald Trump."
Sussmann faces a single charge of making a false declaration. This charge can carry a maximum five year sentence. However, if Sussmann is convicted, he will likely get much less, if any, prison time. During the trial, he did not testify.
The case revolves around a September 19, 2016, meeting at which Sussmann presented James Baker, the FBI's top attorney, computer data that Sussmann claimed suggested a secret communications backchannel between a Russia-based Bank and the Trump Organization.
If such a back channel existed, it would have been explosive information during an FBI investigation into Russia-Trump links. After analyzing the data, however, the FBI quickly concluded that there had been no suspicious contact.