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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Andrew Feinberg

Former Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann found not guilty of lying to FBI

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

A District of Columbia jury has acquitted attorney Michael Sussmann on charges that he’d lied to FBI agents while tipping them off about allegations that a computer server in Donald Trump’s eponymous skyscraper was communicating with a computer belonging to a Russian bank at the height of the 2016 presidential campaign.

The jury rendered its’ not guilty verdict on Tuesday after three days of deliberations following a two-week trial, during which prosecutors working for Special Counsel John Durham sought to prove that Mr Sussmann, an ex-prosecutor who was a partner at the law firm Perkins Coie when he met with FBI officials about the alleged Trump-Russia computer connection.

Mr Sussmann spoke to reporters shortly after the verdict was delivered. He said he was “grateful to the members of the jury for their careful thoughtful service”.

“Despite being falsely accused I believe that justice ultimately prevailed in my case. As you can imagine this has been a difficult year for my family and me. But right now we are grateful for the love and support of so many during this ordeal,” he added.

In a statement, Mr Durham said he was “disappointed” by the outcome but nonetheless thanked the jury for its service.

“I also want to recognise and thank the investigators and the prosecution team for their dedicated efforts in seeking truth and justice in this case,” he added.

The special counsel’s team had argued that the veteran attorney lied when he told the FBI he was not speaking on behalf of a client when he brought them the tip and alleged that he was there on an errand for two clients: former Secret of State Hillary Clinton’s campaign and a computer scientist called Rodney Joffe.

Mr Durham, who was appointed a special counsel by then-attorney general William Barr in 2020, had also sought to prove to jurors that Mr Sussmann’s tip to the FBI was part of a wide-ranging scheme to tar Mr Trump, then a candidate for president, with an “October surprise” to convince voters he was tainted by ties to the Russian government. They argued that he lied about not representing a client because he believed FBI agents would not have taken the tip he provided as seriously if it was thought to come from a lawyer representing Ms Clinton’s campaign.

But jurors did not buy his version of events, and instead chose to belief Mr Sussmann’s attorney, Sean Berkowitz, who argued that the allegations were parti of a “giant political conspiracy theory”.

The jury returned the not guilty verdict after examining one specific piece of evidence — an expense report filed by Mr Sussmann which listed cab fares for the day of his meeting with the FBI. His taxi rides to and from the meeting were not reimbursed by his law firm, which indicated that he did not undertake the trip on behalf of a client who the cab fare could be charged to.

The not guilty verdict is a significant blow to Mr Durham’s efforts to undermine the previous probe into former president Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign’s ties to the Russian government. Mr Trump and many of his allies in the Republican Party and in right-wing media have sought to use the prosecution of Mr Sussmann as evidence that any allegation of ties between his 2016 campaign and the Russian government were part of a “hoax”.

Writing on Twitter, veteran litigator and Trump critic George Conway reacted to the verdict by writing: “I never delved heavily into the Sussman case, but have been wondering for a while: Is this case as stupid as it looks? Apparently it was, and a jury thought so as well”.

“The attorney general should shut Durham down now and turn DOJ's attention to that more powerful case that Mueller couldn't bring while Trump was in office, to the extent that case isn't time-barred,” he added.

The FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia was led by former FBI director Robert Mueller, and found more than 140 separate contacts between Mr Trump and his associates and the Russian government, its’ agents, or other intermediaries during his first presidential campaign.

Mr Mueller also found that the Russian government “interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion” on Mr Trump’s behalf.

A separate investigation by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence led by then-chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, found that Russia “engaged in an aggressive, multi- faceted effort to influence, or attempt to influence, the outcome ofthe 2016 presidential election” in favour of Mr Trump. Specifically, the panel found that Russian president Vladimir Putin personally ordered hackers working for his country’s military intelligence directorate, known as the GRU, to hack into email accounts of Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee officials.

The committee also found that Mr Trump’s 2016 campaign manager, Paul Manafort, created opportunities for Russian intelligence services to exert influence over, and acquire confidential information on, the Trump Campaign” and represented a “grave counterintelligence threat”.

“Moscow's intent was to harm the Clinton Campaign, tarnish an expected Clinton presidential administration, help the Trump Campaign after Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee, and undermine the U.S. democratic process,” the committee wrote in a report released in late 2020.

A spokesperson for Mr Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Independent, but shortly after the verdict was delivered his Save America political action committee published a 27 May letter he sent to the Pulitzer Prize board, in which he reiterated his demand that the New York Times and Washington Post be stripped of the awards they received for their reporting on his 2016 campaign’s ties to Russia.

“I call on your Board to pay close attention to developments in the ongoing criminal trial of Michael Sussmann, the former attorney for the 2016 Clinton campaign,” he wrote.

Those “developments” now include Mr Sussmann’s acquittal.

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