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Opening of the Trump-Russia trial of Hillary Clinton’s lawyer in the “Alfa Bank”

Special Counsel John Durham’s three-year investigation into the FBI and Robert Mueller’s investigations into former President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign will come to a head with Monday’s trial of the former US attorney. Hillary Clinton campaign, Michael Sussmann.

The outcome of the closely watched case in Washington, DC — the first trial resulting from Durham’s virtually airtight efforts — will be both a test of his work and a potential harbinger of the looming 2024 election, observers say.

“If Sussmann, one of Hillary Clinton’s top campaign lawyers, is found guilty, it will further confirm that Trump is a victim of a crime,” said Tom Fitton, president of the conservative activist group Judicial Watch. .

“I would expect him to keep saying that [the government] illegally spied on and that Hillary did. And if Clinton does show up, that anti-corruption message is even more likely to come to the fore. »

Washington, DC attorney Jim Trusty, a former top Justice Department prosecutor, says Durham ‘has a pretty strong case’ against Sussmann, who is charged with a single count of lying to the FBI .

“But you never know if a jury will rebel against [false-statement allegations] that don’t come with more serious crimes,” Trusty said.

Sussmann was one of Hillary Clinton’s best campaign advocates.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

“Certainly an acquittal would hurt and allow politicians to call for an end to his work.”

Last year, the first defendant charged by Durham – former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith – was sentenced to a year’s probation after pleading guilty to tampering with an email to obtain a wiretap renewal against former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

Sussmann allegedly tricked a top-fed into saying he was “not acting on behalf of a client” when he handed over three “white papers” and two USB drives that allegedly pointed to a secret backchannel between a computer server of Trump Organization and the Russian Alfa Bank, now under US sanctions linked to the invasion of Ukraine.

The cybersecurity expert also shared the bombshell claims with reporters, prompting an article from Slate magazine – published just eight days before the election – which was eagerly seized by Clinton, who tweeted: “ It’s time for Trump to answer some serious questions about his ties to Russia.”

This 2018 portrait released by the US Department of Justice shows Connecticut US Attorney John Durham.
John Durham “has a pretty solid case” against Sussmann, according to a senior former Justice Department prosecutor.
Ministry of Justice via AP

The Democratic nominee also released a statement from top campaign aide Jake Sullivan, now President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, who said, “This secret hotline could be the key to unraveling the mystery of Trump’s ties to Russia. .

But an FBI investigation found “that the email server in question was not owned or operated by the Trump Organization, but rather was administered by a mass-marketing email company that sent advertisements for Trump hotels. and hundreds of other customers,” according to Sussmann. charge.

The charging document alleges that the information Sussmann gave to then-FBI General Counsel James Baker on September 19, 2016, was the result of the efforts of one of his clients, Rodney Joffe, executive technologist since retired, to “exploit” his relationships with industry. “creating a ‘narrative’ about Trump.”

He cites an August 20, 2016 email sent by Joffe to April Lorenzen, a Rhode Island internet security expert who discovered the server traffic, and two researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Rodney Joffe
Rodney Joffe reportedly joined Sussmann and Clinton in a “joint venture to collect and disseminate allegedly derogatory internet data” against Trump.

“Being able to provide proof of anything this shows an attempt to misbehave in relation to this, the VIPs would be very happy,” Joffe wrote.

Additionally, the indictment highlights an email sent two days later that Durham said raised “concerns about scholarly bias against Trump.”

In it, Georgia Tech researcher Manos Antonakakis warned the group, “The only thing that motivates us at this point is that we just don’t like [Trump]. It will not fly in the eyes of public scrutiny. Friends, I’m afraid we have tunnel vision.

Durham also noted that Joffe sent an email after Trump’s victory in which he said he had been offered a senior cybersecurity position “by the Democrats when it looked like they would win”.

According to his indictment, one of the “white papers” was written by research firm Fusion GPS, which hired former British spy Christopher Steele to compile the widely discredited “Steele dossier” against Trump.

The Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee were fined by the Federal Election Commission in March for concealing payments to Fusion GPS on official disclosure forms.

In April, Durham doubled down on ties between Sussmann, Joffe and the Clinton campaign, saying his investigation showed they were involved in a “joint enterprise to collect and disseminate allegedly derogatory internet data” against Trump.

Former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele arrives at the High Court in London on July 24, 2020
Fusion GPS hired former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele to compile the “Steele dossier”.
Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

And earlier this month, Durham prosecutor Andrew DeFilippis argued in court that jurors should be told about a July 2016 meeting between Sussmann and Steele, calling it “incredibly probative and relevant” evidence. of the “strong intersection” of their work.

But presiding federal judge Christopher Cooper, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, has repeatedly limited what prosecutors can tell the jury, noting in a ruling that the charge against Sussmann “is not related to the substance of the shared material, but rather to Sussmann’s alleged erroneous statement that he was not attending the meeting [with Baker] on behalf of a client.

In a May 7 order, Cooper ruled that Joffe’s email about the job offer was “inadmissible hearsay” and also said Durham “must avoid evidence regarding the accuracy of the data. , which the defense does not plan to challenge”.

“Nor will the Court conduct a time-consuming and largely unnecessary mini-trial to determine the existence and scope of an unindicted conspiracy to develop and disseminate Alfa Bank data,” he added.

Former FBI attorney Kevin Clinesmith
Kevin Clinesmith was sentenced to a year’s probation after pleading guilty to tampering with an email to obtain a renewal of a wiretap against former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

Sussmann’s team has yet to reveal its strategy, but last week asked Cooper to explicitly inform jurors in the country’s majority Democratic capital – which in 2016 voted 90.9% in favor of Clinton. against 4.1% – that the accused had worked against Trump.

Cooper noted that legal documents and courtroom arguments suggest the defense will argue that Sussmann and Joffe “shared the view that bringing the potential communication channel to the attention of the FBI was important to protect the national security, regardless of the political implications”.

Sussmann — who Durham says billed the Clinton campaign for meetings and phone calls with Joffe and the campaign’s general counsel, Marc Elias — will also likely deny “he had an attorney-client relationship with the Clinton campaign.” which covered activities related to Alfa Bank”. data,” the judge wrote earlier this month.

On May 8, Sussmann’s attorneys filed court documents alleging Baker “offered inconsistent testimony” about their 2016 meeting, as well as notes written by DOJ staff during a March 6, 2017 meeting. , during which Baker “was silent” when then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe “said that Mr. Sussmann took the allegations to the FBI on behalf of a client.”

“If Mr. Baker disagreed with Mr. McCabe on such an allegedly material statement, he likely would have made it known,” Sussmann’s attorneys wrote.

Sussmann’s attorneys also said they have 300 FBI email chains that show the bureau knew he was representing Democratic campaigns, according to The Washington Post.

The Alfa Bank sign is seen on a building in Minsk, Belarus, September 7, 2017.
Sussmann allegedly pointed to a secret backchannel between a Trump Organization computer server and Russian bank Alfa.
REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko

A joint Durham and Sussmann filing on the proposed jury instructions also included several disputes regarding the “materiality” of Sussmann’s alleged lie to the FBI in terms of influence on the bureau’s decision-making process.

Several legal experts have said that this issue could prove crucial.

“The evidence is powerful that Sussmann made a false statement to federal law enforcement,” said Trusty, the former DOJ prosecutor and Fox News contributor.

“I think the battle is very unlikely to be about lying, it will be about materiality. Prosecutors have to prove that the misrepresentation had the potential to affect a federal investigation. That ‘potential’ is a very high bar. low to overcome for prosecutors.

Manhattan attorney Seth DuCharme, a former acting U.S. attorney from Brooklyn and senior assistant deputy attorney general, also said, “If you look at the case law, the courts have been very generous with the government on appeal as to what might have a natural streak or be able to influence an investigation.

“Really, not many things have passed the test of appeal,” he said.

“It’s a pretty generous standard for the government. That’s a tough standard for an accused.

But former Detroit US attorney Barbara McQuade, now a professor at Michigan Law School and a legal analyst for MSNBC and NBC News, said she thinks Durham faces an uphill battle.

“It appears that the biggest challenge in this case is proving whether the statement is material or tended to affect the case under investigation, in light of the testimony of FBI General Counsel, Jim Baker that the FBI makes independent assessments of information regardless of source,” she said in an email.

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