Posted 43 days ago
Special Counsel John Durham’s team in its opening argument Tuesday alleged that former Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann used the FBI as "a political tool" to "manipulate" the bureau on the eve of the 2016 presidential election to create an "October surprise" against then-candidate Donald Trump — a plan that "largely succeeded."
Sussmann is charged with making a false statement to the FBI when he told former FBI General Counsel James Baker in September 2016 — less than two months before the presidential election — that he was not doing work "for any client" when he requested and attended a meeting with Baker where he presented "purported data and ‘white papers’ that allegedly demonstrated a covert communicates channel" between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank, which has ties to the Kremlin.
Durham’s team alleges Sussmann was, in fact, doing work for two clients: the Hillary Clinton campaign and a technology executive, Rodney Joffe. Following the meeting with Baker, Sussmann billed the Hillary Clinton campaign for his work.
Sussmann has pleaded not guilty to the charge.
Federal prosecutor Deborah Brittain Shaw delivered the government’s opening argument, saying the case is one "about privilege."
"Privilege of a lawyer who thought he could lie to the FBI without consequences; privilege of a lawyer who thought that for the powerful, normal rules didn’t apply," Shaw argued on behalf of the government.
The government argued that in bringing the "serious allegations" to the FBI, Sussmann "bypassed normal channels and went straight to the FBI’s top lawyer," then-General Counsel James Baker.
"He then sat across from that lawyer and lied to him," Shaw said, noting the lie was "designed to achieve political" ends, and "designed to inject the FBI into the election."
The government, in delivering the argument, wanted to "address the proverbial elephant in the room."
"Some people have very strong feelings about politics, and about Russia, and many people have strong feelings about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton," Shaw said. "We are not here because allegations involve either."
"We are here because the FBI is our institution that should don’t be used as a political tool for anyone — not Republicans, not Democrats, not anyone," Shaw said, urging jurors to leave their own "political views" out of the decisions they make in the courtroom.
The government said the evidence presented throughout the trial will show that "the lie" was part of a "bigger plan," one to "create an October surprise on the eve of the presidential election."
"A plan that used and manipulated the FBI. A plan that the defendant hoped would trigger news outlets and trigger an FBI investigation," Shaw said. "A plan that largely succeeded."
The government plans to discuss details of Sussmann’s meetings with the opposition research firm the Clinton campaign hired to dig up dirt on the Trump campaign — Fusion GPS.
The now-infamous anti-Trump dossier, which contained allegations of purported coordination between Trump and the Russian government, was authored by Christopher Steele, an ex-British intelligence officer, and commissioned by Fusion GPS.
Perkins Coie, where Sussmann had been employed, is the law firm through which the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Clinton campaign funded the dossier.
"Opposition research is something that happens in politics and has for years — Republicans do it, Democrats do it," the government argued, noting that "opposition research is not illegal," but lying to the FBI is.
The government told the jury that during the trial, it will present physical evidence, including handwritten notes from FBI officials, two thumb drives that Sussmann gave to the FBI containing the allegations against Trump and also testimony and documents to prove their charge against Sussmann.
"This is a case about privilege," the government reiterated. "No one should be so privileged as to have the ability to walk into the FBI and lie for political ends."
"Whether we are Democrats or Republicans, whether we hate Donald Trump or love him, we have to believe some things are above politics," the government said, adding that the FBI "should never be used as a political pawn."
Moments later, Sussmann’s defense began to present its opening argument, which was delivered by Michael Bosworth.
Bosworth argued that Sussmann, a well-known and high-profile national security lawyer "didn’t lie to the FBI" and "wouldn’t lie to the FBI" based on his years of experience, his relationships with national security officials within the government, and his character.
Bosworth urged the jury to consider four questions when evaluating evidence and testimony throughout the trial: "What did Sussmann actually say to the FBI? Is what he said false? Did he intend to say something false? Did it matter?"
"The government has to prove all of these beyond a reasonable doubt," Bosworth said. "They're going to stumble at every turn."
Bosworth called the charge against his client "nonsensical," calling Sussmann "a good man, a family man," and an "honest man."
Bosworth also stressed that, at the time of the meeting with Baker in September 2016, it was well known that Sussmann had represented the DNC, after the party’s servers were hacked by Russians, and that he was representing the Clinton campaign.
Bosworth argued that Sussmann would have no reason to conceal his work for the Clinton campaign.
During the opening argument, it became clear that the defense will likely hit Baker’s credibility, invoking his past testimony, flip-flopping on whether Sussmann mentioned he was working on behalf of cli... (Read more)