'A trial about privilege': Durham and Sussmann lawyers clash in opening to trial

Posted 37 days ago


The trial against Democratic cybersecurity lawyer Michael Sussmann kicked into high gear Tuesday morning, as prosecutors for special counsel John Durham accused him of "privilege."

The opening statements by the prosecution and defense Tuesday morning came after the jury was seated the prior evening.

Sussmann was charged with concealing his clients — Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign and “Tech Executive-1,” known to be former Neustar executive Rodney Joffe — from FBI General Counsel James Baker when he presented since-debunked allegations of a secret back channel between the Trump Organization and Russia’s Alfa-Bank during a September 2016 meeting.

Durham prosecutor Brittain Shaw repeatedly said “the evidence will show that this is a trial about privilege” — likely a strategic choice of words since the case will probably be dominated by the Clinton campaign’s assertions of attorney-client privilege over key information.

Shaw said Sussmann was a privileged and high-powered D. C. lawyer who thought he could use his connections to get what he wanted and who believed “he could use the FBI as a political tool.”

She said the “evidence will show that he bypassed normal channels” to meet with Baker and “then sat across from that lawyer and he lied to him” with a falsehood “designed to achieve a political end.” The Durham prosecutor said Sussmann’s goal was to “inject” the FBI into a presidential election.

The prosecutor argued: “No one should be so privileged as to walk into the FBI and lie.”

Sussmann, who also helped the Democratic National Committee handle its response to the 2016 hack, denies wrongdoing, has pleaded not guilty, and unsuccessfully called upon the judge to dismiss the case, even relying in part on legal analysis by fired FBI agent Peter Strzok.

Michael Bosworth, one of Sussmann’s defense lawyers, declared in his opening statement: “Michael Sussmann didn’t lie to the FBI. Michael Sussmann wouldn’t lie to the FBI.”

Bosworth argued: “In the summer of 2016, this serious national security lawyer got information that raised serious national security concerns.”

He said that is why Sussmann wanted to go to the press about it and claimed his client only went to the FBI to give the agency a "heads up" about a possible impending New York Times story about the allegations.

Shaw said Sussmann saw the Alfa-Bank claims as a “golden opportunity to deliver a big win” for the Clinton campaign and Joffe.

The prosecutor also addressed “the proverbial elephant in the room” — everyone’s “strong feelings” about Russia, Donald Trump, Clinton, and the 2016 election.

She urged the jury to be apolitical in its decision-making, saying: “We are here because the FBI is our institution. It should not be used as a political tool by anyone. Not Republicans. Not Democrats. Not anyone.”

She said, “Whether we hate Donald Trump or love him,” no one should be able to lie to the FBI.

The prosecutor contended Sussmann’s actions were part of “a plan to create an October surprise on the eve of a presidential election” and to get the FBI to investigate, arguing the plan "largely succeeded." Shaw said Sussmann and Joffe “leaked the Alfa-Bank allegations to the New York Times,” and when that wasn’t published immediately, Sussmann brought a sense of urgency to the FBI about the media being on the verge of running a story. Shaw argued the FBI getting involved would make the story “more attractive” to the press.

Shaw said: “This was a breach of trust between a citizen and a law enforcement agency. … The FBI should never be used as a political pawn.”

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