A lawyer for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign was acquitted on Tuesday of lying to the FBI when he pushed information meant to cast suspicions on Donald Trump and his alleged links to Russia in the run-up to that year’s race.
The jury in Michael Sussmann’s case deliberated on Friday afternoon and Tuesday morning before reaching its verdict.
The case was the first courtroom test of special counsel John Durham since his appointment three years ago to search for government misconduct during the investigation into potential ties between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign. The verdict represents a setback for Durham’s work – especially since Trump supporters had looked to the investigation to expose what they contend was sweeping wrongdoing by the FBI.
The bureau’s then general counsel and the government’s star witness, James Baker, testified that he was “100% confident” Sussmann had told him he was not representing any client during the meeting. Prosecutors say he was actually acting on behalf of the Clinton campaign and another client, and he was accused of hiding that information so as to make it seem more credible and to boost the chances of getting the FBI to investigate.
Sussmann’s lawyers denied that he lied, saying that it was impossible to know with certainty what he told Baker since they were the only participants in the meeting and neither of them took notes.
They argued that if Sussmann said he wasn’t acting on the Clinton campaign’s behalf it was technically accurate since he didn’t ask the FBI to take any particular action. And they said that even if he did make a false statement, it was ultimately irrelevant since the FBI was already investigating Russia and the Trump campaign and would have looked into the Alfa Bank data no matter the source.