The first trial resulting from Special Counsel John Durham’s methodical investigation into the origins of the discredited Trump-Russia collusion narrative opens Monday as 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann faces justice for allegedly lying to the FBI.
Durham alleges Sussmann lied in September 2016 when he told then-FBI-General-Counsel James Baker that he was not working on behalf of any client while feeding the federal law enforcement agency since-debunked allegations about then-candidate Donald Trump.
Judge Christopher Cooper, appointed to the bench by former President Barack Obama, will preside in the trial in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The proceeding begins at 9 a.m. Eastern time.
Sussmann, a former federal prosecutor, told the FBI that the Trump Organization had a secret communications channel with the Kremlin through Russia’s Alfa Bank. The FBI, CIA, Trump-Russia Special Counsel Robert Mueller and others have debunked the claim.
Durham says Sussmann was working at the time on behalf of two clients, the Clinton campaign and then-Neustar tech firm executive Rodney Joffe. Durham intends to show that Sussmann told Congress the truth about working for the Clinton campaign after he lied to the FBI. Sussmann is pleading not guilty to the charge.
A former partner at the Washington, D.C., law firm Perkins Coie, Sussmann in February sought to have the case against him dismissed, but Cooper denied his request last month.
Durham argues that Sussmann was part of a “joint venture” to help Clinton’s presidential campaign by fashioning a tale of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
“The joint venture continued and crystallized early in August 2016,” when Sussmann, Joffe, Sussman’s then-law partner Marc Elias, and members of the Clinton campaign met, according to the special counsel.
“The evidence will show that as a result of these conversations and during this same time period, Tech Executive-1 did exactly that: he tasked employees from multiple Internet companies and a university working under a pending national security contract to mine and gather vast amounts of internet metadata in order to support an ‘inference’ and ‘narrative’ tying” Trump to Russia, Durham said.
The special counsel has issued subpoenas to Georgia Tech — then working under contract with the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) — for “all documents, records, and information” related to “a purported secret communications channel between the Trump Organization, Spectrum Health, and the Russian Bank Alfa Bank” and “the purported presence or use of Russian-made Yotaphones by or in the vicinity of Donald Trump or individuals affiliated with Donald Trump.”
“Durham has just shown the whole world what major pieces of our Russiagate investigation revealed,” Kash Patel, the former House Intelligence Committee investigative counsel who helped unravel the Russia case, said last month. “Hard evidence, emails and text messages, showing the Clinton Campaign, Fusion GPS, Perkins Coie, Joffe, and the media were all synced in August of 2016 pushing the false Alfa Bank server story, while also all working on the Steele Dossier matter. Durham submits all this evidence as ‘joint venture conspiracy’ under the rules of evidence.”
Cooper has limited some of the evidence Durham may present at trial. “The Court will exercise its discretion not to engage in the kind of extensive evidentiary analysis that would be required to find that such a joint venture existed, and who may have joined it, in order to admit these emails,” Cooper ruled Saturday.
“For starters, Mr. Sussmann is not charged with a conspiracy,” he wrote. “Moreover, while the Special Counsel has proffered some evidence of a collective effort to disseminate the purported link between Trump and Alfa Bank to the press and others, the contours of this venture and its participants are not entirely obvious.”
The judge has granted Fusion GPS computer researcher Laura Seago limited immunity and ordered her to testify at trial, which Durham had sought.
On Thursday, Cooper ruled that of 38 emails subpoenaed by Durham, Fusion GPS may withhold 16 for reasons of attorney-client privilege, but must immediately turn over the remaining 22.
A former New York Times reporter, Eric Lichtblau, has been called to testify. On Thursday, Lichtblau’s lawyer requested that his client be protected from having to testify about some matters related to the case, as an attorney for the special counsel’s office, Andrew DeFillipis, stated the prosecution was unable to give “any assurance” that their cross-examination of Lichtblau “would be confined to discussion with Mr. Sussmann.”