WASHINGTON — A federal jury on Tuesday found former Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann not guilty of lying to the FBI — finding special counsel John Durham did not prove his case beyond a reasonable doubt.
The verdict by a jury in heavily Democratic-leaning DC, came midway through the second day of deliberations following a two-week trial on a single count of making false statements to a federal agent.
Durham’s prosecution team unsuccessfully sought to prove that Sussmann deliberately lied to then-FBI general counsel James Baker by claiming not to be acting on behalf of the Clinton campaign and an internet executive when the two met in 2016.
During the sitdown at FBI headquarters, Sussmann handed over two thumb drives and a number of “white papers” that purportedly showed a secret communications channel between the Trump Organization and a Kremlin-linked financial institution, Alfa-Bank.
The plan, prosecutor Deborah Brittain Shaw said in her opening statement, was for internet researchers to find disparaging information about Trump and Russia, leak the findings to the press and then for Sussmann to lie to the FBI to spark an investigation into the since-discredited information — all in a bid to create an “October surprise” on behalf of the Clinton campaign.
“We are here because the FBI is our institution that shouldn’t be used as a political tool for anyone — not Republicans, not Democrats, not anyone,” Shaw said.
During the trial, Durham’s team called 16 witnesses, including Baker, who said he was “100% confident” that Sussmann told him “he was not appearing before me on behalf of any particular client.”
Prosecutors also introduced into evidence a text message that Sussmann sent to Baker the night prior to the Sept. 19, 2016, meeting, saying he only wanted to help the FBI.
“Jim — it’s Michael Sussmann. I have something time-sensitive (and sensitive) I need to discuss. Do you have availability for a short meeting tomorrow? I’m coming on my own — not on behalf of a client or company — want to help the Bureau. Thanks,” the attorney wrote.
At another point in his testimony, Baker told jurors he might not have even attended the meeting had he known Sussmann was there on behalf of a presidential candidate.
In the biggest bombshell to emerge from testimony, former Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said Clinton herself approved the decision to hand the data to a reporter, who later published a story about the allegations on the website Slate.
Mook described his end of the conversation with Clinton as him telling her, “Hey, we have this and we want to share it with a reporter.”
“She agreed to that,” he said.
Sussmann attorneys highlighted mistakes the FBI made while investigating the case, including not interviewing Sussmann and other witnesses critical to the investigation.
They also raised a number of communications among FBI officials that showed they were well aware of Sussmann’s political clients.
“Mr. Sussmann had DNC and [Hillary for America] tattooed on his forehead,” attorney Sean Berkowitz told jurors in his closing argument Friday.
The attorney also took aim at prosecutor Jonathan Algor’s claim that the Sussmann-Baker meeting was especially nefarious because it involved opposition research solicited by a political campaign.
“Opposition research is not illegal,” Berkowitz said. “If it were, the jails of Washington, DC, would be teeming over.”