Reprinted with permission from AlterNet
In September 2020, attorney and cybersecurity specialist Michael Sussmann was charged with lying to the FBI — an indictment that resulted from Special Counsel John H. Durham’s probe of the 2016 Russia investigation. Now, according to New York Times reporter Charlie Savage, Sussmann’s defense team is asking for the trial date to be set sooner than what the prosecution has requested.
And the team defending Sussman, who was part of a firm working for the Democratic Party in 2016, argued in the new filing that the case against him is even weaker than it initially appeared.
“Newly disclosed evidence” in the United States of America v. Michael A. Sussmann, according to Savage, could “make it harder for” Durham to “prove beyond a reasonable doubt that” Sussmann is “guilty of the charge against him: making a false statement to the FBI during a September 2016 meeting about possible links between Donald J. Trump and Russia.”
Durham was essentially instructed by former Attorney General Bill Barr to investigate a series of conspiracy theories pushed by Trump and his allies about the FBI's investigation into him and several campaign members' ties to Russia. So far, he has mostly come up empty. Though the indictment of Sussman lists a long series of incidents meant to suggest Democrats were illicitly conspiring to turn the FBI against Trump in the summer of 2016, the only crime he actually charged was that Sussman allegedly falsely claimed that he wasn't representing any clients when he spoke to a representative of the bureau about research on a possible Trump-Russia connection.
In the initial indictment, the evidence for that claim was surprisingly thin. But Sussman's lawyers argued in the new filing that the charge is even less reliable than it initially appeared because other evidence in the Justice Department's possession undermines the case that Sussman lied.
'The indictment centered on a September 2016 meeting between Mr. Sussmann and James A. Baker, who was then the FBI’s general counsel," as Savage explained. "Mr. Sussmann relayed analysis by cybersecurity researchers who cited odd internet data they said appeared to reflect some kind of covert communications between computer servers associated with the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank, a Kremlin-linked Russian financial institution."
Savage explained that according to Baker's own interview, it appears that Sussman never claimed he wasn't representing a client while speaking to the FBI:
In July 2019, Mr. Baker was interviewed by the Justice Department’s inspector general about the meeting. Mr. Baker stated, according to a two-page transcript excerpt, that Mr. Sussmann had brought him information “that he said related to strange interactions that some number of people that were his clients, who were, he described as I recall it, sort of cybersecurity experts, had found.”
The newly disclosed evidence also includes a page of a report Mr. Durham’s team made to summarize an interview they conducted with Mr. Baker in June 2020. According to that report, Mr. Baker did not say that Mr. Sussmann told him he was not there on behalf of any client. Rather, he said the issue never came up and he merely assumed Mr. Sussmann was not conveying the Alfa Bank data and analysis for any client.
If this evidence holds up and isn't undermined by additional evidence from Durham, it may be very difficult to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that Sussman lied at all to the FBI. That would be a huge blow to Durham's credibility, and it would further undercut Bill Barr's hopes of having his conspiracy theories vindicated.