Michael Sussmann found not guilty of lying to FBI, in blow to Durham investigation

The verdict is a major defeat for Durham and his Justice Department prosecutors, who spent three years looking for wrongdoing in the Trump-Russia investigation. He claimed Sussmann lied during a 2016 meeting where he passed on a tip to the FBI about Donald Trump and Russia.

The federal jury in Washington, DC deliberated for six hours over two days before reaching its verdict.

Sussmann’s case revolved around his meeting in September 2016 with James Baker, a friend who was the FBI’s general counsel. Sussmann passed on advice that led to a four-month FBI investigation into a possible internet back channel between the Trump Organization and the Kremlin-linked Alfa Bank. Both companies denied the allegation, and the FBI found no inappropriate cyberlinks.
Prosecutors argued that Sussmann intentionally lied to Baker that he only came as a concerned citizen, and not on behalf of any client, claiming that Sussmann hid his ties to Democrats to ” manipulate the FBI” and create a “October Surprise” to help Clinton win.
In Sussmann’s account, at the height of Russia’s attack on the 2016 election, he approached the FBI with good faith advice, which came from reputable cybersecurity experts he represented. He worked separately on Clinton’s behalf to peddle this unverified information to the press, generating some coverage. He did not try to fool Baker or hide his political connections, which were well known to the FBI.
Durham is a Trump-era holdover who was appointed by then-Attorney General Bill Barr in 2019 to look into the Russia investigation. Barr and Durham have publicly questioned the legitimacy of the Russia investigation, but Durham has yet to back those claims up with criminal convictions.

A juror told CNN the jury initially disagreed on a verdict when they received the case on Friday afternoon. But during deliberations, the juror said, all 12 jurors agreed that the Durham team failed to meet the five legal conditions necessary to find Sussmann guilty.

Sussmann’s lawyers repeatedly stressed the “materiality” element, which required prosecutors to prove that Sussmann’s alleged lie was relevant enough to have a potential impact on the work of the FBI.

Four additional jurors declined to comment on the verdict.

There was an audible sigh of relief from Sussmann’s family after the foreman announced the not guilty verdict. After leaving the courtroom, Sussmann’s wife, Dr. Apple Sussmann, said, “Holy cow, that was nerve-wracking.” Durham lingered in the courtroom for a few minutes after it was largely cleared.

During closing arguments last week, Sussmann’s lawyers derided Durham’s case as one big “political conspiracy theory”. They went further on Tuesday, accusing Durham of playing politics with the justice system.

“This is a case of extraordinary overreach,” defense attorneys Sean Berkowitz and Michael Bosworth said in a statement. “And we believe today’s verdict sends an unequivocal message to anyone willing to listen: Politics is no substitute for evidence, and politics has no place in our justice system.”

Sussmann addressed the press outside the courthouse and thanked the jury, and said he was looking forward to getting out of this ordeal and getting back to his job as a cybersecurity lawyer.

“I told the FBI the truth, and the jury clearly acknowledged it with their unanimous verdict today,” Sussmann said. “…Although I have been falsely accused, I am relieved that justice has finally prevailed in my case.”

Durham said in a statement he was “disappointed” with the verdict.

“While we are disappointed with the outcome, we respect the jury’s decision and thank them for their service,” Durham said in a statement. “I also want to acknowledge and thank the investigators and the prosecution team for their dedicated efforts in seeking truth and justice in this case.”

Durham investigation takes a hit

So far, Durham’s work has led to only one conviction: the guilty plea of ​​a junior FBI attorney involved in a wiretap warrant against a former Trump 2016 campaign adviser. Durham has also indicted a Russian expat linked to the infamous Steele case, whose trial is scheduled for October.

The Sussmann case was the first major courtroom test for Durham, and the acquittal could bolster critics of Durham, who believe he is conducting a politicized investigation into flimsy theories.

A few times during the trial, the judge chastised prosecutors for asking witnesses politically tainted questions. And Sussmann’s attorneys have repeatedly complained that prosecutors were going beyond the pre-trial “guardrails” the judge had put in place to weed out the procedural policy.
Durham’s team used the lawsuit to shine a light on what it said were dirty Clinton campaign tactics and to lift the curtain on the Democrats’ well-funded opposition research efforts against Trump in 2016.
Seizing on these revelations, Trump has treated the Durham investigation as a political weapon, stoking excitement in the right-wing ecosystem that Durham will deliver Watergate-caliber indictments against Clinton loyalists and government agents of ” Deep State” who allegedly conspired against him. He even suggested that the conduct of Sussmann and other Democrats should be “punishable by death”.
Durham’s efforts to “investigate the investigators” continue and have survived the Russian investigation itself, which was taken over by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and convicted six Trump associates, including his lawyer, President of 2016 campaign and a senior White House official.

This story has been updated with additional details.

CNN’s Hannah Rabinowitz contributed to this report.

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