Ongoing deliberations in the lawsuit related to the Trump-Russia investigation

WASHINGTON (AP) — A lawyer for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign hid his partisan interests from the FBI as he pushed “pure opposition research” linked to Donald Trump and Russia in the weeks before the election, a prosecutor said Friday during closing arguments in the attorney’s trial.

But Michael Sussmann The legal team denied prosecutors’ allegations that he lied. And even though jurors believed Sussmann had lied, the defense said the alleged misrepresentation didn’t matter because he was presenting national security information that the FBI would have reviewed regardless of the source. At the time of Sussmann’s meeting with the FBI in September 2016, the bureau was already investigating whether Russia and the Trump campaign were colluding to influence the election Trump won in November.

“It was a very controversial time. The Russians had hacked into the DNC. They were leaking emails. And there was an ongoing FBI investigation regardless of that,” Sussmann’s attorney, Sean Berkowitz, told reporters. jurors, referring to the Democratic National Committee “And it was taken as incredibly serious.”

The case is the first courtroom test of special counsel John Durham’s work since he was appointed three years ago to find fault with the government while investigating potential links between Russia and the campaign. of Trump. The jurors began deliberating on Friday afternoon.

A guilty verdict would be cheered by Trump and his supporters, who have turned to the Durham Inquiry to undermine the original Trump-Russia investigation which they have long seen as politically motivated. But the case against Sussmann is narrow in nature, involves a peripheral aspect of that investigation, and alleges misconduct by a government tipster rather than anyone at the FBI or any other federal agency.

Nonetheless, the two weeks of testimony in federal court in Washington revealed how entangled Democratic interests, opposition research, media and law enforcement have all become in the race for the election. presidential.

Prosecutors have described Sussmann as determined to launch investigations into Trump that could then be leaked to the media and report negative stories to his campaign.

“It was not a matter of national security,” said Jonathan Algor, a Durham team prosecutor. “This was to promote opposition research against opposition candidate Donald Trump.”

Sussmann is charged with a single count of misrepresentation. This charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, although if convicted, Sussmann faces significantly less prison time, if any. He did not speak during the trial.

The case turns on September 19, 2016, in a meeting in which Sussmann presented the FBI’s top lawyer, James Baker, with computer data that Sussmann said suggested a secret communication channel between a Russian-based bank and the Trump Organization, the nominee’s company.

Such a backchannel, if it existed, would have been explosive information at a time when the FBI was examining Trump’s ties to Russia. But after evaluating the data, the FBI quickly determined there were no suspicious contacts.

Prosecutors say Sussmann lied to Baker by saying he was not attending the meeting on behalf of a particular client. They say he was actually there on behalf of the Clinton campaign and another client, a technology executive who, according to the Durham team, assigned researchers to search for internet traffic involving Trump associates and Russians.

Sussmann lied about his clients, prosecutors say, to lend more credibility to the data, because he believed the information would not be investigated if the FBI believed it was mere research from the company. opposition pushed by the Clinton campaign.

“The defendant knew he had to hide his clients if there was any chance of getting his allegations to the FBI – and that’s why, ladies and gentlemen, the defendant lied,” Algor said.

To convict, prosecutors must show not only that Sussmann lied, but that the lie was material — namely, that it mattered or at least could have mattered to the work of the FBI.

Algor said the fact that Sussmann repeatedly billed the Clinton campaign for his work on the Alfa Bank case is evidence that he was acting on behalf of the campaign when he met with the FBI. But Berkowitz noted that Sussmann billed his taxi ride to FBI headquarters for the meeting itself to his law firm, rather than the campaign.

Berkowitz also attempted to cast doubt on exactly what was said at the meeting. Prosecutors showed jurors a text message Sussmann sent Baker the day before the meeting in which he asked to sit down on a sensitive issue and said he would come alone and not on behalf of a client. .

But Berkowitz reminded jurors that the only indicted misrepresentation took place at the next day’s meeting and no one can be sure exactly what was said because Baker and Sussmann were the only attendees and neither took any grades.

Berkowitz also suggested that it was technically correct that Sussmann said he was not acting on behalf of a client because Sussmann never asked the FBI to do anything with the information he provided. .

“When you go somewhere on behalf of a client, you’re standing up for the client, you’re asking for something,” Berkowitz said. “Mr. Sussmann didn’t ask anything of Jim Baker.

Both sides also quibbled over Baker’s testimony, with Berkowitz citing dozens of instances in which Baker said on the stand that he didn’t or couldn’t remember something. Prosecutors, meanwhile, seized on the fact that Baker said he was “100% satisfied” that Sussmann told him he was not acting on behalf of a client and that he would not have probably wouldn’t have attended the meeting if he had been told otherwise. .

“Ladies and gentlemen, would James Baker come to the stand under oath, a former senior FBI official, and submit to the perjury penalty if this were not true,” said another prosecutor, Andrew DeFilippis , to jurors on Friday. “No, he wouldn’t do that. None of us would do that, take that risk.

Durham has so far charged three people. The case against Sussmann is the only one to have gone to trial.

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Follow Eric Tucker on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/etuckerAP

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