A federal jury in Washington found Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann not guilty Tuesday on a charge of lying to the FBI.
Prosecutors from special counsel John Durham's office had contended that Sussmann misrepresented himself during a meeting with the FBI's general counsel in 2016 in hope of orchestrating an “October surprise” against rival Donald Trump.
The two-week trial was the first arising from Durham’s three-year investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation.
“While we are disappointed in the outcome, we respect the jury’s decision and thank them for their service," Durham said in a statement. "I also want to recognize and thank the investigators and the prosecution team for their dedicated efforts in seeking truth and justice in this case.”
Durham declined to answer reporters' questions as he left the courthouse.
Sussmann told the media outside court that he was "grateful" to be able to put the ordeal behind him.
"Despite being falsely accused, I’m relieved that justice ultimately prevailed in my case," Sussmann said. "As you can imagine, this has been a difficult year for my family and me. But right now, we are just grateful for the love and support of so many during this ordeal."
In closing arguments Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Algor told jurors that Sussmann “used his privilege as a high-powered Washington lawyer, as a former DOJ prosecutor, and as a friend ... to bypass normal channels and to expedite a meeting with the FBI’s [now former] general counsel,” James Baker.
Sussmann, a cybersecurity lawyer, provided Baker with obscure internet data indicating a possible communications channel between computer servers associated with the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank, Russia’s largest commercial financial institution. The FBI later determined Sussmann’s concerns were unfounded.
The case centered on prosecutors’ claim that Sussmann told Baker during the meeting that he was passing on the information as a concerned citizen, not on behalf of any client. Algor told jurors that Sussmann was actually there on behalf of two clients — the Clinton campaign and Rodney Joffe, the technology executive who oversaw research into Alfa Bank.
Sussmann lawyer Sean Berkowitz pointed out to jurors that there had been conflicting information from Baker and others over the years about what Sussmann said in the meeting. Berkowitz also said Sussmann was not acting on the campaign’s behalf — particularly because the campaign was mistrustful of the FBI over its well-publicized investigation into Clinton’s emails.
Durham was named special counsel in 2019 by then-Attorney General William Barr, a critic of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Mueller's expansive report found that the Kremlin tried to interfere in the election for Trump’s benefit and that Trump’s campaign had numerous undisclosed contacts with Russians. He did not find any evidence that Trump’s camp conspired with the Russian government.
Durham’s work has led to two criminal cases besides Sussmann’s. A former FBI lawyer named Kevin Clinesmith pleaded guilty to altering an email related to secret FBI surveillance of ex-Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. He was sentenced to probation last year.
In the second case, analyst Igor Danchenko is awaiting trial on a charge that he lied to the FBI in 2017. Danchenko, a Russian citizen who lives in Virginia, worked on the so-called Steele dossier — the salacious, largely unverified collection of Trump’s alleged links to Russia. He is alleged to have lied when he said he told investigators he did not get any information from a Democratic operative.
Danchenko has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go to trial in October.
Trump, who has repeatedly touted Durham's investigation, said after Sussmann and Danchenko were charged that the criminal cases "really shows is what a hoax it was."