A jury was picked Monday in the trial of a lawyer who worked with Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and is accused of lying to the FBI as it investigated potential ties between Donald Trump and Russia in 2016.
Jurors in the politically charged federal trial of Michael Sussmann were asked questions that included whether they voted in the 2016 election or volunteered for any presidential campaigns and whether they've "read or heard anything" about Clinton, Trump or other people or entities that will figure in the case, including the FBI and the CIA.
Opening statements are scheduled to begin Tuesday, and the trial is expected to last two weeks.
Sussmann, a cybersecurity lawyer who represented the Clinton campaign in 2016, is charged with making a false statement to the U.S. government.
In the indictment, special counsel John Durham alleges that Sussmann misled then-FBI general counsel James Baker at a Sept. 19, 2016, meeting at which Sussmann was passing on information about allegations of secret communications between Russia and the Trump campaign.
“During the meeting, Sussmann lied about the capacity in which he was providing the allegations to the FBI. Specifically, Sussmann stated falsely that he was not doing his work on the aforementioned allegations ‘for any client,’” the indictment says, when, in reality, “Sussmann acted on behalf of specific clients, namely a U.S. Technology Industry Executive, a U.S. Internet Company and the Hillary Clinton Presidential Campaign.”
The FBI later determined that Sussmann's concerns — that obscure internet data showing the possibility of a secret communications channel between computer servers associated with the Trump Organization and Russia’s largest commercial financial institution, Alfa Bank — were unfounded.
Prosecutors said the alleged lie was important because it misled the FBI “about the political nature of his work.”
Sussmann’s lawyers deny he lied and say the alleged misstatement isn’t relevant in any event because there’s no evidence that what the FBI knew or didn’t know about his political affiliations had any bearing on its decision-making.
The trial is the first arising from Durham's investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation.
An acquittal would be likely to hasten questions about the Durham probe’s purpose and cost to taxpayers, while a guilty verdict would almost certainly energize Trump supporters who have long looked to Durham to expose what they see as biased mistreatment of the former president.
Durham was named special counsel in 2019 by Trump’s then-attorney general, William Barr, a critic of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Mueller found that the Russian government tried to interfere for Trump’s benefit, that Trump’s campaign had numerous undisclosed contacts with Russians and that Trump took steps to obstruct Mueller’s investigation. He did not find evidence that Trump’s camp conspired with the Russian government.
Durham’s work — which Trump has repeatedly touted — has resulted in two criminal cases besides Sussmann's.
In 2020, a former FBI lawyer named Kevin Clinesmith pleaded guilty to altering an email related to secret FBI surveillance of an ex-Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page. In applying for warrants to eavesdrop on Page, the FBI relied on a dossier of anti-Trump research known colloquially as the “Steele dossier,” which included rumors and uncorroborated claims.
Last year, Durham charged a Russia analyst who was a source for the dossier with lying to the FBI about his own sources of information — among them, a longtime Clinton supporter. Igor Danchenko has pleaded not guilty. The case is set for trial in October.