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Trial of Michael Sussmann begins in probe of Russia investigation

Trial of Michael Sussmann begins in probe of Russia investigation
Michael Sussmann, a former partner at law firm Perkins Coie retained by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016, will head to court Monday for a trial on a charge of lying to the FBI as part of the probe by special counsel John Durham, pictured. Photo courtesy United States Attorney's Office, District of Connecticut

May 16 (UPI) -- Michael Sussmann, a former partner at law firm Perkins Coie retained by Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in 2016, will head to court Monday for a trial on a charge of lying to the FBI.

The trial, happening more than three years into a probe by special counsel John Durham into the origins of the investigation of former President Donald Trump's ties to Russia, is a major test for the special counsel. The probe by Durham has now gone on longer than Robert Mueller's own probe, which Durham is investigating.

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Durham was appointed by then-Attorney General William Barr to lead the investigation but has only secured one conviction so far for Kevin Clinesmith, a low-level FBI lawyer who was sentenced to 12 months of probation and 400 hours of community service after he altered an email.

Sussmann, who is not on trial for the content of the tip, is accused of saying he "was not acting on behalf of any client" while meeting with then-FBI general counsel James Baker in September 2016. He has pleaded not guilty to the charge.

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During the meeting, Sussmann provided Baker with Internet data concerning a possible link between Trump Organization computers and Russia's Alfa Bank, according to the indictment.

"Sussmann's lie was material because, among other reasons, Sussmann's false statement misled the FBI General Counsel and other FBI personnel concerning the political nature of his work," the indictment reads.

The indictment said that he "deprived the FBI of information that might have permitted it more fully to assess and uncover the origins of the relevant data and technical analysis, including the identities and motivations of Sussmann's clients."

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Legal experts noted to The Hill that the trial will pose challenges for Durham, including that Sussmann was charged for a one-on-one meeting that wasn't recorded.

"You have no audio. You have no video. You have no contemporaneous notes. You just have Michael Sussmann versus Baker at a meeting in September 2016. That is not a strong case," former federal prosecutor Gene Rossi told The Hill.

"They're going to trial on something that was said almost six years ago."

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However, Ankush Khardori, another former federal prosecutor, wrote in an op-ed for Politico that "Durham has already won" whether he actually wins the case or not.

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"If the investigation has revealed anything of note, it is just how secondary the law has come to be in politically-charged prosecutions like this one," Khardori wrote.

"Whatever the outcome of the trial, the possibility that political observers on the right will modify their preconceptions about Trump's supposed victimization or the purportedly nefarious scheming of Clinton operatives seems increasingly remote. In fact, many of them seem to have spent recent weeks positioning themselves for the possibility of an acquittal."

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