(PresidentialWire.com)- A prominent Democratic lawyer tried to “use the FBI as a political tool” when he met with the bureau’s chief counsel about an alleged connection between a Russian bank and Donald Trump. On Tuesday, a special counsel prosecutor made this declaration to a jury in Washington, D.C.
The defense challenged this claim about D.C. lawyer Michael Sussmann on the first day of a closely watched trial. It is the first key test of Durham’s three-year-long probe into the origins of the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation.
Brittain Shaw, one of Durham’s prosecutors, told the jury during opening statements that “the evidence will show that this is a case about privilege.”
Sussmann is charged with one count of lying to the FBI when he approached James Baker, then the FBI’s general counsel, in September 2016 and told him he was not acting on behalf of any client. He was bringing him data purporting to show secret computer messages between the Alfa Bank, a prominent Russian financial institution owned by oligarchs close to Vladimir Putin, and the Trump Organization.
Prosecutors say Sussmann, then a Perkins Coie partner, represented Clinton’s campaign and Rodney Joffe, a longtime client seeking a top job in a Clinton administration.
Michael Bosworth, the defense attorney, told the jury Durham’s team had fabricated the story.
Bosworth told the jury, “This case is an injustice, and I suspect you will agree.”
Bosworth said that Sussmann never lied to the FBI, and he was a serious national security lawyer with top-secret clearance for over two decades.
Bosworth said his client’s FBI meeting was the opposite of what the Clinton campaign wanted and that he wasn’t sent. No one gave him permission.
Shaw, the prosecutor, argued that the real purpose of the meeting was to gin up an FBI investigation that would give media stories about Trump-Russia ties more traction, an effort she called an “October surprise” for the Clinton campaign.
The FBI doesn’t believe claims of a computer link between Alfa Bank and Trump’s business. FBI agent Scott Hellman, who analyzed Alfa Bank data supplied by Sussmann for a cybercrime squad, testified that the bureau did not agree that this data passed through a secret channel between the Trump Organization and Russia.
Hellman said the data providers’ analysis method was “questionable.” It “didn’t make sense” to FBI investigators that a supposedly secret Trump Organization-Russia communications channel engaged with Trump-linked computers.
He said a counterintelligence unit in the FBI Chicago office also examined the data.
After Robert Mueller’s investigation, then-Attorney General William Barr appointed Durham to investigate the Trump-Russia investigation. Mueller found multiple contacts between Trump campaign members and Russians but no criminal conspiracy.
Trump allies argue the FBI investigation into Trump was a political dirty trick. They’ve looked to Durham to vindicate their claims, making his investigation a lightning rod in Washington’s rough-and-tumble political culture. Contrary to Trump’s allies’ hopes, Durham’s first trial presents the FBI as a victim, not a perpetrator.
According to Bosworth, Joffe told Sussmann about the Trump Organization’s alleged contacts with the Russian bank. Sussmann believed the New York Times would run a story about the purported communications, so he warned the FBI.
He didn’t want them to be caught “falt-footed.”