The defense team for cybersecurity attorney Michael Sussmann started their duel against the prosecution team on the second day of Sussmann’s trial this past Tuesday.
Sussmann is looking down the barrel of a five-year prison stint as the result of a single charge of making false statements to the FBI as part of a 2016 meeting with the general counsel for the Bureau in which Sussmann made claims of a secret backchannel between a Russian bank and Trump Organization that have been since debunked. On Monday, the court wrapped up jury selection procedures and has since gone directly into the first day of hearing testimonies.
Prosecutor Deborah Shaw was the one to start the proceedings for the day. She stated that the case will highlight throughout the next few weeks that Sussmann’s trial is entirely about “privilege,” which could be perceived as a shaded reference to pretrial fights concerning what is considered to be protected under attorney-client privilege, as reported by The Washington Examiner. The prosecution team, which is being led by special counsel John Durham, has been battling it out with the defense team for Sussmann, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, the investigative firm Fusion GPS, and Democrat-linked law firm Perkins Coie because of communications over the few weeks leading up to the trial.
Sussmann, who was employed by Perkins Coie as an attorney in 2016, stands accused of intentionally hiding his clients from the FBI, which were the Clinton Campaign and an executive at the computer analytics firm Neustar.
“This was not a mistake or a slip of the tongue, it was a concerted effort to conceal his clients,” shaw stated, as reported by The Hill. “You’re going to see … how it misled officials into thinking he was acting as a good citizen.”
“The FBI should never be used as a political pawn,” she went on to say.
Michael Bosworth, the defense attorney,, claimed that Sussmann never told a lie to the FBI, and even if he had, it would not have mattered at all.
“Michael Sussmann didn’t lie to the FBI,” stated Bosworth to the jury. “Michael Sussmann wouldn’t lie to the FBI. … His whole livelihood depended on his credibility with these agencies and he’d never throw that away.”
Bosworth also claimed that Sussmann’s interests were very clear to the FBI from the start of the ordeal.
“He was someone the FBI knew represented partisan clients,” stated Bosworth, as reported by the Associated Press. “The FBI knew that he represented the Clinton campaign that summer. The FBI knew that he was an attorney for the DNC, the Democratic Party itself.”
As part of the meeting back in September of 2016, Sussmann gave the then-FBI general counsel James Baker a data set that showed the Trump Organization secretly speaking with Alfa-Bank from Russia. FBI special agent Scott Hellman, who is the current head of an investigative team that specializes in cybercrime, was made to testify on Tuesday that he, along with a superior, vetted the data given by Sussmann and outright dismissed the attorney’s claims within days, as reported by The Washington Examiner.
“Whoever had written that paper had jumped to some conclusions that were not supported by the data,” he stated, making reference to a white paper that Sussmann had given with the data. “The methodology they chose was questionable to me.”
“There was not enough data there to make the conclusion that there was any communication, or the secret communication between the Trump Organization and Russia,” claimed Hellman.
The agent also issued testimony that the interests of a source do impact how the FBI weighs its information. “The motivation of whoever is giving me the information is very important,” he testified.