Attorneys for Michael Sussmann show a preview of the attack they plan to use to defend him against a charge of making false statements to the FBI five-years ago.
John Durham, the U.S. prosecutor charged with investigating the U.S. government’s investigation into Russia’s ties to Donald Trump's 2016 presidential election campaign, brought the case. Sussmann pleaded not guilty and his lawyers argued that the case was driven more by politics than facts.
Sussmann is accused in a conversation with the FBI in September 2016, where he raised concerns about possible suspicious cyber contacts between the servers of the Trump Organization and the Russian bank server. According to the indictment, Sussmann claimed that he wasn't bringing concerns to the FBI for any one client, but that he was representing Hillary Clinton and a technology executive.
Sussmann's lawyers noted Wednesday that the false statement was not recorded and that no contemporaneous notes were made about it. Sussmann’s lawyers claim that Baker, the sole witness has "already denied memory of the statement" but has testified in ways that support Sussmann’s account rather than against it.
They claim that Sussmann has maintained, including in testimony before Congress, that he met the FBI to represent a client who is a cyber expert. According to his lawyers, he met Baker to discuss a news media report that would describe possible cyber contacts between Trump's server and the Russian bank. The FBI investigated the matter but did not find any evidence of a communications backchannel.
A motion for what is known as a "bill-of-specifics" in law seeks more information about the allegations. It includes Sussmann’s exact words, context, and what part was false.
"While the Indictment in the matter is 27 pages long," states Sussmann's lawyers.
The lawyers said that "and on that charge, a single false statement, the Indictment clearly fails to provide Mr. Sussmann the detail and clarity required by the law and that is essential in enabling him to prepare his defense."
A spokesperson for the Justice Department declined comment Wednesday night.
A long-serving federal prosecutor, Durham was previously the U.S. Attorney in Connecticut. In 2019, Attorney General William Barr tapped him to investigate any misconduct in the federal investigation into possible coordination between Russia, the 2016 Trump campaign, and other potential Russian connections. Robert Mueller, the special counsel, conducted an investigation that found significant contacts between Trump associates and Russians. However, it did not find any criminal conspiracy to influence the outcome of the presidential election.
Barr appointed him last year as a special counsel to make sure he can complete his work without having to be fired by a new administration.
Sussmann's case is the second criminal prosecution Durham has brought to justice in just two and a quarter years. was able to secure a guilty plea form a former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith on the charge of altering a government email. Clinesmith was sentenced on probation.