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Michael Sussmann, a one-time campaign lawyer for Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 presidential bid against Donald Trump, attempted to “use” the FBI to set up the then-GOP nominee in a fake plot tying him to Russia in an “October surprise” operation with the objective of sandbagging the billionaire real estate developer’s chances of victory.
That’s according to the prosecutorial team of special counsel John Durham, according to opening statements on Monday as the trial of Sussmann, who has been charged with lying to the FBI, began.
According to the allegation, Sussmann met with the bureau’s top lawyer in September 2016 and said he was not there on behalf of any client to present information he said would likely connect Trump to Russia, though he was acting on behalf of the Clinton campaign.
“He told a lie that was designed to achieve a political end, a lie that was designed to inject the FBI into a president election,” a prosecutor told the court.
Assistant Special Counsel Deborah Shaw told jurors that Sussmann took advantage of his relationships with the FBI and its then-general counsel James Baker to plant data about a potential Trump tie to Russia while hiding the fact that Sussmann was acting on behalf of the Clinton campaign.
“This is a case about privilege … the privilege of a lawyer who thought that for the powerful the normal rules didn’t apply, that he could use the FBI as a political tool,” Shaw said in her opening statement in U.S. District Court. “The defendant lied to direct the power and resources of the FBI to his own ends and to serve the agendas of his clients.”
She added that Sussmann and Clinton’s campaign hoped that the bureau would immediately act on the attorney’s alleged tip and being an investigation that would provide negative coverage of Trump as voters were getting ready to head to the polls.
“It was a plan to create an October Surprise on the eve of the presidential election — a plan that used and manipulated the FBI ……a plan that largely succeeded,” Shaw declared.
However, Sussmann’s defense said their client never misled the FBI and that the false-statement case against the former federal prosecutor is riddled with several fatal flaws.
“Michael Sussmann didn’t lie to the FBI. Michael Sussmann wouldn’t lie to the FBI,” defense lawyer Michael Bosworth said in his opening. “This case is an injustice.”
The outlet continued:
The single felony charge against Sussmann stems from a meeting he held with Baker in September 2016 to convey data and written reports about alleged internet links between computers in Trump Tower and a Russian bank, called Alfa Bank, which was owned by businessmen close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The so-called Domain Name System or DNS lookup data appeared to signal that one or more computers at the Trump building were in regular contact with Alfa Bank. However, the FBI eventually determined that the apparent links were caused by an internet advertising server sending out what many would consider spam email messages, Shaw said.
That said, Politico noted that there are huge political overtones regarding the trial and that the prosecution faces an uphill battle in overwhelmingly Democratic Washington, D.C., to win a conviction of a Clinton ally clearly working to undermine Trump.
And the prosecution is keenly aware of that. During jury selection, Durham’s prosecutors told prospective jurors that neither Clinton nor Trump are on trial.
In her opening statement to the 16 jurors and alternates, Shaw said politics is “the elephant in the room” and urged jurors to set those issues aside. “We are here because the FBI is our institution. It should not be used as a political tool for anyone … Whatever your political views might be they can’t be brought to the decision that you will be asked to make in this courtroom,” she said.