Michael Sussmann revealed on Thursday he won't be taking the stand in his own trial to defend himself against accusations he concealed that he was working for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign when he pushed discredited Trump-Russia collusion claims to the FBI.
The embattled Democratic cybersecurity lawyer is on trial after being charged by special counsel John Durham with lying to the FBI about whom he was representing when, in September 2016, he presented internet data that claimed a now-discredited link between former President Donald Trump and Russia’s Alfa-Bank.
SUSSMANN BILLED CLINTON CAMPAIGN FOR THUMB DRIVES HE GAVE TO FBI PUSHING ALFA-BANK ALLEGATIONS
In particular, Sussmann was indicted on charges of allegedly concealing his clients, Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign and “Tech Executive-1,” known to be former Neustar executive Rodney Joffe, from FBI General Counsel James Baker when he pushed the since-debunked allegations of a secret Trump-Russia back channel.
Sussmann denies lying to the FBI and has pleaded not guilty.
After much speculation during the nearly two-week trial, the judge revealed that Sussmann would not be testifying after all.
“I understand from counsel that the defense will not be calling Mr. Sussmann, is that correct?” Judge Christopher Cooper asked Thursday morning.
Sussmann lawyer Sean Berkowitz replied, “That’s correct.”
The judge asked Sussmann if he had spoken and consulted with his defense team when making the decision not to take the stand, and he replied, “I have, Your Honor.” And the judge asked if he had nevertheless chosen not to testify.
"Yes, Your Honor," Sussmann replied.
The closing arguments by the prosecution and defense will begin Friday morning, and jury deliberations will likely begin Friday afternoon. With the long Memorial Day weekend, it is possible a verdict might not be reached until Tuesday or later.
The judge read the jury instructions to the jurors to close out the day on Thursday. He told them that “it is your duty to accept the law as I instruct you” but that “you are the sole judges of the facts.”
“You may not draw any inference of guilt from his decision not to testify,” Cooper told the jurors of Sussmann’s decision not to take the stand.
Baker testified last week he was “100% confident” that Sussmann told him was not there on behalf of a client.
“Michael started to explain why he was there. He said he was not appearing before me on behalf of any particular client. In essence, in the meeting, he said, ‘I’m not here on behalf of any particular client.’ … I’m 100% confident that he said that in the meeting,” Baker said from the witness stand last Thursday.
Durham's team presented evidence this week suggesting Sussmann billed Clinton’s campaign for the thumb drives he used to push now-discredited Trump-Russia allegations to the FBI in 2016 despite Sussmann claiming he did not do so for the campaign.
Two thumb drives containing Alfa-Bank claims, along with “white papers” pushing the claims, were provided to Baker by Sussmann at the meeting, and the prosecution presented evidence that the USB drives bought by Sussmann were billed to the Clinton campaign. The thumb drives, one blue and the other red, were displayed to the jury as evidence this week in Washington.
The disbursement report listed the client as Hillary for America, stated “General Political Advice” was the purpose, and described it as “Sussmann Purchase of new single use flash drives for secure sharing of files 9/13/16.”
The opposition research firm Fusion GPS drafted one of the “white papers” Sussmann gave Baker, according to the special counsel.
British ex-spy Christopher Steele created his discredited dossier on then-candidate Trump after being hired by Fusion, which was itself hired by Perkins and Marc Elias, the general counsel for Clinton’s campaign. Durham has noted Fusion claims were pushed to the media, State Department, Justice Department, Congress, and elsewhere, which "resulted in numerous media articles” before and after the 2016 election.
Sussmann met with Fusion and also met with Steele in 2016 and pushed certain Alfa-Bank claims to him, which Steele, in turn, pushed to the U.S. government.
A billing chart presented by the prosecution also showed a meeting on “Communications with M Elias regarding server issue” on July 1, “Communications with M Elias regarding server issue” on July 31, “Meeting with consultant, M Elias, revisions to white paper, meeting with expert and reporter, follow up meeting” on Sept. 6, “Multiple meetings regarding confidential project, draft white paper … meetings with M Elias” on Sept. 14, and “Work and communications regarding confidential project” on Sept. 19, the day of the Baker-Sussmann meeting. Those meetings were all billed to the Clinton campaign.
The FBI, CIA, former special counsel Robert Mueller, a bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee investigation, and Durham’s team have all cast doubt on or shot down the Alfa-Bank claims.
Baker, who is now a top lawyer for Twitter, testified last week that the final conclusion of the FBI was that “there was nothing there.”
Clinton personally signed off on sharing the since-debunked Trump-Russia allegations related to Alfa-Bank with the media during the 2016 election, according to her campaign manager.
Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook testified Friday he was "briefed about the Alfa-Bank issue first" by Elias in the summer of 2016. He said the campaign leadership had a meeting about whether to share the information with the media, which they decided to do. Also present in the meeting were campaign chairman John Podesta, communications director Jennifer Palmieri, and policy adviser Jake Sullivan (who is now President Joe Biden's national security adviser), according to Mook.
Mook said he discussed it with Clinton after the campaign team had discussed it. Mook said he framed it to Clinton as: "Hey, you know, we have this, and we want to share it with a reporter." Mook added, "She agreed to that."
He testified that “she thought we made the right decision.”
Durham’s team has said Sussmann was trying to generate an “October surprise” to hurt Trump and help Clinton.
On Halloween 2016, Clinton tweeted, “Computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank.” She included a lengthy statement from Sullivan titled "New Report Exposing Trump's Secret Line of Communication to Russia."
“This could be the most direct link yet between Donald Trump and Moscow,” Sullivan claimed in part, adding, "This secret hotline may be the key to unlocking the mysteries of Trump's ties to Russia."
“We can only assume that federal authorities will now explore this direct connection between Trump and Russia as part of their existing probe into Russia's meddling in our elections,” Sullivan said. He continued pushing the Alfa-Bank claims on TV in 2017.
A former CIA officer testified last week that Sussmann similarly concealed his representation of Joffe from the agency when pushing Trump-Russia claims in February 2017.
The judge presiding over the case against Sussmann ruled last week that the prosecution cannot bring up the fact Joffe had been cut off as a confidential human source in 2021, in part because of the Durham investigation.
Durham revealed this year that he had evidence Joffe “exploited” domain name system internet traffic at Trump Tower, Trump’s Central Park West apartment building, and the Executive Office of the President.
The special counsel said Joffe also tasked researchers with mining internet data to establish “an inference” and “narrative” tying Trump to Russia. Durham said Joffe indicated he was doing this to please certain “VIPs” on the Clinton campaign.
The jury has not been able to see much of this evidence.
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Joffe said in April that he would be invoking his Fifth Amendment rights in the Sussmann case.
A Durham prosecutor has said the special counsel's team is still "looking closely" at Joffe, including pointing to a law on major fraud against the U.S. government, specifically mentioning a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency contract.