Former Attorney General Bill Bar in late 2020 appointed John Durham to investigate whether the Justice Department’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s potential ties to Russia was, as Trump has claimed repeatedly, a fraudulent “witch hunt.” Durham hasn’t turned up much, but he did manage to get former Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussman to stand trial for lying to the FBI. Sussman was acquitted on Tuesday, dealing a massive blow to Durham’s efforts.
The case stems from Sussman alleging to the Justice Department during the 2016 presidential campaign that the Trump Organization was secretly communicating with Alfa Bank, a Russian bank. Durham says Sussman did not divulge to the DOJ that he was flagging the potential backchannel — of which the DOJ later said there was no evidence — on behalf of Clinton’s campaign.
Sean Berkowitz, Sussman’s lawyer, argued over the course of the trial Sussman couldn’t have been acting on behalf of Clinton’s campaign because testimony showed that Clinton’s campaign didn’t want the FBI to investigate a potential connection between Trump and Alfa Bank. “There is a difference between having a client, and doing something on their behalf,” Sussman’s lawyer, Sean Berkowitz said, adding that “the jails of Washington, D.C., would be teeming over” if opposition research were to be outlawed.
James Baker, the FBI lawyer who met with Sussman, also testified that he is “100 percent confident” that Sussman told him he was not coming to him on behalf of Clinton’s campaign. Sussman saying he wasn’t operating on behalf of Clinton’s campaign doesn’t mean he wasn’t actually operating on behalf of Clinton’s campaign, or at least with the campaign’s interests in mind. Regardless, the jury only took a few hours to reject the idea that the meeting was part of a massive conspiracy to sabotage Trump’s campaign.
Trump has long been alleging that Clinton’s campaign illegally attempted to torpedo his 2016 presidential campaign by working with the Justice Department to fabricate the idea that he had ties to Russia, and that Special Counsel Robert Mueller subsequent investigation was a hoax. Bill Barr weaponized the Justice Department to prove it by naming Durham a special counsel to investigate the potential conspiracy. The verdict on Tuesday is a setback to Durham’s efforts, as Sussman was the first person to be charged as a result of the now-years-long probe, which is starting to resemble, to borrow a phrase from Trump, a “witch hunt.”
This is a breaking news story and will be updated.