Former top FBI official says he’s ‘100% confident’ Michael Sussmann told him he wasn’t passing on tip for Hillary Clinton’s campaign
Former FBI general counsel James Baker told jurors about his meeting with Sussmann in September 2016, where Sussmann gave the tip. Sussmann has pleaded not guilty to one count of lying to the FBI — specifically that he falsely told Baker he wasn’t there on behalf of any clients.
“He said he was not appearing before me on behalf of any particular client, and that he had some information that was of concern relating to an apparently surreptitious communications channel between something called Alfa Bank — which he described as being connected to the Kremlin in Russia — and some part of the Trump Organization in the United States,” Baker said.
The testimony could provide a boost to Durham, who is facing the first courtroom test of his three-year investigation into potential misconduct tied to the FBI’s Trump-Russia probe. Durham claims that Sussmann went to Baker on Clinton’s behalf but concealed his ties to the campaign.
Prosecutors say this meeting with Baker was part of a ploy by Sussmann and the Clinton campaign to try to dupe the FBI into investigating and to get resulting press coverage as some sort of October surprise to damage Trump.
The defense has previously attacked Baker’s credibility, saying his memory is “clear as mud.” During cross-examination, they’re expected to point out that Baker has changed his story a few times over the years — like when he testified to Congress that he couldn’t remember if Sussmann told him anything about clients.
On the witness stand Thursday, Baker said he “trusted that the statement was truthful” because he was friends with Michael and knew him as “a serious lawyer” and “serious guy” who worked for the Justice Department and had cybersecurity expertise needed to understand the Trump-Alfa data.
“I thought he was coming to see me as a good citizen who had obtained some information,” Baker testified. “Knowing Michael, I would think he would want to help the government.”
Mistrial request rejected
Earlier Thursday, Judge Christopher Cooper rejected Sussmann’s request for a mistrial.
“That suggestion implicates Mr. Sussmann’s Fifth Amendment right not to testify in his own defense, and Mr. Sussmann was deeply prejudiced by Mr. Elias’s comments and the Special Counsel’s efforts to double down on those comments,” Sussmann’s lawyers wrote in the filing.
Sussmann’s lawyers said in court earlier Wednesday they would seek a mistrial, but Cooper said he was “not inclined” to grant their request. In the filing, Sussmann’s team said the judge could also fix the issue by striking the problematic material from the record.
Cooper said from the bench on Thursday morning that he will strike some portions of the court record, granting part of Sussmann’s request.
The defense lawyers also said Sussmann hasn’t decided whether he’ll testify in his own defense. They are preparing to put on a defense case with a handful of fact witnesses and character witnesses.
After the possibility of a mistrial was raised in court, special counsel prosecutors told the judge they chose their words carefully and didn’t try to elicit problematic testimony from Elias.
Prosecutors called Elias to the stand, but it was the defense attorneys who spurred him to make the comment in question. They asked if he knew whether Sussmann went to the FBI “on behalf of the (Clinton) campaign” in September 2019, with a tip about Donald Trump’s ties to Russia.
“I think you’d have to ask Mr. Sussmann,” Elias said. “I mean … I don’t know. From my standpoint, I would say no. But ‘on behalf of’ is kind of like a subjective-intent thing.”
Sussmann pleaded not guilty to one felony count of lying to the FBI. Durham says Sussmann falsely claimed that he wasn’t representing the Clinton campaign when he met with the FBI’s general counsel and provided a tip about Trump’s potential ties to a prominent Russian bank.
This story has been updated with additional details.
Quoted from Various Sources
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