By Eric Tucker
WASHINGTON (AP) — A jury was chosen Monday in the trial of a Hillary Clinton presidential campaign attorney accused of lying to the FBI while investigating potential ties between Donald Trump and Russia in 2016 .
The case against Michael Sussmann, a cybersecurity lawyer who represented the Clinton campaign in 2016, is the first lawsuit stemming from the ongoing investigation led by Special Counsel John Durham and will test the strength of the evidence he and his team gathered while examining the early days of the Trump-Russia investigation into potential misconduct.
Sussmann appeared in court with his lawyers on Monday as the two sides worked to select jurors to hear the case, which is expected to last about two weeks. Prospective jurors who had already completed questionnaires filed into the courtroom one by one to answer follow-up questions on topics such as political contributions in the 2016 election and their views on lawyers and the criminal justice system.
The jury was finalized shortly after 5 p.m. Monday. Opening statements are scheduled for Tuesday.
The case alleges a single misrepresentation by Sussmann, but the stakes are high nonetheless: An acquittal is likely to hasten questions about the purpose of Durham’s investigation and its cost to taxpayers, while a guilty verdict will almost certainly energize Trump supporters who have long turned to Durham to speak out against what they see as biased treatment of the former president.
Sussmann is accused of misleading the FBI’s general counsel in a September 2016 meeting where he presented research showing what he said could be a suspicious backchannel of communications between computer servers of the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank, based in Russia.
Prosecutors allege Sussmann lied that he was not attending the meeting on behalf of a particular client when they say he was actually acting on behalf of two clients: the Clinton campaign and a technology executive who had helped assemble the computer data.
The Durham team say that if the truth had been told to the FBI, it would have factored into the bureau’s assessment of the credibility of the Alfa Bank allegations as it weighs whether to start the investigation. investigation. The FBI looked into the case but ultimately found nothing suspicious.
Sussmann’s attorneys deny lying, but say the alleged inaccuracy is in no way relevant, as there is no evidence that what the FBI knew or did not know about his political affiliations had any bearing on his decision to investigate or not.
Durham was appointed in 2019 by then-Attorney General William Barr to look for wrongdoing as the US government considered potential coordination between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign to swing the election outcome. An investigation by former special counsel Robert Mueller did not find a criminal conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign, although it did reveal that Russia was seeking to help Trump’s electoral candidacy.
The Alfa Bank case was only a peripheral part of the FBI’s investigation, and the sneak contact allegations weren’t even mentioned in Mueller’s 2019 report.
Durham’s work resulted in three criminal cases, but only the one against Sussmann went to trial.
In 2020, a former FBI attorney named Kevin Clinesmith pleaded guilty to altering an email related to the FBI’s covert surveillance of a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page. In seeking warrants to eavesdrop on Page, the FBI relied on anti-Trump information research files known colloquially as the “Steele Dossier” that contained unsubstantiated rumors and claims.
Last year, Durham accused a Russian analyst who was a source for the dossier of lying to the FBI about his own sources of information – including a longtime Hillary Clinton supporter. Igor Danchenko pleaded not guilty. The case is pending.
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