Testimony in the case of former Hillary Clinton campaign attorney Michael Sussmann wrapped up Friday after the defendant decided against taking the stand.
Special counsel John Durham’s team of prosecutors and Sussmann’s defense team made closing arguments on Friday morning before Judge Christopher Cooper handed the case over to the jury for deliberation. Sussmann is charged with one count of lying to the FBI during a September 2016 meeting with then-FBI general counsel James Baker.
Prosecutors told the jury that the evidence of Sussmann’s guilt is “overwhelming,” according to Politico.
“The defendant knew that he had to hide his clients if there was any chance of getting his allegations into the FBI,” assistant special counsel Jonathan Algor said. “It wasn’t about national security. It was about promoting opposition research against the opposition candidate Donald Trump.”
“There are sometimes close cases,” prosecutor Andrew DeFilippis added. “This is not even close to a close case.”
Defense attorneys portrayed Sussmann as a victim and said prosecutors were manipulating facts to make Sussmann appear guilty of a crime he never committed.
“The special counsel’s office bought a snow-making machine and blew that over the lawn, and they want you to think it snowed,” defense attorney Sean Berkowitz said, according to Fox News. The attorney described the prosecution’s case as “misdirection” and “smoke and mirrors.”
Berkowitz said Sussmann is a “serious national security lawyer who received what he believed to be credible data from a world-leading DNS expert,” referring to tech executive Rodney Joffe, who was one of Sussmann’s clients at the time of the 2016 meeting.
Sussmann is alleged to have lied to Baker in 2016 about representing the Clinton campaign and Joffe during their meeting over later-debunked claims that the Trump Organization was keeping a backchannel with Russia’s Alfa-Bank.
The charge itself is over the narrow question of whether Sussmann lied in the meeting itself. During the trial, prosecutors presented evidence from before and after the meeting showing and suggesting that Sussmann presented himself to Baker as a concerned citizen, not as operating on behalf of Clinton’s 2016 campaign for president.
The day before the meeting, Sussmann sent Baker a text requesting a meeting with him over “sensitive” material he wished to show the bureau.
“Jim — it’s Michael Sussmann. I have something time-sensitive (and sensitive) I need to discuss. Do you have availability for a short meeting tomorrow? I’m coming on my own — not on behalf of a client or company — want to help the Bureau. Thanks,” Sussmann’s text says, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Baker responded: “Ok. I will find a time. What might work for you?”
Baker did not take contemporaneous notes during the meeting, though he testified that he is “100%” positive Sussmann continued to characterize himself as a concerned citizen. Baker met with two FBI officials after the meeting with Sussmann, and notes from each say that, in Baker’s recollection, Sussmann presented the Alfa-Bank data on behalf of himself only.