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U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper denied a request by special counsel John Durham’s team of prosecutors to remove a juror who’s daughter competes on the same high school sports team as the defendant’s.
A woman identified as juror #5 told Cooper on Thursday that she recently discovered that her daughter competes with cybersecurity attorney Michael Sussmann’s daughter on their high school crew team. The juror said she was unaware of the connection when she was filling out her jury questionnaire last week and that the two girls, separated by a three-year age gap, are not close, according to The Washington Times.
The juror said that she had never met Sussmann or his wife, and thought she could be an impartial juror despite the connection. The judge agreed, voicing disappointment that the issue couldn’t have been brought to light earlier, but saying that the juror’s willingness to come forward after finding out herself spoke to seriousness with which she approached her duty as a juror.
Cooper overruled protests from the prosecution. Durham’s team moved to have the juror dismissed, arguing they would not have agreed to seat her had they known of the connection. Sussmann’s defense team argued she should stay.
“The connection is not so close that it affects her impartiality,” Cooper said. “She did not know the connection, unfortunately, when she filled out the questionnaire.”
“As a senior, her daughter is probably out of there anyway,” he added.
The juror will eventually have to decide whether Sussmann made a false statement to then-FBI general counsel James Baker during a 2016 meeting. Sussmann is accused of hiding his clients, the Clinton campaign and tech executive Rodney Joffe, in a meeting in which he pushed for the FBI to investigate false claims about Trump-Russia collusion.
George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, who served as an expert witness during former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment and former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, said Cooper’s decision is the latest in a host of court rulings that have set a more favorable field for the defendant.
“The judge in the Sussmann trial just delivered another blow to the prosecution in refusing to remove a juror due to a connection to the defendant’s daughter,” Turley tweeted. “So one of the jurors will be allowed to vote on whether to send the father of her daughter’s teammate to prison. So [she] is joining three Clinton donors on the jury, including one who could only promise to ‘strive for impartiality as best I can.’”
Cooper has ties to Trump-Russia collusion figures and leading Democrats going back decades. His 1999 marriage to his wife was officiated by sitting Attorney General Merrick Garland. Former President Barack Obama appointed Cooper to his district court seat in 2014 after unanimous approval by the Senate.
Cooper has said he was “professional acquaintances” with Sussmann decades ago when both worked at the Justice Department in the 1990s. Cooper’s wife has served as attorney for former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, a key figure in the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation into the Trump campaign, since 2018.
Durham’s team did not ask for Cooper to recuse himself from the Sussmann case despite his history. Sussmann is on trial for allegedly lying to the FBI about his reasons for presenting debunked evidence of Trump-Russia collusion to then-FBI general counsel James Baker in 2016.