Counsel for indicted former prosecutor and Perkins Coie attorney Michael Sussmann took aim at the government and cast aspersions about the reliability of potential claims that may have been made by witnesses in the federal false statement trial that began Tuesday.
“This case is an injustice, and I expect when all the evidence is in, you will agree,” defense attorney Michael Bosworth told jurors as he wrapped up opening statements inside the E. Barnett Prettyman building, according to ABC News DOJ correspondent Alex Mallin.
“Michael Sussmann didn’t lie to the FBI,” he continued. “Michael Sussmann wouldn’t lie to the FBI.”
Sussmann stands accused of one count of making a false statement to federal law enforcement over whom he was working for, if anybody, when he provided then-FBI general counsel James A. Baker with an unconfirmed and ultimately false tip about an alleged connection between Donald Trump and Russia’s Alfa Bank in September 2016.
Earlier in the day, U.S. Department of Justice Trial Attorney Deborah Brittain Shaw made efforts to cast Sussmann as the engineer of a would-be “October surprise” aimed at Trump in order to benefit Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. To hear the government tell it, the defendant essentially obfuscated his Clinton connection to the FBI and then billed the campaign for his Alfa Bank-related work.
Bosworth said the government has it wrong on all accounts.
According to the Washington Post‘s wrap-up of the day’s testimony, the defense took direct aim at the prosecution’s argument that the FBI was unaware of Sussmann’s political connections. The attorney then pulled up numerous internal FBI documents that were “littered” with references to Sussmann as a political actor.
Some of the arguable subtext contained within this line of argument, that Sussmann could not have fooled the FBI if he tried, was later brought to the foreground as Bosworth suggested that any potential government witnesses who claimed otherwise were not correct about how his client was viewed by the agency in the first place.
“Judge the FBI by what they did, not what they’re saying now,” Bosworth added.
While acknowledging his client’s “general” connection to the Clinton campaign and the world of Democratic Party politics, he repeatedly said that the meeting itself was not on behalf of the Clinton campaign and, in fact, the last thing they would have wanted him to do.
“Use your common sense: if the Clinton campaign really wanted to send in an attorney to conceal his relationship with the campaign, he is the last person they would send in,” Bosworth said, according to a Twitter thread on the trial by Fox News politics correspondent Brooke Singman. “The FBI knew he represented partisan clients. [The FBI] knew from the beginning, no matter what Sussmann said, there could be politics afoot.”
”The FBI knew that he represented the Clinton campaign that summer,” the defense attorney continued, according to the Associated Press. “The FBI knew that he was an attorney for the DNC, the Democratic Party itself.”
The indicted attorney has allegedly claimed he was acting in his capacity as a private citizen and “not on behalf of a client or company” when he took the meeting with Baker. In one message cited in his indictment, the defendant said he just wanted “to help the Bureau.”
Bosworth reiterated that line of argument on Tuesday.
“No one told him to go,” he said according to Reuters correspondent Sarah N. Lynch.”No one authorized him to go.”
“The meeting with the FBI was the exact opposite of what the Clinton campaign would have wanted,” Bosworth added, according to Politico. “The FBI meeting was something that they didn’t authorize, that they didn’t direct him to do, that they wouldn’t have wanted him to do.”
And, in the end, Bosworth argued, Sussmann’s efforts actually hurt the Clinton campaign because it resulted in the New York Times not running with their would-be story on the Alfa Bank allegations.
“Sussmann did not go to the FBI to do the Clinton campaign’s bidding,” the defense attorney insisted.
The nature of Sussmann’s professed–and alleged–concerns regarding the scuttled New York Times story on Trump’s faux Russian bank connection are likely to loom large as the trial moves forward.
A thread by the Times‘ own Charlie Savage notes:
A key factual/interpretive thing comes into view: Shaw said Sussmann went to FBI bc frustrated NYT was delaying the story – to sex it up and create urgency. Bosworth says Sussmann believed story’s publication was imminent when went to FBI – to give heads up of what was coming./16
— Charlie Savage (@charlie_savage) May 17, 2022
In response to government efforts seeking to cast Sussmann’s outreach to the FBI as the purview of the privileged, the defense also took issue, noting the defendant’s pedigree and former work.
“Relationships matter, especially in the small world of national security lawyers,” Bosworth reportedly said. “Do you think Mr. Sussmann would throw his career away, his life away, to tell a lie to that guy?”
[images: Sussmann via YouTube screengrab; Durham via DOJ portrait]
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