Former Hillary Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee lawyer Michael Sussmann has been found not guilty by a Washington, D.C.-based jury of making a false statement to former FBI General Counsel James Baker when he stated he was not representing the Clinton campaign when he provided false information to the FBI alleging Trump Tower was communicating with the Moscow-based Alfa Bank in 2016.
Responding to the trial’s outcome on his new social media app, Truth Social, former President Donald Trump declared, “Our Legal System is CORRUPT, our Judges (and Justices!) are highly partisan, compromised or just plain scared, our Borders are OPEN, our Elections are Rigged, Inflation is RAMPANT, gas prices and food costs are ‘through the roof,’ our Military ‘Leadership’ is Woke, our Country is going to HELL, and Michael Sussmann is not guilty. How’s everything else doing? Enjoy your day!!!”
While Trump was clearly disappointed by the outcome of trial, the verdict was not necessarily a surprising outcome.
Special Counsel John Durham had shown evidence at trial that Sussmann had billed the campaign for his time around the meeting with Baker, with a Sept. 19, 2016 bill for “work and communications regarding confidential project.” Sussman’s defense argued that at the time, Sussman was doing all sorts of work around the campaign and that the receipt did not state “FBI meeting” via a memo, calling into question what the bill was actually for.
On the other hand, at trial, District Judge Chris Cooper disallowed additional emails into evidence against Sussmann that might have showed a more concrete link between Sussmann and the researchers working for the campaign as a “joint venture.” Cooper explained: “The Court will exercise its discretion not to engage in the kind of extensive evidentiary analysis that would be required to find that such a joint venture existed, and who may have joined it… While the Special Counsel has proffered some evidence of a collective effort to disseminate the purported link between Trump and Alfa Bank to the press and others, the contours of this venture and its participants are not entirely obvious.”
At trial, former Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook had testified in the trial of Michael Sussmann that Hillary Clinton “agreed to” a plan to take unsubstantiated allegations to the press, resulting in pieces by Slate’s Franklin Foer on Oct. 31, 2016, and in the New York Times on Oct. 31, 2016, entitled, “Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. Sees No Clear Link to Russia,” by Eric Lichtblau and Steven Lee Myers.
Mook and Sussmann’s former partner at Perkins Coie, Marc Elias, both testified at trial that they were unaware that Sussmann had approached the FBI. Mook said, “Going to the FBI does not seem like an effective way to get information out to the public… You do that through the media, which is why the information was shared with the media.” Elias told jurors he didn’t learn of the meeting until Sussmann was indicted.
Importantly, neither witness contradicted the Sussman defense’s contention that going to the FBI was not a part of the campaign’s efforts. Was that enough reasonable doubt for the jurors? Apparently so.
Especially without the “joint venture” finding from the court that Durham was pushing for to be allowed into evidence, Durham appears to have had an uphill battle showing the campaign was indeed responsible for sending Sussmann to the FBI.
That, even though the Alfa Bank allegations were with the campaign long before Sussmann ever met with the FBI. In 2020, former British spy Christopher Steele, who was similarly hired via Fusion GPS who was hired by Perkins Coie, the Clinton Campaign and the DNC in 2016 to produce Trump-Russia allegations including on Alfa Bank, stated in a defamation trial brought by Alfa Bank that the source of the Alfa Bank allegations as it related to his own reporting was none other than Sussmann.
“I’m very clear is that the first person that ever mentioned the Trump server issue, Alfa server issue, was Mr. Sussmann,” Steele said during the trial of a meeting that occurred on July 29, 2016, months before Sussman had ever went to the FBI. And the Alfa Bank allegations definitely found their way into Steele’s own reports, including an Oct. 11, 2016 report that distributed to the U.S. State Department.
One unfortunate outcome of the trial is a lingering perception, particularly among Republicans and supporters of former President Trump, who watched as a top-secret investigation of the Trump campaign, the opposition party in an election year, was falsely predicated with “evidence” of a conspiracy with Russia provided by Trump’s opponent, the Clinton campaign.
That investigation led directly to the firing of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, the recusal of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the firing of James Comey and then the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller in 2017, who ultimately found no Trump-Russia conspiracy, with the 2019 Mueller report stating, “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” and “the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference.”
Now, as a result in part, public confidence in America’s justice system has become a partisan issue. A Jan. 2022 poll by Rasmussen Reports found just 46 percent of Americans had a favorable view of the FBI, with 47 percent holding an unfavorable view, down from May 2020, when 60 percent had held a favorable view.
On the partisan side, in January, 57 percent of Republicans said their view of the FBI was unfavorable, a view clearly shared by Trump (after Spygate, who can blame him?) and 60 percent of Democrats said their view of the FBI was favorable. Which is what happens when the Justice Department and the nation’s intelligence agencies become politically weaponized by the incumbent party faction as a means of keeping power, and then upon losing in it in 2016, as a means of reclaiming that power.
Special Counsel Durham might not have been able to convince a federal judge and a jury of Sussmann’s peers that there was corruption at the upper echelons of power in the Democratic Party to frame former President Trump and to have him investigated by the Justice Department for crimes he did not commit, but Republicans across the country were already convinced before the trial even began. They’ve already seen enough.
Hillary Clinton will have many legacies. For her part in the Spygate affair, besides badly damaging U.S.-Russian relations and risking war by falsely accusing former President Trump of being a Russian agent, eroding public trust in America’s law enforcement and intelligence gathering agencies looms large, not to mention the incalculable damage that was done to the Presidency itself because of her supporters’ inability to accept she lost. Where it ultimately leads the nation remains to be seen.
Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government.
This post, Sussman not guilty verdict not surprising as Trump declares ‘our legal system is corrupt’. After Spygate, who can blame him?, was originally published on The Daily Torch.