WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A lawyer who worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign faces a criminal trial this week on charges of lying to the FBI in a crucial test for a special prosecutor appointed during President Donald Trump’s administration.
A federal judge in the District of Columbia will seat a jury on Monday in the politically charged case of attorney Michael Sussmann, who is accused of misleading the FBI about who he represented when he approached the bureau with since-discredited information tying Trump to a Russian bank.
Opening arguments are expected on Tuesday, with Sussmann’s lawyers planning to argue their client is innocent and that the allegations against him are far removed from the sort of grave FBI misconduct Republicans hoped U.S. Special Counsel John Durham would reveal.
The trial is the first in a case brought by Durham, who was appointed by former Attorney General William Barr in 2019 to investigate the officials who probed the Trump-Russia contacts. President Joe Biden’s Justice Department has allowed Durham to finish his work.
Trump, a Republican, has long portrayed the 2016 FBI investigation as a witch hunt against him. The former president repeatedly — and unsuccessfully — urged Durham to bring criminal charges before the Nov. 2020 presidential election that Trump lost to Biden, a Democrat.
The Sussmann prosecution focuses on a September 2016 meeting in which he gave the FBI evidence of potential cyber links between the Trump Organization and Russia’s Alfa Bank.
The FBI eventually investigated the Alfa Bank matter and decided the suspicions were unfounded.
Sussmann is a former lawyer for the Perkins Coie firm who worked for Clinton’s campaign in 2016.
According to Durham’s indictment, Sussmann lied during the September 2016 meeting by saying he was not passing along information about Trump on behalf of any specific client.
The indictment said Sussmann turned over that information to the FBI not as a “good citizen” but as an attorney representing a U.S. technology executive, Rodney Joffe, and Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Sussmann’s lawyers have said his client never made a “material,” or consequential, misstatement to the FBI.
Durham’s investigation of the 2016 presidential campaign has so far resulted in charges against three people: Sussmann, former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith, and Russian national Igor Danchenko.
Clinesmith was sentenced to a probation after he pleaded guilty in 2020 to falsifying a document as part of the bureau’s early-stage probe into whether Trump’s 2016 campaign colluded with the Russian government.
Danchenko, an analyst who contributed to a 2016 dossier of allegations regarding Trump’s ties to Russia, has pleaded not guilty to charges that he repeatedly lied to the FBI about his sources of information.
(Reporting by Jan Wolfe and Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Daniel Wallis)