John Durham scores two major court wins ahead of Clinton lawyer’s trial

Trial judge compels Fusion GPS witness to testify, agrees to review memos Michael Sussmann's defense lawyers claim are covered by attorney-client privilege.

Updated: May 4, 2022 - 7:38pm

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Special Counsel John Durham scored two major wins on Wednesday ahead of the criminal trial for ex-Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann, as the judge ordered a key witness to testify and agreed to review memos the defense is trying to conceal with a claim of attorney-client privilege.

During a hearing, U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper expressed skepticism that memos detailing the Fusion GPS firm’s opposition research on Donald Trump’s ties to Russia – some of which were shared with the news media and the FBI -- were covered by attorney-client privilege and agreed to Durham’s request to review 38 of the documents that prosecutors want to introduce at trial later this month.

Cooper said he wasn’t convinced the Clinton campaign, Sussmann and his law firm and Fusion GPS should have blanket privilege over the documents, at one point citing a memo of Fusion’s contacts with a reporter as evidence of “assisting a media strategy” rather than legal advice.

Cooper also unsealed his order to compel that granted Fusion GPS computer researcher Laura Seago limited immunity and ordered her to testify at trial as Durham sought.

Seago’s lawyer  informed prosecutors she planned to “invoke her Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination absent a court order of immunity compelling her to testify at trial,” according to the unsealed records.

Cooper signed an order mandating Seago “give testimony or provide other information which she refuses to give or to provide on the basis of her privilege against self-incrimination as to all matters about which she might be interrogated at trial and any proceedings ancillary thereto.”

The judge also ruled that “no testimony or other information compelled under this Order (or any information directly or indirectly derived from such testimony or other information) may be used against Laura Seago in any criminal case, except a prosecution for perjury, giving a false statement, or otherwise failing to comply with this Order.”

Durham had argued that Seago’s testimony was “necessary to the public interest.” It did not specify what prosecutors believed her testimony would focus on.

Holly Pierson, a lawyer for Seago, did not return a call or email seeking comment Wednesday evening.

Josh Levy, a lawyer for Fusion GPS, also did not return a call seeking comment.

Cooper’s rulings on Wednesday continue a string of victories for Durham in his effort to prosecute Sussmann on a charge of lying to the FBI in 2016 when he shared what proved to be false dirt linking Donald Trump to Russia.

The judge previously rejected Sussmann’s motion to dismiss the charge, ruling last month that the question of whether Sussmann’s alleged lie to the FBi was “a question that generally must be answered by a jury.”

Kash Patel, a former federal prosecutor and the former House Intelligence Committee investigative counsel who helped unravel the Russia case, applauded both of the judge’s decisions.

He said the ruling to review the privileged documents “is a big step towards the utilizations of key documents proving criminality in the Sussman case.”

And Patel said the order to compel Seago’s testimony was one “swinging the gavel of justice in the right direction” and allowing testimony “the Clinton Criminal Cartel wanted blocked.”

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