Clinton campaign counsel testifies he didn't trust FBI, as Sussmann defense floats mistrial motion

Marc Elias, the 2016 Clinton campaign lawer who hired GPS/Fusion to find Trump dirt, said he wouldn't have taken Alfa Bank allegations to FBI,

Updated: May 20, 2022 - 1:51pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

The defense in the trial of Michael Sussmann floated the possibility of requesting a mistrial on Wednesday, while Clinton 2016 campaign counsel Marc Elias testified he wouldn't have fed the FBI allegations of a secret Trump hotline to the Kremlin because he didn't trust the FBI.

Special Counsel John Durham has charged Sussmann, a 2016 Clinton campaign lawyer, with lying to the FBI, alleging that in 2016, weeks before the presidential election, he pitched a Trump-Russia collusion tale to the bureau without disclosing he was working for the Clinton campaign, suggesting instead he was there as a good citizen. 

Sussmann provided evidence at the FBI meeting that purported to prove secret communications between the Trump Organization and Russia's Alfa Bank, a backchannel to the Kremlin.

Elias and Sussmann were both partners at the Perkins Coie law firm.

Sussmann, a former federal prosecutor, has pleaded not guilty to the charge. If found guilty, he faces up to five years in prison.

Following the testimony of Elias on Wednesday, Sussmann's lawyer, Sean Berkowitz, suggested that he might move for a mistrial on Thursday.

During the defense cross-examination of Elias, the witness said that Sussmann himself would have to be asked if he took the Alfa Bank allegation to the FBI on behalf of the Clinton campaign. However, Elias said, from his own "standpoint, no, Sussmann didn't go on behalf of the campaign." 

Since Sussmann will not testify during the trial, he cannot be asked whether or not he went to the FBI on behalf of the Clinton campaign, and the defense doesn't want him to appear to be guilty to the jury for not giving his testimony.

The defense claimed that Elias replied to a question that the prosecution was not allowed to ask.

Noting in response that Elias' answer came during cross-examination by the defense, the prosecution stressed that it had been careful in framing their follow-up question to Elias about it in their redirect examination.

Trial Judge Christopher Cooper said he was not inclined to grant a mistrial and told the defense to be prepared for addressing witnesses on Thursday.

George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley discounted the defense talk of moving for a mistrial.

"Motions for mistrials are routine and routinely denied," Turley told Just the News. "The defense has little complaint. This trial has already been curtailed to the advantage of the defense. Durham was limited in what he could ask Elias."

Turley also brushed aside Elias' testimony Wednesday that he didn't trust the FBI enough to go to them with the Alfa Bank allegation.

Elias testified that he didn't trust the FBI because they "didn't do anything" to stop the release of the hacked DNC server emails and former FBI Director James Comey had taken "unfair" public stances regarding Clinton.

"The most glaring moment," Turley said, came when "Elias said that he would never approve the sending of this material to the FBI because he did not trust the FBI or Comey. However, that is precisely what the campaign did with the Steele dossier. Moreover, Elias was involved in developing the Alfa bank allegation, which was shown to be entirely baseless."

In a Twitter thread on Wednesday, the legal scholar wrote: "Both the Steele dossier and Alfa bank claims show the same pattern: false claims pushed to both the FBI and the media while the Clinton campaign denied connections."

Turley also tweeted: "Ultimately, the FEC fined the campaign for concealing the funding of the Steele dossier at Perkins Coie. That was the account overseen by Elias at the firm."

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