Sussmann jury begin deliberations, verdict expected next week

The judge left the courthouse early Friday afternoon for the holiday weekend.

Updated: May 27, 2022 - 3:35pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

The jury in the trial of 2016 Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann began deliberations Friday following closing arguments, though a verdict is not expected until after the long Memorial Day weekend.

Sussmann, who was a private attorney representing the campaign, was charged last year by Special Counsel John Durham with lying to the FBI when he allegedly told then-agency general counsel James Baker that he was not working on behalf of any client while providing him with since-debunked allegations about a secret communications channel between the Trump Organization and Russian Alfa Bank leading to the Kremlin. 

Durham says Sussmann was working at the time on behalf of two clients, the Clinton campaign and tech firm executive Rodney Joffe. 

While the jury began deliberations Friday afternoon, the judge left the court for the weekend, so a verdict is not expected to be given until Tuesday at the earliest.

During closing arguments, both the defense and prosecution accused each other of engaging in a smoke-and-mirrors case .

Defense lawyer Sean Berkowitz began his closing argument with an analogy of magician David Copperfield's 1983 magic trick of making the Statue of Liberty disappear.

He compared the misdirection Copperfield used in making his audience believe Lady Liberty disappeared to the prosecution's "magic trick" of turning a meeting between Sussmann and Baker into serious charges that put his client's freedom at stake.

Sussmann is pleading not guilty to the charge. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison.

In the prosecution's rebuttal, Andrew DeFilippis began with saying that it was apt for the defense to start their closing argument with a magic trick, as that was what they were doing by "trying to explain away a lie."

Both sides discussed the elements that must be satisfied for a conviction, which is that the jury must find beyond a reasonable doubt that Sussmann, a former federal prosecutor, made a false statement to the FBI.

To determine that Sussmann made a false statement, he must have made a statement or representation; made a false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement; that the statement was material; that it was knowing and willful conduct; and that the matter was within the jurisdiction of the U.S. government.

The prosecution argued Sussman, as a partner at Perkins Coie, was indeed representing clients in his meeting with Baker in September 2016, weeks before Trump-Clinton Election Day, despite telling the FBI's top lawyer that he wasn't – based on Baker's testimony; notes from other agents on the day of the meeting; a text Sussmann sent Baker the day before; and billing records.

The trial was held in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia before Judge Christopher Cooper. 

The defense in the 10-day trial focused on the credibility of the special counsel's witnesses, such as Baker's changing recollection of what Sussmann said about representing a client, FBI agent Ryan Gaynor being briefly a target of Durham's investigation, and FBI agent Curtis Heide currently being under investigation.

Berkowitz also noted the FBI's shoddy investigation into the Alfa Bank allegation.

DeFilippis admitted in his rebuttal that while the FBI didn't necessarily conduct the investigation properly – particularly mistakes, missed opportunities and keeping information from themselves – that was not relevant to Sussmann.