Potential bias of D.C. jury could be factor as Sussmann team mulls putting defendant on stand

"I doubt that Sussmann's counsel could even contemplate putting him on the stand without such a favorable jury," said George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley.

Updated: May 27, 2022 - 11:39am

As the trial of 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann draws to a close, his legal team has yet to decide whether to let him testify — an option that may be less risky due to a Washington, D.C. jury apt to be favorably predisposed toward a Democratic defendant in a case enmeshed in politics.

Sussmann is charged with lying to the FBI in a September 2016 meeting by allegedly claiming that he was not representing any clients in pitching a now-debunked allegation of a Donald Trump back channel to the Kremlin via a secret communications link with Russia's Alfa Bank. 

Special Counsel John Durham has presented evidence that Sussmann, also a former federal prosecutor and Democratic National Committee lawyer, was at the time representing the Clinton campaign and tech firm executive Rodney Joffe. 

At least three Clinton campaign donors made it into the jury pool, in addition to supporters of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and a supporter of defunding the police, according to the New York Post. One juror's daughter is on the same high school crew team as Sussmann's daughter. 

The trial is taking place in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, which means that the jury pool is made up of residents of heavily liberal Washington, D.C. The judge overseeing the trial, Judge Christopher Cooper, was appointed by former President Barack Obama, and his wife represents ex-FBI lawyer Lisa Page, a key figure in the now-discredited Trump-Russia collusion probe. 

On Wednesday, the eighth day of the trial, one of Sussmann's lawyers, Sean Berkowitz, told the court that his team is still deciding on whether to let the defendant take the stand. 

"I doubt that Sussmann's counsel could even contemplate putting him on the stand without such a favorable jury," George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley told Just the News on Wednesday. "It would be a swing for the fences when a defendant is ordinarily focusing on getting on base."

D.C. juries are typically far tougher audiences for Republican defendants.

Like Sussmann, Roger Stone, longtime political adviser to former President Donald Trump, was tried in federal District Court for the District of Columbia. In a show of federal law enforcement muscle, heavily armed FBI agents took the 67-year-old Stone into custody during a predawn raid on his South Florida home in January 2019. 

In 2020, Stone was sentenced to 40 months in prison after being found guilty by a D.C. jury on five counts of lying to Congress, one count of witness tampering, and one count of obstructing a congressional committee probe of alleged Trump-Russia collusion.

"No Republican and certainly no Trump supporter can get a fair trial in the District of Columbia," Stone told Just the News. "In Mr. Sussman's case he is the fall guy, the sacrificial lamb, the Patsy who Hillary's entire team of criminals has turned against.

"[W]hy Durham has not charged everyone involved in what is a self-admitted larger conspiracy is bewildering.

"As was the case in my trial where it guaranteed my conviction, allowing fierce partisan Democrats who supported Hillary Clinton on the jury guarantees Sussman's acquittal."

Turley noted recently in an opinion piece that Judge Amy Berman Jackson, a colleague of Cooper, refused to grant Stone a new trial "despite disturbing reports of juror bias."

Trump commuted Stone's sentence in July 2020, just days before it was to begin, before pardoning him later that year.