The case that Donald Trump had staked his hopes upon to overcome the lingering stench of Russian assistance in his 2016 election victory and validate his claims of a Democratic conspiracy to tarnish his reputation has ended with another gigantic loss for the twice-impeached former president and John Durham, the Special Counsel he made sure was appointed to investigate the case.
A federal jury took only six hours of deliberations to return a “not guilty” verdict in the case of Michael Sussman, a lawyer who worked on the Hilary Clinton campaign, who was accused of lying to the FBI while delivering news of a previously unknown secret communications channel between the servers of the Trump Organization and the Russia-based Alpha Bank. Federal prosecutors asserted that Sussman was misleading the Bureau when he claimed that he was not representing his clients when he brought the allegations of the bizarre commi=unications link to their attention.
The case was the only major prosecution to result from the much-hyped three-year-long investigation by Special Counsel John Durham who was appointed by then-Attorney General William Barr in 2019 to review the origins of the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections after the constant urging of Donald Trump who repeatedly attacked the “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation — as it was dubbed by the FBI — as a partisan “witch hunt.”
Durham’s prosecutors had told the jury in their closing statements that Sussman believed that he had “a license to lie” to the FBI in the midst of the 2016 campaign, while Sussman’s defense dismissed the entire prosecution as an exercise based entirely on a “political conspiracy theory.”
In the end, the jury disagreed with the prosecution’s contention that Sussman’s plan was to “create an October surprise by giving information both to the media and to the FBI to get the media to write that there was an FBI investigation,” all in order to hurt Donald Trump’s presidential prospects.
Instead, the jury bought into the defense’s explanation that the Trump-affiliated Special Counsel was trying to transform a short 30-minute meeting from more than five years ago into a “giant political conspiracy theory.”
“There is a difference,” Sean Berkowitz, Sussmann’s defense attorney, said, “between having a client, and doing something on their behalf.”
Sussman’s acquittal in the case puts an end to one of the last lingering investigations into the 2016 election with Trump — and Durham — once again on the losing side of the equation.
Having built his entire post-presidential career on political conspiracy theories, Trump should take the hint from the total rejection of the charges against Michael Sussman that the public isn’t buying his damaging conspiratorial fantasies any longer. With Trump’s entire re-election effort based on nothing but made-up grievances and culture war battles, it’s time for America to reject the destructive paranoia of Donald Trump and elect politicians who will actually make America great again through public policy that benefits the majority of Americans, not just wealthy conspiracy mongers.
Original reporting by Devlin Barrett at The Washington Post.
CORRECTION: The original headline stated that Durham lost his “only” case but has been changed to “biggest” case because there is one more criminal trial pending, and a prior case brought by the Special Prosecutor did result in a guilty plea by an FBI lawyer.