The fate of Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann is now in the hands of 12 jurors who will decide if he lied when pitching to the FBI in 2016 a false story about Trump-Russia collusion.
The jurors began deliberations Friday and will mull evidence and testimony from more than 20 witnesses presented over the past two weeks in a federal courtroom in Washington.
Upon sending the jurors to review the case, U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper reminded them “to reach a fair and justice verdict based on the evidence.”
Heading into the long Memorial Day weekend, a verdict is not expected until at least Tuesday.
In closing arguments Friday, prosecutors attempted to paint Mr. Sussmann as a schemer and a liar who manipulated the FBI to smear then-candidate Donald Trump on behalf of the Hillary Clinton campaign.
“The defendant knew that he had to hide his clients if there was any chance of getting his allegations to the FBI,” prosecutor Jonathan Algor said. “It wasn’t about national security. It was about promoting opposition research against the opposition candidate Donald Trump.”
In the defense’s closing argument, also presented Friday before the case went to the jury, attorney Sean Berkowitz implored jurors to see Mr. Sussmann as a respected national security lawyer.
He said Mr. Sussmann wouldn’t risk his career by lying to the FBI.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” Mr. Berkowitz said of the government’s case, adding that Mr. Sussmann had “everything to lose. Nothing to gain.”
Mr. Sussmann is charged with lying to the FBI in September 2016 when he presented bureau lawyer James Baker with a false theory that the Trump Organization computer servers were secretly communicating with Russia’s Alfa Bank, which has ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
If convicted, he would face up to five years in prison.
Prosecutors say Mr. Sussmann was in cahoots with the Hillary Clinton campaign and tech executive Rodney Joffe to sabotage Mr. Trump with an “October surprise” about the Alfa Bank claims.
Defense attorneys say Mr. Sussmann didn’t lie but was acting on his own as a good citizen alerting the FBI to a potential national security threat. They argue that his ties to the Clinton campaign were well known to the FBI and Mr. Baker.
At stake is more than Mr. Sussmann’s reputation and freedom. The two-week trial is a major test for special counsel John Durham, who was tasked by Attorney General William P. Barr in 2019 to examine possible misconduct by the FBI and other agencies probing Mr. Trump’s alleged ties to Russia.
A conviction will embolden Mr. Trump’s allies to push Mr. Durham to widen his probe. An acquittal would be a serious blow to Mr. Durham’s credibility and likely intensify calls from the left for Attorney General Merrick Garland to shut down the special counsel’s investigation.
During his closing argument, Mr. Algor sought to crystalize and simplify the complex paper trail of billing records and expense reports. He pointed to a slew of documents detailing Mr. Sussmann’s numerous meetings and calls with Mr. Joffe, who pushed the Alfa Bank story. The records also show that Mr. Sussmann was in meetings with Clinton campaign general counsel to discuss “a confidential project.”
The prosecutor highlighted a text message Mr. Sussmann sent to Mr. Baker on the evening before their meeting, just weeks ahead of the 2016 election. In the message, Mr. Sussmann said the meeting “was not on behalf of a client or company.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, the defendant used 42 words in that text message, and 20 words of them were a lie,” Mr. Algor said. “I want you to remember that text message that he sent to Mr. Baker.”
In the defense’s closing argument, Mr. Berkowtiz went to work assailing the credibility of prosecution witnesses, including Mr. Baker.
“All faced investigation or are under investigation,” Mr. Berkowitz said, suggesting the witnesses had motives to go along with the prosecution’s case.
While on the stand, Mr. Baker said he was “100% confident” that Mr. Sussmann verbally told him that the meeting was not on behalf of a client. But defense attorneys seized on varied retellings of the Sussmann meeting that Mr. Baker told investigators in other cases tied to the Russia probe.
Mr. Berkowitz stressed that no notes or recordings were taken from the Sept. 19, 2016, meeting and no other witnesses were in the room. He said Mr. Baker’s memory may reflect the text message, not what Mr. Sussmann said in the meeting.
“The case is over if you don’t believe Mr. Baker is 100% confident,” he said.
He also aimed the vagueness of billing records the prosecution say shows that Mr. Sussmann was on the clock the day he met with Mr. Baker.
The expense reports and billing records were admitted into evidence showing he billed the Clinton campaign for three hours on the day he met with the FBI, though the records did not specify the exact hours when he was working on the campaign’s behalf.
Mr. Berkowitz downplayed the significance of the billing records, noting that he didn’t bill Mr. Joffe for the meeting with Mr. Baker. He said prior billing statements to the Clinton campaign when Mr. Sussmann met with the FBI to discuss the Democratic National Committee email hack explicitly mentioned the FBI.
“Don’t you think if he went to the FBI on their behalf, he would say FBI meeting?” Mr. Berkowitz asked the jury. “Nothing. No Proof. Smoke. Mirror. Noise.”