A federal judge has blocked special counsel John Durham from introducing evidence he contends will show former Hillary Clinton campaign attorney Michael Sussmann acted as part of a “joint venture” to taint former President Trump by linking him to Russia.
Prosecutors with Mr. Durham’s office had argued that Mr. Sussman, a Perkins Coie lawyer who represented the 2016 Clinton campaign, worked in concert with pro-Clinton operatives, tech researchers and others “toward a common goal” of promoting negative stories about Mr. Trump.
Prosecutors said they had emails and other evidence that would have linked Mr. Sussmann to the venture.
Mr. Sussmann is charged with lying to the FBI for allegedly concealing his connections to the Clinton campaign when he handed over data in September 2016, purporting to show covert communication between Mr. Trump‘s campaign and a Russian bank. Those allegations have since been debunked.
U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper, who was appointed by former President Obama, said efforts to link Mr. Sussmann to a vast anti-Trump scheme would “essentially amount to a second trial” for conspiracy, a crime that has not been alleged.
“While the special counsel has proffered some evidence of a collective effort to disseminate the purported link between Trump and Alfa Bank to the press and others, the contours of this venture and its participants are not entirely obvious.” Judge Cooper wrote in a 24-page opinion issued over the weekend.
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Judge Cooper said that Mr. Sussmann is charged with the specific crime of lying to the FBI and introducing a conspiracy claim would require an “extensive presentation of evidence about that conspiracy” that “is likely to confuse the jury and distract from the issues at hand.”
Mr. Durham had sought to introduce emails and other documents between Mr. Sussmann, the Clinton campaign, Marc Elias at Perkins Coie, tech executive Rodney Joffe and other tech researchers. He said the documents reveal a coordinated plot to spread negative stories tying Mr. Trump to Alfa Bank, allegations that became part of an investigation that hung over Mr. Trump‘s entire term in office.
The Clinton campaign fought to keep those records out of Mr. Durham’s hands, arguing that they are protected under attorney-client privilege.
Judge Cooper did grant Mr. Durham‘s request to question witnesses about the effort by technology researchers to study internet traffic between Mr. Trump and the Russian bank. However, he said he would not allow prosecutors to introduce evidence that Mr. Joffe had some doubts about the accuracy of the data.