WASHINGTON (CN) — Political opinions interfered with jury selection in Washington, D.C., on Monday in the trial against Democratic-linked lawyer Michael Sussmann stemming from Trump-era special counsel John Durham's three-year investigation into the FBI's 2016 Trump-Russia collusion probe.
U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper asked several jurors what initial thoughts popped into their head about the trial, and many had the same answer: the 2016 presidential election.
But the Obama-appointed judge repeatedly reminded them that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are not on trial — Sussmann is.
The 12-year veteran of the Justice Department was indicted last September for allegedly falsely stating that he was not representing any clients when he met with then-FBI General Counsel James Baker in 2016 and provided him with data files supposedly containing evidence of secret communications between Russia’s Alfa Bank and then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.
During jury selection on Monday, several people were dismissed for stating that their personal views on politics could sway their judgment.
One man said the political connections between former President Donald Trump, former Attorney General William P. Barr and how the case was initiated seemed to be “quite suspect.”
Asked if he could be fair to the government during the trial, the man said he thought “that would be difficult.” He was dismissed from pool.
Federal employees, attorneys and retirees were among the 85 potential jurors in the pool, most of whom said they had not heard of Sussmann.
During the hearing, Sussmann was dressed in a red tie with a dark grey suit.
He has pleaded not guilty to a single count of making a false statement to the FBI.
Sussmann claims that he was not representing any clients during the one-on-one meeting with Baker on Sept. 19, 2016. And even if he was and he lied about it, Sussmann argues it would not have been “material” to — or have had a significant impact on — the FBI’s decision to launch the 2016 probe, which found no evidence to support the Trump-Alfa Bank claims.
Last month, prosecutors told Cooper that the FBI could have done several things differently if it was aware that Sussmann was representing clients during the meeting.
“Not only might they have asked who the client was, but the indictment itself said the FBI might have taken additional or incremental steps before opening or closing an investigation,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew DeFillipis said. “It also says it might have allocated its resources differently or more efficiently and uncovered more complete information about the reliability and provenance of the recorded data at issue.”
Durham was appointed in May 2019, by then-Attorney General Barr, to look into the FBI’s handling of the 2016 probe into alleged Trump-Russia collusion.
The Connecticut federal prosecutor has since secured one conviction and is hoping Sussmann’s jury trial will result in another.
A former federal prosecutor told Courthouse News last week that if Durham prevails, “it could possibly tarnish the FBI’s image because they got hoodwinked.”
“They were given a bill of goods by Sussman [and] if there’s a guilty verdict, that suggests that they were too willing to accept information from sources, such as Sussmann, without vetting the motifs and … motive is always important in any investigation,” said Gene Rossi.
Sussmann resigned from his position at law firm Perkins Coie after being indicted last September. If convicted, he faces up to five years behind bars.
Opening arguments are slated to begin Tuesday morning and the trial is expected to last up to two weeks.Follow @EmilyZantowNews
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