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Sussmann defense reveals key details about FBI, Clinton campaign interactions

Evidence shown to jurors on Wednesday suggested that the FBI knew details about Michael Sussmann's relationship with the Hillary Clinton campaign prior to his meeting with the bureau's top counsel in 2016.

WASHINGTON (CN) — After prosecutors rested their case in the Michael Sussmann trial on Wednesday, a federal jury learned for the first time that he met with the FBI as the client representative for Hillary Clinton’s campaign just weeks before his fateful one-on-one meeting with the bureau’s top lawyer in 2016. 

The government has repeatedly insisted that if the FBI knew during the September 2016 meeting that Sussmann was representing the campaign when he met one-on-one with FBI general counsel James Baker, the bureau might have taken different steps in its investigation of the Trump-Alfa Bank information he brought – which he said was not on behalf of a client.

But emails and meeting records brought up by the defense in court on Wednesday suggest that the FBI knew the Clinton campaign was one of Sussmann’s clients because the bureau’s own agents met with him and members of the campaign in an extortion-related matter just weeks before his meeting with Baker. 

Prosecutors tried to convince jurors during opening arguments last week that Sussmann knew if he told the FBI he was representing a political candidate at the time he met with Baker — weeks before the election on Nov. 8 — the bureau “might not meet with him right away, let alone open up an investigation" into the Trump-Alfa Bank claims.

U.S. Attorney Brittain Shaw argued that Sussmann initially brought the Trump-Alfa Bank information to New York Times reporter Eric Lichtblau with the hopes of unleashing an October Surprise on Trump. But she said the reporter held off on publishing, so Sussmann took the records to the FBI, hoping that the bureau would launch an investigation that would prompt Lichtblau to run a story on the FBI’s probe into the allegations and deliver a "big win" for Sussmann's client: the Clinton campaign.

"No one should be so privileged as to have the ability to walk into the FBI and lie for political reasons," she said. “The FBI should never be used as a political pawn.” 

But defense attorney Michael Bosworth told jurors during opening arguments to judge the FBI by “what they did — not by what they’re saying now.” 

Bosworth insisted Sussmann was not hiding his political affiliations, rather, the fact that he was working as an attorney for the Clinton campaign was “out and about, loud and clear for everyone to see.” 

Sussmann’s attorneys also called two former high-level Justice Department officials as character witnesses, Martha Stansell-Gamm and Jimma Elliott-Stevens. 

Elliott-Stevens said she first met Sussmann while working as his administrative assistant in the ‘90s. She said he was a “great boss” who eventually turned into a friend and was “really instrumental” in her son’s upbringing, so much so that Sussmann is his godfather. 

“I know him as an honest, hardworking, man of faith,” she said, adding that she never had any issues with his character or integrity. 

Throughout the trial, which entered its eighth day on Wednesday, the Justice Department has been trying to focus jurors attention on meeting notes containing references to the word “client,” which it claims are proof that Sussmann said he was at the meeting on behalf of a client.  

Meanwhile, the defense team keeps pointing jurors’ attention toward the witness stand, where a handful of high-level government meeting attendees have testified that, despite the notes, they recall Sussmann verbally telling them that he was not there on behalf of any client. 

The trial is expected to resume on Thursday with testimony from Lichtblau. The defense team is still deciding whether to call Sussmann to testify. 

Sussmann has pleaded not guilty to a single charge of making a false statement to the FBI. His attorneys asked U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper to dismiss the case in March, but he allowed it to proceed to trial.         

Sussmann, 58, resigned from his position at Seattle-based law firm Perkins Coie after being indicted last September. If convicted, he faces up to five years behind bars. 

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