Prosecutors were frustrated by potential jurors’ support for Hillary Clinton‘s 2016 presidential campaign in the trial of former campaign attorney Michael Sussmann as jury selection began Monday.
Several members of the 38-member jury pool weren’t shy about their political beliefs. One woman said she’d always be “on the same side” as Mrs. Clinton. A man slammed the Sussmann case as a political prosecution. Another woman said her husband worked for Mrs. Clinton’s 2008 campaign.
Still, that didn’t stop U.S. Judge Christopher Cooper from seating 12 jurors and four alternates. None of the avowed Clinton supporters made the final jury.
Opening arguments in the case begin Tuesday, followed by testimony from David Martin, an FBI agent and tech specialist, and Marc Elias, who was a lawyer for the Clinton campaign.
Roughly one-third of the potential jurors screened by prosecutors and defense attorneys in the Washington, D.C. courtroom Monday said they had either donated to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign in 2016 or had strong opinions about the election, won by Republican Donald Trump.
Judge Cooper reminded several potential jurors who expressed pro-Clinton views that this trial isn’t about the 2016 election.
“This case has political overtones, but Hillary Clinton is not on trial. Donald Trump is not on trial. Michael Sussmann is on trial and he deserves a fair one,” he said at one point.
Mr. Sussmann, a former Perkins Coie attorney who was the lead attorney for the Clinton campaign, is on trial for lying to the FBI.
Prosecutors say he misled the FBI when he told a top bureau lawyer that no client spurred him to peddle now-debunked evidence tying Mr. Trump to Russia’s Alfa Bank. They say he set up the meeting on behalf of the Clinton campaign as part of an effort to push for a federal investigation into Mr. Trump and peddle stories to the media about how the Trump campaign was being probed by the FBI.
Mr. Sussmann later billed the Clinton campaign for the FBI meeting, according to court records.
Of the 38 potential jurors questioned Monday, more than 10 said they had either donated to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, worked the phone banks for her or did something else to support her candidacy. Others said they thought they had donated to her campaign but weren’t sure.
An Asian woman told the court flat-out that she couldn’t be impartial because of her support for Mrs. Clinton. She said that she attended the same school as Mrs. Clinton, had met her and attended events together.
“I would be on the same side [as Mrs. Clinton,]” she told the court, sparking prosecutors to strike her as a potential juror.
A young White woman, who markets wine brands, said she donated to Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic National Committee, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Democrat.
When asked by prosecutor Micheal Keilty if her support for Democrats could influence her views in the jury room, said, “I’d like to believe not, but it’s hard to say.”
“It was certified,” was all she’d say when asked if she had opinions about the 2016 election.
“It is hard to remove the feelings you have,” she said.
Still, Mr. Keilty did not move to strike her from the jury pool, a sign that the prosecution has resigned itself to the difficulty of finding non-Democratic jurors in a Blue city like Washington.
A White man vying to be on the jury ripped the prosecution, saying the case against Mr. Sussmann was “politically motivated,” and “quite suspect.”
Another potential juror, a middle-aged White man who works for Amazon, said he contributed to the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee in 2016.
He said he’d “strive” for impartiality, but Mr. Keilty still moved to strike him.
“He wasn’t sure if he could be fair and impartial. He donated to both the Democratic National Committee and Hillary for America. We have concerns about his impartiality,” Mr. Keilty said.
Mr. Sussmann’s lawyer, Sean Berkowitz, pushed to keep the potential juror, saying that the man “expressed a high degree of confidence in his ability to be fair.”
Judge Cooper allowed the man to remain in the jury pool, but he could be struck later.
An older White woman said she donated to candidates in 2016, but did not disclose who received her money. She also said she had “strong feelings” about one of the candidates in that election, but declined to say any more.
Mrs. Clinton won 90% of the vote in Washington, D.C., in 2016, while Mr. Trump won 4% of the vote. Mr. Trump received the lowest popular vote and lowest share of votes in Washington since it was granted presidential electors in 1961.
Mrs. Clinton’s 86% margin of victory in Washington was the largest secured by any major party candidate in any jurisdiction since President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s landslide victory in 1936.
• Jeff Mordock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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