Prosecutors in the criminal trial of former Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann are expected to introduce their most important piece of evidence this week, a billing record for the defendant’s 2016 meeting with the FBI to pitch anti-Trump dirt.
Court watchers say waiting until later in the trial to show jurors a smoking gun in the case is the right call.
“My speculation is that they are saving the billing record for the bolo punch at the end. The bigger risk is introducing it earlier in the trial and the jury won’t remember what it’s about,” said Andrew Leipold, a law professor at the University of Illinois and former member of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr’s team that investigated President Clinton.
The trial closed out its first week Friday with bombshell testimony from several witnesses. It is expected to continue at least through the end of this week.
Mr. Sussmann, a lawyer with the Perkins Coie firm who was doing work for the Clinton campaign, faces a single count of lying to the FBI during a September 2016 meeting with top bureau lawyer James Baker. During the meeting, Mr. Sussmann passed along two thumb drives and two white papers promoting a false theory that the Trump Organization had a secret computer communications link to Russia’s Alfa Bank, which has ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Special counsel John Durham’s prosecutorial team says Mr. Sussmann deceived the FBI by telling Mr. Baker verbally and in a text message that the meeting was not on “behalf of any client.” They say he was acting on behalf of the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee to sabotage former President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Mr. Sussmann‘s lawyers said his ties to the Clinton campaign were well known to the FBI and Mr. Baker. Last week, they hammered Mr. Baker over varied retellings of the Sussmann meeting to different investigators, including the Justice Department inspector general, a congressional committee, and Mr. Durham’s team.
Prosecutors say the case hinges on the tedious world of law firm billing. Last week, they presented a slew of internal emails and billing records showing Mr. Sussmann pursued the Alfa Bank allegations on behalf of the campaign.
Prosecutor Brittain Shaw teed up the bill in her opening statement Tuesday, which is the last time Mr. Durham’s team has mentioned it.
“And so when the defendant walked these allegations into the FBI and said he wasn’t doing this for any client, that was false,” Ms. Shaw said. “It was false because the defendant personally billed his time to the Clinton campaign.”
Some legal experts have wondered why prosecutors haven’t yet introduced the bill, questioning if it exists at all. If the bill isn’t introduced this week, it would threaten to undercut the case against Mr. Sussmann.
Mr. Leipold theorizes that the prosecutors may save the Baker meeting bill until the end to separate it from the slew of mundane billing records they’ve already introduced.
“The billing records are really boring stuff and the last thing you want is the jury to miss it or think it’s more boring stuff,” he said. “I get why you want to separate it out.”
Still, time is ticking for prosecutors to introduce the evidence this week. They are expected to wrap up their case on Tuesday following testimony from Bill Priestap, the former assistant director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division, FBI lawyer Tisha Anderson, a Perkins Coie billing expert, and DNC operative Tom McMahon.
The defense has a star-studded witness list lined up for the rest of the week, which could take the case past the Memorial Day holiday.
Those expected to be called include Mary McCord and Tashina Gauhar, two Justice Department officials who are expected to say Mr. Sussmann’s ties to the Clinton campaign were so well known to the FBI that they were even referenced at a meeting to discuss the Alfa Bank allegations.
Others expected to testify for the defense include an FBI agent who is expected to say the bureau would have opened the Alfa Bank allegations whether or not Mr. Sussmann shared the tip. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz also will take the stand to discuss his investigation into the FBI’s handling of the Trump-Russia allegations.
• Jeff Mordock can be reached at email@example.com.
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