A federal jury fully acquitted Democratic party-linked attorney Michael Sussmann on Tuesday of charges brought by the Durham investigation in a stunning loss for the Bill Barr-era prosecution.
Jurors deliberated for six hours before returning the verdict.
Barr appointed Durham to investigate the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation three years ago. In September 2021, he charged Sussmann with one count of making a false statement to the FBI, focusing in on a September 2016 meeting in which Sussmann allegedly told an FBI official that he was sharing information about Trump-Russia links out of his own interest, not on behalf of a client.
The loss is a rapid and stunning defeat for Durham, who sought to use the case to build a grand narrative about Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign spreading, via Sussmann, pernicious lies about Trump’s ties to the Russian government.
Durham issued a statement saying, “while we are disappointed in the outcome, we respect the jury’s decision and thank then for their service.”
“I also want to recognize and thank the investigators and the prosecution team for their dedicated efforts in seeking truth and justice in this case,” he added.
The charge against Sussmann was thin from the start, and rife with political motivation. Durham’s investigation began in May 2019, as Trump and many of his acolytes demanded that the president’s investigators be investigated. Barr appointed Durham shortly thereafter.
The Sussmann indictment itself contained reams of extraneous material, much of which posited a vast conspiracy in which Clinton used purportedly false information about a server connection between the Trump Org and Russian lender Alfa Bank.
After the indictment, much of the conservative media took to using bits and pieces from Durham’s filings to argue that Trump, in fact, was the victim of nefarious investigators.
The feeding frenzy reached its crescendo in February, when Durham released a filing accusing a tech executive who worked with Sussmann of “exploiting” access to White House servers. Right-wing news networks seized upon the revelation as proof that Trump was spied on.
Upon further review, it emerged that the alleged activity mostly took place under Obama, and that it was unclear whether the executive had done anything to violate the terms of the arrangement.
“If third parties or members of the media have overstated, understated or otherwise misinterpreted facts contained in the government’s motion, that does not in any way undermine the valid reasons for the government’s inclusion of this information,” Durham’s team wrote to the judge after the incident.
Losing the Sussmann case delivers a blow to Durham’s probe, but the now-debunked accusations that he lodged will live on in other forms.
Apart from having been copiously injected into the right-wing media ecosystem, Trump himself filed a lawsuit in March that was largely based on the Durham investigation’s accusations.
Durham has one prosecution still pending – that of Igor Danchenko, a D.C. researcher who reportedly helped gather information for the Steele dossier. Though that document was largely ignored by investigators with the Mueller probe, it’s gathered steam as a vehicle to call Russian interference in the 2016 election into question.
In a statement to reporters, Sussmann affirmed that he “told the truth to the FBI, and the jury clearly recognized that with their unanimous verdict today.
“Despite being falsely accused, I am relieved that justice ultimately prevailed in this case,” he added.
The charge itself was, as former federal prosecutor Harry Litman told TPM, “comically picayune.”
Filed days before the five-year statute of limitations expired, Durham was barely able to marshal any evidence for the lie – or its materiality – beyond the shifting memory of its supposed recipient, former FBI General Counsel James Baker.