A judge has ruled that Special Counsel John Durham’s office must limit the evidence it plans to use in court to try to show a “joint venture” between Michael Sussmann and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Sussmann, a cybersecurity lawyer, has been charged with lying to then-FBI General Counsel James Baker when he handed over data in September 2016 that claimed to show communications between former President Trump’s presidential campaign and the Kremlin-linked Alfa Bank.
Sussmann did not divulge he was working for the Clinton campaign at the time.
Yet he was billing the campaign for his work with tech executive Rodney Joffe to compile the information about Trump and the bank, a purported tie that has since been debunked.
Sussmann was working at the Perkins Coie law firm, which represented the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, at the time.
Federal District Court Judge Christopher Cooper, an appointee of former President Obama, in his 24-page order issued Saturday narrowed the evidence Durham’s prosecutors can present when Sussmann’s trial gets under way May 16 in Washington, DC, federal court.
“For starters, Mr. Sussmann is not charged with a conspiracy,” Cooper wrote.
The judge did point out that in some cases, a co-conspirator can be introduced in a trial “even if the defendant is not formally charged with any conspiracy in the indictment.
“But when the relevant conspiracy is uncharged, extensive presentation of evidence about that conspiracy is likely to confuse the jury and distract from the issues at hand,” Cooper said.
He said the special counsel is not presenting the evidence as proof that Sussmann is guilty of a specific crime, “but with respect to an uncharged and unlawful joint venture.”
Durham has sought to introduce e-mails and information between: Sussmann; the Clinton campaign; Marc Elias, a partner at Perkins Coie, Joffe, and other tech researchers to show that they and the cybersecurities lawyer were deeply involved in gathering and spreading the data about Alfa Bank.
“The Court will exercise its discretion not to engage in the kind of extensive evidentiary analysis that would be required to find that such a joint venture existed, and who may have joined it,” Cooper wrote.
“While the Special Counsel has proffered some evidence of a collective effort to disseminate the purported link between Trump and Alfa Bank to the press and others, the contours of this venture and its participants are not entirely obvious,” the judge said.
Sussmann’s lawyers argue that he contacted the FBI after he learned from Joffe about the possible connection between the Trump camp and the Russian bank and was pointing it out as a matter of national security.
But Durham contends Sussmann was not serving the interests of national security, instead working in reality on behalf of the Clinton campaign to smear Trump with opposition research data.