Attorneys for a cybersecurity lawyer charged in a special counsel's probe into the Trump-Russia investigation asked federal prosecutors Wednesday to provide more information about the indictment, calling the allegations vague, ill-defined and confusing.
The motion by attorneys for Michael Sussmann previews the lines of attack they intend to use in defending him on a charge of making a false statement to the FBI five years ago.
The case was brought last month by John Durham, the prosecutor tasked with examining the U.S. government's investigation into ties between Russia and Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign. Sussmann has pleaded not guilty, and his lawyers have attacked the case as driven by politics rather than facts.
Sussmann is accused of lying to the FBI during a September 2016 conversation in which he relayed concerns about potentially suspicious cyber contacts between a Trump Organization server and the server of a Russian bank. The indictment alleges Sussmann told the FBI's then-general counsel, James Baker, that he was not bringing the concerns to the FBI on behalf of any particular client when he was actually representing the Hillary Clinton campaign and a technology executive.
In a motion filed Wednesday, Sussmann's lawyers note that the alleged false statement was unrecorded and that there are no contemporaneous notes about it. Baker, the sole witness, has “already disclaimed memory of the statement” and has testified in ways that support rather than cut against Sussmann's account, according to Sussmann's lawyers.
Sussmann, they say, has consistently maintained — including in testimony to Congress — that he met with the FBI on behalf of a cyber expert client. His lawyers say he met with Baker to advise the FBI about a forthcoming news media report describing potential cyber contacts between the Trump server and the Russian bank. The FBI ultimately examined the matter, but found no evidence of a communications backchannel.
The motion for what's known in the law as a “bill of particulars” seeks additional information about the allegations, including the precise words of Sussmann's alleged false statement, the context in which it was made, what part of it was false and why it was material.
“While the Indictment in this matter is 27 pages long, the majority of the allegations are not relevant to the crime the Special Counsel has chosen to charge,” says the motion from Sussmann's lawyers.
“And on that charge, a single alleged false statement, the Indictment plainly fails to provide Mr. Sussmann with the detail and clarity that the law requires and that is essential in enabling Mr. Sussmann to prepare his defense," the lawyers added.
A spokesman for the Justice Department declined to comment Wednesday evening.
Durham, a longtime federal prosecutor who served for years as the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, was tapped in 2019 by Attorney General William Barr to examine any potential misconduct in the federal investigation into potential coordination between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign. An investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller detailed significant contacts between Russians and Trump associates, but did not allege a criminal conspiracy to tip the outcome of the presidential election.
Barr appointed him last year as a special counsel, giving him extra protection intended to ensure that he could complete his work without being fired in a new administration.
The case against Sussmann is only the second criminal prosecution Durham has brought in roughly two and a half years of work. Last year, he secured a guilty plea from a former FBI lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith, on a charge that he altered a government email. Clinesmith was sentenced to probation.
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