Both sides accuse each other of magic tricks in Sussmann’s closing arguments
BBoth sides presented their closing arguments Friday at the misrepresentation trial of Clinton campaign attorney Michael Sussmann, each accusing the other of using “magic tricks” to try to sway the jury.
Sussmann, a former lawyer for Perkins Coie, was accused by special counsel John Durham of concealment his clients, Clinton’s 2016 campaign and CTO Rodney Joffe, FBI General Counsel James Baker when he pushed allegations of a secret back channel between the Trump Organization and Russia’s Alfa-Bank at a meeting on September 19, 2016. He pleaded not guilty and did not speak in his own defense.
After closing arguments on Friday, the jury began its deliberations, although a verdict is unlikely to be reached before Memorial Day weekend.
Defense lawyer Sean Berkowitz and Durham prosecutor Andrew DeFilippis argued over which of them was acting like a magician trying to fool jurors.
“In 1983, famed magician David Copperfield made the Statue of Liberty disappear,” Berkowitz said. “How did he do it? Something called misdirection.
Berkowitz similarly said “this is a case of misdirection” and attacked “the special counsel’s magic trick.”
He also put up a “Giant Political Conspiracy Theory” sign and said “the days of political conspiracy theories are over.”
HILLARY CLINTON SIGNED TO PUSH ALFA-BANK CLAIMS TO MEDIA
“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s fitting that the defense started with a magic trick — because what you just saw was a magic trick,” DeFilippis said in his rebuttal. “The defense is trying to dismiss this lie. … Don’t let them do that.
DeFilippis added: “It’s just a magic trick to say none of that happened. To say none of that mattered. You know it happened. You know that it was important.
The special counsel also pointed to Berkowitz’s reference to ‘Lady Liberty’ and said: ‘I want you to think of the Statue of Liberty, holding her light aloft – and your torch in this deliberation room is the truth, the proof, and nothing else.” He added: “It’s not about politics. It’s not about conspiracies. This is the truth.
Durham prosecutor Jonathan Algor had delivered the first hour-long closing statement, saying Sussmann had used his privilege as a respected national security lawyer, former DOJ veteran and friend of Baker to push false allegations to the FBI in an attempt to generate an “October Surprise”. hurt Trump before the election.
“The evidence has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant made a false statement to FBI General Counsel Jim Baker on September 19, 2016. On that day, the defendant exercised his privilege… to bypass normal channels and expedite a meeting with the FBI General Counsel,” Algor said. “And at that meeting, the defendant made a false statement when he told Mr. Baker not on behalf of a client. … And why did the defendant do that? Because he knew he had to cover up his portrayal of the Clinton and Rodney Joffe campaign to push the Alfa-Bank allegation to the FBI.
Algor went through a host of billing records showing that Sussmann repeatedly billed the Clinton campaign for his work on the Alfa-Bank allegations.
Ex-British spy Christopher Steele created his discredit case on Trump after being hired by opposition research firm Fusion GPS, itself hired by Perkins and Marc Elias, the General Counsel for the Clinton campaign.
Durham’s team presented evidence this week showing that Sussmann billed the Clinton campaign for USB drives he used to push the allegations at the FBI in 2016. Fusion also authored one of the “white papers” that Sussmann gave to Baker.
Berkowitz tried to push it all away.
“Michael Sussmann, a serious national security attorney, obtained what he believed to be credible and reliable data from global DNS expert Rodney Joffe,” the defense attorney said. “Sussmann notified the FBI and asked nothing.”
Berkowitz spent much of his closing argument focusing on a text that Sussmann had sent to Baker the night before, trying to argue that it might actually help the jury acquit his client, even though it sounded much more like a evidence in favor of the prosecution.
“What is charged in this case is what is charged on September 19,” Berkowitz said, then asserted, “It is highly unlikely that Mr. Sussmann repeated that comment on September 19. … Isn’t he likely, at least probably, that the information on no specific customer arrived on September 18, which is not billed, and not on September 19?”
“Jim – this is Michael Sussmann. I have something urgent (and sensitive) that I need to discuss,” Sussmann wrote to Baker the day before they met. “Are you available for a short meeting tomorrow?” I come alone – not on behalf of a client or a company – I want to help the Bureau.
Baker met him the next day and testified last week that he was “100% confident”. Sussmann told him at the meeting that he was not there on behalf of a client.
Berkowitz also urged the jury to examine the actions of the FBI and “look at what they did then, not what they say now.” Slides displayed by the defense team included “The FBI’s Shoddy Investigation” and “The Special Counsel’s Smoke and Mirrors.” He claimed that “the FBI knew the data came from a partisan source” and “never questioned the cyber experts”.
He maintained that Sussmann hadn’t lied, but even if he had it didn’t matter, and told the jury: “It’s your turn to do justice, to prevent injustice.”
Baker testified in detail to Sussmann’s alleged lie. The former top FBI lawyer also told the court how the defendant’s allegations created a sense of urgency within the highest levels of the FBI to investigate the Trump-Russia back channel allegations, how the allegations of Alfa-Bank had been quickly dismissed as baseless within the FBI, and how the bureau is concerned about journalists writing about the existence of investigations even when they do not have a full understanding of the allegations.
After Algor’s argument and Berkowitz’s statement, DeFilippis made his conclusion.
DeFilippis said Baker was reluctant to take the stand: “He didn’t want to testify against his friend, but he did because he had to and because it was the right thing to do.”
The Durham prosecutor also pointed out that Sussmann allegedly repeated his lie about not having a client during his meeting with the CIA in February 2017.
“His plan was the same for both meetings. … It was to say that he was not there for a client.
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DeFilippis said Sussmann’s goal was “to create an October surprise by giving information to the media and the FBI and to get the media to write that there was an FBI investigation.”
The prosecutor acknowledged that “the FBI didn’t necessarily do everything here”, but argued that “the fact that the FBI may have made mistakes here…has no bearing on whether the lie had taken place”.
The FBI, the CIA, former Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee investigation, and the Durham team all cast doubt on or shot down Alfa-Bank’s claims.