Defense rests in Sussmann case after defendant decides not to take stand

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Attorneys for Michael Sussmann, a lawyer for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, rested their defense Thursday, after deciding not to call the defendant to testify on his own behalf in his criminal trial on a charge that he lied to the FBI when he pitched false claims of covert communications between then-candidate Donald Trump and Russia.

U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper has scheduled closing arguments for Friday morning, which will likely carry jury deliberations through Tuesday because of the three-day Memorial Day holiday.

It also leaves both sides with a limited window to make their case to the jury because Judge Cooper needs to end court at 2:30 on Friday because of the holiday weekend.

The decision not to call Mr. Sussmann comes one day after prosecutors on special counsel John Durham’s team showed jurors their strongest evidence yet that Mr. Sussmann was on the clock for the Clinton campaign the day he met with the FBI to pass along the anti-Trump claims.

“I understand from counsel that the defense will not be calling Mr. Sussmann, is that correct?” Judge Cooper asked.

“That’s correct,”  replied Sean M. Berkowitz, Mr. Sussmann’s lawyer.  

The judge asked Mr. Sussmann if he had spoken and consulted with his defense team about the decision not to take the stand. “I have, Your Honor,” he replied.

Judge Cooper then asked Mr. Sussmann if he still wished not to testify.
 
“Yes, Your Honor,” Mr. Sussmann replied.

Expense reports and billing records were admitted into evidence showing Mr. Sussmann billed the Clinton campaign for three hours on the day he met with the FBI, though the records did not specify the hours when he was working on the campaign’s behalf.

Jurors also saw expense reports reflecting $58.56 billed to the Clinton campaign for thumb drives on Sept. 13, 2016 — six days before he presented the FBI with anti-Trump accusations detailed on two thumb drives. However, the receipt reflected that he bought multiple thumb drives that day, raising the question of whether they were all billed to the Clinton campaign.

The disclosures in federal court in the District of Columbia put Mr. Sussmann’s legal team on the defensive. Sussmann attorney, Mr. Berkowitz, signaled that his client may take the stand Thursday to explain the billing records, a strong indication that his team is worried about the impact of the evidence on the jury.

Mr. Sussmann is charged with lying to the FBI by telling top bureau lawyer James A. Baker during a Sept. 19, 2016, meeting that he was not working on “behalf of any client” when he pitched a false theory claiming the Trump organization’s computer servers were secretly communicating with Russia’s Alfa Bank.

Prosecutors say Mr. Sussmann met with the FBI on behalf of the Clinton campaign and technology executive Rodney Joffe in a bid to sabotage Mr. Trump’s campaign.

Defense attorneys argue that Mr. Sussmann came to the FBI on his own as a good citizen. They also say Mr. Sussmann’s ties to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee were well known to the FBI and Mr. Baker.

It is the first trial stemming from Mr. Durham’s probe of the origins of the FBI’s investigation of alleged Trump-Russia collusion.





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