Michael Sussmann is acquitted in a case brought by the Trump-Era prosecutor

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WASHINGTON — Michael Sussmann, a prominent cybersecurity attorney with ties to Democrats, was acquitted on Tuesday of a felony charge that he lied to the FBI about missing a client in 2016 when he shared a tip about possible links between Donald J. Trump and Russia.

The verdict was a blow to special counsel John H. Durham, who was appointed by the Trump administration three years ago to scour the Trump-Russia investigation for any wrongdoing.

The case centered on strange internet data that cybersecurity researchers uncovered in 2016 after it became public knowledge that Russia had hacked into Democrats and that Mr. Trump had encouraged the country to target emails from Hillary Clinton.

The researchers said the data could reflect a secret communications channel using servers for the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank, a Kremlin-linked bank. The FBI briefly considered the suspicions and dismissed them.

On September 19, 2016, Mr. Sussmann reported these suspicions to a senior FBI official. Prosecutors accused him of falsely telling the official he was not there on behalf of a client, concealing that he was in fact working for both Mrs Clinton’s campaign and for a government official. technology that had brought it the cutting edge.

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Mr. Durham and his trial team used court documents and trial testimony to detail how Mr. Sussmann, while working for a law firm linked to Democrats and dedicating his time to the Clinton campaign, had tried to journalists to write about Alfa Bank. suspicions.

But trying to persuade journalists to write about such suspicions is not a crime. Mr. Sussmann’s guilt or innocence revolved around a narrow question: whether he made a false statement to a senior FBI official at the 2016 meeting, saying he shared those suspicions on behalf of no one but himself.

Mr Durham used the case to put forward a larger conspiracy: that there was a joint venture to accuse Mr Trump of collusion with Russia by asking the FBI to investigate the suspicions so that journalists wrote about it – a scheme involving the Clinton campaign; his opposition research firm, Fusion GPS; Mr. Sussmann; and a cybersecurity expert who brought him the strange data and analysis.

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This insinuation delighted Mr Trump supporters who share his view that the Russia investigation was a “hoax” and sought to confuse the actual investigation with sometimes thin or dubious allegations developed by citizens private. In reality, the Alfa Bank affair was a sideshow and a tangent: the FBI had already opened its investigation on other grounds before Mr. Sussmann passed on the information, and the final report of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, made no mention of Alfa Bank’s suspicions.

But the case that Mr Durham and his team used to float their broad innuendo was slim – one count of making a false statement at a meeting without other witnesses or contemporaneous notes. The evidence and arguments put together by lead prosecutor Andrew DeFilippis and his colleagues fell flat with the 12 jurors, who voted unanimously to find Mr Sussmann not guilty.

Some Trump supporters had braced for the outcome, pointing to the District of Columbia’s reputation as a heavily Democratic region and raising the prospect that a jury could be politically biased against a Trump-era prosecutor trying to convict. a defendant who was working for the Clinton campaign.

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The judge told the jury that they should not consider any of their political views when determining the facts.

The defense, which described prosecutors’ insinuations as “political conspiracy theories,” had argued that Mr. Sussmann only brought the case to the FBI when he believed The New York Times was already on the case. point to write an article on the matter, to give the bureau a warning so that it is not caught off guard.

Clinton campaign officials testified during the trial that they did not tell or allow him to go to the FBI – and that it was against their interests because they did not trust the office and that could slow down the publication of any article.

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

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