What to Expect From the First Durham Probe Trial

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Posted: May 18, 2022 11:30 AM
What to Expect From the First Durham Probe Trial

Source: AP Photo/Bob Child, File

For keen observers of the news cycle, the highly anticipated Sussmann-Durham trial is unfolding despite national attention being diverted to other major events that have taken center stage in recent days. It's a tip-of-the-iceberg spectacle that seems to be placed on the public back burner now that the escalating SCOTUS drama and the Buffalo mass shooting have stolen the fleeting spotlight. The entire Clinton-tied scandal has been largely ignored by corporate news outlets despite—or rather due to—its implications for the not-so-secret puppet masters pulling the strings in the Democratic Party. (Meanwhile, the mainstream media has made sure to broadcast every intimate detail of the Hollywood-style Johnny Depp-Amber Heard courtroom showdown). Following opening arguments and ahead of the first full day of testimony, here's what you should expect from the bombshell trial and what you need to know about the exhaustive years-long probe into the origins of the Trump-Russian collusion investigation:

Jury Selection

The jury-selection process dragged on for almost eight hours Monday, according to Fox News, as the first fiery trial precipitating from Special Counsel John Durham's long-running investigative inquiry is now underway.

In a rare public appearance, Durham, who brought the Sussmann case forward, was present in the courtroom for the entirety of Monday's events. Durham was seated behind the government's table—not with the prosecution—in the first row of the federal courtroom, Fox News reported.

The jury includes a Treasury Department employee who told the judge he donated to Democrats in the 2016 primaries and another government worker who admitted she "strongly" dislikes former President Donald Trump. According to The Washington Examiner, the juror said in an eyebrow-raising statement that she didn’t think she could be impartial if the case was about a Trump team member but emphasized she could be fair "if it's not directly about Trump." Both of the questionable jurors insisted they could be impartial throughout the high-profile trial, per Fox News. The overwhelming majority of jurors selected had maintained to Obama-appointed U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper that they had not previously heard of the case.

Opening Arguments

In federal court Tuesday morning, opening arguments were offered by the government, which presented first at 9:00 a.m. in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, as well as the defense team of ex-Clinton attorney Michael Sussmann, who has pled not guilty to the charge of making a false statement to the FBI.

Federal prosecutor Deborah Brittain Shaw led the government's approximately 20-minute opener, stating that the case revolves around "privilege." Shaw argued in court that the ongoing two-week trial is about the "privilege of a lawyer who thought he could lie to the FBI without consequences" and the "privilege of a lawyer who thought that for the powerful, normal rules didn’t apply."

Durham's team alleged that Sussmann used the FBI as "a political tool" to "manipulate" the bureau on the eve of the 2016 presidential election to create an "October surprise" against Trump; it was a scheme against the then-Republican candidate that Durham's team characterized as part of a "bigger plan" that "largely succeeded" in manipulating the FBI as "a political pawn" into triggering an investigation.

Shaw said that Sussmann's alleged lie was "designed to achieve political" ends and "designed to inject the FBI into the election." The government previewed that prosecutors will be demonstrating that Sussmann's apparent deception was intended to "create an October surprise on the eve of the presidential election."

"This was not a mistake or a slip of the tongue, it was a concerted effort to conceal his clients," Shaw told the jury, according to The Hill. "You're going to see…how it misled officials into thinking he was acting as a good citizen."

One of Sussmann's lawyers rebutted during the defense's opening argument that the defendant "didn’t lie to the FBI" and "wouldn't lie to the FBI" based on his experience, working relationships with national security officials, and his character; case closed. The defense asked the jury to consider four questions: "What did Sussmann actually say to the FBI? Is what he said false? Did he intend to say something false? Did it matter?"

Sussmann's team argued the government will "stumble at every turn" to prove all of these allegations beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense further called the charge against Sussmann "nonsensical" and the case an "injustice," asserting that the defendant is "a good man, a family man," and an "honest man." While defending the national security lawyer with deep ties to the Democratic Party, Sussmann's team said his meeting with the CIA was "motivated by an actual," "genuine interest in national security" and "doing the right thing."

Testimony

Testimony is expected from Democratic lawyer Marc Elias who had served with Sussmann at law firm Perkins Coie, the entity through which the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Clinton campaign funded the unverified anti-Trump dossier. The document, penned by discredited ex-British intelligence officer Christopher Steele and backed by opposition research, contained unsubstantiated claims of Trump colluding with the Kremlin. Its material with Clinton fingerprints all over it, Durham's findings indicate, as the breadcrumb trail continues to lead back to one of the powerful names in the modern Democratic Party.

The former Clinton attorney-turned-witness will be called on by the government to testify Wednesday as are two FBI special agents expected to take the stand. FBI agent David Martin of the bureau's cyber unit is on tap to testify, The Washington Examiner said. Clinton campaign attorney Debbie Fine, FusionGPS technician Laura Seago, and former DNC employee Tom McMahon are also up to bat in Wednesday's line-up.

Key Players

Federal prosecutors representing the government include Andrew DeFilippis, Michael Keilty, Deborah Brittain Shaw, and Jonathan Edgar Algor IV. Sussmann's legal counsel consists of Sean Berkowitz, Michael Bosworth, Catherine Yao, and Natalie Hardwick Rao.

Cooper, the judge presiding over the trial, was appointed in 2014 by former President Barack Obama and received unanimous Senate confirmation. Fox News reported that Cooper has limited the evidence that Durham and federal prosecutors can present against Sussmann. Among the government's physical evidence, handwritten notes from FBI officials and two thumb drives that Sussmann gave to the FBI containing the allegations against Trump will be shown during the trial, according to Fox News.

Durham has indicted two other defendants as part of his investigative crackdown: primary Steele dossier researcher and Russian analyst Igor Danchenko, who was charged with making a false statement and is accused of lying to the FBI about the source of information he provided, and former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith, also charged with the former.

Case Outline

If you're playing catch-up and not familiar with the legalese, here's more of a SparkNotes version of the Russian collusion hoax and Durham's hunt for the truth that has outlasted the Trump administration:

Durham and the government allege that Sussmann told FBI General Counsel James Baker in September 2016 in the lead-up to the presidential election that he was not working "on behalf of a client or company." The Democratic cybersecurity lawyer is accused of lying during the meeting with the FBI attorney and "falsely stating to the general counsel that he was not providing the allegations to the FBI on behalf of any client." Durham claimed in a previous filing that the night before Sussmann met with Baker, he "conveyed the same lie in writing and sent the following text message to the general counsel’s personal cellphone."

Looking ahead, Sussmann's team will likely take aim at Baker's credibility, poking holes at past testimony as well as flip-flopping on whether the defendant on trial had mentioned he was working in the interest of clients or on his own accord as a concerned citizen.

Back in February, as previously reported by Townhall, Durham disclosed that the government would try to show in the trial that "exploited" data was weaponized to mine "derogatory information" about Trump to establish "an inference" and "narrative" tying the 45th U.S. president to Russia. The data exploitation involved domain name system (DNS) internet traffic relating to "Trump Tower, Donald Trump's Central Park West apartment building and the Executive Office of the President of the United States (EOP)," according to Durham.

In 2020, then-Attorney General Bill Barr tapped Durham to oversee the extensive review of the FBI's original investigation into the Trump campaign. The latter undertaking saw the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel whose own probe found zero evidence of criminal conspiracy or coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian officials during the 2016 presidential race against failed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.