The attorney who represented Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign when he provided a tip to the FBI regarding Clinton’s rival, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, is headed to trial after an attempt to get his case dismissed was rejected by a federal judge.
Attorney Michael Sussmann is set to go on trial on May 16 on one count of lying to the FBI. He has pleaded not guilty.
Sussmann lied when he said he wasn’t providing the tip on behalf of a client, according to special counsel John Durham’s team.
Sussmann, through his attorneys, attempted to convince U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper, an Obama nominee, that he should dismiss the case, arguing that Sussmann’s lie was an ancillary matter.
The effect of the lie was “trivial,” Sean Berkowitz, one of Sussmann’s attorneys, said during a recent hearing on the motion to dismiss, charging that “we haven’t ever seen a case where someone who provided a tip to the government was charged for making a false statement about something other than the tip.”
Cooper said it’s too early to tell if Berkowitz’s argument is correct, noting that the cases Sussmann cited to support the motion all went to trial.
“So, while Sussmann is correct that certain statements might be so peripheral or unimportant to a relevant agency decision or function to be immaterial under [federal law] as matter of law, the court is unable to make that determination as to this alleged statement before hearing the government’s evidence. Any such decision must therefore wait until trial,” the judge wrote in a six-page opinion.
The information that Sussmann provided to then-FBI General Counsel James Baker included three “white papers” and associated data files that Sussmann claimed would support media reports of a secret communications channel between Trump’s campaign and Alfa Bank, a Russian bank.
The supposed connections have never been proven and several investigators, including special counsel Robert Mueller, have said no evidence has been found to substantiate the claim.
Sussmann at the time was representing the campaign of Clinton—who was running for president—as well as the Democratic National Committee.
The FBI opened an investigation into Sussmann’s tip, but ultimately concluded that there was “insufficient evidence” to support the allegations, according to Sussmann’s indictment.
The probe revealed that the email server that allegedly communicated with Alfa Bank wasn’t owned or operated by the Trump Organization, but had been administered by a mass marketing company that distributed advertisements for hundreds of clients in addition to Trump hotels.
If the FBI had been aware of the parties Sussmann represented, the bureau might have been more cautious about opening an investigation, according to Durham.
Sussmann faces up to five years in prison if convicted.