A federal judge has turned down a request from Special Counsel John Durham, essentially limiting evidence and testimony from the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee that prosecutors can use against former Clinton campaign attorney Michael Sussmann.
The ruling means that documents and testimony in the case could potentially suggest that the Clinton campaign and Democrats coordinated to push since-discredited allegations that in 2016, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump or his allies had a secret back channel between Trump Tower and a Russian bank. Democrats foisted that allegation, among others, in a bid to claim that Trump had ties with Russia, which became a narrative used by the mainstream media during much of his presidency.
Durham has accused Sussmann of lying to the FBI when he told the bureau’s then-general counsel, James Baker, that he wasn’t working on behalf of any client when he provided the Trump–Russian bank allegation to the agency. Last year, Sussmann pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go to trial later this month.
But Durham’s team alleges that Sussmann didn’t provide that information to Baker in a mere good-faith attempt to raise awareness about Trump and Russia. Instead, they argue that he was really acting on behalf of the Clinton campaign and a technology executive.
Judge Christopher Cooper wrote (pdf) on May 7 that releasing more documents and providing testimony would be tantamount to conducting “a time-consuming and largely unnecessary mini-trial to determine the existence and scope of an uncharged conspiracy to develop and disseminate the Alfa Bank data” and that he’s confident Durham’s team “can effectively pursue its case without the marginal information such an inquiry might yield about Mr. Sussmann’s motives and client relationships.”
Previously, Durham had argued that Sussmann, technology executive Rodney Joffe, and the Clinton campaign were “acting in concert toward a common goal” by concocting and disseminating “the [Alfa Bank] allegations and other derogatory information about Trump to the media and the U.S. government” and that opposition research company Fusion GPS was part of that effort.
Prosecutors asked to introduce emails during Sussmann’s trial that would show that he, Joffe, and Clinton were part of that alleged scheme, including an email that’s purported to say that Joffe remarked that he was offered a cybersecurity job in the White House if the Democrats won the election.
“The Court will exercise its discretion not to engage in the kind of extensive evidentiary analysis that would be required to find that such a joint venture existed, and who may have joined it,” Cooper, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, wrote in response. “While the Special Counsel has proffered some evidence of a collective effort to disseminate the purported link between Trump and Alfa Bank to the press and others, the contours of this venture and its participants are not entirely obvious.”
He also wrote that Joffe, who was hired by the Clinton campaign, will likely not have to testify or submit records showing that he allegedly “accessed some of the data in breach of certain cybersecurity-related contracts he or his companies had with the U.S. government.” Joffe, through a spokesman earlier this year, denied any allegations of wrongdoing.
“Evidence of improper data collection by Mr. Joffe or others done without Mr. Sussmann’s knowledge is, at best, only marginally probative of his supposed motive to lie to the FBI,” Cooper wrote. “Moreover, whether Mr. Joffe, who is not on trial, violated the terms of any of his contracts with the government—let alone committed a crime—is the type of collateral issue that risks confusing the jury and distracting from the pertinent issues in the case.”
On May 4, the judge handed Durham a victory as he granted a motion allowing prosecutors to review documents from the campaign, Democrat-aligned law firm Perkins Coie, Joffe, and Fusion GPS.