The Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer on trial for allegedly lying to the FBI about his motivation for turning over since-debunked data purportedly linking Donald Trump to Russia will not testify in his own defense, he said in court Thursday.
As late as Wednesday, attorneys for Michael Sussmann, a former partner at powerhouse Democratic law firm Perkins Coie, said he was still contemplating whether to take the stand at his single-charge trial that’s spanned nearly two weeks in DC federal court.
Asked by Judge Christopher Cooper Thursday morning if he had spoken to his lawyers and decided not to testify, Sussmann replied, “Yes, your honor.”
The embattled attorney is accused of lying to former FBI General Counsel James Baker during a 2016 meeting in which Sussmann turned over data that allegedly tied the Trump Organization to a Russian bank with links to the Kremlin.
In a text message the night before the meeting, Sussmann told Baker he was coming “not on behalf of any client or company,” but as a concerned citizen who wanted to “help the Bureau.”
Special Counsel John Durham, who secured the indictment against Sussmann, charged that he was actually at the meeting on behalf of the Clinton campaign and an Internet executive named Rodney Joffe.
Throughout the trial, prosecutors have called a litany of witnesses in an attempt to show Sussmann was acting on behalf of his clients during the meeting – and to suggest it was part of a wider effort by the Clinton campaign to use the FBI to create an “October surprise” ahead of the 2016 election.
Called by prosecutors, Baker testified he was “100% confident” that Sussmann told him near the beginning of their meeting that he was not there on behalf of any client.
“He said that he was not appearing before me on behalf of any particular client,” Baker recalled on the stand last week.
Sussmann’s defense has worked to highlight memory lapses and other errors made by the prosecution’s witnesses, including Baker.
In his opening statement, attorney Michael Bosworth contended Baker’s memory of the Sept. 19, 2016 meeting with Sussmann was “clear as mud.”
In his cross-examination of Baker, defense attorney Sean Berkowitz highlighted inconsistent statements the FBI’s former top lawyer made to investigators about the meeting in the years leading up to the trial.
In a 2019 interview with the Department of Justice’s inspector general, Baker said he believed Sussmann was there on behalf of “some number of people that were his clients.”
Baker told jurors he used the term “clients” as “shorthand” to describe cybersecurity researchers who supplied the since-discredited data.