A judge ruled Wednesday that a defense bid to dismiss the case can be moved forward because of the prosecution of a Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer charged with lying to the FBI during the Trump-Russia investigation.
Michael Sussmann, charged last year by special counsel John Durham, is set to trial on May 16 in Washington s federal court.
Sussmann was charged with lying to the FBI during a September 2016 meeting in which he relayed concerns from cybersecurity researchers about a possible secret backchannel of communications between servers of the Trump Organization and Russia-based Alfa Bank. The FBI found no such suspicious links in the matter.
Prosecutors allege that Sussmann misled the FBI's general counsel by saying that he was not attending the meeting on behalf of a client when he was actually presenting the information on behalf of the Clinton campaign and a technology executive with whom he had worked.
In order to prosecute someone for a false statement, the Justice Department must prove that the statement was not only fictitious but also material that can influence a government agency's decision-making or functions.
In this case, Durham s team said that if the FBI knew Sussmann was representing the interests of the Clinton campaign at the meeting, it would have done more to look at his motives and the reliability of his information as it considered whether to open an investigation based on the tip he provided.
Sussmann's lawyers argue that his links to the Clinton campaign were already well-known to the FBI and have rejected the idea that the full disclosure of that relationship could have a significant influence on the FBI's decision to investigate or act on his tip.
U.S. District Judge Christopher Casey Cooper said in a six-sided ruling Wednesday that the dispute was ultimately up to a jury to decide.
Cooper wrote that the Court could not resolve the standoff prior to trial because of the battle lines drawn.
Durham, a former U.S. attorney in Connecticut, was appointed by then- Attorney General William Barr in 2019 to look for government misconduct during the investigation into Russian election interference in 2016 and possible ties to Donald Trump's presidential campaign.
Sussmann is one of three people charged so far. The two are Kevin Clinesmith, a former FBI lawyer who pleaded guilty to altering an e-mail and receiving probation, and Igor Danchenko, a Russian analyst and source of information for Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence operative who had compiled a dossier of anti-Trump research. Danchenko was charged in November with lying to the FBI during a 2017 interview.