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Michael Sussmann found not guilty of lying to FBI in Durham investigation

The verdict is a major defeat for Durham and his Justice Department prosecutors, who have spent three years looking for wrongdoing in the Trump-Russia probe. He claimed Sussmann lied during a 2016 meeting in which he passed a tip to the FBI about Donald Trump and Russia.

The Washington, DC, federal jury deliberated for six hours over two days before reaching its verdict.

The Sussmann case revolved around his September 2016 meeting with James Baker, a friend who was the FBI’s general counsel. Sussmann passed along a tip that led to a four-month FBI inquiry into a possible internet backchannel between the Trump Organization and Kremlin-linked Alfa Bank. Both companies denied the claim, and the FBI didn’t find any improper cyber links.

Prosecutors argued that Sussmann intentionally lied to Baker by saying he came only as a concerned citizen, and not on behalf of any clients, saying Sussmann hid his ties to Democrats to “manipulate the FBI” and gin up an “October surprise” to help Clinton win.

In Sussmann’s telling, at the peak of Russia’s attack on the 2016 election, he went to the FBI with a good-faith tip, which originated from reputable cyber experts that he represented. He separately worked on Clinton’s behalf to peddle that unverified tip to the press, generating some coverage. He didn’t try to dupe Baker or hide his political ties, which were well-known at the FBI.

Durham said in a statement that he was “disappointed” with the verdict.

“While we are disappointed in the outcome, we respect the jury’s decision and thank them for their service,” Durham said in a statement. “I also want to recognize and thank the investigators and the prosecution team for their dedicated efforts in seeking truth and justice in this case.”

Durham investigation takes a hit

So far, Durham’s work has only led to one conviction: the guilty plea of a junior FBI lawyer who was involved in a wiretapping warrant for a former Trump 2016 campaign adviser. Durham also charged a Russian expat tied to the infamous Steele dossier, whose trial is slated for October.

The Sussmann case was the first major courtroom test for Durham, and the acquittal may bolster Durham’s critics, who believe he’s running a politicized probe into flimsy theories.

Trump has treated Durham’s probe as a political weapon, stoking excitement in the right-wing ecosystem that Durham will deliver Watergate-caliber indictments against Clinton loyalists and the “deep state” government agents who supposedly conspired against him. He has even suggested that Sussmann’s and other Democrats’ conduct should be “punishable by death.”

Durham’s efforts to “investigate the investigators” are ongoing, and have outlasted the Russia probe itself, which was taken over by special counsel Robert Mueller and convicted six Trump associates, including his lawyer, his 2016 campaign chair, and a senior White House official.

This story is breaking and will be updated.

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