Michael Sussmann’s legal deadline could name Eric Lichtblau as a defense witness

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Lawyers for Michael Sussmann, a lawyer with ties to the Democratic Party who is scheduled to stand trial for allegedly lying to the FBI in the heated closing days of the 2016 presidential campaign, say they plan to call a former New York Times reporter as a witness to help show Sussmann is not guilty.

Sussmann reportedly told the FBI’s top attorney in September 2016 that he had information to share about possible cyber connections between Republican candidate Donald Trump’s deal and a Russian bank. He faces a single charge of lying to the FBI, allegedly alleging that he did not provide them with the information on behalf of a client, but did so at the behest of two of his clients: Hillary Clinton’s campaign team and a technology executive named Rodney Joffe.

The trial is scheduled to begin next week in DC federal court. Sean M. Berkowitz, an attorney for Sussmann, said in court Monday that the defense team plans to call former Times reporter Eric Lichtblau to testify about his communications with Sussmann and Joffe.

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Berkowitz said in court his team, after speaking with Times lawyers, did not expect the news organization to object to Lichtblau’s statements on these issues. But he said the Times had concerns about the possibility that Lichtblau would be questioned about independent research he had conducted on computer issues related to Sussmann’s efforts. Lichtblau received a phone call for comment and referred questions to his attorney, who declined to comment. A Times spokeswoman also declined to comment.

In court, Berkowitz said he expects attorneys for the Times to file something on the issue in court sometime this week.

Berkowitz also said he plans to call Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who was investigating the FBI’s handling of investigations into Hillary Clinton and a former campaign adviser to Donald Trump, and released reports harshly criticizing the FBI’s work in both cases.

Berkowitz said he will call Horowitz as a witness to talk about how Sussmann “provided information to the Inspector General that also involved Mr. Joffe.”

The Sussmann trial will be a closely watched legal confrontation, pitting John Durham, a special counsel for the Trump administration, against a longtime Democratic attorney. The former president and his supporters have hailed the case against Sussmann as evidence that the FBI abused its investigative powers and abused the Republican presidential nominee, while Democrats have argued that Durham is pursuing conspiracy theories about the “deep state.”

John Durham has an excellent reputation for investigating corruption. Some worry his work for Barr might cloud them.

Sussmann has pleaded not guilty. In a motion to dismiss the case, he argued that even if he did what Durham claimed, it would not be a federal crime because the question of who his clients were was irrelevant to the FBI. As part of their evidence, Sussmann’s attorneys said they reviewed more than 300 FBI emails showing the FBI assumed Sussmann was working for Democratic campaign organizations.

Durham’s team claims that if the FBI had known that Sussmann was working on behalf of two clients with political interests, the agents might have asked more questions about the source of his information or taken other investigative steps.

The information Sussmann presented to the FBI was computer data showing possibly nefarious computer ties between the Trump Organization, the former President’s business unit, and a Russian financial institution called Alfa Bank. The FBI investigated the matter but eventually concluded that the computer data showed nothing illegal or problematic.

Durham was hired in 2019 by then-Attorney General William P. Barr to review the FBI’s 2016 investigation into Trump’s campaign and his conspiracy with Russia. Barr appointed him special counsel shortly before leaving office.


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