Two late-night filings from Sussmann and Durham provided the first indication that the special counsel plans to introduce Steele and his politically fraught dossier from 2016 into the case.
The new filings on Monday suggest that instead of narrowly focusing on Sussmann’s alleged lie and the specific meeting where it allegedly occurred, Durham plans to describe at the trial how the Clinton campaign tried to dig up dirt about then-candidate Donald Trump and his ties to Russia.
Attorneys for Sussmann want the judge to block Durham from introducing evidence about the dossier at trial and to stop prosecutors from calling Steele as a witness at the trial next month.
“The Special Counsel should not be permitted to turn Mr. Sussmann’s trial on a narrow false statement charge into a circus full of sideshows that will only fuel partisan fervor,” the lawyers wrote, saying Steele’s work has “no bearing” on the case and is “inflammatory and irrelevant.”
Durham’s prosecutors said in their own filing that they expect to bring up at trial an old Steele deposition about a meeting he had with Sussmann where they discussed the Trump-Russia cyber claims. Taken together, the filings indicate Durham may try to call Steele as a witness.
It’s ultimately up to Judge Christopher Cooper of the DC District Court to decide how much information about Steele can come up at trial. He is also reviewing a motion from Sussmann to throw out the indictment altogether, citing legal flaws. Durham’s team says their case is sound.
There’s no indication in the 27-page indictment against Sussmann that he discussed the Steele dossier during his meeting in September 2016 with then-FBI general counsel James Baker, where Sussmann allegedly uttered the false statement that is the basis of his criminal charge.
If Durham is allowed to bring up the dossier at trial, it would put a spotlight on the secretive efforts by Clinton allies to push the collusion narrative, which has become a hotly debated political topic. Trump denies wrongdoing and says the Democrats faked his ties to Russia, while many Democrats still believe Trump’s dealings with Russia are a grave national security threat.
The FBI investigated Sussman’s tip but didn’t find any improper cyberlinks between the Trump Organization and the Moscow-based Alfa Bank. But related inquiries found substantial ties between Trump’s orbit and Russians who were connected to the Kremlin’s pro-Trump meddling efforts. The new filing now indicates that Sussmann’s case will likely revisit some of this history.
Special counsel Robert Mueller spent two years investigating potential collusion in the 2016 election. His investigation did not establish a criminal conspiracy between Trump and Russia, but it uncovered dozens of contacts between Trump campaign associates and Russian agents.
CNN’s Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.