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Sussmann defense, in closing argument, slams Durham case as ‘misdirection’

Defense attorneys for Michael Sussmann delivered their closing argument Friday, casting the government’s case against their client as weak and one of “misdirection” and “smoke and mirrors.” 

Sussmann defense attorney Sean Berkowitz opened his closing by comparing Special Counsel John Durham’s case against his client to a famous illusion by magician David Copperfield where he made the Statue of Liberty “disappear” by moving the audience’s attention elsewhere.

Berkowitz presented to the jury a poster reading: “The Special Counsel’s Smoke and Mirrors.” 

“The special counsel’s office bought a snow-making machine and blew that over the lawn, and they want you to think it snowed,” Berkowitz said.


Sussmann has been charged with one count of making a false statement to the FBI when he met with then-FBI General Counsel James Baker on Sept. 19, 2016. The government alleges Sussmann told Baker that he was not bringing allegations tying then-candidate Donald Trump to the Kremlin-linked Alfa Bank on behalf of any client, but rather, as a citizen concerned with national security.

Sussmann has pleaded not guilty to the charge.

Berkowitz described Sussmann as a “serious national security lawyer who received what he believed to be credible data from a world-leading DNS expert,” in reference to his client, Rodney Joffe.

Berkowitz went on to say that Sussmann “provided the data to a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist at the New York Times,” and said the New York Times “vetted” the data and “decided to run the story.”

“Sussmann went to the FBI to give them a heads-up,” Berkowitz said. “He didn’t ask for anything on behalf of anybody.”

The government, in its closing argument, presented a number of billing records and emails to the jury Friday, beginning on July 29, 2016 and through October 2016, revealing Sussmann repeatedly billed the Clinton campaign for work on the Alfa Bank opposition research against Trump.

Michael Sussmann, a cybersecurity lawyer who represented the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign in 2016, leaves federal courthouse in Washington, Monday, May 16, 2022. A jury was picked Monday in the trial of a lawyer for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign who is accused of lying to the FBI as it investigated potential ties between Donald Trump and Russia in 2016. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) 

One bill was to “Hillary for America” on Sept. 19, 2016, which the government claims was for the meeting Sussmann had with Baker at FBI headquarters.

On the bill, also dated Sept. 19, 2016, the Clinton campaign is listed as the client, the time is listed as 3.3 hours, and the memo states: “work and communications regarding confidential project.” Other testimony revealed Sussmann charged approximately $800 per hour.

But Berkowitz, instead, pointed to different billing records for different meetings in which Sussmann actually “wrote the words FBI.” Berkowitz stressed that Sussmann “did not write FBI” when he billed the Clinton campaign for the work on Sept. 19, 2016.


The government also produced a receipt from Staples near his law firm, Perkins Coie in Washington D.C., from Sept. 13, 2016. On the receipt was a two pack of flash drives.

Sussmann allegedly brought two flash drives and white papers with data alleging the Trump-Alfa Bank connection to the FBI for the meeting with Baker.

“They come here with a Staples receipt and a Google map, and say you guys are all set,” Berkowitz said sarcastically, slamming the government’s argument, and noting that Sussmann did not request the FBI meeting until Sept. 18, 2016.

Sussmann first requested the meeting in a text message. Durham’s team alleges Sussmann put his “lie in writing” in his Sept. 18, 2016 text to Baker.

The text message stated: “Jim — it’s Michael Sussmann. I have something time-sensitive (and sensitive) I need to discuss,” the text message stated, according to Durham. “Do you have availability for a short meeting tomorrow? I’m coming on my own — not on behalf of a client or company — want to help the Bureau. Thanks.”

Baker replied, “OK. I will find a time. What might work for you?”


Berkowitz also went on to remind the jury that Baker did not take notes during the meeting with Sussmann on Sept. 19, 2016, and attempted to discredit Baker as a witness.

“One hundred and sixteen times Baker says, ‘I don’t remember,’” Berkowitz told the jury about Baker’s testimony during trial.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MAY 05: Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton waves to the audience onstage before "An Evening with President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton" at Park Theater at Park MGM on May 05, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

Berkowitz went on to call the FBI’s investigation into the Trump-Alfa Bank information “shoddy,” slamming the bureau for not calling Sussmann for an interview on the information he brought forth.

The FBI investigated whether there was a covert communications channel between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank, and found that there was “nothing there.” 

Meanwhile, in the government’s closing rebuttal, prosecutor Andrew DeFilippis said the case “is not a close case.” 

“It is appropriate the defense started by presenting you a magic trick,” DeFilippis said, noting that Berkowitz’s argument was, in itself, “a magic trick.” 


“They wanted to make the evidence disappear,” he said. “When you look at the actual evidence, your common sense tells you what happened here.” 

He added that the defense is “trying to lawyer away the defendant’s lie.” 

“Don’t let them do that,” DeFilippis said. “The government has met its burden…You do have proof beyond reasonable doubt.” 

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