The trial of Michael Sussmann starts Monday

AP Photo/Bob Child, File

When we last checked in with the John Durham case against Michael Sussmann, Durham’s team had asked the judge to decide whether a small group of Fusion GPS emails were covered by attorney-client privilege. According to lawyers for Clinton’s 2016 campaign, Fusion GPS was hired solely to provide legal advice about defamation and libel laws which meant everything they did was legal consulting work. Judge Christopher Cooper didn’t seem to buy that claim and yesterday announced that Fusion GPS would have to turn over 22 emails to the prosecutors.

Fusion, the Clinton campaign and its law firm Perkins Coie say the emails don’t show any wrongdoing, but they have fought in court to prevent Durham from obtaining them…

“Fusion did more in connection with the Alfa Bank allegations than simply provide information and analysis to (Clinton campaign lawyer Marc) Elias so that he could better advise the Campaign on defamation risk,” federal Judge Christopher Cooper wrote in a ruling, explaining that the emails went beyond typical attorney-client work.

“It is clear that Fusion employees also interacted with the press as part of an affirmative media relations effort by the Clinton Campaign. That effort included pitching certain stories, providing information on background, and answering reporters’ questions,” Cooper wrote.

That’s a clear win for Durham’s team, though the judge also said that prosecutors can’t use those emails in the case against Sussmann because they will be turned over on the eve of his trial which starts Monday. Yesterday the Washington Post described the trial as the first real test of Durham’s approach to the case.

The charge against Sussmann is the first Durham case to go to trial. A Washington-based researcher faces trial later this year for allegedly lying to the FBI about how he collected allegations against Trump. In 2020, a former FBI lawyer pleaded guilty to illegally changing a government record.

Robert Mintz, another former federal prosecutor, said the trial next week “will be the first real test” of Durham’s work. By going to trial, he said,Sussmann has “thrown down the gauntlet and challenged the significance of the prosecution and the wisdom of bringing the case.”…

“The strategy,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew DeFilippis said in court Monday, “was to create news stories … to get the government to investigate it … and to get the press to report the government was investigating.”…

Prosecutors signaled this week that they plan to call a host of current and former law enforcement officials to describe how the FBI pursued the Alfa Bank accusations, and to paint Sussmann as part of a “joint venture” that included Joffe, Clinton’s campaign, research firm Fusion GPS and cybersecurity experts.

Over at the Wall Street Journal, Kimberley Strassel argued yesterday that Durham’s team has already gone a long way to revealing the machinations behind the scenes of the Clinton campaign, Perkins Coie, Fusion GPS and the rest:

Democratic superlawyer Marc Elias isn’t charged, but he also no longer heads the elite political-law practice at Perkins Coie. The firm last August announced Mr. Elias, who’d been there 28 years, was leaving to start his own small practice. A few weeks later, the Sussmann indictment laid bare the role Mr. Elias, a longtime DNC and Clinton lawyer, played in ginning up and distributing the bogus Trump-Russia claims…

Fusion GPS, which hired Mr. Steele, has become toxic in Washington. The Durham prosecutions show how the opposition-research firm operates—not by producing real research, but by shopping seamy claims to law enforcement, then browbeating journalists into covering the “investigations” Fusion inspires…

Mrs. Clinton won’t be in the courtroom, but the campaign’s claims it was in the dark about the Perkins Coie and Fusion work are in ashes. Mr. Durham’s evidence shows top Clinton aides—including campaign manager Robby Mook—were apprised of allegations and helped circulate them. Also among the circulators was current national security adviser Jake Sullivan, who faces calls to resign given his role.

Strassel concludes that Sussmann’s trial “on its face is about one lawyer, but in reality is the continuing tale of one of the dirtiest tricks in modern U.S. history.” I guess we’ll see how the trial goes next week. It looks to me like Durham’s team has the goods on Sussmann. Whether that will allow him to make a larger case about the Clinton campaigns dirty tricks remains to be seen.