Trial update: Baker testifies he would have 'made a different assessment' if he'd known Sussman was working for the Hillary campaign

There were some big developments in the Sussmann trial Wednesday and Thursday. As expected, former F.B.I. official James A. Baker testified that during his meeting with Michael Sussmann, Sussmann had told him he was not acting on behalf of any client.

The former F.B.I. official, James A. Baker, who in 2016 was the agency’s general counsel, was adamant that Mr. Sussmann had told him he was representing no one but himself during the meeting. “I’m 100 percent confident that he said that,” Mr. Baker said. “Michael’s a friend of mine and a colleague, and I believed it and trusted that the statement was truthful.”…

On the stand, Mr. Baker offered a detailed account of their meeting, and the steps he took to share the matter with top F.B.I. officials who could swiftly investigate the concerns, which had been raised by internet data and cybersecurity research. The F.B.I. would later conclude that the concerns about Alfa Bank were unsubstantiated.

He would have “made a different assessment” if he had thought Mr. Sussmann had approached him on behalf of a client, particularly if that client were Mr. Trump’s political opponent, Mr. Baker said.

“It would have raised very serious questions,” Mr. Baker added, about “the credibility of the source.”

This is the core of this case. Sussmann is being prosecuted for lying to the FBI about not having a client. And Baker’s testimony is made worse by the fact that he considers Sussmann a friend.

Baker took the witness stand on behalf of the prosecution in the late afternoon in U.S. District Court in Washington, but quickly made clear that he considered the defendant — former Perkins Coie partner Michael Sussmann — a friend and wasn’t testifying out of any desire to see Sussmann punished.

“I’m not out to get Michael and this is not my investigation. This is your investigation. If you ask me a question, I answer it,” Baker said under questioning by assistant special counsel Andrew DeFilippis.

As I’ve pointed out before, the case isn’t dependent on Baker’s memory. Jurors have also seen a text message Sussmann sent the night before. How that message turned up is interesting.

“I have something time sensitive (and sensitive) I need to discuss,” Sussmann wrote to Baker on Sept. 18, 2016. “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 said he discovered the text message around March of this year after a direct request from Durham to check for any communications with Sussmann.

So, further adding to the impression that Baker wasn’t out to get Sussmann is the fact that he had this text all along but didn’t “discover” it until March. Baker said on the stand yesterday, “To the best of my recollection, nobody had asked me to go look for this material.” Read into that what you will but I get the impression Baker probably would never have discovered the slam-dunk text if he hadn’t been explicitly directed to search for it.

Democratic lawyer Marc Elias also testified for several hours yesterday. He said he couldn’t remember whether he learned about Sussmann’s visit to the FBI shortly before or shortly after it happened. He also said he didn’t approve it and added that he didn’t think “that I would have thought that was a good thing.” Elias testimony led to some discussion of a mistrial.

Near the end of the day on Wednesday, Sussmann’s defense said it was considering moving for a mistrial after Elias answered some questions about Sussmann’s purpose in contacting the FBI by saying, “Ask him,” and, “You’d have to ask Mr. Sussmann.” Defense attorney Sean Berkowitz didn’t detail his objection, but it might be that the answers suggested Sussmann has some duty to explain his actions, potentially undermining his right not to testify.

There aren’t any stories up about today’s testimony but there is a lengthy Twitter thread from NY Times reporter Adam Goldman.

I think that’s intended to say “not necessarily in the same way.” After the cross there were some additional questions from the prosecution.

After a break, Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook took the stand. Mook confirmed that Hillary approved spreading the Alfa Bank story to the media.

He doesn’t remember when he heard about this.

He also didn’t know or approve of Sussmann trip to the FBI (remember that Sussmann billed the campaign for his FBI visit).

On cross-examination, Mook revealed a bit more.

He pretty much has to admit that because there’s a tweet in which Hillary promoted the Slate story.

Remember the FBI and the CIA concluded this data was junk. There was nothing to it and yet the media is unhappy about the suggestion that they often get things wrong.

Despite Hillary and the media promoting a story that was entirely false on the last day of October, the defense claims this definitely wasn’t an October surprise.

And that’s where the trial broke for lunch.

Update: Elon Musk is pointing to the Sussmann trial today.