(Bloomberg) -- Prosecutors hoping to prove a top lawyer for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign lied while trying to get the FBI to investigate a suspected secret link between Donald Trump’s company and a Russian bank are having a hard time getting their own witnesses to confirm the claim.
Michael Sussmann, a prominent cybersecurity lawyer with close ties to the Democratic Party, is on trial for allegedly concealing the identity of his client when he met with the FBI’s general counsel two months before the election to provide evidence of communications between computer servers at the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank.
But, after two days of testimony in Washington, some of the government’s main witnesses have so far thrown cold water on the claim that Sussmann met with the FBI on Clinton’s behalf, even though evidence presented to the jury shows Sussmann billed the campaign for his time at the meeting.
On Wednesday, prosecutors spent hours asking Marc Elias, the campaign’s former general counsel and a top Democratic election lawyer, about the billing practices of the law firm that both he and Sussmann worked for at the time, Perkins Coie. But on cross-examination by the defense, Elias said Sussmann’s billing of the campaign was a mystery.
“Did you tell him to go to the FBI?” Sussman’s lawyer, Sean Berkowitz, asked Elias.
“No,” Elias said.
“Did he seek your permission to go to the FBI?” Berkowitz said.
“No,” Elias responded.
Elias also testified that taking the purported evidence to the FBI would not have been helpful to the campaign. He pointed to the failure of the FBI and then-Director James Comey to stop Democratic Party emails from being published after they were hacked by Russia.
“The FBI in my view had not been particularly helpful in investigating or doing anything to prevent the leaks of the emails,” Elias said. Comey “had taken public stances around that time period that in my view were unfair and putting the thumb on the scale against Hillary Clinton.”
Prosecutors argue the alleged lie was part of a broader effort by Sussmann and the campaign to sway members of the media to report on the suspected link and damage Trump before the election. It’s the first trial stemming from Special Counsel John Durham’s probe into the origins and conduct of the FBI’s Trump-Russia probe, which Trump has long argued was a “witch hunt.”
The FBI ultimately determined the disputed computer server was used for sending spam marketing emails and wasn’t a national security threat.
Read More: Clinton-Linked Lawyer Lied to FBI About Trump Tip, Jury Told
Other government witnesses included Deborah Fine, a former Clinton campaign deputy general counsel, and Laura Allison Seago, a former analyst at Fusion GPS, the research firm hired by Perkins Coie to dig up dirt on Trump. Both women confirmed they played roles in looking into the purported Trump-Alfa Bank link, but didn’t back the key government claim that Sussmann went to the FBI on the campaign’s behalf.
“At any time prior to Mr. Sussmann’s charge in this case, did you have any knowledge that he went to the FBI?” Berkowitz asked Fine.
“No, I did not,” she said.
Seago also testified she wasn’t aware of any effort to get the server evidence to the FBI.
The witnesses also reminded the jury about the environment they were working in at the time, when unusual connections between Trump and Russia were frequently in the news. Elias called Trump a “bully” and noted that the Republican had pushed the GOP to make its platform pro-Russia and had personally called on Russia to find Clinton’s missing emails after the DNC hack. All that made the Alfa Bank claim “plausible,” Elias said.
Both sides agree that the Clinton campaign and Fusion GPS were looking into the Alfa Bank evidence with hopes of getting the press to report on it and damage Trump. What they disagree on is why Sussmann took it to the FBI, and who he was working for when he did it.
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