Former Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann wants to make sure the jurors at his upcoming trial in heavily Democratic Washington, DC, know he was working against former President Donald Trump — even before they hear any evidence in the case.
In court papers filed ahead of jury selection set for Monday, Sussmann’s lawyers asked federal Judge Christopher Cooper to include an explicit reference to Trump in his preliminary instructions for the trial.
Sussmann’s lawyers also asked Cooper to refer to special counsel John Durham’s prosecutors as “the special counsel” instead of “the government,” which is the preference of Durham, who was appointed by then-Attorney General Bill Barr in October 2020.
In 2016, DC voters favored Clinton over Trump, 90.9% to 4.1%, and Democrats in the nation’s capital now outnumber Republicans, 76.5% to 5.4%, according to an April 30 tally posted online by the DC Board of Elections.
Tom Fitton of the conservative group Judicial Watch said Sussmann’s requests amounted to an attempt to tilt the playing field against Durham.
“The goal of the defense suggests this is a political operation,” he said Tuesday.
“That’s what’s behind this jury instruction. The goal is to turn this into a political trial between Trump and the Clinton people.”
Fitton added: “The jury pool in DC is certainly not friendly to President Trump.”
Lawyers for Sussmann declined to comment.
Sussmann is charged with a single count of lying to the FBI by allegedly denying that he was acting on behalf of the Clinton campaign and tech executive Rodney Joffe when he turned over since-debunked computer research that purportedly showed a secret backchannel between a Trump Organization server and Russia’s Alfa Bank.
In court papers filed late Monday, defense lawyers asked Cooper to summarize Sussmann’s indictment instead of reading it verbatim to the jury before opening statements.
They also requested that the judge note that Sussmann is accused of “conveying particular allegations concerning Donald Trump” when he describes the alleged crime at issue.
The indictment actually refers to Trump only as “a Presidential candidate.”
DC juries have previously exhibited great reluctance to convict defendants accused of opposing Trump.
After cops arrested more than 200 protesters amid violent demonstrations against Trump’s 2017 inauguration, prosecutors planned a series of small, group trials set to run through 2018.
But the jury at the first trial in December 2017 acquitted all six defendants after their lawyers likened them to the civil rights activists of the 1960s.
A second trial of four other defendants resulted in acquittals and deadlocks after a juror read graffiti that said “Google jury nullification” in a courthouse bathroom stall.
The juror looked up the term, which refers to intentionally acquitting a guilty defendant, and discussed it with other members of the panel, the juror confessed in a note to the judge.
Prosecutors eventually dropped all charges against more than half of those arrested.