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The DNC-connected lawyer charged in the Durham probe says the indictment doesn't even explain what he's accused of lying to the FBI about

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John Durham Donald Trump
John Durham and Donald Trump. Associated Press; Getty Images
  • In September, Special Counsel John Durham accused a DNC-connected lawyer of lying to the FBI.

  • The lawyer, Michael Sussman, now argues that the indictment is too vague to defend himself against.

  • Sussman informed the FBI of connections between the Trump Organization and a Russian bank.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

The attorney charged in special counsel John Durham's investigation into the origins of the FBI's Russia probe said in a filing this week that the indictment against him is too vague to allow him to begin building a criminal defense.

Durham last month charged the Democratic-linked lawyer, Michael Sussman, with one count of lying to the FBI. He's accused of having "lied about the capacity in which he was providing" allegations to the FBI about what he claimed was a "secret communications channel" between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank, a Russian bank.

The indictment said Sussman's alleged falsehoods impeded an FBI investigation.

On Wednesday night, Sussman argued in legal filings that the indictment "fails to allege the precise false statement that Mr. Sussmann purportedly made," and doesn't adequately explain how the FBI was impeded from doing its job.

"While the Indictment in this matter is 27 pages long, the majority of the allegations are not relevant to the crime the Special Counsel has chosen to charge," Sussman's lawyers wrote. "And on that charge, a single alleged false statement, the Indictment plainly fails to provide Mr. Sussmann with the detail and clarity that the law requires and that is essential in enabling Mr. Sussmann to prepare his defense."

Sussman, who worked for the Justice Department for 12 years, is an experienced cybersecurity lawyer who represented the Democratic National Committee when Russia hacked its servers in 2016.

The indictment against Sussman said he met with Jim Baker, then the FBI's general counsel, in September 2016, as it was investigating the Trump campaign's links to Russia, and turned over three "white papers" and data files that he said contained evidence of a covert communications channel between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank.

The charging document said that Sussmann lied to the FBI and said he was not working on behalf of any client, which led Baker to believe he was acting as a regular citizen and not as a paid political operative. In fact, the indictment said, Sussman was billing his time for those conversations to Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign.

Then attorney general William Barr tapped Durham to investigate the origins of the FBI's Russia inquiry in May 2019. The decision was widely praised by then President Donald Trump and his allies, who accused the FBI and special counsel Robert Mueller of conducting a politically motivated "witch hunt" against the president.

Durham's investigation has gone on for longer than Mueller's two-year investigation. Sussmann is the second person to be charged as part of Durham's probe; last year, the former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith pleaded guilty to falsifying a document while working on the Russia probe.

Legal experts told Insider's C. Ryan Barber that the indictment against Sussman will have to clear a number of legal hurdles to be successful. Some observers also pointed out the unique nature of the indictment, noting that although Durham was tapped to expose FBI misconduct, his indictment against Sussman indicates the bureau itself was the victim of a crime.

"The indictment is, in other words, far removed from the grave FBI misconduct Durham was supposed to reveal," Benjamin Wittes, the editor-in-chief of Lawfare, wrote last month.

In the Wednesday filing, Sussman's lawyers asked the judge overseeing the case to compel Durham to provide additional details bolstering his accusations.

They said they previously asked Durham's office to provide more detail for the indictment, but he refused.

"Counsel for Mr. Sussmann previously asked the Special Counsel to provide the detail and particulars identified above, but the Special Counsel declined to do so," the lawyers wrote. "That decision simply cannot be reconciled with the law. Pursuant to the Constitution, the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, and well-settled case law, Mr. Sussmann is entitled to understand the charge against him, to prepare his defense, and to safeguard against unfair surprise at trial."

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