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Durham probe: What we know about Michael Sussmann's acquittal, what comes next

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Special counsel John Durham on Tuesday lost the first of a handful of legal battles in his years-long probe into the investigation of Russia's interference in the 2016 election.

Durham's inquiry has touched on some of the most controversial aspects of the presidential campaigns of Donald Trump and Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. He has kept a low profile throughout his investigation, and court documents provide few clues about the investigation's path forward.

Here's all you need to know about Durham's probe and what comes next.

How did we get here?

In May 2019, Attorney General William Barr instructed Durham, 72, to investigate the FBI's examination of Russia's interference in the 2016 election.

In his 45-year career as a prosecutor, Durham has pursued challenging and high-profile investigations, passed down by Democratic and Republican administrations.

In October 2020, Barr appointed Durham to determine whether anyone broke the law for intelligence gathering or law enforcement activities involving Trump, special counsel Robert Mueller or the FBI investigation dubbed Crossfire Hurricane into whether Trump's campaign coordinated with Russia to interfere in the election.

Durham probe: John Durham continues investigating 2016 campaign and Trump, Russia accusations. What has he found?

Barr authorized Durham to prosecute federal crimes, if needed, and directed him to submit a report suitable for public release to the attorney general once his investigation concluded. No deadline was set for the probe.

Three people have been charged in the probe, each accused of lying to the FBI.

Legal blow

A federal jury handed Durham a blow Tuesday, acquitting former Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann on charges of lying to the FBI. It was Durham's first trial in the probe.

Sussmann met with the FBI’s general counsel, James Baker, on Sept. 19, 2016, and presented research he alleged showed a possible secret back channel of communication between the Russia-based Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization.

Durham said that claim was false, but the alleged lie at the center of Sussmann’s case was a different one.

Sussmann trial background: Former Hillary Clinton lawyer Michael Sussmann, charged with lying to the FBI, acquitted

Why was Sussmann acquitted?

Sussmann was accused of misleading the FBI by denying he represented any particular client during the meeting, purportedly acting on behalf of the Clinton campaign and a technology executive who helped pull together the computer data he shared.

Baker, the government's star witness, testified he was "100% confident" Sussmann told him he was not representing any client during their meeting in September 2016.

Sussmann's lawyers said he didn't lie. Even though he legally represented the Clinton campaign, he didn't request any action on its behalf, they argued.

They noted Sussmann billed a taxi ride to the FBI building to his law firm at the time, Perkins Coie – not the Clinton campaign – and former campaign officials said Sussmann was not authorized by the campaign to visit the FBI. They said no one else could know what was said during Sussmann and Baker's meeting, during which no notes were taken.

The jury found Sussmann not guilty.

“I told the truth to the FBI, and the jury clearly recognized that with their unanimous verdict today,” Sussmann said Tuesday. “Despite being falsely accused, I’m relieved that justice ultimately prevailed in my case.”

What's next for Durham probe?

Durham charged two other individuals with lying to the FBI; one pleaded guilty, the other awaits trial.

The case pending trial on Durham's court docket is Igor Danchenko's: The Russian national is charged with five counts of making false statements to investigators about sources of information he provided to former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele.

Danchenko indictment: Igor Danchenko, Trump dossier source, charged with lying to FBI in special counsel John Durham's Russia inquiry

Danchenko was a source of information in the "Steele dossier" on Trump. The dossier – compiled for the firm Fusion GPS, which had been hired by a law firm representing the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign – alleged in part that Russia obtained compromising information as part of a Kremlin effort to corrupt Trump.

Danchenko's trial is scheduled for Oct. 11 in U.S. District Court in eastern Virginia.

It's unclear how long, or even whether, Durham's investigation will continue after Danchenko's trial. He issued a fresh slate of subpoenas in September 2021 to Sussmann's law firm, which has ties to the Democratic Party, and has pursued a number of other avenues, but none has led to indictments, CNN reported.

How will the probe end?

The pace of Durham's probe has been widely criticized, including by Trump. The inquiry has lasted more than three years.

“Where’s Durham?” Trump asked March 6, 2021. “Is he a living, breathing human being? Will there ever be a Durham report?”

Attorney General Merrick Garland could intervene to speed up the process or cease the investigation, but he has not indicated he would.

In October 2021, Garland said he hopes "as much as possible" of Durham's report can be released to the public, according to CNN.

Contributing: Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What's next for John Durham's investigation after Sussmann acquittal