Durham probe: Judge rejects Sussmann request to ‘strike’ special counsel’s 'factual background’

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The federal judge presiding over the case of former Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann rejected his motion to “strike” the “factual background” section of Special Counsel John Durham’s February filing Thursday.

Sussmann’s legal team last month filed a motion demanding that the court “strike” portions of Durham’s Feb. 11 filing, including the “Factual Background” section, claiming it would “taint” a jury pool.

“I’m not going to strike anything from the record,” U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Judge Christopher Cooper said Thursday during a status hearing. “Whatever effect the filing has had has already passed.”

John Durham and Michael Sussmann.  
(Sussman photo from Perkins Coie)

Durham, in a Feb. 11 filing with the “Factual Background” in question, alleged Sussmann provided two U.S. government agencies with information from a tech executive that attempted to tie Donald Trump, who was a presidential candidate at the time, to Russia-based Alfa Bank. 

The tech executive has since identified himself as Rodney Joffe. Joffe is not named in Durham’s filing and has not been charged with a crime.

Durham alleged that Sussmann, Joffe and Joffe’s associates “exploited” internet traffic about a “particular healthcare provider,” Trump Tower, Trump’s Central Park West apartment building and the Executive Office of the President of the United States in order to “establish ‘an inference’ and ‘narrative’” tying Trump to Russia.

Durham alleges Sussmann’s “billing records reflect” that he “repeatedly billed the Clinton campaign for his work” on the Alfa Bank allegations.

Sussmann’s legal team, in its motion to “strike” the allegations, said Durham had “done more than simply file a document identifying potential conflicts of interest.”

“Rather, the special counsel has again made a filing in this case that unnecessarily includes prejudicial — and false — allegations that are irrelevant to his motion and to the charged offense, and are plainly intended to politicize this case, inflame media coverage and taint the jury pool,” Sussmann’s lawyers said.

U.S. Attorney John Durham, center, outside federal court in New Haven, Conn., after the sentencing of former Gov. John Rowland. 
(Bob MacDonnell/Hartford Courant/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

In a separate motion, Durham argued there was “no basis” to “strike” any part of his filing and pushed back against claims that his office “intentionally sought to politicize” the case. He defended the “additional factual detail” he included, which he argued is “central to proving” Sussmann’s “alleged criminal conduct.” 

While he did not grant Sussmann’s motion to strike, Judge Cooper on Thursday appeared to criticize the prosecution, saying the latest “dust-up” strikes him “as a sideshow.”

Durham’s original indictment alleges that Sussmann told then-FBI General Counsel James Baker in September 2016, less than two months before the 2016 presidential election, that he was not doing work “for any client” when he requested and held a meeting in which he presented “purported data and ‘white papers’ that allegedly demonstrated a covert communications channel” between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank, which has ties to the Kremlin.

Sussmann has also filed a motion to dismiss the case against him altogether.

The next hearing is set for March 31.

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