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Durham probe takes blow with not-guilty verdict for ex-Clinton lawyer Michael Sussmann

TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images

Ex-Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann was found not guilty of making false statements to the FBI Tuesday in a case concerning the highly controversial Trump-Russia investigation.

The not-guilty verdict is a black mark for special counsel John Durham's investigation into the origins of the FBI's Trump-Russia probe, which has now lost the first case brought to trial. Durham had sought to prove that Sussmann lied to federal agents when he handed over since-debunked information concerning Donald Trump's alleged ties to a Russian bank during the 2016 presidential campaign. But a D.C. jury disagreed.

"While we are disappointed in the outcome, we respect the jury’s decision & thank them for their service," Durham said in a statement. "I also want to recognize and thank the investigators & the prosecution team for their dedicated efforts in seeking truth and justice in this case."

Sussmann, a former Perkins Coie lawyer, was indicted on a single charge of making false statements to the FBI in September 2016 when he met with FBI general counsel James Baker. Sussmann gave the bureau information that purportedly showed a connection between the Trump Organization and the Kremlin-tied Alfa-Bank.

The FBI opened a four-month inquiry into the Trump Organization that found no link with Alfa-Bank.

Prosecutors alleged that Sussmann had pretended to be a concerned citizen without disclosing that he was working for Clinton's 2016 campaign. They claimed that Sussmann went to the FBI with unverified information so that the bureau would open a case against Trump and that the Clinton campaign then leaked details about the case to the press to create an October surprise for the election.

Sussmann plead not guilty and denied any wrongdoing. His defense lawyers argued that the prosecution was advancing a "giant political conspiracy theory" and had failed to prove that a crime was committed. They said the FBI was aware of Sussmann's political ties and that he went to the bureau in good faith.

The two-week trial concluded Friday after featuring witness testimony from current and former FBI agents, associates of the Clinton campaign, and various technology experts. The jury met for six hours before reaching its not-guilty verdict, according to CNN.

Previously, Durham's probe led to a guilty plea from a junior FBI lawyer who admitted to falsifying a document when the bureau sought to renew a FISA court warrant to surveil Trump campaign associate Carter Page.

The special counsel has also indicted Russian expat Igor Danchenko, a source for the infamous and debunked Steele dossier, a discredited opposition research report that falsely alleged that Trump's campaign was colluding with the Russian government. Danchenko faces five counts of making false statements to the FBI and will be tried in October.

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