Special Counsel Durham fails first courtroom test in his three-year probe Michael Sussmann was acquitted of one charge of lying to the FBI in the first verdict rendered during the probe by a special counsel appointed in the Trump administration.


Special Counsel Durham fails first courtroom test in his three-year probe

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There's been a major defeat for a special counsel appointed to uncover possible wrongdoing while the government investigated Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign. John Durham, who was appointed during the Trump administration, failed to win a conviction in his first courtroom test. NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson reports.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Prosecutors accused attorney Michael Sussmann of lying to the FBI during a meeting that took place weeks before the 2016 election. The jury took only about 6 hours to reach a verdict - not guilty.


MICHAEL SUSSMANN: I told the truth to the FBI, and the jury clearly recognized that with their unanimous verdict today.

JOHNSON: That's Sussmann addressing a crowd outside the courthouse.


SUSSMANN: Despite being falsely accused, I'm relieved that justice ultimately prevailed in my case.

JOHNSON: This was the first case to go before a jury in a criminal probe that was launched when Donald Trump was still president. Former Attorney General Bill Barr appointed Durham to examine the origins of the FBI investigation into the former president and Russia. Trump had hoped Durham would find something shady or dodgy about the investigators. Three years later, Durham has turned up very little.

Shortly before Sussmann spoke, seven members of the jury filed out of the courthouse. I caught up with the forewoman, who didn't want to share her name. She said, quote, "I think we could have spent our time more wisely. It didn't pan out in the government's favor, and that's on them," she added. Sussmann's lawyers adopted a blunter tone. They said Sussmann never should have been charged in the first place and called the case extraordinary prosecutorial overreach. Politics is no substitute for evidence, they said.

After the verdict, Durham lingered for a while inside the courtroom, checking his messages. In a written statement, Durham said he was disappointed in the outcome of the case but respected the jury's decision. Former President Trump reacted by calling the legal system corrupt and saying the country is going to hell. This two-week-long trial is not the end of the road for Durham. In October, he's set to appear before a jury in Virginia with another false statements case that stems from his investigation of the men and women who investigated former President Trump's ties to Russia.

Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.


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