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Defense accuses Trump-Russia special counsel Durham of politicizing prosecution

A Washington attorney charged as part of the Justice Department's investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia probe is accusing prosecutors of trying to politicize the case and gin up negative press coverage.The allegations came in a court filing late Monday from Michael Sussmann, a former prosecutor who worked at a law firm with longstanding ties to the Democratic Party.Sussmann was indicted last year on a single false statements count for allegedly lying to the FBI ahead of the 2016 election in a conversation about possible ties between Donald Trump and Russia. He has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go to trial in May.The case is one of three brought so far by special counsel John Durham, who was tapped in 2019 by then-Attorney General William Barr to investigate the genesis of the FBI's Trump-Russia probe.The latest public flare-up in the investigation stems from a court filing Durham submitted Friday about potential conflicts of interest in Sussmann's case.In that document, the special counsel also presents information about a meeting Sussmann had in February 2017 with the CIA in which he allegedly passed along information about suspicious internet data related to Trump and Russia. That information included indications about Russian-made phones being used near the White House.Durham says Sussmann obtained that material from a client, tech executive Rodney Joffe, whose company Durham says mined internet data from Trump Tower, the Executive Office of the President and other locations to find derogatory material about Trump.Durham does not accuse Joffe of wrongdoing, and Joffe has not been charged with a crime.Still, Trump and his allies seized on the Friday filing and created a storm in conservative media.Trump, for example, claimed that Durham said Trump's 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, had paid operatives to spy on his campaign and presidency. Outlets on the far-right repeated Trump's conjectures, despite the fact that Durham made no such allegation in his filing. Sussmann's attorneys, in their late Monday filing, said the damage has been done. "Unfortunately, the Special Counsel has done more than simply file a document identifying potential conflicts of interest," they write. "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."The information that Sussmann provided to the CIA related to the Executive Office of the President concerned the time period when Barack Obama was still president, not Trump, they write. They also say the CIA meeting took place after the 2016 election and Trump's inauguration, "at a time when the Clinton campaign had effectively ceased to exist."The special counsel's office declined to comment beyond its public filings.In the run-up to the 2020 election, Trump touted Durham's investigation and suggested it would dig up colossal corruption at the FBI and wrongdoing against him. So far, though, Durham has brought criminal action against only three people in his investigation. The first was a former low-level FBI attorney named Kevin Clinesmith, who pleaded guilty to doctoring an email that was used to get surveillance on a former Trump campaign adviser. Clinesmith was sentenced to one year of probation.Igor Danchenko, who was a key source for the infamous Steele dossier about alleged Trump-Russia ties, is the third. He was indicted in November on five counts of making false statements to the FBI. He has pleaded not guilty. Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.