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EXPLAINER: Why stakes are high in trial tied to Russia probe

WASHINGTON (AP) — The first trial resulting from special counsel John Durham’s investigation of the early days of the Trump-Russia probe hardly seems an explosive affair. It’s about a single false statement that a cybersecurity lawyer with ties to the Hillary Clinton campaign is alleged to have made to the FBI in 2016.

Yet the stakes are high.

The verdict in the case of lawyer Michael Sussmann will help shape the fate and legacy of Durham’s three-year probe. An acquittal would hasten questions about the purpose of the inquiry and the cost to taxpayers. A guilty verdict would energize supporters of Donald Trump who have long looked to Durham to expose what they see as biased mistreatment of the former president.

The trial, beginning Monday with jury selection in Washington’s federal court, will not focus on Trump’s claims of government misconduct during the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election in the United States. Jurors will not be asked to decide whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin to tip the outcome of the race.

But the trial will rewind the clock to a frenetic stretch in recent American history when the FBI was scrambling to investigate ties between Trump and Russia — and the rival Clinton campaign was eager to push its own suspicions.

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WHAT’S THE CASE ABOUT?

Sussmann is accused of lying to the FBI’s general counsel, James Baker, during a meeting on Sept. 19, 2016, in which Sussmann presented research that he said suggested a possible secret backchannel of communications between computer servers for Russia-based Alfa Bank and Trump’s company, the Trump Organization.

The allegation of covert contact, if proved, would have been explosive at a time when the FBI was already investigating whether the Kremlin and the Trump campaign were conspiring to influence the election.

The claim was false, Durham says, but that’s not the lie at the center of the Sussmann case.

The indictment accuses Sussmann of misleading the FBI by denying that he was representing any particular client during the meeting when he was actually acting on behalf of two clients: the Clinton campaign and a technology executive who had helped assemble the computer data.

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Source: AP News

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