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International

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

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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.

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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WHY WOULD THAT MATTER AND WHAT DOES SUSSMANN SAY IN HIS DEFENSE?

Had the FBI known Sussmann was representing the interests of the Clinton campaign, prosecutors say, they would have carefully weighed his potential biases and motivations — as well as the reliability of the information he provided — before investigating the Alfa Bank allegations.

Prosecutors insist it was not a stray statement either, pointing to a text message they say Sussmann sent to Baker the night before the meeting in which he requested a sit-down and said that he would be coming on his own and “not on behalf of a client or company.”

Sussmann’s lawyers deny he lied during the meeting and point out that it wasn’t recorded and no one took notes. They say Sussmann’s Democratic Party affiliations were well known, including to the FBI. Beyond that, they contend the false statement Sussmann is alleged to have made is ultimately irrelevant because they say there’s no evidence it influenced the FBI’s decision to begin investigating the Alfa Bank claims.

In addition, they point to notes from an FBI and Justice Department meeting from March 2017 in which the FBI’s then-deputy director is described as telling his colleagues that the Alfa Bank claims were presented to law enforcement by a lawyer acting on behalf of clients. Sussmann’s lawyers say that shows the FBI understood Sussmann did indeed have a client in connection with the meeting.

They also have argued that allowing the case to proceed could have the effect of discouraging tipsters from reporting suspicions or potential wrongdoing to the FBI if they fear their motivations or possible political biases would be scrutinized.

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WHAT DOES THIS CASE HAVE TO DO WITH THE WORK OF SPECIAL COUNSEL ROBERT MUELLER?

The prosecution centers on a limited slice of the original investigation into ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign, which concluded in 2019 with a report from special counsel Robert Mueller and his team.

No matter the jury’s verdict, it will not affect the core findings of Mueller’s repor t — that Russia sought to aid Trump’s campaign but that insufficient evidence exists to prove the two sides criminally collaborated.

In fact, the Mueller report ignored the Alfa Bank allegations. The FBI did investigate but concluded by early 2017 that there was no troubling contact between the servers.

Even so, the case does make clear that Clinton associates leveraged professional contacts to present the FBI with information about Trump that they thought was pejorative and deserving of investigation. And it will draw attention to the little-known universe of cyber researchers who sift through Internet data for potentially suspicious trends.

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WHAT IS DURHAM INVESTIGATING?

Durham, the former top federal prosecutor in Connecticut, was appointed in 2019 by then-Attorney General William Barr to examine whether anyone committed misconduct as federal agencies investigated Russian election interference.

His investigation has gone on longer that Mueller’s did and he has charged three people so far, including Sussmann. Though Durham’s initial mandate was thought to focus on government officials, and though his team has interviewed FBI personnel, Justice Department lawyers and CIA officials, the investigation has also focused on private citizens such as Sussmann who came forward with information about Trump.

It is unclear how much longer the investigation will last, though Attorney General Merrick Garland has shown no public interest in curtailing the work and Durham was given a specific title of special counsel in the weeks before Barr resigned to ensure he could continue his work in a new administration.

In 2020, a former FBI lawyer named Kevin Clinesmith pleaded guilty to altering an email related to secret FBI surveillance of an ex-Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page. In applying for warrants to eavesdrop on Page, the FBI relied on a dossier of anti-Trump research known colloquially as the “Steele dossier” that contained rumors and uncorroborated claims.

Last year, Durham charged a Russia analyst who was a source for that dossier with lying to the FBI about his own sources of information — among them, a longtime Hillary Clinton supporter. Igor Danchenko has pleaded not guilty. The case is pending and set for trial in October.

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Follow Eric Tucker on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/etuckerAP

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Economy

North American stock markets wrap up brutal quarter and first half of 2022

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By Ross Marowits in Toronto

Allan Small said the first half of 2022 has proven to be the worst run of his 25-year investment career.

Canada’s main stock index concluded its weakest quarter since before the pandemic while U.S. markets endured their worst six-months runs in decades on fears that rising interest rates will throw the economy into recession.

“As we hit the mid-point of the year, when you look back I think the first part of the year will be known for just a bloodbath in the markets,” the senior investment adviser at IA Private Wealth said in an interview.

The S&P/TSX composite index closed down 217.28 points to 18,861.36 to end the quarter off nearly 14 per cent for the biggest decrease since December 2019. The TSX is closed Friday for Canada Day while U.S. markets will be closed Monday for Independence Day.

In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 253.88 points at 30,775.43. The S&P 500 index was down 33.45 points at 3,785.38, while the Nasdaq composite was down 149.15 points at 11,028.74.

The TSX is down 11 per cent so far this year, while the Dow is down 15 per cent, the S&P 500 is off 20.6 per cent for the worst six months in 50 years and Nasdaq fell a record 29.5 per cent.

“I don’t remember a year that started off the six months this poorly,” said Small.

Soaring inflation has been stoked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine while supply chain bottlenecks have been accentuated by China’s COVID-19 lockdowns.

While markets endured steep declines in the past due to COVID-19 and the financial crisis, they were always followed by people buying the dip. This time, many investors remain on the sidelines after getting hammered and unsure about when markets will bottom out.

Economic data out of the U.S. on Thursday said core inflation numbers, the Fed’s preferred inflation measure, rose 4.7 per cent in May. That’s 0.2 of a per cent lower than April but still around 40-year highs.

In Canada, economic growth slowed in April to 0.3 per cent, while a preliminary estimate for May suggests it likely contracted 0.2 per cent. The U.S. previously said its economy slipped 1.6 per cent in the first quarter.

A negative number in the second quarter will mean the U.S. economy is technically in recession. But Small said many people think the economy is already there and that Canada is either in recession or about to go into one.

Small said he wouldn’t be surprised to see markets rise during a recession in anticipation of things getting better, with inflation moving down after peaking.

Real estate and utilities were the lone sectors in positive territory Thursday in a broad-based slump with six of nine sectors falling by more than one per cent.

Health care led the declines, losing 4.1 per cent with Canopy Growth Corp. plunging 18.5 per cent after the pot producer announced a convertible notes exchange.

Materials lost 3.6 per cent on a drop in metals prices, particularly copper.

The August gold contract was down US$10.20 at US$1,807.30 an ounce and the September copper contract was down 7.1 cents at US$3.71 a pound.

“Whenever you have fear of a recession, those types of metals which are used to build homes and build things, the fear is that you’re not going to need to use as much of these building materials,” Small said.

Energy lost 1.7 per cent on lower prices with crude oil dropping as Advantage Oil & Gas Ltd. shares were down six per cent.

The August crude contract was down US$4.02 at US$105.76 per barrel and the August natural gas contract was down US$1.07 at US$5.42 per mmBTU.

The Canadian dollar traded for 77.60 cents US compared with 77.65 cents US on Wednesday.

Shopify Inc. decreased 5.6 per cent to push technology lower while Laurentian Bank fell 2.5 per cent to lead a drop in the heavyweight financial sector.

Small is hoping for a better second half of the year after central banks conclude their aggressive interest rate hikes to tame soaring inflation.

“I don’t know if we’re going to make back enough to get us in the green for the year, but I’m hopeful that we’ll see a positive second half and we’ll make back some of the losses.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 30, 2022.

Companies in this story: (TSX:AAV, TSX:WEED, TSX:LB, TSX:SHOP, TSX:GSPTSE, TSX:CADUSD=X)

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Environment

Supreme Court limits EPA in curbing power plant emissions

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WASHINGTON (AP) — In a blow to the fight against climate change, the Supreme Court on Thursday limited how the nation’s main anti-air pollution law can be used to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

By a 6-3 vote, with conservatives in the majority, the court said that the Clean Air Act does not give the Environmental Protection Agency broad authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants that contribute to global warming.

The court’s ruling could complicate the administration’s plans to combat climate change. Its proposal to regulate power plant emissions is expected by the end of the year.

President Joe Biden aims to cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by the end of the decade and to have an emissions-free power sector by 2035. Power plants account for roughly 30% of carbon dioxide output.

The Associated Press

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