A jury in Virginia acquitted Russian analyst Igor Danchenko Tuesday on all charges of lying to the FBI in its investigation into the origins of Trump-Russia probe, in a stunning setback for special counsel John Durham.
Danchenko was a primary source of British spy Christopher Steele’s dossier on Donald Trump and Russia ties of people in his circle before the 2020 election.
He was accused of lying to the FBI as agents sought to verify information included in the infamous dossier, which included salacious and unverified allegations about Trump’s alleged conduct in a Moscow hotel room – information Trump repeatedly denied.
The verdict came in a trial that provided a series of revelations about the creation of the dossier as well as the FBI’s own information gathering techniques – including testimony that the FBI offered to pay Steele, a former British intelligence officer, $1 million in cash to prove the unsubstantiated allegations within it.
FBI supervisory analyst Brian Auten testified that the bureau made the offer to Steele in 2016 during a meeting in the United Kingdom – but didn’t hand over the money because Steele couldn’t back up the evidence.
Russian analyst Igor Danchenko was acquitted on all charges of lying to the FBI about his sources. An FBI handler testified that Danchenko was paid $200,000 over a period of three and a half years
The special counsel appointed under President Trump by former Attorney General Bill Barr has had a mixed record in his years-long probe, which began as an effort to examine the origins of the Russia probe and any FBI misconduct.
Trump has repeatedly railed about the Russia probe, blasting it as a ‘witch hunt’ and repeatedly mocking it as ‘Russia, Russia, Russia’ before and since leaving office.
Barr, although quitting in the last weeks of the Trump administration and blasting Trump’s election fraud claims since leaving office, had infuriated Democrats while in office for his handling of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
Durham’s own years-long probe has resulted in a single conviction – of FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith for doctoring an email used to justify surveillance. His plea resulted in a sentence of probation.
The trial of Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann also resulted in an acquittal after a two-week trial in Washington, DC.
His probe continued under AG Merrick Garland after President Biden took office.
Danchenko has said he was responsible for a stunning 80 per cent of the raw intelligence that went into the dossier, although he also said he was shocked when he saw how information he provided got stitched together.
In an early sign of where things were headed, Judge Anthony Trenga had already dropped a fifth charge in the case before it went to the jury for deliberation.
In the count that was tossed out, prosecutors alleged that Danchenko lied to the FBI when he told an agent that he never ‘talked’ with a Democratic operative named Charles Dolan about the information in the dossier.
As it turns out, there was evidence that Dolan and Danchenko had discussed the information over email. Defense attorneys argued that Danchenko’s response was literally true because they did not talk orally, and the question the FBI agent asked specifically referenced talking.
The verdict is another setback for Trump-appointed special counsel John Durham
The trial featured an examination of the creation of the Steele Dossier, which featured a series of unverified allegations about Trump’s alleged conduct in a Moscow hotel room, as well as a detailed look at Russia contacts of people in his circle. Trump repeatedly denied the charge and called the subsequent Russia probe a ‘witch hunt’
Ex-British intelligence officer Christopher Steele compiled the infamous dossier of material on Donald Trump and the then-candidate’s Russia ties. An FBI supervisory agent testified Steele was offered $1 million to back up his information but was unable to do so
Steele compiled a series of reports on ties between Trump figures and Russia, along with salacious unproven allegations about Trump’s alleged conduct in a Moscow hotel room
News you can use: Charles Dolan Jr. testified that he provided information to Danchenko that he saw on TV about Trump campaign intrigue involving Paul Manafort
The verdict came in a case that provided new revelations about how the FBI gathered information from its network of sources, even as prosecutors failed to convince the jury that Danchenko lied about his own role.
FBI Special Agent Kevin Helson testified that the source was paid $200,000 over a period of more than three years.
Helson told the court Danchenko, who was a primary source for ex-British Intelligence officer Christopher Steele’s infamous dossier, got paid $3,000 for just one meeting.
Danchenko’s is the third case brought by Durham, and there is speculation that it could be his last.
The trial brought an intense focus on the Steele dossier, as Durham took part in parts of the trial personally.
In addition to revelations about FBI payments to sources of information, it revealed aspects of the murky world of private intelligence gathering, where information can get chopped up, sourced anonymously, and sometimes repackaged to make it appear firm in intelligence reports clients are willing to pay for.
One player in the trial, Democratic PR exec Charles Dolan Jr., testified that he lied when he fed information to Danchenko, who was seeking intelligence on the sudden resignation of former Trump 2016 campaign chair Paul Manafort.
Dolan told Danchenko in a 2016 email offered as evidence that he would ‘dig around’ following news of a Trump campaign rupture that resulted in Manafort’s departure.
‘I had drinks with a GOP friend who knows the players,’ Dolan told him.
But on the stand he admitted he never met with a GOP source. ‘I thought I’d embellish a bit.’ Dolan said Danchenko had helped him in the past and he wanted to ‘throw a bone.’
Durham issued a statement in response to the verdict. ‘While we are disappointed in the outcome, we respect the jury’s decision and thank them for their service,’ he said.
‘I also want to recognize and thank the investigators and the prosecution team for their dedicated efforts in seeking truth and justice in this case,’ he continued.
He issued an identical statement the last time prosecutors suffered an acquittal in the probe.
Durham’s prosecutors highlighted the FBI’s use of the dossier to secure surveillance warrants on former Trump foreign policy advisor Carter Page – a move that was the subject of a damning report by the Justice Department’s inspector general.