The analyst who contributed material for the Trump-Russia dossier is cleared of lying to the FBI. The acquittal of analyst Igor Danchenko is another setback for special counsel John Durham’s inquiry into the FBI’s investigation into allegations of ties between the 2016 presidential campaign of former President Donald Trump and Russia.
Tuesday, a federal jury acquitted Russian analyst Igor Danchenko on four counts of lying to the FBI in what should be the final case in special counsel John Durham’s three-year investigation into the origins of the agency’s probe regarding the 2016 campaign of former President Donald Trump and possible ties with Russia.
More than 10 hours were spent deliberating by the jury.
Prosecutors stated that Danchenko submitted false information to the FBI in 2017 while it was attempting to verify material in a dossier written by former British spy Christopher Steele which exposed Trump’s alleged links to Russia. The mostly unverified dossier supported FBI monitoring of former Trump campaign staffer Carter Page.
Danchenko, 44, told the FBI in July 2016 that he obtained part of the dossier’s findings in an anonymous phone conversation from a person he believed to be the renowned Belarusian-American businessman Sergei Millian, a claim the defense contended was always hypothetical.
Prosecutors, citing phone records, contended the call never happened, but the defense maintained the communication may have occurred using an encrypted phone app.
The authorities got Millian’s email records, which contained messages from Danchenko but no app contact information or references to an alleged phone call between the two men. Millian has denied being a source for the dossier’s material.
Durham issued the following statement following the judgment: While we are unhappy with the result, we accept the jury’s decision and appreciate their service. He also wanted to acknowledge the detectives and the prosecution team for their committed work in pursuing truth and justice in this matter.
Stuart Sears, the attorney for Danchenko, stated outside the courthouse: We have always felt Mr. Danchenko was innocent. We’re glad now that the American people understand that, as well. And we appreciate these jurors’ diligence, thought, and achievement of the correct verdict.
Durham’s team brought several witnesses, including FBI analyst Brian Auten, who stated the agency offered Steele up to $1 million in exchange for proof or sources that would provide incriminating material. The line of inquiry was meant to undermine Steele and the FBI’s procedures.
Kevin Helson, an FBI agent, was Danchenko’s “manager” from 2017 until the Justice Department indirectly confirmed his name as the dossier’s primary author in 2020. Helson recalled Danchenko’s anger about how Mr. Steele embellished the facts he presented, evidence that backed the defense’s contention that Danchenko was surprised by the published dossier.
Helson stated under cross-examination by Sears that Steele attempted to burn everything around him to the ground to substantiate the accusations in his dossier.
Although Danchenko was on trial, the government heavily criticized the FBI for handling the dossier, particularly for applying for a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to conduct surveillance on Carter Page during the 2016 election with uncorroborated allegations from the dossier.
This case is about defending the functionality and integrity of our institutions, assistant special counsel Michael Keilty stated in his opening remarks, slamming both Danchenko’s alleged falsehoods and the FBI’s inaction, which he contended would have exposed them.
After the trial, Keilty informed the jury that this was not the FBI’s best hour but that the only issue before them was Danchenko’s “shifting story.”
Sears centered his closing argument on the evidence of various FBI officers and analysts who stated they believed they had “no reason to doubt” Danchenko and felt he was reliable.
It was disastrous testimony for the special counsel’s case,” Sears said, emphasizing the internal pressure the agents may have been under before providing that evidence. The special counsel’s inquiry is devoted to proving a crime at all costs, Sears said, despite the government’s evidence demonstrating his client’s innocence. He then enumerated how emails and comments corroborated — but did not refute — Danchenko’s claims, including his travels to New York City to possibly meet with Millian, his uncertainty regarding Millian’s identity as the anonymous caller, and the consistency of his interview statements.
After the government and defense rested their cases on Friday, U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga dropped a charge about whether Danchenko had discussed the contents of the Steele dossier with a Democratic operative named Charles Dolan. Danchenko denied speaking with Dolan for the information when asked by the FBI. Trenga stated in his conclusion that the answer was literally accurate because the discussion was done over email.
Durham defended his accusations throughout the trial, stating that it was very plausible to conclude that Danchenko interpreted the inquiries regarding whether he had spoken with Dolan as pertaining to general contacts.
Before the trial, Trenga also ruled that prosecutors could not present evidence regarding the most salacious portions of the dossier, such as unproven allegations involving Trump and prostitutes at a Moscow hotel allegedly bugged by Russian intelligence. This allegation could have raised the possibility that Trump could be blackmailed. Trump had characterized the dossier as false news and proof of a political witch hunt against him.
Michael Sussmann, a lawyer for the Hillary Clinton campaign, was found not guilty of lying to the FBI by a federal jury this year, causing Durham’s probe to lose another legal fight. Sussmann allegedly misrepresented himself in a 2016 meeting with the FBI’s general counsel in an attempt to orchestrate an “October surprise” against her opponent, Trump, according to prosecutors from Durham’s office.
In a separate case from the investigation, former FBI attorney Kevin Clinesmith was sentenced to probation, avoiding a jail term, for creating a false statement by modifying an internal FBI email in a bid to maintain government monitoring of Page.