by Jerry Dunleavy, Justice Department Reporter | | July 14, 2022 06:02 PM
John Durham’s next big hurdle is his only remaining criminal case — the one against Igor Danchenko, British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s alleged main source for his infamous anti-Trump dossier.
Danchenko was charged “with five counts of making false statements to the FBI,” which Durham says he made about the information he provided to Steele for the dossier. The Department of Justice’s watchdog said FBI interviews with Danchenko “raised significant questions about the reliability of the Steele election reporting” and concluded Danchenko undermined Steele’s unfounded claims of a “well-developed conspiracy” between former President Donald Trump and Russia.
Danchenko has pleaded not guilty and will face a Virginia jury in October. The Russia-born lawyer and researcher who has lived and worked in the Washington, D.C., area for many years was indicted in November for lying to the bureau. He allegedly relied on a network of Russian contacts but undermined key collusion claims when interviewed by the FBI. According to Durham’s false statements charges, he anonymously sourced a fabricated claim about Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort to longtime Hillary Clinton ally Chuck Dolan, who spent many years, including 2016, doing work for Russian businesses and the Russian government.
Danchenko visited Dolan and others at the Ritz Carlton in Moscow in June 2016 and also flew from Moscow to London to meet with Steele “to provide him with information that would later appear” in the dossier.
The Durham indictment also says the Steele source lied about Sergei Millian, an American citizen born in Belarus who moved to the United States in the early 2000s and founded a trade group called the Russian American Chamber of Commerce in the USA.
The prosecutor said Danchenko falsely told the FBI that in late July 2016, he had received a phone call from Millian wherein he claimed Millian told him about a well-developed conspiracy of cooperation between Trump and Russians and further claimed that Millian had agreed to meet with him in New York. Durham said that in reality, “Danchenko never received such a phone call or such information” from Millian and that Millian never agreed to meet up with him, saying Danchenko had “fabricated” these claims.
DURHAM REQUESTS 30 SUBPOENAS FOR TESTIMONY IN DANCHENKO TRIAL
The trial made headlines again this week when a court filing by Durham on Wednesday requested that the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia issue “thirty subpoenas” for possible witness testimony for the trial starting on Oct. 11.
U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga, who is handling the case, was nominated by President George W. Bush in 2008, and he has also been on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court since 2020. The judge had ruled in May that Durham must provide Danchenko’s team with details on possible witnesses by the start of September.
“To date, the Government has produced to the defense over 5,000 documents in classified discovery and nearly 61,000 documents in unclassified discovery. The Government believes that the 5,000 classified documents produced to date represent the bulk of the classified discovery in this matter,” Durham told the court in early May.
The judge ruled in June that “the information is properly classified.”
Durham discovered that Danchenko was investigated by the FBI as a possible “threat to national security,” according to documents declassified by then-Attorney General William Barr.
Fiona Hill, who worked at the Brookings Institution with Danchenko for years before joining Trump’s National Security Council, introduced Danchenko and Steele a decade ago, and Durham says she introduced Danchenko and Dolan in early 2016.
Steele is best known for his discredited anti-Trump dossier, which DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz concluded in December 2019 played a “central and essential” role in the FBI’s flawed effort to obtain wiretap orders against former Trump campaign associate Carter Page. The ex-spy was working for Putin-linked oligarch Oleg Deripaska before, during, and after his time targeting Trump. Deripaska paid Steele to investigate Manafort after accusing the Republican operative of stealing millions from him, and Steele sought help from Fusion in early 2016. The firm soon hired Steele to conduct anti-Trump research.
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The trial comes after Democratic cybersecurity lawyer Michael Sussmann had been charged in September by Durham after reportedly concealing his two clients — Neustar’s chief technology officer, Rodney Joffe, and Clinton’s 2016 campaign — from FBI General Counsel James Baker when he pushed debunked allegations of a secret line of communication between the Trump Organization and Russia’s Alfa-Bank during a September 2016 meeting. A jury found him not guilty earlier this year.
Durham has obtained one guilty plea from former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith, who admitted he falsified a document during the bureau’s efforts to renew a FISA against Page.