Russian analyst set to face trial on charges of lying to FBI


ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) —

Five years after the term “Steele dossier” entered the political lexicon, a think tank analyst who contributed to research on Donald Trump and Russia went on trial Tuesday for lying to the FBI about his sources of information.

Igor Danchenko is the third person to be indicted by Special Counsel John Durham, who was appointed to investigate the origins of the “Crossfire Hurricane” — the designation given to the 2016 FBI investigation into the former president’s Russian connections. Trump. It is also the first of Durham’s cases to delve deeply into the origins of the dossier that Trump has derided as fake news and a political witch hunt.

Here’s some background on what the case is.

WHO IS DANCHENKO AND WHAT DOES HE SAY?

Danchenko, a Russian analyst, was a source of information for Christopher Steele, a former British spy who was paid by the Democrats to research the relationship between Russia and the presidential candidate Donald Trump.

The compilation of research files, which included salacious rumors and unverified statements, became known as the “Steele dossier.” Although the dossier did not help launch the FBI’s investigation into potential coordination between Russia and Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, the Justice Department relied on it when it applied for and received warrants to monitor the communications of a former Trump campaign adviser.

As part of its efforts to verify information in the dossier, the FBI interviewed Danchenko in 2017.

He is accused of lying to agents about his sources of information, with prosecutors accusing Danchenko of misleading the FBI in an effort to make his own contributions seem more credible.

WHAT DO PROSECUTORS SAY?

Prosecutors said Danchenko lied when the FBI asked him how he obtained the information he gave to Steele. Specifically, they said he denied that he trusted a Democratic operative, Charles Dolan, a public relations executive who volunteered for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Prosecutors also said Danchenko lied when he said he received information from an anonymous phone call he believed was placed by a man named Sergei Millian, former president of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce. They argued that Danchenko knew Millian was not the source of any anonymous phone calls.

The indictment says the FBI could have better judged the veracity of the Steele dossier if it knew a Democratic operative was the source of much of its information.

WHAT DID THE DEFENSE SAY?

Danchenko’s lawyers said the prosecution was “a case of extraordinary government overreach.” They noted that Danchenko agreed to several voluntary interviews with the FBI throughout 2017. They said his answers to the FBI were all technically true.

For example, an FBI agent asked Danchenko if he had “spoken” to Dolan about the information that appeared in the dossier. While prosecutors produced evidence that the two had email exchanges about the subjects of the dossier, there was no evidence that they spoke orally about the subjects.

“It’s a bad question,” Danchenko’s attorney, Stuart Sears, said at a pretrial hearing last month. “That’s the problem with the special counsel. Not to Mr. Danchenko.”

And while Danchenko said he believed Millian was the voice in the anonymous phone call, he never told the FBI with certainty that it was Millian. Sears argues that vague statements like that fall short of what is necessary to convict on a false statements charge.

WHAT OTHER CASES HAS DURHAM BROUGHT?

Durham was Connecticut’s U.S. Attorney in 2019 when then-Attorney General William Barr tapped him to look for potential misconduct by government officials who conducted the original Russia investigation.

But after more than three years, Durham’s work has failed to live up to the expectations of Trump supporters who hoped he would uncover FBI conspiracies to derail the Republican candidacy.

The investigation produced only three criminal charges.

The first case was against an FBI lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith, who was accused of changing an email related to the surveillance of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. It ended in a guilty plea and a sentence of probation — and involved FBI misconduct that had already been uncovered by the Justice Department’s inspector general.

Last year, Durham’s team accused a Democratic attorney of making a false statement to the FBI’s top attorney during a 2016 meeting where he presented information about an alleged — and ultimately debunked – backchannel between a Russian bank and the Trump organization. The case against the lawyer, Michael Sussmann, ended in a swift acquittal in May.

Durham’s work continues deep within the Justice Department of the Biden administration, but the Danchenko trial appears to be the last criminal case his team will take on. It’s unclear when Durham might produce a report summarizing his findings.

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Tucker reported from Washington.

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