September 17, 2022 07:09 AM
The extent of a yearslong misinformation campaign by the FBI and Justice Department regarding the alleged main source of disgraced Christopher Steele’s Trump dossier has been laid bare by John Durham’s latest court filing.
Igor Danchenko, a U.S.-based Russian lawyer charged with five counts of making false statements to the bureau, was cashing a check from the FBI as a paid informant from March 2017 to October 2020, special counsel Durham claimed.
The revelation, released ahead of the Russian national’s trial next month, casts a shadow over statements made by the DOJ and the FBI in recent years, as both agencies spoke positively of their confidential informant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court as well as the House and Senate.
The FBI also misled DOJ leadership about Danchenko.
The bureau put together “Talking Points re Crossfire Hurricane Cases” dated March 8, 2017, with the FBI misdirecting about Steele and Danchenko. At the meeting for DOJ and FBI leaders on March 6, 2017, then-FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe appeared to have led much of the presentation.
The FBI talking points referred to Steele as “CROWN” and repeated allegations in the dossier.
“CROWN’s reporting in this matter is derived primarily from a Russian-based source,” the FBI incorrectly said. The bureau had already interviewed Danchenko multiple times and knew he was based near Washington, D.C., not Russia. The talking points also claimed that “the FBI has no control over the Russian-based sub-source.” The FBI made him an informant that month.
The FBI also said Steele was a source, “some of whose reporting has been corroborated.” Durham characterized the verification, or lack thereof, of the dossier quite differently.
“Over a fairly lengthy period of time, the FBI attempted to investigate, vet, and analyze the Steele Reports but ultimately was not able to confirm or corroborate most of their substantive allegations,” he wrote Tuesday.
Steele revealed to the FBI in late 2017 that Danchenko “has been doing a bit of work for us recently,” even as the Russian was simultaneously working for the bureau.
McCabe continued misleading when he testified before the House Intelligence Committee in December 2017 that he was even more confident in the dossier than in 2016, but he said he couldn’t provide specifics.
“I think that our folks have done a fair amount of work on trying to track down and vet the information in the Steele reporting,” McCabe claimed. “I think that our folks have done a solid job in shedding light. … And I think that that work has not exposed any weaknesses or failures in the reporting.”
McCabe and fired FBI director James Comey pushed to include the dossier in the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment on Russian meddling.
McCabe answered “yes” when asked in December 2017 if Steele’s sources had been properly positioned to pass along the information alleged in the dossier.
But according to Durham’s indictment, Danchenko lied to the FBI about a phone call he claimed he received from Sergei Millian, an American citizen born in Belarus who the Steele source claimed told him about a conspiracy of cooperation between then-candidate Donald Trump and the Russians.
Durham’s indictment also said Danchenko anonymously sourced a fabricated claim about Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort to Hillary Clinton ally Chuck Dolan, who spent years, including 2016, doing work for Russian businesses and the Russian government.
The misleading efforts by the DOJ and the FBI continued during 2018, well into special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Then-Assistant Attorney General John Demers told FISA Court Judge Rosemary Collyer in a July 2018 letter that Danchenko had been “truthful and cooperative” with the FBI. Demers also defended the flawed FISA applications against Trump campaign associate Carter Page.
DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz undermined the dossier’s Trump-Russia conspiracy claims in 2019 and his report criticized the DOJ and the FBI for “significant errors and omissions” related to the FISA warrants against Page and for the bureau’s reliance on Steele’s dossier.
Collyer later condemned the FBI’s actions as “antithetical to the heightened duty of candor.”
The FBI’s “Draft Talking Points” for a Senate Intelligence Committee briefing in February 2018 included further defenses of Steele and Danchenko.
The FBI said it “assessed that Steele relied on one primary sub-source” — Danchenko. It then claimed Danchenko “did not cite any significant concerns with the way his reporting was characterized in the dossier.”
But FBI notes of a January 2017 interview with Danchenko showed he told the bureau he “did not know the origins” of some Steele claims and “did not recall” other dossier information. He noted much of what he passed to Steele was “word of mouth and hearsay,” while some stemmed from “conversation … with friends over beers” — while the most salacious allegations may have been made in “jest.”
“Our discussions with [Danchenko] confirm that the dossier was not fabricated by Steele,” the FBI’s 2018 talking points nevertheless claimed, also arguing its informant “maintains trusted relationships with individuals who are capable of reporting on the material he collected for Steele” and that he and Steele “utilized reasonably sound intelligence tradecraft.”
FBI director Christopher Wray eventually concurred in 2020 with the Trump DOJ’s conclusions that at least some of the FISA warrants against Page amounted to illegal surveillance.