The Steele dossier source is headed for trial, likely the last charge against Durham

Former President Donald Trump said that special counsel John Durham’s investigation into the origins of the FBI’s Russia probe in 2016 should “reveal corruption at a level never seen before in our country.”

But the special counsel’s nearly three-and-a-half-year investigation appears destined for a less dramatic conclusion this month in a federal courthouse in Alexandria, Va., where Durham will put on trial a private investigator who he says lied for the FBI.

Igor Danchenko — a researcher who provided former British spy Christopher Steele with information and whose contributions ended up in the now infamous “Steele case” of allegations about Trump’s ties to Russia in 2016 — is due to stand trial on Tuesday. The trial is expected to last a week.

Danchenko was indicted for lying to FBI agents who interviewed him in 2017 about the sources behind his allegations to Steele. Defense attorneys argue that Danchenko made a series of “ambiguous” statements to the FBI and should not be penalized for giving unclear answers to vaguely worded questions.

Regardless of the outcome, the Danchenko trial looks set to be Durham’s last stand in court.

John Durham has a fantastic reputation for investigating corruption. Some fear his work for Barr could taint it.

A grand jury that Durham had used in Alexandria is now inactive, according to two people familiar with the case. speaking on condition of anonymity because of the pending litigation. It’s not clear if Durham still uses a grand jury in DC

Durham was commissioned to write a report summarizing his investigation, which former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III did at the conclusion of his previous investigation into Trump and Russia. But it would be up to Attorney General Merrick Garland how much, if any, of Durham’s report to make public.

“The public is waiting ‘with bated breath’ for the Durham report, which should reveal corruption at a level never before seen in our country,” Trump wrote in August on his social media platform, Truth Social, after FBI agents raided his Mar-a-Lago complex.

Durham, a longtime federal prosecutor who served as U.S. attorney in Connecticut in the Trump administration, was asked by then-Attorney General William P. Barr in 2019 to dig into the origins of the FBI’s “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation into possible coordination between Trump and Russia in the 2016 presidential campaign. A 2019 report by the Justice Department’s inspector general criticized the FBI for failing to note doubts about the accuracy of the information it used to seek court approval for secret surveillance of a former Trump campaign adviser, even though the inspector general said , that he found no evidence of political bias in the board’s decision-making. Barr, a Trump appointee, had complained that the 2016 investigation was launched on the “thinnest” evidence.

Barr later appointed Durham a special counsel and directed him to write a final report “in a form that will permit public dissemination.”

The special counsel trained his views extensively on the FBI’s use of reports Steele produced what is now commonly referred to as the “Steele dossier.” Steele had been hired to produce the reports by the analytics firm Fusion GPS, which had been retained by a law firm representing Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic National Committee. Fusion GPS had originally been hired to dig into Trump’s background by a website funded by a deep-pocketed GOP donor.

Years after they began digging, Durham and his team have met with mixed success. The Danchenko case marks the second time the prosecutor, who was supposed to root out dishonesty and misconduct within the ranks of the FBI and intelligence agencies, will instead try to portray the FBI as victims, not perpetrators, of lies and deception.

“This case is probably the last real test for Durham’s office to justify its years-long investigation into possible collusion with Russia in the 2016 election,” said Robert Mintz, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice, adding that it “will only adding fodder to critics of Durham’s office who believe his prosecution has failed to get to the heart of his mandate to investigate the genesis of the Russian collusion allegations, instead charging individuals with more technical violations.”

A former FBI attorney, Kevin Clinesmith, pleaded guilty in 2020 to altering a government email to justify secret surveillance of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Clinesmith was sentenced to one year’s probation. In May, a jury in DC federal court acquitted the only other defendant who went on trial as part of Durham’s investigation, cybersecurity attorney Michael Sussmann, who was also accused of lying to the FBI.

The Danchenko accusation has gained a skeptic reception from the federal judge presiding over the case and much of the case Durham wanted to present will not be weighed by the jury.

At a hearing last month, U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Trenga said allowed the case to proceed to trial but said it was “an extremely close call” whether Danchenko’s statements to the FBI could even be prosecuted.

This month, Trenga ruled that Durham’s team cannot raise the most salacious allegations in the Steele case — involving Trump, the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow and unproven allegations of a “pee tape” with prostitutes — that investigators say traced back to Danchenko and his. alleged sources.

Trenga, a senior judge nominated to the stand by President George W. Bush who sits on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, also excluded other evidence Durham had hoped to show jurors.

“Danchenko’s allegedly false statements regarding his purchase of the Ritz-Carlton allegations do not qualify as direct evidence,” Trenga wrote in an Oct. 4 order. He added: “Why Steele characterized the sources of the Ritz-Carlton allegations as he did in the Report or whether the sources cited actually came from Danchenko is subject to a considerable degree of speculation.”

Steele may be able to shed light on Danchenko’s allegations himself, but he is not expected to testify. Nor is Sergei Millian, the former president of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce, who prosecutors say Danchenko lied about during his FBI interviews.

That presents another challenge for Durham: telling a complex story to the jury about allegations Danchenko made to the FBI, about earlier allegations he made to Steele, about information he allegedly received from Millian and others — all without Millian or Steele has given their own versions of events.

Durham and his team did not respond to a request for comment.

The indictment and case files are dense and technical, with some focusing on the proper grammatical way to parse FBI questions and Danchenko’s answers. For example, Danchenko’s lawyers argue that some of his statements to the FBI in 2017 — that he “believed” it was Millian who reached out to him anonymously in a phone call and shared information about Trump and Russia — were “literally true” and thus not a crime.

Stuart A. Sears, a lawyer for Danchenko, argued at a hearing last month: “If Rudy Giuliani says he believes the 2020 election was fraudulent, that doesn’t make it a false statement. He believes it.”

Mintz said, “This will be a difficult case for prosecutors because there is ambiguity in the facts, and prosecutors will have to prove that Danchenko intended to mislead the FBI during his questioning as part of the investigation. Although it is a crime lying to federal agents, without more serious underlying charges, it may be difficult to convince jurors that this case matters.”

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