Key ‘Russiagate’ source wins court battle
The primary source for the controversial ‘Steele dossier’ – a document assembled by a former British spy which claimed illicit ties between ex-US President Donald Trump and the Russian government – has been acquitted on several felony perjury charges.
Russian national Igor Danchenko was found not guilty on Tuesday after nearly ten hours of deliberation by jurors, who concluded the policy analyst did not lie to federal agents during their investigation into Trump’s 2016 campaign and his alleged connections to the Kremlin.
Prosecutors claimed Danchenko provided false information to the FBI in 2017 as the bureau looked into the infamous dossier compiled by former UK intelligence operative Christopher Steele, which was created as opposition research for failed presidential candidate and ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The document contained a series of claims about Trump and his supposed ties to Moscow, but remains almost entirely unsubstantiated despite a lengthy federal investigation.
The case against Danchenko largely centered on his dealings with Sergey Millian, a Belarusian-born businessman who claimed to have ties with the Trump campaign. Though Danchenko admitted to the FBI that he passed information to Steele, he said Millian was the ultimate source for the most explosive allegations in the Trump-Russia dossier, stating they discussed the matter during a series of calls and emails.
However, prosecutors accused Danchenko of lying about his contacts with Millian, saying there was no evidence the calls or emails took place, and charged him with five felony counts in November 2021.
One of those charges was dropped on a technicality last week. The prosecution alleged Danchenko lied to the FBI when he claimed he never “talked” to public relations executive Charles Dolan about the dossier, citing email exchanges between the two men. However, District Court Judge Anthony Trenga concluded that electronic communications did not amount to ‘talking’, and therefore tossed the charge in agreement with a motion from Danchenko’s defense.
Though the Trump-Russia dossier could not be corroborated by the FBI, and the bureau appeared to have good reason to consider the document unreliable early on, federal agents nonetheless cited Steele’s work to obtain a warrant to surveil Trump campaign aide Carter Page. The agency has come under fire by Trump and his allies, who claim the former president was targeted with a politicized investigation and an official smear campaign.
While still in office, Trump appointed special counsel John Durham to probe potential misconduct by the FBI during its investigation into his 2016 presidential run. It was Durham’s team that brought charges against Danchenko, in addition to former FBI attorney Kevin Clinesmith and cybersecurity lawyer Michael Sussmann. Clinesmith pleaded guilty to forging an email linked to the surveillance application for Page, but received no jail time, while Sussman was acquitted of false statements charges earlier this year.
Durham addressed Tuesday’s verdict in a brief statement, saying “While we are disappointed in the outcome, we respect the jury’s decision and thank them for their service.”
“I also want to recognize and thank the investigators and the prosecution team for their dedicated efforts in seeking truth and justice in this case,” he added.