Speed Reads

Ghosts of 2016

Special Counsel John Durham accuses a key Steele dossier source of lying to the FBI

An indictment handed down Thursday by Special Counsel John Durham's office accuses Igor Danchenko, a "primary sub-source" for British former intelligence agent Christopher Steele's Trump-Russia dossier, of lying to the FBI about where and how he got information included in the report. 

Danchenko appeared briefly in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, on Thursday, where his lawyer tried to enter a not guilty plea to the five charges of making false statements. "The judge did not accept the plea because the hearing was not an arraignment, and Danchenko was released," The Washington Post reports

Danchenko, a 43-year-old Russian-born U.S. analyst, voluntarily sat down with the FBI several times in 2017 as agents tried to chase down information in the Steele dossier. Durham's indictment alleges that Danchenko, among other things, did not disclose that some of his information came from a U.S. public relations executive with sources in Russia but also longstanding ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Danchenko's alleged lies matter, the indictment says, because the FBI "devoted substantial resources attempting to investigate and corroborate" the dossier's allegations and "relied in large part" on that research to obtain a surveillance warrant for Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page. Steele recently told ABC News he stands by most of the dossier.

Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller did not use the Steele dossier in his two-year investigation, which uncovered a concerted effort by the Kremlin to help former President Donald Trump's campaign.

This is Durhams's third indictment in his two and a half years investigating the origin of the Trump-Russia investigation. Former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith pleaded guilty in 2020 to altering an email and was given probation, and cybersecurity lawyer Michael Sussmann, charged in September with lying to the FBI, has pleaded not guilty.

"Lying to the FBI is a significant, significant crime," Peter Strozk, the former FBI agent who helped lead the initial Trump-Russia investigation, told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Thursday night. "It's a crime if the national security adviser does it, it's a crime if, as alleged, Mr. Danchenko did that." But Clinesmith, Sussmann, and Danchenko, he said, "were all involved in matters that were very almost peripheral to the core of what we were looking at with regard to the Russia investigations."

Durham's investigation has lasted six months longer than Mueller's and uncovered almost nothing, Strozk said. But his indictments do all include "subtle sort of one-sided portrayals of the facts" that, apparently intentionally, feed the false narrative pushed by Trump and his allies that "the entire effort of what the FBI and Special Counsel Mueller did" was "all nonsense."