By Hans Mahncke
While special counsel John Durham’s prosecution of Steele dossier source Igor Danchenko appears to be headed toward acquittal, Durham has used the trial to make public a number of revelations that cast the entire Trump-Russia collusion narrative in a fresh light.
Most prominently, Durham revealed that on Oct. 3, 2016, the FBI had offered dossier author Christopher Steele up to $1 million to provide any information, physical evidence, or documentary evidence that could back up the claims in his dossier. But despite the huge reward on offer, Steele did not provide any such information.
Crucially, despite Steele’s failure to back up his dossier, a mere 18 days later the FBI proceeded to obtain a FISA warrant against Trump 2016 presidential campaign adviser Carter Page. In its application to the FISA court, the FBI used the Steele dossier—specifically, its claim that Page was acting as an agent of Russia—as evidence.
Then, after Donald Trump won the presidential election on Nov. 8, 2016, the U.S. intelligence community, which included the FBI, began drafting an intelligence community assessment (ICA) on Russian interference in the election. The ICA was issued in early January 2017, claiming that Russia had helped Trump win the election.
The assessment included a summary of the dossier, claiming that it had been partly corroborated. The inclusion of Steele’s dossier in an official U.S. intelligence community product gave the dossier the credibility it had lacked up until that point.
It also gave the media, which had held back from reporting on the dossier between July 2016 and January 2017, the excuse it needed to start doing so. For the next several years, the dossier and its lurid claims became the centerpiece of the media’s campaign against Trump. As Durham has now made public, the inclusion of the dossier in the ICA was based on a lie.
Danchenko on FBI’s Payroll
Another major revelation exposed by Durham in a pre-trial motion was that Danchenko had been on the FBI’s payroll between March 2017 and October 2020 as a confidential human source (CHS). By bestowing this coveted status on Danchenko, the FBI was able to conceal the existence of Danchenko from congressional and other investigators. This was crucial, as Danchenko had told FBI investigators in January 2017 that the dossier was based on rumors and gossip made in jest. The admission that the Steele dossier was nothing more than bar talk needed to be concealed if the FBI was to continue its investigation of Trump.
Appointing Danchenko as a CHS had another benefit for the FBI. As Danchenko’s handler, FBI agent Kevin Helson, confirmed in court last week, because he was an incoming CHS, Danchenko was directed to scrub his phone. Conveniently, that also meant scrubbing evidence of Danchenko’s alleged lies to the FBI, evidence that Durham now lacks.
In March 2017, then-FBI Director James Comey briefed congressional leaders, the so-called Gang of Eight, on his investigation of the Trump campaign. As Comey’s briefing notes reveal, members of Congress were not told about Steele’s failure to back up his dossier, despite the huge reward on offer, nor were they told that Danchenko had disavowed the dossier.
Additionally, Comey told congressional leaders that the dossier was “derived primarily from a Russian-based Sub-Source” and that the “FBI has no control over the Russian-based Sub-Source.” The same wording was also used by the FBI in the Page FISA warrant application. And it was entirely false. Danchenko was not “Russian-based,” he was a former Brookings Institution analyst based in Virginia. And not only did the FBI have control over him, but he was working for them.
Comey’s lies successfully ratcheted up the pressure and in May 2017, acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate claims of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Mueller has denied having investigated the Steele dossier. In congressional testimony on July 24, 2019, Mueller repeatedly stated that the dossier was outside his purview. However, evidence elicited by Durham last week from two counterintelligence agents, Brittany Hertzog and Amy Anderson, paints a very different picture.
Hertzog and Anderson were assigned to Mueller’s special counsel office in the summer of 2017. Hertzog testified last week that she was assigned the task of investigating the Steele dossier, a task that Mueller claimed was outside the purview of his investigation. According to Anderson’s testimony, Mueller’s dossier team comprised at least five agents.
As part of their assignment, Hertzog and Anderson investigated two of Danchenko’s alleged sub-sources, Olga Glakina, a Russian national living in Cyprus, and Charles Dolan, a public relations executive with decades-long ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton. Illustrating the depths to which Mueller’s team went to investigate the dossier, Anderson flew to Cyprus to personally interview Galkina.
According to Anderson’s testimony last week, Galkina admitted that Dolan was a source for the dossier. Given Dolan’s longstanding ties to the Clintons, this presented a huge problem for Mueller’s team. When Anderson additionally found out that Dolan was well connected in the higher echelons of the Russian government, she recommended that an investigation into Dolan be opened. However, according to her testimony, Mueller’s team blocked the investigation from going forward and destroyed her memo on the matter.
Mueller’s false statements do not end there. A central alleged figure to the dossier, Sergei Millian, now claims on Twitter that he was in touch with Mueller’s office from 2017 to 2019. Mueller’s report claims that Millian refused to meet with investigators. Millian claims that he offered to meet Mueller’s team in various locations, including in the United Kingdom and Switzerland. Mueller’s team could easily have arranged such a meeting if it had wanted to, as illustrated by the fact it was willing and able to interview Galkina in Cyprus.
It appears that the reason Mueller did not want to talk to Millian—and later lied about this fact—is that Millian is central to the dossier. According to Steele, Millian was the originator of the dossier’s key allegations, including that there was a “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” between Trump and the Kremlin, the infamous pee tape story, and that Russia had helped Trump by passing hacked Democratic National Committee emails to Wikileaks.
However, there was a snag. Millian never spoke to Steele or Danchenko. Danchenko later admitted to the FBI that he had told Steele otherwise. This was not only a problem for Danchenko, but also for Mueller and the FBI. Without Millian, the dossier’s main allegations would have collapsed. That is why Mueller could not afford to talk to Millian.
While Durham’s revelations explain crucial aspects of the false witch hunt against Trump, they do not amount to much unless those responsible are held to account.
Durham himself has shown a marked disinterest in pursuing key government actors such as Comey or Mueller, focusing instead on private actors. A possible reason for this may be that Durham’s hands were tied by Biden’s Department of Justice. If that is the case, Durham’s final report, which will likely be issued in the next few months, should detail instances of such obstruction.
Whatever the reasons for Durham’s failure to pursue FBI leadership and Mueller’s team, he has now left a trail of evidence for others to pursue.
For instance, Mueller’s untrue statement that he did not investigate the Steele dossier is still within the statute of limitations until 2024 for charges to be brought. The concealment of Danchenko behind CHS status carried on until 2020, meaning that the statute of limitations on related charges does not expire until 2025. Durham may be nearing the end of his work, but there is plenty left for others to pick up.