The FBI Paid For Russian Disinformation To Frame Trump—And 7 Other Takeaways From Durham’s Latest Court Filing

The FBI put a contributor to the Hillary Clinton campaign’s Donald Trump smear dossier on FBI payroll as a confidential human source after investigating Igor Danchenko for allegedly spying for the Russian government, revealed Special Counsel John Durham in a court filing unsealed by a Virginia federal court yesterday. The filing contains this bombshell and seven other significant details about the Democrat-led plot to use U.S. intelligence agencies to deny Americans the results of their choice for president in 2016.

The FBI made Danchenko a confidential human source, providing him and the FBI’s use of him “national security” cover, in March 2017 and terminated that designation in October 2020, according to the court filing unsealed on Sept. 13. Danchenko is the originator of the false claim trumpeted all over global media that Donald Trump told prostitutes to pee on beds the Obamas had slept in in a Russian hotel.

The FBI had previously targeted Danchenko, Christopher Steele’s primary source, as a possible Russian agent. But after discovering Danchenko’s identity as Steele’s Sub-Source No. 1, rather than investigate whether Danchenko had been feeding Steele Russian disinformation, the FBI paid Danchenko as a CHS.

Trial for Lying to the FBI to Take Down a President

Danchenko faces trial next month on five counts of lying to the FBI related to his role as Steele’s primary sub-source. One count of the indictment concerned Danchenko’s denial during an FBI interview on June 15, 2017, of having spoken with “PR Executive-1” about any material contained in the Steele dossier. “PR Executive-1” has since been identified as the Clinton and Democratic National Committee-connected Charles Dolan, Jr. Also according to the special counsel’s office, Danchenko fed Steele at least two false claims about Trump that originated in part from Dolan.

The four other counts of the indictment concerned Danchenko’s allegedly false claims that he had spoken with a source whom he believed was the then-president of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce, Sergei Millian. Danchenko repeated that assertion during several different FBI interviews.

Danchenko’s trial begins next month, but two weeks ago, as part of the pre-trial process, the government filed a “Motion in Limine,” which seeks a ruling from the court on the admissibility of various evidence. While originally filed under seal, the court ordered the docket entry unsealed on Tuesday, making public more details about the case against the Russian national.

Here’s an overview of what we learned yesterday.

Witness: Danchenko Sought to Broker Putin’s Purchase of Classified Intel

While it has previously been reported that Danchenko was a subject of an FBI counterintelligence investigation from 2009 to 2011, the special counsel’s motion revealed more specifics. Specifically, the prosecution explained that “in late 2008, while the defendant was employed by a prominent think tank in Washington, D.C., the defendant engaged two fellow employees about whether one of the employees might be willing or able in the future to provide classified information in exchange for money.”

“According to one employee,” the court filing continued, Danchenko thought the employee “might be in a position to enter the incoming Obama administration and have access to classified information.” Danchenko allegedly then told the employee “he had access to people who would be willing to pay money in exchange for classified information.”

The think-tank employee relayed the information to a government contact, who passed it on to the FBI. The FBI then initiated a “preliminary investigation” into Danchenko but converted it to a “full investigation” after learning Danchenko “had been identified as an associate of two FBI counterintelligence subjects” and “had previous contact with the Russian Embassy and known Russian intelligence officers.” Durham also noted that Danchenko “had also informed one Russian intelligence officer that he had interest in entering the Russian diplomatic service.”

The special counsel further revealed the FBI closed its investigation in 2010 after incorrectly concluding Danchenko had left the country.

In its motion in limine, Durham’s team argues this evidence is important to its case because it will establish that Danchenko’s lies to the FBI were “material.” Specifically, the FBI argues that had Danchenko truthfully told the FBI that he had discussed some of the content in the dossier with Dolan, the FBI might have interviewed Dolan or obtained Dolan’s emails.

That line of inquiry would have revealed the possibility that Danchenko was a Russian asset, the special counsel’s motion argues, noting that “Dolan, on two separate occasions, stated in emails dated June 10, 2016, and January 13, 2017, that he believed the defendant was ‘former FSB’ and a Russian ‘agent.’”

Had the FBI learned from Dolan that Danchenko was connected to the Russian intelligence services, “this naturally would have (or should have) caused investigators to revisit the prior counterintelligence investigation,” Durham argues, and “raise[d] the prospect that the defendant might have in fact been under the control or guidance of the Russian intelligence services.”

While this revelation is spicy, Danchenko’s attorneys will quickly dispatch this argument by pointing out that if the FBI’s own counterintelligence investigation into Danchenko that included the details noted above didn’t “raise the prospect” that Danchenko was “under the control or guidance of the Russian intelligence services,” surely Dolan’s beliefs would not alter the trajectory of the investigation.

Further, because this evidence consists of “character” or “bad acts” evidence, even if it helps the government build its materiality argument, the court will likely rule it inadmissible as “unfairly prejudicial” to Danchenko, meaning that it may cause a jury to wrongly convict Danchenko because of his past conduct, not because of his current alleged crime.

The FBI Paid for Russian Disinformation to Target a U.S. President

A second shocker from the Sept. 13 court filing concerned Danchenko’s hiring as a paid CHS.

“In March 2017, the FBI signed the defendant up as a paid confidential human source of the FBI,” the special counsel revealed in the motion. It was not until October 2020 that “the FBI terminated its source relationship with” Danchenko.

Simply put: Our federal government paid for Russian disinformation to frame the president of the United States for colluding with Russia.

The FBI did this knowing that Danchenko “was associate of two FBI counterintelligence subjects”; “had previous contact with the Russian Embassy and known Russian intelligence officers”; “had also informed one Russian intelligence officer that he had interest in entering the Russian diplomatic service”; and, according to a think-tank employee, suggested he had contacts willing to purchase classified information.

Also, the FBI and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team continued to use Danchenko as a paid CHS even knowing his stories were fabrications. In fact, Mueller’s team was so focused on getting Trump, it completely ignored whether the Steele dossier included Russian disinformation.

Hillary Paid for Russian Disinformation Too

Not only did the FBI pay for Russian disinformation, so did Clinton, and she did so to interfere in the 2016 election. The public already knew from Durham’s (failed) prosecution of Clinton campaign attorney Michael Sussmann that the campaign paid Fusion GPS for opposition research. Fusion in turn hired Steele to dig up dirt on Trump.

That trial also revealed that Clinton personally approved pushing a smaller aspect of the Russia-collusion hoax, namely the Alfa-Bank secret communications hoax.

From yesterday’s filing we now know the primary sub-source for the Steele dossier paid for by Clinton was not merely a Russian national who fabricated the “intel,” but also a suspected Russian agent. Tuesday’s motion also highlighted the fact that longtime Clinton backer “Dolan maintained a relationship with several high-ranking Russian government officials who appear in the Steele Reports.”

So, for all her vapors over Trump’s connections with Russia and his supposed collusion with Russia to interfere in the election, the evidence shows Clinton holds that dishonor.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Sources

Durham’s motion also revealed what appears to be the “tradecraft” of the spooks for hire, in the form of a February 24, 2016 email Danchenko sent his former boss, Cenk Sidar. Sidar, who ran the business intelligence firm Sidar Globak, asked Danchenko to review a report he had prepared.

After reviewing the draft, Danchenko emailed Sidar recommendations on how to improve the report, including the following suggestion: “Emphasize sources. Make them bold or CAPITALISED. The more sources the better. If you lack them, use oneself as a source (‘Istanbul-Washington-based businessman’ or whatever) to save the situation and make it look a bit better.”

The government seeks to admit this email to show that Danchenko followed a similar or “common plan” when working for Steele by creating sources “to save the situation,” such as what the prosecution maintains Danchenko did with Millian. This argument holds merit, and the trial court accordingly will likely allow Durham’s team to tell the jury about the email.

The FBI’s ‘Investigation’ Makes Maxwell Smart Look Like Jack Ryan

While corruption may be a better explanation than incompetence, either way the special counsel’s brief leaves the FBI looking like fools. First, the bureau closed an investigation on a suspected Russian asset after wrongly thinking Danchenko had left the country. Then the FBI paid that suspected Russian agent to serve as a confidential human source, with Danchenko then telling agents a litany of lies, including ones that should have been obvious.

For example, as the motion highlights, Danchenko claimed to agents that Millian might be the source for the “pee-tape” info. But those allegations appeared in Steele’s report dated June 20, 2016, and Danchenko “repeatedly informed the FBI that the first and only time he allegedly communicated with Millian was late July 2016.”

“Put bluntly,” the special counsel wrote, “these facts demonstrate that the defendant could not keep his lies straight, and that the defendant engaged in a concerted effort to deceive the FBI about the sourcing (or lack thereof) of the Steele Reports.” Unless they were corrupt, this indicates the FBI agents investigating Trump were a bunch of incompetent boobs.

The special counsel’s team further exposed the incompetence (or corruption) of the FBI when it introduced the public to Bemd Kuhlen, a German citizen who served as the general manager of the Ritz-Carlton Moscow in June 2016, when the pee-tape tale was purportedly sourced. The Steele dossier described the source as “a senior (western) member of staff at the hotel.”

According to Durham, Kuhlen is prepared to testify at Danchenko’s trial that at the time he was the only “western” member of management at the hotel. Kuhlen will also testify that he never heard any story resembling Steele’s reporting until it became public and never discussed those claims with Danchenko.

If six years after the fact prosecutors could locate and question Kuhlen, the Crossfire Hurricane team could have done the same for Steele’s reporting, quickly disproving the dossier. If they wanted to, that is.

Steele Was Duped—That’s Our Story and We’re Sticking to It

Yesterday’s motion revealed another unsettling fact: Prosecutors appear poised to continue with the company storyline that Steele and in turn the FBI were duped. In its motion, the government notes that Danchenko “informed Steele that he met in person with Sergei Millian on two or three occasions,” and that Danchenko “subsequently informed the FBI that he had not in fact met with Millian on any occasion.”

So, how does the special counsel address this discrepancy? Danchenko “further stated to the FBI that Steele incorrectly believed the defendant had met in-person with Millian” and that “Danchenko had not corrected Steele in that misimpression.” It was all just a big misunderstanding, folks, until Danchenko lied to the FBI.

This short section of the motion shows Durham does not intend to expose the FBI’s complicity at Danchenko’s trial. While Durham may not want to put the FBI on trial, Danchenko has made clear that he intends to. Unless the special counsel’s team acknowledges the FBI’s role in the Russia collusion hoax, Danchenko will likely score the second acquittal.

Star Witness Says, ‘No, Thanks’ To Testifying

Four of the five counts against Danchenko concern Danchenko’s allegedly false statements to the FBI about a telephone conversation Danchenko claimed he had with an individual he thought was Millian. Under these circumstances, Millian would seem to be a star witness for Durham. But in the motion in limine, the special counsel revealed that Millian refuses to testify because of “concerns for his and his family’s safety (who reside abroad)” and because “he does not trust the FBI and fears being arrested if he returns to the United States.”

While “the Government has repeatedly informed Millian that it will work to ensure his security during his time in the United States, as it does with all witnesses,” Millian remains firm in his refusal. And who can blame him? Even if Durham can provide physical security for Millian, Durham doesn’t run the Department of Justice. As the recent raid on Trump’s home shows, the deep state will go to great lengths to get its enemies.

After establishing that it used its best efforts to arrange for Millian to testify at Danchenko’s trial, the government argues that because he is “unavailable,” as that term is legally understood, three emails Millian wrote to a friend are admissible, even if they are hearsay. Those emails show that a mutual acquaintance attempted to connect Millian and Danchenko and that Millian later figured out Danchenko was Steele’s source who invented the story of the phone call.

The government presents a persuasive argument that these emails should be admitted at trial, and the court will likely agree, meaning Millian’s prudent absence from the trial is unlikely to prompt an acquittal.

Strange Cyprus Things

A final takeaway from yesterday’s filing stems from the special counsel’s mention of Cyprus.

“On June 10, 2016, Dolan, while in Cyprus meeting with Olga Galkina (another source for the defendant), emailed a U.S.-based acquaintance regarding efforts to assist the defendant in obtaining a U.S. visa,” the motion says. It quotes the email: “Monday night I fly to Moscow and will meet with a Russian guy who is working with me on a couple of projects. He also works for a group of former MI 6 guys in London who do intelligence for business …. [H]e owes me as his Visa is being held up and I am having a word with the Ambassador.”

The special counsel’s office included these details to establish that Danchenko had lied to the FBI about facts beyond those contained in the indictment. This helps Durham’s case by showing Danchenko’s allegedly false statements were not mere mistakes. The reference to Cyprus, however, also raises an entirely new set of questions.

In addition to Dolan’s presence in Cyprus on June 10, 2016, where he met with another of Danchenko’s sources, we have a June 1, 2016 email to President Obama’s undersecretary for State Victoria Nuland noting that “Kathleen [Kavalec] is recommending [she] look at the first 10 days of July for a Cyprus trip.” Nuland made the trip on July 12, 2016.

On July 1, 2016, Steele emailed the DOJ’s Bruce Ohr, noting that Steele was traveling to Cyprus with his family on holiday from July 9 to 16, 2016.

Nuland’s presence in Cyprus at the same time as Steele seems a tad too coincidental to ignore. After all, Nuland, who “served as Kavalec’s boss at the bureau of European and Eurasian affairs, was the government official who approved an FBI agent in Rome meeting Steele in early July 2016.” Steele would later also meet with Kavalec in D.C. in October 2016 about his Trump reporting. Jonathan Winer, who knew Steele since 2009 and reportedly met with Steele in the Summer of 2016, appears to have arranged the Steele-Kavalec meeting.

The overlapping players and timeframe demand answers. Did Steele meet with Nuland in Cyprus? If so, was Steele alerted to Nuland’s travel plans? What did the duo discuss? Did Steele or Nuland meet with Dolan or the Cyprus sub-source?

While Cyprus may well be a nothingburger, the FBI launched a full investigation into Trump’s presidential campaign on less.

It’s extremely unlikely that Danchenko’s trial will answer any of these Cyprus questions. But future filings and the anticipated week-plus trial may fill in some of the other Spygate blanks.


Margot Cleveland is The Federalist's senior legal correspondent. She is also a contributor to National Review Online, the Washington Examiner, Aleteia, and Townhall.com, and has been published in the Wall Street Journal and USA Today.

Cleveland is a lawyer and a graduate of the Notre Dame Law School, where she earned the Hoynes Prize—the law school’s highest honor. She later served for nearly 25 years as a permanent law clerk for a federal appellate judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Cleveland is a former full-time university faculty member and now teaches as an adjunct from time to time.

As a stay-at-home homeschooling mom of a young son with cystic fibrosis, Cleveland frequently writes on cultural issues related to parenting and special-needs children. Cleveland is on Twitter at @ProfMJCleveland. The views expressed here are those of Cleveland in her private capacity.

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