The Publisher of the Steele Dossier, Ben Smith, Reports that the Hunter Biden Laptop Was Just a Political Dirty Trick

The recent Igor Danchenko indictment and overly credulous reporting on it have created a big new push for former BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith to reflect on his role in the dissemination of the Steele dossier.

In a Sunday column on mis- and disinformation, however, he makes no mention of it.

Instead, his column questions the inclusion of the Hunter Biden laptop story in a media executive seminar on, “help[ing] newsroom leaders fight misinformation and media manipulation.” Smith claims that treatment of the laptop story is, in fact, proof that the term “media manipulation” means  “any attempt to shape news coverage by people whose politics you dislike.”

A couple of them, though, told me they were puzzled by the reading package for the first session.

It consisted of a Harvard case study, which a participant shared with me, examining the coverage of Hunter Biden’s lost laptop in the final days of the 2020 campaign. The story had been pushed by aides and allies of then-President Donald J. Trump who tried to persuade journalists that the hard drive’s contents would reveal the corruption of the father.

The news media’s handling of that narrative provides “an instructive case study on the power of social media and news organizations to mitigate media manipulation campaigns,” according to the Shorenstein Center summary.

The Hunter Biden laptop saga sure is instructive about something. As you may recall, panicked Trump allies frantically dumped its contents onto the internet and into reporters’ inboxes, a trove that apparently included embarrassing images and emails purportedly from the candidate’s son showing that he had tried to trade on the family name. The big social media platforms, primed for a repeat of the WikiLeaks 2016 election shenanigans, reacted forcefully: Twitter blocked links to a New York Post story that tied Joe Biden to the emails without strong evidence (though Twitter quickly reversed that decision) and Facebook limited the spread of the Post story under its own “misinformation” policy.

But as it now appears, the story about the laptop was an old-fashioned, politically motivated dirty tricks campaign, and describing it with the word “misinformation” doesn’t add much to our understanding of what happened. While some of the emails purportedly on the laptop have since been called genuine by at least one recipient, the younger Mr. Biden has said he doesn’t know if the laptop in question was his.

And the “media manipulation campaign” was a threadbare, 11th-hour effort to produce a late-campaign scandal, an attempt at an October Surprise that has been part of nearly every presidential campaign I’ve covered.

The Wall Street Journal, as I reported at the time, looked hard at the story. Unable to prove that Joe Biden had tried, as vice president, to change U.S. policy to enrich a family member, The Journal refused to tell it the way the Trump aides wanted, leaving that spin to the right-wing tabloids. What remained was a murky situation that is hard to call “misinformation,” even if some journalists and academics like the clarity of that label. The Journal’s role was, in fact, a pretty standard journalistic exercise, a blend of fact-finding and the sort of news judgment that has fallen a bit out of favor as journalists have found themselves chasing social media.

While some academics use the term carefully, “misinformation” in the case of the lost laptop was more or less synonymous with “material passed along by Trump aides.” And in that context, the phrase “media manipulation” refers to any attempt to shape news coverage by people whose politics you dislike.

Unless Smith considers the two details he cites — some researchers have confirmed that some of the emails are authentic, yet Hunter Biden doesn’t claim to know whether the laptop in question was his — to be proof one way or another that this was a “politically motivated dirty tricks campaign,” he cites no evidence for his conclusion.

Smith doesn’t mention any of the reasons why there was and remains good reason to suspect the laptop — the provenance of which even Glenn Greenwald once proclaimed to be “bizarre at best” — was more than that. From the time President Trump first started extorting an investigation into the Bidens from Ukraine through at least January 2020, Russia’s military intelligence agency, GRU was found hacking Burisma, the company with which Hunter had a sketchy consulting relationship that was the initial hook for the laptop stories. Rudy Giuliani not only played a central role in the brokering of the laptop story, but reportedly had been sitting on a copy of the files for some time. Rudy, of course, had played a key role in Trump’s attempt to extort news of a Biden investigation and even during the impeachment inquiry, in spite of warnings from the intelligence community, traveled to Ukraine to meet with Andrii Derkach, who was subsequently sanctioned as a Russian agent. According to Ben Smith’s employer, Derkach’s efforts to deal “misleading information” to Rudy as part of a 2020 election operation are under investigation by EDNY; a parallel investigation into Rudy for serving as an unregistered agent of Ukrainian interests in events that were part of the impeachment inquiry remains ongoing at SDNY. An intelligence report related to the second story hung on the laptop, regarding Hunter’s ties to China, was disclosed to have been attributed to an intelligence analyst whose identity was entirely fabricated, down to his artificially generated face. And the IC’s report on efforts to interfere in the 2020 election includes one conclusion that sounds suspiciously similar to the efforts that led to the laptop story.

A key element of Moscow’s strategy this election cycle was its use of people linked to Russian intelligence to launder influence narratives–including misleading or unsubstantiated allegations against President Biden–through US media organizations, US officials, and prominent US individuals, some of whom were close to former President Trump and his administration.

If the Hunter Biden laptop story was just a political dirty trick, then it was one that exactly paralleled well-substantiated efforts involving Russian intelligence agents.

We now know, thanks to the investigation into Project Veritas, that the “sister” media package right wing propaganda outlets were pitching, the dissemination of a diary from Hunter’s half-sister in the very same weeks leading up to the election, similarly features a sketchy origin story that — SDNY has shown probable cause to believe — actually serves to hide the theft of the underlying diary. While SDNY has not yet charged anyone much less proven the case, it claims that the story about how reporters came to obtain such a juicy campaign prop was, itself, misinformation hiding theft. That’s another detail that Smith doesn’t mention in his piece.

Even if the similarities between Smith’s “old-fashioned, politically motivated dirty tricks campaign” and the acknowledged interference attempt by Russian agents are mere coinkydink, it nevertheless is the case that the Hunter Biden laptop package was an attempt at media manipulation, part of the reason it was presented to the seminar.

That’s because — again, as even Glenn Greenwald acknowledged — the presumptively authentic emails offered as the dangle in the laptop package provided, “no proof that Biden followed through on any of Hunter’s promises to Burisma.” By offering “authentic” emails and derogatory pictures just before the election, right wing operatives attempted to make a story that had long been reported (and key parts of it debunked by experts testifying under oath as part of the first impeachment) go viral just before the election not by offering any proof of the key allegations, but by waving something “authentic” around that could substitute for real proof.

It briefly worked, too, as high profile journalists disseminated the most inflammatory details in the story — effectively delivering the announcement of a criminal investigation pertaining to Ukraine that Trump demanded from Volodymyr Zelenskyy — and only after that started identifying really problematic parts of the story.

This entire episode was an effort to disseminate something “authentic” that nevertheless lacked proof of the underlying allegations as a way to lead people to believe those allegations. Classic media manipulation, and it nearly succeeded.

And Ben Smith, the man who published a dossier full of unproven allegations that — Republicans in Congress now believe — injected Russian disinformation into what otherwise might have been just an “old-fashioned, politically motivated dirty tricks campaign,” a dossier that (like Hunter Biden’s laptop) long stood as the proxy understanding for a criminal investigation into dramatically different facts, dismisses the possibility that it was disinformation blithely, presenting no real evidence for or against.

It is undoubtedly the case that there remain real questions about the Hunter Biden laptop package, questions that may get renewed attention given the new focus on the Ashley Biden diary package. Maybe one day, Ben Smith will be able to state, as fact, that it was just an, “old-fashioned, politically motivated dirty tricks campaign;” or maybe EDNY will uncover the real provenance of those “authentic” files all packaged up and handed to a guy who made no secret of his willingness to accept and disseminate Russian disinformation.

But at a time when he is actively refusing to reflect on his own actions in disseminating an “old-fashioned, politically motivated dirty tricks campaign” that seems to have been exploited as an easy vehicle for hostile disinformation, Ben Smith might want to be a little more cautious about assuming those lines are so easy to distinguish.

Hillary’s Candidate Briefing Was More Contentious than Mike Flynn’s

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page revealed that FBI Agent Joe Pientka was selected as the FBI counterintelligence briefer for both Presidential candidates in 2016 in part to give him familiarity with Mike Flynn, shortly after the former DIA head became one subject in the UNSUB investigation into how the Trump campaign got advance notice of the Russian election operation.

The FBI selected SSA 1, the supervisor for the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, to provide the FBI security briefings for Trump and Clinton. 478 SSA 1 told us that one of the reasons for his selection was that ODNI had informed the FBI that one of the two Trump campaign advisors attending the August 17 briefing would be Flynn. He further stated that the briefing provided him “the opportunity to gain assessment and possibly have some level of familiarity with [Flynn]. So, should we get to the point where we need to do a subject interview … I would have that to fall back on.”

Since then, Republicans have never stopped wailing about how badly Flynn was treated in this briefing — never mentioning that Flynn was secretly working for Turkey when he sat in on this briefing, meaning FBI should have scrutinized him more closely than they did.

The CIA just released the latest chapter of its running history of Presidential briefing, the one covering Trump. (h/t Micah Zenko)

It provides accounts of the candidate briefings given to both Trump and Hillary. Its account of the first Trump one makes no specific mention of Pientka’s investigative role. Nor does it mention that at the time Flynn was asking “tactical” questions about the Middle East, he was on Turkey’s payroll.

Trump was accompanied by two advisors, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Lt. Gen. (ret.) Michael Flynn. The briefing team, led by Gistaro, included six of the substantive experts and a colleague from the ODNI Transition Team who was available to record and take follow-up action related to any questions that might arise and not be answered on the spot.

Gistaro led off with a substantive overview of the highest priority issues the IC was following, then turned to his colleagues to elaborate on developments in their areas of specialization. They briefed on terrorism, cyber security, counterterrorism, ISIS, the civil war in Syria, the security situation in Iraq, and the Iranian nuclear program. Gistaro recalled that he was careful to watch the clock and intervene as necessary so that the briefers each had an opportunity to say their piece but did not run over their allotted time. Nevertheless, the briefing went on for two and a half hours, longer than scheduled, and even then could not cover all the planned subjects. It was agreed that a second session was necessary.

In this first session, Trump was primarily a listener. He did ask some “big picture” questions, reflecting the fact that the material was new to him. Because several of the issues related to matters Flynn had dealt with in the military, he was the most active questioner. In Gistaro’s words, “He was on his home turf.” Most of Flynn’s questions were on the Middle East and were quite tactical. However, a few of his questions, especially on Iran, raised policy issues and had to be turned aside for referral, if he wished, to the national security advisor. Trump’s verdict on the session was a “thumbs-up” to IC officers as he departed. Christie later described the briefing as outstanding.

Here’s the FBI summary of that briefing, which focused primarily on questions about Russia, not Turkey, which might have been really useful once FBI discovered that Flynn was secretly on their payroll.

The history separates its account of the second briefing from claims Trump made about the briefing days later in a town hall by several pages.

Trump received a second preelection briefing roughly two weeks later, on 2 September, also at the FBI office in Manhattan. Again, Trump was accompanied by Christie and Flynn. This one-and-a-half-hour briefing rounded out the agreed list of topics, focusing on cyber security, Russia, China, and North Korea. On this occasion, Trump had numerous questions, some of which raised policy issues. Most, however, reflected his interest in financial and trade matters and in press reports about Russia’s reported interference in the US election campaign.

At the briefing of 2 September, Trump told the briefers that he valued the first session in August and their expertise. They were surprised when he assured them that “the nasty things he was saying” publicly about the Intelligence Community “don’t apply to you.” Afterward, Flynn complimented the briefers in remarks to the press.

[snip]

[O]fficials were anxious to see what issues related to intelligence would arise during the debates in 2016, including whether the candidates would make direct or indirect reference to information they had received in their preelection briefings. This anxiousness was reinforced before the formal candidate debates during a quasi debate on 7 September, when Trump and Clinton were questioned, separately, by NBC newsman Matt Lauer. On this occasion, Trump made reference to intelligence briefers’ “body language” in suggesting that they were “not happy” with policies of the Obama administration. These comments caused outrage in the following days among news commentators and former intelligence officers and prompted reporters to dig for information about what had transpired during Trump’s briefings.

Thus, unlike with some other instances, this account doesn’t make clear whether Trump was lying outright about his public comment. Notably, too, this account makes no mention of Flynn’s own role in lying about the briefing, which seems remarkable given the comment about his compliment to the briefers.

Given how the history soft-pedals these issues, it makes the description of the single Hillary briefing all the more jarring.

Clinton, although feeling under the weather and unavoidably delayed 20 minutes, joined the briefers in a small secure room (SCIF, in intelligence argot) at the FBI field office in White Plains, New York, on 27 August. Given all that Clinton was going through related to her handling of personal emails during the campaign, Gistaro regretted that the first question the security officer asked Clinton as she approached the room was whether she had any cell phones with her. The Secretary very professionally assured the questioner that she had left her cell phones at home

Hillary, of course, had been cleared of misconduct before that August 27 briefing, and was well-versed in the use of SCIFs. Yet she was treated by the security officer as a suspect.

Whereas Mike Flynn, who was quite literally working for a frenemy government during both of these classified briefings, and under investigation for suspect ties to Russia, was nevertheless freely served up answers to all the tactical questions he posed.

The Disinformation that Got Told: Michael Cohen Was, in Fact, Hiding Secret Communications with the Kremlin

CJR was kind enough to invite me on to discuss media accountability and the Steele dossier with Erik Wemple last week.

On the show, I made the argument that it’s not enough to identify the things that didn’t, but should have, shown up in the dossier: like George Papadopoulos getting advance warning of the Russian operation not far from Christopher Steele’s office, or a dirt-for-sanctions-relief meeting in Trump Tower attended by a client of Fusion GPS, or a deputy for Steele client Oleg Deripaska, Konstantin Kilimnik, trading Trump’s campaign manager $19 million in debt relief to obtain the campaign’s strategy.

Given the way that, on July 30, 2016, Deripaska used Steele (via his lawyers) to make Manafort more vulnerable just days before, on August 2, 2016, Deripaska used that vulnerability to carry out a key step in the election operation, it is reasonable to consider whether any disinformation in the dossier became a key part of the Russian operation. That makes it important to look at the stories that did get told in it, to understand how they related to other aspects of the operation.

In the CJR podcast, Erik Wemple was — as he has been in the past — skeptical.

Wheeler: If, in fact, the dossier is full of disinformation, which is what every Republican in Congress believes and what I think is largely the case, then the question is not, what was the access. The question was, why did Oleg Deripaska learn about it, as the DOJ IG Report suggests happened, why did he learn about it before the second report? Why did two Russian intelligence people learn about it before the second report, and why did the stories that get told get told? So, yes, there’s the absence of, you know, Papadopoulos in London, but the stories of Michael Cohen in Prague which are the, the, the most easily debunked, do, are near misses on things that were really happening in the Russian operation. Michael Cohen was in fact covering up stuff about Russia at the time — he was covering up the Trump Tower deal. Michael Cohen was also covering stuff having to do with sex at the time. You put those two together and you’ve got the Prague thing. That’s a pretty near miss.

Wemple: Is it though? The allegation in the dossier was that he was meeting with Kremlin representatives — as I recall — to —

Wheeler: And he called up the Kremlin and got Putin’s involvement in the Trump Tower deal.

Wemple: But he met in Prague to cover up or figure out how to pay hackers, if I recall the allegation.

Wheeler: Yeah yeah yeah. Yup.

Wemple: I don’t know. I don’t see it as being that close to what Michael Cohen actually did but we can —

Wheeler: Right, but do you deny that Michael Cohen was covering up stuff about Russia that involved, actually, the Kremlin?

Wemple: Well, it’s clear that he was involved in keeping quiet the Trump Tower —

Wheeler: Okay. Which involved the Kremlin. And involved a GRU officer.

Wemple: Unquestionably, no question.

Wheeler: Okay. So that’s my point. Russia knew that. Russia knew that when Trump made a statement in July of 2016 that he had no business in Russia — which by the way, Durham is reacting against; he’s trying to claim it was unreasonable for cybersecurity researchers to respond to that and say, that’s very alarming, which was very alarming. As soon as Trump made that comment, in July of 2016 (and he had made it a bunch of times before that), Russia knew that Michael Cohen and Donald Trump and a number of other people were lying, publicly, about this ridiculously lucrative deal that involved the Kremlin and involved a GRU officer. And so the Prague story is absolutely garbage. And that came from Olga Galkina, right?

Wemple: It did. Who’s a middle school friend of Danchenko

Wheeler: Right. She’s central to the Danchenko indictment. One of the things that Durham charges Danchenko with is trying to hide how obvious, how much Galkina knew about that. And he didn’t hide it at all. I think that allegation is completely, is completely easily debunked if you actually read the interview. But my point is that, in fact, Michael Cohen was covering up communications with the Kremlin and with a GRU officer. And Russia knew that. And if those Michael Cohen reports which, by January 2017, the FBI believed to be disinformation, so if those were disinformation, why did we get that form of disinformation, when in fact Michael Cohen — and if you read Danchenko, Galkina knew, right away, Michael Cohen’s name. She was ready for it, so those questions. If you want to talk about media accountability, those questions have to be asked as well.

The details of any disinformation in the dossier — the possibility that Russian intelligence deliberately planted false stories about secret communications Michael Cohen had with the Kremlin — are important because they may have served the overall Russian operation. In some cases, such as the claim that Carter Page was Paul Manafort’s purported go-between with Russia rather than Konstantin Kilimnik, might have provided cover. The claims that Russia had years old FSB intercepts of Hillary they planned to release as kompromat, rather than recently stolen emails from John Podesta, would similarly provide cover. In others, disinformation might have worked in the same way Oleg Deripaska’s double game did, increasing the vulnerability of Trump’s people even while making it more likely they’d do what Russia wanted.

I have argued in the past that the Trump Tower deal wasn’t important because it showed that Trump was pursuing a real estate deal while running for President. Rather, it was important to the success of the Russian operation because it gave Russia proof, before any hint of the Russian operation became public, that Donald Trump would be willing to work, in secret, with sanctioned banks and a GRU officer to make an impossibly lucrative real estate deal happen.

[T]here is a piece of the Cohen statement of the offense the significance of which hasn’t gotten sufficient attention. That’s the detail that Dmitry Peskov’s personal assistant took detailed notes from a 20-minute January 20, 2016 phone call with Cohen, which led to Putin’s office contacting Felix Sater the next day.

On or about January 16, 2016, COHEN emailed [Peskov]’s office again, said he was trying to reach another high-level Russian official, and asked for someone who spoke English to contact him.

On or about January 20, 2016 , COHEN received an email from the personal assistant to [Peskov] (“Assistant 1 “), stating that she had been trying to reach COHEN and requesting that he call her using a Moscow-based phone number she provided.

Shortly after receiving the email, COHEN called Assistant 1 and spoke to her for approximately 20 minutes. On that call, COHEN described his position at the Company and outlined the proposed Moscow Project, including the Russian development company with which the Company had partnered. COHEN requested assistance in moving the project forward, both in securing land to build the proposed tower and financing the construction. Assistant 1 asked detailed questions and took notes, stating that she would follow up with others in Russia.

The day after COHEN’s call with Assistant 1, [Sater] contacted him, asking for a call. Individual 2 wrote to COHEN, “It’s about [the President of Russia] they called today.”

Cohen had lied about this, claiming that he had emailed Peskov’s public comment line just once, but gotten no response.

This language is important not just because it shows that Cohen lied.  It’s important because of what Cohen would have said to Peskov’s assistant. And it’s important because a written record of what Cohen said got handed on to Putin’s office, if not Putin himself.

[snip]

[W]hen Cohen called Peskov’s assistant, he would have told her that he was speaking on behalf of Donald Trump, that Trump remained interested in a Trump Tower in Moscow (as he had been in 2013, the last time Putin had dangled a personal meeting with Trump), and that on Trump’s behalf Cohen was willing to discuss making a deal involving both a sanctioned bank (whichever one it was) and a former GRU officer.

The impossibly lucrative real estate deal was useful to the Russian operation because it ensured that, even before GRU hacked the DNC, Putin had collected receipts showing that Trump’s personal lawyer had secretly been in discussions about a deal brokered by a GRU officer and sanctioned banks for Trump’s benefit. Trump would want to (and in fact did) keep this fact from voters because it would have proven he was lying about having business interests in Russia. The attribution of the DNC hack to the GRU made Trump’s secret more inflammatory, because it meant Trump stood to benefit personally from the same people who hacked his opponent. Trump and Cohen couldn’t have known all that when Cohen called Peskov in January. But Russia did. Indeed, that may well have been the entire point.

The Cohen-in-Prague story includes outlines of Trump’s real secret: contact by Trump’s personal lawyer with the Kremlin and those who conducted the DNC hack. But the Cohen-in-Prague story displaced the key details of that secret, providing a place and personal details that would be even more damning, but also easier to debunk.

In fact, when Michael Cohen broke the law (by lying to Congress) to cover up this secret, when the Trump Organization withheld from Congress the most damning documents about it, when Trump told his most provable lie to Mueller about it, they (along with Felix Sater and others) used the Cohen-in-Prague story as an easy way to issue true denials while limiting admissions (and lying) about the extent of the Trump Tower deal. Here’s what I described, in August 2017, about the way Cohen used Prague denials to pre-empt his limited (and therefore false) admissions of his pursuit of the Trump Tower deal.

There are real, unanswered questions about the provenance of the document as leaked by BuzzFeed. Some of the circumstances surrounding its production — most notably its funders and their claimed goals, and Steele’s production of a final report, based off voluntarily provided information, for free — raise real questions about parts of the dossier. I think it quite likely some parts of the dossier, especially the last, most inflammatory report (which accuses Cohen of attending a meeting where payments from Trump to the hackers that targeted the Democrats were discussed), were disinformation fed by the Russians. I believe the Intelligence Community is almost certainly lying about what they knew about the dossier. I believe the Russians know precisely how the dossier got constructed (remember, a suspected source for it died in mysterious circumstances in December), and they expect the exposure of those details will discredit it.

So while I think there are truths in the dossier, I do think its current form includes rumor and even affirmative disinformation meant to discredit it.

With that said — and remembering all the time that shortly after this letter got written, documents were disclosed showing Cohen was involved in brokering a deal that Sater thought might get Trump elected — here’s my analysis of the document.

[Cohen’s letter to Congress] is pitched around the claim that HPSCI “included Mr. Cohen in its inquiry based solely upon certain sensational allegations contained” in the Steele dossier. “Absent those allegations,” the letter continues, “Mr. Cohen would not be involved in your investigation.” The idea — presented two weeks before disclosure of emails showing Cohen brokering a deal with Russians in early 2016 — is if Cohen can discredit the dossier, then he will have shown that there is no reason to investigate him or his role brokering deals with the Russians. Even the denial of any documents of interest is limited to the dossier: “We have not uncovered a single document that would in any way corroborate the Dossier’s allegations regarding Mr. Cohen, nor do we believe that any such document exists.”

With that, Cohen’s lawyers address the allegations in the dossier, one by one. As a result, the rebuttal reads kind of like this:

I Did Not Go to Prague I Did Not Go to Prague I Did Not Go to Prague I Did Not Go to Prague

Cohen literally denies that he ever traveled to Prague six times, as well as denying carefully worded, often quoted, versions of meeting with Russians in a European capital in 2016. Of course that formulation — He did not participate in meetings of any kind with Kremlin officials in Prague in August 2016 — stops well short of other potential ties to Russians. And two of his denials look very different given the emails disclosed two weeks later showing an attempt to broker a deal that Felix Sater thought might get Trump elected, including an email from him to one of the most trusted agents of the Kremlin.

Mr. Cohen is not aware of any “secret TRUMP campaign/Kremlin relationship.”

Mr. Cohen is not aware of any indirect communications between the “TRUMP team” and “trusted agents” of the Kremlin.

The Cohen-in-Prague story provided an easy way for Cohen to issue true denials. But it also magnified the risk of the secret — a secret Russia knew — they were keeping, because they committed crimes to keep the secret.

There can be little doubt that, if the Cohen-in-Prague story was deliberate disinformation, it was wildly successful. Indeed, most Trump supporters — including many of the people debunking the dossier full time — seemed to believe that if they could prove that Cohen never went to Prague, that by itself would amount to proof that Trump had no ties with Russia in 2016, a claim every bit as outlandish as the pee tape.

If the Cohen-in-Prague story was deliberate disinformation, it was spectacularly successful, both for obscuring the Trump Tower discussions and for creating an easily debunked stand-in for Trump’s real cooperation, distracting from Manafort’s role.

Years later, we now know there were reasons to think the Cohen-in-Prague story was deliberate disinformation from the start. A declassified DOJ IG footnote describes that, even before the Igor Danchenko interviews in January 2017, FBI had received intelligence suggesting that was the case.

In addition to the information in Steele’s Delta file documenting Steele’s frequent contacts with representatives for multiple Russian oligarchs, we identified reporting the Crossfire Hurricane team received from [redacted] indicating the potential for Russian disinformation influencing Steele’s election reporting. A January 12, 2017, report relayed information from [redacted] outlining an inaccuracy in a limited subset of Steele’s reporting about the activities of Michael Cohen. The [redacted] stated that it did not have high confidence in this subset of Steele’s reporting and assessed that the referenced subset was part of a Russian disinformation campaign to denigrate U.S. foreign relations. [italicized language declassified]

If it was disinformation, Danchenko’s source for it, his childhood friend Olga Galkina, seems to have been prepared. When Danchenko described the sourcing of the report, he explained that that Galkina was “almost immediately” familiar with Cohen when he asked.

[Danchenko] began his explanation of the Prague and Michael Cohen-related reports by stating that Christopher Steele had given him 4-5 names to research for the election-related tasking. He could only remember three of the names: Carter Page, Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen. When he talked to [Galkina] in the fall of 2016 — he believes it was a phone call — he rattled off these names and, out of them, he was surprised to hear that [Galkina] immediately [later [Danchenko] softened this to  “almost immediately”] recognized Cohen’s name.

[snip]

Danchenko believes he had 2, maybe even 3, conversations with [Galkina] on this topic later in October. Nothing on Prague and Cohen was collected during the [redacted] trip in [redacted]. The first conversation is the one during which he believes [Galkina] noted her recognition of Cohen’s name. The second conversation is the one in which she discussed Prague, the visit of Cohen plus three other individuals, and the meeting with the Russia side. There may have been a third conversation on the topic, but [Danchenko] could not recall exactly and said that they had also talked about “a private subject.”

Several details in the Danchenko indictment explain why Galkina might be prepared.

Charles Dolan, the PR Executive whom Danchenko introduced to Galkina that spring, had worked directly with Dmitry Peskov for years and remained in touch with Putin’s Press Secretary in conjunction with an event he was helping plan in October 2016. During the summer, Dolan recommended Galkina to Peskov for a job in the Presidential Administration.

[F]rom in or about 2006 through in or about 2014, the Russian Federation retained PR Executive-I and his then-employer to handle global public relations for the Russian government and a state-owned energy company. PR Executive-I served as a lead consultant during that project and frequently interacted with senior Russian Federation leadership whose names would later appear in the Company Reports, including the Press Secretary of the Russian Presidential Administration (“Russian Press Secretary-I”), the Deputy Press Secretary (“Russian Deputy Press Secretary-I”), and others in the Russian Presidential Press Department.

[snip]

In anticipation of the June 2016 Planning Trip to Moscow, PR Executive-I also communicated with Russian Press Secretary-I and Russian Deputy Press Secretary-I, both of whom worked in the Kremlin and, as noted above, also appeared in the Company Reports.

[snip]

Additionally, on or about July 13, 2016, Russian Sub-Source-I sent a message to a Russia-based associate and stated that PR Executive-I had written a letter to Russian Press Secretary-I in support of Russian-Sub-Source-I’s candidacy for a position in the Russian Presidential Administration.

As it was, Danchenko attributed of any mention of Peskov in the dossier to Galkina. But Galkina’s real ties to Peskov, the person who knew more about Michael Cohen and Trump’s secret than anyone else in Russia — who knew they were pursuing an impossibly lucrative real estate deal involving sanctioned banks and a retired GRU officer with Peskov’s help — had been enhanced in months leading up to that reporting. Galkina’s ties to Peskov would had been enhanced in a way that may have made her source relationship with Danchenko even more evident to Russian spooks (though it would always have been easy to discover).

That is, Dolan’s business relationships with the Russian government may not be important because Galkina appeared to share his enthusiasm for Hillary — the reason Durham included garden variety business networking in the midst of the Danchenko indictment. Rather, it may be important because it made her a much more lucrative target for disinformation.

Olga Galkina was in a position where, if Russia had wanted to tell the secret they knew Trump was keeping from voters, she might have learned the truth behind Cohen’s real, hidden communications with the Kremlin, a truth that voters had a right to know. Instead, she told a false story that mirrored certain aspects of the story that Cohen would do prison time in a failed attempt to hide, but which instead became an easily debunked stand-in for the real story of Trump’s enthusiasm for Russia’s efforts to tamper in America’s democracy.

If the dossier was significantly disinformation, then all Americans were victims of it. It turned a legitimate concern about real Russian interference into American elections into one of the biggest sources of political polarization in recent history. Like the social media trolling from Internet Research Agency, it stoked divisions, with the added benefit that it led significant numbers of Trump voters to trust the Russians who were feeding that disinformation more than they trust the current President. One viral Twitter thread earlier this year even claimed that the dossier (and therefore any Russian disinformation in it) led directly to and justified the attack on the Capitol on January 6. As such, disinformation injected into the dossier should increasingly be treated as a potential central part of the 2016 Russian influence operation — perhaps its most successful and lasting part.

Erik Wemple has spent a lot of time pushing CNN into committing the same reporting failures with the Danchenko indictment as they did on the dossier itself. But that has left largely unexamined the question of why the stories that did get told got told, which may be far more important to understanding how Russia was willing to screw both Paul Manafort and Hillary Clinton.


Danchenko posts

The Igor Danchenko Indictment: Structure

John Durham May Have Made Igor Danchenko “Aggrieved” Under FISA

“Yes and No:” John Durham Confuses Networking with Intelligence Collection

Daisy-Chain: The FBI Appears to Have Asked Danchenko Whether Dolan Was a Source for Steele, Not Danchenko

Source 6A: John Durham’s Twitter Charges

John Durham: Destroying the Purported Victims to Save Them

John Durham’s Cut-and-Paste Failures — and Other Indices of Unreliability

Aleksej Gubarev Drops Lawsuit after DOJ Confirms Steele Dossier Report Naming Gubarev’s Company Came from His Employee

In Story Purporting to “Reckon” with Steele’s Baseless Insinuations, CNN Spreads Durham’s Unsubstantiated Insinuations

On CIPA and Sequestration: Durham’s Discovery Deadends

The Disinformation that Got Told: Michael Cohen Was, in Fact, Hiding Secret Communications with the Kremlin

On CIPA and Sequestration: Durham’s Discovery Deadends

In this post, I laid out the range of highly classified or other potentially unavailable information that Igor Danchenko will be able to make a credible claim to need to defend himself against charges he knowingly lied to the FBI.

That list includes:

  • Details about a Section 702 directive targeting Danchenko’s friend, Olga Galkina
  • Extensive details about Sergei Millian’s Twitter account, including proof that Millian was always the person running it
  • Details of the counterintelligence investigation into Millian
  • Materials relating to Millian’s cultivation, in the same weeks as a contested phone call between Danchenko and Millian, of George Papadopoulos
  • Evidence about whether Oleg Deripaska was Christopher Steele’s client for a project targeting Paul Manafort before the DNC one
  • All known details of Deripaska’s role in injecting disinformation into the dossier, up through current day
  • Details of all communications between Deripaska and Millian
  • Details of the counterintelligence investigation into Carter Page
  • Both the FISA applications targeting Page and the underlying discussions about them
  • FISA-obtained collection that is helpful and material to Danchenko’s defense, including all substantive collection incriminating Page obtained before Danchenko’s January interviews, and all intelligence relating to the specific alleged lies in the indictment
  • Materials relating to FBI’s attempt to corroborate the dossier, including materials from Page’s FISA collection that either corroborated or undermined it

As I noted, I know of no prior case where a defendant has had notice of two separate FISA orders as well as a sensitive ongoing counterintelligence investigation and a credible claim to need that information to mount a defense. Durham has committed to potentially impossible discovery obligations, all to prosecute five (or maybe two) lies that aren’t even alleged to have willingly obstructed an investigation. For reasons I lay out below, Durham may not, legally, be able to do that.

To be quite clear: that Danchenko can make a credible claim to need this stuff doesn’t mean he’ll get it, much less be permitted to present it at trial. But, particularly given that the two FISA orders and the counterintelligence investigations have all been acknowledged, DOJ can’t simply pretend they don’t have the evidence. For perhaps the first time ever, DOJ doesn’t get to decide whether to rely on FISA information at trial, because the indictment was written to give the defense good cause to demand it.

Still, much of this stuff will be dealt with via the Classified Information Proecdures Act, CIPA. CIPA is a process that purports to give the government a way to try prosecutions involving classified information, balancing discovery obligations to a defendant with the government’s need to protect classified information. (Here’s another description of how it works.)

Effectively, Danchenko will come up with a list similar to the one above of classified information he believes exists that he needs to have to mount a defense. The government will likewise identify classified information that it believes Danchenko is entitled to under discovery rules. And then the judge — Anthony Trenga, in this case — decides what is material and helpful to Danchenko’s defense. Then the government has the ability to “substitute” language for anything too classified to publicly release, some of it before ever sharing with the defendant, the rest after a hearing including the defense attorneys about what an adequate substitution is.

Here’s a fragment of an exhibit from the Joshua Schulte case that shows the end product of the CIPA process: The CIA was able to replace the name of a vendor the CIA used (presumably as a cover) with the generic word, “vendor,” thereby preventing others from definitively attributing the cover with the CIA. It replaced the description of those who would use the hacking tool with “operators.” Elsewhere, the same exhibit replaced the name of one of Schulte’s colleagues. It redacted several other words entirely.

Here are some more exhibits — CIA Reports submitted at the Jeffrey Sterling trial — that show the outcome of the CIPA process.

On top of the fact that CIPA adds a way for the government to impose new roadblocks on discovery (and discovery only begins after a defendants’ attorneys are cleared), it can end up postponing the time when the defendant actually gets the evidence he will use at trial. So it generally sucks for defendants.

But the process is also onerous for the prosecutor. Basically, the prosecutor has to work with classification authorities from the agency or agencies that own particular classified information and cajole them to release enough information to get past the CIPA review. In my earlier post, I described that Patrick Fitzgerald had to do this with the Presidential Daily Briefs, and it took him several attempts before he had declassified enough information to satisfy Judge Reggie Walton that it provided Scooter Libby with the means to make his defense. If the agency involved in the CIPA process hasn’t totally bought off on the importance of the prosecution, they’re going to make the process harder. Often, the incentive for agencies to cooperate stems from the fact that the defendant is accused of leaking secrets that the agency in question wants to avenge.

Because the process is so onerous, DOJ works especially hard to get defendants to plead before the CIPA process, and often because the defendant is facing the kind of stiff sentence that comes with Espionage charges, CIPA makes it more likely they’ll plead short of trial.

Those two details already make Danchenko’s trial different from most CIPA cases. That’s true, first of all, because Danchenko never had any agency secrets, and prosecutors will be forced to persuade multiple agencies (at least the FBI and NSA, and possibly CIA and Treasury) to give a Russian national secrets even though his prosecution will set no example against leaking for the agencies. Indeed, the example Danchenko will be setting, instead, is that the FBI doesn’t honor its commitments to keep informant identities safe. Additionally, there’s little reason for Danchenko to plead guilty, as the punishment on five 18 USC 1001 charges would not be much different than one charge (remember, Kevin Clinesmith got probation for his 18 USC 1001 conviction), and Danchenko would still face deportation after he served any sentence, where he’s likely to face far greater retaliation than anything US prisons would pose. That will influence the CIPA process, too, as a successful prosecution would likely result in the Russian government coercing access to whatever secrets that intelligence agencies disclose to Danchenko during the prosecution.

CIPA always skews incentives, but this case skews incentives differently than other CIPA cases.

Add in that Judge Trenga, the judge in this case, has been pondering CIPA issues of late in the case of Bijan Kian, Mike Flynn’s former partner, who was prosecuted on Foreign Agent charges. Trenga was long unhappy with the way DOJ charged Kian’s case, and grew increasingly perturbed with DOJ’s attempts to salvage the case after Flynn reneged on his cooperation agreement. Trenga overturned the jury’s guilty verdict, but was subsequently reversed on that decision by the Fourth Circuit. Since then, Kian has been demanding two things: more access to classified materials underlying evidence he was given pursuant to the CIPA process right before trial showing previously undisclosed contacts between Flynn and Ekim Alptekin not involving Kian, and a new trial, partly based on late and inadequate disclosure of that CIPA information.

Following a series of ex parte hearings regarding classified evidence pursuant to the Confidential Information Procedures Act (“CIPA”), the government, on the eve of trial, handed Rafiekian a one-sentence summary, later introduced as Defendant’s Exhibit 66 (“DX66”), informing Rafiekian that the government was aware of classified evidence relating to interactions between Flynn and Alptekin that did not “refer[] to” Rafiekian. DX66.1 Following receipt of DX66, Rafiekian immediately sought access to the underlying information pursuant to CIPA because “[i]t goes right to the question of what happened and what he knew and what statements were made and who was making them,” and “[i]f Mr. Rafiekian is convicted without his counsel having access to this exculpatory evidence, we believe it will go right to the heart of his due process and confrontation rights.” Hr’g Tr. 31 (Jul. 12, 2019), ECF No. 309. The Court took the request under advisement, noting that it “underst[ood] the defense’s concern and w[ould] continue to consider whether additional disclosure of information” would be necessary as the case developed. Id. at 32. At trial, the government used DX66 in its rebuttal argument in closing to show that Rafiekian participated in the alleged conspiracy—“even though the information in that exhibit related solely to Flynn and explicitly excluded Rafiekian.” Rafiekian, 2019 WL 4647254, at *17.

1 DX66 provides in full: The United States is in possession of multiple, independent pieces of information relating to the Turkish government’s efforts to influence United States policy on Turkey and Fethullah Gulen, including information relating to communications, interactions, and a relationship between Ekim Alptekin and Michael Flynn, and Ekim Alptekin’s engagement of Michael Flynn because of Michael Flynn’s relationship with an ongoing presidential campaign, without any reference to the defendant or FIG.

With regards to the first request, Trenga has ruled that Kian can’t have the underlying classified information, because (under CIPA’s guidelines) the judge determined that, “the summary set forth in DX Exhibit 66 provides the Defendant with substantially the same ability to make his defense as would disclosure of the specific classified information.” But his decision on the second issue is still pending and Trenga seems quite open to Kian’s request for a new trial. So Danchenko and Durham begin this CIPA process years into Trenga’s consideration about how CIPA affects due process in the Kian case. I don’t otherwise expect Trenga to be all that sympathetic to Danchenko, but if Trenga grants Kian a new trial because of the way prosecutors gained an unfair advantage with the CIPA process (by delaying disclosure of a key fact), it will be a precedent for and hang over the CIPA process in the Danchenko case.

Then there are unique challenges Durham will face even finding everything he has to provide Danchenko under Brady. In the Michael Sussmann case, I’ve seen reason to believe Durham doesn’t understand the full scope of where he needs to look to find evidence relevant to that case. But given the centrality of investigative decisions in the Danchenko case — and so the Mueller investigation — to Durham’s materiality claims, Durham will need to make sure he finds everything pertaining to Millian, Papadopoulos, and Kiliminik and Deripaska arising out of the Mueller case. In the case of Steve Calk, that turned out to be more difficult than prosecutors initially imagined.

But all of these things — the multiple sensitive investigations relevant to Danchenko’s defense, normal CIPA difficulties, unique CIPA difficulties, and the challenges of understanding the full scope of the Mueller investigation — exist on top of another potential problem: DOJ doesn’t control access to some of the most important evidence in this case.

As I noted in my earlier post, there are multiple things FBI obtained by targeting Carter Page that Danchenko will be able to demand to defend himself against Durham’s materiality claims. For example, FBI obtained information under FISA that seems to undercut Page’s claims that he didn’t meet with Igor Diveykin, a claim Danchenko sourced to Olga Galkina, who is central to Durham’s materiality claims.

If this information really does show that Page was lying about his activities in Russia, it would provide proof that after the initial FISA order, FBI had independent reason to target Page.

Similarly, FBI believed that Page’s explanation for how he destroyed the phone he was using in Fall 2016 was an excuse made up after he knew he was being investigated; that belief seems to be based, in part, on information obtained under FISA.

The FBI’s suspicions about that broken phone seem to be related to their interest in collecting on an encrypted messaging app Page used, one of the two reasons why FBI sought reauthorization to target Page in June 2017. Danchenko will need this information to prove that the June 2017 reauthorization was driven entirely by a desire to get certain financial and encrypted communication evidence, and so could not have been affected by Danchenko’s May and June 2017 interviews.

Information obtained from targeting Page under FISA will similarly be central to Danchenko’s defense against Durham’s claims that his alleged lies prevented FBI from vetting the dossier. That’s because the spreadsheet that FBI used to vet the dossier repeatedly relied on FISA-collected information to confirm or rebut the dossier. Some of that pertains to whether Page met with Igor Diveykin, an allegation Danchenko sourced to Olga Galkina, making it central to his defense in this case.

Other FISA-collected material was used to vet the Sergei Millian claim, which Durham charged in four of five counts.

Some of this may not be exculpatory (though some of it clearly would be). But it is still central to the case against Danchenko.

The thing is, Durham may not be legally able to use this information in Danchenko’s prosecution, and even if he is, it will further complicate the CIPA process.

Back on January 7, 2020, James Boasberg — acting in his role as the then-presiding FISA Judge — ordered that the FBI adopt limits on the use of any information obtained via the four Carter Page FISA orders. Such orders are one of the only tools that the FISA Court has to prohibit the use of information that the Executive collects but later determines did not comply with FISA (the government only retracted the probable cause claims for the third and fourth FISA orders targeting Page, but agreed to sequester all of it). A subsequent government filing belatedly obtaining permission to use material obtained via those FISA orders in conjunction with Carter Page’s lawsuit laid out the terms of that sequester. It revealed that, according to a June 25, 2020 FISA order, the government can only legally use material obtained under those FISA orders for the following purposes:

  1. Certain identified ongoing third-party litigation pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
  2. Ongoing and anticipated FOIA and civil litigation with Page
  3. FBI review of the conduct of its personnel involved in the Page investigation
  4. DOJ OIG monitoring of the implementation of one of the recommendations stemming from the OIG Report
  5. The review of the conduct of Government personnel in the Page and broader Crossfire Hurricane investigations [my emphasis]

On November 23, 2020, Boasberg issued a follow-up order in response to learning, on October 21, 2020, that DOJ had already shared sequestered FISA information with the US Attorney for Eastern Missouri (the Jeffrey Jensen review), the US Attorney for DC (possibly, though not certainly, the Durham case), and the Senate Judiciary Committee (FISC may have learned of the latter release when the vetting spreadsheet was publicly released days before DOJ informed FISC of that fact). Effectively, Bill Barr’s DOJ had confessed to the FISA Court that it had violated FISA by disseminating FISA-collected information later deemed to lack probable cause without first getting FISC approval. Boasberg ordered DOJ to “dispossess” the MOE USAO and DC USAO of the sequestered information and further ordered that those US Attorneys, “shall not access materials returned to the FBI … without the prior approval of the Court.”

There’s no evidence that Durham obtained approval to access this information (though DOJ applications to FISC often don’t get declassified, so it’s not clear it would show up in the docket). And when I asked DOJ whether Durham had obtained prior approval to access this sequestered information even for his own review, much less for use in a prosecution, I got no response. While accessing the sequestered material for review of the conduct of Government personnel is among those permitted by the original order (bolded above), using it to review the conduct of non-governmental sources like Danchenko was not, to say nothing of prosecuting such non-governmental sources. To get approval to use sequestered information in the Danchenko case, Durham would have to convince FISC to let Durham share such information with a foreign national whose prosecution would lead to his deportation to Russia. And if he shared the information without FISC approval, then Durham himself would be violating FISA.

To be sure, it would be the most unbelievable kind of malpractice to charge the Danchenko case without, first, ascertaining how Durham was going to get this sequestered information. I’d be shocked if Durham hadn’t gotten approval first. But then, I was shocked that when Durham charged Kevin Clinesmith, he didn’t know what crimes FBI investigated Page for. I am shocked that Durham used Sergei Millian’s Twitter feed to substantiate a factual claim that Millian didn’t speak with Danchenko. So who knows? Maybe Durham has not yet read this evidence, to say nothing of ensuring he can share it with a Russian national in discovery. It would shock me, but I’m growing used to being shocked by Durham’s recklessness.

In any case, depending on what the FISC has decided about disseminating — and making public — this sequestered information, it will, at the very least, create additional challenges for Durham. Durham couldn’t just assert that DOJ IG had determined that the this information was not incriminating to Page and therefore not helpful to Danchenko to avoid sharing the sequestered FISA information. Under CIPA, Judge Trenga would need to review the information himself and assess whether information obtained under Page’s FISA was material and helpful to Danchenko’s defense. If he decided that Danchenko was entitled to it in his defense, then Durham might have to fight not just with FBI and NSA to determine an adequate substitution for that information, but also FISC itself.

CIPA assumes that the Executive owns the classification decisions regarding any information to be presented at trial, and therefore the Executive gets to balance the value of the prosecution against the damage declassifying the information would do. Here, as with Fitzgerald, a Special Counsel will be making those decisions, setting up a potential conflict with all the agencies that may object. But here, FISC has far more interest in the FISA information than it would if (say) it were just approving the use of FISA-obtained material to prosecute the person targeted by that FISA.

Again, John Durham is going to have to declassify a whole bunch of sensitive information, including information sequestered to protect Carter Page, to give it to a foreign national who never had those secrets such that, if Durham succeeds at trial, it may lead inevitably to Russia obtaining that sensitive information. All that for five shoddily-charged false statements charges. This is the kind of challenge that a prosecutor exercising discretion would not take on.

But Durham doesn’t seem to care that he’s going to damage all the people he imagines are victims as well as national security by bringing this case to trial.

Danchenko posts

The Igor Danchenko Indictment: Structure

John Durham May Have Made Igor Danchenko “Aggrieved” Under FISA

“Yes and No:” John Durham Confuses Networking with Intelligence Collection

Daisy-Chain: The FBI Appears to Have Asked Danchenko Whether Dolan Was a Source for Steele, Not Danchenko

Source 6A: John Durham’s Twitter Charges

John Durham: Destroying the Purported Victims to Save Them

John Durham’s Cut-and-Paste Failures — and Other Indices of Unreliability

Aleksej Gubarev Drops Lawsuit after DOJ Confirms Steele Dossier Report Naming Gubarev’s Company Came from His Employee

In Story Purporting to “Reckon” with Steele’s Baseless Insinuations, CNN Spreads Durham’s Unsubstantiated Insinuations

On CIPA and Sequestration: Durham’s Discovery Deadends

The Disinformation that Got Told: Michael Cohen Was, in Fact, Hiding Secret Communications with the Kremlin

In Story Purporting to “Reckon” with Steele’s Baseless Insinuations, CNN Spreads Durham’s Unsubstantiated Insinuations

Deep in a CNN report purporting to “reckon” with the Steele dossier, Marshall Cohen claims that “The Mueller report said there wasn’t evidence of a criminal conspiracy to collude.”

This thirteen word sentence has a number of errors. Mueller explicitly noted that “collusion is not a specific offense or theory of liability found in the United States Code, nor is it a term of art in federal criminal law,” so it would be impossible to engage in a criminal conspiracy to collude. The Mueller Report further noted that, “A statement that the investigation did not establish particular facts” — such as the finding that, “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities” — “does not mean there was no evidence of those facts.” The actual crimes for which there was evidence, but insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, were:

  • Serving as an unregistered foreign agent of Russia
  • Criminal campaign finance violation
  • Conspiring in the hack-and-leak operation
  • Conspiring to obstruct a lawful government function

In fact, a footnote declassified days before the 2020 election revealed that, “some of the factual uncertainties,” about whether Roger Stone participated in the hacking conspiracy, “are the subject of ongoing investigations that have been referred by this Office to the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office,” meaning that the investigation into whether Stone conspired with Russia in 2016 remained ongoing after Mueller finished work.

Additionally, the declinations section specifically says that multiple individuals told lies that obstructed the investigation into whether the contacts between the campaign and Russia violated criminal law. If George Papadopoulos hadn’t lied about telling the campaign about the Russian help, if Michael Cohen hadn’t lied about an impossibly lucrative real estate deal in Moscow, if Roger Stone hadn’t lied about how he optimized the email release (and how many times he spoke to Trump about it), if Paul Manafort hadn’t lied about swapping campaign strategy for $19 million in debt relief, and if Mike Flynn hadn’t lied about undermining sanctions, Mueller might have obtained evidence to prove a conspiracy beyond a reasonable doubt.

Mistaking not having enough evidence to prove a conspiracy beyond a reasonable doubt and not having evidence at all is a common error, though more typical coming from those who publish fawning interviews with Konstantin Kilimnik repeating his assurances he’s not a Russian spy.

But it matters in this piece for the way Cohen airs insinuations that John Durham made for which Durham doesn’t, apparently, have enough evidence to prove something beyond a reasonable doubt (and which probably wouldn’t even be crimes).

Cohen starts by asserting, as fact, that “Democratic involvement in Steele’s work was much deeper than previously known,” in the same paragraph where he notes that Charles Dolan has been accused of no crime.

But Democratic involvement in Steele’s work was much deeper than previously known. Court filings from the Durham inquiry recently revealed that some information in the dossier originated from Charles Dolan, 71, a public relations executive with expertise in Russian affairs who had a decades-long political relationship with the Clinton family. He has not been accused of any crimes. [my emphasis]

Cohen continues to describe Dolan’s involvement in four more ways that don’t involve any crime by Dolan: That Dolan was in regular contact with Danchenko (which Danchenko didn’t deny), that Dolan was “indirectly connected” to the pee tape, and that “Dolan was also indirectly linked” to a claim about a Russian diplomat being reassigned, and that Dolan lied to Danchenko — about his source for a true report — at a time Dolan knew nothing of the specifics of the Steele project.

Federal prosecutors said Dolan was in regular contact in 2016 with Steele’s primary source Igor Danchenko, 49, a Russian citizen and foreign policy analyst who lives in Virginia. Danchenko was indicted on November 4 for allegedly lying to the FBI about his dealings with Dolan and a fellow Soviet-born expat that he claimed was one of his sources.

Danchenko pleaded not guilty last week. In a statement to CNN, his defense attorney Mark Schamel said Durham is pushing a “false narrative designed to humiliate and slander a renowned expert in business intelligence for political gain.” Schamel also accused Durham of including legally unnecessary information in the 39-page indictment to smear Danchenko.

“For the past five years, those with an agenda have sought to expose Mr. Danchenko’s identity and tarnish his reputation while undermining U.S. National Security,” Schamel said. “…This latest injustice will not stand. We will expose how Mr. Danchenko has been unfairly maligned by these false allegations.”

The indictment indirectly connected Dolan to the infamous claim that Russia possessed a compromising tape of Trump with prostitutes in Moscow, which became known as the “pee tape.” (Trump and Russia both denied the allegations.) According to the Danchenko indictment, in June 2016, Dolan toured the Ritz-Carlton suite where the alleged liaison occurred, and discussed Trump’s 2013 visit with hotel staff, but wasn’t told about any sexual escapades. It’s still unclear where those salacious details that ended up in the dossier came from.

Dolan was also indirectly linked in the indictment to still-unverified claims about Russian officials who were allegedly part of the election meddling. The indictment also suggested that Steele’s memos exaggerated what Dolan had passed along to Danchenko.

The indictment also says the dossier contained a relatively mundane item about Trump campaign infighting that Dolan later told the FBI he actually gleaned from news articles. Prosecutors say Dolan even lied to Danchenko about where he got the gossip, by attributing it to a “GOP friend” who was “a close associate of Trump.” [my emphasis]

Importantly, for only the last of these dossier reports is Dolan specifically alleged to be a source in the dossier (and, again, Dolan credibly claimed not to know why Danchenko was asking for dirt on Trump). The rest are introduced into the indictment in part by claiming Danchenko — who admitted he and Dolan “talked about … related issues” — lied in part to hide that Dolan, “was otherwise involved in the events and information described in the reports.”

But the two examples that Cohen treats as news — the pee tape and the reassigned diplomat (there’s a third included involving Sergei Ivanov’s removal) — are laid out in the indictment as materiality arguments, not accused crimes that Durham thinks he can prove beyond a reasonable doubt. They’re the things Durham claims Danchenko hid by purportedly lying about whether he had done more than speak to Dolan about related topics. There’s no reason to believe that FBI — which had 702 collection showing extensive ties between Dolan and Danchenko’s Russian source Olga Galkina, undoubtedly including some of the communications Durham relies on in the indictment — ever asked Danchenko whether Dolan was the source for the one report Durham claims Dolan was the source for, much less the three where Durham imagines he had some other kind of role in. (I have noted that Durham appears to have misrepresented the question that led into this answer; it seems to have been whether Dolan served as a source for Steele, not Danchenko.) Durham presents the damage from Danchenko’s claimed lie in terms of questions that the FBI, even sitting on those communications, might have asked, but did not.

Here’s how it looks on the pee tape.

Based on the foregoing, DANCHENKO’s lies to the FBI denying that he had communicated with PR Executive-I regarding information in the Company Reports were highly material. Had DANCHENKO accurately disclosed to FBI agents that PR Executive-I was a source for specific information in the aforementioned Company Reports regarding Campaign Manager-1 ‘s departure from the Trump campaign, see Paragraphs 45-57, supra, the FBI might have taken further investigative steps to, among other things, interview PR Executive-I about (i) the June 2016 Planning Trip, (ii) whether PR Executive-I spoke with DANCHENKO about Trump’s stay and alleged activity in the Presidential Suite of the Moscow Hotel, and (iii) PR Executive-1 ‘s interactions with General Manager-I and other Moscow Hotel staff. In sum, given that PR Executive-I was present at places and events where DANCHENKO collected information for the Company Reports, DANCHENKO’s subsequent lie about PR Executive-1 ‘s connection to the Company Reports was highly material to the FBI’ s investigation of these matters.

As I’ve noted, one likely, and damning, scenario (Durham presents no evidence that he knows what actually did happen) is that Danchenko used the details Dolan told him about the Ritz tour to flesh out the pee tape rumor he attributed to Sergey Abyshev, with whom he met and drank on the same day, using the names of the Ritz staffers without interviewing them. But even if that’s what happened, there’s no hint that Dolan provided this information wittingly as part of an effort to hurt Trump (and even if it was gossip about Trump, it would not be a crime).

Effectively, Durham is arguing it is more important for the FBI to find out if unwitting Democrats provided information for the dossier — and Durham’s fleshed out his claims that Dolan played a role in several of the other reports precisely based on the accuracy of what Dolan had learned from high ranking Russians, not on any claim he was making rumors up — than Russians with ties to the intelligence services feeding deliberate disinformation. If Dolan’s involvement was unwitting, there could be no conspiracy to defraud the government, not even if Danchenko knew his reports were being shared with the FBI, which Durham doesn’t claim he did.

Again, this entire indictment treats unwitting Democrats as more dangerous adversaries than Russians deliberately trying to intervene in America’s election.

By presenting his other Dolan claims as materiality arguments, then, Durham manages to insinuate things — things that aren’t even crimes — without having solid evidence behind them. And he does so in an indictment that doesn’t cut-and-paste quotations faithfully and relies on Sergei Millian’s Twitter feed for a key claim of fact.

And Cohen allows himself — in a piece talking about how foolish it was for the press to repeat the sloppy insinuations from the dossier — to serve as a mouthpiece for Durham’s unsubstantiated insinuations.

There are other errors in this piece. One that bears notice — because it’s another case where Cohen got fooled — is where he claims that Galkina disclaimed being a source for a claim that was attributed to her.

Another Russian who Danchenko told the FBI was one of his sources said in a sworn affidavit in a civil case that she wasn’t the source for at least one claim that was attributed to her. The woman, publicist Olga Galkina, said she believes Danchenko told the FBI she was his source “to create more authoritativeness for his work,” according to court filings.

That’s false. The only thing that Galkina disclaimed being a source for in her declaration was the Alfa Bank story. As I laid out here, in his public interview report, Danchenko associates that report, but does not attribute it, to his drinking buddy, Sergey Abyshev. The declarations from Danchenko’s other sources in that docket, including Galkina’s, were just legal smoke and mirrors (and a way to get those names before Durham and frothy right wingers). The fact that Galkina stated that, “Mr. Danchenko and I did not discuss anything related to the Dossier or its contents during,” a March 2016 meeting in the US where Danchenko introduced her to Dolan, a meeting which preceded the dossier project by months, is a glaring sign that this declaration is a non-denial denial. So, too, is her suggestion that she could only have shared information face to face when Danchenko told the FBI he sourced his stories to her over phone calls.

The dossier has been shown to be full of unsubstantiated insinuations. And Marshall Cohen’s approach to reckoning with CNN’s past magnification of those unsubstantiated insinuations was to treat ones Durham included in the Danchenko indictment just as credulously.

Danchenko posts

The Igor Danchenko Indictment: Structure

John Durham May Have Made Igor Danchenko “Aggrieved” Under FISA

“Yes and No:” John Durham Confuses Networking with Intelligence Collection

Daisy-Chain: The FBI Appears to Have Asked Danchenko Whether Dolan Was a Source for Steele, Not Danchenko

Source 6A: John Durham’s Twitter Charges

John Durham: Destroying the Purported Victims to Save Them

John Durham’s Cut-and-Paste Failures — and Other Indices of Unreliability

Aleksej Gubarev Drops Lawsuit after DOJ Confirms Steele Dossier Report Naming Gubarev’s Company Came from His Employee

In Story Purporting to “Reckon” with Steele’s Baseless Insinuations, CNN Spreads Durham’s Unsubstantiated Insinuations

On CIPA and Sequestration: Durham’s Discovery Deadends

The Disinformation that Got Told: Michael Cohen Was, in Fact, Hiding Secret Communications with the Kremlin

Aleksej Gubarev Drops Lawsuit after DOJ Confirms Steele Dossier Report Naming Gubarev’s Company Came from His Employee

As Josh Gerstein reports, one of the Russians who has used the Steele dossier way as a way to engage in protracted, embarrassing lawfare, Aleksej Gubarev, has dropped his lawsuit.

A Russian internet entrepreneur has dropped a four-year legal battle against BuzzFeed over its publication of the so-called Steele dossier, a politically charged compendium produced during the 2016 presidential campaign that contained allegations about ties between then-candidate Donald Trump and Russia.

BuzzFeed put the document online in unedited form in January 2017, citing the interest in informing the public of the dossier’s role in Congressional and FBI investigations. The posting prompted a lawsuit from Russian Aleksej Gubarev, who contended that he was libeled by the dossier’s claims about his involvement in the hacking of Democratic Party officials in 2016.

BuzzFeed later redacted Gubarev’s name from the version of the dossier posted on the news outlet’s website and apologized for leaving it in at the outset.

A federal judge in Miami tossed out the lawsuit in late 2018, ruling that BuzzFeed’s publication of the dossier was legally privileged because of the role the compilation played in ongoing federal investigations, even though the dossier was never formally released by the government.

Gubarev appealed that decision to the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, but on Wednesday the Russian businessman and BuzzFeed announced that the appeal was being dropped.

“Mr. Gubarev has decided to end his litigation against BuzzFeed over its publication of the dossier in January 2017. The federal court ruled that BuzzFeed had a right to publish the dossier because it was part of a government investigation, and Mr. Gubarev accepts that judgment,“ Gubarev and BuzzFeed said in a joint statement.

The move comes in the wake of the Igor Danchenko indictment that describes that both Gubarev’s PR person, Olga Galkina, and his US PR consultant, Charles Dolan, were sources in the dossier (though the latter claim remains only an allegation). In an FBI interview report released last year, Danchenko had named Galkina as his source for the December 2016 report that Gubarev sued over.

Galkina had described her position at XBT in a filing submitted in an Alfa Bank lawsuit, the parallel lawfare to Gubarev’s. She also described being introduced to Dolan (though her denial of discussing subjects in the dossier, both generally and with Dolan, amount to non-denial denials sharply limited in time and subject).

My background is in journalism and public relations. I now work as a communications advisor. Previously, I held a number of positions in public relations and government, including head of the Governor’s Press Service in the Saratov Region (2005–2006); deputy head of the city administration in Saratov (2006–2007); and public relations advisor at Servers.com, a part of the XBT Holding group of companies that includes Webzilla (2015–2016).

[snip]

Mr. Danchenko and I met once in 2016. In connection with my job at Servers.com, I traveled to the United States in the spring of 2016 to participate in the Game Developers Conference event and investigate the prospects of running a public relations campaign for the company in the United States. I asked Mr. Danchenko to assist those efforts, and he introduced me to a third party, Charles Dolan, whom he thought could help. Mr. Danchenko and I did not discuss anything related to the Dossier or its contents during this meeting.

Indeed, Durham notes that Galkina’s employer appears in the dossier.

In or about early 2016, Russian Sub-Source-I began working at a business based in Country-I (“Business-I”) that was owned by a Russian national and would later appear in the Company Reports. Russian Sub-Source-I conducted public relations and communications work for Business-I .

Durham further describes that Danchenko let Dolan know that Galkina was looking for a PR firm, which led to Dolan being hired by Gubarev’s company.

In or about March 2016, and prior to the June 2016 Planning Trip, DANCHENKO learned from Russian Sub-Source-I that Business-I was interested in retaining a U.S.-based public relations firm to assist with Business-1 ‘sentry into the U.S. market. DANCHENKO brokered a meeting between PR Executive-I and Russian Sub-Source-I to discuss a potential business relationship. Thereafter, PR Firm-I and Business-I entered a contractual relationship.

Durham even quoted Dolan making all these connections.

[] I’ve been interviewed by the Washington Post and the London Times – three times over the last two days over the [Foreign Intelligence Service-I] Dossier on Trump and I know the Russian agent who made the report (He used to work for me). My client in [Country-I] [Business-I] has been accused of being the party that organized the hacking. Presently speaking with the barrister in London who is filing a brief against Former British [Government Employee] [U.K. Person-1] has been unmasked as the man behind an explosive dossier about US president-elect Donald Trump. Also in conversation with former British Ambassador who knows [U.K. Person-I]. Quite right – Oh what a boring life. [underline Dolan’s, bold Durham’s]

Had this lawsuit continued, BuzzFeed might have had the opportunity to turn the tables on Gubarev, to inquire whether he had a role in the report he was suing over, or perhaps had asked Galkina to give Danchenko a collection tasking after the dossier came out. It might have invited further scrutiny into how Galkina hired Dolan in the first place.

Indeed, had the lawsuit continued, BuzzFeed might have had the opportunity to do some new reporting on the extent to which the dossier — Galkina’s reports were the most quickly debunked Michael Cohen reports — was intentional disinformation.

Before such an opportunity presented, it seems, Gubarev has decided the suit has achieved its goals.

Update: This settlement has been in the works for some time–though it is not clear whether those discussions precede the Galkina declaration that would have IDed her ties to Gubarev and Dolan.

Danchenko posts

The Igor Danchenko Indictment: Structure

John Durham May Have Made Igor Danchenko “Aggrieved” Under FISA

“Yes and No:” John Durham Confuses Networking with Intelligence Collection

Daisy-Chain: The FBI Appears to Have Asked Danchenko Whether Dolan Was a Source for Steele, Not Danchenko

Source 6A: John Durham’s Twitter Charges

John Durham: Destroying the Purported Victims to Save Them

John Durham’s Cut-and-Paste Failures — and Other Indices of Unreliability

Aleksej Gubarev Drops Lawsuit after DOJ Confirms Steele Dossier Report Naming Gubarev’s Company Came from His Employee

In Story Purporting to “Reckon” with Steele’s Baseless Insinuations, CNN Spreads Durham’s Unsubstantiated Insinuations

On CIPA and Sequestration: Durham’s Discovery Deadends

The Disinformation that Got Told: Michael Cohen Was, in Fact, Hiding Secret Communications with the Kremlin

John Durham’s Cut-and-Paste Failures — and Other Indices of Unreliability

It would be unfortunate if the press corps responded to evidence that significant numbers of reporters had uncritically magnified the Steele dossier by uncritically magnifying other demonstrably unreliable documents. Yet that is what has happened in response to the Igor Danchenko indictment, today in fairly notable form in a Bill Grueskin op-ed in the NYT.

Grueskin calls for more reporting

To be clear, the conclusion of Grueskin’s op-ed (like the dossier’s conclusion that members of the Trump campaign were in contact with key players in the Russian election operation and the DOJ IG Report’s conclusion that the Carter Page FISA applications were badly flawed) is absolutely correct: news organizations should come clean about past erroneous reporting on the dossier and, when in doubt, should do more reporting.

[N]ews organizations that uncritically amplified the Steele dossier ought to come to terms with their records, sooner or later. This is hard, but it’s not unprecedented. When The Miami Herald broke the news in 1987 that the Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart was seeing a woman other than his wife, the paper followed that scoop with a 7,000-plus-word examination of its investigation, which showed significant flaws in how the paper surveilled its target.

[snip]

Newsrooms that can muster an independent, thorough examination of how they handled the Steele dossier story will do their audience, and themselves, a big favor. They can also scrutinize whether, by focusing so heavily on the dossier, they helped distract public attention from Mr. Trump’s actual misconduct. Addressing the shortcomings over the dossier doesn’t mean ignoring the corruption and democracy-shattering conduct that the Trump administration pushed for four years. But it would mean coming to terms with our conduct and whatever collateral damage these errors have caused to our reputation.

In the meantime, journalists could follow the advice I once got from Paul Steiger, who was the managing editor of The Journal when I was editing articles for the front page. Several of us went to his office one day, eager to publish a big scoop that he believed wasn’t rock solid. Mr. Steiger told us to do more reporting — and when we told him that we’d heard competitors’ footsteps, he responded, “Well, there are worse things in this world than getting beaten on a story.”

As someone who first raised concerns about the provenance of the dossier on January 11, 2017, caught a lot of grief for a long piece calling out real errors in it on September 6, 2017, and started raising concerns about disinformation in the dossier on January 29, 2018, before that became the consensus among Republicans in Congress, there are still key details about the dossier that demand more attention. But they’re not the ones that are getting the most attention.

Oleg Deripaska’s role in the dossier remains largely unreported

By far the most important unreported detail about the dossier, in my opinion, is the brutal double game Oleg Deripaska was playing with Christopher Steele and Paul Manafort. Consider the following details, all readily available in the public record:

  • In March 2016, per Igor Danchenko’s January 2017 interview report, Steele tasked him to collect information on Paul Manafort. Danchenko said he did not know the client for that project, but communications between Steele and DOJ’s Organized Crime expert Bruce Ohr FOIAed by Judicial Watch as well as documents leaked to Byron York show that Steele was doing work on behalf of Deripaska’s lawyers at the time (note that York mistakes a reference to Deripaska as “our favourite business tycoon” for Donald Trump).
  • By early July 2016 (so after just the first dossier report), according to a footnote from the DOJ IG Report declassified for Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson, “a [person affiliated] to Russian Oligarch 1  [[Deripaska]] was [possibly aware] of Steele’s election investigation.”
  • On July 30, 2016 (so after a Deripaska associate may have learned of the dossier), according the DOJ IG Report, “Steele told Ohr that [Oleg Deripaska]‘s attorney was gathering evidence that Paul Manafort stole money from [Deripaska].”
  • On August 2, 2016, according to the Mueller Report, partly in an attempt to “get whole” on the money Deripaska accused Manafort of stealing, Manafort met with Deripaska deputy Konstantin Kilimnik and discussed, in addition to how to get that debt forgiven, “the state of the Trump Campaign and Manafort’s plan to win the election,” including, “discussion of ‘battleground’ states, which Manafort identified as Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota,” and what Manafort described as a “backdoor” way for Russia to control eastern Ukraine.

Even as the investigator employed by Deripaska’s lawyers, Christopher Steele, was sharing Deripaska-sourced claims of Manafort’s corruption with DOJ, Deripaska was using Manafort’s legal and financial vulnerability arising from that corruption to learn how Trump planned to win the election and to recruit Manafort’s help in carving up Ukraine. Deripaska was working a brutal double game, using Steele as cover with DOJ and FBI even as he exploited Manafort’s vulnerability — which had been enhanced by Steele — to make demands on Manafort. That’s the core scandal of Steele’s actions in 2016. Yet reporters who entirely missed this story are being treated as experts on the problems with the dossier.

So I find Grueskin’s conclusion, there’s still reporting to be done, sound.

It’s just how gets there, by replicating the very problems he critiques, that I object to. In a piece complaining that journalists uncritically amplified the dossier, Grueskin uncritically relies on the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page and Durham’s indictment of Igor Danchenko.

The dossier’s credibility suffered a grievous blow in December 2019, when an investigation by the Department of Justice’s inspector general found that F.B.I. investigations “raised doubts about the reliability of some of Steele’s reports.” The F.B.I. “also assessed the possibility that Russia was funneling disinformation to Steele,” the report said, adding that “certain allegations were inaccurate or inconsistent with information gathered” by investigators.

Then, this month, a primary source of Mr. Steele’s was arrested and charged with lying to the F.B.I. about how he obtained information that appeared in the dossier. Prosecutors say that the source, Igor Danchenko, did not, as The Wall Street Journal first reported, get his information from a self-proclaimed real estate partner of Mr. Trump’s. That prompted a statement promising further examination from The Journal and something far more significant from The Washington Post’s executive editor, Sally Buzbee. She took a step that is almost unheard-of: removing large chunks of erroneous articles from 2017 and 2019, as well as an offending video.

Neither should be treated uncritically, particularly with regards to the dossier.

Indices of unreliability in the DOJ IG Report

The DOJ IG Report revealed its unreliability itself, issuing two sets of corrections in the days after its release. Two of those corrections pertained to the dossier. The first correction admitted that the Report had initially miscited Igor Danchenko’s interview report regarding a report Danchenko sourced to Sergei Millian, the key report at issue in the Danchenko indictment.

On pages xi, 242, 368, and 370, we changed the phrase “had no discussion” to “did not recall any discussion or mention.” On page 242, we also changed the phrase “made no mention at all of” to “did not recall any discussion or mention of.” On page 370, we also changed the word “assertion” to “statement,” and the words “and Person 1 had no discussion at all regarding WikiLeaks directly contradicted” to “did not recall any discussion or mention of WikiLeaks during the telephone call was inconsistent with.” In all instances, this phrase appears in connection with statements that Steele’s Primary Sub-source made to the FBI during a January 2017 interview about information he provided to Steele that appeared in Steele’s election reports. The corrected information appearing in this updated report reflects the accurate characterization of the Primary Sub-source’s account to the FBI that previously appeared, and still appears, on page 191, stating that “[the Primary SubSource] did not recall any discussion or mention of Wiki[L]eaks.”

Effectively, DOJ IG realized only after it published that it had not cut-and-pasted from Danchenko’s interview report accurately.

The second correction admitted that, in its original release, the IG Report had complained that the FBI had not integrated information that it learned from Danchenko starting on January 24, 2017 in a FISA reauthorization approved on January 12, 2017, a temporal impossibility.

On page 413, we changed the word, “three” to “second and third.” The corrected information appearing in this updated report reflects the accurate description of the Carter Page FISA applications that did not contain the information the FBI obtained from Steele’s Primary Sub-source in January 2017 that raised significant questions about the reliability of the Steele reporting. This information previously appeared, and still appears, accurately on pages xi, xiii, 368, and 372.

These corrections show that DOJ IG got all the way through its initial release without noticing sloppiness of the sort it found inexcusable from the FBI.

But the far more important change DOJ IG made after first publication — one that still has not been fully corrected — is that all the way through its initial release, IG investigators had misdescribed what crimes the FBI team was investigating, conflating FARA and 18 U.S.C. § 951. The error was absolutely critical, because the investigation into Carter Page was initially opened because he was willingly sharing non-public economic information with people he knew to be Russian intelligence officers. Page would have already passed certain First Amendment review required for a FARA case before the case was picked up by the Crossfire Hurricane team. The correction should have, but did not, lead to wholesale reconsideration of the First Amendment discussion in the IG Report. Relatedly, the IG Report still includes an uncorrected miscitation to a Senate Report on the statute in question, to a passage that explained that an American could be targeted for First Amendment activities if he was — as Carter Page had been prior to 2016 — “acting under the direction of an intelligence service of a foreign power.”

Incidentally, John Durham replicated this error in the first document formally filed as part of his investigation, the Kevin Clinesmith information, revealing that 15 months into his investigation into Crossfire Hurricane, he didn’t even know what crimes Crossfire Hurricane had been investigating.

The corrections the IG Report made are not the only evidence that it is not entirely reliable. The report included a number of omissions, just like the Carter Page FISA applications did. For the purposes of this post, the most important are that it made no mention of the contacts Christopher Steele and Bruce Ohr had before July 30 during 2016 — contacts that focused on Deripaska; it left out one topic of their discussion on July 30, Russian doping; and it misrepresented Ohr’s key role in providing derogatory information about Steele to the FBI that they used to vet the dossier. In other words, DOJ IG misrepresented some of the relevance of Oleg Deripaska to the Russian election operation, which may be why that remains an unreported aspect of Steele’s role in 2016.

Indices of unreliability in Durham’s Danchenko indictment

Grueskin’s — and much of the media’s — uncritical reliance on the Danchenko indictment raises still further problems. Of course, all DOJ press releases on indictments, including the one announcing Danchenko’s charges, emphasize that, “Charges contained in an indictment are only allegations.” And as reporters learn early on, prosecutors (more often state and local prosecutors, but Federal prosecutors are not immune) often make allegations that aren’t backed by the facts.

We won’t be able to fully assess the allegations that Durham has made against Danchenko until Danchenko either pleads guilty or goes to trial.

But there are three reasons not to treat this indictment as credible without further proof:

  • It fails to represent transcripts faithfully
  • It relies on Sergei Millian’s Twitter account as evidence for a key allegation
  • A number of its most newsworthy allegations are not actually charged

Durham’s misrepresentation of Danchenko’s alleged lies

Durham’s indictment of Michael Sussmann, unusually for a false statements indictment, does not quote the lie that Sussmann is alleged to have told.

By contrast, Durham does provide transcripts for some, but not all, of the lies he charges in the Danchenko indictment, though in the actual charges, he usually relies on a few words rather than the full statement of Danchenko’s alleged lie.

That means we can test Durham’s reliability by comparing the actual transcripts with how Durham describes the alleged lies in his charges. (Durham does not include the interview report for the uncharged January 24 allegation below, but it is publicly available, and Durham provided neither a transcript nor summary of Danchenko’s language relating to a November 16, 2017 interview.)

In each case, Durham’s charged lies leave out key caveats or context that appear in the actual transcripts.

In his (uncharged) allegation that Danchenko falsely claimed, on January 24, 2017, that he hadn’t told any of his associates he “worked for Chris Steele or Orbis,” Durham didn’t explain that this was a question specifically about whether Danchenko’s friends knew he collected intelligence for Orbis, not whether he knew Steele at all, nor does he reveal that Danchenko responded to the question, “yes and no.”

In the Millian-related charge pertaining to a recorded March 16, 2017 interview, Durham claimed that Danchenko “well knew” that Millian had never called him, omitting that Danchenko actually stated that “I don’t know” whether he really spoke to Millian.

In the Millian-related charge pertaining to a recorded May 18, 2017 interview, Durham omitted several key details, including that Danchenko was describing what he believed, “at the time,” (in 2016) and that he was “not sure” if Millian really called.

In the single charge relating to Charles Dolan, Durham omitted that the first question the FBI Agent asked Danchenko about Dolan on June 15, 2017 appears to pertain to whether Dolan was a source for Steele, not whether he was a source for Danchenko. It also omits Danchenko’s caveat that he and Dolan had “talked about  … related issues” to the dossier, though not anything “specific,” which is not a categorical denial that he spoke to Dolan about “any material contained” in the dossier.

In a Millian-related charge pertaining to an October 24 interview (Durham doesn’t say whether this was recorded), Durham omits that Danchenko caveated his answer by saying that the caller “was someone who I thought” — again reflecting his belief in 2016, not in 2017 — was Millian.

These omissions don’t doom Durham’s case; they don’t mean Danchenko didn’t lie. But they do show that Durham left out key language and context in the language charging these as lies.

Durham may well prove his case (the Dolan charge is, in my opinion, the strongest one), but his failures in cutting and pasting the language from the transcripts accurately suggests he cannot be relied on uncritically as a source about what really happened.

Sergei Millian’s Twitter feed is no more reliable in an indictment than outside it

All the more so given that Durham, remarkably, relies on Sergei Millian’s Twitter feed as one of the few pieces of proof that the call Danchenko believed to have come from Millian did not take place.

Chamber President-I has claimed in public statements and on social media that he never responded to DANCHEKNO’s [sic] emails, and that he and DANCHENKO never met or communicated.

Durham presents just two other pieces of evidence that the call didn’t take place, both of which post-date the first dossier report purportedly based on the call (meaning neither is proof, at all, that Danchenko didn’t believe Millian was the caller at the time he submitted the report to Steele). And he leaves out a communication Danchenko had that may corroborate the call (or at least Danchenko’s contemporaneous belief it did).

Unless there are FBI interviews with Millian that Durham is obscuring (he’s not obscuring Dolan’s interviews), it is fairly unbelievable that Durham presented this Twitter allegation to a grand jury, because it is not remotely admissible for the facts claimed at trial. Durham appears to be treating Millian — whom FBI also had a counterintelligence investigation on in 2016 — as a fact witness without requiring Millian undergo the same kind of FBI exposure that Danchenko was willing to.

That, itself, is newsworthy, because it reflects poorly on the seriousness of Durham’s case.

Journalists treating Durham’s Twitter-based allegations as credible should ask themselves why they hadn’t, themselves, treated the very same Millian assertions as credible four years earlier, before this indictment. The answer is obvious: because Twitter feeds aren’t normally sufficient proof, for prosecutors or journalists, of any fact beyond that a statement was made. Yet journalists are now taking the appearance of this Twitter claim within an indictment as proof that it is true.

Durham’s uncharged allegations

The last reason why Durham’s Danchenko indictment should be treated with skepticism is more technical but one that has been the key source of bad reporting on it.

Durham charged five false statements, a single charge relating to Charles Dolan, and four counts charging the same lie about a Sergei Millian call allegedly made in four different FBI interviews (one instance of this claimed lie, made in January 2017, is not charged).

Durham also made another allegation that he didn’t charge — the alleged lie on January 24 regarding whether Danchenko told others he was collecting intelligence for Steele.

And Durham presented, as materiality arguments, three dossier reports that Durham doesn’t allege Dolan was the direct source for, but instead, describes that he, “was otherwise involved in the events and information described in the reports.” Here’s how Durham justifies including the allegations about the pee tape as a materiality claim.

Based on the foregoing, DANCHENKO’s lies to the FBI denying that he had communicated with PR Executive-I regarding information in the Company Reports were highly material. Had DANCHENKO accurately disclosed to FBI agents that PR Executive-I was a source for specific information in the aforementioned Company Reports regarding Campaign Manager-1 ‘s departure from the Trump campaign, see Paragraphs 45-57, supra, the FBI might have taken further investigative steps to, among other things, interview PR Executive-I about (i) the June 2016 Planning Trip, (ii) whether PR Executive-I spoke with DANCHENKO about Trump’s stay and alleged activity in the Presidential Suite of the Moscow Hotel, and (iii) PR Executive-1 ‘s interactions with General Manager-I and other Moscow Hotel staff. In sum, given that PR Executive-I was present at places and events where DANCHENKO collected information for the Company Reports, DANCHENKO’s subsequent lie about PR Executive-1 ‘s connection to the Company Reports was highly material to the FBI’ s investigation of these matters.

Durham doesn’t claim that Dolan was the source for the pee tape (though a number of media outlets have claimed he did, even while complaining about bad reporting on the dossier). A likely — and damning — potential explanation is that Danchenko learned from Dolan the name of Ritz Hotel staffers and then used their names, without interviewing them, to make the pee tape rumor Danchenko sourced to a Russian friend of his look more credible. But there’s no hint that Dolan willfully participated in the manufacture of the pee tape report (indeed, the indictment provides several reasons to believe he did not). Durham actually doesn’t even claim that he knows what Dolan’s role was in the pee tape, other than inviting Danchenko to the Ritz for lunch. For example, he may not be able to rule out that, after getting the names of Ritz staffers from Dolan, Danchenko interviewed them. Nor does Durham claim to know what happened with the other two Dolan-related allegations he includes as materiality arguments.

But based off a long narrative presented as a materiality argument, not a separate charged crime (it’s all part of Danchenko’s alleged denial of discussing anything specific that appeared in the dossier), multiple reporters have claimed that there are charges, plural, tied to Dolan and that a Clinton associate had a role in manufacturing the pee tape claim. Neither claim is supported by the Danchenko indictment, but the misimpression may be what Durham was hoping to accomplish by including it.

Durham did something similar in the Sussmann indictment, and as lawyers for both Sussmann and Danchenko have noted, the move impermissibly presents Rule 404(b) information in an indictment, information about motive or other bad acts that might be presented at trial with prior approval from the judge to help prove the case. By doing it, Durham skirts a DOJ rule (the one Jim Comey broke in 2016) against making public allegations that DOJ is not prepared to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

Effectively, these materiality claims are the equivalent of journalistic scoops that aren’t rock solid that — Paul Steiger told Grueskin years ago — require more investigation before charging or reporting. These materiality claims are no more substantive than the reports in the Steele dossier.

And yet some in the press are treating them as such, most often by treating them (or at least the pee tape one) as a separate charge, and claiming that Durham has alleged something about the pee tape that he has not.

Durham’s Danchenko indictment may one day prove — like the dossier, the DOJ IG Report, and Grueskin’s op-ed — generally right, even if some of the facts in it are wrong.

But it hasn’t yet proven any more reliable, with regards to specific facts, than the dossier itself. And there are several signs that it is not reliable.

It would be a mistake to respond to the bad reporting on the dossier by replicating the same bad habits with the Danchenko indictment.

Danchenko posts

The Igor Danchenko Indictment: Structure

John Durham May Have Made Igor Danchenko “Aggrieved” Under FISA

“Yes and No:” John Durham Confuses Networking with Intelligence Collection

Daisy-Chain: The FBI Appears to Have Asked Danchenko Whether Dolan Was a Source for Steele, Not Danchenko

Source 6A: John Durham’s Twitter Charges

John Durham: Destroying the Purported Victims to Save Them

John Durham’s Cut-and-Paste Failures — and Other Indices of Unreliability

Aleksej Gubarev Drops Lawsuit after DOJ Confirms Steele Dossier Report Naming Gubarev’s Company Came from His Employee

In Story Purporting to “Reckon” with Steele’s Baseless Insinuations, CNN Spreads Durham’s Unsubstantiated Insinuations

On CIPA and Sequestration: Durham’s Discovery Deadends

The Disinformation that Got Told: Michael Cohen Was, in Fact, Hiding Secret Communications with the Kremlin

John Durham: Destroying the Purported Victims to Save Them

I’ve covered a great deal of prosecutions involving FISA materials. In just one — that of Reaz Qadir Khan — was the defendant able to use sensitivities around FISA to get a better plea deal (and in that case, there were extenuating circumstances, possibly including a dead FISA target and Stellar Wind collection). I also covered the Scooter Libby case, in which Libby attempted — and very nearly succeeded — in forcing prosecutors to dismiss the case by demanding the declassification of a slew of Presidential Daily Briefs. But even the Libby case may pale in comparison to the difficulties John Durham has signed up for in his prosecution of Igor Danchenko.

That’s true because Danchenko will credibly be able to demand materials from at least two FISA orders, as well as two other counterintelligence investigations, including a sensitive, multi-pronged, ongoing investigation, to defend himself.

Indeed, there’s even a chance DOJ cannot legally prosecute Danchenko in this case.

What follows is true regardless of whether Danchenko was indicted on shoddy evidence as part of a witch hunt or if Durham has Danchenko dead to rights defrauding the FBI to target Donald Trump. I remain agnostic which is the case (the truth is likely somewhere in-between). It is true regardless of whether Carter Page and Sergei Millian were truly victimized as a result of the Steele dossier, or whether they were reasonable counterintelligence targets whose investigations got blown up in a political firestorm.

This has everything to do with the prosecutorial discretion that Durham did not exercise in charging Danchenko (and because of some sloppiness in the way he did so) and nothing to do with Danchenko’s guilt or innocence or Page and Millian’s victimization.

Consider the following moves Durham made in his indictment:

  • He invoked Danchenko’s source, Olga Galkina, in his materiality claims and based his single charge pertaining to Charles Dolan on a June 15, 2017 FBI interview.
  • He relied on claims Sergei Millian made about interactions with Danchenko as part of his proof that Danchenko lied about his belief that he had spoken with Millian. Durham did so, apparently, based entirely on Millian’s currently public Twitter blatherings.
  • He made Carter Page’s FISA targeting — and its role in the investigation into Trump associates (which Durham recklessly called “the Trump campaign”) — central to his materiality claims.

Whether Igor Danchenko is a reckless smear agent or someone screwed by Christopher Steele’s own sloppiness, he is entitled to all the evidence pertaining to the full scope of the indictment, as well as any exculpatory evidence that could help him disprove Durham’s claims. One of the prosecutors in the case, Michael Keilty, already warned Judge Anthony Trenga, who is presiding over the case, that there will be “a vast amount of classified discovery” in this case. But if prosecutors haven’t vetted Millian any further than reading his Twitter feed, they may have no idea what discovery challenges they face.

There has never been a case like this one, relying on two already publicly identified FISA orders, so this is literally uncharted waters.

Durham’s Matryoshka Materiality Claims

Before I explain the challenges Durham faces, it’s worth explaining how Durham has used materiality in this indictment. Durham will have to prove not just that Danchenko lied, but that the lies were material.

The words “material” or “materiality” show up in the indictment 20 times, of which just one instance is used to mean “stuff” (in a misquotation of a Danchenko response to an FBI question stating, “related issues perhaps but … nothing specific”). Five are required in the charging language.

Maybe Durham focused so much making claims about materiality, in part, because he’s smarting about the way people made fun of him for his shoddy materiality claims in the Michael Sussmann indictment. But many of his discussions about the “materiality” of Danchenko’s alleged lies, both charged and uncharged, serve as a gratuitous way for Durham to include accusations in the indictment he didn’t charge. The tactic worked like a charm, as multiple journalists reported that things — particularly regarding the pee tape — were alleged or charged that were not. But now he’s on the hook for them in discovery.

Below, I’ve shown how these materiality claims form a nested set of allegations, such that even the materiality claims for uncharged conduct make up part of his overall materiality argument. I’m not, at all, contesting that Durham has a sound case that — if he can prove Danchenko lied — at least one of lies was material. While some of his materiality claims are provably false and some (such as the claims that Danchenko’s alleged lies about Millian in October and November 2017 mattered for FISA coverage that ended in September 2017) defy physics, the bar for materiality is low and he will clearly surpass it on some of his materiality claims.

The issue, however, is that Durham is now on the hook, with regards to discovery, for all of his materiality claims covering both the charged lies and the uncharged allegations. Danchenko may now demand evidence that undercuts these claims, even the ones that don’t relate directly to the charged lies.

The Section 702 directive targeting Olga Galkina

Durham makes two materiality claims pertaining to Danchenko’s friend, Olga Galkina, to whom he sourced all the discredited Michael Cohen reports and a claim about Carter Page’s meetings in July 2016:

  • That by lying about how indiscreet he was about his relationship with Christopher Steele, Danchenko prevented the FBI from learning that Russian spies might inject disinformation into the dossier through people like Galkina.
  • That by lying on June 15, 2017, Danchenko prevented the FBI from learning that Charles Dolan “maintained a pre-existing and ongoing relationship” with Galkina, which led Galkina to have access to senior Russian officials she wouldn’t otherwise have had. Dolan’s ties with Galkina also appear to have led to Galkina serving as a cut-out between Dolan and Danchenko for information for one of the reports (pertaining to the reassignment of a US Embassy staffer) in the dossier.

I’m unclear why Durham made these claims — possibly because it was one of the only ways to criminalize the way Dolan served as a source for reports that were unrelated to the Carter Page applications, possibly because he wanted to do so to dump HILLARY HILLARY HILLARY in the middle of his indictment. But both claims are false.

To prove the first is false, Danchenko will point to Durham’s miscitation of the question Danchenko was actually asked, his answer — “yes and no” — to a question Durham claims he answered “no” to, and to his descriptions, from his very first interview, of how Galkina knew he was collecting intelligence and had even, after the release of the dossier, tasked him with an intelligence collection request herself.

To prove the second is false, Danchenko will point to the declassified footnote in the DOJ IG Report showing that in “early June 2017” (and so, presumably before June 15), the FBI obtained 702 collection that (the indictment makes clear) reflects extensive communications between Dolan and Galkina.

The FBI [received information in early June 2017 which revealed that, among other things, there were [redacted]] personal and business ties between the sub-source and Steele’s Primary Sub-source; contacts between the sub-source and an individual in the Russian Presidential Administration in June/July 2016; [redacted] and the sub‐source voicing strong support for candidate Clinton in the 2016 U.S. elections. The Supervisory Intel Analyst told us that the FBI did not have Section 702 coverage on any other Steele sub‐source. [my emphasis]

It’s highly likely the FBI set up that June 15, 2017 interview with Danchenko precisely to ask him about things they learned via that Section 702 collection. Based on what Durham has said so far, Danchenko provided information about key details of the relationship between Galkina and Dolan in the interview, thereby validating that he was not hiding the relationship entirely.

Had Danchenko affirmatively lied about this in January or March 2017, rather than just not sharing this information, Durham might have a case. But by June 2017, the FBI was already sitting on that 702 collection (to say nothing of the contact tracing analysts would have used to justify the 702 directive). That’s almost certainly why they asked the question about Dolan.

So even if Durham could manage to avoid introducing, as evidence at trial, Danchenko’s communications with Galkina that the FBI would have first obtained under FISA 702, and thereby stave off the FISA notice process required for aggrieved persons under FISA, Danchenko is still going to have cause to make Durham admit a slew of things about that Section 702 directive targeting Galkina, including:

  • What kind of contact-tracing alerted the FBI and NSA that Galkina had US-cloud based communications that would be of investigative interest (because that contact-tracing, by itself, disproves Durham’s materiality claim)
  • What communications FBI obtained from that Section 702 order and when (because if they indeed had the Galkina-Dolan communications on June 15, then nothing Danchenko could have said impeded the FBI from discovering them)
  • The approval process behind the release of this Section 702 information to Inspector General Michael Horowitz, and then to Congress, which in turn presumably alerted Durham to it, and whether it complied with new requirements about unmasking imposed in 2018 in response to the Carter Page FISA and conspiracy theories about Mike Flynn (it surely did, because unmasking for FBI collections is not really a thing, but Danchenko will have reason to ask how Congress got the communications and from there, how Durham did)

None of this kind of information has been released to a defendant before, but all of it is squarely material to combatting the claim that the FBI didn’t know about Galkina’s communications with Dolan when they asked Danchenko a question precisely because they did know about those communications. And Danchenko has the right to ask for it because of that reference to Section 702 that Ron Johnson and Chuck Grassley insisted on declassifying.

The Sergei Millian counterintelligence investigation

The paragraph describing that Durham is relying on Sergei Millian’s Twitter rants as part of his evidence to prove that Danchenko lied five times about Millian (just four of which are charged) misspells Danchenko’s name, the single such misspelling in the indictment. [Update: Though see William Ockham’s comment below that notes there’s a different misspelling of Danchenko’s name elsewhere in the Millian part of the indictment.]

Chamber President-1 has claimed in public statements and on social media that he never responded to DANCHEKNO’s [sic] emails, and that he and DANCHENKO never met or communicated.

That makes me wonder whether it was added in at the last minute, after all the proof-reading, perhaps in response to a question from the grand jury or Durham’s supervisors. If it was, it might indicate that Durham didn’t really think through all the implications of invoking Millian as a fact witness against Danchenko.

But, unless Durham has rock-solid proof that Danchenko invented a call he claimed to believe had involved Millian altogether, then this reference now gives Danchenko cause to submit incredibly broad discovery requests about Millian to discredit Millian as a witness against him. Durham made no claim that he has such rock-solid proof in the indictment. As I’ve noted, Danchenko told the FBI he replaced his phone by the time the Bureau started vetting the Steele dossier, so to rule out that the call occurred, Durham probably would need to have obtained the phone and found sufficient evidence that survived a factory reset to rule out a Signal call.

Before I explain all the things Danchenko will have good reason to demand, let me review Durham’s explanation for why the alleged lies about Millian (Durham has charged separate lies on March 16, May 18, October 24, and November 16, 2017) were material:

Based on the foregoing, DANCHENKO’s lies to the FBI claiming to have received a late July 2016 anonymous phone call from an individual that DANCHENKO believed to be Chamber President-1 were highly material to the FBI because, among other reasons, the allegations sourced to Chamber President-1 by DANCHENKO formed the basis of a Company Report that, in turn, underpinned the aforementioned four FISA applications targeting a U.S. citizen (Advisor­ 1). Indeed, the allegations sourced to Chamber President-1 played a key role in the FBI’s investigative decisions and in sworn representations that the FBI made to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court throughout the relevant time period. Further, at all times relevant to this Indictment, the FBI continued its attempts to analyze, vet, and corroborate the information in the Company Reports. [my emphasis]

As I have noted above, it is temporally nonsensical to claim that lies Danchenko told in October and November 2017 “played a role in sworn representations that the FBI made to FISC” when the last such representation was made in June 2017. And Danchenko will be able to make a solid case that no matter what he said in March and May, it would have had no impact on the targeting of Carter Page, because as a 400-page report lays out in depth, really damning details about the Millian claim that Danchenko freely did share in January had no impact on the targeting of Carter Page. Even derogatory things Christopher Steele said about Millian in October 2016 never made any of the Page FISA applications. The DOJ IG has claimed and Judge Rosemary Collyer agreed that FBI was at fault for all this, because they weren’t integrating any of the new information learned from vetting the dossier. Danchenko might even be able to call a bunch of FBI witnesses who were fired as a result to prove they were held accountable for it and so he can’t be blamed.

So Durham will substantially have to rely on “investigative decisions” and FBI efforts to vet the dossier to prove that Danchenko’s claimed lies about Millian were material. And that will make the FBI investigations into Millian himself and George Papadopoulos relevant and helpful to Danchenko’s defense, because those are some of the investigative decisions at issue.

That’s not the only reason that Danchenko will be able to demand that DOJ share information on Millian. Durham has made Millian a fact witness against Danchenko, and — by relying on Millian’s Twitter feed — in the most ridiculous possible way. So Danchenko will be able to demand evidence that DOJ should possesses (but may not) that he can use to explain why Millian might lie about a call between the two.

Some things Danchenko will credibly be able to demand in discovery include:

  • Extensive details about Sergei Millian’s Twitter account. Durham presented Millian’s Twitter account to the grand jury as authoritative with regards to Millian’s denials of having any direct call with Danchenko. Danchenko has reason to ask Durham for an explanation why he did so, as well as a collection of all tweets that Millian has made going back to 2016 (most of which Millian has since deleted, some of which will raise questions about Millian’s sincerity and claimed knowledge of non-public information). In addition, because there have been questions (probably baseless, but nevertheless persistent) during this period about whether Millian was personally running his own Twitter campaign, Danchenko can present good cause to ask for the IP and log-in information for the entire period, either from the government or from Twitter. While it would be more of a stretch, Millian’s Twitter crowd includes some accounts that have been identified as inauthentic by Twitter and others that were involved in publicly exposing Danchenko’s identity; Danchenko might point to this as further evidence of Millian’s motives behind his Twitter rants. Finally, Danchenko will also have cause to ask how Millian got seeming advance notice of his own indictment if Durham’s investigators never bothered to put Millian before a grand jury.

  • Details of the counterintelligence investigation into Millian. After the first release of the DOJ IG Report, the FBI declassified parts of discussions of a counterintelligence investigation that the New York Field Office opened into Millian days before October 12, 2016. The IG Report describes that Millian was “previously known to the FBI,” and does not tie that CI investigation to any allegations that Fusion made against Millian (though I don’t rule it out). Danchenko will obviously be able to ask for access to the still-redacted parts of those IG Report references, because the same things (whatever they were) that led FBI to think Millian was a spy would be things that Danchenko could use to offer a motive for why Millian would lie about having spoken to Danchenko. Danchenko also has cause to ask for details from Millian’s own FBI file. The basis for that counterintelligence investigation, and any derogatory conclusions, would provide Danchenko means to raise questions about Millian’s credibility or at least alternative motives for Millian to claim no such call took place.
  • Details of how Millian cultivated George Papadopoulos. The IG Report also reveals that, even before the Carter Page application, the FBI was aware of the extensive ties between Millian and George Papadopoulos. Because Durham claims that Danchenko’s alleged lies — and not direct evidence pertaining to the relationship between Millian and Papadopoulos — drove the FBI’s investigative decisions from 2017 through the end of the Mueller investigation, Danchenko will have reason to ask for non-public details about some aspects of the Papadopoulos investigation, as well, not least because (as the Mueller Report makes clear) the initial contacts between Millian and Papadopoulos exactly parallel in time — and adopted the same proposed initial meeting approach — the initial contact and the call that Danchenko claimed to believe he had with Millian. If the July 2016 call he believes he had with Millian didn’t occur, Danchenko will be able to argue persuasively, then how did he know precisely where and how Millian would conduct such meetings a week in advance of the initial meeting, in New York, that Millian had with Papadopoulos?

The Office investigated another Russia-related contact with Papadopoulos. The Office was not fully able to explore the contact because the individual at issue-Sergei Millian-remained out of the country since the inception of our investigation and declined to meet with members of the Office despite our repeated efforts to obtain an interview. Papadopoulos first connected with Millian via Linked-In on July 15, 2016, shortly after Papadopoulos had attended the TAG Summit with Clovis.500 Millian, an American citizen who is a native of Belarus, introduced himself “as president of [the] New York-based Russian American Chamber of Commerce,” and claimed that through that position he had ” insider knowledge and direct access to the top hierarchy in Russian politics.”501 Papadopoulos asked Timofeev whether he had heard of Millian.502 Although Timofeev said no,503 Papadopoulos met Millian in New York City.504 The meetings took place on July 30 and August 1, 2016.505 Afterwards, Millian invited Papadopoulos to attend-and potentially speak at-two international energy conferences, including one that was to be held in Moscow in September 2016.506 Papadopoulos ultimately did not attend either conference.

On July 31 , 2016, following his first in-person meeting with Millian, Papadopoulos emailed Trump Campaign official Bo Denysyk to say that he had been contacted “by some leaders of Russian-American voters here in the US about their interest in voting for Mr. Trump,” and to ask whether he should “put you in touch with their group (US-Russia chamber of commerce).”507 Denysyk thanked Papadopoulos “for taking the initiative,” but asked him to “hold off with outreach to Russian-Americans” because “too many articles” had already portrayed the Campaign, then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and candidate Trump as “being pro-Russian.”508

On August 23, 2016, Millian sent a Facebook message to Papadopoulos promising that he would ” share with you a disruptive technology that might be instrumental in your political work for the campaign.”509 Papadopoulos claimed to have no recollection of this matter.510

On November 9, 2016, shortly after the election, Papadopoulos arranged to meet Millian in Chicago to discuss business opportunities, including potential work with Russian “billionaires who are not under sanctions.”511 The meeting took place on November 14, 2016, at the Trump Hotel and Tower in Chicago.512 According to Papadopoulos, the two men discussed partnering on business deals, but Papadopoulos perceived that Millian’s attitude toward him changed when Papadopoulos stated that he was only pursuing private-sector opportunities and was not interested in a job in the Administration.5 13 The two remained in contact, however, and had extended online discussions about possible business opportunities in Russia. 514 The two also arranged to meet at a Washington, D.C. bar when both attended Trump’s inauguration in late January 2017.515 [my emphasis]

John Durham claims that Sergei Millian is a victim. But by making Millian a fact witness against Danchenko, Durham has given Danchenko the opportunity to obtain and air a great many details about why a DOJ prosecutor should review more than Twitter rants before treating Millian as a credible fact witness.

The Oleg Deripaska counterintelligence and sanctions investigations

Durham has also provided Danchenko multiple reasons to request details of a counterintelligence investigation that is ongoing and remains far more sensitive than the Millian one: The investigation into Oleg Deripaska.

Oleg Deripaska was the most likely client for a tasking Steele gave Danchenko immediately before the DNC one, collecting on Paul Manafort. Danchenko credibly claimed to the FBI that he did not know what client had hired Steele. If Deripaska was that client, it would be relevant and helpful to Danchenko’s defense to understand why Deripaska hired Steele.

That’s true, in significant part, because Deripaska is also the most likely culprit behind any disinformation injected into the Steele dossier. Among other things, by asking Steele to collect on Manafort and then monitoring how Steele did that, Deripaska could have used it to identify Steele’s reporting network.

Durham blames Danchenko for hiding the possibility of disinformation with one of his (false) uncharged conduct claims, but the Deripaska angle, about which Danchenko claimed to have no visibility either in real time in 2016 or by 2017, when he is accused of lying, would be the more important angle. And we know they were aware of the possibility and trying to assess whether that was possible even as they were vetting the dossier. But, as Bill Priestap told DOJ IG, he couldn’t figure out how this would work.

what he has tried to explain to anybody who will listen is if that’s the theory [that Russian Oligarch 1 ran a disinformation campaign through [Steele] to the FBI], then I’m struggling with what the goal was. So, because, obviously, what [Steele] reported was not helpful, you could argue, to then [candidate] Trump. And if you guys recall, nobody thought then candidate Trump was going to win the election. Why the Russians, and [Russian Oligarch 1] is supposed to be close, very close to the Kremlin, why the Russians would try to denigrate an opponent that the intel community later said they were in favor of who didn’t really have a chance at winning, I’m struggling, with, when you know the Russians, and this I know from my Intelligence Community work: they favored Trump, they’re trying to denigrate Clinton, and they wanted to sow chaos. I don’t know why you’d run a disinformation campaign to denigrate Trump on the side. [brackets original]

Since Durham blamed Danchenko for hiding the possibility of disinformation when questions like these did more to impede such considerations, Danchenko has good reason to ask for anything assessing whether Deripaska did use the dossier as disinformation, not least because DOJ was getting ample information to pursue that angle before Danchenko’s first interview, via Bruce Ohr (for which DOJ fired Ohr).

There’s a Millian angle to Danchenko’s case he should get information on the counterintelligence investigation into Deripaska, too. At a time when Deripaska was already tasking both sides of his double game — using Christopher Steele to make Paul Manafort legally vulnerable and then using Manafort’s legal and financial vulnerability to entice his cooperation in the election operation — Deripaska and Millian met at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in June 2016, the same convention that Michael Cohen was invited to attend to pursue an impossibly lucrative Trump Tower deal and to which Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko repeatedly invited Trump (as this post makes clear, Mueller obtained only unsigned versions of Trump’s letter declining Prikhodko’s invitation).

Millian’s documented meeting with Deripaska during 2016 would provide Danchenko several reasons to want access to some of the investigative materials from the Deripaska investigations. First, if Millian and Deripaska had further contact, either in 2016, or since then, it would suggest that Millian’s denials that he called Danchenko may be part of the same disinformation strategy as any disinformation inserted via Deripaska-linked sources into the dossier itself.

If Millian had no ongoing relationship with Deripaska after they met up in June 2016, however, it suggests a possible alternate explanation for the call that, Danchenko consistently claimed in 2017, he believed to be Millian: That someone learned of Danchenko’s outreach (the Novosti journalists through whom Danchenko first got Millian’s contact information are one possible source of this information, but not the only one) and called Danchenko seemingly in response to Danchenko’s outreach to Millian as another way to inject disinformation into the dossier.

Finally, Danchenko may request information on Deripaska to unpack the provenance of the investigation against him altogether. After meeting with a Deripaska deputy in January 2017, Paul Manafort returned to the US and pushed a strategy to discredit the Russian investigation by discrediting the dossier, using Deripaska’s associate Konstantin Kilimnik to obtain information about its sources. That strategy adopted by Manafort is a strategy that has led, directly, to this Durham inquiry.

If Deripaska participated in any disinformation efforts involving the dossier and instructed Manafort to exploit the disinformation he knew had been planted — if this very investigation is the fruit of the same disinformation campaign that Durham blames Danchenko for hiding — then Danchenko would have good reason to make broad discovery requests about it.

DOJ has continued to redact Deripaska-related investigative detail under ongoing investigation exemptions. And Treasury refused Deripaska’s own attempt to learn why he was sanctioned. So it’s likely DOJ would want to guard these details closely.

But Deripaska’s key role in the Russian operation even as he was tasking Steele to harm Manafort, the tie between Millian and Deripaska, and the effort to use the dossier to discredit the Russian investigation make such requests directly relevant and helpful to Danchenko’s defense.

The Carter Page FISA Collection

This entire Durham investigation is, at least metonymically, an attempt to avenge Carter Page’s (and through him, Trump’s) purported victimization at the hands of the Steele dossier.

But even with Page, Durham’s materiality claims may expose Page to more scrutiny than he ever would have been without this case. Page may well have been victimized by the dossier itself, but Danchenko is not accused of any crime in conjunction with his collection related to the dossier. Instead, he is charged with lies to the FBI in March, May, October, and November 2017. There’s plenty of evidence in the 400-page DOJ IG Report that nothing Danchenko could have said in those earlier interviews could have altered FISA targeting decisions in April and June, and it would be impossible for lies told in October and November to have affected coverage that ended in September.

That means that Durham will have to provide Danchenko a great deal of information on the investigation into Page — including on Page’s willing sharing of non-public information with Russians in 2013, his seeming efforts to reestablish contact with the Russians in 2015, his enthusiastic pursuit of Russian funding to set up a think tank in 2016, and his ongoing connections in 2017 — to afford Danchenko the ability to argue that the dossier didn’t matter because, as a Republican Congressperson with access to all the intelligence told me in July 2018, the case for surveilling Page was a slam dunk even without it.

Providing Danchenko the Mueller materials will be the easy part. They would be helpful to Danchenko’s defense because they show that rumors about Page meeting Igor Sechin were circulating Moscow, not just among Steele’s sources; there was time during Page’s July 2016 trip to Moscow that was unaccounted for, even to those who organized his trip; and via the Page investigation, Mueller corroborated that Kirill Dimitriev (the guy who had a back channel meeting with Erik Prince) would be an important source on Russia’s tracking of Trump. Mueller materials will also show that the FBI came to suspect that one of the contacts involved in bringing Page to Russia in July 2016 was being recruited by Russian spies, providing independent reason to continue the investigation into Page. Mueller investigative materials will provide new details on Konstantin Kilimnik’s report to Paul Manafort that Page was claiming to speak on Trump’s behalf on his trip to Moscow in December 2016, something that may have exposed Trump as a victim of Page’s misrepresentations in Russia, which in turn, heightened the import of learning why Page was making such claims. Language from Mueller’s still-classified description of his decision not to charge Page as a Russian agent may also prove relevant and helpful to Danchenko’s defense.

But it’s not just the Mueller materials. To combat Durham’s claim that Danchenko’s claimed lies were material to the ongoing targeting of Carter Page in April and June 2017, the defendant obviously must be given access to substantial materials from Page’s FISA applications (October 2016, January 2017, April 2017, June 2017). Danchenko will be able to undercut Durham’s materiality arguments in at least two ways with these materials. First, as Andrew McCabe understood it, the first period of FISA collection was “very productive,” and others at FBI described that the collection showed Page’s, “access to individuals in Russia and [his communications] with people in the Trump campaign, which created a concern that Russia could use their influence with Carter Page to effect policy.” Danchenko can certainly ask for these discussions to argue that, even before he ever spoke to the FBI in January 2017, things the FBI learned by targeting Page under FISA created new reason to continue to task him, independent of the dossier.

Even more critically, redacted passages of the DOJ IG Report suggest that the decision to continue targeting Page in June 2017 stemmed almost entirely from a desire to get to financial and encrypted app information from Page that might not be otherwise available.

[A]vailable documents indicate that one of the focuses of the Carter Page investigation at this time was obtaining his financial records. NYFO sought compulsory legal process in April 2017 for banking and financial records for Carter Page and his company, Global Energy Capital, as well as information relating to two encrypted online applications, one of which Page utilized on his cell phone. Documents reflect that agents also conducted multiple interviews of individuals associated with Carter Page.

Case Agent 6 told us, and documents reflect, that despite the ongoing investigation, the team did not expect to renew the Carter Page FISA before Renewal Application No. 2’s authority expired on June 30. Case Agent 6 said that the FISA collection the FBI had received during the second renewal period was not yielding any new information. The OGC Attorney told us that when the FBI was considering whether to seek further FISA authority following Renewal Application No. 2, the FISA was “starting to go dark.” During one of the March 2017 interviews, Page told Case Agent 1 and Case Agent 6 that he believed he was under surveillance and the agents did not believe continued surveillance would provide any relevant information. Cast Agent 6 said [redacted]

SSA 5 and SSA 2 said that further investigation yielded previously unknown locations that they believed could provide information of investigative value, and they decided to seek another renewal. Specifically, SSA 5 and Case Agent 6 told us, and documents reflect, that [redacted] they decided to seek a third renewal. [redacted]

If declassified versions of this report (and the underlying back-up) confirm that, it means Danchenko’s alleged lies in May and June were virtually meaningless in ongoing decisions to target Page, because FBI would otherwise have detasked him if not for very specific accounts they wanted to target. Danchenko would need to be able to get declassified versions of that material to be able to make that argument.

Then there’s the FISA collection used to reauthorize FISA targeting on Page. There’s enough public about what FBI obtained for Danchenko to argue that he needs this collection to rebut the materiality claims Durham has made. For example, one redacted passage in reauthorization applications suggests that FBI learned information about whether Page’s break with the campaign was as significant as the campaign publicly claimed it was. Another redacted passage suggests FBI may have obtained intelligence that contradicted Page’s denials of certain meetings in Russia. A third redacted passage suggests that the FBI learned that Page was engaged in a limited hangout with his admissions of such meetings. Not only might some of this validate the dossier (and explain why Mueller treated the question of Page’s trips to Russia as inconclusive), but it provides specific reasons the FISA collection justified suspicions of Page, meaning FBI was no longer relying on the dossier.

Finally, since Durham claims that Danchenko’s lies impeded the FBI’s efforts to vet the dossier, Danchenko will need to be provided a great deal of information on those efforts.  This is another instance where files released as part of Trump’s efforts to undermine the investigation will help Danchenko prove there are discoverable materials he should get. This spreadsheet is what FBI used to vet the dossier. It shows that the FBI obtained information under the Carter Page FISA they used to vet a claim Danchenko sourced to his friend, Galkina, whom Durham made central to questions of materiality. Similarly, the FBI used information from the Page FISA to help vet the claim that Danchenko sourced (incorrectly or not) to Millian, which is utterly central to the case against him. Given Durham’s claims that Danchenko’s lies prevented FBI from doing this vetting, he can easily claim that obtaining this vetting information may be helpful and material to his defense (though it may in fact not be helpful).

This is a very long list and I’m not saying that Danchenko will succeed in getting this information, much less using it at trial.

What I’m saying is that it is quite literally unprecedented for a defendant to know specific details of two FISA orders — the 702 directive targeting Galkina and the Carter Page FISAs — that they can make credible arguments they need access to to mount a defense. Similarly, the ongoing, sensitive counterintelligence investigation into Oleg Deripaska (and Konstantin Kilimnik) is central to the background of the dossier. And Durham has made someone who — like Danchenko before him, was investigated as a potential Russian asset — a fact witness in this case.

Normally, prosecutors might look at the discovery challenges such legitimate defense demands would pose and decide not to try the case (it’s one likely reason, for example, why David Petraeus got away with a wrist-slap for sharing code-word information with his mistress, because the discovery to actually prosecute him would have done more damage than the conviction was worth; similarly, the secrecy of some evidence Mueller accessed likely drove some of his declination decisions). But Durham didn’t do so. He has committed himself to deal with some of the most sensitive discovery ever provided, and to do so with a foreign national defendant, all in pursuit of five not very well-argued false statements charges. That doesn’t mean Danchenko will get the evidence. But it means Durham is now stuck dealing with unprecedented discovery challenges.

In a follow-up, I’ll talk about how this will work and why it may be literally impossible for Durham to succeed.

Update: I’ve corrected the date of the month of the charged interview pertaining to Charles Dolan.

Update: In a story on an ongoing counterintellience investigation into a Russian expat group, Scott Stedman notes that the group was involved in Millian’s pitch to Papadopoulos in 2016.

Forensic News can reveal that Gladysh’s pro-Trump internet activity was much broader than previously known. In 2020, Gladysh’s Seattle-based Russian-American Cooperation Initiative founded a news website that nearly exclusively promoted Trump and disseminated Russian propaganda, according to internet archives.

The news website featured articles with the titles such as “Second Trump term is crucial to prospect of better U.S.-Russia relations, safer world,” and “Biden victory will spell disaster for U.S.-Russia relations, warns billionaire.” The billionaire referenced by the outlet is Oleg Deripaska, a key figure in the 2016 Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia.

[snip]

Morgulis attempted to rally Russian voters for Donald Trump in both the 2016 and 2020 U.S. Presidential Elections and allied himself with numerous associates connected to Russian intelligence and influence operations that have caught the attention of the FBI.

According to the Washington Post, Morgulis and Sergei Millian worked on a plan to rally Russian voters for Trump in 2016. Millian, who was in contact with Trump aide George Papadopoulos, later fled the country and was not able to be interviewed by investigators.

[snip]

Morgulis, Branson, and Millian all received Silver Archer Awards in 2015, a Russian public affairs accomplishment given to U.S. persons advancing Russian cultural and business interests. The founder of Silver Archer is Igor Pisarsky, a “Kremlin-linked public relations power player” who facilitated money transfers from a Russian oligarch to Maria Butina.

This will provide Danchenko cause to ask for details of that counterintelligence investigation.


Durham’s Materiality Claims

Durham’s general materiality argument makes three claims about the way that Danchenko’s alleged lies affected the FBI investigation. And then, nested underneath those claims, he made further claims (about half of which aren’t even charged), about the materiality of other things, a number of which have nothing to do with the Carter Page FISA. Of particular note, the bulk (in terms of pages) of this indictment discusses lies that Durham doesn’t tie back to Carter Page, even though he could have, had he treated Olga Galkina differently.

      • Danchenko’s lies were material because FBI relied on the dossier to obtain FISA warrants on Carter Page: “The FBI’ s investigation of the Trump Campaign relied in large part on the Company Reports to obtain FISA warrants on Advisor-1.”
        • Danchenko’s lie about believing Millian called him in July 2016 because it formed the basis of the FISA applications targeting Page: Danchenko’s alleged lies to the FBI about Millian, “claiming to have received a late July 2016 anonymous phone call from an individual that DANCHENKO believed to be Chamber President-I were highly material to the FBI because, among other reasons, the allegations sourced to Chamber President-I by DANCHENKO formed the basis of a Company Report that, in turn, underpinned the aforementioned four FISA applications targeting a U.S. citizen (Advisor­ 1).”
      • Danchenko’s lies were material because they made it harder for the FBI to vet the dossier: “The FBI ultimately devoted substantial resources attempting to investigate and corroborate the allegations contained in the Company Reports, including the reliability of DANCHENKO’s sub-sources.”
        • Danchenko’s lies about how indiscreet he was about collecting information for Steele prevented the FBI from understanding whether people, including Russia, could inject disinformation into the dossier: Accordingly, DANCHENKO’s January 24, 2017 statements (i) that he never mentioned U .K. Person-I or U .K. Investigative Firm-I to his friends or associates and (ii) that “you [the FBI] are the first people he’s told,” were knowingly and intentionally false. In truth and in fact, and as DANCHENKO well knew, DANCHENKO had informed a number of individuals about his relationship with U.K. Person-I and U.K. Investigative Firm-I. Such lies were material to the FBI’ s ongoing investigation because, among other reasons, it was important for the FBI to understand how discreet or open DANCHENKO had been with his friends and associates about his status as an employee of U .K. Investigative Firm-I, since his practices in this regard could, in tum, affect the likelihood that other individuals – including hostile foreign intelligence services – would learn of and attempt to influence DANCHENKO’s reporting for U.K. Investigative Firm1.
        • Dancheko’s lies about Charles Dolan prevented the FBI from learning that Dolan was well-connected in Russia, Dolan had ties to Hillary, and Danchenko gathered some of his information using access obtained through Dolan:  DANCHENKO’s lies denying PR Executive-1 ‘s role in specific information referenced in the Company Reports were material to the FBI because, among other reasons, they deprived FBI agents and analysts of probative information concerning PR Executive-I that would have, among other things, assisted them in evaluating the credibility, reliability, and veracity of the Company Reports, including DANCHENKO’s sub-sources. In particular, PR Executive-I maintained connections to numerous people and events described in several other reports, and DANCHENKO gathered information that appeared in the Company Reports during the June Planning Trip and the October Conference. In addition, and as alleged below, certain allegations that DANCHENKO provided to U.K. Person-I, and which appeared in other Company Reports, mirrored and/or reflected information that PR Executive-I himself also had received through his own interactions with Russian nationals. As alleged below, all of these facts rendered DANCHENKO’s lies regarding PR Executive-1 ‘s role as a source of information for the Company Reports highly material to the FBI’ s ongoing investigation. [snip] PR Executive-1 ‘s role as a contributor of information to the Company Reports was highly relevant and material to the FBI’s evaluation of those reports because (a) PR Executive-I maintained pre-existing and ongoing relationships with numerous persons named or described in the Company Reports, including one of DANCHENKO’s Russian sub-sources ( detailed below), (b) PR Executive-I maintained historical and ongoing involvement in Democratic politics, which bore upon PR Executive-I’s reliability, motivations, and potential bias as a source of information for the Company Reports, and (c) DANCHENKO gathered some of the information contained in the Company Reports at events in Moscow organized by PR Executive-I and others that DANCHENKO attended at PR Executive-1 ‘s invitation. Indeed, and as alleged below, certain allegations that DANCHENKO provided to U.K. Person-I, and which appeared in the Company Reports, mirrored and/or reflected information that PR Executive-I himself also had received through his own interactions with Russian nationals.
          • Danchenko’s lies about Dolan prevented the FBI from asking whether Dolan spoke to Danchenko about the Ritz Hotel: Based on the foregoing, DANCHENKO’s lies to the FBI denying that he had communicated with PR Executive-I regarding information in the Company Reports were highly material. Had DANCHENKO accurately disclosed to FBI agents that PR Executive-I was a source for specific information in the aforementioned Company Reports regarding Campaign Manager-1 ‘s departure from the Trump campaign, see Paragraphs 45-57, supra, the FBI might have taken further investigative steps to, among other things, interview PR Executive-I about (i) the June 2016 Planning Trip, (ii) whether PR Executive-I spoke with DANCHENKO about Trump’s stay and alleged activity in the Presidential Suite of the Moscow Hotel, and (iii) PR Executive-1 ‘s interactions with General Manager-I and other Moscow Hotel staff. In sum, given that PR Executive-I was present at places and events where DANCHENKO collected information for the Company Reports, DANCHENKO’s subsequent lie about PR Executive-1 ‘s connection to the Company Reports was highly material to the FBI’ s investigation of these matters.
          • Danchenko’s lies about Dolan prevented the FBI from asking Dolan whether he knew about a Russian Diplomat being reassigned from the US Embassy: Based on the foregoing, DANCHENKO’s lies to the FBI denying that he had communicated with PR Executive-I regarding information in the Company Reports were highly material. Had DANCHENKO accurately disclosed to FBI agents that PR Executive-I was a source for specific information in the Company Reports regarding Campaign Manager-I ‘s departure from the Trump campaign, see Paragraphs 45-57, supra, the FBI might also have taken further investigative steps to, among other things, interview PR Executive-I regarding his potential knowledge of Russian Diplomat-1 ‘s departure from the United States. Such investigative steps might have assisted the FBI in resolving the above-described discrepancy between DANCHENKO and U.K. Person-I regarding the sourcing of the allegation concerning Russian Diplomat-I.
          • Danchenko’s lies about Dolan prevented the FBI from asking whether Dolan was the source for the [true] report about reasons why Paul Manafort had left the Trump campaign: Based on the foregoing, DANCHENKO’s lie to the FBI about PR Executive-I not providing information contained in the Company Reports was highly material. Had DANCHENKO accurately disclosed to FBI agents that PR Executive-I was a source for specific information in the aforementioned Company Reports regarding Campaign Manager-I’s departure from the Trump campaign, see Paragraphs 45-57, supra, the FBI might have taken further investigative steps to, among other things, interview PR Executive-I regarding his potential knowledge of additional allegations in the Company Reports regarding Russian Chief of Staff-I. Such investigative steps might have, among other things, assisted the FBI in determining whether PR Executive-I was one of DANCHENKO’s “other friends” who provided the aforementioned information regarding Putin’s firing of Russian Chief of Staff-I.
        • Danchenko’s lies about a phone call made it harder for the FBI to vet the dossier: Danchenko’s alleged lies about Millian were material because, “at all times relevant to this Indictment, the FBI continued its attempts to analyze, vet, and corroborate the information in the Company Report.”
      • The FBI took and did not take certain actions because of Danchenko’s lies: “The Company Reports, as well as information collected for the Reports by DANCHENKO, played a role in the FBI’s investigative decisions and in sworn representations that the FBI made to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court throughout the relevant time period.”
        • Danchenko’s alleged lies about Millian affected both FBI’s investigative decisions and played a role in their FISA applications: They “played a key role in the FBI’s investigative decisions and in sworn representations that the FBI made to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court throughout the relevant time period.”

Sources

DOJ IG Report on Carter Page

Mueller Report

October 2016 Page FISA Application

January 2017 Page FISA Application

April 2017 Page FISA Application

June 2017 Page FISA Application

Dossier vetting spreadsheet

Danchenko posts

The Igor Danchenko Indictment: Structure

John Durham May Have Made Igor Danchenko “Aggrieved” Under FISA

“Yes and No:” John Durham Confuses Networking with Intelligence Collection

Daisy-Chain: The FBI Appears to Have Asked Danchenko Whether Dolan Was a Source for Steele, Not Danchenko

Source 6A: John Durham’s Twitter Charges

John Durham: Destroying the Purported Victims to Save Them

John Durham’s Cut-and-Paste Failures — and Other Indices of Unreliability

Aleksej Gubarev Drops Lawsuit after DOJ Confirms Steele Dossier Report Naming Gubarev’s Company Came from His Employee

In Story Purporting to “Reckon” with Steele’s Baseless Insinuations, CNN Spreads Durham’s Unsubstantiated Insinuations

On CIPA and Sequestration: Durham’s Discovery Deadends

The Disinformation that Got Told: Michael Cohen Was, in Fact, Hiding Secret Communications with the Kremlin

 

Source 6A: John Durham’s Twitter Charges

According to the Igor Danchenko indictment, John Durham does not claim to have interviewed the most important witness in the four false statements charges against Danchenko relating to Sergei Millian: Sergei Millian.

After laying out some of the facts behind the charges that accuse Danchenko of falsely telling the FBI on five occasions (just four of which are charged) that he received a call from someone he assumed to be Millian, who told him about ongoing communications between Trump and Russia, Durham notes that on Twitter, Millian has claimed that he and Danchenko never communicated directly.

Chamber President-1 has claimed in public statements and on social media that he never responded to DANCHEKNO’s [sic] emails, and that he and DANCHENKO never met or communicated.

Let me be clear: the filing of a report based off a call like the one Danchenko described, even assuming it exists, is dodgy as hell. I’m not defending that or arguing that Danchenko didn’t lie; I’ll wait for the trial on the latter point.

But it is astounding that Durham appears to have filed an indictment without ever requiring Millian to go on the record, under oath, particularly given all the evidence about Millian in DOJ’s coffers and some of the other things Millian has said online. If that’s what happened, it exactly replicates the sin that, Republicans wail, happened with the Steele dossier, taking the word of someone who once was under counterintelligence investigation (as Danchenko was years before his work on the dossier and Millian was in 2016), though does so here not just to obtain a FISA warrant, but to obtain an indictment.

Absent a great deal more evidence than what Durham describes here, I think these four counts will pose remarkable challenges for Durham’s prosecution (some of which I’ll explain in a follow-up, hopefully my last post on this indictment).

The general outline of the charge is that, starting with his very first interview, Danchenko attributed significant parts of this report to Millian, whom the FBI referred to as “Source 6”:

a well-developed conspiracy of co-operation between them and the Russian leadership. This was managed on the TRUMP side by the Republican candidates campaign manager, Paul MANAFORT, who was using foreign policy advisor Carter PAGE, and others as intermediaries. The two sides had a mutual interest in defeating Democratic presidential candidate Hillary CLINTON, whom President PUTIN apparently both hated and feared.

Danchenko never described this exchange as anything but sketchy and by his description, he claimed Steele overstated the claim. Here’s how it appeared the first time:

This report involves reporting from “Source E” — reporting which [Danchenko] ties, at least in part, to [Millian]. [Danchenko related the story about his contact with [Millian], in either late June or July 2016. [redacted] — he reached out to [a Novosti journalist]. He asked [the journalist who had written about Millian] some of the questions Orbis had tasked him with regarding Trump’s Russian connections, and [the journalist] put him in contact with another of his [redacted] colleagues, [USPER 2]. [The journalist] said that [USPER2] had [Millian’s] contact information, and that [Millian] was someone with whom [Danchenko] should speak. [Millian] was, according to [Danchenko], someone with whom “they” [redacted] were talking. There was even talk about [Danchenko] meeting with [USPER2] in person, but it did not happen.

[Danchenko] reached out to [Millian] via email twice. He never received a response from the first attempt, but after the second attempt, he received in circa late [redacted] 2016 a very strange phone call from a Russian male who he believed to be [Millian], but who never identified himself. The individual on the other end of the call never identified himself. The two of them talked for a bit, and the two of them tentatively agreed to meet in person in [NY] at the end of July. At the end of July, [Danchenko] traveled with [redacted] to [New York], but the meeting never took place and no one ever called [Danchenko] back. Altogether, he had only a single phone call with an individual he thought to be [Millian]. The call was either a cellular call, or it was a communication through a phone app. [Danchenko will look back at his phone to see if he can get caller information].

The following day, as he did with a few other allegations he explained in the first day of a serial interview, Danchenko provided more details, some of them additional details — such as that he met the Novosti journalist who first directed him to contact Millian at a Thai restaurant — and some clarifications, such as that one email was June or July and a follow-up was September (which was incorrect; it was late August). That clarification, however, should have alerted the FBI that the timeline of this explanation didn’t work, as it would put the claimed phone call before the second email.

As Danchenko described the actual content of the conversation with the anonymous person who called him, all details were arguably true at the time of the conversation in July 2016:

  • There was communication between Russia and Trump
  • There was “exchange of information” but there was “nothing bad about it”
  • Some of this could be damaging to Trump, but deniable, and some could be good for Russia

As he had the previous day, Danchenko offered to pull up his communications to provide more details about this, making it clear that he had not yet done so. Obviously, DOJ ultimately did obtain the emails Danchenko exchanged with Millian and the Novosti journalists, because they are one of the only pieces of proof offered in the indictment for these charges.

Durham didn’t charge this January 2017 instance of what he claims was a lie, perhaps because the FBI came away from that interview believing that Danchenko was, “truthful and cooperative,” probably in part because Danchenko had clarified that the report was overblown.

Instead, Durham charged four other interviews in which Danchenko told the same story: March 16, May 18, October 24, and November 16, 2017, the latter two of which post-dated a Steele interview with the DOJ.

In each instance where Durham quotes Danchenko’s actual words (he doesn’t quote much from the November 16 instance and Durham doesn’t claim that interview was recorded, as the March and May ones were), Durham eliminates a caveat Danchenko made in the interview when describing the alleged lie in the actual charge — “I don’t know,” I’m not sure if I, he called … at the time I was under the impression it was him,” “at least someone who I thought was him” — maintaining a consistent pattern, on Durham’s part, of making material omissions in indictments charging material omissions. He treats a likely inadvertent misstatement from October 24 — that Danchenko believed he spoke to Millian a couple of times — as a lie unto itself.

And Durham lards on the same alleged lie, over and over and over and over. Even if Danchenko were found guilty on all four counts, it would have little effect on the sentence (though if Danchenko is found guilty, the real sentence will be deportation after sentence, after which he surely will face stiff retaliation in Russia for his role in all this).

This is the action of a prosecutor who is either throwing a tantrum, or someone who is uncertain of his own charges, and so is ensuring he gets multiple shots at proving an alleged lie by charging it in four different ways (perhaps hoping he can get Danchenko on his statement that he believed he spoke to Millian a couple of times).

As noted, Durham doesn’t claim to have testimony from Sergei Millian, beyond Millian spouting off on the Internet.

Durham also doesn’t properly account for the fact that Danchenko’s belief that this was Millian in July 2016, which is how the report in question was sourced, would easily have been different than his belief in August 2016, when he sent a follow-up email to Millian, and different still in a series of interviews in 2017, which makes his omission of Danchenko’s caveats on that point all the more problematic.

He similarly doesn’t commit to whether he believes Danchenko made up the entire phone call and attempted meeting in New York (Durham did not, for example, charge Danchenko with fraud for billing poor Christopher Steele for claiming he tried to meet a suspected source when, instead, he was on a jaunt to the Bronx Zoo), or whether he believes someone else called Danchenko, knowing precisely the information Danchenko was looking for, and provided — at least according to Danchenko’s description — accurate information that reflected some knowledge of ongoing contacts between Trump and the Russians.

Again, given that there are no records about what Danchenko told Steele and given their conflicting testimony, he likely can’t know what the truth is (even assuming he’s right that Millian did not call Danchenko, a claim he doesn’t claim to have gotten Millian to assert under oath).

Danchenko replaced his phone before any of these FBI interviews, so unless FBI found a way to retrieve it and managed to reconstruct contents after a factory reset, it’s not clear Durham can rule out a Signal call.

The proof that Durham offers that this is a lie is that, after the failed (claimed) attempt to meet in New York, Danchenko sent an August 18 email to Millian that reflected no prior direct communication, and an August 24, 2016 email to one of the Novosti journalists stating that,

for some reason [Millian] doesn’t respond.

[snip]

Would you be able to ask him to reply to me? I could call or write on Linkedln, but until he responds I would not like to pester him.

It will be a cinch for Danchenko to explain away both of these communications.

Durham doesn’t mention a claim Danchenko made about a conversation he had with the Novosti journalists after the first attempted contact, who told Danchenko that Millian asked them about Danchenko, something that might either corroborate Danchenko’s claimed belief or provide other explanations for the claimed call.

The only other proof that Durham offers in the indictment (it’s possible he will try to bring in communications involving Fusion, except the timing of Fusion’s actual obsessions about Millian are not entirely helpful on that front, and unless and until he finally charges the conspiracy he seems to want to charge, it’s not clear he’ll be able to introduce communications to which Danchenko was not a party) is that Steele had a differing understanding of what happened than Danchenko; there’s abundant evidence both men were fluffing their work for the actual content of the dossier, making it difficult to identify where a game of telephone ended and where actual knowing lies began. Significantly, Durham offers evidence that Danchenko freely admitted to not correcting Steele on whether he actually met or attempted to meet Millian; he offers no evidence that Danchenko affirmatively lied to Steele about whether he met Millian or not.

Sergei Millian was designated Source 6 in the FBI’s attempts to vet Danchenko’s contributions. And now Durham is prosecuting Danchenko based off Twitter evidence, a clear invitation for a significant Sixth Amendment challenge on Danchenko’s part.

Update: On Twitter, Millian (whose tweets are now admissible before EDVA, thanks to John Durham) is making it clear he doesn’t understand the significance of due process and the Sixth Amendment. He even seems to think that the fact that he now claims to be something something independent reporter means that his public statements (and a good deal of what the US government has in its possession) won’t be discoverable to Danchenko.

Millian repeatedly dodged my question about whether he had been interviewed, much less under oath.

Danchenko posts

The Igor Danchenko Indictment: Structure

John Durham May Have Made Igor Danchenko “Aggrieved” Under FISA

“Yes and No:” John Durham Confuses Networking with Intelligence Collection

Daisy-Chain: The FBI Appears to Have Asked Danchenko Whether Dolan Was a Source for Steele, Not Danchenko

Source 6A: John Durham’s Twitter Charges

John Durham: Destroying the Purported Victims to Save Them

John Durham’s Cut-and-Paste Failures — and Other Indices of Unreliability

Aleksej Gubarev Drops Lawsuit after DOJ Confirms Steele Dossier Report Naming Gubarev’s Company Came from His Employee

In Story Purporting to “Reckon” with Steele’s Baseless Insinuations, CNN Spreads Durham’s Unsubstantiated Insinuations

On CIPA and Sequestration: Durham’s Discovery Deadends

The Disinformation that Got Told: Michael Cohen Was, in Fact, Hiding Secret Communications with the Kremlin

Daisy-Chain: The FBI Appears to Have Asked Danchenko Whether Dolan Was a Source for Steele, Not Danchenko

You might be under the impression that John Durham has charged Igor Danchenko with multiple counts of lying regarding the role of Charles Dolan in the sourcing of the dossier. You might similarly be under the impression that, in the indictment, Durham alleges that Dolan was the source for the pee tape.

You’d be forgiven for believing those things. After all, the WaPo reported charges, plural, showed that “some of the material” in the Steele dossier came from Dolan.

The indictment also suggests Danchenko may have lied to Steele and others about where he was getting his information. Some of the material came from a Democratic Party operative with long-standing ties to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, according to the charges, rather than well-connected Russians with insight into the Kremlin.

The allegations cast new uncertainty on some past reporting on the dossier by news organizations, including The Washington Post.

Relying on that report, Jonathan Swan described charges, plural, that Dolan was, “one of the sources for the rumors about Trump.”

And Barry Meier, who so badly misunderstood the import of Oleg Deripaska in his book on private intelligence, also claimed there were charges, plural, relating to Dolan and insinuated that Durham had alleged the pee tape came from him.

In Durham’s indictment, however, Danchenko comes across more like the type of paid informant often found in the world of private spying — one who tells their employer what they want to hear.

According to those charges, he supposedly fed Steele some information that did not come from Kremlin-linked sources, as the dossier claims, but was gossip he picked up from an American public-relations executive with Democratic Party ties who did business in Moscow. In 2016, the indictment states, the manager of the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow gave that executive a tour of the the hotel’s presidential suite, and soon afterward, Danchenko took a selfie of himself and the executive at the hotel.

Reporting on Danchenko’s arraignment, WaPo went off at more length, not only failing to distinguish an uncharged accusation as such (one likely source of the belief that Durham charged multiple counts pertaining to Dolan), but stating as fact that Danchenko made up an entire conversation — one Danchenko has consistently attributed to a named Russian source — regarding the pee tape.

He is also accused of lying about revealing to sources that he was working for Steele.

Durham says Danchenko made up a conversation he claimed was the source of one of the dossier’s most salacious claims, that Trump paid prostitutes at a Moscow hotel room to urinate on a bed in which President Barack Obama had once slept. The dossier also suggested Russian intelligence agencies had secretly recorded that event as potential blackmail material. Trump has denied any such encounter.

The indictment suggests that story came from Dolan, who in June 2016 toured a suite at a hotel in Moscow that was once occupied by Trump.

There is a single charge related to Dolan in the Danchenko indictment. It claims that Danchenko, “denied to the FBI that he had spoken with [Dolan] about any material contained in the Company Reports.”

On or about June 15, 2017, within the Eastern District of Virginia, IGOR DANCHENKO, the defendant, did willfully and knowingly make a materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statement or representation in a matter before the jurisdiction of the executive branch of the Government of the United States, to wit, on or about June 15, 2017, the defendant denied to agents of the FBI that he had spoken with PR Executive-1 about any material contained in the Company Reports, when in truth and in fact, and as the defendant well knew, PR Executive-1 was the source for an allegation contained in a Company Report dated August 22, 2016 and was otherwise involved in the events and information described in the reports. [my emphasis]

But Durham only claims that Dolan was the source for one report in the dossier, a claim that Manafort was forced to resign not just because of the revelations of his Ukrainian corruption, but also because Corey Lewandowski had it in for him.

Close associate of TRUMP explains reasoning behind [Manafort’s] recent resignation. Ukraine revelations played part but others wanted [Manafort] out for various reasons, especially [Lewandowski] who remains influential

[snip]

Speaking separately, also in late August 2016, an American political figure associated with Donald TRUMP and his campaign outlined the reasons behind [Manafort’s] recent demise. S/he said it was true that the Ukraine corruption revelations had played a part in this, but also, several senior players close to TRUMP had wanted [Manafort] out, primarily to loosen his control on strategy and policy formulation. Of particular importance in this regard was [Manafort’s] predecessor as campaign manager, [Lewandowski], who hated [Manafort] personally and remained close to TRUMP with whom he discussed the presidential campaign on a regular basis.

This may be the most provably accurate claim in the dossier. And for good reason: that’s because, as Dolan told the FBI, he didn’t get it from a friend of his, but instead from public news sources.

PR Executive-1 later acknowledged to the FBI that he never met with a “GOP friend” in relation to this information that he passed to DANCHENKO, but, rather, fabricated the fact of the meeting in his communications with DANCHENKO. PR Executive-1 instead obtained the information about Campaign Manager-1 from public news sources. According to PR Executive-1, he (PR Executive-1) was not aware at the time of the specifics of DANCHENKO’s “project against Trump,” or that DANCHENKO’s reporting would be provided to the FBI.

Durham makes no claim that Danchenko knew that Dolan had a make-believe GOP friend. And, as noted, Dolan told the FBI (it’s unclear whether this was Durham’s team or Mueller’s, which is actually critical to the viability of this charge) that at this point in August 2016, two months after the pee tape report, he did not know the specifics of the dossier project.

I don’t doubt that Dolan was the source for the (accurate) Lewandowski claim. And if Durham can also prove that Danchenko considered himself the source for this report (Danchenko seems not to have recognized some reports that Christopher Steele based on his reporting) and that he remembered this particular report when he was asked this question, then Durham might well make this charge stick.

As for the pee tape, Durham insinuates that Dolan had some role in it (and, given Durham’s focus on Dolan’s Democratic ties, suggests it was willful) based on the accusation that Danchenko denied that Dolan, “was otherwise involved in the events and information described in the reports,” which is so vague it’s not clear whether Durham actually knows what actually happened with this and the other allegation relating to Dolan in question. Indeed, given that both Danchenko and Steele injected inaccuracies into the process and neither has records of what occurred between them, it would be hard to know for sure.

In his explanation for that report in his first interviews, Danchenko definitely seems to have either borrowed the events Dolan participated in at the Ritz Hotel (Dolan was there in June 2016 to plan a conference that took place in October 2016, and Danchenko visited at the hotel during his own June 2016 trip to Moscow) or independently asked questions of staffers while he was visiting Dolan. That’s because Danchenko’s description suggests “he had a meeting with the managers” in June 2016 that Durham notes, he didn’t attend.

[H]e had a meeting with the managers [redacted]. During a free minute, he asked about “this stuff about Trump at the hotel.” His interlocutors laughed it off, stating that “all kinds of things happen at the hotel” and with celebrities, “one never knows what they’re doing.” [Danchenko] said that it wasn’t a denial. And asking the hotel staff who were assisting with the [redacted] arrangements, one girl commented that “anything goes at the hotel, and added that, “officially, we don’t have prostitutes.”

I’m agnostic; Danchenko might have been deliberately lying here or forgetful — he definitely corrected misimpressions between his first and second day of interviews without prompting from FBI. But he cleaned this claim up in one of his later interviews (Durham does not describe how long it took FBI to clarify this, and it actually matters to several aspects of his case).

During the Interviews in or about 201 7 in which he was asked about this Company Report, DANCHENKO initially claimed to have stayed at the Moscow Hotel in June 2016. DANCHENKO later acknowledged in a subsequent interview, however, that he did not stay at the Moscow Hotel until the October Conference.

He also, in a March 2017 interview, claimed the staff member of the hotel had not confirmed the pee tape allegation, only that there was chatter about such claims (though this claim, too, may have involved Danchenko borrowing the experience of Dolan to claim he had met with a hotel staffer).

he/she spoke with at least one staff member at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Moscow who said that there were stories concerning Trump’s alleged sexual activities, not that the activities themselves had been confirmed by the staff member

If Danchenko knowingly lied, it seems to have involved borrowing details from the events Dolan attended to make his own account sound more credible, effectively to explain away why he had such ready access to Ritz staffers. That would require no involvement from Dolan aside from sharing details of his own itinerary with Danchenko at lunch and having them unknowingly used to lend credibility to rumors Danchenko was already sharing. Yet the WaPo nevertheless reported as fact that, “The indictment suggests that story came from Dolan.”

I’m not saying Danchenko didn’t either lie or shade his testimony or simply work from memory because he, by design, had almost no records of his work. But that doesn’t mean the charge — to say nothing of Durham’s gratuitous effort to link it to Hillary — is sound.

That’s because the FBI appears to have asked Danchenko not whether Dolan had been a source of Danchenko’s, but instead whether Dolan had been a source for Steele.

Here are the transcript excerpts Durham includes from the June 15, 2017 interview which — as a declassified footnote from the DOJ IG Report has made clear, occurred almost immediately after FBI obtained materials under Section 702 that would have revealed Danchenko’s role in introducing Dolan to Olga Galkina and the extensive follow-up communications between Galkina and Dolan.

FBI AGENT-1: Um, because obviously I don’t think you’re the only …

DANCHENKO: Mm-hmm.

FBI AGENT-1: Person that has been contributing. You may have said one – and this is the other thing we are trying to figure out.

[ … ]

FBI AGENT-1: Do you know a [PR Executive-1]?

DANCHENKO: Do I know [PR Executive-1]? Yeah.

FBI AGENT-1: How long have you known him? [laughing] [pause]

DANCHENKO: I’ve known [PR-Executive-1] for [pause] I don’t know, a couple years maybe.

FBI AGENT-1: Couple years?

DANCHENKO: But but but but but but but I’ve known of him for like 12 years.

[ … ]

DANCHENKO: Yeah. Yeah he likes Russia. I don’t think he is, uh, – would be any way be involved. But-but-uh-b-but he’s uh [UI] what I would think would be easily played. Maybe. Uh, he’s a bit naive in his, um liking of Russia.

FBI AGENT-1: Okay, so you’ve had … was there any … but you had never talked to [PR Executive-1] about anything that showed up in the dossier [Company Reports] right?

DANCHENKO: No.

FBI AGENT-1: You don’t think so?

DANCHENKO: No. We talked about, you know, related issues perhaps but no, no, no, nothing specific. [emphasis Durham’s]

The exchange starts with the FBI Agent saying, “I don’t think you’re the only … person that has been contributing,” presumably to the dossier. This is consistent with Steele’s (weak) claims to have had other  reporting sources besides Danchenko. And it’s consistent with repeated comments from Danchenko that he didn’t know whether or not he was the only subsource collecting for Steele.

Of particular note, on January 25, 2017, Danchenko said this about one of the three reports that Durham insinuates came second-hand from Dolan, one describing the replacement of a staffer at the Russian Embassy in DC.

Looking at Report 2016/111, [Danchenko] was asked about the report’s use of the descriptor, “a trusted compatriot.” — as in paragraph one, “Speaking in confidence to a trusted compatriot in mid-September 2016…” [Danchenko] said that it might be him, but that it could also be others. [Danchenko’s] attorney then jumped in, stating that the “literary device” used by Steele in the dossier was not consistent and not clear, so he wanted to be careful about matching that descriptor to his client. [Danchenko said that, to the best of his knowledge, he is not sure if he was the only one working on this issue for Orbis [and therefore he is not clear if he is always the “trusted compatriot” mentioned in the document.]

Interviewers drew [Danchenko’s] attention to paragraph 5 of the same report, where Mikhail Kalugin [written as Kulagin] is mentioned. [Danchenko] is not clear how this paragraph was put together. [Danchenko] indicated that no MFA official told him [redacted] because of the election issue. About [redacted], [Danchenko] knows that [redacted]. Danchenko knows that [redacted] [Danchenko] that [redacted] was his replacement [redacted] Kalugin had described Bondarev as “a bright young guy.” Danchenko has no idea where the language in this paragraph regarding [redacted] being “clean in this regard” (with respect to knowledge and involvement in US election matters [redacted]).

Danchenko had offered up the explanation that Durham now claims was him taking credit for the report as part of a rambling explanation for why he had the business card for the Russian source in question (the FBI analyst put it under a heading with the report number, but by description that’s not how it was first broached).

Whether Steele had other reporting sources in addition to Danchenko or not, the FBI Agent started this line of questioning based on the assumption Steele did, stating that he was trying to figure out who else was “contributing” to the dossier in the same way Danchenko was. Given the messages between Galkina and Dolan that FBI would have just obtained via Section 702, it would be unsurprising if the FBI suspected Dolan was a source for Steele, not least because he had better personal access than Danchenko did, he and Galkina were talking about things that showed up in the dossier, and Steele and Dolan had been in touch since the spring.

Depending on how quickly after that question the FBI raised Dolan (note the ellipsis), then, Danchenko may well have fairly understood this entire line of questioning to pertain to whether Dolan was not his own, Danchenko’s, source, but Steele’s. If so, then the question of whether Danchenko spoke to Dolan about stuff that showed up in the dossier might be viewed in a variety of different ways, including whether Dolan admitted he was a source for Steele. And while Danchenko’s denial that he and Dolan ever spoke of anything specific that showed up in the dossier would be a clearly knowing lie if, when he was asked it, he understood himself to be the source of the Paul Manafort report, remembered the report, and hadn’t gotten a second source for the claim, Danchenko did not deny outright that he and Dolan spoke about matters “related” to the dossier, just “nothing specific.”

That’s all the more true given something else Danchenko said in his first interviews, describing how he worked. “He used his existing contacts and daisy-chained from them to try to identify others with relevant information.” If, for example, Danchenko got the names of the Ritz personnel from Dolan, “daisy-chaining” from his existing contact (Dolan) to people Dolan met with at the hotel, either to talk with them directly or to fluff up the report to Steele, he might regard those as “related” to the subject of the report, but not the specific detail — the pee tape allegation — in it.

He may well have answered inaccurately to an FBI question or outright lied, but it’s not clear that the FBI was asking him the question that Durham now treats the answer as. And there’s no evidence that, in the remainder of the June 2017 interview or the two later interviews with Danchenko in 2017 (both of which took place after Steele was interviewed) the FBI ever asked about the three specific reports that Durham now believes have some tie to Dolan, which is what it would take to have a solid false statements charge. By comparison, George Papadopoulos wrote the FBI claiming to have checked his record on timing of his contacts with Joseph Mifsud and reiterated his false timeline with the FBI and FBI Agents repeatedly cued Mike Flynn with language he used in his conversations with Sergei Kislyak to make sure he was really lying.

The crazier thing about all this comes from Durham’s materiality claim.

PR Executive-1’s role as a contributor of information to the Company Reports was highly relevant and material to the FBI’s evaluation of those reports because (a) PR Executive-1 maintained pre-existing and ongoing relationships with numerous persons named or described in the Company Reports, including one of DANCHENKO’s Russian sub-sources ( detailed below), (b) PR Executive-1 maintained historical and ongoing involvement in Democratic politics, which bore upon PR Executive-1’s reliability, motivations, and potential bias as a source of information for the Company Reports, and (c) DANCHENKO gathered some of the information contained in the Company Reports at events in Moscow organized by PR Executive-1 and others that DANCHENKO attended at PR Executive-1 ‘s invitation. Indeed, and as alleged below, certain allegations that DANCHENKO provided to U.K. Person-1, and which appeared in the Company

Danchenko revealed the import of the Dolan-organized events in the first interviews — that’s literally part of the “proof” Durham offers that Danchenko lied about it. FBI learned of Dolan’s close ties to Galkina via Section 702 collection before this alleged lie, and when Danchenko was asked in that same June 2017 interview, he explained the key details, effectively confirming what FBI would have learned from its FISA collection (and thereby seemingly passing one test of his candor).

In a later part of the conversation, DANCHENKO stated, in substance and in part, that PR Executive-1 had traveled on the October “delegation” to Moscow; that PR Executive-1 conducted business with Business-1 and Russian Sub-source-1; and that PR Executive-1 had a professional relationship with Russian Press Secretary-1.

That leaves, for the question of materiality, Dolan’s “historical and ongoing involvement in Democratic politics, which bore upon PR Executive-1’s reliability, motivations, and potential bias as a source of information for the Company Reports.”

Again, the Paul Manafort report may be the most provably correct report in the entire dossier. Claiming (correctly) that Manafort was ousted not just because of his corrupt ties in Ukraine — a claim that Republicans have spent five years claiming was just a propaganda campaign launched by Democrats — but also because others wanted him out actually undercuts the story that has always claimed to be the most useful to Democrats. The report on Embassy staff changes was, Durham suggests, based directly off quotes Dolan got from the staffer in question; indeed, Durham points to the accuracy of those quotations to prove the report came from Dolan. There was a flourish added — that the person in question was untainted by involvement with the Russian election operation — which Danchenko disclaims, but there’s no evidence the flourish comes from Dolan (or even Danchenko — it’s the kind of thing Steele seems to have added). In other words, assuming Dolan was the source for the things Durham claims he was, Dolan seems to have been the most accurate source for the dossier.

There was an unbelievable amount of shit in the dossier and it would be useful if there were an accounting of how that happened (which Durham is not doing here). The Danchenko-to-Steele reporting process (which, contrary to Durham’s claims, Danchenko candidly laid out in his first interviews with the FBI) was one source of the problems with the dossier. But at least as much of the shit seems to come from Danchenko’s sources, several of whom had ties to Russian intelligence and who may have been deliberately injecting disinformation into the process. Instead of focusing on that — on Russians who may have been deliberately feeding lies into the process — Durham instead focuses on Dolan, not because Durham claims he wittingly shared bad information to harm Trump (his one lie served to boost an accurate story that went against the grain of the Democrats’ preferred narrative), but because as a Democrat he — not Russian spies — is being treated by Durham as an adversary.

Danchenko posts

The Igor Danchenko Indictment: Structure

John Durham May Have Made Igor Danchenko “Aggrieved” Under FISA

“Yes and No:” John Durham Confuses Networking with Intelligence Collection

Daisy-Chain: The FBI Appears to Have Asked Danchenko Whether Dolan Was a Source for Steele, Not Danchenko

Source 6A: John Durham’s Twitter Charges

John Durham: Destroying the Purported Victims to Save Them

John Durham’s Cut-and-Paste Failures — and Other Indices of Unreliability

Aleksej Gubarev Drops Lawsuit after DOJ Confirms Steele Dossier Report Naming Gubarev’s Company Came from His Employee

In Story Purporting to “Reckon” with Steele’s Baseless Insinuations, CNN Spreads Durham’s Unsubstantiated Insinuations

On CIPA and Sequestration: Durham’s Discovery Deadends

The Disinformation that Got Told: Michael Cohen Was, in Fact, Hiding Secret Communications with the Kremlin

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