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John Durham’s Igor Danchenko Case May Be More Problematic than His Michael Sussmann Case

Legal commentators who ignored the run-up to the Michael Sussmann trial and still have not reported on the evidence of abuse and incompetence are writing posts claiming it was always clear that the jury in that case would return an acquittal. The same people, however, are suggesting there might be more to the Igor Danchenko charges.

I wrote a whole series of posts laying out why that’s wrong — the last one, with links to the others, is here. In addition, I’ve been tracking Durham’s difficulties obtaining classified discovery from other parts of DOJ here. This post pulls together the problems Durham faces in his second trial, which is currently scheduled to start on October 11.

As a reminder, the Danchenko indictment charges the former Christopher Steele source with telling five lies to the FBI in interviews in which they tried to vet the Steele dossier:

  • One alleged lie on June 15, 2017  about whether he had spoken with Chuck Dolan “about any material contained in the” dossier.
  • Four alleged lies, told in interviews on March 16, May 18, October 24, and November 16, 2017, that he spoke to Sergei Millian in late July 2016 when Danchenko knew (variably in 2016 or in the interviews in 2017) that he had never spoken with him; one charged lie accuses Danchenko of wittingly lying about speaking to Millian more than once.

Durham will have to prove that these five statements were intentional lies and that they were material to the FBI’s operations.

Danchenko could get his former lawyer to testify

Before looking at the problems with each of those claimed lies and their materiality, consider that shortly after being charged, Danchenko replaced Mark Schamel, who represented Danchenko in his 2017 interviews with the FBI, with a team led by Lowenstein Sandler’s Stuart Sears. This makes it possible for Danchenko to do something risky but in this case potentially warranted: have his former attorney testify.

The interview report from his initial series of interviews in January 2017 shows that Danchenko was uncertain about the answer to some questions, but over the course of three days, checked his own records and corrected himself when he realized he had made an error in answering an affirmative question from the FBI. In at least one case, Danchenko also provided proof to back one of his claims. Schamel could explain how diligently he and Danchenko prepared for these interviews, how Danchenko corrected himself when he realized he was wrong, and the perceived focus — by all appearances, on Danchenko’s Russian sources — of the FBI interviews.

In short, Schamel’s testimony could go a long way to demonstrating that where Danchenko made an error, it was not willful.

The FBI didn’t ask the question about Chuck Dolan that Durham claims they did

Then there are the charges themselves. There are two potentially fatal problems with the single charge built around Chuck Dolan, which Durham has used to insinuate, with no evidence, that the minor Hillary supporter was the source of the pee tape allegation. The alleged lie Durham has accused Danchenko of, though, pertains to a more general question: whether Danchenko had “denied … that he had spoken to [Dolan] about any material” in the dossier.

Except, as happened repeatedly in his indictment of Danchenko, that’s neither what Danchenko was asked nor what he answered.

As I laid out in this post, it appears that Danchenko was asked whether Dolan was a source for Steele, not whether he was a source for Danchenko.

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. [emphasis Durham’s]

The question was premised on Steele having other primary subsources other than Danchenko and his response was a denial of the possibility that Dolan was one of them. All of Danchenko’s responses could be framed with that understanding of the question.

Durham’s alleged false statement appears to stem from a follow-up question. But there, Durham has completely misrepresented Danchenko’s answer.

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]

Danchenko explicitly told the FBI that he talked to Dolan about “related issues.” Particularly as regards the pee tape, Danchenko might consider using information from Dolan for further investigation a “related issue” but not the core issue that the FBI was interested in.

As to the report for which Durham presents compelling evidence that Dolan was the source, Durham presents no evidence of specific questioning about it, and there’s abundant evidence that Danchenko was never sure which reports came from him and which (he assumed) came from others.

Durham did not present any evidence that Danchenko denied, in response to specific questions about whether Dolan was involved in identified reports, that Dolan played a role in the dossier. He has evidence that Danchenko answered a question about something else, and then, in a follow-up, gave a much more equivocal response than Durham claims he gave.

Another Durham materiality claim fizzles after he actually investigates

Plus, it is virtually certain that Danchenko will be able to prove that his equivocal response could not have been material.

That’s because — as a declassified footnote of the DOJ IG Report makes clear — the reason the FBI asked these questions about Dolan on June 15, 2017 was because FBI had recently obtained Section 702 material showing conversations between Danchenko’s source, Olga Galkina, and Dolan.

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]

That is, the reason the FBI was asking these questions in the first place is because they were trying to understand the communications they had just discovered between Dolan and Danchenko.

As the indictment lays out, Danchenko didn’t hide the key details about Dolan — that he was doing business in Russia, had ties with Dmitry Peskov, and had developed a business relationship with Galkina.

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.

Durham claimed that Danchenko’s imagined lie was material because it deprived the FBI from obtaining information on 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-1 that would have, among other things, assisted them in evaluating the credibility, reliability, and veracity of the Company Reports, including DANCHENKO’s sub-sources.

We now know that, at the time Durham made this claim, he had barely begun the process of obtaining relevant evidence from DOJ IG. Even in the Michael Sussmann case, Durham first made a formal discovery request of Michael Horowitz’s office on October 13, 2021, almost a month after charging Sussmann (and just three weeks before indicting Danchenko). Durham didn’t receive materials that completely undermined his case against Sussmann until March.

From that, it’s fairly safe to assume that Durham (again) didn’t bother to test whether there was any basis for his materiality claims before building a long speaking indictment around them.

The FBI didn’t need Danchenko to tell them about Dolan’s Russian ties. They had discovered that already from 702 collection targeting Galkina. That’s precisely why they asked Danchenko whether Dolan could be another Steele source. And when asked for more details, Dahchenko offered up the details that FBI would have been looking for.

Durham’s due diligence problems on the Sergei Millian charges

There are several kinds of problems with the remaining four counts. As noted, four of the charges against Danchenko accuse him of hiding what Durham claims is affirmative knowledge (arguably in real time) that Sergei Millian never called him in late July 2016.

As a threshold matter, there’s no language in the Danchenko indictment suggesting Durham has affirmative proof that such a call didn’t happen — whether from Millian or anyone else. In his FBI interview, Danchenko suggested the call may have happened on a secure app and he said he had replaced the phone he used at the time. So it’s not clear that Durham can rule out a call on Signal or similar encrypted app. When Durham first rolled out this indictment, I thought such a claim would be reckless, but we now know Durham built his entire Sussmann indictment around billing records even though Durham had affirmative proof (in his taxi reimbursement) that Sussmann did not bill Hillary for his meeting with the FBI.

Worse still, even in the transcripts that Durham miscites in the indictment, Danchenko included a bunch of caveats that Durham does not include in his charging language: “I don’t know,” “at the time I was under the impression it was him,” “at least someone I thought was him.”

That creates a temporal problem with the way Durham has charged this. Even if Danchenko came to believe later in 2016 or in 2017 that he never spoke with Millian, in his interviews, Danchenko was answering about what he believed to be the case in July 2016, when he shared this report with Christopher Steele. All Danchenko was claiming was that he talked to some journalists at a Russian outlet, someone called Danchenko shortly thereafter (at a time, it should be said, when Oleg Deripaska likely already knew of the dossier project), and Danchenko assumed it was Millian because it was the most logical explanation. From the start, Danchenko always admitted his uncertainty about that call.

Durham is relying on a Twitter feed he has already said makes false claims about the Durham investigation

Then there’s the fact that Durham is relying on Sergei Millian as a witness against Danchenko.

As I noted last year, in his indictment, Durham claimed to prove that such a call had not happened based on Millian’s say-so. But not actual testimony. Rather, at that point, Durham was relying on Sergei Millian’s Twitter feed.

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 was batshit insane then, not least because over the years journalists and others have raised real questions about the authenticity of Millian’s Twitter account. And since charging Danchenko, Millian has repeatedly made claims on Twitter that utterly demolishes the credibility of Millian’s Twitter feed.

Millian has played a key role in the “sleuths corner” that has ginned up all sorts of false claims about Durham’s investigation.

This explicit affiliation will entitle Danchenko to subpoena the activity of the group, and even if Millian were entirely credible, there are a number of people associated with the corner who are not.

Then, as part of his role in generating froth about the Durham investigation, Millian played a central role in misrepresenting a claim Durham had made in a filing in the Sussmann case, suggesting that Durham had proven that researchers had spied on the Trump White House.

This led Durham to formally state that those who made such claims were “misrepresent[ing] facts contained in the Government’s Motion.” So Durham has publicly accused his star witness — Sergei Millian’s Twitter feed — of making false claims about matters pertaining to Durham’s investigation.

Worse still, in the same time period, Millian claimed that he had called the White House and told them “who was working against them.”

That reflects the kind of knowledge that could only come from a concerted effort, in real time (seemingly in 2016), to fuck with the Fusion investigation, followed by a subsequent effort (at such time when Trump was in the White House), to exact a cost for the investigation. Effectively, with this tweet, Millian confessed to being part of the effort to undermine the Russian investigation. That makes Millian’s contact with Deripaska in 2016 all the more problematic, since Deripaska has seemingly carried out a sustained campaign to attack the Russian investigation. But it also suggests that Millian’s claims to have entirely blown off Danchenko’s quetions were false.

Millian has since claimed that Durham’s office was trying to keep him off Twitter, but that he refused because he wants to attack his enemies.

This is all just stuff that Millian has done since the indictment, and to the extent earlier Millian tweets are preserved showing professed knowledge of the 2016 Russian operation (as some are), Danchenko would be able to use those at trial as well.

Which may be why — at least according to Millian’s unreliable Twitter feed — Durham is now trying to get Millian to come testify at trial. But Millian suggests that testifying under oath to the claims he has been making on Twitter for years would amount to “using him.”

Durham’s star witness refuses to return to the US without some kind of “gentleman’s agreement” regarding his “safe return.” That’s not going to be a very credible witness on the stand, if he even shows up to testify.

The counterintelligence investigation against Millian was real in 2016 and may be realer now

Which leads us, again, to Durham’s failures to do basic investigation before charging these indictments.

We know Durham didn’t reach out to Michael Horowitz until weeks before charging Danchenko. The Sussmann case made it clear Durham had not received centrally relevant evidence in the Sussmann case until March.

That means Durham may not have been aware of the public evidence — in both the DOJ IG Report and declassified footnotes — describing the counterintelligence investigation opened on Millian in October 2016, which was opened in NY (where Millian lived at the time), not DC (where Fusion and others were also raising concerns).

In addition, we learned that [Millian] was at the time the subject of an open FBI counterintelligence investigation. 302 We also were concerned that the FISA application did not disclose to the court the FBI’s belief that this sub-source was, at the time of the application, the subject of such an investigation. We were told that the Department will usually share with the FISC the fact that a source is a subject in an open case. The OI Attorney told us he did not recall knowing this information at the time of the first application, even though NYFO opened the case after consulting with and notifying Case Agent 1 and SSA 1 prior to October 12, 2016, nine days before the FISA application was filed. Case Agent 1 said that he may have mentioned the case to the OI Attorney “in passing,” but he did not specifically recall doing so. 303

301 As discussed in Chapter Four, [Millian] [redacted]

302 According to a document circulated among Crossfire Hurricane team members and supervisors in early October 2016, [Millian] had historical contact with persons and entities suspected of being linked to RIS. The document described reporting [redacted] that [Millian] “was rumored to be a former KGB/SVR officer.” In addition, in late December 2016, Department Attorney Bruce Ohr told SSA 1 that he had met with Glenn Simpson and that Simpson had assessed that [Millian] was a RIS officer who was central in connecting Trump to Russia.

We know Durham has little familiarity with the Mueller Report, much less the underlying investigation. Which means he similarly may not have considered the evidence that Millian was cultivating George Papadopoulos during precisely the same weeks when Danchenko was contacting Millian for information on Trump.

Papadopoulos first connected with Millian via LinkedIn 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

More recently, as part of charges against a different Russian-American who fled because of a counterintelligence investigation, DOJ made clear that Millian’s organization knew at least by 2013 they should have registered as agents of Russia.

a. On or about January 30, 2013, BRANSON received an email from an individual using an email address ending in “mail.ru.” Based on my review of publicly available information, I have learned that this individual was a Senior Vice President of the Russian American Chamber of Commerce in the USA. This email had the subject line “Problem.” and the text of the email included, among other things, a portion of the FARA Unit’s website with background on FARA. In response, BRANSON wrote, in part, “I am interested in the number of the law, its text in English[.]” The sender then responded with “Lena, read …” and copied into the email background on FARA and portions of the statute.

All of which to say that Durham likely cannot make any “gentleman’s agreement” on DOJ’s behalf with Millian about coming to the US to testify against Danchenko, because other parts of DOJ have equities that significantly precede Durham’s, equities that pertain more directly to harm to the United States and current national security priorities.

Plus, even if Durham did succeed in bringing his star witness against Danchenko to EDVA to testify against him, even if Millian weren’t arrested on sealed charges when he landed, the trial would end up being a circus in which the evidence against Millian and the false claims Millian has made about the Durham investigation playing a more central role than the evidence against Danchenko.

There are few things Durham could do that would make it more clear how his witch hunt has served Russia’s interests, and not those of the US.

I mean, I’m all for it. But at some point Durham may come to recognize that’s not a winning case.

There is affirmative evidence that any alleged lies Danchenko told were not material

It’s not clear whether Sussmann jurors ever got as far as considering the materiality problems in the case against Sussmann. But, even on top of the specific problem arising from the Section 702 directive targeting Galkina, described above, Durham may have bigger materiality problems with Danchenko.

That’s because — as explained in the DOJ IG Report Durham didn’t read closely — FBI repeatedly made decisions that affirmatively reflect finding claims in the dossier and Danchenko’s interviews were not material to their decision to keep surveilling Carter Page.

That’s true, first of all, because the initial FISA targeting Page obtained useful information. Notes from Tashina Gaushar that Durham belatedly discovered in the Sussmann case described the FISAs against Page this way:

So before the FBI ever spoke to Danchenko, they had independent reason (on top of the counterintelligence concerns NYFO had used in March 2016 to open an investigation on Page) to target Page.

Moreover, the FBI started identifying problems with the Millian allegations before the first FISA, but never integrated those or Danchenko’s own interviews into their FISA applications.

Regarding the information in the first bullet above, in early October 2016, the FBI learned the true name of Person 1 (described in Report 95 as “Source E”). As described in Chapter Six, the Primary Sub-source told the FBI that he/she had one 10- to 15-minute telephone call with someone he/she believed to be Person 1, but who did not identify him/herself on the call. We found that, during his/her interview with the FBI, the Primary Sub-source did not describe a “conspiracy” between Russia and individuals associated with the Trump campaign or state that Carter Page served as an “intermediary” between Manafort and the Russian government. In addition, the FBl’s summary of the Primary Sub-source’s interview did not describe any discussions between the parties concerning the disclosure of DNC emails to Wikileaks in exchange for a campaign platform change on the Ukrainian issue. To the contrary, according to the interview summary, the Primary Sub-source told the FBI that Person 1 told him/her that there was “nothing bad” about the communications between the Kremlin and Trump, and that he/she did not recall any mention of Wikileaks. Further, although Steele informed the FBI that he had received all of the information in Report 95 from the Primary Sub-source, and Steele told the OIG the same thing when we interviewed him, the Primary Subsource told the FBI that he/she did not know where some of the information attributed to Source E in Report 95 came from. 388 Despite the inconsistencies between Steele’s reporting and the information his Primary Sub-source provided to the FBI, the subsequent FISA renewal applications continued to rely on the Steele information, without any revisions or notice to the court that the Primary Sub-source had contradicted the Steele reporting on key issues described in the renewal applications. Instead, as described previously, FISA Renewal Application Nos. 2 and 3 advised the court:

In an effort to further corroborate [Steele’s] reporting, the FBI has met with [Steele’s] [redacted] sub-source [Primary Sub-source] described immediately above. During these interviews, the FBI found the [redacted] subsource to be truthful and cooperative [redacted]. The FBI is undertaking additional investigative steps to further corroborate the information provide [sic] by [Steele] and [redacted]

It cannot be the case that FBI at once ignored everything Danchenko said that should have raised concerns, but also that Danchenko’s repetition of the things he said in his first interview would be material to later parts of the investigation. There’s a 478-page report laying out why that’s not the case.

As to the Dolan tie, the FBI obtained intelligence that the reports that most mattered to the ongoing Russian investigation — the sketchy Cohen-in-Prague stories sourced to Olga Galkina, stories that may well have arisen because Dolan vouched for Galkina with Peskov — were disinformation a week before first speaking to Danchenko.

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. A second report from the same [redacted] five days later stated that a person named in the limited subset of Steele’s reporting had denied representations in the reporting and the [redacted] assessed that the person’s denials were truthful.

As I have shown, Mueller did not use the Cohen reports at all in predicating the investigation against Trump’s lawyer.

Finally, the DOJ IG Report strongly suggests that the FBI was not going to get a fourth FISA targeting Page until they discovered two new facilities — probably one or more encrypted app and some financial accounts — they thought might answer some of their outstanding questions about Page.

[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]

This is yet another reason why nothing Danchenko could have said in his interviews would have changed the FBI’s actions.

That leaves the purported lies — the same alleged lies about Millian — told in October and November 2017 that Durham claims Danchenko had been telling all along. By that point, though, Mueller already had George Papadopoulos refusing to provide details pertaining to Millian that would have raised further questions about Millian’s activities in 2016.

Honestly, this post barely scratches the surface of problems with Durham’s Igor Danchenko case. Things get worse when you consider Oleg Deripaska’s role in the dossier and the very active investigation into him and more recent sanctions into Dmitry Peskov.

And, this time, Durham may realize that. Just weeks before the Sussmann trial, Durham made a frenzied effort to include details about the dossier and Millian in Sussmann’s case. For example, he got approved as exhibits and “accidentally” released Fusion GPS files entirely unrelated to the Sussmann case. He attempted, but failed, to make Christopher Steele a central issue at the Sussmann trial. And during the testimony of Jared Novick, he attempted to introduce the names of dossier subjects that were unrelated to the core Sussmann charge. That is, Durham expanded the scope of his already unhinged conspiracy theory to incorporate topics — most notably, the dossier — that he might otherwise present at the Danchenko trial.

In the next two weeks, Durham will — after over ten weeks of delay — have to face the challenges of obtaining the classified discovery that Danchenko can demand to prove this is the case. In light of those challenges, we’ll see whether Durham wants to barrel forward towards yet another humiliating loss at trial.

Will KleptoCapture Catch John Durham, Along with the Russian Spies and Oligarchs?

I’ve been right about a lot of things regarding John Durham’s investigation (though not, apparently, that he would supersede the indictment against Michael Sussmann — maybe he was afraid of getting no-billed if he corrected the things in the indictment he has since discovered to be false?).

Perhaps the most prescient observation I’ve made, though, was that Durham had no fucking clue where to look for evidence related to his already-charged allegations.

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.

I said that in November. Since that time in the Sussmann case, Durham has had to publicly confess he had not:

Effectively, Durham spent most of three years speaking to those who would confirm his conspiracy theories, and not consulting the actual evidence. It took until six months after Durham charged Sussmann before Durham tested Sussmann’s sworn explanation for his Baker meeting — and when he checked, he found the evidence backed Sussmann’s explanation.

Six months after indicting Igor Danchenko, Durham asked to extend discovery another month

It’s that record that makes me so interested in Durham’s second bid to extend deadlines for classified discovery in the Igor Danchenko case.

After Danchenko argued he couldn’t be ready for an April 18 trial date, Durham proposed a March 29 deadline for prosecutors to meet classified discovery; that means Durham originally imagined he’d be done with classified discovery over six weeks ago. A week before that deadline, Durham asked for a six week delay — to what would have been Friday. Danchenko consented to the change and Judge Anthony Trenga granted it. Then on Monday, Durham asked for another extension, this time for another month.

When Durham asked for the first delay, he boasted they had provided Danchenko 60,000 unclassified documents and promised “a large volume” of classified discovery that week (that is, before the original deadline).

To date, the government has produced over 60,000 documents in unclassified discovery. A portion of these documents were originally marked “classified” and the government has worked with the appropriate declassification authorities to produce the documents in an unclassified format.

[snip]

Nevertheless, the government will produce a large volume of classified discovery this week

This more recent filing boasts of having provided just one thousand more unclassified documents and a mere 5,000 classified documents — for a case implicating two known FISA orders and several past and current counterintelligence investigations.

To date, the Government has produced to the defense over 5,000 documents in classified discovery and nearly 61,000 documents in unclassified discovery. The Government believes that the 5,000 classified documents produced to date represent the bulk of the classified discovery in this matter.

Danchenko waited six weeks and got almost nothing new.

See this post for an explanation of all the classified information that Danchenko should be able to demand and the onerous process that using it requires, called Classified Information Procedures Act. Even in November, I showed that Danchenko could likely make a case that he should get discovery from the FBI and NSA, and probably CIA and Treasury. There is no way Durham is getting through this case with just 5,000 classified documents.

As he noted in his opposition to this latest request for an extension, with each request, Durham’s proposed schedule was shrinking the time afforded Danchenko to review classified discovery before providing a list of the classified information he wanted to use at trial (called a CIPA 5 notice), first from 60 days to 40, and then from 40 days to 22.

On March 22, 2022, the Special Counsel filed a Consent Motion to Adjourn the Classified Discovery and CIPA Schedule. Dkt. 44. In his Motion, the Special Counsel sought to extend the deadline to produce classified discovery from March 29, 2022, to May 13, 2022. Id. at 2. The Special Counsel’s motion also sought to extend the dates for various CIPA filings and hearings. Id. Importantly, the Special Counsel’s proposed schedule reduced the amount of time within which Mr. Danchenko had to file his Section 5(a) written notice from approximately 60 days after the close of classified discovery to approximately 40 days.

[snip]

On May 9, 2022, the Special Counsel filed his Second Motion to Adjourn the Classified Discovery and CIPA Schedule. Dkt. 48. In his motion, the Special Counsel now tells the Court that he can provide the outstanding classified discovery by “no later than” June 13, 2022. See id. at 2. He also proposes a June 29, 2022, deadline for Defendant’s Section 5(a) written notice. Id. Therefore, the Special Counsel has essentially asked this Court to enter an Order that will now decrease Mr. Danchenko’s time within which to file his Section 5(a) written notice from approximately 40 days after the close of classified discovery to approximately 22 days.

[snip]

Mr. Danchenko would be substantially prejudiced by the Special Counsel’s proposed schedule because it significantly shortens the time period within which Mr. Danchenko can review any final classified productions and file his CIPA Section 5(a) notice. That is of particular concern to Mr. Danchenko because the Special Counsel has not provided sufficient notice of how much additional classified discovery may be forthcoming other than his “belie[f]” that the “bulk” of the classified discovery has already been produced.

Shrinking Danchenko’s deadlines would make the additional discovery that is still outstanding far less useful. In the Sussmann case, for example, it took over a month for Sussmann’s team to find the documents that disprove Durham’s case buried among 22,000 other documents provided on his extended deadline. So while Durham might be trying to comply with discovery obligations, arguing that the proper solution to his struggles fulfilling discovery is to shrink Danchenko’s own time to review the evidence suggests he’s not doing so in good faith.

Judge Trenga must have agreed. While he granted the government’s request for an extension, he gave Danchenko 42 days to submit his CIPA 5 notice.

A Russian dog named Putin ate Durham’s classified homework

I’ve noted how the post-invasion sanctions on Alfa Bank deprived John Durham of a second investigative team, Alfa Bank’s Skadden Arps lawyers, whose filings a judge observed seemed to be “written by the same people” as Durham’s.

But the aftermath of Putin’s attempt to overthrow Ukraine may be causing Durham even bigger problems in the Danchenko case.

When Durham asked for an extension of his CIPA deadline in the Sussmann case days after Russia extended its invasion of Ukraine, he explained that the people who had to write declarations in support of CIPA (usually agency heads like CIA Director William Burns or NSA Director Paul Nakasone) were busy dealing with the response to Ukraine.

However, the Government’s submission includes not only the Government’s memorandum but also one or more supporting declarations from officials of the U.S. intelligence community. The Government’s review of potentially discoverable material is ongoing, and these officials cannot finalize their declarations until that review is complete.

Moreover, recent world events in Ukraine have further delayed the Government’s review and the officials’ preparation of the supporting declaration(s). As a result, the Government respectfully submits that a modest two-week adjournment request to its CIPA Section 4 filing deadline is appropriate and would not impact any other deadlines, to include the currently scheduled trial date

Effectively, this request moved the CIPA deadline from a week before Durham’s classified discovery deadline to a week after; yet Durham just committed, once again, to finalizing his CIPA 4 submission almost a week before his classified discovery deadline in the Danchenko case.

That’s important because Durham overpromised when he said he could finish a CIPA filing before the discovery deadline. Durham filed a supplement to his CIPA 4 notice on May 7 (nine days before trial) that, unless Judge Cooper ruled orally at a closed hearing last week, remains outstanding. That’s not entirely unusual in a case that relies on classified information, but if Cooper were to rule this classified information was necessary for Sussmann’s defense, it would give Sussmann no time to actually prepare to use it.

Durham cited the Ukraine response again on March 22, a month after Russia launched its failed attempt to take Kyiv, when he asked for an extension on his classified discovery deadline.

However, recent world events in Ukraine have contributed to delays in the production of classified discovery. The officials preparing and reviewing the documents at the FBI and intelligence agencies are heavily engaged in matters related to Ukraine.

Importantly, these people focusing on keeping us safe from Russian aggression rather than, as Durham is, making us safe for Russian aggression, are different than the people cited in the Sussmann case. These aren’t senior officials, but instead those “preparing and reviewing the documents at the FBI and intelligence agencies.” That’s not William Burns, that’s FBI counterintelligence agents, among others.

In last week’s request for an extension, Durham didn’t mention Ukraine, but his reference to “overseas activities” suggests the response to Ukraine remains the problem.

However, recent world events continue to contribute to delays in the processing and production of classified discovery. In particular, some of the officials preparing and reviewing the documents at the FBI and intelligence agencies continue to be heavily engaged in matters related to overseas activities.

Unsurprisingly, Danchenko asked Trenga to require Durham to provide some kind of explanation for why “overseas activities,” probably Ukraine, continue to delay classified discovery in a case criminalizing an attempt to fight Russia’s attack on democracy in 2016.

Moreover, the Special Counsel has failed to adequately explain how “recent world events” (Dkt. 48 at 2) have specifically made it impossible for him to meet his discovery obligations. While it seems unlikely that the same government officials charged with declassifying discovery are also responding to events overseas, it certainly is possible. But, even if that is the case, the Special Counsel must offer more explanation than he has, especially in light of the fact that his prior motion to extend the discovery deadline was based on the events in Ukraine, and the ongoing nature of that conflict must or should have been considered when he requested the May 13 deadline.

Sadly, Trenga didn’t order up an explanation for why this delay, probably Ukraine-related, is causing so many difficulties for Durham’s prosecution of Danchenko.

KleptoCapture threatens at least one and possibly up to three key Durham figures

One reason I would have liked Trenga to force Durham to explain how a dog named Putin ate his classified homework is because the public response to Russia’s attempt to conquer Ukraine has already implicated three figures who are key to Durham’s case. While I need to update it, this post attempts to capture everything that the US government and some partners have done since the expanded invasion.

Dmitry Peskov

Perhaps the response least damaging to Durham’s case — but one that will affect discovery — involves Dmitry Peskov. As I explained in this post, Durham made Peskov’s relationship with Chuck Dolan and Olga Galkina a key part of his indictment against Danchenko.

In his role as a public relations professional, [Dolan] spent much of his career interacting with Eurasian clients with a particular focus on Russia. For example, from in or about 2006 through in or about 2014, the Russian Federation retained [Dolan] and his then-employer to handle global public relations for the Russian government and a state-owned energy company. [Dolan] 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, [Dolan] also communicated with [Peskov] 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, [Galkina] sent a message to a Russia-based associate and stated that [Dolan] had written a letter to Russian Press Secretary-1 in support of [Galkina]’s candidacy for a position in the Russian Presidential Administration.

On March 3, the State Department added Peskov to the sanctions list under a 2021 Executive Order President Biden signed, in part, to target those who (among other things), “undermine the conduct of free and fair democratic elections and democratic institutions in the United States and its allies and partners.” On March 11, Treasury added Peskov’s family members to the sanctions list. The package used to sanction Peskov would have been the product of intelligence reports circulated within the US government.

While the legal reason Peskov was sanctioned pertained to his official role in the Russian government (and the lavish lifestyles his family enjoys even with his civil service salary), State also described Peskov as “the chief propagandist of the Russian Federation.” That, by itself, would be unremarkable. But if — as even Durham alludes — Peskov had a role in feeding Galkina disinformation for the Steele dossier, particularly if he crafted disinformation to maximally exploit Michael Cohen’s secret call with Peskov’s office in January 2016, that could be a part of the sanctions package against Peskov. If it were, then it would be centrally important discovery for Danchenko.

Oleg Deripaska

Then there’s Oleg Deripaska. This post lays out in depth the reasons why Danchenko would have reason to demand information on Deripaska’s role in the dossier, including:

  • 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

Given his blissful ignorance of the actual results of the Mueller investigation and the DOJ IG Carter Page investigation, Durham was always going to have a nasty discovery surprise in complying with such requests. Plus, a search last October of two Deripaska-related properties made clear that the most likely source of disinformation in the dossier was under aggressive criminal investigation for sanctions violations.

A recent Bloomberg story reported that that criminal investigation has now been moved under and given the prioritization of the KleptoCapture initiative started in response to the Ukraine war.

Deripaska has been sanctioned since 2018 for his ties to Vladimir Putin, and the seizures at a Washington mansion and New York townhouse linked to him predate the invasion of Ukraine. But the investigation of Deripaska’s assets is now part of an escalating U.S. crackdown on ultra-rich Russians suspected of laundering money and hiding assets to help finance Putin’s regime.

The raids were key steps to unearth information that may determine whether — and how — Deripaska moved money around. Among the mishmash of items taken from the New York and Washington properties were half a dozen works of fine art, sunglasses, hiking boots, housewares, financial records, telephone bills and other documents, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the investigation hasn’t been made public.

The Deripaska inquiry is now part of a special U.S. Department of Justice task force dubbed “KleptoCapture,” according to New York federal prosecutor Andrew Adams, who is heading up the group.

“As Russia and its aggression continues, we have our eyes on every piece of art and real estate purchased with dirty money,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said at a recent news conference.

If DOJ plans on indicting Deripaska — for sanctions violations and anything else on which the statute of limitations has not expired — they might delay discovery cooperation with Durham until they do so. And if such a hypothetical indictment mentioned Deripaska’s role in facilitating the 2016 election interference and/or successful efforts to exploit the dossier to undermine the Russian investigation, it might make Durham’s charges against Danchenko unsustainable, even if he is able to otherwise fulfill his discovery requirements. Durham’s theory of prosecution is that Danchenko is the big villain that led to FBI confusion over the dossier, but Deripaska seems to have had a far bigger role in that.

Sergei Millian

Finally, there’s Sergei Millian, who happened to meet with Deripaska in 2016 at an event, the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, that played a key role in the election operation.

In the same week Millian met Deripaska, a bunch of cybersecurity experts first started looking for evidence of Russian hacking in DNS data and Igor Danchenko was in Moscow meeting with Chuck Dolan and his other named Steele dossier sources.

As the DOJ IG Report and declassified footnotes make clear, FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into Millian in October 2016. All the evidence indicates that the investigation did not arise from Crossfire Hurricane and, given that Millian’s ID was hidden in the dossier reports shared with NYFO on their way to HQ, and given that other information on Millian was fed into DC, not NY, was probably predicated completely independent of Crossfire Hurricane.

In addition, we learned that [Millian] was at the time the subject of an open FBI counterintelligence investigation. 302 We also were concerned that the FISA application did not disclose to the court the FBI’s belief that this sub-source was, at the time of the application, the subject of such an investigation. We were told that the Department will usually share with the FISC the fact that a source is a subject in an open case. The OI Attorney told us he did not recall knowing this information at the time of the first application, even though NYFO opened the case after consulting with and notifying Case Agent 1 and SSA 1 prior to October 12, 2016, nine days before the FISA application was filed. Case Agent 1 said that he may have mentioned the case to the OI Attorney “in passing,” but he did not specifically recall doing so. 303

301 As discussed in Chapter Four, [Millian] [redacted]

302 According to a document circulated among Crossfire Hurricane team members and supervisors in early October 2016, [Millian] had historical contact with persons and entities suspected of being linked to RIS. The document described reporting [redacted] that [Millian] “was rumored to be a former KGB/SVR officer.” In addition, in late December 2016, Department Attorney Bruce Ohr told SSA 1 that he had met with Glenn Simpson and that Simpson had assessed that [Millian] was a RIS officer who was central in connecting Trump to Russia.

303 Although an email indicates that the OI Attorney learned in March 2017 that the FBI had an open case on [Millian], the subsequent renewal applications did not include this fact. According to the OI Attorney, and as reflected in Renewal Application Nos. 2 and 3, the FBI expressed uncertainty about whether this sub‐source was Person 1. However, other FBI documents in the same time period reflect that the ongoing assumption by the Crossfire Hurricane team was that this sub‐source was [Millian].

Plus, Mueller found plenty on Millian to raise separate issues of concern.

Given several other counterintelligence cases developed in NYFO, the predication likely had more to do with Russia’s effort to use cultural and other diaspora groups as a way to covertly extend Russian influence.

And in fact, Millian’s group — the Russian American Chamber of Commerce — has already made a cameo appearance in one such prosecution, that against Elena Branson, a complaint that was rolled out in the same week as the sanctions against Peskov.

a. On or about January 30, 2013, BRANSON received an email from an individual using an email address ending in “mail.ru.” Based on my review of publicly available information, I have learned that this individual was a Senior Vice President of the Russian American Chamber of Commerce in the USA. This email had the subject line “Problem.” and the text of the email included, among other things, a portion of the FARA Unit’s website with background on FARA. In response, BRANSON wrote, in part, “I am interested in the number of the law, its text in English[.]” The sender then responded with “Lena, read …” and copied into the email background on FARA and portions of the statute.

This awareness and flouting of registration requirements is the kind of thing that often features in prosecutions for 18 USC 951 violations. And, at least in the case of Branson, the statute of limitations can extend so long as the person in question continues to play a role in US politics, though in Branson’s case, she only fled the country 18 months ago.

If the FBI believed Millian was an unregistered foreign agent who fled to avoid an investigation in 2017, his ongoing involvement in efforts to gin up an investigation into the investigation — particularly claims that, even according to Durham, misinterpreted facts his own prosecutors filed and thereby contributed to death threats against witnesses in the investigation — then it wouldn’t rule out an investigation into Millian himself, an investigation that would have preceded Durham’s reckless reliance on him (or rather, Millian’s unvetted Twitter feed) as a star witness against Danchenko.

Even Millian’s public claim (albeit one offered by someone the FBI considers an embellisher) that he called the White House directly to elicit this investigation could be of interest.

We can now say with great certainty that Durham didn’t check the most obvious sources of evidence against key players involved in the Steele dossier, such as DOJ IG’s backup files in the Carter Page investigation that is the primary focus of Durham’s Danchenko indictment. That makes it highly likely he never bothered to see whether other parts of DOJ considered key players in the Steele dossier to be actual threats to democracy.

One of those key players is undoubtedly Oleg Deripaska. And the renewed focus on Russian influence operations may expand beyond that.

The Collective Response to Russia’s Ukraine Invasion

Yesterday, the government rolled out two hacking indictments from last year as part of its effort to use legal documents to expose Russian spying operations. While the indictments are important speaking documents, I realized from the response that the subset of journalists who focus primarily on cybersecurity were unaware that this effort was part of a larger effort to demonstrate Russia’s spying that DOJ (and, surely, other agencies of the IC) have been pursuing since the Russian invasion.

So I wanted to start collecting all instances here as a way to see the entire package of what DOJ is doing. I’ll try to keep this up-to-date.

February 22, 2022: Treasury sanctions Russian banks

Individual targets include Denis Aleksandrovich Bortnikov, Petr Mikhailovich Fradkov, Vladimir Sergeevich Kiriyenko.

(press release)

February 24, 2022: Treasury sanctions Russian banks

Targets include Sberbank, VTB, Gazprom, Rostelecom, Alfa Bank, Sergei Sergeevich Ivanov, Andrey Patrushev, Ivan Sechin (the latter sons of key oligarchs).

(press release)

February 25, 2022: Treasury sanctions Putin and Sergei Lavrov

(press release)

February 28, 2022: Treasury sanctions Kirill Dmitriev

Targets include Dmitriev and RDIF.

(press release)

US expels 12 Russian diplomats at UN.

March 3, 2022: Treasury sanctions key Putin cronies

Targets include Alisher Burhanovich Usmanov, Nikolay Petrovich Tokarev, Yevgeniy Prigozhin and their families.

(press release)

March 3, 2022: US v. Jack Hanick

November 4, 2021 sealed indictment against a former Fox employee who helped sanctioned oligarch Konstantin Malofeyev set up some media outlets to push Russian propaganda. Hanick was arrested in the UK on February 3, 2022 and is being extradited. (press release; my post)

SDNY 21-cr-676

March 7, 2022: US v. Elena Branson

March 7, 2022 complaint against the one-time chair of the Russian Community Council of the USA. Branson attempted to set up meetings with Trump. (press release; my post)

SDNY 22-mj-2178

March 11, 2022: Treasury sanctions Oligarchs

Targets include Dmitri Peskov and his family, Viktor Feliksovich Vekselberg, and the VTB board.

(press release)

March 14, 2022: US v. Andrey Muraviev

September 17, 2020 indictment against the funder for Lev Parnas’ cannabis donations, Andrey Murviev. The S2 indictment is otherwise identical to the S1 indictment obtained the same day, though with Muraviev identified. (press release; my post)

SDNY 19-cr-725

March 17, 2022: Treasury creates task force to target Oligarchs

(press release)

March 18, 2022: Baltic states expel diplomats

Baltic states expel 10 diplomats.

March 24, 2021: Treasury sanctions targeting industrial base

Sanctions targeting military industrial complex, Duma members, Herman Oskarovich Gref.

(press release)

March 24, 2022: US v. Evgeny Viktorovich Gladkikh

June 29, 2021 indictment against Evgeny Gladkikh for Triton hacking operations targeting refineries and other energy facilities

(press release)

DC 21-cr-442

March 24, 2022: US v. Pavel Aleksandrovich Akulov

August 26, 2021 indictment against three FSB officers working as part of the Dragonfly or Berzerk Bear hacking group for targeting ICS systems.

(press release)

KS 21-cr-20047

March 29, 2022: Europeans expel diplomats

Ireland expels 4 “diplomats.”

Lithuania expels

March 31, 2022: Treasury focuses on sanctions-evasion network

Treasury adds sanctions against companies used to evade sanctions, four key Russian tech companies, and the head of the organization for which Gladkikh works, TsNIIKhM’s General Director, Sergei Alekseevich Bobkov and itsDeputy General Director, Konstantin Vasilyevich Malevanyy.

April 4, 2022: FBI and Spanish authorities freeze Viktor Vekselberg’s yacht, Tango

FBI and Spanish authorities freeze Viktor Vekselberg’s yacht, Tango, for sanction violations and money laundering efforts to evade those sanctions.

Also Germany expels 40 “diplomats” and France expels 35.

April 5: Dmitry Pavlov and Hydra Market

DOJ charged Dmitry Pavlov and, with German assistance, shut down the Hydra Market to which he leased a server.

(press release)

April 6: Semion Meogilevich, Konstantin Malofeyev, additional sanctions on Sberbank, Alfa Bank, and Putin, Medvedev, and Lavrov’s families, Cyclops Blink

Department of State offers a $5 million reward for information leading to Semion Mogilevich’s arrest.

FBI wanted poster

DOJ charged Konstantin Malofeyev under the mirror charges to those against Jack Hanick.

(press release)

The White House added sanctions to Sberbank and Alfa Bank, added new restrictions on US investments in Russia, and added family members of Putin, Medvedev, and Lavrov’s families.

(press release)

DOJ rolled out the shut-down, in March, of the Cyclops Blink botnet run by Sandworm.

March 18 warrant

March 23 warrant

(press release)

April 14: Aleksandr Mikhaylovich Babakov

(press release)

Indictment

April 20: Malofeyev’s network

Treasury sanctions Malofeyev’s family, sanctions-evasion, and influence networks

(press release)

April 26: Sandworm

State offers a $10 million reward for six hackers involved in the Sandworm NotPetya attack.

(press release)

May 5: Pursuant to a US warrant, Fiji seizes Oligarch Suleiman Kerimov’s yacht

Fiji seized the $300 million yacht pursuant to a US based warrant.

(press release)

“Problem:” SDNY Charges Elena Branson as Unregistered Agent of Russia

Back in 2013, the Senior Vice President of the Russian American Chamber of Commerce (Sergei Millian’s organization) sent Elena Branson language from FARA with the subject line, “Problem.”

a. On or about January 30, 2013, BRANSON received an email from an individual using an email address ending in “mail.ru.” Based on my review of publicly available information, I have learned that this individual was a Senior Vice President of the Russian American Chamber of Commerce in the USA. This email had the subject line “Problem.” and the text of the email included, among other things, a portion of the FARA Unit’s website with background on FARA. In response, BRANSON wrote, in part, “I am interested in the number of the law, its text in English[.]” The sender then responded with “Lena, read …” and copied into the email background on FARA and portions of the statute.

Branson, who the prior year had founded the Russian Center of New York and subsequently became the Chair of Russian Community Council of the USA (KSORS), apparently didn’t think it was an urgent problem. It wasn’t until 2019 that she appears to have considered — but then, after asking Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov for guidance, decided not to — register under FARA.

b. On or about December 10, 2019, BRANSON received an email indicating that BRANSON had requested a new FARA “eFile” account.21 That day, a member of the FARA Unit emailed the Branson RCNY Account with an eFile account number and temporary password to log in to the FARA eFile system. Later that day, a user logged in to the FARA eFile system using that account number and temporary password, and entered the registration name “Russian Center, Inc.” and the RCNY Office as the address. The user did not submit a FARA registration for the account. A user then accessed the account again on or about December 11, 2019, but, again, the individual did not submit a FARA registration. The internet protocol addresses connected to both log-ins of this account resolve to the same zip code as the RCNY Office.

c. On or about December 26, 2019, BRANSON emailed the Embassy Email Account. In the cover email, BRANSON wrote, in part, “[A] letter is in the attachment. Respectfully, Elena.” In the attached letter, BRANSON wrote, in part, that she had been asked questions from “compatriots” about “whether it is necessary to register their public organizations as a foreign agent.” BRANSON further wrote “[t]hese questions began to arise after the arrest of Maria Butina in Washington in July 2018 on charges of working as a foreign agent in the United States without registration.” BRANSON concluded the letter by asking the Embassy to advise such Russian compatriot groups, writing, “I am asking you to provide legal advice regarding registration as a foreign agent . . . for public organizations of Russian compatriots in the United States.” The letter was addressed to Ambassador-1.

Branson’s failure to register lies at the core of a 6-count complaint unveiled by SDNY yesterday, charging Branson in several conspiracies, under both FARA and 18 USC 951, as well as for visa fraud.

Branson won’t be arrested off this complaint. She’s long gone.

A month after the FBI interviewed her and searched her office in September 2020, she fled the country. Not long after Biden was inaugurated, Branson sold her NYC apartment.

During this investigation, the FBI has, among other things, executed judicially authorized search warrants for (i) approximately eight of BRANSON’s electronic accounts (the “Branson Accounts”3); (ii) the RCNY office (which was also BRANSON’s residence) in Manhattan, New York (the “RCNY Office”); and (iii) BRANSON’s person, for all electronics and other materials in her possession at the time of the search. From the RCNY Office and the search of BRANSON’s person, the FBI recovered a total of approximately 34 electronic devices (the “Branson Electronics”), including approximately 11 cellular phones. The FBI also conducted a voluntary interview of BRANSON on the same day as the search of the RCNY Office (the “Branson Interview”) and has interviewed other individuals living in the United States in connection with the investigation.

The searches of the RCNY Office (the “RCNY Search”) and BRANSON’s person, as well as the Branson Interview, took place on or about September 29, 2020. BRANSON flew to Moscow, Russia, on or about October 20, 2020, and BRANSON does not appear to have returned to the United States since that date. In or about March 2021, BRANSON sold the RCNY Office, which had been her residence in New York City. During in or about October and November 2020, BRANSON’s then boyfriend 9 (“Boyfriend-1”) wired approximately $197,000 to two of BRANSON’s bank accounts at Russian banks.4 On or about October 15, 2021, RT, formerly known as Russia Today, a Russian state-controlled television station, published an interview conducted by Maria Butina5 of BRANSON. During this interview, BRANSON told Butina, in substance and in part, that BRANSON left the United States for Moscow approximately one month after the Branson Interview because BRANSON was “scared” and thought the “probability was very high” that she would be arrested if she stayed in the United States.6

3 The Branson Accounts include four email accounts and four social media accounts, including BRANSON’s Facebook account (the “Branson Facebook Account”).

So Branson will only be arrested if she decides to flee Putin’s increasingly totalitarian regime.

Unlike the prosecution of Jack Hanick, then, whose indictment may have been timed to tolling statutes of limitation last November and in which the US is working on getting him extradited from the UK, this complaint seems to be more about messaging in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

As a messaging vehicle, it shows how Russia has committed to the “consolidation” of Russian diaspora, cultivating a Russian identity that can be used to mobilize political pressure (and, in Ukraine and the Baltics, justifications for imperialism).

In or about November 2015, Lavrov published an article titled “Russian World: Steering Towards Consolidation.” In this article, Lavrov wrote, in part, “The provision of support to the Russian world is an unconditional foreign-policy priority for Russia, as formalized by Russia’s Foreign Policy Concept. . . . Over the years, we have managed to elevate our work in this area to an entirely new level and to create effective cooperation mechanisms in close contact with representatives of foreign communities.”

Some of Branson’s activities are mundane cultural exchanges paid for by Russian government entities. Some sprinkle the names of likely spies or handlers in the description.

Perhaps most interesting, the complaint provides an interesting addition to this passage from the Mueller Report.

Later [on November 9, 2016, the day after Trump’s victory, Kirill] Dmitriev flew to New York, where Peskov was separately traveling to attend the chess tournament. 1020 Dmitriev invited Nader to the opening of the tournament and noted that, if there was “a chance to see anyone key from Trump camp,” he “would love to start building for the future.” 1021 Dmitriev also asked Nader to invite Kushner to the event so that he (Dmitriev) could meet him. 1022 Nader did not pass along Dmitriev’s invitation to anyone connected with the incoming Administration. 1023 Although one World Chess Federation official recalled hearing from an attendee that President-Elect Trump had stopped by the tournament, the investigation did not establish that Trump or any Campaign or Transition Team official attended the event. 1024 And the President’s written answers denied that he had. 1025

The complaint describes how Branson had been instructed to arrange a meeting with Trump or Ivanka in March 2016, around the same time Russia was hacking John Podesta, though the complaint is remarkably coy about whether Branson ever sent her draft letter to Trump Organization (and if so, whether it was among the documents showing direct ties to Russia that Trump Organization withheld from Mueller’s inquiry and SSCI).

In or about March 2016, BRANSON exchanged a series of emails with Minister-2. During these messages, in part, Minister-2 asked BRANSON to organize a meeting with CC-2 and the now-former President of the United States, who was then a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, or his daughter, in New York. On or about March 23, 2016, BRANSON received an email from Minister-2 with the subject line “additional meetings of [CC-2].” The email stated, in part, that the author was requesting BRANSON’s assistance in organizing meetings for CC-2 with “the management” of certain specified U.S. companies. On or about March 16, 2016, BRANSON sent an individual, who was then-chair of KSORS, a draft letter addressed to the now-former President, inviting him to the Russia Forum New York in April 2016 and suggesting that if his “busy schedule will not permit your attending our forum, perhaps you can suggest one of your children . . . who have followed in your footsteps.” The draft invitation included BRANSON’s name and contact information in the signature block. There is no indication that the now-former President or his children attended the referenced meeting.

Branson’s complaint describes what would be a second attempt to get Trump to attend the Chess Championship, in addition to Kirill’s attempt to extend an invite through George Nader. Branson sent her invite to an unnamed Trump Advisor.

BRANSON also attempted to arrange meetings for Russian officials at the 2016 World Chess Championship, which was held in Manhattan, New York:

1. On or about November 9, 2016, CC-6 emailed BRANSON with the subject line “Chess business.” CC-6 wrote to BRANSON, in part, “as discussed we will try to get Kirsan online after tomorrow’s official press-conference is over around noon at Fulton Street Market Building, South Street Seaport NY[.]”20 On or about that same day, BRANSON responded to CC-6 and wrote “[CC-6], good evening! I can bring the ipad for a Skype session. I will contact the media. Need them at noon?”

2. On or about November 10, 2016, BRANSON emailed an advisor to the now-former President of the United States (“Advisor-1”), expressing congratulations for their victory in the presidential election and attaching an invitation to the World Chess Championship addressed to the then-President- elect. The invitation was signed by “President of the International Chess Federation (FIDE-FIDE).” There is no indication that the now-former President attended the referenced event.

3. On or about November 11, 2016, BRANSON was photographed at the World Chess Championship with CC-6 and a second individual who I recognize, based on my review of publicly available photographs, to be the current Press Secretary for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

20 Based on my training and experience, including my review of publicly available material, I have learned that Kirsan Ilyumzhinov is the former President of the Republic of Kalmykia in the Russian Federation and the former president of FIDE, the International Chess Federation. I have further learned that, on or about November 25, 2015, the United States Department of the Treasury designated Ilyumzhinov as a Specially Designated National for his involvement with the Government of Syria and related entities.

Here, the complaint reiterates the Mueller conclusion: there’s no evidence Trump attended the event. But it does raise questions about the completeness of the response Trump offered to Mueller’s questions, pertaining to whether Trump was asked to attend.

Were you asked to attend the World Chess Championship gala on November 10, 2016? If yes, who asked you to attend, when were you asked, and what were you told about about [sic] why your presence was requested? 1. Did you attend any part of the event? If yes, describe any interactions you had with any Russians or representatives of the Russian government at the event.

Were you asked to attend the World Chess Championship gala on November 10, 2016? If yes, who asked you to attend, when were you asked, and what were you told about about [sic] why your presence was requested? 1. Did you attend any part of the event? If yes, describe any interactions you had with any Russians or representatives of the Russian government at the event.

Response to Question V, Part (a)

I do not remember having been asked to attend the World Chess Championship gala, and I did not attend the event. During the course of preparing to respond to these questions, I have become aware of documents indicating that in March of 2016, the president of the World Chess Federation invited the Trump Organization to host, at Trump Tower, the 2016 World Chess Championship Match to be held in New York in November 2016. I have also become aware that in November 2016, there were press inquiries to my staff regarding whether I had plans to attend the tournament, which was not being held at Trump Tower. I understand these documents have already been provided to you.

Trump describes a March 2016 discussion about hosting the event and November press inquiries about whether he would attend it. But there’s no mention of a November 2016 invitation asking him to attend.

Yet the Branson complaint suggests there would have been an invitation to Trump, signed by the sanctioned Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, sent through an unnamed advisor. His response reflects only earlier (in March) communications about the chess championship, not anything sent on November 10 bearing Ilyumzhinov’s signature.

This is a signaling complaint, one that likely won’t lead to anyone’s arrest. But it should raise more questions about Donald Trump’s candor with Mueller back in 2018.

And we should expect more of the same. On Twitter, Brandon Van Grack, who would have been involved in Branson’s investigation when he ran the National Security Division’s FARA office and likely knows what else might be in the pipeline, suggested there’s probably more of the same to come.