The Trump-Russia collusion hoax is the most successful and destructive partisan political scam in the history of our nation. Based on lies portraying Donald Trump as a covert Russian operative, it was cited by the Obama-era FBI and Justice Department as the putative justification for using the nation’s vast intelligence apparatus to investigate Trump and concomitantly benefit Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
The underlying lies were compiled by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele upon whose “dossier” the FBI based its FISA warrant applications to spy on Trump advisor Carter Page and, by extension, Trump and his presidential campaign. The Steele Dossier consists of 17 now-discredited reports which collectively allege that Trump was subject to blackmail by the Kremlin for bizarre sexual behavior in a Moscow hotel and that his campaign operatives were conspiring with the Russians to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.
When he wrote those reports, Steele was working under contract with Fusion GPS, a private investigations firm that had been retained by Marc Elias, legal counsel to the Clinton campaign, to do opposition research on Trump.
Well after the 2016 election, the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) reviewed the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign.
According to the OIG’s report, Steele was hired by Fusion GPS to investigate, among other things, “whether there were any ties between the Russian government and Trump or his campaign. Steele’s work for Fusion GPS resulted in his producing numerous election-related reports.” With Fusion GPS’s authorization, he “directly provided more than a dozen of his reports to the FBI between July and October 2016, and several others to the FBI through [DOJ attorney Bruce] Ohr and other third parties.”
The OIG found that that the FBI used Steele’s information to obtain FISA warrants to conduct electronic surveillance of Page. In its warrant applications, the FBI advised the court that “Steele was believed to be a reliable source for three reasons: his professional background; his history of work as an FBI CHS [confidential human source] since 2013; and his prior non-election reporting, which the FBI described as ‘corroborated and used in criminal proceedings.’”
In other words, the FBI averred under oath that, based on Steele’s credibility, derogatory information about Trump and his campaign warranted investigation by means of electronic surveillance.
The OIG also found that, in October 2016, Steele provided briefings regarding his findings to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other media outlets. In each, Steele’s credibility as an experienced former British agent who worked Russian intelligence was a material factor in establishing the credibility of the Trump-Russia collusion smear.
For example, according to the OIG, Steele was quoted anonymously in an October 31, 2016 Mother Jones article entitled “A Veteran Spy Has Given the FBI Information Alleging a Russian Operation to Cultivate Donald Trump.”
Here are two quotations from the Mother Jones article:
Mother Jones concluded that Steele was a “credible source with a proven record of providing reliable, sensitive and important information to the US government” who had presented the FBI with “troubling” evidence of Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia.
At the time that Mother Jones and the rest of the media were relying on Steele’s credibility, it had yet to be revealed that he was, in effect, being paid by the Clinton campaign. So it was that a willing and enthusiastic corporate media relied on Steele’s work product to spread the Trump-Russia collusion smear without raising any question regarding its author’s possible bias or self-interest.
In its assessment of Steele’s purported credibility and reliability, the OIG did fault the FBI for failing to verify the Steele Dossier’s unsubstantiated allegations that formed the basis of the Carter Page FISA applications.
In this regard, the OIG found that Steele himself was not the originating source in any of his reporting. Instead, he had relied on a “Primary Sub-Source” for information and this Primary Sub-Source used a network of sub-sources to gather information that was relayed to Steele. Moreover, the FBI accepted and used Steele’s reporting even though he never disclosed the identity of his Primary Sub-Source.
Only after placing Carter Page under electronic surveillance did the FBI tardily identify and interview Steele’s Primary-Sub-Source. As you will see below, this individual is one Igor Danchenko who has been indicted for making false statements to the FBI.
The OIG found that, shortly after the FBI filed the first Carter Page FISA renewal, it conducted a series of interviews of Danchenko that “raised significant questions about the reliability of the Steele election reporting.” In a January 2017 interview, Danchenko told the FBI that he had not seen Steele’s reports until they became public and that Steele had “misstated or exaggerated [Danchenko’s] statements in multiple sections of the reporting. For example, [Danchenko] told the FBI that, while [Steele’s] Report 80 stated that Trump’s alleged sexual activities at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Moscow had been ‘confirmed’ by a senior, western staff member at the hotel, [Danchenko] explained that he reported to Steele that Trump’s alleged unorthodox sexual activity at the Ritz Carlton hotel was ‘rumor and speculation’ and that he had not been able to confirm the story.” (Emphasis added)
According to the OIG, Danchenko also advised the FBI that he “never expected” Steele to put Danchenko’s “statements in reports or present them as facts.” Danchenko said that he “made it clear to Steele that he had no proof to support the statements from his sub-sources and that ‘it was just talk.’”
Danchenko added that his information came from “word of mouth and hearsay” and conversation that he had with “friends over beers.” As for the allegations of Trump’s bizarre sexual activities, they were statements he heard made in “jest.” (Emphasis added)
Despite Danchenko’s devastating revelations, the FBI did not correct the record with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court or amend its FISA applications. Nevertheless, the OIG concluded that the FBI had not acted with political bias.
This conclusion prompted a blistering response from Attorney General William Barr. In a December 10, 2019 interview with NBC News, Barr offered a differing view when he said that the FBI may have acted in “bad faith.”
“I think our nation was turned on its head for three years based on a completely bogus narrative that was largely fanned and hyped by a completely irresponsible press,” Barr said.
“I think there were gross abuses … and inexplicable behavior that is intolerable in the FBI. I think that leaves open the possibility that there was bad faith.”
Recall that, in May 2019, Barr had appointed John Durham, the United States Attorney for Connecticut, to “investigate certain intelligence and law-enforcement activities surrounding the 2016 presidential election.” But, in a December 1, 2020, letter to the Senate and House Judiciary Committees, Barr wrote, “Although I had expected Mr. Durham to complete his work by the summer of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as additional information he uncovered, prevented him from doing so.
“In advance of the presidential election, I decided to appoint Mr. Durham as a Special Counsel to provide him and his team with the assurance that they could complete their work, without regard to the outcome of the election.”
Barr stated that, when he made the appointment on October 19, 2020, he issued a “scope order” providing that, as special counsel, Durham “is authorized to investigate whether any federal official, employee, or any other person or entity violated the law in connection with the intelligence, counter-intelligence, or law-enforcement activities directed at the 2016 presidential campaigns, individuals associated with those campaigns, and individuals associated with the administration of President Donald J. Trump, including but not limited to Crossfire Hurricane and the investigation of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller.”
To date, Durham’s efforts have resulted in three indictments. The first was of lawyer Kevin Clinesmith who pled guilty and received probation for doctoring a CIA email the FBI used in 2017 when it applied to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to renew its Carter Page FISA warrant.
The second indictment charged Perkins Coie lawyer Michael Sussmann with making a false statement to the FBI’s General Counsel regarding information he presented that purportedly showed a secret channel of internet communications between the Trump Organization and the Russian Alfa Bank.
And now comes the third indictment which cuts to the heart of the Steele Dossier by charging Igor Danchenko with making false statements to the FBI about his so-called “sub-sources” of information that Steele incorporated in his dossier.
From 2005 through 2010, Danchenko worked at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. According to the 39-page indictment, Steele “relied primarily” on Danchenko to “collect the information that ultimately formed the core of the allegations found” in the dossier. From January through November 2017, in “its effort to determine the truth or falsity of specific information” in the Steele Dossier, the FBI interviewed Danchenko “regarding, among other things, the information that Danchenko had provided to” Steele.
The indictment avers that Danchenko “stated falsely that he had never communicated with a particular U.S.-based individual — who was a long-time participant in Democratic Party politics and was then an executive at a U.S. public relations firm (“PR Executive-1”) — about any allegations contained in the” Steele Dossier.
So, who is “PR Executive -1”? The New York Times has confirmed that his name is Charles Dolan who is described in the indictment as having “served as (1) chairman of a national Democratic political organization, (2) state chairman of former President Clinton’s 1992 and 1996 presidential campaigns, and (3) an advisor to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 Presidential campaign.” Moreover, it alleges that President Clinton appointed Dolan to an advisory commission at the State Department and that Dolan had “actively campaigned and participated in calls and events as a volunteer on behalf of Hillary Clinton.”
According to the indictment, as a public relations professional, Dolan had “spent much of his career interacting with Eurasian clients with a particular focus on Russia.” The indictment identifies by monikers (such as “Russian Press Secretary-1” and “Russian Ambassador-1”) persons who would later appear in the Steele Dossier.
The indictment alleges that on or about August 19, 2016, Danchenko and Dolan had the following email exchange:
Danchenko to Dolan: “Could you please ask someone to comment on [Paul Manafort’s] resignation [as Trump’s campaign manager] and anything on the Trump campaign? Off the record of course! Any thought, rumor, allegation. I am working on a related project against Trump.” (Emphasis in the indictment)
Dolan to Danchenko: “Let me dig around on [Manafort]. Pretty sure the new team wanted him gone asap and used today’s NYT story to drive a stake in his heart.”
Four days later, Dolan emailed the following:
“Hi Igor: I had a drink with a GOP friend of mine who knows some of the players and got some of what is in this article, which provides even more detail. She also told me that [Campaign Staff Member-1], who hates [Manafort] and still speaks to Trump regularly played a role. He is said to be doing a happy dance over it.
“I think the bottom line is that in addition to the Ukraine revelations, a number of people wanted [Manafort] gone. It is a very sharp elbows crowd.”
Later that day, Danchenko replied as follows:
“Thank you for this. Any additional insights will be much appreciated. It is an important project for me, and our goals clearly coincide. I’ve been following the Russia trail in Trump’s campaign. It is there so what you read in the news is hardly an exaggeration. Some things are less dramatic while others are more than they seem.”
Dolan to Danchenko: “Thanks! I’ll let you know if I hear anything else.”
(Emphasis in the indictment)
According to the indictment, the above information “was substantially the same as the information contained in” Steele’s report two days later.
But the indictment avers that Dolan “later acknowledged to the FBI that he never met with a ‘GOP friend’ in relation to information that he passed to Danchenko, but, rather, fabricated the fact of the meeting…” Dolan admitted that he had instead “obtained the information about [Manafort] from public news sources.” He also said that he was not aware “that Danchenko’s reporting would be provided to the FBI.”
The indictment sets forth many detailed averments regarding Dolan’s connections to people and events that appear in the Steele Dossier. Among others, it describes Dolan’s June 2016 stay at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton hotel where he toured the presidential suite and met with the general manager and staff. This was the location at which Trump was alleged in the Steele Dossier to have engaged in what the indictment terms “salacious sexual activity”.
There is much more to discuss regarding the contents of the indictment. Suffice it to say for now that the thrust of the indictment appears to be that Danchenko lied to the FBI in order to protect Dolan. In doing so, he allegedly deprived the FBI of the ability to determine Dolan’s “reliability, motivations and potential bias” in providing information about Trump and his campaign.
Maybe Danchenko’s alleged lies hampered the FBI’s investigation of the Steele Dossier. But the question still remains: was the FBI really interested in getting at the truth? Or did it, in the words of Attorney General Barr, act in bad faith to cover up its “gross abuses” and “intolerable” and “inexplicable behavior” in its investigation of Donald Trump, his presidential campaign and administration?
These and other questions arising out of the Danchenko indictment will be addressed in coming articles.
So stay tuned.
George Parry is a former federal and state prosecutor. He blogs at knowledgeisgood.net and may be reached by email at email@example.com.
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