John Durham’s Last Act: Exposing the FBI
Russiagate special advocate John Durham is in the home stretch. His grand jury completed its work last week, apparently with no new indictments on the horizon. Attorney General Merrick Garland is expected to receive his final report by the end of the year. And Durham prepares for its final trial: the prosecution of Igor Danchenko, the main source of the discredited Steele dossier.
The latter should catch our attention. We now know that the so-called dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele was a production of the Clinton campaign. It’s one of the great dirty tricks in modern political history: the 2016 Democratic presidential campaign allied with the law enforcement and intelligence apparatus of the incumbent Democratic administration to portray their partisan opposition Donald Trump, like a Kremlin mole, then made the smear stick to the point of forcing Trump to govern for more than two years under the guise of a special counsel investigation.
This venture included a substantial reliance by the FBI on the fake Steele dossier to obtain a spy clearance from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) – on sworn statements that the bureau believed Trump was in a “conspiracy to cooperation” with Vladimir Putin’s anti-American regime. .
Danchenko turns out to have been Steele’s main source for this fever dream. Last year, Durham charged him with five counts of lying to the FBI. But it’s not half. Last week, in a jaw-dropping legal submission, Durham revealed that the FBI hired Danchenko as an informant and paid him for almost three years – from March 2017 to October 2020.
Failure upon failure
If you’re counting points, it would be throughout (a) most of the surveillance authorized by the FISC; (b) the Mueller investigation, which somehow failed to detect – or at least report – that Danchenko misled the bureau; and (c) Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s investigations into FBI misconduct in the Trump investigation – in reports of which there is no indication that Horowitz was told Danchenko was on office payroll and available to be interviewed.
There is more. Although Danchenko was the most important source of Steele’s explosive allegations against Trump, the FBI did not interview him before using Steele’s file in its first two sworn surveillance applications, in October 2016 and January 2017. When the bureau finally got down to questioning Danchenko – because he had been unable to corroborate Steele’s claims despite relying on them in court – he learned that Steele appeared to have exaggerated and possibly fabricated rumors and innuendo about Trump that Danchenko allegedly passed on.
Yet far from alerting the FISC judges that there was an important reason not to believe Steele’s information about Trump – who was then the incumbent president – the FBI continued to rely on this suspicious information in the sworn surveillance requests in April and June 2017, based on which the FISC granted additional spy warrants.
The Durham investigation says Danchenko lied to the FBI on multiple occasions, lies that should have been easy for the nation’s flagship federal investigative agency to expose. Yet they kept it on board, kept paying it.
But it’s getting worse. While the bureau used inane and unverified information from Steele and Danchenko to suggest to a court that the President of the United States might be a Russian asset, the FBI had intelligence indicating that Danchenko himself might have been an asset. Russian.
This was detailed in another Durham court filing last week, in federal court in Virginia, where Danchenko is expected to stand trial soon. The prosecutor said that Danchenko had “been the subject of FBI counterintelligence from 2009 to 2011”.
Why was the investigation closed? Did the FBI finally find out that Danchenko wasn’t really a Russian asset? Well no. In fact, reports from his investigation claim that in 2008, while working at the Brookings Institution (a center-left think tank in Washington), Danchenko offered to pay two of his fellow researchers for classified information. if they got jobs in the new Obama administration. There was no indication that anything came of it, but after being tipped off, the office did some research and learned that Danchenko had been in contact with people he was investigating as possible Russian intelligence agents.
So what happened? Incredibly, Durham now explains that the counterintelligence investigation was closed because “the FBI mistakenly believed that the [Danchenko] had left the country.
Yes, you read that right.
The Durham inquiry suffered a significant setback in the spring when a Washington, DC jury acquitted Democratic attorney Michael Sussmann. Durham prosecutors presented ample evidence that Sussmann falsely told the FBI he did not work for the Clinton campaign when he peddled false information on a supposed Trump-Putin communication channel. But prosecutors curiously painted the FBI as the victim of Sussmann’s machinations when evidence suggested the bureau was not fooled at all – and looked more like a willing participant in the construction of the Trump/Russia political narrative.
Could Durham have the same problem pursuing Danchenko? Could be. After all, Danchenko, like Sussmann, is accused of lying to the FBI, and a jury may once again wonder if the bureau was actually duped.
Yet these prosecutions are secondary to the vital story: what role did the FBI, whether through mischief or malfeasance, play in the Clinton campaign’s scheme to portray Trump as a clandestine Kremlin operative? For now, we must hope that Durham’s final report will answer this question.
Andrew C. McCarthy is a former federal prosecutor.