A Russian analyst who played a major role in creating a flawed dossier on the former president donald trump fabricated one of his own sources and concealed the identity of another when questioned by the FBI, prosecutors said Tuesday.
The allegations were aired during opening statements in the trial of Igor Danchenko, who is charged with five counts of making false statements in FBI.
The FBI interviewed Danchenko several times in 2017 as he tried to corroborate claims in what became known as the “Steele dossier.”
This dossier, by British spy Christopher Steele – commissioned by Democrats during the 2016 presidential campaign – included allegations of contact between the Trump campaign and Russian government officials, as well as allegations that the Russians may have had compromising information about Trump in the form of videos showing him being engage in salacious sexual activity in a Moscow hotel.
Specifically, prosecutors say, Danchenko lied when he said he got information in an anonymous phone call from a man he believed to be Sergei Millian, a former head of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce.
Prosecutor Michael Keilty told jurors in the U.S. District Court in Alexandria that Danchenko never spoke with Millian and phone records show he never received an anonymous phone call at the time Danchenko claimed that it had happened.
Prosecutors also say Danchenko lied when he said he never “spoke” with a man named Charles Dolan about the allegations in the case. But prosecutors say there is evidence that Danchenko “spoke with Mr. Dolan via email” about very specific items that surfaced in the filing.
The FBI needed to know that Dolan was an important source for Danchenko, Keilty said, because Dolan is a Democratic agent who has worked on the presidential campaign of every Democratic candidate since Jimmy Carter, and therefore would have had the motivation to fabricate or to embellish allegations against Trump.
“These lies mattered,” Keilty said.
But Danchenko’s attorney, Danny Onorato, told jurors his client was completely honest with the FBI.
He pointed out that Danchenko never said he was certain Millian was the source of the anonymous call, but that he had good reason to believe him. The government case requires jurors to become “mind readers” to assess Danchenko’s subjective belief about the source of the phone call, Onorato said.
And while phone records may not show a call, Onorato said, the government has no idea if a call could have been made with a mobile app rather than a traditional phone carrier. Indeed, Onorato said, it makes more sense that such a call took place using an internet application, since many of them hide the source of the call and the caller wanted to remain anonymous.
Regarding the allegations regarding his discussions with Dolan, Onorato said, Danchenko answered the question honestly because the two didn’t “talk” — but instead had a written exchange. If the FBI wanted to know more about the email exchanges, they should have asked a different question, Onorato said.
“The law doesn’t allow you to rewrite the dictionary,” Onorato said.
Keilty, in his opening, acknowledged to jurors that evidence would show the FBI had made mistakes in the conduct of its investigations, but he said that should not exculpate Danchenko.
“A bank robber doesn’t get a pass just because the security guard was sleeping,” Keilty said.
The first prosecution witness was FBI analyst Brian Auten, who said information from the Steele dossier was used to support a surveillance warrant against Trump campaign official Carter Page.
When questioned by Durham, Auten testified that the dossier was used to bolster the surveillance enforcement even though the FBI could not corroborate his claims.
Auten said the FBI checked with other government agencies to see if they corroborated, but nothing came back. Auten and other FBI agents even met Steele in the UK in 2016 and offered him up to $1 million if he could substantiate the allegations in the dossier, but none were provided.
Danchenko is the third person to be prosecuted by special counsel John Durham, who has been appointed to investigate the origins of ‘Crossfire Hurricane’ – the designation given to the FBI’s 2016 investigation into the former president’s dealings Trump with Russia. It is also the first of the Durham cases that delves deep into the origins of the dossier, which Trump has called fake news and a political witch hunt.