Judge rejects John Durham case over Steele dossier sources

A federal judge on Thursday rejected a request by Special Counsel John Durham to dismiss Igor Danchenko’s case against Donald Trump in 2016 The main source of the alleged dossier with Russian ties, was later accused of lying to the FBI about information he used to support his claims.

U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga ruled Thursday that Danchenko’s case must be weighed by a jury, clearing the way for a trial next month. But it was “a very close call,” Trenga said from the bench.

The ruling is a victory, if only a temporary one, for Durham, who was asked by former Attorney General William P. Barr to investigate the FBI’s 2016 Russia probe during the Trump administration in 2019. The Durham investigation centers on the FBI’s use of the so-called “Steer Dossier,” a collection of allegations about Trump compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele.

But the judge’s comment that the decision was difficult could be an ominous sign if Durham still has to convince jurors that Danchenko is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The special counsel’s investigation suffered a setback in May when another cybersecurity lawyer, Michael Sussmann, accused of lying to the FBI, was acquitted by a jury in federal court in Washington. Danchenko’s trial is scheduled to begin in October. 11 In federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. Durham argued the case in person at Thursday’s hearing.

The jury will be asked to weigh the statements of Danchenko, who pleaded not guilty, In a 2017 FBI interview, he talked about a longtime Democrat-aligned Washington PR executive, Charles Dolan Jr., and Sergey Millian, the former chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia.

Igor Danchenko arrested, charged with lying to FBI about information in Steele file

The crux of the case is whether these statements Danchenko made to the FBI were deliberate deceptions that had a significant impact on the government’s efforts to verify the claims in the dossier, which Steele based on information from Danchenko and others. A series of reports. Steele was hired to produce the report by research firm Fusion GPS, which is employed by a law firm representing Trump’s opponent Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee.

Danchenko’s defense team asked a judge to dismiss the five charges in a legal brief filed in September. 2, arguing that Danchenko made “ambiguous and speculative statements” to the FBI regarding “subjective” beliefs.

They said Danchenko’s prosecution was “a case of excessive government interference.”

Danchenko’s attorneys, Stuart A. Sears and Danny Onorato, wrote: “The law only criminalizes clear false statements that are important to the government’s specific decision, adding, The FBI question “is basically ambiguous, sir. Danchenko’s responses were literally true, unresponsive or ambiguous, and the statements were not relevant to the particular government decision. “

“If Rudy Giuliani says he believes the 2020 election is fraudulent, that doesn’t make it a false statement,” Sears argued in court Thursday. “He believes.”

Durham’s team countered that the FBI’s question was clear, and it was the jury’s job to resolve disputes over disputed facts anyway.

In a June 15, 2017 interview, FBI agents asked Danchenko a “very straightforward” question about Dolan, Durham’s team said in a Sept. 9 briefing assertion. 16.

“But you never talked to Chuck Dolan about anything that appeared in the file, did you?” the attorney asked, according to court documents.

“No,” Danchenko replied.

“Don’t you think so?” the agent asked.

“No. You know, we may have discussed related issues, but no, no, no, no specifics,” Danchenko said.

The special counsel said the context in which the interview was conducted should make it clear that Danchenko was asked about the source behind the claims in the Steele dossier. At least one of the allegations in Steele’s dossier “reflects information that Danchenko gathered directly from Dolan,” the indictment said — though Danchenko denied that they discussed anything “specific” about it.

Danchenko emailed Dolan asking about Paul Manafort’s resignation as Trump’s campaign chairman in 2016, and Dolan responded with information that matched the August indictment that Steele’s Feb. Report.

But Danchenko’s lawyers argued: “The most reasonable reading of this question is whether Mr. Danchenko and Mr. [Dolan] Talked about the company report itself after the company report was published. “

“Mr. Danchenko’s answer to this question is true because he has never talked to [Dolan] Regarding the specific allegations contained in the company reports themselves, but they did address issues “related” to the allegations later published in those reports,” Danchenko’s attorneys wrote.

They added that the FBI agent’s question was inaccurately worded because the email exchange between Danchenko and Dolan was not the same as “conversation,” the word FBI agents used in interviews.

“Conversation means communicating verbally, not in writing,” the lawyer argued.

During Thursday’s hearing, Durham argued that “in today’s lexicon, ‘talk’ has a different meaning.”

“He knew exactly what the FBI was looking for; he knew the context in which he was being asked about,” Durham said, adding that Danchenko did not provide investigators with email exchanges about Manafort because He is handing over other materials. Danchenko’s lawyers said in court filings that the information in Steele’s dossier actually came from “public news sources,” not Dolan.

Danchenko’s lawyers also argue that his 2017 statement to the FBI — that he “believed” that Milian contacted him anonymously on the phone and shared information about Trump and Russia — was “literally” true” and cannot be considered a criminal lie.

An email showed Danchenko had never spoken to Milian as of August, Durham said. August 8, 2016. Prosecutors said Danchenko claimed the anonymous caller contacted him weeks before the date.

“He knew that didn’t happen and that it wasn’t Milian who called him,” Durham said.

The special counsel’s team previously revealed that Milian has not yet been found. Danchenko’s lawyers argued separately Thursday that several Danchenko-related emails that Milian sent to Russian journalists should not be considered evidence in the trial “unless he allowed it,” Danchenko had a chance to cross-examine. milian. “

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