FBI patties or political players? How the Durham Inquiry drew the FBI in the Trump-Russia investigation

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Special Counsel John Durham let the FBI off the hook for misconduct in what is likely the final trial of its probe into the origins of the FBI’s Trump-Russia collusion investigation, portraying it as the unfortunate victim of a dishonest Russian analyst named Igor Danchenko.

Mr. Danchenko, a critical source on the anti-Trump dossier, lied to FBI officials and spurred their “troubling” behavior while tracking the 2016 Trump campaign, prosecutors said in opening statements at Mr. Danchenko’s trial on Tuesday.

“The Steele dossier prompted disturbing behavior from the FBI. The defendant’s lies played a role in this behavior,” prosecutor Michael Keilty told a jury in a federal courtroom in Alexandria, Virginia.

Mr. Danchenko, a US-based Russian analyst who provided information that made its way into the dossier of salacious and unverified allegations against Mr. Trump, is facing five counts of lying to the FBI. He faces up to five years in prison for each charge.

Mr. Durham’s team of prosecutors says Mr. Danchenko misled FBI agents about how he obtained information for the dossier put together by former British spy Christopher Steele and paid for by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. FBI agents used the dossier to obtain an arrest warrant to bug Trump’s campaign aide Carter Page, who was suspected of working with Russia. Mr Page was never charged with a crime and no evidence has surfaced to support allegations against him.

Mr Keilty said the FBI relied on those lies to launch a “historic investigation” into a presidential candidate and later into Mr Trump while he was president.

The FBI’s portrayal as a victim was another disappointment to Mr Trump and his allies, who hoped Mr Durham would expose a far-right conspiracy within the FBI and other US intelligence agencies to sabotage Mr Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and undermine his presidency.

During the trial, Mr. Danchenko’s defense attorneys were the ones who blasted the FBI. They accused the FBI of asking vague questions and not asking further questions.

“The questions weren’t asked properly and that’s not his fault,” defense attorney Danny Onorato told jurors.

He said Mr. Danchenko did not lie to the FBI. He said the Russian is a trusted and valuable source working as a confidential informant for the bureau.

Mr. Onorato said his client voluntarily went to the FBI to answer questions about the Steele report. He said his client offered speculation that Mr. Durham’s team was posing as lies.

“He did not speculate to hinder the investigation, but to aid it,” Mr Onorato said.

The attorney aggressively denied Mr. Keilty’s claim that the FBI granted the defendant immunity in exchange for truthful testimony.

“That’s a lie. He just lied to you,” Mr. Onorato told the jury. “You think about it when you hear the government’s case.”

This fueled an outburst from Mr Durham, who complained about Mr Onorato’s remarks after the jury left the room. He told US District Judge Anthony Trenga that the statement was “highly inappropriate” and asked the judge to order the jury to ignore it.

The indictment alleges that Mr. Danchenko lied about how he obtained information for the dossier, including his reliance on information from Democratic Agent Charles J. Dolan, a public relations executive with close ties to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign.

Defense attorneys have said in court documents that the charges against Mr Danchenko should be dropped because his answers to narrow questions from FBI agents were “literally true”. For example, Mr. Danchenko denied speaking to Mr. Dolan because he communicated with the Clinton agent via email exchanges.

The indictment also alleges that Mr. Danchenko lied about his contacts with Sergei Millian, a former president of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce.

According to the indictment, Mr. Danchenko told the FBI that he spoke to Mr. Millian in July 2016 and the businessman told him that the Trump campaign had colluded with Russia to win the election. This information was contained in the Steele dossier.

Those talks never took place and the information given to Mr. Steele was, according to the indictment, fabricated.

Defense attorneys say the information was sent to Mr. Danchenko in an anonymous call from someone he believed to be Mr. Millian. They say the government cannot prove the defendant made a false statement if they believe it to be true.

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