By John Haughey and Zachary Stieber
ALEXANDRIA, Va.—The primary source for the anti-Donald Trump dossier struck an immunity agreement with the government that he breached by not fully disclosing information, special counsel John Durham said on Oct. 11.
Igor Danchenko, who fed information to dossier author Christopher Steele, was employed by the FBI for years, Durham previously revealed. During that time, Danchenko had an immunity agreement, Durham said during the first day of Danchenko’s trial in federal court in Virginia.
Prosecutors will introduce “an immunity agreement that was entered into by the defendant with the government in which he was told specifically that he agreed to make full and complete disclosure of information,” Durham said.
The agreement was presented to Danchenko in January 2017, when the FBI interviewed Danchenko about his role in the dossier.
“The only requirements of that agreement, the only requirements was that the defendant provide complete and truthful information, that he not withhold any information, and that he not attempt to protect any person through false information or omission,” Michael Keilty, an assistant special counsel, told jurors.
Danny Onorato, a lawyer representing Charles Dolan, later pointed at Durham and told the jury that the prosecution was lying about the agreement.
Durham objected, noting that the agreement has been entered as an exhibit.
“So for the defense counsel to stand here and tell this jury that the government lied is highly inappropriate,” Durham said.
U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga, a George W. Bush appointee overseeing the case, struck Onorato’s comments from the record.
Danchenko is charged with five counts of lying to the FBI. He’s accused of falsely saying he didn’t source information he later provided to Steele from Dolan, a longtime Clinton family associate. Hillary Clinton helped pay for the dossier. Danchenko also lied when he said he thought he spoke with Sergei Millian, a pro-Trump businessman, and had plans to meet with Millian in New York, according to prosecutors.
Danchenko has pleaded not guilty and the defense says he told the truth in interviews, blaming FBI agents for not asking follow-up questions.
Here are other takeaways from day 1 of the trial.
Jury selection was finished by lunch break with 12 jurors and four alternates chosen.
Trenga struck a number of jurors after objections from Stuart Sears, another defense lawyer, and Durham.
Sears objected to Joseph Messina, who told the court in a questionnaire that he was involved in politics but only said he was involved in campaigns for Rick Santorum and George Allen “in the distant past.”
Social media posts show Messina was a campaign manager for a Republican in Virginia “just recently,” which “gives us concerns about whether or not he maybe misrepresented that information in order to not be struck for cause,” Sears said.
Sears also raised concerns about a potential juror who struggles with English and a potential juror who was wearing hearing aids.
Durham noted that some of the potential jurors mentioned deadlines or medications that could challenge their ability to concentrate. He also said one potential juror, Adrienne Edmond, said in the questionnaire that “I hold biases against Donald Trump, his administration, that may influence my decision-making.”
And he pointed to another potential juror who indicated she would have trouble staying off of social media.
“Your Honor was good enough to include in the questionnaire questions related to use of social media. Some people, arguably, are addicted to it at this point,” Durham said.
Trenga struck all of the potential jurors who were brought up by the defense and prosecution as well as others who said they had conflicts, such as one saying his wife has cancer and that he’s her caregiver.
Steele Was Offered Payment
Brian Auten, a senior FBI analyst who took the stand, revealed that the bureau offered Steele $1 million if he could prove the allegations in the dossier.
“Yes, it did,” Auten told Durham when asked if the FBI offered Steele any incentive to provide evidence to back up his claims.
Auten said he was offered the money for “any information, documentary, or of that sort, that could confirm the allegations.”
Steele declined, Auten testified.
Steele said “no” and would only discuss “source characterizations but not source names,” Auten said.
The exchange took place during a meeting with top FBI agents outside the United States in October 2021.
Danchenko “was already known” to Auten, Durham told the court.
Danchenko was investigated by the FBI in 2009 and 2010 for allegedly offering to connect colleagues with money in exchange for classified information. The probe was closed in 2010 because agents thought Danchenko had left the country.
In 2012, Auten was emailing agents in Baltimore, Maryland, where the investigation was based, according to Durham.
“Mr. Auten himself was inquiring about Mr. Danchenko with the Baltimore office, who had opened the file on Mr. Danchenko in 2012. So when Mr. Danchenko’s name came up in December of 2016, he was a person that was known to the FBI,” Durham said.
The special counsel also identified Danchenko’s handling agent as Kevin Helson.
“We believe that the testimony from Mr. Danchenko’s handling agent, Special Agent Helson, will be that he also talked to Mr. Danchenko about the information contained in this report, and Mr. Danchenko attributed it to Sergei Millian. I don’t want to overstate that. We’ll have to see what the testimony is.”
In opening arguments, prosecutors told jurors that the FBI’s conduct on Crossfire Hurricane, the counterintelligence probe into Trump, was caused in part by Danchenko’s alleged lies.
“The evidence in this trial will show that the Steele dossier would cause the FBI to engage in troubling conduct that would ultimately result in the extended surveillance of the United States citizens. And the defendant’s lies played a role in that surveillance,” Michael Keilty, one of the prosecutors, said.
The FBI “relied on” Danchenko’s lies when it investigated alleged collusion between Trump and his campaign and Russia, Keilty added later.
“You see the FBI needed to know where the defendant was getting his information. They needed to know so they could evaluate that information and vet that information. So agents asked him questions about his sources. And in two important respects, instead of telling the agents the truth about that information and those sources, the defendant lied,” he said.
Onorato told jurors that Danchenko’s statements were truthful.
“The evidence is going to establish that Igor Danchenko told government agents the truth when he was asked about two simple things about the Steele dossier. The first is whether he had talked, talked—so listen to that word ‘talked’—to a man named Charles Dolan about anything in the Steele dossier. He told the truth,” Onorato said.
“Second, he was truthful when he said that he received an anonymous phone call in July of 2016, and he formed the subjective belief that it could have been from a person named Sergei Millian, who, in context, that’s who he concluded it could have been. The facts will show, not only were his conclusions reasonable, but they are actually probably correct.”