As part of his inquiry into how the FBI managed its own investigation into claims of collaboration between the 2016 Trump campaign and the Kremlin, Special Counsel John Durham launched the third and potentially final case against Igor Danchenko.
The first two cases resulted in convictions with probationary sentences and acquittals, respectively.
Danchenko betrayed no emotion as the verdict was read. His wife wiped away tears after the clerk read the final “not guilty” to the four counts he faced.
Danchenko didn’t comment after the hearing, but his lawyer, Stuart Sears, spoke briefly to reporters, saying, “We’ve known all along that Mr. Danchenko is innocent. We’re happy now that the American public knows that as well.”
The jury reached its verdict after roughly nine hours of deliberations over two days. One juror, Joel Greene of Vienna, Virginia, said there were no real disputes among the jury and that jurors just wanted to be thorough in reviewing the four counts.
Durham suffered a big blow after the acquittal. Despite predictions from Trump supporters that the prosecutor would find proof of a wide-ranging plot by the FBI and other organisations to thwart his campaign, the three-year inquiry came up empty.
The two cases Durham brought to trial resulted in complete acquittals, and the only conviction—an FBI lawyer confessed changing an email connected to the surveillance of a former Trump aide—was for behaviour discovered not by Durham but by the Justice Department’s inspector general.
Durham declined comment after the hearing, but he said in a statement issued through the Justice Department: “While we are disappointed in the outcome, we respect the jury’s decision and thank them for their service. I also want to recognize and thank the investigators and the prosecution team for their dedicated efforts in seeking truth and justice in this case.”
He issued an identical statement after the first trial ended in acquittal.
The Danchenko case was the first of the three to delve deeply into the origins of the “Steele dossier,” a compendium of allegations that Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign was colluding with the Kremlin.
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Most notably, it claimed that the Russians might have information on Trump that could be used for blackmail because of his alleged interactions with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel. When the dossier was made public in 2017, Trump dismissed it as fake news and a political witch hunt.
Although trial testimony showed that Danchenko was dismayed and shocked about how Christopher Steele proffered the material and regarded it as factual when Danchenko considered it more to be rumour and speculation, Danchenko was responsible for 80% of the raw intelligence in the dossier and half of the accompanying analysis.
Prosecutors said that if Danchenko had been more honest about his sources, the FBI might not have treated the dossier so credulously. As it turned out, the FBI used material from the dossier to support applications for warrantless surveillance of a Trump campaign official, Carter Page, even though the FBI never was able to corroborate a single allegation in the dossier.
According to the prosecution, Danchenko misled Steele about the sources of the information he provided. When the FBI questioned Danchenko to find out where he got the information for the dossier, it is alleged in the specific accusations against him that he effectively made up one of his sources.
Danchenko told the FBI that some of the material came when he received an anonymous call from a man he believed to be Sergei Millian, a former president of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce.
Attorneys claimed Danchenko’s account was illogical. They claimed that there is no proof of a call in the phone records and that Danchenko had no reason to think that Millian, a Trump supporter he had never met, would suddenly be eager to spread false information about Trump to an unknown person.
Danchenko’s lawyers, as a starting point, maintain that Danchenko never said he talked with Millian. He only guessed that Millian might have been the caller when the FBI asked him to speculate. And they said he shouldn’t be convicted of a crime for making a guess at the FBI’s invitation.
That said, Danchenko’s lawyers say, he had good reason to believe the caller may well have been Millian. The call came just a few days after Danchenko had reached out to Millian over email after a mutual acquaintance brokered a connection over email.
And Danchenko’s lawyers say it’s irrelevant that his phone records don’t show a call because Danchenko told the FBI from the start that the call might have taken place over a secure mobile app for which he had no records.
The jury began deliberations Monday afternoon after hearing closing arguments on four counts. On Friday, U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga threw out a fifth count, saying prosecutors had failed to prove it as a matter of law.
Trenga nearly threw out all of the charges before the trial began, citing the legal strength of Danchenko’s defense, but allowed the case to proceed in what he described as “an extremely close call.”