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Judge dismisses one of five counts against Steele dossier source

Igor Danchenko outside federal court in Alexandria, Va., on Tuesday. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
3 min

A federal judge on Friday threw out one of the five charges against Igor Danchenko, a private researcher who was a primary source for a 2016 dossier of allegations about Donald Trump’s ties to Russia and who is on trial on charges of lying to the FBI about where he got his information.

The remaining charges will be submitted to the jury next week, U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Trenga ruled.

Special counsel John Durham rested his case against Danchenko on Friday afternoon after presenting testimony and evidence for four days to a federal jury in Alexandria, Va. He argued that Danchenko misled the FBI when he was interviewed in 2017 about the origins of the information he passed on to former British spy Christopher Steele.

Steele included Danchenko’s claims in a series of reports now known as the “Steele dossier” that the FBI used to justify secret surveillance of a former Trump campaign adviser.

Defense attorneys, who said they do not intend to call witnesses, asked Trenga to dismiss all five counts in Danchenko’s indictment after Durham rested his case. The defense argued that Durham failed to show that Danchenko deceived the FBI and hampered its 2016 investigation of Trump’s ties to Russia.

The charge that was dismissed had to do with a longtime Washington public relations executive — and Democratic supporter — named Charles Dolan Jr. Durham alleged that Danchenko “concealed” an email from Dolan that was the source for some information that wound up in a Steele report.

The defense argued that the FBI agent who asked Danchenko in 2017 about his contacts with Dolan had used the word “talked” in his question. Danchenko’s denial that he had talked with Dolan was “literally true,” because the word “talk” does not encompass email communications, Trenga ruled, citing the dictionary definition.

Trenga said that under Supreme Court precedent, “precise questioning is imperative to establish perjury,” and that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit has held that a false-statements conviction “cannot be based on a literally true statement, even if that statement is nonresponsive or misleading.”

The jury will decide whether Danchenko lied to the FBI about another source he claimed, Sergei Millian, the former president of the Russian American Chamber of Commerce.

Durham, who was asked by then-Attorney General William P. Barr in 2019 to dig into the origins of the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation of possible coordination between Trump and Russia in the 2016 presidential campaign, has had some struggles in court. In May, a jury in D.C. federal court acquitted the only other defendant who went to trial as part of his investigation, cybersecurity lawyer Michael Sussmann, who also was accused of lying to the FBI.