The jury in the Trump-Russia dossier trial began deliberations Monday and will decide whether Igor Danchenko lied to the FBI about where he got the information.
The case was brought by special counsel John Durham, which has a lot to do with the outcome. After more than three years of probing misconduct in the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation, Durham has secured only one conviction. The Danchenko case is the last expected trial before Durham completes its investigation.
Jurors are deliberating in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. Danchenko was initially charged with lying to the FBI, but a judge dropped one of the charges Friday, dealing a major blow to Durham.
Danchenko pleaded not guilty to all charges and says he told the FBI the truth.
Danchenko, a Russian exile and think-tank analyst, was the primary source of material for the infamous Trump-Russia dossier. The collection of unverified and suggestive allegations was compiled by retired British spy Christopher Steele, whose work was indirectly funded by Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. The largely discredited memo accused Donald Trump of colluding with the Kremlin to win the election.
A guilty verdict would give Durham a big boost. But an acquittal would be an embarrassing setback for the special counsel, whose only other trial, against a Clinton campaign lawyer, ended in a swift acquittal by a federal jury in Washington in May.
A lawyer for Danchenko blamed Durham in closing arguments Monday, accusing prosecutors of misleading the jury and omitting key evidence “in their mission to prove that he was a liar.”
The case against Danchenko centers on whether he lied to the FBI in 2017 about supplying the so-called Steele dossier. In closing arguments, Danchenko’s attorney, Stuart Sears, said prosecutors had rejected “information that does not support the narrative that he is a liar.” Sears noted how Durham turned on his witnesses after they gave evidence that helped the defense.
“The special counsel attacked them mercilessly,” Sears said. “They attacked the credibility of the witnesses they called here because they didn’t say what they wanted to say.”
Sears added, “The government’s evidence in this case proves that the defendant is not guilty.”
Durham’s team asked jurors on Monday to convict Danchenko, telling them to “consider his words” in 2016 emails, which they believe later prove he misled the FBI about his ties to a possible source of the dossier.
“You didn’t check your sanity at the courthouse door,” said prosecutor Michael Keilty. “You have to use it.”
Keilty said Danchenko gave a “changing story” to FBI agents who interviewed him in 2017 as they were trying to verify explosives in the Trump campaign’s dossier on the Russian government to win the presidency.
“The FBI surveilled a US citizen for almost a year based on those lies,” Keilty said, referring to the wiretaps of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. The FBI affidavits used to secure those surveillance orders contained material from the Trump-Russia dossier.
Danchenko’s attorney also accused the Trump-era Department of Justice of “outing” him as an FBI informant and launching the investigation that led to his indictment.
“He was trying to help the FBI, and now he’s being charged for that,” Sears said.
As a paid informant, Danchenko significantly assisted several FBI investigations between 2017 and 2020. But the FBI was forced to cut ties with Danchenko in late 2020 after the Justice Department indirectly dropped him as the source of the dossier.
“It was more than worth showing because a bunch of politicians were putting politics over national security,” Sears said.
Danchenko’s handler, FBI agent Kevin Helson, testified last week that Danchenko’s departure harmed US national security. Internet experts identified Danchenko shortly after Attorney General Bill Barr publicly released Helson’s memos about Danchenko’s interviews. Barr took the step in the face of pressure from Trump and Republican lawmakers to release more internal FBI files on the Russia investigation.