In the scheme of things the indictment handed up by an Eastern District of Virginia grand jury against Igor Danchenko this past Thursday may be small potatoes, but the case is significant. I have embedded a copy of the 39-page indictment at the bottom. Check my summary of the allegations below against the indictment itself. I leave out a lot and the indictment conceals the names of key players in a welter of nameless descriptors such as U.S. Investigative Firm-1 (i.e., Fusion GPS).
National Review’s editorial on the indictment — I infer that it was written by Andrew McCarthy, author of the best book so far on the Russia hoax — has been posted online as “The Dossier Deceit.” Both the indictment and the editorial explication are well worth reading.
We met Danchenko last year in the RCP column “Meet the Steele Dossier’s ‘Primary Subsource’: Fabulist Russian From Democrat Think Tank Whose Boozy Past the FBI Ignored.” I pulled a few quotes from Sperry’s column here at the time.
Danchenko is a Russian national who held down a perch at the Brookings Institution in years past, from 2005-2010. He was Christopher Steele’s most important source of the fabrications in the so-called Steele Dossier. Danchenko allegedly relied in part on one Charles Dolan for his fabrications. Dolan was a long-time Democratic Party operative in the Clinton circle of Bill and Hillary Clinton. He is the indictment’s PR Executive-1. Dolan himself seems to have thought that Danchenko worked for the the Russian intelligence agency FSB.
At Brookings Fiona Hill — the Trump administration NSC official who promoted Trump’s impeachment — connected Danchenko with Steele. She also connected Danchenko with Dolan. You can make this stuff up, but it lacks verisimilitude.
The Russia hoax is Clintons all the way down. Rep. Devin Nunes essentially cracked the case in 2017 when he subpoenaed the bank documents demonstrating that Marc Elias and the Perkins Coie law firm were cutouts for the players including Steele and Fusion GPS. Charged with lying to the FBI, Danchenko is something of a footnote.
I would only add that it’s not difficult to fool a mark who wants to believe. (Why is FBI AGENT-1 laughing in the recorded interview with Danchenko quoted in paragraph 54 of the indictment?) I seriously doubt that the FBI really needed Danchenko’s assistance to ascertain that the Steele Dossier was a fraud. That was my take on it from the first moment I read it after its publication by Buzzfeed.
The FBI was instrumental to the con. The object of the Russia hoax was for the Democratic Party’s media adjunct to report the FBI investigation in advance of the 2016 election in order to promote the election of Hillary Clinton. When Clinton lost, the object of the hoax was to tie the Trump administration in knots. Failing in its first object, the hoax succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of malice in its second.
The FBI and Department of Justice of course took out four FISA warrants on Carter Page based on the fabrications of the Steele Dossier. On each of those four occasions the signing officials vouched that the relevant information had been “verified,” whatever that means. Apparently it doesn’t mean much, or those officials would be answering for their derelictions.
Six New York Times reporters and a researcher flagged Page as a key to the alleged Trump/Russia collusion case in their August 2017 story “Trump Adviser’s Visit to Moscow Got the F.B.I.’s Attention.” The Times cited a story in the Washington Post reporting that the FBI had taken out a FISA warrant on Page.
In her take on the indictment for the Wall Street Journal, Kim Strassel makes a point that I have beaten into the ground over the past few years. Quoting Strassel allows me to repeat it here: “The Clinton dossier should go down as one of the biggest scandals in U.S. political history.” The New York Post republished Strassel’s column in accessible form here.
The NR editorial provides helpful background:
In 2009, the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation of Danchenko. He had allegedly suggested to two Brookings staffers, who appeared to be headed for jobs in the Obama administration, that he could make it worth their while if they passed along classified information. The staffers (one of whom believed Danchenko must be a Russian agent – imagine that!) instead passed along word of Danchenko’s entreaty to the FBI. The Bureau learned that Danchenko appeared to be tied to two Russian agents who were also under investigation.
Agents prepared to seek national-security surveillance of Danchenko under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). But, in what would become an alarming theme, the FBI did not follow through and closed the investigation in March 2011, apparently believing that Danchenko had gone back to Russia.
In fact, he had begun working with Steele. Danchenko was introduced to Steele in 2010 by Fiona Hill, another Brookings Russia scholar. Hill, you may recall, was a Trump White House National Security Council member who provided key testimony in the House’s impeachment of then-President Trump in the Ukraine kerfuffle. (Hill appears not to have been knowingly complicit in the unrelated Trump-Russia hype.)…But here again, Hill appears inadvertently to have advanced the plot. In 2016, she introduced Danchenko to Charles Dolan, a Russia-focused businessman and Democratic Party activist.
The editorial has more:
According to the indictment, Danchenko lied to the FBI about getting information from Dolan. He also lied about having learned directly from a close Trump associate that Trump’s campaign was in a “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” with the Kremlin. Danchenko claimed that this information came from the president of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce — identified in the indictment as “Chamber President-1,” and in public reporting as Sergei Millian.
A minor real-estate developer, Millian did some business with the Trump organization and started this obscure “chamber” in order to raise his profile. In reality, Danchenko never spoke or met with Millian. He continued to cling to his incredible story in several interviews by the FBI throughout 2017. As a result, four of the five false statement counts relate to this alleged fabrication. The other concerns Danchenko’s alleged concealment of Dolan’s role.
The New York Times and Washington Post stories on the Danchenko indictment point a finger back at themselves in ways that I want to pause over. The Post hilariously reflects on its own role in the story by Devlin Barrett and Tom Jackman: “The [indictment’s] allegations cast new uncertainty on some past reporting on the dossier by news organizations, including The Washington Post.”
You think? We can only hope it’s not just beginning to dawn on them,
Barrett and Jackman offer this study in understatement: “Some of the material came from a Democratic Party operative with long-standing ties to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, according to the charges, rather than well-connected Russians with insight into the Kremlin.”
Barrett and Jackman take note of the Post’s reporting on Millian:
The Post and other news organizations reported in 2017 that Millian was a source of key information in the dossier, including the anecdote about the Moscow hotel room. The Post reported that Millian had shared the information with an associate, who passed it on to Steele.
“The indictment raises new questions about whether Sergei Millian was a source for the Steele dossier, as The Post reported in 2017,” Post executive editor Sally Buzbee said in a statement Thursday. “We are continuing to report on the origins and ramifications of the dossier.”
Gee, thanks. We should probably look elsewhere for illumination.
The Post treats the New York Times with supreme tact as one of the other “news organizations” left unnamed by Devlin and Barrett. In the Times, observe how eager Adam Goldman and Charlie Savage are to downplay the significance of the Steele Dossier:
The dossier has played a vivid role in the Trump-Russia affair, but was largely peripheral to the official inquiry. The F.B.I. had already opened its counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia before the Steele dossier reached the agents working on that matter. The special counsel who eventually took over the inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election, Robert S. Mueller III, did not rely upon it in his final report.
But some claims from the dossier made their way into an F.B.I. wiretap application targeting a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page, in October 2016, and three renewal applications the following year. And other portions of it — particularly a salacious claim about a purported blackmail tape — caused a political and media firestorm when BuzzFeed published the materials in January 2017, shortly before Mr. Trump was sworn in.
Andrew McCarthy’s book on the Russia hoax is Ball of Collusion: The Plot to Rig an Election and Destroy a Presidency. In chapter 2 he turns to the origin of the FBI investigation of the Trump campaign. Steele and his dossier were key. He concludes chapter 2 with the Times’s silent revision of the history in stories such as the one on the Danchenko indictment. He writes:
This reliance on the dossier, the Times now said, was a false claim that “Mr. Trump and others politicians have alleged.” Somehow omitted from the [Times] report were the inconvenient details that it was the Times itself that led the charge in claiming Page’s trip to Moscow that provoked the investigation, and that it was the Steele dossier that so alarmed the FBI about that trip.
I asked Andy about this point yesterday by email. He responded:
The Steele dossier was central to the FBI’s investigation. The FISA warrants [citing the Steele fabrications] were critical for two reasons: 1- electronic surveillance is resource intensive and calls for court application under oath, and that is never done “tangentially”; 2- the sworn warrant application lays out the FBI’s theory that the GOP presidential campaign was a clandestine agent of Russia.
They needed the Steele dossier to get the warrants. It was their only evidence — if it were true — that there was a “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” between Trump and Putin. That was their case.
He elaborated on the role of the press in a subsequent message:
The shocking journalistic thing about 2016 is that, up to that point, the media, though leftwing, had always perceived the professional need to pose as objective gatherers and analysts of fact. Trump is a watershed because they exploited him to rationalize overtly taking sides — they were no longer peddling the idea that a functioning democracy needs an objective factual record; now they overtly claimed that battling Trump without apology was essential if democracy was to be preserved. Though discredited, the mainstream press still has outsized influence, so the importance of 2016 is as much about the press as it is about Trump and the U.S. law-enforcement/intelligence apparatus.
In itself the Danchenko case may be small potatoes. There is much room for argument about its deep meaning, but it signifies. Although we have become inured to it, the degradation and corruption of the FBI, the CIA, and the Department of Justice should retain the ability to shock. The transformation of the press into the eager tool of these agencies for the rankest of purposes must be included in reckoning the deep meaning of the Danchenko case, or so it seems to me.