Shortly before the 2016 election, the FBI offered retired British spy Christopher Steele ‘up to $1 million’ to prove his dossier’s explosive allegations about Donald Trump, a senior FBI analyst testified on Tuesday. .
The cash offer was made during an October 2016 overseas meeting between Steele and several senior FBI officials who were trying to corroborate Steele’s claims that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to win the prizes. elections.
Supervising FBI analyst Brian Auten said Steele never received the money because he couldn’t “prove the allegations.”
Auten also said that Steele refused to provide the names of any of his sources at this meeting, and that Steele gave nothing to the FBI at this meeting that corroborated his explosive dossier claims.
Auten was testifying at the criminal trial of Igor Danchenko, a key source in Steele’s case, who is being prosecuted by special counsel John Durham. Danchenko pleaded not guilty to five counts of lying to the FBI about his search for information that ended up in the case file. His trial began Tuesday at the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia.
Durham, a Trump-era prosecutor looking for fault in the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation, handled most of the arguments in court on Tuesday and personally questioned Auten on the witness stand — a rare move for a lawyer. special and former US attorney. .
In opening statements, prosecutors said Danchenko ‘fabricated a source’ and ‘covered up a source’ during interviews with the FBI in January 2017, where investigators were furiously trying to ‘corroborate or refute’ case details. Trump-Russia.
Prosecutor Michael Keilty said Danchenko’s alleged lies had “corrupted” FBI functions.
Specifically, Danchenko’s alleged deception tainted surveillance warrants the FBI sought from former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page in 2016 and 2017.
“These lies mattered,” Keilty said, because the FBI was essentially duped by Danchenko and then included his inaccurate information in applications submitted to a judge to secure Page’s wiretaps.
“This case is about protecting the functions and integrity of our institutions,” Keilty said.
Danchenko’s lawyers torched Durham in their own opening statements, accusing him of trying to trick the jury into a conviction.
Attorney Danny Onorato criticized the prosecution’s “convoluted theory” of the case and told jurors that Durham would “try to convince you that his truthful answer was somehow wrong”.
He told jurors Durham wanted them to “defy common sense, logic and reality” and “rewrite the dictionary” to convict Danchenko.
“A truthful statement to an FBI agent…cannot be a crime,” Onorato added.
Things got heated when Onorato accused Keilty of lying in his own opening statement. Specifically, Onorato took issue with Keilty’s comment that Danchenko was offered immunity during some of his FBI interviews.
“It’s a lie…he just lied to you,” Onorato told jurors. “Think about that as you consider the government’s case.”
Afterwards, during a break in the courtroom, Keilty and Onorato visibly argued. Durham then asked District Judge Anthony Trenga to warn Onorato. The judge told the jury that Onorato’s claims regarding the alleged immunity deal “need to be clarified” because the deal granted Danchenko partial immunity.
Durham was appointed in 2019 by former Attorney General Bill Barr to find government fault in the Trump-Russia investigation. After three years, Durham has only secured one conviction from a low-level FBI attorney.
But his team used the Danchenko case on Tuesday to put the FBI on trial, in a way, and air some of the office’s dirty laundry for all to see.
Keilty said in his opening statements that the lawsuit would cover the FBI’s “troubling conduct” regarding Page’s surveillance. He said the bureau “should have discovered” Danchenko’s alleged lies, “but never did.”
Later, Durham spent quite a bit of time showing jurors the warrant applications the FBI submitted to surveil Page. Durham pointed out how the FBI continued to use information from the Steele dossier to bolster its probable cause case for obtaining the warrants – even after the FBI was found to be void in its efforts to corroborate Steele’s claims.
These FISA warrants were roundly criticized in a 2019 report by the Justice Department’s inspector general, which found a series of errors, flaws and omissions. Two of the four court-approved warrants were later ruled invalid.
Durham appeared to break new ground on the well-delivered subject matter of the case, with his revelation about the million-dollar offer to Steele. CNN previously reported that the FBI reimbursed some expenses for Steele, who had been an FBI informant.
But the special counsel also debunked a prolific lie by Trump on the Steele dossier – that it was why the FBI began investigating his campaign in 2016 for potentially conspiring with Russian agents.
This false claim has been refuted dozens of times over the years, in official Justice Department documentation, bipartisan congressional reports, and numerous court filings. It was rebutted again on Tuesday, when Durham asked FBI official Auten to tell jurors why the Trump-Russia investigation was opened in late July 2016.
Auten confirmed what has been known for many years: the investigation was launched after the US government received information from a friendly country that a Trump campaign aide had bragged to the one of his diplomats that the Russians had offered to help Trump defeat Hillary Clinton.
The situation was all the more interesting as Trump repeatedly acted as Durham’s cheerleader and said Durham would validate his suspicions of massive government misconduct regarding the Russia investigation. On Tuesday, Durham inadvertently asserted a fundamental truth about the Russian investigation that Trump has lied about for years.
The Steele dossier contained unverified allegations about Trump’s ties to Russia, including his alleged business dealings, rumors of sinister Moscow meetings and allegations that his campaign collaborated with the Kremlin in 2016.
Trump has vehemently denied these claims, and Steele’s work has lost a lot of credibility over the years. Today, the dossier is widely considered an unproven collection of rumors and gossip.
Regarding the collusion allegations, Special Counsel Robert Mueller uncovered dozens of links between the Trump campaign and Russia, but did not establish a criminal conspiracy.
This story has been updated with additional details.