Margot Cleveland, DCNF
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office established a “dossier validation” unit consisting of at least five FBI agents, but the 448-page Mueller report failed to disclose the team’s findings that none of Christopher Steele’s reporting could be corroborated.
The Mueller Special Counsel office also shut down attempts by FBI agents to investigate a Clinton crony with high-level connections to Putin and failed to complete an espionage investigation into Steele’s Russian primary sub-source.
Testimony and court filings in Special Counsel John Durham’s criminal case against Steele dossier primary sub-source Igor Danchenko revealed these details. So, while a jury acquitted Danchenko earlier this week of the false statements’ charges brought by Durham, the case serves, not as an indictment of Durham, but of Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation.
Following a week of testimony and a day-and-a-half of deliberations, a Virginia jury acquitted Danchenko of lying to the FBI about a supposed telephone call Danchenko claimed to have received from the then-president of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce, Sergei Millian.
The FBI, first as a part of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation and then under the auspices of Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation, had drilled Danchenko several times about the call Danchenko claimed he believed Millian had made over the summer of 2016 because Christopher Steele attributed details contained in the dossier to Danchenko’s purported conversation with Millian.
At trial, Special Counsel Durham used cell phone records and emails to argue to the jury that Danchenko never received the claimed phone call and that his lie resulted in the FISA court authorizing the FBI to conduct surveillance on an innocent American, Carter Page.
While the jury acquitted Danchenko of the charges, in prosecuting the case, Durham exposed the FBI’s complicity in pushing the Russia-collusion hoax. But even more significantly, the case revealed that the malfeasance continued under Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s watch.
After ]Mueller was appointed special counsel in May of 2017, the Crossfire Hurricane investigation folded into the special counsel’s office. Some two years later, Mueller issued his “Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election,” that spanned 448 pages, but not once in the tome did “Mueller mention an investigation into whether Russia interfered with the U.S. presidential election by feeding dossier author Christopher Steele misinformation.”
Senator Grassley quizzed then-Attorney General Bill Barr on that omission back in May of 2019, with Barr responding that he had “not yet had anyone go through the full scope of [Mueller’s] investigation to determine whether he did address or look at all into those issues,” before adding, “one of the things I’m doing in my review is to try to assemble all the existing information out there about it, not only for the Hill investigations and the OIG, but also to see what the Special Counsel looked into. So I really couldn’t say what he looked into.”
“How do we know that the Steele dossier is not evidence of a Russian disinformation campaign?” Sen. John Cornyn then pushed. “Knowing what we know now that the allegations are unverified? Can we state with confidence that the Steele dossier was not part of the Russian disinformation campaign?” the Texas senator continued.
Barr responded: “No, I can’t state that with confidence, and that is one of the areas that I’m reviewing. I’m concerned about it, and I don’t think it is entirely speculative.”
Testimony from the Danchenko case now establishes that Special Counsel Mueller’s team intentionally buried concerns that the Steele dossier served as part of a Russian disinformation campaign.
Two agents assigned to Special Counsel Mueller’s team, Brittany Hertzog and Amy Anderson, raised concerns about Democrat operative Charles Dolan. Dolan’s connection to the Danchenko case stemmed from email conversations between the two in which Dolan falsely claimed he “had lunch with a GOP friend who knows the players” involved in the departure of Paul Manafort from Trump’s campaign.
The Steele dossier would later include that detail in the memoranda provided to the FBI, as well as names of Russians to whom Dolan was connected. Dolan was also connected to another Russian dossier source Olga Galkina.
As FBI intelligence agent Hertzog explained at trial, she had serious concerns about Dolan because he had connections to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov.
As “a longtime ally and close confidant to Russian President Vladimir Putin,” Hertzog testified, Peskov “would have likely overseen Russian propaganda and disinformation campaigns.” Additionally, Dolan previously worked for a firm that oversaw a PR campaign for the Kremlin.
Those connections, as well as Dolan’s business relationship with Russian dossier sub-source Galkina and his travel to Cyprus in the summer of 2016 to meet with her, led agent Hertzog and Supervisory Special Agent Amy Anderson to recommend Dolan be interviewed.
But, according to Hertzog, they “had been instructed at [Special Counsel Office] not to take further action on the matter involving Mr. Dolan and Mr. Danchenko’s relationship.”
Supervisory Special Agent Anderson further testified that she had “compiled the reports into what we could call an opening communication to open an investigation.” SSA Anderson explained that she submitted the opening communication to her supervisors, where it “sat for approximately three or four weeks.”
At that point, Anderson was told by her direct supervisor, Joe Nelson, “it was not going to be opened.”
FBI intelligence agent Hertzog similarly testified that she believed further investigative steps concerning Dolan were necessary, so she filed the opening communication in three different cases — one in the Washington Field Office, one at FBI headquarters and one at the Office of Inspector General.
But Special Counsel Mueller’s office never opened an investigation into Dolan.
Special Counsel Durham’s team later advised Dolan that he was a subject of its investigation, but from the trial testimony, it appears Dolan did nothing illegal and did not even know Danchenko had fed his comments to Steele.
In fact, after BuzzFeed published the dossier, Dolan called Danchenko and asked him where some of the details in the dossier came from, telling the jury at that point he had become suspicious Danchenko had a role in providing the information to Steele. Danchenko said he’d get back to Dolan, but never did.
That a later investigation by Special Counsel Durham vindicated Dolan, however, does not excuse Special Counsel Mueller’s refusal to open an investigation into Dolan to assess whether he knowingly, or unknowingly, fed Christopher Steele Russian disinformation.
Dolan’s connections to high-level Russians far exceeded the connections Trump campaign volunteers George Papadopoulos and Carter Page had with Putin cronies which the FBI had used to justify launching investigations into them under the Crossfire Hurricane umbrella investigation.
Danchenko’s connections to Russia also greatly surpassed those of Papadopoulos and Page, and yet Special Counsel Mueller failed to investigate whether Danchenko might be a foreign agent feeding Steele Russian disinformation.
During pretrial proceedings, Special Counsel Durham revealed that the FBI had launched an investigation into Danchenko after learning he had allegedly “engaged two fellow employees about whether one of the employees might be willing or able in the future to provide classified information in exchange for money.”
One of Danchenko’s colleagues at a left-leaning D.C. think tank, identified in court documents as “Employee-1,” claimed Danchenko believed “he (Employee-1) might be in a position to enter the incoming Obama administration and have access to classified information.”
Danchenko allegedly told Employee-1 “that he had access to people who would be willing to pay money in exchange for classified information.”
The FBI’s initial investigation of Danchenko revealed that he “had been identified as an associate of two FBI counterintelligence subjects,” and also “had previous contact with the Russian Embassy and known Russian intelligence officers.” Danchenko “had also informed one Russian intelligence officer that he had interest in entering the Russian diplomatic service,” according to court filings.
In 2010, the FBI closed the espionage investigation into Danchenko, but only because it wrongly believed he had permanently left the country when his visa expired. Nonetheless, after discovering Danchenko had served as Steele’s primary sub-source, the FBI made Danchenko a Confidential Human Source.
In fact, Danchenko’s handler, Kevin Helson, only learned of the prior espionage investigation some 60 days after first opening Danchenko as a CHS in March of 2017.
The human validation unit of the FBI would later review Danchenko’s service as a CHS and made several recommendations, including that he be investigated for immigration fraud. Helson testified that neither he nor anyone with the Special Counsel’s office “ran that to ground.”
Helson further testified that neither he nor his “colleagues who were looking at the dossier and trying to corroborate the information there,” “attempt[ed] to run to ground and complete or conclude” the case that had previously been opened on Danchenko and then wrongly closed in 2010 because the FBI had mistakenly believed Danchenko had permanently left the country.
The human validation unit of the FBI also recommended “the Bureau behavioral assessment group conduct an examination to determine what Mr. Danchenko’s actual motives, allegiances and vulnerabilities,” but Helson testified he did not do that either.
The Washington Field Office further recommended Helson “considered administering a polygraph of Mr. Danchenko to determine if he has ever been tasked by a foreign individual, entity or government to collect information or to perform actions adverse to the U.S. interest,” but Helson stated he did not administer the recommended polygraph.
Instead, he continued to handle Danchenko until closing him out as a CHS in October of 2020, when Danchenko’s identity as Steele’s primary sub-source became publicly known. By that point, the FBI had paid Danchenko $346,000.
Given these facts, it is inexcusable that Special Counsel Mueller failed to investigate Danchenko to determine whether the Russian national had fed disinformation to Steele.
That failure, coupled with the Special Counsel’s office refusal to open an investigation into Dolan, as recommended by two members of Mueller’s team, suggests the Special Counsel sought not to uncover evidence of Russia’s efforts to interference in the 2016 election, but to cover up proof that the Steele dossier was made of whole cloth.
But even without investigating Dolan or Danchenko, Special Counsel Mueller’s team knew that reality, testimony from the Danchenko case established.
At trial, Supervisory Intelligence Analyst Brian Auten testified that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation was broken into “specific areas of focus,” with one of those areas being “dossier validation.” According to Anderson’s testimony, in addition to Auten and herself there were “quite a few other intelligence analysts,” including, Hertzog, Stephanie LaParre and Iva Drasinover,” tasked with validating the dossier. Yet, even with at least five agents focused on validating the dossier, as Auten testified, they were never able to corroborate the substance of the dossier.
That lack of corroboration should have ended the investigation into Trump and that Special Counsel Mueller failed to close the investigation, concealed in his final report the results of the dossier validation team, and ignored the larger questions raised of whether Steele lied in his dossier or was fed Russian intelligence, is an indictment of Mueller.
That conclusion holds far more significance than the jury’s acquittal of Danchenko earlier this week.
Margot Cleveland is a lawyer, a retired career law clerk of 25 years for a federal circuit court judge, a former full-time university faculty member and the Senior Legal Correspondent at The Federalist.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.
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