The decade's most triggering comedy
The FBI offered to pay Christopher Steele, the author of the infamous anti-Trump “dossier,” up to $1 million for evidence linking Donald Trump to Russia, and paid Steele’s primary subsource hundreds of thousands of dollars even after the source was unable to provide evidence for any of his claims, according to a report from Special Counsel John Durham.
Embattled FBI agent Brian Auten travelled to Rome to meet with Steele on October 3, 2016, and made the offer despite knowing that his dossier relied primarily on one person, or “subsource.” The Bureau then paid that “subsource,” Igor Danchenko, $220,000 even after Danchenko was unable to provide evidence for a single one of his claims.
More shockingly, the FBI had significant evidence that Danchenko was, himself, tied to Russian intelligence. It had closed a counterintelligence investigation into him in 2011 only because agents mistakenly believed he had left the country.
The FBI investigated Danchenko as a possible Russian spy from 2009 to 2011 after a colleague at the Brookings Institution, the left-leaning think tank where he worked, told the FBI that Danchenko raised the prospect of paying him for classified information if the colleague joined the Obama administration. A second Brookings employee also told the FBI he suspected Danchenko of being “connected to Russian intelligence.”
It became a full-fledged investigation when the FBI realized that Danchenko was a known associate of two other espionage suspects, had contacts with known Russian intelligence offices, and had said he wanted to join the Russian diplomatic service. He also told another person that he worked on “special” matters for the Russian army, and that his Russian passport listed him as connected to the Russian military intelligence service.
Danchenko bought a one-way ticket out of the country but never boarded the flight. The FBI mistakenly thought he had left the country and closed the investigation as a result. It later realized its mistake and considered re-opening the investigation, but inexplicably never did.
Five years later when the FBI tried to use him as the main piece of evidence that Trump was connected to Russia, that history was readily available in the FBI’s computer system. Even so, during the first week of Trump’s presidency, it granted Danchenko immunity and interviewed him for three days.
“Danchenko was not able to provide any corroborative evidence related to any substantive allegation contained in the Steele Reports — and critically — was unable to corroborate any of the FBI’s assertions contained in the Carter Page FISA applications,” according to the Durham report. “Nevertheless, following the January 2017 interviews, Crossfire Hurricane leadership reached out to WFO to begin the recruitment of Danchenko” as a paid source.
Kevin Helson, an FBI agent who served as Danchenko’s handler, filled out a confidential source application incorrectly stating that there was no derogatory information about him.
Helson later said he disregarded the evidence against Danchenko because a Baltimore special agent who worked on that probe told him it was “hearsay at best.” But that Baltimore agent adamantly told Durham that she had said no such thing—after all, the information came directly from the Brookings employee who “was the target of the pitch for classified information.”
The FBI’s CHS Validation Management Unit (VMU) is tasked with vetting sources, and it intervened to warn against using him as a source. A VMU analyst “was strongly of the opinion that Danchenko was connected to Russian intelligence.” In addition to the Baltimore probe, “Danchenko’s background and employment history had noted inconsistencies and omissions; his assessed motivation for providing information to the FBI had changed; his immigration applications omitted certain derogatory information and contained inconsistencies and falsehoods; and, despite his concerns for his personal safety, he traveled frequently to Russia before becoming a CHS. Danchenko also demonstrated knowledge of tradecraft and made contradictory statements, and much of the information he provided appeared to be hearsay that he was unable, despite requests, to validate,” the report said.
Durham wrote that “Helson and WFO ignored nearly all of the VMU’s recommendations and continued to operate Danchenko as a CHS until WFO was ordered to close Danchenko in October 2020. In total, the FBI paid Danchenko approximately $220,000 during the 3.5 years that Danchenko was a CHS.”
Even as the FBI pursued Carter Page and Michael Flynn, both Americans connected to Trump who worked in politics or geopolitical affairs, Helson was dismissive about the Russian national Danchenko’s activities. Nelson “stated, in sum, that the fact Danchenko comes off as a Russian spy is describing half the population of Washington, D.C,” Durham wrote.
Top brass were bizarrely adamant about paying Danchenko, to the point that even after Durham began investigating FBI misconduct in the Trump probe, FBI brass proposed paying him $300,000 more.
“The counterintelligence executive managers at the WFO and FBI Headquarters resisted efforts to have Danchenko closed as a source. Instead, management supported continued payments to him, requiring FBI Headquarters approval, of sizable amounts of money and insisted that Danchenko was very valuable to the FBI’s counterintelligence program,” Durham wrote.
While he was being paid by the FBI, Danchenko was also being paid by a “front” company owned by a Russian national in the D.C. area, despite doing no work for it, as part of an apparent visa scheme. He had lost his job and therefore his visa, and Steele’s company, Orbis, couldn’t get him a U.S. visa because it is a British company. The company agreed to sponsor his visa, and Orbis paid it as a pass-through.
The DNC and Hillary Clinton campaigns had their lawyer hire research firm Fusion GPS to investigate Trump, which then paid Steele, who in turn paid Danchenko.
“It is extremely concerning that the FBI failed to deal with the prior unresolved counterespionage case on Danchenko. Given Danchenko’s known contacts with Russian intelligence officers and his documented prior pitch for classified information, the Crossfire Hurricane team’s failure to properly consider and address the espionage case prior to opening Danchenko as a CHS is difficult to explain, particularly given their awareness that Danchenko was the linchpin to the uncorroborated allegations contained in the Steele Reports,” he added.
“Indeed, the Assistant Director for Counterintelligence at FBI Headquarters thought Danchenko was being paid for information he was providing that corroborated the Steele Dossier reporting, which, of course, was not the case because Danchenko never produced any such evidence.”