Alexandria, Va. — TThe FBI struck an immunity deal with the main source of British ex-spy Christopher Steele just before the FBI made Igor Danchenko a paid confidential informant in early 2017, the trial of Special Counsel John Durham revealed.
Danchenko was on the FBI’s payroll as a confidential human source from March 2017 to October 2020, Durham shows in court filings, before being indicted on five counts of falsely reporting to the FBI in November 2021. He has pleaded not guilty, and his attorneys say the FBI will commend his work for the FBI.
Durham Prosecutor Michael Keilty said Tuesday that in early 2017 the FBI had two primary goals related to Danchenko: uncovering the Russian’s dossier sources and attempting to either confirm or refute the dossier’s claims. Keilty pointed out the existence of the immunity agreement in his opening argument, arguing that Danchenko had to tell the truth, not hide information and not lie.
Danchenko’s defense attorney Danny Onorato argued that Keilty lied about the existence of an immunity agreement during his own opening statement, telling the jury, “That’s a lie. He just lied to you.” Onorato urged the jury to “think about it while you consider the government’s case,” as he argued that the agreement his client signed in January 2017 did not grant immunity from prosecution.
The FBI offered Steele $1 million for dossier evidence
After the jury left the room, Durham said the comments made by Danchenko’s attorney were “highly inappropriate” and “untrue.” He said the agreement Danchenko signed with the Justice Department related to the law governing immunity, and Durham urged the judge to direct the jury to disregard claims made by Danchenko’s attorney. Keilty and Onorato continued to quietly debate the document during a brief pause.
The judge eventually sided with Durham’s team and shot down Danchenko’s argument. “I think the jury needs to be told something,” Judge Anthony Trenga said before they entered. Durham reiterated that the jury should be instructed to ignore the claims made by Danchenko’s attorney.
The judge said that while Danchenko was not granted full immunity, he was granted partial immunity. Trenga simply said, “This is an immunity agreement.” Danchenko’s attorney kept trying to argue the matter, but the judge wouldn’t let it. “I do not want to prejudice Mr. Danchenko because of his attorney’s inappropriate statements,” the judge said.
“Lord. Onorato’s testimony needs clarification,” Trenga told the jury, adding, “Although it doesn’t provide total immunity, it does provide immunity from use.”
The agreement was signed between Danchenko, his former defense attorney Mark Schamel, and David Laufman, now the former head of the Counterintelligence and Export Control Branch within the Department of Justice’s National Security Branch. The letter was signed on January 24, 2017, the first of three consecutive days of interviews the FBI conducted with Danchenko at the time.
The immunity agreement required Danchenko to provide a “full and truthful testimony.” The agreement said that “your client must answer all questions relating to the subject matter of this investigation and must not withhold any information” and that Danchenko should not “falsely implicate any person” or attempt to shield or protect anyone. Durham said the agreement was void if Danchenko lied.
FBI oversight intelligence analyst Brian Auten, who testified during Tuesday’s trial, was one of the FBI agents who interviewed Danchenko in January 2017. Auten said neither Danchenko nor Steele ever provided corroborating information for the dossier, although the FBI had offered the former MI6 agent up to $1 million if he could substantiate his claims, which he apparently couldn’t.
According to Durham, Danchenko anonymously leaked a fabricated claim about Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort to Charles Dolan, a Clinton ally who has worked for Russian companies and the Russian government for years, including 2016.
Durham’s indictment also states that Danchenko lied to the FBI about a call he claims he received from Sergei Millian, a Belarusian-born US citizen and businessman who the Steele source had said gave him told of a collusion conspiracy between former President Donald Trump and the Russians — which the special counsel says is wrong.
Keilty had argued in his opening speech that Danchenko had “fabricated a source” (Millian) and “hidden a source” (Dolan). The prosecutor said Danchenko’s false statements were “lies relied on by the FBI in a historic investigation into alleged collusion between US citizens and the Russian government” and “lies the FBI should have uncovered but never did.” . The prosecutor said that “the Steele dossier would cause the FBI to behave in a disturbing manner” and “the defendant’s lies contributed to that surveillance” by Trump’s campaign partner Carter Page.
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“Let me be clear from the start: Igor Danchenko is not guilty,” Onorato countered, adding, “His statements were truthful.”
Onorato claimed that Danchenko served US national security interests “courageously, loyally and honestly” as a paid informant.
The defense attorney also argued that the evidence in court would “gut” any claim that Danchenko was “far from untrue” before correcting himself to say “truthful.” Later in his opening statement, the defense attorney said Danchenko was “guilty” before quickly correcting himself mid-sentence to say “not guilty.”