A jury on Tuesday found Igor Danchenko – a private researcher who was a primary source for a 2016 dossier of allegations about former president Donald Trump’s ties to Russia – not guilty of lying to the FBI about where he got his information.

Trump-Russia Probe

Igor Danchenko, shown in 2021, was acquitted of lying to the FBI about his role in the creation of a discredited dossier about former President Donald Trump. Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

The verdict in federal court in Alexandria, Va., is another blow for special counsel John Durham, who has now lost both cases that have gone to trial as part of his nearly 3½-year investigation. Durham, who was asked by Attorney General William P. Barr in 2019 to review the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign in 2016, is sure to face renewed pressure to wrap up his work following the verdict.

Trump predicted Durham would uncover “the crime of the century” inside the U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies that investigated his campaign’s links to Russia. But so far, no one charged by the special counsel has gone to prison, and only one government employee has pleaded guilty to a criminal offense. In both trials this year, Durham argued that people deceived FBI agents, not that investigators corruptly targeted Trump.

Durham, a longtime federal prosecutor who was U.S. attorney in Connecticut during the Trump administration, personally argued much of the government’s case against Danchenko. The special counsel alleged Danchenko misled the FBI officials asking in 2017 about his sources, after the agency determined the researcher was the unnamed person behind some of the most explosive allegations about Trump in reports compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele.

The trial could be Durham’s last. A grand jury that the special counsel had been using in Alexandria is now inactive, people familiar with the matter have told The Washington Post, though the status of a similar panel in D.C. was not immediately clear.

To win a conviction, Durham had to convince jurors both that Danchenko lied and that his deception had a “material” impact on the FBI’s investigation of possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. Defense attorneys argued that Danchenko believed what he was telling agents was true and that it was not a crime to give unsure answers to imprecise questions.


In May, a jury in D.C. federal court acquitted cybersecurity lawyer Michael Sussmann, who also was accused by the special counsel of lying to the FBI. A former FBI lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith, was sentenced to one year of probation after admitting in a 2020 plea deal with Durham that he had altered a government email used to justify secret surveillance of a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page.

After his investigation is complete, Durham will be required to write a report, but deciding how much of it, if any, to release to the public would be up to Attorney General Merrick Garland.

The indictment listed five charges against Danchenko for statements made to FBI investigators about whether his sources included a longtime Democratic public relations executive, Charles Dolan Jr., and Sergei Millian, a former president of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce. Trenga dismissed the charge related to Dolan before the case went to the jury.

For Durham, the FBI’s handling of the Steele reports has been a key area of investigative interest. Steele was hired to produce the reports by research firm Fusion GPS, which had been retained by a law firm that represented Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic National Committee. A website funded by a deep-pocketed Republican donor initially hired Fusion GPS to dig into Trump’s background.

But the FBI began to look into possible coordination between Trump’s campaign and Russia before it used the Steele dossier to support the warrant applications covering Page. The Justice Department inspector general determined that the FBI was justified in starting the probe, which eventually would be taken over by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

Mueller did not find a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, but a report from his office mapped out various links between Trump campaign officials and the Kremlin and characterized the campaign as eager to benefit from Russia’s help in 2016.

In his closing remarks, Durham defended his investigation as apolitical and a “logical” consequence, following Mueller’s failure to find that the Trump campaign illegally conspired with Russia.

FBI witnesses testified that some emails and information about Dolan and Millian that Danchenko kept to himself would have been valuable to investigators vetting the sources for the dossier’s claims in 2017. An FBI supervisor who led intelligence analysts in the 2016 Trump probe, Brian Auten, and a special agent working in Russian counterintelligence, Kevin Helson, both testified they might have taken different steps had they known as much as Danchenko. So did two members of the Crossfire Hurricane team.

But Auten and Helson also described Danchenko as a trusted source of information on Russian influence activities that U.S. investigators mined for years – testimony that seemed to frustrate Durham, whose questions for the FBI officials then turned more aggressive.

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