John Durham unmistakably puts FBI on trial alongside its Russian collusion informant

With probing questions and relentless redirects, prosecutor exposes FBI for omissions, deletions, peculiar lack of curiosity and a $1 million bounty to pursue Trump.

Updated: October 18, 2022 - 9:04pm

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    Igor Danchenko is the named defendant at this week's trial, charged with lying as an informant in the now discredited Russia collusion investigation. But with probing questions and searing redirects, Special Counsel John Durham has turned the Russian researcher's trial in the U.S. District courtroom in Alexandria, Va., into an expose of stunning FBI failures and omissions in its now-infamous pursuit of Donald Trump for crimes that turned out to be nonexistent.

    While the Hillary Clinton-spawned Russian collusion narrative has been the subject of a half dozen exhaustive investigations in the House, Senate and Justice Department, Durham has managed to use his third and widely assumed last trial to drop bombshell after bombshell that other inquiries failed to uncover. Even the most versed in the case have been stunned.

    The effort began during pretrial motions.

    Danchenko, the primary source for the now-debunked Steele dossier, was someone who had both lied to FBI agents and had troubling ties to Russian intelligence. But Durham revealed he was inexplicably hired by the bureau, despite that record, to be a paid confidential human source for three years.

    Durham followed that with a stunner on day 1 of the trial, getting FBI senior analyst Brian Auten to reveal that the FBI had been unable to confirm a single fact in the Steele dossier by mid-October 2016 but nonetheless grabbed some of its most sensational claims about Trump and stuck them into a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant marked "verified" that authorized spying on the Trump campaign and former adviser Carter Page.

    "On October 21, 2016, did you have any information to corroborate that information?" Durham asked, referring to the Carter Page FISA application submitted on that date.

    "No," Auten replied. 

    The bureau was so desperate to find corroboration to justify Steele's allegations that it offered up to $1 million to former British MI6 agent Christopher Steele, a paid researcher for Hillary Clinton's campaign, if he could corroborate his dossier. Steele did not, Auten told the jury.

    That revelation even shocked former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, who conducted the first exhaustive probe that debunked the dossier and exposed FBI wrongdoing. Nunes told Just the News on Thursday he was never told about the $1 million payment despite subpoenaing the FBI.

    "I hate to say this, but like a new shoe drops every day," Nunes told the John Solomon Reports podcast in referring to Durham's work. "And it's like every day we find out something new. And I mean, look, I don't know how you describe this $1 million payment or potential payment to Steele as anything other than what it is. It was a bounty program to get Donald Trump."

    Kevin Brock, retired FBI chief of intelligence, told Just the News that the $1 million dangle was completely out of the norm for the bureau.

    "The Crossfire Hurricane investigative team, managed by James Comey's headquarters executives, offered a truly outrageous sum of money to Christopher Steele as an 'incentive' to corroborate his own information," Brock said. "Paying money to incentivize a source risks a corrupt outcome. Paying a lot of money risks a lot of corruption. Incentive payments are not normal FBI policy.  

    "The FBI has specific required procedures for corroborating or vetting a source, especially when that source's information is going to be used in any kind of affidavit. Having a source corroborate his own information is not one of those procedures. That's the job of the investigator."

    But Brock said Auten's admission that the bureau submitted evidence to the FISA court that wasn't at all corroborated was even more damning under the bureau's own rules.

    "If uncorroborated information is going to be used like this, FBI policy explicitly requires the swearing agent to clearly state that it is not known if the information is accurate or not," he said. "This wasn't done, and it can't be considered a mere oversight. Too many eyes all the way up the chain were laid on this affidavit. We're left with the disappointing conclusion that it was omitted on purpose."

    Such revelations have even changed the minds of experts like former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy who, while critical, have tried to give the FBI the benefit of the doubt that its failures in the probe were mistakes but not corrupt behavior. Durham has now delivered "utter proof the FBI framed Trump and shielded Hunter Biden," McCarthy declared this week.

    "The trial is highlighting the FBI's shocking malfeasance in the Trump-Russia 'collusion' probe," he wrote in a New York Post column this week.

    The revelations of FBI failures kept coming. On day 3 of the trial, Durham used a redirect Q&A to press FBI Special Agent Kevin Helson regarding bringing on Danchenko as a confidential human source.

    Durham noted that when Helson was writing a report to bring Danchenko on as a source, he had reported that there was no derogatory information about Danchenko, which wasn't accurate, since there had been a previous espionage case against him that was closed.

    When Durham asked if Helson ever corrected that report, the FBI agent answered, "No."

    On Wednesday, Durham got Auten to reveal he has been recommended for suspension for his role in the FBI's failure to tell the FISA court the whole truth during the probe code-named Crossfire Hurricane. Durham grilled Auten for failing to do the sort of digging an FBI analyst is assumed to do in a high-profile counterintelligence case.

    "While working on Crossfire Hurricane, you were questioned as a witness in the Mueller investigation — you were in the middle of it," he said. "Did you guys even bother to pull phone records? Travel records? You did none of these things."

    "Any particular reason why experienced FBI personnel could not request phone records?" Durham asked. "Ever run that number down to see phone records?"

    Auten said he couldn't recall.

    Durham took a mocking tone at one point on why the FBI did not challenge more aggressively the claims from Danchenko that Belarusian-born businessman Sergei Millian, who was president of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce, was a source of dirt against Trump, something that proved untrue.

    "Millian was a vocal Trump supporter," Durham noted. "Would you find it peculiar that someone who was an avid Trump supporter would provide negative information about the Trump campaign? That is very peculiar, right? Almost unbelievable, wouldn't you say?"

    Auten quietly agreed.

    Durham signaled his intention to treat the FBI team with suspicion in one of his last pretrial motions, declaring that in "any investigation of potential collusion between the Russian Government and a political campaign, it is appropriate and necessary for the FBI to consider whether information it receives via foreign nationals may be a product of Russian intelligence efforts or disinformation."

    In the end, the FBI did not seriously consider that possibility, even after the CIA warned of such possibilities and revealed Hillary Clinton's team was behind the planting of the narrative during the height of the 2016 election.

    Brock said Durham has used the trial to tell a story of the FBI’s egregious failures.

    “The FBI has been traditionally successful because of a simple formula: uncover facts that lead to evidence that determines an outcome,” the former FBI executive said. “Crossfire Hurricane was a debacle because it started with a desired outcome and tried to create facts to fit that outcome.  Durham is methodically revealing just how desperate the politically biased Crossfire Hurricane team was.”

    Nunes said the evidence Durham has now put into the public realm raises serious questions about why FBI personnel have not been prosecuted except, for one single lawyer who altered evidence submitted to the court.

    “It's just so confusing to me as to why these FBI and DOJ characters and some of the Clinton cabal have not been brought up on a conspiracy charge because clearly they were conspiring to defraud the United States government to lie and mislead Congress,” he said.

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