FBI intel analyst tells Durham agency offered Steele $1M to corroborate dossier

Revelation emerged Tuesday in federal trial of Russian information analyst Igor Danchenko, who is charged with lying to the FBI.

Updated: October 11, 2022 - 9:26pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

An FBI analyst told Special Counsel John Durham on Tuesday in federal court that the agency offered former British spy Christopher Steele "up to $1 million" to corroborate evidence in his now-discredited dossier that was central to a federal investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the 2016 Trump presidential campaign.

The revelation appears to show the FBI, according to the testimony from intelligence analyst Brian Auten, had insufficient solid evidence for the FISA warrant for Trump campaign adviser Carter Page in its investigation and used uncorroborated information to move forward with the probe. 

Auten said that Steele never got the money because he wasn't able to prove the allegations.

Durham asked Auten, "On October 21, 2016 (the date of the Carter Page FISA application) did you have any information to corroborate that information?"  

"No," Auten replied. 

The FBI analyst also said that the bureau contacted other intelligence agencies regarding the specific allegations in the dossier, but none were able to corroborate them.

Auten is the first of seven witnesses being called in the trial, which is expected to last two weeks. 

Developing ... 

Opening arguments began Tuesday in the trial of Russian information analyst Igor Danchenko. Federal prosecutors are alleging the defendant fabricated and concealed sources in talking to the FBI about the Trump campaign-Russia collusion matters.   

Danchenko, who supplied information to the now-discredited Steele dossier, is on trial for allegedly lying to the FBI.

Prosecutors laid out five counts against Danchencko, with the first focusing on whether he talked to Democrat operative Charles Dolan about the dossier, which sought to smear and discredit Trump amid his 2016 presidential bid. 

The defense team in its opening arguments disputed the prosecution's account regarding the nature and matter of the conversations. 

The sides on Tuesday also disputed the facts about an alleged call Danchenko suggested he received from a Belarusian-born businessman named Sergei Millian, who at the time was serving as president of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce, and whether information in the dossier was indeed from Millian.

"Danchenko never received such a phone call or such information from any person he believed to be" Millian, according to the indictment. "Rather, Danchenko fabricated these facts regarding" Millian.

The indictment also claims Danchenko "never spoke to" Millian at all, which would support Millian's longstanding contention that he was not the source of any material in the dossier, according to ABC News.

The prosecution, led by prosecutor Mike Keilty, again argued that no such call was made, or at least no record of such a call exists.

The defense team said the call was made on an untraceable phone app. 

Prosecutors also argued that Danchenko fabricating and concealing a source — or sources — is material because it gave false leads to the FBI in its effort to secure a FISA warrant to surveil at least one person believed to be connected to the collusion theory that Russia helped Trump win in 2016.

The trial is being held in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division. 

This is the second trial stemming from Special Counsel John Durham's probe into the origins of the Trump-Russia collusion investigation. 

In the first trial, in May, former Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann was found not guilty of lying to the FBI by a jury in Washington, D.C.

Durham on Tuesday was a more active participant than in the Sussmann trial, sitting with his defense team and talking to the judge when the jurors were out of the courtroom about evidence and the way it was presented to them.

Proceedings began with the selection of the jury — 12 members and four alternates. At the start of proceedings, court officials said seven witnesses are set to be called in the trial, which is expected to last about a week.

Presiding over the trial will be Senior District Court Judge Anthony Trenga, appointed to the court by President George W. Bush.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts also appointed him as a judge on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance, or FISA, court. 

Danchenko has pleaded not guilty to the charges. 

He allegedly lied to the FBI about his sources for the information he gave to former British spy Christopher Steele for the dossier. Danchenko was also a confidential source for the FBI from March 2017 to October 2020. 

In Durham's investigation, prior to Sussmann's trial, former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith pleaded guilty to falsifying a surveillance document during the Trump-Russia collusion investigation and received a sentence of 12 months of probation and 400 hours of community service.