Judge Drops Durham Probe Charge In Another MAGA Loss


Special Counsel John Durham, a federal prosecutor originally tasked in the Trump era with investigating the origins of the Russia investigation, saw one of the charges he brought in what will seemingly be his last trial in this role dismissed by a federal judge this week.

Federal Judge Anthony Trenga concluded one of Durham’s charges against former FBI informant Igor Danchenko of lying to the federal investigative agency couldn’t stand. Under questioning, Danchenko said he hadn’t “talked” to Democratic operative Charles Dolan, who has ties to the Clintons, about any material in the infamous Steele dossier chronicling alleged Trump ties to Russia. Danchenko actually obtained information from Dolan via email about claims of infighting in the Trump campaign. These allegations were identified in the dossier as originating with a GOP source, which is where Dolan told Danchenko via email he got the details. The information actually just came from news coverage, as Dolan admitted at trial. The FBI agent who originally questioned Danchenko about his communications with Dolan testified in Danchenko’s trial, attesting that he didn’t define having “talked” with Dolan in the pair’s disputed sit-down. In a literal sense, Danchenko wasn’t lying, although one of his felony charges of lying to the FBI was connected to his response.

There could be differences in investigative relevance in whether or not a witness “talked,” in the literal sense, with someone else. In general, maybe there would have been suspicions in some case that someone was essentially masquerading as whoever the witness thought was communicating with them, and hearing how the person sounded could help clarify the situation. In this case, Danchenko was still facing four charges of lying to the FBI after Trenga dismissed the charge covering his statements about Dolan, finding what the defendant previously said “was literally true.”

Danchenko was a key source for the dossier, about which Trump has often complained, alongside complaints about the broader Russia investigation. Despite wide promotion of his work in Trump’s corner and the former president’s consistent claims of a wide-ranging plot perpetrated against him, Durham hasn’t brought any charges indicating a criminal conspiracy underlying the wide-ranging Russia probe. Three cases he has prosecuted, including Danchenko’s, have instead focused on allegations of lying to investigators and falsification of records. Durham personally argued in court in favor of upholding the dropped charge against Danchenko before the judge dismissed it. The trial will continue Monday. Among other developments, Danchenko’s past FBI handler touted his help to the agency at trial. Going forward, Durham and his team will be finalizing a report from the investigation, which U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland will be tasked with reviewing.