Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
The left-leaning media is crowing about the latest loss for Special Counsel John Durham, the acquittal of Igor Danchenko. This suspected spy helped drag our divided country through three years of “Russian Collusion,” using his false Steele dossier, sponsored by the Clinton campaign. However, the media should not emphasize partisan raspberries for a loss that is not so much Durham’s as the country’s.
Rather, it should focus on how a seemingly corrupt and/or incompetent FBI sought to falsely accuse Donald Trump of treasonous collusion, while itself colluding with Russian agents, both covert and overt. Given the sickening evidence of FBI malfeasance, it is no wonder that Durham could not overcome the heavy burden of using compromised FBI agents to convict the dishonest Russian spy with whom they were coordinating.
In 2008-2011, the FBI established that Danchenko was a likely covert Russian agent, communicating with Russian intelligence while offering two young Brookings Institution professionals bound for the State Department “a few bucks” for information once ensconced.
Danchenko’s trial also produced evidence that the FBI’s honest Human Evaluation Unit believed that Danchenko continued to act as a likely Russian intelligence agent. In January 2017, the FBI interviewed Danchenko, hoping to get corroboration for the cartoonishly absurd “Steele Dossier” allegations, after offering a $1 million payment to Christopher Steele to corroborate any of them, without success.
Yes, the FBI offered a bounty on Trump, to Steele, known to be the main “business intelligence” agent for Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Striking out with Steele on this desperation play, the FBI interviewed Danchenko on January 16, 2017, as Trump was about to take office, hoping to find corroboration. Danchenko told the FBI, through Agent Brian Auten, that the Steele allegations were “bar talk” and “gossip” not to be taken seriously, doing so to protect himself from false statement charges, since in fact he, Steele and Clinton wanted them to be taken seriously.
So, what did Auten and his FBI do with these horrific admissions of falsely suborning a FISA warrant on a presidential candidate, at the instigation of an opposing candidate? Did they recommend prosecuting him? Did they start deportation proceedings? Did they seek to withdraw the FISA warrant? No, they gave this spy and admitted falsifier immunity from prosecution, which could only be overcome if he spoke falsely thereafter, the basis for Durham’s current charges.
But that’s not all. The FBI agents – Auten and his underling, Agent Kevin Helson – wrote a memo seeking authority to hire Danchenko as their own Confidential Human Source (“CHS”), in essence, an FBI spy, to gather adverse information on Trump.
Some quick background on Auten: he was the investigator who determined, absurdly, that Hunter Biden’s laptop was “Russian disinformation.” But when he was hit in the face with this actual Russian disinformation, he saw no evil. When he hired Danchenko as a CHS (one purpose was to hide him from prying Congressional eyes), he approved Helson’s memo stating that they did not find any derogatory information on Danchenko. Yet Auten himself had read the counterintelligence reports on Danchenko in 2012, which were also available to Helson.
So, now our country was paying a known spy, eventually $200,000, while allowing him to infiltrate our most secret intelligence investigations of Russia. To make Danchenko look like a valuable help, these agents allowed him in on all 25 ongoing Russian intelligence investigations, detailed in 40 memos. So, to falsely frame Trump for Russian collusion, our FBI was colluding with a dishonest Russian spy. We are not making this up – it is all in evidence.
Indeed, Helson recommended an additional $346,000 bonus for Danchenko when the FBI was forced to drop him as a CHS in October 2020, as Durham came on the scene. Danchenko lied four times to Helson about having spoken for a few minutes on his cell phone to an anonymous caller he believed was one Sergei Millian, a Russian-American businessman, a lie intended to buttress the “well-developed conspiracy” allegations of the Steele dossier.
Rather than subject Danchenko to searching cross-examination and a polygraph – as good investigators do with dubious informants – they accepted this sketchy story uncritically. Later Durham charged Danchenko with criminal falsity, since his frustrated, unanswered emails to Millian showed they did not talk, and there was no unknown call on his cell phone records.
The problem: Danchenko on one of the four occasions had casually told Helson, as reflected in Auten’s notes, that Millian may have used a calling app. But Auten and Helson did not take this comment to ground, by delving into the lack of evidence that Millian could have known about the app or that Danchenko sent him information about it. That one offhand comment of Danchenko, unexplored by the FBI because of its willing suspension of disbelief, was enough for an acquittal.
Also helping Danchenko’s cause was Auten’s Congressional testimony in October 2020, that he believed that Danchenko was truthful about the identity of his sub-sources, this in spite of a manifestly shady story about Millian. Meanwhile, Helson was writing glowing reviews of Danchenko’s allegedly highly credible and truthful assistance to the FBI. All of this helped to bolster the non-testifying Danchenko’s credibility before the jury.
Two honest female agents testified that they recommended the investigation of Charles Dolan, one of Danchenko’s conspirators, a Clintonista and overt Russian PR agent, but they were consistently rebuffed by their superiors.
In most normal cases, FBI agents give prosecutors competent and straight assistance, impressive to any jury. Durham, to say the least, did not receive such help, and was forced to admit that the agents were “simply incompetent” or acted “in coordination,” adding “or whatever.”
The partisan media may portray this latest acquittal as a failure to prove a dishonest “Russian collusion” investigation. While the evidence showed only that Danchenko most likely lied, his acquittal should be viewed as proof positive that James Comey’s team acted execrably in stomach-turning coordination with a known Russian spy. So even though the case did not result in a conviction, it did put in the public domain something which the legacy media may not wish to report: proof of an FBI leadership turned dishonestly partisan.
John D. O’Connor is a former federal prosecutor and the San Francisco attorney who represented W. Mark Felt during his revelation as Deep Throat in 2005. O’Connor is the author of the book, The Mysteries of Watergate: What Really Happened.
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