The Durham Indictment of Igor Danchenko Is An Embarrassment to the Department of Justice

A longtime criminal defense attorney, Trump biographer, and chronicler of the Trump-Russia scandal unpacks an irresponsible criminal indictment that has fooled reporters into thinking it significant.

Background

On the tenth page of the first volume of the major Trump-Russia report coordinated by former FBI director Robert Mueller, the venerated lawman opines that he hasn’t been able to access a significant percentage of the stock of evidence he’s been aiming to accrue. The reason? Not dumb luck or any particular investigative failure at the FBI, but systematic hindrance of his efforts by people associated with Donald Trump.

Mueller would later on in his report disclose that much of that hindrance had been coordinated by Trump himself, aided and abetted by Trump’s personal attorneys. If this tune sounds familiar, it should—as it’s exactly what would lead, 21 months after the Mueller Report was released, to an attack on the U.S. Capitol that left five dead.

As Mueller explained to his readers back in 2019, Trump and his political team—even as they claimed there was nothing involving Trump and Russia for anyone in federal law enforcement to investigate—often refused to participate in voluntary interviews; when they did agree to be interviewed, they often insisted on written ones without follow-up questions; if they allowed unfettered access to their knowledge, they often lied; they hid evidence and destroyed evidence; they lied about hiding evidence and destroying evidence; and in general did everything a guilty person would do to avoid being indicted, including committing new crimes. Mueller uncovered evidence of not just obstruction but acts of witness tampering and witness intimidation and seeming bribery, and not just random acts along these lines but acts perpetrated by attorneys on behalf of Trump and his cronies in an obvious bid to escape any responsibility for the obstruction, witness tampering, and other crimes they had so clearly engineered.

Mueller charged none of this conduct. He simply dumped these three paragraphs at the start of his report:

So Mueller decided to let Steve Bannon go for destroying evidence from his phone and lying about destroying that evidence, and Bannon rewarded Mueller and all of America by going out and committing a slew of federal felonies (for which he was indicted, but later pardoned by Trump) and helping to plan the armed insurrection on January 6.

And Mueller decided to let Erik Prince go for destroying evidence from his phone, in consultation with Bannon, and Prince rewarded Mueller and all of America for this largesse by going out and committing a slew of federal felonies involving illegal arms.

Mueller decided to let Donald Trump Jr. go for lying to federal investigators, and his reward was again predictable: Trump Jr. became one of the most persistent, shameless purveyors of dangerous disinformation in the United States. In fact, Mueller appeared to know that he’d be lied to by virtually every Trump associate he spoke to—but all of them were let go, launched toward future crimes which would either be pardoned by Trump, ignored by a Joe Biden administration DOJ more concerned about “optics” than rule of law, or left for disposition to a hopelessly deadlocked Congress (or glacial-moving federal court system) to try to sort out. All of the after-the-fact conduct to which Mueller bore direct witness suggested the cover-up of a grave international conspiracy, but Mueller and his team eventually found it all too hot to handle and so they walked away having “merely” established that the Russians attacked America in 2016 and did so to aid Donald Trump’s candidacy for President of the United States.

Sure, these Russian hostiles may have been aided in inchoate and obscure or not-so-inchoate and not-so-obscure ways by {waving hands in the air vaguely} some people very close to Trump both during and after the fact, but the whole matter was best put to rest like a murder victim’s body neatly folded up and hidden behind a bedroom wall.

Congress tried to step into the void left by the Mueller investigation, as it too knew that it had been lied to by—among others—Prince and Trump Jr., and not just once but repeatedly, and not on ancillary matters but on matters of the gravest imaginable national security importance. It wasn’t just that Congress referred Prince to the DOJ for criminal prosecution; it also referred Trump Jr. Jared Kushner, Bannon, and Sam Clovis. That’s right: Congress referred two of Trump’s sons, his top political adviser, one of his top national security advisers, and one of his top campaign officials to DOJ for criminal prosecution for perjury and making false statements under 18 USC §1001.

And the DOJ? Under Trump Attorney General Bill Barr’s watchful eye, it ignored all of these referrals.

Every last one.

Yet even the five referrals cited above were just the tip of the iceberg. Congress had evidence that Hope Hicks, Trump’s closest aide, had also lied. There was evidence of lies from Trump lawyer Michael Cohen—who later revealed he’d been instructed to lie by Trump lawyers—and of course even Trump himself, who gave written answers to Mueller and was thereafter known to every American who ever read about the Trump-Russia scandal to have repeatedly lied in his responses to federal officials.

The DOJ did nothing about any of it.

When the DOJ finally did act against another of the dozens of Trumpworld figures who had lied to it, longtime Trump friend and adviser Roger Stone, it won major criminal convictions—which Trump immediately annulled via commutation and pardon.

Convictions for lying by 2016 Trump campaign manager and thirty-year acquaintance Paul Manafort—who was (as established at length, with full sourcing, by national bestsellers Proof of Collusion [Simon & Schuster, 2018] and the 2020 Macmillan book Proof of Corruption) under contract with a Kremlin agent to advance Vladimir Putin’s interests in the U.S. when he secretly delivered proprietary targeting data to Russian intelligence during the 2016 campaign? These too were soon obliterated by a Trump pardon. Did Jared Kushner need some rewarding for lying to Congress and Mueller on his father-in-law’s behalf? Sure he did—so Trump pardoned Kushner’s dad, Charles.

All the while the Trump DOJ sat helplessly by, lied to ruthlessly by everyone in the then-president’s orbit and without any consequence whatsoever. It took no action to protect the rule of law, just kicked the dirt and said, “Aw, shucks—you got us, guys.”

But there was one exception to all of this prosecutorial wallflowering and inaction and mollycoddling: when it came time for DOJ to look at any incorrect information that may have been passed on by those who had investigated Donald Trump, no matter how small or insignificant or finally irrelevant or even accidental any of it may have been, the DOJ became John Rambo. Indeed, with Trump breathing down AG Barr’s neck (before forcing him out for insufficient toadying), Barr installed John Durham as a Special Counsel to hold Trump’s enemies to account in a way that no ally of Trump ever had been.

And so it was that in the investigation of Trump, America got J. Wellington Wimpy from Popeye. In the investigation of the investigators of Trump, it got 1980s Stallone.

Stripped of all this background, U.S. major media has now breathlessly reported on the recent indictment of a man totally unknown to most Americans, Igor Danchenko.

Just as Durham has already indicted two other men Americans have never heard of, Kevin Clinesmith and Michael Sussmann, while DOJ sits idly by as no action is taken (or any action taken is quickly eviscerated) against powerful political figures affiliated with Trump—such as Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon, Erik Prince, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Sam Clovis, Hope Hicks, and others in Trump’s orbit—the indictment of Danchenko should have been cast by major media the way CNN described the Clinesmith and Sussmann cases: as indictments “focused on peripheral characters flubbing details that would not have altered the main focus of the Russia investigation.”

But it was not to be. We are told, instead, that the Danchenko indictment has more or less confirmed the long-suffering Trump’s shrill claims of being the victim of a “hoax.”

There’s only one problem with U.S. media’s now rampant credulity in the face of the Danchenko indictment: the indictment appears to be one of the weakest—and it must also be said, one of the most bizarre—DOJ has ever put forward. It survives and even thrives as a new cause célèbre for Trump and his fans only because smart reporters like Jonathan Swan of Axios are saying stupid things about it like this: “The charges are that not only did Clinton and the Democrats fund the [Steele] dossier, but a longtime Clinton and Democratic operative was one of the sources for the rumors about Trump. Doesn’t get much worse.”

Sounds bad—and it would be if any of it were true. But as this lengthy Proof article details, it isn’t.

Some Background to the Igor Danchenko Indictment

A reasonable summary of the 39-page indictment brought by Trump’s handpicked AG’s handpicked attack dog would go like this: Russian expatriate Igor Danchenko, a man with a history of getting under the skin of Russian president Vladimir Putin via impeccable opposition research, compiled raw intelligence for former MI6 Russia desk chief Christopher Steele—a U.S.-allied spy of such skill and renown and prior utility as a helpmeet to the FBI that he was tasked by MI6 with training other spies—that even the indictment Danchenko now faces concedes (and concedes repeatedly) came from incredibly well-placed sources in both the United States and Russia.

Indeed, Durham’s new indictment seems unable to stop itself from proving, over and over again, that Igor Danchenko’s access to top-shelf intelligence about activities in Russia is in 2021 and was in 2016 virtually unparalleled. Nor is there any suggestion that as Danchenko was providing research to Steele in 2016 he knew who Steele’s client was, as indeed Steele himself had not been told this by the company that contracted with him, Fusion GPS. As it turned out, the ultimate source of the money for Fusion GPS’s work was in the first instance anti-Trump Republicans, and later, after Trump won the 2016 Republican Party primary, the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton.

The indictment against Danchenko attacks precisely none of the raw intelligence that Danchenko provided to Steele, though it mentions in passing and without proof—and as it happens, inaccurately—that much of that intelligence turned out to be incorrect.

In fact, as has been itemized on the Twitter feed associated with Proof, in the New York Times bestselling Proof trilogy, in countless summaries of the Steele dossier’s intelligence, and by reporters around the world, it remains the case that the raw intel in the Steele dossier is likely almost exactly as accurate as Steele told the FBI and U.S. media it was once he released it: “about 70%.” But since Durham’s indictment both isn’t about the content of the dossier and its claim that the dossier is inaccurate is itself inaccurate, it doesn’t dwell on the subject too much, and neither will this article.

Instead, the needlessly long indictment against Danchenko alleges that he obscured, in voluntary and highly candid conversations with the FBI, the nature of his contacts with two of the sources he used in gathering his raw intelligence. Durham says that one contact was obscured altogether—this being a public relations executive named Charles Dolan with ties to the Clintons and the Democratic Party—while the other is a Trump business associate whose version of events Durham chooses to adopt in full.

As to Dolan, the Danchenko indictment goes out of its way to underscore that he was precisely the sort of person Danchenko would have wanted to speak to in order to gather intelligence on Trump, as Dolan had amazing access to the corridors of power in Moscow. But even as it does so, the indictment tries to leave the impression—albeit without any evidence—that Dolan repeatedly lied to Danchenko about what he knew.

Durham also alleges that Danchenko lied about his contacts with a Trump associate, Sergei Millian. How does Durham know Danchenko lied? Largely because he takes Millian’s word for it, though Millian, as a longtime member of Trumpworld, is every bit as likely to be lying to federal investigators as the dozens of other Trumpworld figures who were allowed to lie to federal investigators without any consequences.

So why would Danchenko have lied about his contacts with Dolan and Millian, if he did? There are many possibilities, and this article explores all of them. For instance, he may have been trying to leave a friend out of a federal investigation—not in the way, say, that Trump dangled pardons to keep people out of the investigation of him, or in the way Trump cronies Manafort and Stone lied to protect Trump from getting brought into their federal cases, but a form of loyalty nonetheless. This would be a rather innocuous read of Danchenko’s intent, though not a wholly implausible one.

Another possibility is that Danchenko knew enough about Putin and his international and domestic intelligence services—the SVR and the FSB—to be aware that any who dish on powerful Russian figures have a bad habit of being assassinated. Is it possible Danchenko was willing to endanger his own life by speaking to the FBI, but was not willing to endanger a friend’s? That’s possible.

But of course the reason John Durham seems to imagine, to the extent that he cares to conjure up a narrative at all—really the indictment is just about Danchenko’s lying, and never seeks to establish a basis for it—is that Danchenko and Dolan were part of a massive, international, Kremlin-backed criminal conspiracy to destroy Trump via coordinated disinformation. Again, Durham doesn’t explicitly allege any of this, likely because he has no evidence for this “theory of the case” whatsoever, but given that he was hired by Barr to provide Trump with political cover in the Trump-Russia scandal, Durham seems to have kenned that thirty-nine pages of text is sufficient page-space in which to destroy Danchenko’s reputation with nothing more than vague innuendo.

At the heart of the Danchenko indictment is a tautology: the assumption that Trump and his team did nothing wrong with respect to Russia, and that therefore the Steele dossier couldn’t possibly be accurate, and that therefore those who researched it couldn’t possibly have found accurate information about Trump and Russia, and that therefore any such researchers must have had ulterior motives for their actions, and that therefore these ulterior motives must have been some vast left-wing conspiracy whose victim just happens to be a man who has provably lied about all his contacts with Moscow and made sure the entirety of his sphere would lie about these contacts as well.

It seems Occam’s Razor has never gotten within a mile of Durham’s scruffy beard.

A Brief Note About Danchenko and Christopher Steele

As even Tucker Carlson’s blog, the Daily Caller, reported in January of 2021, we know that Steele was willing to tell the FBI if a potentially unreliable Clinton-connected source was attempting to pass intelligence to federal law enforcement—because he’d already done so in the past. According to this report by the Daily Caller, Steele warned the FBI, voluntarily and unilaterally, that a Clinton-linked source, Cody Shearer, was trying to get information on Trump that Steele worried might be unreliable due to its provenance, a Russian named Ruslan Mansimov.

In bringing this revelation to the FBI, Steele made clear that he had no interest in his work being buttressed by figures he deemed unreliable because of (a) their partisan ties, or (b) their ties to Russia. Steele told the FBI that Shearer and Mansimov likely could not be trusted. The notion that he made a different determination with respect to Dolan and Danchenko underscores that he’d assessed their credibility differently—and would have warned the FBI if the circumstances had been otherwise. Durham ignores this history, as he ignores so much else in his remarkably loquacious filing.

Again, while it doesn’t seem to want to do so, Durham’s indictment of Danchenko repeatedly confirms Steele’s judgment of Dolan and Danchenko by underlining that the two men had extraordinary intelligence sources—and ample reason to believe in them.

A Brief Note About the Start of “Crossfire Hurricane”

Durham is at great pains to leave the impression throughout his indictment—without ever saying so directly—that it was the Steele dossier that launched the Trump-Russia investigation. His indictment, in two successive paragraphs, places the beginning of the “Crossfire Hurricane” probe and Steele’s first contact with the FBI in July 2016.

That’s nice.

Of course, we’ve known for over four years now that the Trump-Russia investigation began in 2015.

As reported by the Guardian in April 2017 (emphasis supplied),

Britain’s spy agencies played a crucial role in alerting their counterparts in Washington to contacts between members of Donald Trump’s campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives, the Guardian has been told.

GCHQ [British intelligence] first became aware in late 2015 of suspicious “interactions” between figures connected to Trump and known or suspected Russian agents, a source close to UK intelligence said. This intelligence was passed to the US as part of a routine exchange of information, they added.

Over the next six months, until summer 2016, a number of western agencies shared further information on contacts between Trump’s inner circle and Russians, sources said.

The European countries that passed on electronic intelligence—known as SIGINT—included Germany, Estonia, and Poland. Australia, a member of the “Five Eyes” spying alliance that also includes the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand, also relayed material, one source said.

Another source suggested the Dutch and the French spy agency, the General Directorate for External Security or DGSE, were contributors.

That’s right: between late 2015 and mid-2016—meaning before Steele first went to the FBI, his longtime partners in intelligence-gathering, with what he had about Trump and Russia—not just one or two or three or four or five or six but seven allied intel agencies gave the USIC information sufficient to warrant the opening of a national security investigation into contacts between the 2016 Trump campaign and Moscow.

A Brief Note About Charles Dolan Jr.

Given that Durham depicts Danchenko as being willing to commit a federal crime to hide his use of Charles Dolan as a source—which Durham, without evidence but an enormous amount of innuendo, suggests is because Danchenko knew Dolan was not a reliable source of intelligence, and indeed was even an unreliable, hyperpartisan one—it’s useful to know a bit more about Dolan before diving into the Durham indictment.

According to a just-published profile of Dolan in the Washington Post, Dolan, a public relations executive—called a “spin doctor” by the Post simply due to the nature of his employment in public relations, not because of his involvement with Steele’s dossier—in fact “gave no indication [at any time prior to the 2016 presidential election] that he was sufficiently committed to any candidate [in that presidential election] to turn his professional assets toward partisan ends”, according to many “former colleagues and other associates” of Dolan with whom the Post spoke. Indeed, the attorney for the one man who did more to attack the Steele dossier than perhaps anyone in the world—Aleksej Gubarev, who actually sued the media outlet, Buzzfeed, that published it—told the Post that Dolan is “highly professional” and that he would “work with him again.”

The fact that Dolan himself worked for Gubarev—to advance the latter’s interests with respect to the dossier, even to the point of coordinating with Tucker Carlson to offer pushback to the document—strongly confirms Dolan’s colleagues’ and associates’ claim that he is not, in fact, a particularly political person despite having volunteered to aid the Democratic Party on a number of occasions.

Yet Durham and now millions of Trumpists are painting Dolan as a political operative due to his past associations with the campaigns of Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton.

This is, to be sure, a reasonable inquiry, which is why the Post—far and away the most important newspaper in the country when it comes to covering political campaigns—looked into it in a robust way. And what did the Post find? That the roles Dolan had held in “Democratic circles” were “numerous” but also decidedly “not high-profile”; and that while Dolan did work for the 2016 Clinton campaign, it was as a “volunteer”; that officials from the Clinton campaign appeared to have no idea who Dolan even is; and that Dolan himself told the FBI—under penalty of a federal felony—that Clinton campaign officials “did not direct, and were not aware of” his communications with either Danchenko or any Russian national. Lest you think “well Dolan would say that, and the Clinton campaign would say that,” the Post quotes a longtime Dolan colleague as saying that, in all the years he had known him, the man was simply “never someone I would have ever considered hyper-partisan.”

Durham’s vague implication of some of long-running conspiracy between Dolan and Danchenko—despite the former’s noted lack of “hyper-partisanship” and the latter’s reputation as being no friend to Vladimir Putin, indeed possibly a leading enemy—is further damaged by the fact that the two men were first introduced by a future member of the Trump administration. Indeed, Trump’s eventual top expert on Russia, Fiona Hill, an admired expert on both Russian and Ukrainian politics, had before Trump became president “connected Danchenko to Dolan after the analyst [Danchenko] asked if she knew anyone at Ketchum [a consulting firm].”

Not only does this sequence of events underscore how respected Danchenko is as a Russia analyst—that he should have such ready access to arguably the nation’s top Russian expert then in public service (and a Trump adviser, no less)—but also that Danchenko only ended up speaking to Dolan because a Trump adviser proposed it, not because the two men knew one another previously or were part of some eldritch plot.

Unsurprisingly, Durham’s fans among the far right have now turned on Hill, calling for her immediate arrest—for what is unclear, though it hardly seems to matter to them. In any case, a better question is why Hill directed Danchenko to Dolan in the first place. It’s a reasonable enough question that the Post asked (and also answered) that question as well in its reporting. In short, Hill appears to have directed Danchenko to Dolan because Dolan is one of the most knowledgable men when it comes to Russia that the nation’s top Russia expert could think of—in other words, exactly the sort of person a responsible, nonpartisan analyst like Igor Danchenko would have wanted to meet and press for information about Donald Trump’s activities in Moscow in the 2010s and before.

According to the Post, Dolan is “well-known among Russia experts” and also “well-connected in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.” Even the Durham indictment admits that Dolan “frequently interacted with senior Russian Federation leadership”, which the indictment—consistent with its penchant for tautologies—treats as evidence of a plot it never articulates or substantiates rather than (as Occam would have it) evidence that Hill was right to point Danchenko in Dolan’s direction because Dolan did and does know what the hell he’s talking about when it comes to Russia. Indeed, a former colleague of Dolan interviewed by the Washington Post said that in 2016 Dolan “[brought] a level of interest and expertise [in Russian politics] beyond the normal influencer-for-hire. He was very trusted by Putin’s people.” No wonder Hill recommended him, and no wonder Danchenko trusted him, and no wonder an old hand in the intelligence business like Christopher Steele recruited someone as shrewd as Danchenko to work for him as a source of raw intelligence.

So perhaps, Trump’s fans venture, it’s Ketchum that’s part of some secret plot here? Could a well known consulting firm be a Kremlin front? Well, no, according to the reporting in the Post. The newspaper confirms that all of Dolan’s work in Russia was properly disclosed by Ketchum to the federal government.

So what about the intelligence Dolan gave to Danchenko? Surely Durham establishes that this information was incorrect?

No, he does not.

As the Post reports, the segment of Steele’s dossier for which Dolan was a sub-source included information about Paul Manafort’s dismissal as Trump’s campaign chairman that has since been confirmed, not that (candidly) it needed much confirmation. The Trump campaign fired Manafort shortly after news of his work—and potential crimes—in Ukraine appeared in U.S. media, and all Dolan did was confirm for Danchenko that this was one of the bases for Manafort’s firing. {Note: There’s more on this below.}

I don’t know what to make, nor does anyone it seems, of Durham’s implication that Dolan was less able to provide intelligence about Donald Trump’s 2013 activities in the Ritz-Carlton Moscow because he (Dolan) stayed there during a trip in 2016. As Proof has repeatedly noted—and as is extensively covered, with full sourcing, in my book Proof of Collusion—despite the wish-casting by Trump fans that there be no evidence whatsoever of Trump asking Russian prostitutes to pee on a bed Barack Obama once slept in for Trump’s own perverse germaphobic amusement, not only does evidence corroborating that information abound, but most of it is to be found at the hotel itself. So as a former federal criminal investigator myself, I’ll note here what I think any person of common sense, former federal criminal investigator or not, would conclude, which is that if you want to know if something happened at a particular site you must speak with those who were there at the time. I rather think that a talented federal criminal investigator would be more suspicious of Dolan’s intelligence about events at the Ritz-Carlton in November 2013 if he had not traveled to the hotel sometime thereafter. So while longstanding investigative techniques would treat Dolan having stayed at the Ritz-Carlton Moscow in 2016 as an indicator of the reliability of his information on what may have happened there two and a half years earlier—as it positioned him to speak to the very hotel staff the BBC would later report had critical evidence of the Steele dossier being accurate—Durham somehow surmises, contrary to longstanding preferred investigative processes, that Dolan being present at the scene of an alleged incident is some kind of proof that he doesn’t know anything about it. This is, to be sure, a head-scratcher, and one Durham’s indictment makes no effort at all to explain.

The deeper the Post dives on Dolan, the more it’s clear that the latter’s exchanges with Danchenko were exactly what an intelligence expert and criminal investigator would expect them to be—and the more it’s clear that Durham’s paranoid conclusions are both partisan and, more importantly, profoundly counterintuitive.

For instance, one might presume that Danchenko would leave Dolan’s name out of his conversations with the FBI to protect Dolan from (a) having his professional career, some of which depended on his social network in Russia, destroyed, and (b) possible reprisals from the “inner circle” of Vladimir Putin with which Dolan was so close back in 2016. By the same token, Dolan telling the FBI that he had “fabricated” the basis of certain details he had provided to Danchenko” (emphasis supplied) confirms Dolan was doing the same thing for his sources Danchenko would later do for Dolan himself: obscuring them as being the provenance of his information.

But somehow these natural assumptions are turned on their head by Durham, who takes all of the above—and even Dolan conceding to the FBI that he hid some of his sources from Danchenko—as evidence not of Dolan’s candor to the FBI but his complicity with a secret plot against Trump. Here as elsewhere, any common sense reasoning that runs counter to Durham’s theory that Dolan and Danchenko were partners-in-crime is left on the cutting room floor by Durham and his assistants.

Indeed, Durham doesn’t even suggest that Dolan’s intelligence was made up—though he seems to want to imply this—only that Dolan on at least one occasion hid his own sources from Danchenko, which, again, is precisely what one might have imagined Dolan would do for those sources. That Dolan lied to Danchenko to protect his own sources, and that Danchenko (arguably) lied to the FBI about his sources, if anything confirms that these are two men who understand that when it comes to sharing intelligence, you don’t burn your sources—even if not doing so brings personal legal risk to yourself. Intelligence is, as we know, a shady business, so if you’re being a Boy Scout you’re likely doing it wrong.

As for Durham’s gossip-mongering about Dolan and Danchenko—Dolan, we learn from Durham’s indictment, suspected Danchenko (without any evidence) of having worked for the FSB, and Danchenko, in keeping with his long history of deliberately angering Putin, felt compelled to observe that Dolan was “a bit naive in his liking of Russia”—it both underlines that the two men did not know each other well and that the intelligence sphere is one in which mutual suspicion is commonplace. None of it is evidence, legal or lay, suggesting that either man works for the Russian government.

Meanwhile, Durham and the Post found no evidence undercutting Dolan’s insistence that “he was unaware of the specifics of Danchenko’s work, or that the information they were trading would be transmitted to the FBI.”

More From the Washington Post Investigation

The Washington Post also addresses Durham’s implication that Dolan was not, in fact, in a position to provide meaningful intelligence to Steele (Barr’s handpicked Special Counsel seems bent on implying that Dolan wish-casted the information he provided to the former MI6 Russian desk chief via Danchenko, and did so purely on the basis of his admiration for Clinton and loathing for Trump). But that’s not at all what the Post found when it investigated Dolan. Indeed, it found that he was perfectly placed to get exactly the sort of intelligence he indirectly passed on to Steele. Per the Post, Charles Dolan “helped handle global public relations for the Russian Federation for eight years ending in 2014”—as reported by the Daily Caller, Fusion GPS began researching Trump’s ties to Moscow a year later, funded by anti-Trump Republicans—and had “contacts and credibility” as a source of information about Russia because of his “extensive work” there while affiliated with Ketchum, a renowned public relations firm. The Post quotes Joshua Ian Rosenstein, a Foreign Agents Registration Act expert at the DC-based Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein and Birkenstock firm, as volunteering that Dolan has “long-standing relationships in that area of the world.”

The Post also reports that, contrary to Durham’s implication that the Steele dossier was central to the Russia investigation, in fact it was only “tangential to the official inquiry led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.” The Post adds that Durham offers readers of his indictment no evidence at all establishing any “motivation” for Dolan to seek to aid the Russian Federation, nor does it explain how attacking the Russian Federation’s preferred candidate—Trump—could possibly have been seen by the Kremlin as advancing its geopolitical interests. The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that the Kremlin generally and Putin specifically wanted Trump to win in 2016 due to his historically pro-Russia foreign policy and Clinton’s well-known hostility to both Putin’s autocracy and Russian adventurism in eastern Europe, meaning that if Dolan had indeed been motivated by something other than a desire to provide accurate intel to Danchenko (which the Post underscores Durham has not established), it would run counter to any Russian interests ever identified by U.S. spies.

{Note: While “pedigree” is not, in itself, conclusive evidence, both Danchenko’s and Dolan’s backgrounds suggest that they are quite something other than what Durham now, for his own reasons, suggests. Not only is Danchenko considered a top Russia expert with a demonstrated hostility to the Kremlin, but for his part Dolan is a graduate of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government who has taught at George Washington University and advised U.S. political candidates of all kinds for many years. He is an “avid hunter” who demonstrated his desire to use his expertise on Russia during the 2016 presidential election by publishing a blog entry underscoring “the need for accurate transcripts in light of confusion over comments attributed to Putin calling Trump ‘brilliant.’” In other words, Dolan was neither hiding his expertise on Russia nor hiding that he felt it relevant to the 2016 campaign. Just as Ketchum publicly disclosed the work Dolan did in Russia, Dolan publicly disclosed that he had much knowledge of that part of the world and that he wanted to deploy it in useful ways. Perhaps this, rather than some nefarious plot, is why Trump’s eventual leading Russia adviser quickly raised Dolan when Danchenko asked her to recommend to him a Russia expert from Ketchum.}

The Details of the Durham Indictment

Durham’s 39-page indictment is what is called a “speaking indictment”, meaning that rather than being the one-pager most state-level indictments are, it seeks to build up a narrative in support of its allegations. While speaking indictments are more common in the federal criminal justice system than state criminal justice systems, they always denote a prosecutor’s desire to speak to the public rather than to a judge, a defendant, or a defense attorney. The purpose of a speaking indictment is essentially to turn what should be a sober legal document into a press conference, and while that’s fine—a prosecutor is entitled to do this if he wishes—it also underscores that indictments of this sort are, from birth, stories as well as charging documents. Durham had a story he wanted to tell in his indictment of Danchenko, and at every turn that story is not just counterintuitive but nonsensical. Any conclusion one might draw from a given fact that is benign, Durham ignores; any conclusion one might draw that is both paranoid and presumes a case has already been proven that hasn’t even been assayed is one that Durham and his team indulge in almost gluttonous fashion.

Durham’s story begins with just the sort of omission of which it accuses its defendant.

By declaring that the FBI investigation of “whether individuals associated with the [2016] Donald J. Trump presidential campaign were coordinating activities with the Russian government” began in July 2016, when in fact the FBI first began receiving intelligence on this very point from seven allied intelligence agencies almost a year earlier, Durham hopes to trace the origin of the Trump-Russia investigation to the Steele dossier—which Durham, in the second paragraph of the indictment, helpfully notes began showing up piecemeal on the FBI’s doorstep in (you guessed it) July 2016.

The fact that, by July 2016, the FBI had specifically been receiving intelligence from (among others) trusted British intelligence sources for almost a year—and, having worked alongside Steele in the past, would have seen him as coming from this same trusted sphere—is elided from Durham’s narrative, as is the fact that one of the first individuals mentioned in Steele’s dossier of intelligence is Carter Page, who the FBI had previously investigated (and at length, for that matter) as a possible Russian spy. In short, while Durham begins his tale with what he deems a damning synchronicity, this synchronicity is entirely the product of what he chooses to disclose to the public—or not—in his lengthy “speaking indictment.”

The indictment, in its third and fourth paragraphs, moves on to another grave lie-by-omission, implying to the U.S. public that the only entity ever known to have employed “U.S. Investigative Firm-1” (this would be Fusion GPS) in relation to the 2016 election season was, through its law firm, the Democratic Party and 2016 Clinton campaign. In fact, Fusion GPS began its work investigating Trump—according to a report by then-Tucker Carlson employee Alex Pfeiffer, writing for the Daily Caller in January 2017—way back in 2015:

A reporter for a major news outlet asked an adviser to Donald Trump about memos saying the New York businessman was involved in an orgy in Russia back in fall of 2015, according to an interview the former adviser gave to the Daily Caller Friday. The former adviser, who still keeps in touch with Trump and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said a Politico reporter called him in Fall 2015 to ask whether he had ever heard that Trump had an orgy in Russia. The former adviser said he asked the reporter “who told him this” and the reporter said no one, and that he got the information from a document made by Fusion GPS that was floating around.

{Emphasis supplied.}

Consider the gravity of the two misrepresentations Durham has made in just these first four paragraphs of his 39-page indictment-cum-presser:

The Truth

As the FBI receives information establishing clandestine contact between Trump agents and Russian nationals from seven allied intelligence agencies in 2015, anti-Trump Republicans are paying Fusion GPS to investigate these very activities. At the forefront of these activities is Carter Page, a man the FBI had previously probed as a possible Russian spy because he admitted to giving non-public information to men he knew worked for Russian intelligence and thereafter—despite having been forcefully confronted by the FBI—crowed in a private letter than he was a valued “adviser to the Kremlin.” And why did the FBI care about Page? Because he was the very first person Trump hired to his national security team in January 2016—six months before the FBI had even heard of the Steele dossier—and was one of the people the seven allied intelligence agencies that had contacted the FBI in 2015 had warned the FBI about.

When Steele sent his first intelligence reports to the FBI in mid-2016 and they detailed troubling information about Carter Page that turned out to be wholly true—Page did indeed meet with a Kremlin official during a trip to Moscow that he made while he was working for Trump, and he did indeed communicate with the Trump campaign the details of that contact, and he did indeed discuss all the things with that Kremlin agent that the Steele dossier said he did, and he did indeed lie to the media about this secretive contact as the dossier implied he would, and the Trump campaign did hold back this information (and much else about Russia) when Trump was briefed about the Russian threat alongside advisers Michael Flynn and Chris Christie in August of 2016—the fact that Steele had worked as the top Russia expert in one of the seven allied intelligence agencies the FBI had been receiving Trump-Russia intelligence on for almost a year (and the fact that Steele’s intelligence dovetailed precisely with what the FBI already knew about Page) gave it an indicia of reliability. And that Steele didn’t know who he was collecting intelligence for gave it yet another indicator of reliability.

Durham’s Story

The Trump-Russia probe was launched in July 2016 when a former spy with no prior FBI contacts sent the FBI allegations about a Trump adviser. The ex-spy was being paid by the Clinton campaign.

That’s it. That’s the entirety of the “view” Durham wants the reader of his indictment to have on the historical context undergirding it.

Of these two stories, not only Trump fans but the entirety of American media have now adopted the latter, despite it being a lie that one could confirm as a lie by simply using Google, reading the Proof trilogy of impeccably sourced national bestselling nonfiction books, or clicking the links to major-media reports contained in this article.

By its fifth paragraph, the Durham indictment has moved still further from the known truth. It describes Page as someone who “had been an advisor to then-candidate Trump”, a seemingly deliberate grammatical error that suggests that the (in the DOJ IG’s view, problematic) FISA warrant renewals the FBI sought on Page—which came after Page was no longer a Trump adviser and after Trump was no longer a candidate—in fact came while Trump was a candidate.

Moreover, Durham asserts that the FBI was “targeting a United States citizen” not because it had previously probed that person as being a possible Russian spy (though it had) but “substantially” because of reports it received from Steele many years later.

This, too, is false, as the FBI began investigating Page literal years before Steele began researching Trump—and as it turns out, the FBI had good reason to do so, as Carter Page, we now know, was (again) not only privately calling himself a Russian agent and secretly meeting with Kremlin officials to try to negotiate with them on Trump’s behalf, but would eventually go on national television to lie about these secretive activities.

{Note: Keep in mind, here, that “probable cause”, the lowest standard of proof acknowledged in our criminal justice system and the slim degree of evidence required for a FISA warrant in most cases, was arguably already in the FBI’s possession by July 2016 because of its prior dealings with Page and the many intelligence reports it had received from allied intelligence agencies in 2015 and early 2016. It’s not clear that the FBI even needed Steele’s work to reach the elevated standard of proof required for a FISA warrant on the American citizen Page, yet Durham contends the FBI had to “substantially rely” on Steele’s work in order to get its warrant. That proposition is destined to be forever untested.}

By separating his classification of Page’s status and his narrative about the FBI’s FISA warrants and renewal applications into two paragraphs, Durham manages to obscure the fact that the warrant applications and warrant renewals the FBI sought on Page from “October 2016 through in or about September 2017” came after Page was no longer in Trump’s campaign and (for nearly all of that period) after Donald Trump was no longer a presidential candidate. This latter point is critical because it underscores what has always been the biggest flaw in Trumpists’ many conspiracy theories about the Russia investigation: that not only did the FBI not allege Trump had committed any misconduct with the Russians while the presidential election was still ongoing, it actually went so far as to lie to the New York Times a week before the election in order to hide its investigation:

Indeed, far from being investigated by Durham for allegedly trying to harm the 2016 Trump campaign, one would think the FBI would be investigated for trying to aid it.

When the FBI spoke to the New York Times days before the 2016 presidential election, it was in possession of a veritable mountain of evidence from seven allied intelligence agencies corroborating Steele’s allegations of links between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. So not only was the information the FBI gave the Times false at the time, it would ultimately turn out to be egregiously so—not just because the Mueller Report would uncover scores of clandestine contacts between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin; not just because Trump fixer Michael Cohen would later disclose that his boss was secretly negotiating the most lucrative deal of his professional life directly with the Kremlin (Putin lieutenant Dmitry Peskov) during the presidential election; not only because investigations would reveal clandestine contacts between Trump family members and Kremlin agents inside Trump’s home in New York during the presidential campaign; not only because Trump agents were found to have secretly negotiated with the Russians in both December 2015 and December 2016 (Michael Flynn) but the Seychelles in January 2016 (Erik Prince), but because we now know that Trump’s campaign manager (Manafort) was under contract with a Kremlin agent while he worked for Trump and passed proprietary polling data from the Trump campaign to Russian intelligence.

While it’s true that the FBI didn’t know all of this in October 2016, it had enough of it to hand that when it lied to the Times it knew it was lying to American voters, as well.

So is Durham investigating the FBI’s collusion with the 2016 Trump campaign? No, of course not—he’s investigating the FBI for trying to harm the 2016 Trump campaign.

And in investigating the FBI, Durham is now doing to the FBI what the FBI did for Trump in 2016: lying. Durham writes that “the FBI attempted to investigate, vet, and analyze the [Steele dossier] but ultimately was not able to confirm or corroborate most of the[ ] [dossier’s] substantive allegations.” At the time Steele gave his intel to the FBI, he told the Bureau that, like any decent raw intel, it was probably only 70% accurate, and that even much of what was accurate would not be readily confirmed. Durham is correct, therefore, to say much of the dossier hasn’t yet been “confirmed”, but he’s wrong to say that “most” of it could not even be “corroborated.” I have now exhaustively analyzed the dossier on my feed and in the Proof trilogy, but this link should suffice to as a quick-hit refresher underscoring that far more of the dossier has been corroborated than not. Durham is inexplicably repeating the Fox News line on the dossier rather than doing, as this and other independent journalists have done, a careful examination of its reliability.

As I know from having practiced criminal law for many years, if there’s one thing we ought never find in a criminal indictment, it’s what composition professors (as I also am) called “hedging” language and trial attorneys call “weasel words”: language that tries to come down on both sides of a fence at once in order to avoid being held to anything. As you might expect, such language has no place in an indictment because an indictment is supposed to relay to a judge, a defendant, a defense attorney, jurors, and the public what the government believes it can prove. So when Durham writes in his Danchenko indictment, “the FBI learned that [Steele] relied primarily on a U.S.-based Russian national, Igor Danchenko…to collect the information that ultimately formed the core of the allegations found in the [Steele dossier]”, it raises the question of what “primarily”, “ultimately”, and “the core” mean in this context. In fact, Steele had many sources for his dossier, and far-right media has doxxed a great many of them in the last few years; yet Durham conveniently concludes that Steele “primarily” relied on the defendant he happens to be indicting right now, contends that Danchenko’s aid to the work Steele did constituted (in Durham’s self-aggrandizing view) an amorphous “core” of that work, and then—as if all that ambiguity isn’t enough—writes that Steele “ultimately” came to “primarily” use this intelligence as the core of his work product.

This, one must suppose, is John Durham’s way of saying that many—or even most—of the early reports in the Steele dossier did not rely on Igor Danchenko as their source.

The Danchenko Interviews

From January 2017 through November 2017—a ten-month period—Danchenko agreed to repeatedly sit down with the FBI to tell them what he knew. There is no evidence that he attempted to assert his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to avoid these many interviews with the FBI, which of course is what nearly every Trump aide, ally, attorney, agent, associate, and adviser did when the FBI tried to speak to them about their Trump-Russia contacts.

According to Durham, Danchenko lied about whether he had used Dolan as a source. In contrast to calling Carter Page a “Trump campaign adviser” without noting that Page was also a man the FBI has suspected of being a Russian spy, Durham instantly notes that Dolan (whom he calls “PR-Executive 1” in the indictment) is “a long-time participant in Democratic Party politics”, though apparently he and his team were unable to rustle up any of the necessary qualifiers to that status (“not high-profile”, “never hyper-partisan”, “[unknown] to Clinton campaign officials”, a “professional”) that the Washington Post instantly turned up upon looking into Charles Dolan Jr. One might expect Durham to actually be far more forthcoming about evidence derogatory to his case than the Post, given that the latter is simply a newspaper writing an article and Durham is a sworn public servant trying to put Danchenko in a cage for years using the full might of the federal government, but in fact it appears the opposite is true—Durham seems to know (and want to know) far less about all of Page and Dolan and Danchenko than the average Google user, let alone any Washington Post journalist.

In order to charge Ignor Danchenko with making false statements to federal law enforcement, Durham must first show that such misstatements were “material” to a federal investigation. While there can be little argument that Durham does this and rather successfully—he notes that “[Dolan’s] role as a contributor of information to the [Steele dossier] was highly relevant and material to the FBI’s evaluation of those reports because [Dolan] maintained pre-existing and ongoing relationships with numerous persons named or described in the [dossier]”—Durham’s establishment of “materiality” also serves to underscore that Dolan was a well-qualified source for both Danchenko and Steele to use, and indeed precisely the sort of source one might use if one were trying to do due diligence in creating professional work product in the field of intelligence.

Consider: if Danchenko and Dolan had been part of a Russian plot to harm Trump— again, an aim that was the demonstrated opposite of what the Kremlin wanted—why would they have involved a high-profile Russia expert like Hill by having Danchenko pretend not to know Dolan and ask for her advice about a Russia expert at Ketchum? Indeed, why would Danchenko have involved Dolan or Hill at all? Why not simply make up information without using any sources whatsoever? Why track down precisely the sort of sources someone acting innocently would have tracked down?

You may see, now, how Durham’s paranoid investigations require that actions pointing at innocence be seen as evidence of guilt—a tautology that only makes sense when you begin at your conclusion rather than arriving there only upon the receipt of damning evidence. The result is that Durham must declare Dolan’s “pre-existing and ongoing relationships” with exactly the sort of people who might have known what Trump was up to in Moscow, but must then insist this is evidence—can you follow the logic here? I can’t—that Dolan made up intel rather than really getting it from who he says he did.

As to the second piece of derogatory information Durham develops against Dolan in his indictment of Danchenko—that Dolan “maintained historical and ongoing involvement in Democratic politics, which bore upon [his] reliability, motivations, and potential bias as a source of information for the dossier]”—Durham is both right and wrong. Yes, even though it’s a sure bet that anyone in a position to pass on any sort of political intelligence will have extensive political contacts in their home country, such contacts are always a potential source of bias. But here’s the key for non-lawyers: Durham isn’t alleging that Dolan lied to Danchenko, and indeed he isn’t even alleging that Dolan is biased. Rather, he’s saying much less than he appears to be saying. His point is actually no more or less than that Danchenko should have realized that the possibility of Dolan being biased meant that he (Danchenko) couldn’t obscure to the FBI that he’d talked to him (Dolan). Never mind that Danchenko didn’t think Dolan was biased; never mind that none of Dolan’s longtime colleagues think of him as hyper-partisan or anything but a reliable professional; never mind that Dolan’s information appears to have been well-sourced and (more than that) accurate, or that Danchenko may have thought he was saving Dolan’s career—or even his life—by excluding his name from the voluntary interviews he gave to the FBI over a ten-month period when he could have, like almost everyone in Trump’s orbit, found ways to avoid giving any such interviews; despite all this, Durham says Danchenko was permitted to protect his sources in speaking to the FBI because Dolan had previously had a series of “not high-profile” and “volunteer” and “not hyper-partisan” roles in Democratic politics that weren’t even enough to get him noticed by anyone important in the Clinton campaign.

That Durham seems to agree, by his evidence if not his conclusions, that Dolan was qualified to be a source for Danchenko is ignored by Durham as an inconvenient fact.

As for the third piece of derogatory information John Durham provides about Dolan—again, at once intended to impugn Dolan’s reliability and indict Danchenko’s silence about Dolan providing him information—it’s the most preposterous of the three. The Barr-handpicked Special Counsel accuses (if this can even be deemed an accusation) that Danchenko and Dolan had “gathered some of the information contained in the [dossier] at events in Moscow organized by [Dolan] and other [events] Danchenko attended at [Dolan’s] invitation.” In other words, Danchenko knew that Dolan had access to precisely the sort of hotel staff at the Ritz-Carlton who might have had—and according to the BBC, did have—knowledge of what Trump did there in November of 2013. How this is damning rather than an example of Dolan’s bona fides as a source of information, it’s impossible to say. Does Durham think Dolan would have been a more legitimate source of intelligence if Dolan had never spoken to potential witnesses to the 2013 event at the Ritz-Carlton? Who knows. The whole indictment’s upside-down.

Indeed, there’s actually no way to understand this indictment except to presume that John Durham expressed to Bill Barr at some point prior to the former’s hiring that he had already accepted the Trumpist lie that the Steele dossier was a Russian plot to… well, do exactly the opposite of what Putin and the Kremlin wanted, i.e., elect Trump.

How else can we understand this sentence: “As alleged below, certain allegations that Danchenko provided to Steele, and which appeared in the {Steele dossier], mirrored and/or reflected information that [Dolan] himself also had received through his own interactions with Russian nationals.” That’s right—Durham is implying that Dolan doing due diligence to get information for Danchenko is evidence of a criminal plot to help the Kremlin do the opposite of what it wanted to do—as in Durham’s view the only reason Dolan could be acting in the manner an intelligence source acting in good faith would act is if he were secretly acting in bad faith. (You got all that? Neither do I.)

If the Durham indictment is now starting to seem to you like a sorry reflection of the through-the-looking-glass world that Trump and Barr conspired to build surrounding all things Trump and Russia, you’re starting to see what’s happening here. Honorable actions are seen as dishonorable, and dishonorable actions as honorable; every readily understandable course of action is seen as a part of some secret plot, even as every action that really quite strongly suggests a secret plot is received as being understandable and readily so. And through it all we see a desperate effort—desperate but also mostly successful—to convince major media and even run-of-the-mill news consumers that this topsy-turvy approach to phenomenological reality isn’t just normal but healthy.

John Durham’s Second Allegation Against Danchenko

Having established that he believes any information coming from someone with any ties to the Clinton campaign is per se unreliable and probably evidence of a Kremlin plot, Durham relies entirely—for his second allegation against Danchenko—on the word of a Trump campaign adviser with Kremlin ties. (I’d read that sentence twice.)

In alleging that Danchenko “stated falsely during [his FBI] interviews, that, in or about late July 2016, he received an anonymous phone call from [Sergei Millian], who Danchenko believed to be a particular U.S. citizen and who was then president of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce”, and in further alleging that Igor Danchenko made up this contact to provide a plausible source for the derogatory intel about Trump he provided to Steele—even though Danchenko already had a perfectly plausible source in Dolan—Durham appears to rely on the word of, you guessed it, Trump associate Sergei Millian, who has been desperately trying to separate himself from being seen as a Steele dossier source for presumably the very same reasons that Danchenko tried to protect Dolan from the same fate: because it could destroy a man’s professional career and even put a permanent target (of the literal kind) on his back.

Why would anyone think Millian gave information for the Steele dossier? Maybe due to the numerous national headlines like this one from 2019:

Or this one:

Or this one:

Obviously I could go on like this forever, but the upshot is that Durham doesn’t seem to be alleging that Millian wasn’t a source for Danchenko, simply that he wasn’t a witting source as Danchenko told the FBI he was. If that seems like a rather squirrelly distinction aimed primarily at clearing the name of a Trump adviser and damning a man involved with the Steele dossier, you’re right to think so because it certainly does.

While Durham claims this alleged lie by Danchenko was material because it forced the FBI to try to track down evidence Millian had provided information for the Steele dossier, missing from the indictment is evidence that… Millian wasn’t a Steele source. Instead, Durham simply alleges that a supposed phone call between Danchenko and Millian never happened, nor did a meeting in New York. Why Durham doesn’t simply say that Millian had no role at all in the information that ended up in the dossier and that every news report claiming otherwise is false is a mystery that no one can resolve because the indictment is essentially silent on this point.

A Brief Note About Igor Danchenko

I’ve already noted here how very qualified Danchenko was to be selected by a former Russia desk chief at MI6 as a sub-source for a raw intel dossier. But what’s striking about the Durham indictment is that it seems just as invested as I have been here in making the same point.

Durham’s indictment notes that Danchenko, when he was selected by Steele as a sub-source, was “work[ing] as an analyst at a Washington, DC-based think tank [the well-respected Brookings Institute], where he focused primarily on Russian and Eurasian geo-political matters.” The indictment further observes that Danchenko is a “Russian national”, which likewise would put him in better stead to get raw intel from Russian nationals—again, keeping in mind that if Steele had wanted to make up information about Trump from whole cloth, he certainly didn’t need to approach a leading expert on Russia from the Brookings Institution to do so. But Durham goes still further than this, noting that by the time Steele and Danchenko began working together on a raw intel dossier in 2016, Danchenko had in fact been working with Steele “on Russian and Eurasian business risk assessment and geopolitical analysis” for about six years.

That’s right: Danchenko and Steele’s professional relationship began half a decade before Trump even announced he’d be running for president. And did this professional link have some shady, nefarious, Kremlin-tinged origin story? No—Durham concedes that the two men were introduced by a work colleague from the Brookings Institution.

By the fifth page of Durham’s indictment, the Special Counsel has repeatedly alleged that Danchenko was the “primary” source for the Steele dossier, contrary to both the dossier, far-right media doxxings of Steele’s other sources, and Steele’s contentions. It remains unclear what Durham’s basis is—or motivation is—for insisting that the man he’s now indicting was the primary source for a dossier Trump and Barr, the two men who hired Durham (one indirectly and one directly) have now been trying to discredit for four years, but I think every reader of this publication is smart enough to guess.

The Danchenko Indictment’s Most Damning Paragraph

I quote in full the portion in the indictment Trump partisans are most excited about:

In addition to his work as a public relations professional, [Dolan] had served as (1) chairman of a national Democratic political organization, (2) state chairman of former President Clinton’s 1992 and 1996 presidential campaigns, and (3) an advisor to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 Presidential campaign. Moreover, beginning in or about 1997, President Clinton appointed [Dolan] to two four-year terms on an advisory commission at the U.S. State Department. With respect to the 2016 Clinton Campaign, he actively campaigned and participated in calls and events as a volunteer on behalf of Hillary Clinton.

Putting aside for a moment that the neutral reporting in the Washington Post cited above in this article lends a very different cast to Dolan’s background as a political actor than does Durham—for all that Durham outlines in the paragraph above, Dolan never had a high-profile political position, continued running a nonpartisan public relations operation serving customers of all political backgrounds, never presented himself to coworkers as particularly partisan, and remained wholly unknown to top Clintonites throughout all his supposedly Clinton-adjacent activity—we must note, again, that Durham isn’t trying to establish that the intel Dolan gave Danchenko was inaccurate, nor is he alleging that the Clinton campaign had any idea that Dolan was providing information to Danchenko and in turn to Steele and in turn to Fusion GPS and in turn to Perkins Coie and in turn to Clinton’s campaign (for anyone tracking this at home, that’s several degrees of separation between Dolan and anyone from the Clinton camp, a top official from which has already said that they don’t know Dolan).

But Durham is pulling a more basic bait-and-switch than even what I’ve outlined here.

In this context, an “advisor to Hillary Clinton’s campaign” almost certainly has no contact with Clinton herself or even top officials on her campaign; Dolan was a well-known PR executive working at a well-known PR firm on occasion advising political candidates of all kinds on PR issues. He did not advise Hillary Clinton’s campaign as a permanent fixture on (say) a national security team like (say) suspected Russian spy Carter Page did on Trump’s 2016 campaign; he wasn’t (say) the campaign manager for the campaign, as Kremlin agent Paul Manafort was for Trump (brought on board by Trump suspiciously “free-of-charge” at a time Trump knew Manafort had worked for a Kremlin-allied politician in a former Soviet republic); Charles Dolan was, rather, one of hundreds of consultants the Clinton campaign touched base with on issues that fell below the immediate notice of the candidate herself or any of her top lieutenants.

Just so, a sitting president will “appoint” hundreds and hundreds (if not thousands) of people they don’t know, so Durham’s implication in calling Charles Dolan someone who had served “two four-year terms on an advisory commission at the [U.S.] State Department”—that Dolan is tight with former president Clinton—isn’t likely to be so.

Having said all this, while it’s virtually inevitable that anyone providing political intel for a dossier of raw political intel will have extensive political contacts in one political party or another, it certainly aids Trumpist conspiracy theories that Dolan had a long history of intersection with the Democratic Party (I don’t say “the Clintons” because from 1992 through 2016 the biggest power-brokers in the Democratic Party were the Clintons, so to have extended ties to the national Democratic Party during this period means almost invariably that one has a biography in which the Clintons’ names appear).

But here’s Durham’s problem: he wants to leave the impression that Dolan invented all the evidence he provided to Danchenko as an agent of the Clinton campaign, but all of the evidence Durham has compiled except Dolan’s web-downloaded biography suggests Dolan’s intelligence was taken from actual Russian sources and not made up from whole cloth.

Charles Dolan’s Professional Ties to Russia

It’s certainly refreshing to be writing about a man who has never lied about any of his professional ties to Russia—Charles Dolan—rather than, as I’ve done for much of the past five years, write about a man who has never told the truth about his professional and personal ties to Russia: Donald Trump.

So let’s address Durham’s lengthy recitation of Dolan’s ties to Russia, all of which are consistent with the professional duties Durham notes in Dolan’s biography and all of which confirm him as an appropriate person for the Brookings Institute to have hired, for Fiona Hill to have directed Danchenko toward, and for both Danchenko and Steele to have relied upon. All of the following are quotes from Durham’s new indictment:

(1) “[Dolan has] spent much of his career interacting with Eurasian clients with a particular focus on Russia.”

(2) “In or about 2006 through in or about 2014 [from about nine years before Donald Trump announced his presidential candidacy to a full year before he did so], the Russian Federation retained [Dolan] and [Ketchum] to handle global public relations for the Russian government and a state-owned energy company.”

I’d note here a fact ignored not just by Durham but by Trumpists who refuse to see the connections between the Trump-Russia scandal and Trump-Ukraine scandal outlined in Proof of Corruption (Macmillan, 2020): Dolan’s key sphere of professional knowledge involved a “state-owned [Russian] energy company.” Given that Steele’s intel focused significantly on Russian energy companies, this element of Dolan’s biography adds still further weight to the political intelligence Dolan provided to Danchenko and Steele.

(3) “[Dolan] frequently interacted with senior Russian Federation leaders[ ] whose names would later appear in the [Steele dossier], including the Press Secretary of the Russian Presidential Administration, the Deputy Press Secretary, and others in the Russian Presidential Press Department.”

I don’t think it takes a former criminal defense attorney or a former federal criminal investigator to see that Durham is painting himself into a corner here. Indeed, his “theory of the case” is now down to one of two options: (1) that the Kremlin recruited Danchenko to help it do the opposite of what it wanted to do, namely bury the Trump campaign, or (2) that Danchenko was able to use years and years of contacts with Russian officials to provide Steele with accurate political intelligence. Of these two options, Durham of course selects the former, basing this counterintuitive theory of the case on the false notion that the Steele dossier was inaccurate and that therefore anyone who provided intelligence for it must have done so with nefarious intent (in fact, an intent so nefarious it ran counter to the confirmed desires of its originators).

(4) “[Dolan] maintained relationships with the then-Russian Ambassador to the United States and the head of the Russian Embassy’s Economic Section in Washington, both of whom also would later appear by name in the [Steele dossier].”

Putting aside that all Durham is establishing here is that Dolan is good at his job—you will recall how Trump partisans spent four years telling us that Flynn’s contacts with the Russian ambassador simply established that he was good at what he did, even if those contacts were secret, lied about, and began a year before Flynn became Trump’s first National Security Advisor—the fact that Durham acknowledges that Dolan has close professional relationships with people whose names appear in the Steele dossier means that not only is Durham hypothesizing that the Kremlin worked against its own known geopolitical interests through Dolan, but that Dolan either (a) decided to burn down his decades-long professional career in service of this plot by screwing all the men he’d spent many years developing relationships with, or (b) participated in a massive Kremlin conspiracy that involved every person from Russia he’d developed a relationship with, even though he’d developed these relationships years before Trump announced his run for the White House.

That Dolan, like Steele, was willing to take on a lot of risk because he saw legitimately troubling intelligence involving Trump and Russia is never considered by Durham.

(5) “Beginning in or about early 2015, an acquaintance of [Dolan] was planning a business conference that [this conference organizer] and others would host in October 2016 at a Moscow hotel [the Ritz-Carlton Moscow] that would later appear in the [Steele dossier]. [The organizer] planned the October Conference on behalf of a group of senior international business people who were seeking to explore potential business investments in Russia. To that end, the October Conference included individuals who could provide insight into the economic, political, diplomatic and cultural aspects of the Russian Federation. [The organizer] enlisted [Dolan] to participate in the October Conference because of [his] ability to set up meetings with senior Russian government officials and provide analysis of the 2016 U.S. Democratic presidential primary at the October Conference.”

I’m going to skip over Durham again confirming Dolan’s bona fides in being used as a sub-source by Danchenko and Steele, as the indictment is so lousy with self-defeating confessions of this sort by Durham and his assistants that at some point it’s much like shooting fish in a barrel to note them.

More important by far, Durham’s timeline starts to crumble here. His indictment has already alleged that his main piece of evidence suggesting Dolan made up the now significantly corroborated intelligence about a trip by Donald Trump to Moscow in 2013 is that Dolan stayed at the same hotel in October 2016 that Trump stayed at in November 2013 (why this is suspicious is never explained by Durham), but he now also reveals that Dolan planned this particular trip beginning in “early 2015”—almost half a year before Trump announced his candidacy for president, and nine months before the Daily Caller reports Fusion GPS was doing opposition research on Trump funded by GOP power-brokers. That’s a gaping hole at the very center of Durham’s timeline, and therefore his indictment.

(6) “In preparation for the October Conference, [the organizer] and [Dolan] planned and carried out a trip to Moscow in or about June 2016.”

By June 2016, Kremlin agents were inside Trump Tower speaking directly with Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner (and possibly Trump on speakerphone), as well as interacting with Ivanka in the lobby of Trump Tower; Trump’s political campaign was being run by a man then in the employ of a Russian oligarch (Oleg Deripaska) who has famously confessed that he “does not separate himself from the [Russian] State”; Trump’s top national security adviser, Michael Flynn, had already secretly met with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, at the latter’s D.C. home while working for the Trump campaign; Trump had already established a National Security Advisory Committee whose members had repeatedly spoken in secret with Russian agents, with one man on the Committee (George Papadopoulous) even telling Trump directly, on March 31, that the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs wanted to create a secret backchannel to Trump and his political team (an invitation Trump responded to approvingly); Trump had already issued a foreign policy speech at the Mayflower Hotel that was co-written by Papadopolous and Alfa Bank advisory board member Richard Burt; Trump was just days from cementing, in response to a question asked by subsequently convicted Russian spy Maria Butina at an event in Las Vegas, that he was in concert with nearly everything Putin could have wanted from a U.S. president (most notably letting Russia have as much of Ukraine as it liked and ending all sanctions on Russia); and Russian hackers were well on their way toward completing their attack on DNC and Clinton campaign computers as part of the Kremlin’s effort to destroy Clinton and aid Trump.

In short, there was, as of June 2016, absolutely nothing that the Kremlin needed from Dolan, as it already had a dozen different inroads to the Trump campaign and certainly would not have wanted to participate in the creation of an anti-Trump dossier—which only could have undermined all its surprisingly easily-won accomplishments to date.

(7) “In or about late April 2016, Danchenko and [Dolan] engaged in discussions regarding potential business collaboration between [Ketchum] and [Steele’s business intelligence firm Orbis] on issues relating to Russia. These discussions reflected that Danchenko and [Dolan] had exchanged information regarding each other’s backgrounds and professional activities, including Danchenko’s work for [Orbis] and [Steele].”

And with this, Barr appointee John Durham’s whole timeline collapses.

Fusion GPS didn’t hire Orbis and Steele to do research on Trump until June of 2016, so Danchenko and Dolan discussing Orbis and Steele two months earlier wouldn’t have had anything to do with the Democratic Party-linked law firm Perkins Coie retaining Fusion. Unless—unless—what Dolan and Danchenko were discussing in April 2016 was the work Steele (or someone else) had done for Fusion GPS prior to June 2016 on the topic of Trump and Russia, in which case the research was funded by… Republicans.

Again, as the Daily Caller has reported, Fusion GPS had created a document by the fall of 2015 which (a) was funded by Republicans, and (b) discussed certain events that had occurred at the Ritz-Carlton Moscow in November of 2013. So not only had neither Dolan nor Danchenko been to the Ritz-Carlton at the time (April 2016) that they were first discussing (according to Durham) Steele and Orbis, but intelligence about the Ritz-Carlton, funded by members of Trump’s own party, had already been circulating in U.S. media for about eight months by the time this Dolan-Danchenko conversation occurred. So it’s not clear how or why the October 2016 trip Dolan and Danchenko took to the Ritz-Carlton Moscow would be at all relevant to the spreading of political intel about Trump’s nocturnal activities there. Let’s review what Trump ally Tucker Carlson had to say about all this through his blog in January 2017 (emphasis added):

A reporter for a major news outlet asked an adviser to Donald Trump about memos saying the New York businessman was involved in an orgy in Russia back in fall of 2015, according to an interview the former adviser gave to the Daily Caller Friday. The former adviser, who still keeps in touch with Trump and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said a Politico reporter called him in Fall 2015 to ask whether he had ever heard that Trump had an orgy in Russia. The former adviser said he asked the reporter “who told him this” and the reporter said no one, and that he got the information from a document made by Fusion GPS that was floating around.

I’ll admit that the first reference here to “fall of 2015” could have been a grammatical error—as Carlson’s blog may have meant to say that Trump’s conduct at the Ritz, not the reporter-adviser conversation, happened in “fall of 2015” (which still would have been a typo, as the correct date would be “fall of 2013”—but the second reference to “Fall 2015” confirms that Fusion GPS knew about and was spreading political intel about Trump’s November 2013 activities in the Ritz Moscow all the way back in the fall of 2015. In other words, eight months before Fusion GPS hired Orbis and Steele, and a full year before Danchenko and Dolan went to the Ritz Moscow themselves.

(8) “That same day, [April 29, 2016], Danchenko sent an email to [Dolan] outlining certain work that Danchenko was conducting with [Orbis]. The email attached an [Orbis] report titled ‘Intelligence Briefing Note, “Kompromat” and “Nadzor” in the Russian Banking Sector.’”

If we assume that Steele was doing Republican-funded work on Trump and Russia in 2015—which former Daily Caller editor Chuck Ross, who was at the publication when the Pfeiffer report was filed, now inexplicably denies, insisting, contra his own report, that “Fusion hired Steele after they signed DNC/Clinton on as a client [in June of 2016]”—it aids Durham’s timeline without saving it, as it would mean that in the chat above Dolan (a supposed Democratic operative) is discussing, with Danchenko, anti-Trump investigations funded by Republicans. More than this, it’d mean that as of April 2016, Danchenko was working for… Republicans. Is this what Durham intends to say?

By this point, it’s impossible to tell.

(9) “In describing Danchenko, [Dolan] stated: ‘He is too young for KGB. But I think he worked for FSB. Since he told me he spent two years in Iran. And when I first met him he knew more about me than I did. [winking emoticon].’”

So in the context of an indictment that repeatedly implies Charles Dolan is a liar and that Trump was the victim of unsubstantiated scuttlebutt, Durham takes a break from destroying Dolan’s reputation to… quote verbatim wholly unsubstantiated speculation by Dolan?

This is the sort of character assassination, unbolstered by any evidence whatsoever, that embarrasses the Department of Justice by making Durham seem like a political partisan hoping to spin a yarn. It is easy enough, certainly, to casually imply that any Russian national could be a Russian intelligence agent, but that doesn’t mean that any public servant should ever do it. During the Russian investigation, Mueller only did so when he had evidence to support it. But Durham will cite a man he is alleging is a liar for the proposition that Danchenko is a Russian spy even if (a) he has no evidence to support it, (b) his indictment strongly rejects everything else Dolan says, and (c) even Dolan acknowledges he’s spitballing. How does this end up in a federal indictment?

(10) “In or about May, August, and September 2016, in preparation for the October Conference, [Dolan] and [the organizer] attended at least three meetings at the Russian Embassy in Washington, DC, and communicated with Russian Embassy staff, including the Russian ambassador and [a] Russian diplomat (both of whom, as described above and in further detail below, appeared in the Company Report).

[Dolan] and [the organizer] also attended a meeting at the Russian Embassy on or about September 14, 2016. In anticipation of the June 2016 planning trip to Moscow, [Dolan] also communicated with the Russian Press Secretary and the Russian Deputy Press Secretary, both of whom worked in the Kremlin and, as noted above, also appeared in the [Steele dossier, called the ‘Company Report’ by Durham].”

This is just more evidence from Durham—as if any were needed—that Dolan was an incredibly well-connected sub-source for Danchenko and Steele to use, and that using him reflected well on their professionalism, their judgment, and their intel network.

(11) “On or about June 14, 2016, Danchenko, who at the time was already present in Russia working on behalf of [Orbis], met with [Dolan] and [the organizer] in Moscow.”

With these words, John Durham is skirting very close to prosecutorial misconduct.

Remember that Durham has already deliberately elided from his indictment the fact that Fusion GPS (and perhaps Orbis) were originally hired by Republican sources. He has deliberately left the false impression that the Steele dossier launched the Russia investigation. He has implied, falsely, that Steele knew who he was working for—the Clinton campaign—and left up in the air when that work began (it was June 2016, at which time Steele did not know who had contracted Fusion GPS). So by underscoring here Danchenko’s actions as an agent of Orbis in June 2016 but not noting that this is the month Perkins Coie hired Fusion GPS, and in noting that by June 2016 Danchenko had already been working for Orbis for some period of time but never indicating how long, Durham falsely represents to a federal judge that Danchenko began work for Orbis at a time when Orbis was being paid (via a long chain of agents) by the Clinton campaign.

In fact, what appears to be the case is that Danchenko began working for Orbis either (a) while Orbis was being paid by Republicans, or (b) during a period of time Steele was freelancing in the hope that Fusion GPS would once again need his services after the Republicans who had been paying Orbis got in line behind Trump and stopped trying to uncover the truth of his activities at the Ritz Moscow in November 2013.

I say that this may be prosecutorial misconduct because, as noted by the Daily Caller, Republican sources were funding a Fusion GPS investigation into Trump and the Ritz Moscow in the fall of 2015, so Durham attributing to a Democratic Party plot a June 2016 chat between Dolan and “the general manager of the [Ritz] Moscow Hotel and a female hotel staff member to discuss the October Conference, [and] a lunch on or about June 15, 2016 with a [hotel] staff member and other members of the Moscow Hotel staff who assisted in the preparations for the October Conference” appears to be a deliberate attempt to deceive a federal court. Either all these conversations were indeed about what they purported to be about, and Durham has no information in his indictment to the contrary, or Dolan was working with Danchenko (and Danchenko for Steele) at this point but all three were working on behalf of Republicans, not Democrats.

In the alternative, Durham’s entire narrative is a farce. Given that Perkins Coie first hired Fusion GPS in June 2016, it’s not clear how by June 15 Danchenko (working for a Fusion GPS contractor rather than Fusion itself) could already have been coordinating a complex investigation to confirm allegations that first surfaced when the GOP was looking into them the previous year. Presumably, Dolan’s June 2016 conversations at the Ritz Moscow were arranged, in many cases, prior to his trip, so there’s simply no evidence Fusion GPS had time to contract with Orbis, and Orbis to then contract with Danchenko, and Danchenko to liaison with Dolan, in the (at most) few hours that had elapsed in June 2016 before Dolan was busy setting up his planned June 15 meetings in Moscow. The timeline simply doesn’t work, and it can’t be made to work, however Durham might wish it.

To be clear, Durham doesn’t address any of these issues. He simply notes that in June 2016 Danchenko and/or Dolan had contact with people who would later appear in the Steele dossier. What this is supposed to be evidence of—I mean in a significant legal sense, not in the sense non-lawyers on social media may like to imagine—I’ve no idea.

Having said all this, Durham does seem certain on one thing: that Danchenko met with Steele in London on June 17, and that information imparted by Danchenko to Steele on that date ended up in the dossier. We don’t know what information, because Durham doesn’t say—he leaves the impression it must have been information about the Ritz Moscow, and yet if he knew that, he surely would have said so—nor does he indicate how he found out that this conversation occurred, as it seems certain the FBI learned this information from Danchenko himself, which means he wasn’t trying to hide it (in which case Durham won’t declare its provenance, as doing so would simply underscore Danchenko’s demonstrations of candor in his conversations with the FBI).

(12) “On or about October 4, 2016, [Dolan], [the organizer], and Danchenko traveled to Moscow for the October Conference. The October Conference featured several Russian government officials including (i) a prominent member of the Duma (Russian Parliament) and (ii) members of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including, as discussed above, a Russian diplomat and [another Russian diplomat]. As part of the October Conference, participants also attended meetings in the Kremlin with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Russian Presidential Press Department.”

Putting aside for a moment that there’s no way Dolan had as much contact with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs as Trump’s favorite national security adviser, George Papadopoulos, did—though in Papadopoulos’s case it was a big secret, and focused on getting dirt about Clinton from foreign agents—this is just more evidence of how useful and reliable and knowledgable an intelligence sub-source Dolan was.

(13) “According to [Dolan], individuals affiliated with the Clinton Campaign did not direct, and were not aware of, the aforementioned meetings and activities with Danchenko and other Russian nationals.”

Thirty-sixth paragraphs. It takes Durham thirty-six paragraphs to reveal this information.

The Rest of the Indictment (the Part That John Durham Would Rather You Not Read)

One could be forgiven for getting to the tenth page of Durham’s indictment and thinking that Dolan was the exclusive source Danchenko used in working for Steele.

But he wasn’t—not even close.

A fourth of the way into the prodigious length of Durham’s indictment, the Special Counsel reveals that just as Dolan had incredible bona fides as an intelligence source—and his use as such therefore spoke well of Danchenko’s professionalism and (with Hill’s aid) professional network—Danchenko’s other sources had fantastic bona fides as well. Per Durham (emphasis supplied), “At all times relevant to this indictment, Danchenko maintained communications with a Russian national based in a foreign country who, according to Danchenko, acted as one of Danchenko’s primary sources of information for allegations contained in the [Steele dossier]. Danchenko and [this Russian source] had initially met as children in Russia, and remained friends thereafter.”

Remember that Durham’s theory of the case—never actually stated, but dog-whistled sufficiently loud to become the lead story on Fox News, Newsmax, OAN, Parler, Gab, GTTR, and presumably Trump’s Truth Social start-up whenever it fully launches—is that Danchenko’s sources were Kremlin agents seeking to (again, contrary to Putin’s wishes, and therefore at possible penalty of their own deaths) sink Trump’s campaign.

So how does this square with Danchenko’s primary source being a Russian national he has known, loved, and trusted since he was a child? Did the KGB somehow get access to this child decades ago and—having first consulted some sort of Minority Report-like bubble-bath—thereafter informed him that, decades hence, he would need to betray a good friend for Mother Russia? The revelation that Danchenko was getting intelligence from a source he had come to know and trust across decades rather than some Kremlin official he had only lately met (recalling that Trump decided he trusted former KGB agent Putin just seconds after meeting him) is a considerable one.

What follows, at this point in the indictment, is a long string of cruft whose probative relevance is apparently nil. Danchenko introduces his childhood friend to Dolan to help his friend (a comms guy for a Russian company) get public relations advice on entering the U.S. market; Danchenko’s friend says to Dolan, whether sincerely or because he wants to ingratiate himself to an American he knows is a Democrat, that he likes Hillary Clinton (which, to be clear, was the opinion of almost the whole world back in 2016, at least in any comparison between Clinton and Trump); and Dolan then seeks to use his Russian contacts to aid the career of Danchenko’s childhood friend.

I’m not sure what any of this is supposed to mean, let alone prove, but as Durham’s theory of the case is at this point both incoherent and—where it shows flashes of any sense—unsupported by the evidence, it’s not clear that this part of his indictment is intended to do anything more than cause an untutored reader of the indictment to say “Wow, Danchenko and Dolan had a lot of contacts with the Russians!” While the two certainly did, they were, of course, far fewer in number than the contacts the Trump campaign had with Russian nationals, which contacts both Trump and Barr and even Durham indicate were innocuous. As to Dolan and Danchenko’s contacts, however, it’s not clear why any reader of Durham’s indictment would care about them, as unlike those of the Trump campaign they weren’t at all irregular. Danchenko and Dolan were supposed to be having contacts with Russian nationals, and don’t appear to have made any effort to hide those contacts; meanwhile, the Trump campaign’s contacts were all clandestine, irregular, subsequently lied about, covered up and (per Mueller) at times covered up through the destruction of evidence, a refusal to speak to law enforcement, and various acts of obstruction—all of which occurred in the context of the Kremlin trying to aid Trump. By contrast, the pro-Clinton Danchenko and Dolan had contacts with Russian officials who universally opposed the candidate Danchenko and Dolan are thought to have favored. That Danchenko and Dolan appear to have gotten useful intel from some of these individuals despite their anti-Clinton views is a remarkable professional feat worthy of respect, not an indictment of their integrity or loyalties.

The rumors and scuttlebutt that unprofessionally litter the early pages of the Durham indictment become more frequent as it goes on. By the twelfth page of the indictment, Durham—who is implying a Kremlin plot to destroy Trump masterminded by the childhood friend of Igor Danchenko, who has no known Russian intelligence ties—is quoting this very Russian national for a premise that Durham knows (as of the the day of the filing of his indictment) is false: that Dolan was “advisor to Hillary Clinton.”

That’s right: Durham is quoting what he believes is Russian disinformation in an indictment filed with a federal court. Durham thinks that Danchenko’s friend is part of an FSB plot, and he (Durham) knows that Dolan was not an “advisor to Hillary Clinton” herself in 2016 or at any other time, yet he quotes what he believes in an FSB source saying so. While any other prosecutor would take this foolish misstatement from Danchenko’s childhood friend as a sign that the said friend is not in Russian intelligence and is in fact sadly overestimating the influence and importance of his new American friend (Dolan), Durham decides to race in the other direction and publish what he necessarily must believe is a Kremlin lie about Dolan’s Clinton ties.

Perhaps you see now why I say Durham is riding the line of prosecutorial misconduct.

Durham is unable to identify even a single action taken by Danchenko’s childhood friend to suggest that he’s part of a Kremlin plot or had the capacity to aid Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Durham is left recounting how, the day before the 2016 election, Danchenko’s sub-source wrote to Dolan saying that he hoped Clinton would win. This is not evidence of anything but that the sub-source—Danchenko’s longtime friend—shared the view of 75% or more of all humans on Earth on November 7, 2016.

As for Danchenko and Dolan, pages 13 through 15 of the indictment do nothing more than underscore how professional the two men are. Following the firing of Manafort, Danchenko contacts Dolan to see if he has any inside information on the reasons behind the firing. Dolan could easily have blown hot air here, but he doesn’t; instead, he promises to conduct an investigation and inform Danchenko of its result. Dolan’s ultimate source for the accurate information he later provides about Paul Manafort (on what we must acknowledge is an inconsequential matter, as again the reasons for the Trump campaign firing Manafort were publicly apparent and not good fodder for a dossier of raw intelligence) is supposedly one of Dolan’s “GOP friend[s].”

The professionalism of the exchanges between the men are inadvertently highlighted by Durham, who quotes from one such email sent by Danchenko to Dolan:

In just these two sentences, Danchenko (a) makes plain to Dolan what his professional work entails; (b) confirms that he earnestly believes, based on that work, that there is a connection between Trump and Russia (of course he turns out to be absolutely right in this, perhaps even more than he could have imagined at the time); and most important (c) confirms in this private correspondence that he is (as he will later tell the Bureau) trying to be a “nonpartisan” researcher by acknowledging that “some things [said to be ties between Trump are Russia] are less dramatic [than they have been made out to be]”, even as he then adds (again correctly) that “other [alleged ties between Trump and Russia] are more than they seem.” It’s a perfectly reasonable, correct judgment of how affairs stood with opposition research into Trump in the summer and fall of 2016.

To be clear, Proof does not at present have reason to doubt that Danchenko tried to protect Dolan from having his life destroyed by omitting in his voluntary interviews with the FBI that Dolan had been a source of his. But Trump partisans are not all over social media and far-right media today claiming that Durham’s indictment confirms the Steele dossier is false because Danchenko unwisely chose to protect someone he had received reliable and well-sourced intelligence from; rather, Trump voters (and a disappointing number of major-media figures) are treating Durham’s indictment as an undermining of the content of the Steele dossier even though the indictment not only does not have that effect but does not even appear to even have that intent.

Indeed, the middle portion of Durham’s indictment is focused exclusively on evidence that Dolan was in fact a sub-source for Danchenko. Dolan’s bona fides aren’t attacked, his intelligence is not attacked, his reputation among his peers is not attacked, even his interactions with Danchenko aren’t attacked. The indictment’s preoccupation is simply (a) with the establishment of Dolan as a sub-source for Danchenko, and (b) the notion that some small portion of what Dolan told Danchenko may have derived from major-media reporting rather than sources he’d personally developed himself. What’s so confusing about the latter claim is that not only did Dolan freely admit to the FBI that he’d deceived Danchenko in this way one time—suggesting that he perceived it as a harmless lie he’d told Danchenko, one that didn’t matter because the information was still accurate—but Durham’s indictment is at such pains to establish that Dolan really did have access to top-shelf Russian sources that any implication he was acting as a Democratic plant without any actual basis of knowledge is a non-starter, anyway.

In fact, if one had believed Dolan to be a poseur at the moment of beginning to read Durham’s indictment, one would quickly be disabused of that notion just by reading Durham’s own words. So it’s unclear what we are supposed to take from Dolan on one occasion telling Danchenko he had a private source when in fact he had used a public one.

{Note: The fact that Dolan could use OSINT, or public records research, to aid Danchenko underscores that the information he provided Danchenko was both (a) reliable, and (b) at times of no great importance. The idea that Dolan passing a major-media report on to Danchenko under the false claim that it came from a “GOP source” is some great discovery is laughable. Indeed, given that Dolan likely took the information he passed to Danchenko from a major-media report that was actually citing a GOP source, it’s not so much that the provenance of Dolan’s source was lied about as whether he knew the source personally—which he likely did not. Of course, even this last point is unclear from the indictment. Could Dolan have known who the source was for a major-media report he passed to Danchenko? It’s certainly possible, and indeed Dolan telling the FBI that his source was a major-media report rather than the source cited in a major-media report would have the effect of protecting the said source, if the source was indeed an acquaintance of Dolan’s he would have wanted to keep anonymous.}

But Did Igor Danchenko Really Lie?

The crux of Durham’s indictment is of course that Danchenko lied about using Dolan as a source. And it’s certainly possible he did so, not that this would mean anything in particular for the accuracy of Steele’s dossier. But even this thorny question—did Igor Danchenko really lie?—is a surprisingly fraught one.

When the FBI asked Danchenko, who the Bureau was secretly recording at the time, if he knew Dolan, he volunteered that he had known him for twelve years. When the FBI asked Danchenko if he had ever talked with Dolan “about anything that showed up in the dossier”, Danchenko voluntarily confirmed that “we talked about related issues.”

The reason Danchenko was indicted was not because he lied about knowing Dolan—as he didn’t—and not because he lied about whether he had ever spoken with Dolan about subjects related to the Steele dossier (because he didn’t lie about this) but simply because he told the FBI that he’d discussed “nothing specific” with Dolan that later ended up in the dossier. He would later volunteer to the FBI that Dolan (in Durham’s summary of Danchenko’s words on this point) “traveled on the October ‘delegation’ to Moscow; that [Dolan] conducted business with [Danchenko’s childhood friend’s firm] and [Danchenko’s childhood friend]; and that [Dolan] had a professional relationship with the Russian Press Secretary.” All these things were wholly accurate.

As an attorney, I can certainly accept that, if indeed Danchenko told the Bureau that Dolan told him “nothing specific” that ended up in the Steele dossier, this may well have been a lie. But Durham’s claim that Danchenko also lied to the FBI in saying “I don’t think [Dolan] would be any way be involved” gets no such assessment from me—as it seems clear Danchenko is here trying exculpate Dolan from any involvement in collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, not any involvement in the Steele dossier (the latter of which he wouldn’t have known was the subject of a criminal investigation in June 2017, in part because it wasn’t yet). Igor Danchenko’s otherwise inexplicable and out-of-place statement about Dolan—that Dolan was “easily played” and a “bit naive” in his “liking of Russia”—only makes sense if what Dolan thought he was being asked was if Dolan might have colluded with the Kremlin in some way.

Ironically, that Danchenko thought that this is what he was being asked by the FBI on that day in June 2017 simultaneously confirms that (a) Danchenko couldn’t imagine the FBI would be investigating Steele’s dossier (an indicator that Danchenko believed it had been responsibly and legally compiled), (b) he recognized that Dolan’s access to the Kremlin, and his utility as a sub-source for Steele’s dossier, was so extraordinarily self-evident that he actually had to protect Dolan from what he believed would be a wholly unwarranted investigation into the possibility Dolan was colluding with the Kremlin, and (c) Danchenko—precisely because he was under the belief that the FBI was investigating Dolan—might well have dissembled about Dolan’s dossier role because he felt that if he didn’t Dolan would be prosecuted for something he didn’t do.

That’s right—I’m telling you that as a longtime criminal defense attorney, Durham’s indictment contains within it the sum and substance of Danchenko’s defense against Durham’s allegation. If you’re thinking now that it’s a pretty embarrassing indictment that includes within it precisely what a defendant needs to defend themselves against the allegations they face, you’re right. This is one of the many reasons that, as a legal professional, I consider Durham’s indictment of Danchenko to be an embarrassment to the Department of Justice.

The Most Bizarre Materiality Analysis I’ve Encountered

Durham is right to include in his indictment evidence that the source information Danchenko allegedly obscured from the FBI was “material” to an FBI investigation. It is a legal requirement for an indictment under this statute that Durham cannot avoid.

But what one would not expect is that Durham would establish the “materiality” of Dolan’s contacts with Danchenko by implying that, had the FBI known about them, it would have helped confirm the reliability of the Steele dossier.

Mind you, Durham doesn’t say this outright—it’s counter to the narrative he hopes to spin here—but it’s the clear import of the bizarre “materiality” assessment the Special Counsel runs through. Consider: on page 19 of the indictment, Durham says that the clearest evidence DOJ has of Danchenko’s lies being “material” to an ongoing Bureau investigation is that

Danchenko’s lies denying [Dolan’s] role in specific information referenced in the [Steele dossier] were material to the FBI because, among other reasons, they deprived FBI agents and analysts of probative information concerning [Dolan] that would have, among other things, assisted them in evaluating the credibility, reliability, and veracity of the [Steele dossier]…

So far so good, as the Bureau did indeed need to test the credibility, reliability, and veracity of the Steele dossier. But here’s how Durham says knowing that Dolan was involved with the dossier would have aided the FBI:

[because Dolan] maintained connections to numerous people and events described in several [of the Steele] reports, and Danchenko gathered information that appeared in the [dossier] during the June [trip to the Ritz Moscow] and the October Conference. In addition, and as alleged below, certain allegations that Danchenko provided to [Steele], and which appeared in other [Orbis] reports, mirrored and/or reflected information that [Dolan] himself also had received through his own interactions with Russian nationals.

If you’re struggling to unpack that, here’s what Durham is saying: if the Bureau had known that Dolan was in contact with Danchenko, it would have helped the FBI to confirm the Steele dossier by confirming that one of Danchenko’s key sub-sources in fact received “information” through “his own interactions with Russian nationals [whose names appear in the Steele dossier].”

Durham also makes a second claim here that he perhaps doesn’t mean to make: having previously dinged Dolan for claiming to have a “GOP source” when in fact his source was a major-media report, here Durham admits that much of what Dolan passed on to Danchenko was of excellent provenance, as it “reflected information that [Dolan] himself also had received through his own interactions with Russian nationals.”

Having said all this, if you were to approach the Durham indictment from Trump’s standpoint, or Barr’s, or apparently Durham’s; if you were to approach it from the view of the corporate interests of Fox News, Newsmax, or OAN, all of whom must appeal to Trump’s base if they are survive as going media concerns; or if you were approach it from the standpoint of those in major media annoyed that Mueller didn’t indict Trump (in part because Trump ally Barr told him he couldn’t); in short, if you went into your reading of John Durham’s indictment of Igor Danchenko with the demonstrably false view that the Trump-Russia scandal was either a “hoax” or simply too dicey for any corporate journalist scared of being dragged by the likes of Glenn Greenwald or Matt Taibbi; you could then imagine reading Durham’s indictment a very different way. You might presume that what the FBI really needed to know from Danchenko was whether Dolan was involved because the depth and breadth of Dolan’s professional network within Russia might mean that he was part of a Kremlin conspiracy.

But then you’d remember that Putin wanted Trump to win, not lose, and you’d quickly discard any notion that Durham’s materiality assessment casts doubt on Dolan rather than, maybe contrary to its intent, establishing his bona fides as an intelligence source.

This is what I mean when I say that Durham’s indictment is a through-the-looking-glass political exercise: it only makes sense if you go into it as a Trump partisan who believes the Trump-Russia scandal was a hoax, and Durham’s way of presenting his evidence only makes sense if he himself is a partisan who believes this outrageous lie.

A Brief Interlude: Sergei Millian Enters the Picture

Given that half of the criminal allegation John Durham is making against Danchenko appears to rely exclusively on the evidence provided to the FBI by Sergei Millian, one would presume that Millian’s own integrity is beyond question—especially as Durham has established (or so he might believe) that even being a minor player in Democratic politics precludes one from compiling opposition research involving a GOP politician.

So here’s how John Durham introduces Millian to readers of his federal indictment:

“He had occasion to work on real estate projects with Trump and staff at the Trump Organization, which at all times relevant to this Indictment was owned by Trump.”

Not an auspicious start, given that Durham is here establishing Millian as a business partner of his former boss’s boss (Donald Trump).

The 2013 Ritz Moscow Allegations, As Seen Through John Durham’s Looking Glass

You might imagine that it would be impossible for John Durham to misstate any part of the Steele dossier he quotes from directly in his indictment.

You’d be wrong.

After claiming that Steele’s dossier alleges that “Trump had previously engaged in salacious sexual activity while a guest at the [Ritz] Moscow hotel”—an allegation the dossier does not make—Durham goes on to quote the dossier at length. And yet he eliminates the portion that allegedly accuses Trump of “salacious sexual activity.”

Why does Durham elide the very portion of the dossier he’s complaining about? You might think it’s to protect Trump’s delicate sensibilities, his or unsullied reputation for sequential fidelity to his many wives—and indeed the reputations Durham is bent on destroying here are Danchenko’s and Dolan’s and (indirectly) Clinton’s, not Trump’s—but the real reason is a far simpler one: the dossier doesn’t say what Durham claims.

Per the dossier, Trump’s activity at the Ritz Moscow in 2013 comprised the following:

In what way is Trump “employing [i.e., asking] a number of prostitutes to perform a ‘golden showers’ (urination) show in front of him” anything like a claim that Trump himself “engaged in salacious sexual activity”?

Given that Durham’s entire case is based on the Steele dossier, how could he get the dossier’s most written-about part so desperately wrong? I’m putting aside, of course, the mountain of evidence (see the links above in this article) that there were indeed prostitutes in Trump’s suite that night—and I’m putting aside that even Trump and his team admit that someone in their group wanted to send prostitutes to Trump that night—and I’m putting aside that Trump’s fixer now says this “golden showers show” perfectly matched a show that Trump saw in Las Vegas with the Agalarovs (his hosts in Moscow, and the men the dossier says sent him prostitutes) that greatly pleased Trump.

So why in the world would Durham deliberately misquote the Steele dossier to make it seem less plausible than it was?

The question answers itself, as it suggests yet again that the aim of the Danchenko indictment was not to get at the truth of any matter but to discredit the Steele dossier.

This is a task that major media reports Trump—John Durham’s ex-boss’s ex-boss—has been obsessed with completing since the day the dossier was published in 2017.

If Durham’s aim here—a political rather than prosecutorial one—was unclear after his misquoting of the dossier with respect to the Ritz Moscow indictment, any such confusion dissipates on pages 21 and 22, where Durham focuses his attack on the one allegation in the Steele dossier that, up until the Danchenko indictment, had been universally accepted as true by journalists on both sides of the political spectrum. The notion that the Kremlin withdrew a diplomat from D.C. because of his involvement in the 2016 presidential campaign has been considered uncontroversial because it was universally reported in 2017. Consider this blaring headline in The Independent (UK):

By attacking even this uncontroversial component of Steele’s dossier, Durham makes clear that his “theory of the case”—not just in the Danchenko case, but in the Michael Sussmann case and even the Kevin Clinesmith case—depends on there having been such a massive Kremlin plot against Donald Trump that not a single component of the Steele dossier turned out to be true, even those components that major media around the world have now confirmed to be true. If you doubt that Durham is doing political rather than prosecutorial work here, this should help to disabuse you of that notion.

Whereas Durham uses this component of the dossier in part as a way to underscore that Dolan (who first received the accurate intelligence on this since-confirmed and corroborated politically motivated withdrawal of a Russian diplomat) was providing information to Danchenko, once again all it accomplishes is to underscore that Dolan had access to accurate intelligence and passed it to Christopher Steele via Danchenko.

With Durham confirming that Danchenko indeed had access to this Russian diplomat—and therefore Danchenko’s claim that he heard news of this diplomat’s withdrawal from the U.S. directly from the diplomat rather than from Dolan was a plausible one—it certainly does seem that, once again, Danchenko is trying to protect Charles Dolan by keeping him out of his conversations with the FBI regarding the Steele dossier. But none of this makes this omission significant to the accuracy of any element of Steele’s dossier, not only because Danchenko indeed could have gotten this information from the diplomat himself had he wanted to, but also because the intel did indeed turn out to be accurate per dozens of major-media reports from around the world.

Even Durham seems to recognize how lame this component of his indictment is, writing that had Igor Danchenko told the FBI that he knew about the reason for the diplomat’s withdrawal from speaking with Dolan rather than the diplomat himself, “the FBI might also have taken further investigative steps to, among other things, interview [Dolan] regarding his potential knowledge of [the] Russian diplomat’s departure from the United States. Such investigative steps might have assisted the FBI in resolving the above-described discrepancy between Danchenko and [Steele] regarding the sourcing of the allegation concerning [the] Russian diplomat.” That’s right: we’re down to Durham policing the “sourcing” of an allegation that turned out to be right.

Conclusion

That Trump allies within DOJ—a class of persons of which Durham is now the last exemplar—have been trying to destroy Danchenko or even put him in a position in which he might be killed has been clear for almost a year and a half. I recognize this is a very serious charge, but consider this New York Times cover headline from July 2020:

That’s right: the FBI promised Danchenko that if he spoke to them voluntarily, they would hide his identity—and they did this for the very same reason that Danchenko may have obscured Dolan’s work on the dossier. That is, Danchenko and Dolan appear to share with the FBI the view that Putin would like to have anyone involved in the Steele dossier killed. So readers of this Proof article should be clear that Danchenko asked for and was granted anonymity by the FBI to protect his life and the life of his family—not because he’s a delicate flower who avoids the limelight—and was brutally betrayed by the DOJ. This is the same DOJ that never took any action against Trump associates who were referred to it for criminal prosecution by Congress.

So who masterminded putting Danchenko’s life at risk? The very man who hired John Durham: Bill Barr. And what did Barr’s handpicked agent do when the Kremlin didn’t kill Danchenko, as both the FBI and Danchenko apparently feared it would? He went out and indicted him, presumably on the theory that it’s vital to Donald Trump’s 2024 political future that Danchenko be either dead or disgraced and imprisoned by the day Trump announces he’s running for President of the United States again.

I’m being a little arch here, of course, but only a little. Bill Barr, a well-documented Trump political agent who was only nominally a U.S. law enforcement official, did indeed mastermind outing Danchenko, and did indeed do so knowing that it might result in Danchenko being killed. And Barr’s handpicked agent did indeed decide to indict the cooperative Danchenko once Danchenko had survived the period of time during which it was most likely that Vladimir Putin would exact violent revenge on any Russian national who had participated in the creation of the Steele dossier.

All this aside, one can’t help but come away from the Danchenko indictment wishing that Danchenko had simply told the unambiguous, unguarded truth about Dolan from the beginning—not because it would have avoided this needless and silly indictment (though that’s true), but because the indictment does such a bang-up job establishing Dolan’s bona fides as a sub-source for Christopher Steele that it would have enormously bolstered the Steele dossier had Americans learned of Dolan’s involvement long ago.

All of which is to say that I believe Charles Dolan Jr. is likely going to be indicted.

Why? For the same reason Danchenko was outed and then—when he survived any would-be Kremlin revenge plot Barr left him open to unscathed—was indicted. The Trump camp that installed Durham as a Special Counsel must destroy anyone who has investigated Trump and his manifest, multitudinous clandestine ties to Russia, and they must do this so that when Trump announces his 2024 run for President of the United States he can present himself—as he has done for his entire life—as a victim rather than a con man and career criminal that America has coddled for fifty years.

Charles Dolan was a manifestly logical choice for Steele and Danchenko to work with in trying to generate a responsible and nonpartisan dossier on Trump—remember that Fusion GPS did this work for both Democrats and Republicans, and that Steele has likewise worked for Republicans and is even (as the Proof trilogy discloses) a friend of Ivanka Trump’s whom the Trump Organization once sought to hire—and for this reason he must be charged with lying (to somebody, at some time) to discredit him.

The inevitable Charles Dolan indictment will, like the Danchenko indictment, have nothing whatsoever to do with the accuracy of the Steele dossier, which remains at the approximately “70%” level, in terms of its accuracy, that Steele cited to the FBI while working with them to investigate it in 2016 and 2017. The only option left for Trump and his cronies—which Durham establishes himself as being with this embarrassing indictment—is to indict the men who investigated Trump for any untrue statements they may have made to the FBI, even if such statements are just a fraction (in number) of the veritable parade of lies top Trump associates have told federal law enforcement—facing, for these hundreds of lies on matters of national security, no accountability at all.