Two pings on the new, “speaking” Durham filing in the Danchenko case

Ears to hear.

On 2 September 2022, Special Counsel John Durham entered a motion under seal in the federal case against Igor Danchenko – source for the Steele dossier – for making false statements to the FBI.

The motion, regarding admissibility of evidence, was filed under seal because it contained classified information.  The motion was unsealed 13 September with redactions in the Exhibits.  Margot Cleveland previewed earlier at The Federalist the presumption that if the motion were unsealed, we’d be able to discern the direction Durham is going to take the case.

In her view, especially based on Danchenko’s response to the new Durham filing, Durham will have to expose the Deep State’s operations if he wants to keep the case going.  Otherwise, the Danchenko defense will argue, with probable success, that his false statements were immaterial, because they didn’t affect the FBI’s, or DOJ’s or Robert Mueller’s, follow-on choices about investigation of the original matter.

The Durham motion goes directly to that point, making a case that Danchenko’s false statements indeed affected the course of the investigation.  In building that case, Durham frames our first ping.

Ping One: Dolan, Dolan, Dolan!

The main thrust of Durham’s case in this regard is that Danchenko lied systematically about his contacts with Charles Dolan, who figures as PR-Executive 1 in the original Danchenko indictment.  If Danchenko had been more truthful about his contacts with Dolan and the content of their discussions, the FBI – says Durham – would have recognized a need to pursue more information from Dolan.

See, for example, this passage on p. 13 regarding Dolan’s involvement in Danchenko’s sashay through the Moscow Ritz-Carlton in June 2016:  “Had the FBI known that Dolan was a fact witness in this respect, it is more likely that they would have interviewed Dolan about the Ritz-Carlton Allegations, given his proximity to the defendant and the hotel staff at the time the information was allegedly collected.”

Similar comments about the hindrance it was to not have full information about Dolan recur on p. 15 and p. 32.

This is the legal case Durham is making:  the case for why his evidence about Danchenko’s false statements and general truthfulness should be admissible.

But if we listen with our ears, what we hear, in the new motion, is an awful big honking lot about Dolan.

And what we end up thinking is, “Man, this Dolan guy knew a lot.”

I can’t help hearing another “speaking” filing by Durham here. 

I understand that Danchenko’s false statements about his activities and what he had disclosed to others involved Charles Dolan.  It’s inevitable that Dolan would be mentioned.  Durham does refer generally to other instances (i.e., apparently involving other persons), but he keeps returning to Dolan as example-in-chief of Danchenko’s falsified accounts.

Charles Dolan. K Global via NY Post

It’s awful darn particular.  Here are two major impressions I came away with.  One, the FBI must have been experiencing a recto-cranial inversion if it pursued Danchenko’s allegations even a little bit and didn’t decide on its own – regardless of anything Danchenko said – to ask Dolan a lot more questions.  I don’t find it credible that Dolan had a paper trail a mile long in the Steele dossier aspect of Russiagate, and yet somehow the FBI neglected to discover the paper trail and bring Dolan in for a fuller accounting.

It would have taken very little of the most ordinary spadework, for instance, for the FBI to improve its own perspective on who met whom at the Moscow Ritz in June 2016, and what information was exchanged.

Likewise, we’re to believe that, although Sergei Millian was a recurring figure throughout 2016 in media speculation about Trump’s alleged Russian ties, the FBI had Crossfire Hurricane going for nearly half the year, as well as the Steele dossier with its reference to Millian, but had done so little follow-up on Millian that it missed emails sent to him by Danchenko – whom the FBI should in any case have known about perfectly well, because (a) it should have done professional, government-resource-level due diligence on the Steele dossier in the first place, and (b) it had in fact flagged Danchenko in 2008 for investigation as a possible Russian FSB asset.

The new Durham filing has the subtextual effect of leaving a “Dolan, Dolan, Dolan!” echo, and conveying elliptically but unmistakably that the FBI wasn’t doing its job.

I don’t think Durham is unaware of that.

Durham’s wording is straightforward and correct, for the legal case he’s making about relevance and admissibility of evidence.  But we know too much about the real history of Russiagate to think the FBI was stumbling along naively groping for clues to a puzzle it didn’t know how to solve.  It’s been clear since the summer of 2017 that Crossfire Hurricane wasn’t an investigation at all.  It was an anti-Trump operation.

That, of course, is what Cleveland means by commenting that Durham will have to fish or cut bait:  expose the Deep State, including the complicity of the FBI and DOJ, or lose another case (i.e., like the one against Michael Sussmann).

More on that point after the second impression.  Which is that outing the FBI is one thing.  But it matters that it’s Dolan at the center of the go-no go dilemma on the outing.

Because Dolan is Deep Clinton.  As the New York Post reported last year, Dolan has been a Clinton insider for decades.  He’s a Democratic “politico” who kept getting campaign jobs with Democratic candidates in spite of never having a winning candidate to his name.  (Even Bill Clinton, for whom Dolan worked in 1992 and 1996, failed to win the state – Virginia – that Dolan was chairing for him.)

Via social media.

The political world knows who Dolan is.  So the fact that he’s PR-Executive 1 from the Danchenko indictment colors what everything else means – which is not only that all circumstances point to Hillary Clinton’s close involvement in the Steele dossier, but that decisions by federal agencies about how to handle Dolan aren’t made without reference to his connection with the Clintons.

If the FBI wasn’t pursuing Dolan for information as diligently as it might have, there’s another construction to put on that, other than Durham’s legal argument that Danchenko threw the FBI off Dolan’s scent by lying about his link with Dolan.  I find it hard to credit the proposition that the FBI had no idea Dolan was so closely involved, given everything else we’ve learned about the origins and use of the dossier, and how aggressively the FBI was spying on the Trump campaign.  And even the unsuspicious would have to acknowledge that Dolan being a Clinton crony is 100% meaningful, considering that Hillary’s campaign and Perkins Coie attorney Marc Elias, representing her campaign, commissioned and arranged for the dossier to be produced.

There’s a bit more to be pondered.  Durham would have to be well aware that referring to Dolan’s prominence as a factor in the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane dynamics raises the inevitable questions implied above.  His 2 September motion in limine looks, from that standpoint, like a shot across the bow.  At the very least, it seems like communication – with whoever has ears to hear.

I’m not sure that includes the court, although it’s quite possible the court (i.e., the judge) understands the function the motion may serve in that regard.  But communication with the court is about what Durham is going to do in court, and to my ear, this motion clarifies only that Durham intends to use his evidence to demonstrate that Danchenko’s false statements had an impact because they misled the FBI.

YouTube video

It borders on fatuous, however, to believe an FBI that knew too much by January 2017 (when it first interviewed Danchenko about the dossier) was really just a hive of hapless stooges when it came to Danchenko and Charles Dolan.

It’s also interesting, again, that the 2 September motion makes the FBI look so incompetent (or perhaps worse), to anyone who bothers to think about it, and that it glaringly highlights how the Clinton crony in the “pee tape” assortment of conspirators was ignored – by the FBI.

Durham can’t be unaware of leaving that impression.  Note this too:  as Margot Cleveland said when the Danchenko response to the motion was filed, the response in fact argues that Danchenko’s falsehoods don’t merit prosecution because they weren’t what set the course for the FBI to ignore Dolan.

That seems to suggest Durham’s filing would make Danchenko’s case for him.

But I’m not so sure.  If Durham wants to “fish” – i.e., reveal the “Deep State” machinations behind it all – the Danchenko defense helps him do that by having to build a case for why the FBI, DOJ, and Mueller team were going to ignore Dolan anyway.

Durham would get to cross-examine that case.  He doesn’t have to bring up lines of inquiry that would be embarrassing for the FBI, Mueller, or the Clinton campaign (something the judge presumably wouldn’t let Durham do).  He just has to wait for the Danchenko defense to bring them up.

Ping Two: Timing

On p. 3 of the Durham motion, we learn this:  “In March 2017, the FBI signed the defendant [Danchenko] up as a paid confidential human source of the FBI. The FBI terminated its source relationship with the defendant in October 2020.”

This brief mention in the filing has been all over right-wing media in the last few hours.  It’s been interpreted – at least on the Hannity show – as meaning that Danchenko was being paid to spy on Trump from 2017 to 2020.

I really don’t think the FBI was that stupid.  The FBI knew in January 2017 (if not before) that Danchenko’s contributions to the Steele dossier were a load of nonsense, and that Danchenko wouldn’t be a reliable, competent source of human intelligence on Trump and his associates.

I interpret the little bomblet about Danchenko differently.  As a confidential human source (CHS), Danchenko’s name and connections to the FBI were redactable from anything DOJ found it more convenient to keep them out of.  Paying Danchenko could have been a way to ensure his silence, and perhaps compensate restrictions on what other activities Danchenko could engage in.

If the FBI didn’t want Danchenko’s story coming out while controversy raged over the Carter Page FISA applications and the Steele dossier, making him a CHS was a good way to put an information “wall” around him.

Christopher Steele and “Primary Sub-Source” Igor Danchenko shirt up for the roles of their lives. Social media; author

Consider, as we so often do, the Gregorian calendar aspect of this move.  March 2017 isn’t just when James Comey told Congress there was an active investigation of Trump going on.  At least two of the most important events in Spygate took place that month.

One of them I have several times analyzed as a major turning point.  It was Devin Nunes’s discovery of what was going on with electronic surveillance of everything related to Trump.  Nunes’s awareness of that had evidently started earlier – at the latest by February 2017 – given his series of actions on the matter.

But weeks before his press conference and disclosure of the “spreadsheets” at the White House, he sent a letter on 8 March to Acting Attorney General Dana Boente demanding a copy of each FISA application filed with the FISA court in the year 2016.  Nunes was looking for the application that resulted in surveillance of Trump – and he was the first official outside the Obama circle to recognize the relevance of such a request, and make it.

It later became obvious to the public how much his bore-sighted interest alarmed the Spygate conspirators.  But the alarm was cued earlier than imagined.  It was before Comey testified to Congress, and before Nunes announced his information about spreadsheets being made from surveillance data at the White House.  The direct impact of Nunes’s interest in the FISA applications was felt by 8 March 2017 in the halls of DOJ and the FBI, where senior officials were well aware of everything they had done to secure the FISA authorization for surveillance of Carter Page.

When members of Congress, some nine days later (on 17 March 2017), gained access to view the October 2016 application on Carter Page, Senate staffer James Wolfe proceeded to leak it via a string of images texted to a journalist with whom he was having an affair.  This is the second major Spygate event of March 2017.  (See links below.)

The assessment of investigators afterward was that Wolfe’s leak exposed the unredacted FISA application to about half a dozen media outlets, including the New York Times.  This was in March 2017, remember.  That early in the drama, several media outlets – and probably more as the days went by – had something the American public and even many members of Congress have still never seen:  the entire, unredacted original FISA application.  (These links are to my earlier articles, which lay out considerably more on this topic – and include the requisite shout-out to Conservative Treehouse, who found the reference to the leak in a court document:  here, here, here.)

I continue to assess that Nunes’s probing of the FISA applications, in which Adam Schiff (ranking member on Nunes’s House Intelligence Committee) joined, and for which their counterparts in the Senate jumped on the bandwagon, prompted the leak to the media through Wolfe.  Wolfe’s prosecution for the leak of Top Secret/SCI material later sank with almost no trace, concluding with a slap on the hand (see the 13 February 2020 piece).  That’s a good indicator that Wolfe wasn’t going rogue on his own.

And the media, even with the unredacted FISA application in hand, continued to cover the Russia story as if none of them had ever seen it (a point made in my 14 March 2020 article).  Yet, as meticulously and verifiably documented by sundance at Conservative Treehouse, the unredacted FISA application was, in fact – incontrovertibly – leaked to the media.  There’s no gray area about that.  It’s in black and white in the court document (see the 13 February 2020 article for links).

Ponder these facts, which would have been well known in full to at least some at DOJ and FBI, and see if they aren’t convincing as reasons to fence Danchenko off from untimely access, by making him a CHS in March 2017.  He could be protected behind a code word as an “intelligence source or method” and not even Congress would have the standing to demand to know who he was.

Much of what Durham does makes sense when seen in its larger context, and considered in terms of what its goal could be.  I don’t have a made-up mind on what his endgame is.  But fearlessness, in implicitly exposing clues about corruption at DOJ and FBI, lives loud in his court filings.

Dept. of Justice

You do have to have the ears to hear it with.  If you want to, you can confine yourself to hearing only an inexplicable amount of detail in Durham’s filings, and an earnest failure to grapple with the implications of those details.  But it remains possible that Durham understands this:  the system he’s working in is stacked against useful convictions.  The long game is to do his best to get convictions, but also get information out to those who can actually use it.  The latter would be a Republican majority in the next Congress, and ideally the one after that as well.

The courts aren’t going to adjudicate Spygate for us.  They aren’t going to fix that problem.  They can’t fix it.  That’s partly because they’ll be subject to all the same problems we’ve seen several times now with partisan juries and unduly-influenced judges.  But it’s also because this is too big for the courts and points of law.  The courts can’t tear the corrupt system down and rebuild it – and that’s what we need.  Only Congress can do that.

Feature image:  The Eisenhower Executive Office Building.  Wikipedia.

3 thoughts on “Two pings on the new, “speaking” Durham filing in the Danchenko case”

  1. Hmm, so Durham is going to make Danchenko’s defense be “My lies were immaterial because the FBI was in on Russiagate.” Make him bring others down.

  2. Danchenko will take a dive. He’s the fall guy. He will be given incentives to stay in his lane. No one important is going to jail. The FBI wasn’t given false information, they got the information that they had told Danchenko to give to them: although I assume that many people read the material carefully to ensure that Danchenko had given it over accurately. Durham will not be making any trouble. He’s the guy with “integrity”, AKA, the fixer, the mini-Bill Barr, the Fixer who makes the important speeches about the interstices between law and politics . No one was fooled. The judges never even read the FISA warrants. No one working on the FBI side read them either above the level of the lowliest clerk. Hillary might have read the Steele report, but only to grouse about how much she was being overcharged for a rewrite of Sidney Blumenthal’s pulp fiction. The only hints of dialogue not being read from a script are when the agencies start infighting: but in this case, there was probably the overriding loyalty to principle: that of hanging together or hanging separately. But no was ever going to jail: Brennan and Clapper publicly perjured themselves in front of Congress and Durham could have had their scalps in thirty minutes. It’s all Kabuki theater and Durham deployed his intellectual mediocrity by doing his duty–the painful duty–of stepping duitfully through the procedural fraud to the foregone conclusion. Justice? I will believe it when I see it.

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