September 16, 2022 04:11 PM
Danchenko, a Russian-born, U.S.-based lawyer, was charged by Durham last year with five counts tied to alleged lies he told the bureau about the Trump dossier, and he has pleaded not guilty.
His lawyers revealed Thursday some of what Durham plans to use in the October trial, including Microsoft Lync chats from a bureau analyst who interviewed the Russian national in 2017 and went on to get mixed up in the investigation into President Joe Biden’s son.
FBI supervisory intelligence analyst Brian Auten, whom whistleblowers say opened an August 2020 assessment used by the FBI to wrongly label accurate information about Hunter Biden as false, was among those who interviewed Danchenko in January 2017, and the Department of Justice’s watchdog criticized him for a February 2017 intelligence memo to senior FBI officials that “failed to advise them of the inconsistencies between Steele and his Primary Sub-source.”
After Danchenko first lied to the FBI in January 2017 when talking with Auten, the FBI made him a paid confidential informant just two months later, lasting through October 2020.
Auten was deeply involved in the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation into unfounded claims of Trump-Russia collusion, and he also played a role in the bureau’s efforts to obtain flawed surveillance against Trump campaign associate Carter Page.
Auten circulated a February 2017 intelligence memo to FBI officials about the Danchenko interview, but DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz said it “did not describe the inconsistencies” from the FBI discussion. The memo was sent to then-Director James Comey and then-Deputy Director Andrew McCabe in March 2017.
The FBI analyst told Horowitz he did not have any “pains or heartburn” about the accuracy of Steele’s claims based on what Danchenko had said. Auten told Horowitz “he believed that there were instances” in which Danchenko was “minimizing” certain facts but did not believe he was “completely fabricating” events.
Auten had been referred by FBI Director Christopher Wray to the Office of Professional Responsibility for possible disciplinary action following the release of Horowitz’s 2019 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act abuse report, though Wray said those proceedings were slowed down to cooperate with Durham’s investigation. The referral came shortly before Auten’s assessment tied to Hunter Biden the next year.
The bureau analyst “opened an assessment which was used by an FBI headquarters team to improperly discredit negative Hunter Biden information as disinformation and caused investigative activity to cease,” according to disclosures made public by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA).
Wray said he found the allegations “deeply troubling” when asked about them in early August.
Documents also show the FBI had previously investigated Danchenko as a possible “threat to national security” due to his alleged connections with Russian intelligence.
According to Durham’s indictment, Danchenko anonymously sourced a fabricated claim about Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort to Clinton ally Chuck Dolan, who spent years, including 2016, doing work for Russian businesses and the Russian government.
Durham’s indictment also says Danchenko lied to the FBI about a phone call he claims he received from Sergei Millian, an American citizen born in Belarus, who the Steele source had said told him about a conspiracy of cooperation between former President Donald Trump and the Russians.
Auten met with Steele in early October 2016. Horowitz said Auten’s notes “indicate that Steele explained that the information he obtained about Page resulted from research he had been retained to conduct related to a litigation matter concerning debts allegedly owed by Paul Manafort.” Steele had been conducting that work on behalf of Putin-allied Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.
Auten’s connections to Durham cases don’t end with Danchenko.
Danchenko’s trial comes after Democratic lawyer Michael Sussmann was found not guilty in May on a false statements charge of concealing his representation of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign from the FBI when he pushed debunked Trump-Russia collusion claims about Alfa-Bank to the bureau in 2016. Testimony during the trial revealed Clinton personally signed off on her campaign sharing the Alfa-Bank claims with the media.
Horowitz said in 2019 that Auten “told us that he factored the Alfa Bank/Trump server allegations into his assessment of Steele’s reporting.”
Durham has obtained one guilty plea from former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith, who admitted he falsified a document during the bureau’s efforts to renew FISA surveillance authority against Page. Clinesmith wrote in 2017 that Page was “not a source” for the CIA when Page was indeed an operational contact for them.
An FBI attorney told Horowitz he recalled Auten “had raised a concern that Page may have had a prior relationship with the other U.S. government agency,” but Auten told the watchdog that he didn’t remember raising this concern, though he had been aware Page had been a “type of source” with the CIA.