Igor Danchenko Trial Highlights FBI; senior official grilled for not verifying Trump’s claims on Russia

Senior FBI official Brian Auten was hammered Wednesday by prosecutors and defense attorneys when he spoke at the trial of Russian analyst Igor Danchenko, accused of lying to federal agents about information he had provided for an anti-Trump dossier.

Both sides said FBI agents failed to examine Mr. Danchenko and continued the investigation into the Trump-Russia collusion in 2016.

Special Prosecutor John Durham, who brought the case as the latest act in his three-year probe into the origins of the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation, lambasted Mr Auten and bureau officials for accepting information by M. Danchenko.

Mr Danchenko was a primary source for ex-British spy Christopher Steele’s salacious and unverified dossier detailing Mr Trump’s ties to Russia.

Defense attorneys, meanwhile, criticized Mr. Auten and his FBI colleagues for asking Mr. Danchenko vague questions with virtually no follow-up. They said the lack of direct questions got Mr. Danchenko into hot water with the special counsel team.

Mr. Danchenko is on trial in Alexandria, Va., on five counts of lying to FBI agents who questioned him in 2017 about how he gathered information that ultimately ended up in the Steele dossier.

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The FBI used the unconfirmed information on file to get approval for a foreign intelligence surveillance enforcement warrant to surveil Trump campaign figure Carter Page, according to Mr. Auten’s testimony. This mandate was renewed three times on the basis of the same unverified assertions.

Mr Durham focused on anti-Trump material in the report which allegedly came from Sergei Millian, the former chairman of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce.

Prosecutors say Mr. Danchenko misleadingly told FBI officials that Mr. Millian was a source of information based on a phone call that never happened. Defense lawyers say their client told officers he wasn’t sure the call was from Mr Millian, so he wasn’t lying.

Both parties made it clear in court that the FBI should have done more to confirm the phone call.

Mr. Danchenko’s legal team said the allegations in the filing about former President Donald Trump were based on an anonymous 15-minute phone call their client had with someone he believed to be Mr. Millian in 2016.

Jurors received emails and other information portraying Mr. Millian as a Trump supporter.

Mr Durham asked Mr Auten if he found it “strange” that a supporter of the former president would start negative gossip linking Mr Trump to Russia. When Mr Auten replied that it was, indeed, strange, Mr Durham replied that it was ‘unbelievable’.

Mr Durham stayed on the attack, forcing Mr Auten to admit that officers did not review phone records to verify that Mr Millian had actually made the call or extracted travel records to support claims according to which he had traveled to New York for a meeting. with Mr. Danchenko.

Defense attorneys said that after the anonymous phone call, Mr. Danchenko spent two days in New York awaiting a meeting with Mr. Millian which never took place.

“You took the information from the file and put it in the FISA application and it does not come from Sergei Millian,” Mr Durham said. “You thought it was from Sergei Millian based on what Igor Danchenko told you.”

Danny Onorato, one of Mr. Danchenko’s lawyers, pressed Mr. Auten why investigators weren’t more curious when interviewing their client in January 2017.

When Mr Auten described Mr Danchenko as ‘unsure’ who called him spouting anti-Trump dirt, the defense attorney wanted to know why he was in no rush to get a more answer direct.

“We could have asked for a lot more during the interview,” Mr. Auten admitted.

He later said the talks were more about “breaking the ice” with Mr. Danchenko than obtaining new information for the Trump-Russia investigation.

Mr. Auten also acknowledged that officers may have asked for Mr. Danchenko’s phone or email password in an attempt to verify his claims, two steps he says did not happen. He also said he did not believe officers pulled Mr. Millian’s travel records to see if he was in New York at the time of the meeting or when Mr. Danchenko received the anonymous phone call.

He said he could not think of a good reason why investigators had not taken these steps, prompting a strong rebuke from Mr Durham.

“You had no corroborating evidence from any databases, or other intelligence agencies, or Mr. Steele, and it still entered the [FISA] affidavit?” He asked.

Robert M. Larson