The FBI’s gaslighting of then candidate Donald Trump began on Sept. 19, 2016, when the first chapters of a novel called the “Christopher Steele Dossier” arrived at Washington headquarters.
Thanks to special counsel John Durham, we now know the FBI’s dossier addiction lasted four years, driving it to pay Russian Igor Danchenko to turn fiction into reality. He never could. The FBI Trump destruction quest outlasted Robert Mueller’s Russia inquiry (2017-19) and nearly the Trump presidency before Mr. Danchenko stepped aside.
The novel’s villain was Mr. Trump, of course. He sat atop an enormous illegal conspiracy involving the Kremlin computer-hacking Hillary Clinton into defeat. The novel’s advance money and marketing were handled by Mrs. Clinton‘s team. They took it right to the FBI, which stood ready to do her bidding.
The FBI‘s Seventh Floor leadership, led by Director James Comey, was so determined to snare Mr. Trump it promised Mr. Steele a $1 million reward and put his unreliable source, Mr. Danchenko, on its payroll as an official confidential human source (CHS).
In deep blue D.C. and Alexandria, Mr. Durham failed twice to win “Russiagate” convictions, most recently Mr. Danchenko. A Virginia jury found him not guilty of lying to agents in 2017 debriefings that led to his FBI promotion to official CHS.
But Mr. Durham’s court filings, and FBI witnesses in Alexandria, laid out a horrible history for the once-respected FBI. It was so willing to bring down an elected president that it flashed cash in the faces of the very two people who collaborated on what turned out to be, partly or fully, Kremlin disinformation.
On that Sept. 19, 2016, day, such glee erupted inside the FBI that agents began plotting how the dossier would provide them the evidence to persuade judges to authorize wiretaps. They could then spy on Trump people incriminating themselves in texts and emails with the Russians. Off the FBI went to Rome to rendezvous with Mr. Steele, the former British spy.
Flying in from London, Mr. Steele huddled with FBI emissaries. He couldn’t validate anything. So the FBI took the next odd steps: It offered him the $1 million, a fact not known pre-Durham; and it started knowingly putting his gossip into sworn affidavits to obtain four wiretaps on campaign volunteer Carter Page. Meanwhile, it kept turning over every piece of Trump furniture to find the “extensive conspiracy” of which author Steele wrote.
Brian Auten, an FBI senior intelligence analyst assigned to the anti-Trump Crossfire Hurricane, testified at the Danchenko trial. He said that from the start of 2016, neither FBI databases nor the entire U.S. intelligence network could confirm any Steele claim.
Yet months later, Mr. Comey was so dossier-enamored that he announced to the world in a March 2017 House hearing that the entire Trump campaign was under investigation. Remember, the only item they had to prove “probable cause” for wiretaps was the Steele novel. Mr. Comey had made sure he briefed President-elect Trump in New York to judge his reaction but didn’t tell him the whole thing was a Democratic Party-financed offensive.
There would never have been a dossier — at least not on the John le Carré spy thriller scale — without Igor Danchenko. He collected the vast majority of false claims — the Russia conspiracy, Moscow hotel romp, Russian bribes, secret trip to Prague, secret Kremlin meetings, a Cyprus hacking center — and fed them to Mr. Steele in London.
Mr. Danchenko is a Russian who resides in the U.S. He worked for the Brookings Institution, was in contact with the Russian Embassy at one time and tried to get some scholars to sell him classified information, according to court and congressional documents. The FBI put him under counterintelligence investigation, then botched it by assuming he left the U.S. and closing his case. He had not. This was also a Durham scoop.
We knew a lot about the FBI and its dossier craziness from a 2019 inspector general’s report and Republican congressional investigations. But it took the special investigation by prosecutor Durham to provide a final authoritative narrative.
The dossier’s “conspiracy” allegation, for example, didn’t come from any source. Mr. Danchenko told the FBI it came in a phone call from a man he believed to be Sergei Millian, a Belarus-born U.S. businessman. But Mr. Durham found out that Mr. Millian never actually communicated with the dossier collector. Yet the phantom Mr. Millian’s stuff ended up in the FBI’s wiretap warrants application.
Then there’s the stunning dossier item that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen secretly traveled to Prague to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s team to cover up computer hacking. Senate Republicans worked to declassify CIA reporting that the Prague item was deliberate Kremlin disinformation.
A release from Sen. Charles Grassley quoted a CIA report that said Prague was “part of a Russian disinformation campaign to denigrate U.S. foreign relations.” The CIA reported that the Russian Intelligence Service (RIS) had infiltrated Mr. Steele’s source network and planted bogus items like Prague.
Common sense tells you Russian intelligence was fully aware that Mr. Danchenko in 2016 was going in and out of Moscow and then talking with Mr. Steele. In Moscow, he hobnobbed with American Charles Dolan, a Clinton associate whom the Kremlin paid for PR advice.
In other words, the Russian autocrat Putin was messing with both candidates, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump. To this day, Mr. Trump does not seem to realize that Mr. Putin sabotaged his White House.
The CIA Prague assessment arrived on Jan. 12, 2017, at FBI headquarters. Unfazed, the Crossfire Hurricane unit dressed up the dossier for a second wiretap warrant.
At trial, prosecutor Durham wanted to make sure one final nail was hammered.
Durham: Did you ever get any corroborating information back?
Auten: Corroborating information on the ––
Durham: From Mr. Danchenko and the dossier reports?
Auten: Oh, with respect to the allegations in the dossier reports?
Durham: At any time after the October meeting with Mr. Steele and after the million dollars-plus had been offered as an incentive to provide corroborative information for what was in those reports, did he provide any corroborative information?
Given its reckless inaccuracies, its reach inside Washington’s power elites and its aim to bring down the leader of the most powerful nation on Earth, the dossier stands today as the biggest political hoax in history.
And it stands as one of the most concerted efforts by one side, the Clinton side, to facilitate foreign interference in a U.S. presidential election.
The FBI learned nothing from the dossier debacle. The Seventh Floor has continued to do Democratic Party bidding, first for Mrs. Clinton and then for President Biden. It helped get him elected.
The FBI joined Obama intelligence officials in trying to scuttle the Delaware U.S. attorney’s investigation of Joe Biden’s son Hunter by falsely labeling his laptop computer contents as Russian disinformation. The FBI converted genuine Biden family financial improprieties into just another Trump-Russia scandal.
Who led the FBI headquarters Hunter protection racket during the 2020 election campaign? Mr. Auten, the dossier hunter, according to a July statement from Republican Grassley, who based his allegation on bureau whistleblowers.
• Rowan Scarborough is a columnist with The Washington Times.
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