ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — A judge on Friday tossed out one of five counts against a think-tank analyst charged with lying to the FBI about his role in the creation of a flawed dossier about former President Donald Trump.
The remaining four counts against Igor Danchenko will go to a jury Monday after prosecutors and the defense rested their cases Friday. But Judge Anthony Trenga reserved the right to toss out the other four counts regardless of what the jury decides.
In the count that was tossed out, prosecutors alleged that Danchenko lied to the FBI when he told an agent that he never “talked” with a Democratic operative named Charles Dolan about the information in the dossier.
As it turns out, there was evidence that Dolan and Danchenko had discussed the information over email. Defense attorneys argued that Danchenko’s response was literally true because they did not talk orally, and the question the FBI agent asked specifically referenced talking.
Trenga agreed, and he said that accepting the prosecution’s argument that the question had a broader context than mere talking would result in “divorcing words from their common meaning.”
Danchenko is being prosecuted by Special Counsel John Durham, who was appointed by then-Attorney General William Barr to investigate any misconduct in the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign and its alleged ties to Russia.
Danchenko is the third person to be prosecuted by Durham. It is the first of Durham’s cases that delves deeply into the origins of the “Steele dossier,” which alleged connections between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and the Kremlin. and which Trump derided as fake news and a political witch hunt.
Durham’s other two cases resulted in an acquittal and a guilty plea with a sentence of probation.
Testimony this week at trial has highlighted Durham’s difficulty in proving his allegations. Two key FBI witnesses for the prosecution ended up providing testimony that was highly favorable to Danchenko, resulting in the unusual spectacle of Durham seeking to eviscerate the credibility of his own witnesses on re-direct.
In the remaining counts that will go forward, prosecutors argue that Danchenko fabricated interactions with a supposed source named Sergei Millian, who was a former president of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce.
Defense lawyers say Danchenko received an anonymous call from a person he believed to be Millian, and that Danchenko was forthright from the beginning with the FBI that while he suspected the call came from Millian he was not certain.
Prosecutors say that if Danchenko had been more forthcoming about his sources the FBI would have been better equipped to judge the veracity of the dossier. The FBI ended up using the allegations in the dossier to obtain court-ordered surveillance against a Trump campaign official, Carter Page, even though the FBI was never able to corroborate any of the dossier’s allegations.
Trenga’s decision to dismiss one of the five counts came Friday afternoon after prosecutors rested their case. Defense lawyers, who have consistently criticized the case as prosecutorial overreach, said the evidence put forward by prosecutors fell far short of anything a reasonable juror could use to convict.
“This nightmare of a case for Mr. Danchenko, it should end today,” defense attorney Stuart Sears told the judge.