FBI director describes learning he was the target of Durham probe

An FBI counterintelligence official testified Wednesday that he was disturbed when he learned he might have been targeted by Special Counsel John Durham’s team investigating the bureau’s 2016 investigation of the Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia.

Brian Auten, an FBI official who oversaw intelligence analysts in the 2016 Crossfire Hurricane investigation, said he felt uncomfortable when he was told he was the “object” of the case rather than a mere “witness.” “Scary” – which could mean potential criminal charges.

Auten testified the next day in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, at the trial of Igor Danchenko. Danchenko, a private researcher in Washington, was hired by former British spy Christopher Steele to gather information that ended up in the “Steer dossier” about Trump’s ties to Russia. Danchenko is accused of lying to the FBI in a 2017 interview about the sources behind his research — something Durham believes influenced the FBI’s work in the Russia investigation.

Steele dossier sources head to trial, possibly last stop in Durham

According to his testimony, Auten was a key figure in the 2016 investigation.He oversaw FBI intelligence analysts in the case and met with Steele and other FBI officials, who provided the former spy with Up to $1 million in information could corroborate his claims in court of a conspiracy between Trump and Russia. Orton testified that Steele couldn’t do that.

Orton also He testified that he met with Danchenko for three days in January 2017 to judge his research and then helped recruit Danchenko as a paid confidential informant for the FBI, hoping to find out his sources and information.

Asked by Danchenko’s defense attorney, Danny Onorato, Orton said Durham was the first investigator to consider him “the subject” of the investigation. The FBI’s counterintelligence chief said he had previously volunteered reports on the FBI’s 2016 Russia investigation to the Justice Department’s inspector general and the Senate Judiciary Committee, and prepared and signed a 100-page report for the FBI Interior Division. Affidavit.

Durham was appointed by then-Attorney General William P. Barr during the Trump administration to dig deeper into the origins of the FBI’s 2016 investigation. Responding to questions from Danchenko’s defense team, Auten said he had hired two attorneys and met with Durham’s office to prepare for his trial testimony.

On the first day of Durham’s interrogation of Orton, the FBI official repeatedly confirmed that he was involved in reviewing an application for a warrant seeking to covertly spy on Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser. The applications are based in part on unsubstantiated claims in the Steele dossier that Trump has a “well-established cooperative conspiracy” with Russia. In a 2019 report, the Justice Department’s inspector general criticized some of Auten’s conduct in the Page affair, even though the inspector general found that the FBI’s decision-making was not politically biased.

On Wednesday, Otten testified that Danchenko never turned over emails that could affect the bureau’s work to the FBI. Emails show that Danchenko made contact with Sergei Milian, the former chairman of the Russian American Chamber of Commerce, but there appeared to be no success or response. Prosecutors said Danchenko fabricated Milian as the source of some dossier allegations, even though the two never spoke.

“All of these emails would be very helpful in understanding the full communication between the parties,” Auten said, adding that they could have helped the FBI “in the process of evaluating the information.” Auten also said Danchenko should hand over email correspondence with Charles Dolan Jr. Submitted to the FBI in 2017. Prosecutors said Danchenko “concealed” Dolan, the longtime Democratic-aligned Washington PR executive, as a source and never asked FBI agents where he got his information.

For Durham to win a conviction, a jury must not only find that Danchenko knowingly deceived the FBI in 2017, but that those lies had a major impact on the agency’s investigation. Auten said the FBI’s investigation actions “could” have been different if agents had seen Danchenko’s emails contacting Milian in 2017, to which Durham shot back, “Possibly?” Auten responded, FBI officials may have taken different investigative steps.

Danchenko’s team argued that he did not lie to the FBI about Dolan because agents asked him if he had “talked” to Dolan about material in the Steele file. According to Danchenko’s defense, the two did not speak and only communicated via email. As for Milian, Danchenko’s team argues that he provided the FBI at the time with his best understanding of the facts: An anonymous person contacted Trump and Russian swearing by phone or through a phone chat app, Danchenko said. Coe thought it was Milian.

“He never said with 100 percent certainty … that the anonymous caller was Sergey Milian?” Onorato asked Auten in January 2017 about three days of FBI interviews with Danchenko. “That’s right,” Auten said.

“We asked questions and he answered them,” Auten said.

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