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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Erik Larson

Russian analyst in Trump dossier case acquitted of lying to FBI

A Russian business analyst who was the primary source of a largely unverified 2016 dossier on then-presidential-candidate Donald Trump’s alleged ties to Russia was acquitted of charges he lied to the FBI.

Igor Danchenko, 44, was found not guilty Tuesday by a federal jury of lying about the suspected identity of a Russian source he said called him anonymously to report a “well-developed conspiracy” between Trump’s campaign and the Kremlin. The tip was never borne out.

The Alexandria, Virginia, jury reached its verdict after more than eight hours of deliberation.

The probe of the FBI investigation is being led by special counsel John Durham, who was tapped for the role under the Trump administration. Durham’s first Trump-Russia trial — against a former lawyer for Hillary Clinton’s campaign who was also accused of lying to the FBI while providing a tip — ended in acquittal as well.

The Danchenko verdict could fuel Democratic criticism that the probe of the FBI's Russia inquiry is a politically motivated remnant of the Trump administration. It may also deprive the former president of a valuable talking point as he weighs another White House run in 2024.

Danchenko’s lawyer, Stuart A. Sears, has called the prosecution “a case of extraordinary government overreach.” He has accused the United States of charging his client over “ambiguous” statements to FBI agents in a series of 2017 interviews that didn’t have any material impact on the direction of Durham’s probe.

Danchenko said the tip came from an unknown caller in early July 2016. He told FBI agents he believed the caller was the former president of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce, Sergei Millian. The government claimed Danchenko fabricated the call.

The government’s case took a hit four days into the trial when U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga threw out one of five counts after finding that prosecutors hadn’t presented a minimum amount of evidence to justify letting the jury decide.

The count related to prosecutors’ claim that Danchenko lied when he said he hadn’t talked about his Trump-Russia research with a Democratic political operative named Charles Dolan, who had worked on every recent Democratic presidential campaign. The U.S. said Dolan provided information to Danchenko that wound up in the dossier.

Danchenko argued he had answered the question truthfully because he had emailed with Dolan rather than spoken directly with him. The judge agreed.

The release of the “Steele dossier,” named for the former British spy who wrote it, caused an uproar ahead of the election, which Trump won. Some of the dossier’s elements did pan out, including its finding that Russia was systematically interfering in the election and wanted Trump to beat Clinton.

The case is USA v. Danchenko, 21-cr-00245, US District Court, Eastern District of Virginia (Alexandria).

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