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Lack of Steele Dossier Source Damaged National Security, F.B.I. Agent Testifies

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ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A veteran F.B.I. counterintelligence agent testified on Thursday that the Trump Justice Department’s decision in 2020 to release sensitive documents a few bureau informant to a Senate committee examining the bureau’s Russia investigation had damaged national security.

The agent told jurors on the trial of Igor Danchenko, who’s charged with lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about matters related to the anti-Trump Steele dossier, that Mr. Danchenko, a Russia analyst, had provided extraordinary assistance for years as a paid F.B.I. informant.

Web sleuths managed to piece together Mr. Danchenko’s identity after Attorney General William P. Barr directed the F.B.I. to declassify a redacted report about its three-day interview of Mr. Danchenko in 2017 and provides it to Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee on the time.

Kevin Helson, the agent, said Mr. Danchenko became a political goal, adding that the “release of the document was dangerous.”

The testimony by Mr. Helson, a witness for the prosecution, appeared to be one other setback for the special counsel investigation examining the origins of the F.B.I. inquiry into former President Donald J. Trump’s ties with Russia. The trial of Mr. Danchenko appears to be the last probability for the special counsel, John H. Durham, who Mr. Trump had said would expose a “deep state” conspiracy against him, to acquire a court conviction before his investigation winds down.

In November 2021, Mr. Durham charged Mr. Danchenko with five counts of constructing false statements to the F.B.I. about his sources for certain claims within the dossier, which comprises a set of rumors and unproven assertions suggesting that Mr. Trump and his 2016 campaign were compromised by and conspiring with Russian intelligence officials to assist him defeat Hillary Clinton. Although a couple of of the dossier’s claims made their way into an F.B.I. wiretap application targeting a former Trump campaign adviser, that was largely peripheral to the official inquiry.

That is the second trial for Mr. Durham, whom Mr. Barr appointed to guide the investigation within the spring of 2019. The primary trial, through which Mr. Durham accused a lawyer of providing false information to the F.B.I., ended this 12 months with an acquittal.

What to Know In regards to the Trump Investigations

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Quite a few inquiries. Since leaving office, former President Donald J. Trump has been facing several investigations into his business dealings and political activities. Here’s a take a look at some notable cases:

Jan. 6 investigations. In a series of public hearings, the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack laid out a comprehensive narrative of Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. This evidence could allow federal prosecutors, who’re conducting a parallel criminal investigation, to indict Mr. Trump.

Georgia election interference case. Fani T. Willis, the Atlanta-area district attorney, has been leading a wide-ranging criminal investigation into the efforts of Mr. Trump and his allies to overturn his 2020 election loss in Georgia. This case could pose probably the most immediate legal peril for the previous president and his associates.

In the brand new trial, which began on Tuesday at a federal courthouse in Northern Virginia and through which testimony is anticipated to conclude Friday, with closing statements likely on Monday, Mr. Durham and his team have needed to grapple with significant questions on the standard of their evidence.

Mr. Helson’s testimony on Thursday capped three days of questioning of him and one other F.B.I. prosecution witness, a counterintelligence analyst, each of whom at certain points appeared to undermine the prosecution’s case. Mr. Durham at times appeared visibly frustrated with the testimony of the F.B.I. officials.

Mr. Durham has tried to make the case that Mr. Danchenko never spoke to Sergei Millian, a former president of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce, as a possible source for the dossier, a claim at the center of 4 of the false-statement charges.

Mr. Danchenko told the F.B.I. that he had received a phone call in late July 2016 from a Russian-sounding one who didn’t discover himself but whom Mr. Danchenko believed to be Mr. Millian, and that he had arranged to fulfill the businessman in Latest York on a weekend later that month.

As a part of Mr. Durham’s investigation, he turned up evidence that Mr. Helson and Brian Auten, an F.B.I. supervisory counterintelligence analyst and a prosecution witness earlier within the week, said could have supported Mr. Danchenko’s version of what had happened. The evidence included Amtrak receipts showing that Mr. Danchenko had traveled to Latest York that weekend and documentation that Mr. Millian had flown to Latest York that very same weekend.

Charles Dolan, a public relations executive with ties to the Democratic Party whose interactions with Mr. Danchenko are the idea of one other false statement charge, also testified on Thursday. The indictment said Mr. Danchenko falsely told the F.B.I. that he had not discussed the claims within the dossier with Mr. Dolan. But Mr. Durham says that Mr. Dolan was an unwitting source for a few of the claims.

Mr. Dolan said on Thursday that he had emailed a tidbit he had heard on the news to Mr. Danchenko, who appeared to have used the data within the dossier. But he testified that he had never discussed the dossier with Mr. Danchenko and didn’t realize that the analyst had used his information within the compendium until Mr. Durham’s team identified the similarities.

Mr. Danchenko’s lawyers seized on that testimony. During cross-examination on Thursday, Mr. Helson said that in a single instance, the idea of Mr. Durham’s false statement charge, he had asked Mr. Danchenko if he had talked with Mr. Dolan concerning the information within the dossier.

Mr. Danchenko told him that that they had talked about issues related to the dossier, Mr. Helson said, but he agreed that it was “literally true” that Mr. Dolan and Mr. Danchenko had never talked concerning the dossier itself.

Defense lawyers also tried to buttress the concept that Mr. Danchenko was an exceptional informant and that his exposure was an enormous loss to the F.B.I., citing annual internal bureau reports that showed Mr. Helson thought highly of Mr. Danchenko and saying he was paid greater than $200,000 for his work.

Mr. Helson said Mr. Danchenko had provided information that had aided in at the very least 25 investigations and dozens of reports distributed to the U.S. intelligence community, and he acknowledged that he had told investigators previously that Mr. Danchenko “reshaped the best way the U.S. even perceives threats.” Mr. Helson said the F.B.I.’s Washington Field Office had not had an informant with a comparable source network during his 20 years there and had arrange a recent squad of agents based on Mr. Danchenko’s information.

In October 2021, Mr. Helson said, he drafted an internal F.B.I. document asking to offer Mr. Danchenko a $346,000 final payment for his work and expenses helping the F.B.I.

“The disclosure of false and baseless claims aimed to undermine his credibility,” the document said, adding that his public outing would hurt his ability to make a living. “This payment is an element of the F.B.I.’s commitment for insuring the security and security of this highly valued” informant “and his family, and can fulfill the F.B.I.’s commitment to properly care for those individuals who come forward to assist our mission at grave risk to themselves and their family members.”

Mr. Danchenko didn’t get the cash.

After the defense was done with Mr. Helson, Mr. Durham sought to limit the damage of his testimony. He brought up a 2009 F.B.I. counterintelligence investigation into Mr. Danchenko. But Mr. Helson said he had discussed the matter with the case agent who had handled the sooner investigation and was comfortable continuing to make use of Mr. Danchenko as a source.

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