Igor Danchenko Trial Revelations: Team Mueller’s Obstruction
The Mueller Special Counsel refused witness interviews that would have implicated itself
On Friday, Special Counsel John Durham finished presenting evidence in the Igor Danchenko trial.
The most damning part of the day, if not the trial? Testimony that FBI supervisors within the Mueller Special Counsel refused requests to interview a source for the Steele Dossier: longtime Democrat activist Charles Dolan.
But first we start with the redirect examination of a witness from Thursday afternoon – FBI Special Agent Kevin Helson - who handled Danchenko when he was a confidential human source. (Our prior article discussed Helson’s investigative failures at length.)
Durham questioned Helson about efforts to determine the Danchenko-Dolan connection in the summer of 2017. By that time, the Mueller Special Counsel had been ongoing since May 2017 and had, on its own, taken part in the last Carter Page FISA renewal. And if you recall from our last articles, Danchenko had been an FBI CHS since March 2017. Once Mueller was appointed, Helson was the go-between, asking Danchenko questions posed by the then-Special Counsel’s team.
By June 2017, the Mueller Special Counsel had developed information that Democrat Charles Dolan may have been a source of the Steele Dossier. They passed questions about Dolan to Agent Helson:
Q Who did those [Dolan] questions come from?
A It came from the Mueller investigative team, particularly Ms. [Amy] Anderson.
Durham also cleaned-up Helson’s sloppiness. The previous day, Helson testified that Danchenko didn’t know the Steele Dossier was going to the FBI. Helson admitted he didn’t have any evidence to support his own conclusion.
Q You were asked a question yesterday that you adopted -- you were asked a question about, well, the defendant didn't know that Steele's reports were going to the FBI, and you said yes. Do you have any independent knowledge of that?
Q That's just what the defendant told you, right?
Q So when you told the jury that he, Mr. Danchenko, didn't know that they were going to the FBI, you don't know that to be the case?
A I had no other knowledge that suggested that, no.
Q Right. There's no independent evidence of any sort, correct?
A Yes, correct.
Helson was also asked about Danchenko’s lack of complete honesty with respect to his interactions with Charles Dolan and his travels to Moscow. As you’ll see, Helson’s answers also implicate his own failure to fully investigate his source.
Q Did Mr. Danchenko tell you about his having been in Moscow in June of 2016?
A No, he did not tell me that.
Q Did he tell you anything about his having met with or seen Mr. Dolan in Moscow in June of 2016?
A No, sir.
Q Do you recall, sir, whether or not you ever learned the dates on which Mr. Danchenko was in Moscow in June of 2016?
A I learned of it later.
Q And do you remember: When you learned at a later point in time he had been in Moscow in June of 2016, did you talk to him about that?
Danchenko’s June 2016 Moscow trip, where he met with Dolan, has significant timing because Danchenko flew from Moscow to London to give “a report”. Who was in London? Christopher Steele.
Durham also inquired about Helson’s October 24, 2017 interview of Danchenko. Helson described the purposes of that meeting:
“This meeting was -- in part, it was a direction from the Mueller investigative team bringing up the discrepancies in the Sergei Millian matter, and they wanted me to go back specifically to ask the questions and get his response.”
Just so we’re clear – by October 24, 2017, the Mueller Team knew there were issues with Danchenko’s allegations about Sergei Millian. At a minimum, they were aware of the discrepancies in Danchenko’s claims about Millian. And how did Danchenko respond? By changing his story.
The importance is two-fold. First, it confirms to the Mueller Special Counsel that there are even more problems with Danchenko’s story. Second, it catches Danchenko in a lie that would, 4+ years later, be part of his own indictment.
The Testimony of Former FBI Intelligence Analyst Brittany Hertzog
Hertzog was with the FBI from 2008 through 2019 as an intelligence analyst with a primary focus on Russian counterintelligence. She described her role as an analyst who “looks at information and tries to identify trends, patterns, and investigative next steps.” She was assigned to the Directorate of Intelligence at FBI Headquarters.
Hertzog was assigned to Special Counsel Mueller’s Office in July 2017. She described her role and chain of command with the Mueller Team:
Q And what, generally, was your role with the Special Counsel Mueller's team?
A I was primarily initially to focus on looking into reports that the FBI had received on Russian matters.
Q All right. Did those reports have a particular name?
A We referred to them typically as the Steele dossier.
Q Now, as a member of Special Counsel Mueller's team, was there a chain of command?
Q Can you describe the chain of command that you worked with?
A I reported directly to SIA Brian Auten. Above him was Special Counsel Mueller. There were horizontal chains of reporting as well. So there was an attorney, a supervisory special agent, and then head of FBI personnel.
Q Okay. So you had occasion to work with special agents as well, correct?
Q And who were some of the special agents that you worked with Special Counsel Mueller?
A I worked with Supervisory Special Agent Amy Anderson and Supervisory Special Agent Joe Nelson.
Hertzog became familiar with the Steele Dossier, and with the parties involved in the Steele Dossier, once she joined the Mueller Team:
Q And how did you become familiar with Mr. Steele?
A When I reported [July 2017] to the Special Counsel's Office, SCO, I had received background information on the investigation up until that point.
It was her job to “look into the Steele Dossier.” She described this as “trying to identify the sourcing for the claims in the dossier and, specifically, the national security threat with regards to the Russian influence piece.” Hertzog explains:
Q And a lot of names appeared in those dossier reports?
Q Did you learn that there were a number of different sources that the defendant relied on?
Q Did you have a particular focus on any of those sources?
A There were a number of sub-sources that were identified for investigative next steps.
Q Okay. And did you have a particular individual that you focused on?
A Yes. There was an individual named Olga Galkina who was -- when I was assigned to SCO, was my primary focus initially.
Compare Hertzog’s testimony to the words of Robert Mueller:
How do we not conclude that Mueller lied to Congress?
Unless his own team kept him in the dark about their own investigation of the Steele Dossier?
The title of this post references “obstruction” by the Mueller Special Counsel. Just to clarify, we’re not saying that there will be charges of obstruction of justice from anyone on the Mueller Team. (We’re not going to predict what comes next.) By obstruction we mean obstructing the truth, or obstructing the efforts to determine the truth. We plan to dive deeper into this Mueller issue in the near future.
Back to Hertzog. She took investigative steps to look into the Steele Dossier. She investigated Olga Galkina. She also looked into Charles Dolan:
Q And what's your understanding of who Mr. Dolan is?
A Mr. Dolan, to my understanding, having reviewed FBI databases, had connectivity to both Mr. Danchenko and Ms. Galkina.
Q So your testimony is that you learned about Mr. Dolan through the various FBI databases?
A I believe information was provided to me as background when I on boarded with SCO, and I became aware of more information as I researched.
In fact, Hertzog connected Dolan to Olga Galkina, and also to those who had worked in the Russian government (such as Putin ally and confidant Dmitry Peskov). She checked Dolan’s travel records, finding he had traveled to Cyprus (where Galkina was located) and also to Russia. She found Dolan’s link to Galkina, a “sub-source for the Steele Dossier” of particular importance.
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Hertzog also discovered that Dolan and Danchenko had been in Moscow together and described that fact’s importance:
“It was an important fact because Mr. Danchenko was identified as being a source for the Steele dossier, and connectivity between Mr. Dolan and Danchenko was important, especially considering Mr. Dolan's connectivity to Dmitry Peskov.”
Special Counsel Keilty asked Hertzog about her desire (and the desire of counterintelligence analyst Amy Anderson, and even Brian Auten) to interview Dolan. Hertzog was emphatic that she wanted the interview:
Other members of the Mueller Special Counsel team, however, took the position “to not investigate Mr. Dolan.” Their side ultimately won. To the best of Hertzog’s knowledge, “nobody at Special Counsel’s team interviewed Mr. Dolan.”
Not that Hertzog didn’t try to convince others to look deeper into the Dossier sources. Her file on Galking, which referenced Dolan, was uploaded into three different case files. Hertzog did those because she “wanted others to see it who had the authority to take action.”
And why did she take that step?
That report was specifically put into once case file she “believed would be reviewed by Washington Field Office, FBI headquarters, and the Inspector General.” Hertzog explains why she sent it to the IG:
Q And for the benefit of the jury, to your knowledge, what is generally the inspector general?
A The inspector general looks at matters -- sorry. Are you asking specifically that or just the inspector general?
Q Just generally, what the inspector general does, to your knowledge.
A To my knowledge, the inspector general reviews Department of Justice agencies to ensure that actions are being taken appropriately.
Q Okay. So you wanted the inspector general to see your report on Ms. Galkina, correct?
Q And that's because Mr. Dolan's name was in it, correct?
Q And you thought Mr. Dolan was an important individual?
A I believed that -- yes.
Q And did you believe that further investigative steps should have been taken on Mr. Dolan?
The Testimony of FBI Special Agent Amy Anderson
Agent Anderson, who works in the field of counterintelligence, was part of the Crossfire Hurricane/Mueller Team from April 2017 through January of 2018. Her initial assignment was “to attempt to validate the Steele Dossier,” to “either verify the reporting or determine that it was not accurate.”
Anderson described her role and supervisors with Special Counsel Mueller:
Q What was your initial -- who were you initially working with in that role at the Special Counsel's investigation?
A When I first arrived at the Special Counsel, I worked with Supervisory Intelligence Analyst Brian Auten, as well as quite a few other intelligence analysts, Stephanie LaParre, Iva Drasinover. We had a team that was working the dossier in particular.
Q Did you work with someone by the name of Brittany Hertzog?
A I worked with Brittany a little bit later. She came in not at the very beginning but maybe a month after, a month or two.
Q And in terms of who you reported to at the Special Counsel's office, if you could, just tell us who you reported to.
A Technically, I reported to Supervisory Special Agent Joe Nelson.
Anderson said she was interested in Dolan in particular, given his connection to Galkina and Danchenko:
Q And how did you learn of the connection between Mr. Dolan to Ms. Galkina and the defendant?
A I believe it was also database checks, and Ms. Galkina did tell us that she knew him -- both of them.
Q And learning of Mr. Dolan's connection to the two individuals, what did you do with respect to Mr. Dolan? Did you look into him?
A I wanted to look into him.
She also wanted to speak to Danchenko. But she had to do that through Agent Helson, Danchenko’s handler. Here’s how that process worked:
Q And just briefly explain to the jury how it might work. If you wanted to get information from Mr. Danchenko, how would you go about getting that?
A I would speak to the source handler. So in this case, I would speak to Agent Helson, and we would discuss what might be interesting for us to know. And then he would go and speak to his source. We do that for reasons of source safety, so that not everyone knows who our sources are.
Agent Anderson would eventually fly to Cyprus with Auten to interview Olga Galkina. She said Galkina was mostly forthcoming, except when it came to discussing Charles Dolan:
Q And did you interview with her all days?
A Yes, we did three days.
Q And would you characterize Ms. Galkina as forthcoming with her information about her role with the dossier and any information in it?
A She seemed mostly forthcoming.
Q You said mostly forthcoming. Was there a particular area that she was not forthcoming about?
A Yes. She was hesitant in telling us about Mr. Dolan.
Q All right. Let's start with the beginning of these interviews. When you began interviewing Ms. Galkina, did you specifically ask her about Mr. Dolan or not?
A We did.
Q And if you could, how did she react when you asked her about Mr. Dolan the first time?
A She did not want to speak about him.
But Anderson kept pressing and eventually straight-up asked if Dolan had a connection with the Steele Dossier. At that point, Galkina admitted Dolan’s involvement:
Agent Anderson then prepared a report of the interviews and compiled a report on everything that she and Analyst Hertzog had compiled on Charles Dolan. That report was submitted to her supervisor, Supervisory Special Agent Joe Nelson. Read what happened next:
How convenient that the Mueller Special Counsel ended an inquiry that would have implicated itself.
Agent Anderson didn’t have any personal knowledge as to why the interview request with Dolan was declined. We’re confident Durham asked that very question to SSA Joe Nelson.
The Testimony of FBI Special Agent Ryan James
Agent James’s purpose was to discuss evidence acquired by Special Counsel Durham’s team through the course of their investigation. To briefly summarize, he discussed:
How they obtained telephone/e-mail/Facebook records.
Danchenko’s e-mails, call records, and Facebook postings.
Sergei Millian’s travels and his telephone calls.
The time and dates of the calls between Danchenko and Dolan.
The lack of calls between Danchenko and Millian, and the lack of the 10 to 15 minute call Danchenko purportedly received from someone he thought was Millian.
And that wrapped-up evidence for this case.
The court did, as reported, dismiss Count One of the indictment, which alleged Danchenko gave a false statement when asked whether he had talked to Mr. Dolan about anything that ended up in the Dossier. The problem Durham always faced with Count One was the FBI Agent’s lack of attention to detail; the world “talked” has a very specific definition. The judge recognized as much. No surprise with that dismissal.
As to the Defense?
Danchenko will not be testifying, and his attorneys will not be presenting any evidence. Closing arguments are scheduled for Monday. Expect them to last an hour or less, with jury deliberations to begin thereafter. The jury might give us a verdict on Monday afternoon at the earliest.
But the trial’s biggest takeaways will be what we learned about the FBI and the Mueller Special Counsel.