Analyst acquitted at trial for discredited Trump case

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) – A jury on Tuesday acquitted a think tank analyst accused of lying to the FBI about his role in building a discredited case against former President Donald Trump.

The case against Igor Danchenko was the third and possibly final case brought by special counsel John Durham as part of his investigation into how the FBI conducted its own investigation into allegations of collusion between the 2016 Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

The first two cases ended with an acquittal and a guilty plea with a suspended sentence.

Danchenko showed no emotion as the verdict was read. His wife wiped away tears after the clerk read the final “not guilty” to the four counts he faced.

Danchenko did not comment after the hearing, but his attorney, Stuart Sears, spoke briefly to reporters, saying, “We’ve known all along that Mr. Danchenko is innocent. We’re glad now that the American public knows as well.”

The jury reached its verdict after about nine hours of deliberation over two days. One juror, Joel Greene of Vienna, Virginia, said there was no real dispute among the jury and that jurors just wanted to be thorough in reviewing the four counts.

The acquittal marked a significant setback for Durham. Despite Trump supporters’ hopes that the prosecutor would uncover a vast conspiracy within the FBI and other agencies to derail his candidacy, the three-year investigation failed to produce evidence that lived up to those expectations. The only conviction — an FBI lawyer admitted to altering an email related to the surveillance of a former Trump aide — was for conduct uncovered not by Durham but by the Justice Department’s inspector general, and the two cases , which Durham took to trial, ended in a full acquittal.

Durham declined to comment after the hearing, but he said in a statement issued through the Department of Justice: “While we are disappointed with the outcome, we respect the jury’s decision and thank them for their service. I also want to recognize and thank the investigators and the prosecution for their dedicated efforts to seek truth and justice in this matter.”

He made an identical statement after the first trial ended in acquittal.

The Danchenko case was the first of three to delve deep into the origins of the “Steele dossier,” a compendium of allegations that Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign colluded with the Kremlin.

Most famously, it alleged that the Russians might have blackmail material on Trump for his alleged interactions with prostitutes at a Moscow hotel. Trump derided the case as fake news and a political witch hunt when it became public in 2017.

Danchenko was by his own admission responsible for 80% of the raw intelligence in the dossier and half of the accompanying analysis, although trial testimony showed that Danchenko was shocked and horrified by how Steele presented the material and presented it as factual when Danchenko considered it are more rumors and speculations.

Prosecutors said that if Danchenko had been more honest about his sources, the FBI might not have taken the case so credulously. As it turned out, the FBI used material from the dossier to support applications for warrantless surveillance of a Trump campaign official, Carter Page, even though the FBI was never able to confirm a single claim in the dossier.

Prosecutors said Danchenko lied about the identity of his own sources for the material he gave to Steele. The specific charges against Danchenko allege that he essentially fabricated one of his sources when the FBI interviewed him to determine how he derived the material he provided for the dossier.

Danchenko told the FBI that some of the material came when he received an anonymous call from a man he believed to be Sergei Millian, a former president of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce.

Prosecutors said Danchenko’s story made no sense. They said phone records show no evidence of a call and that Danchenko had no reason to believe Millian, a Trump supporter he had never met, would suddenly be willing to give disparaging information about Trump to a stranger .

Danchenko’s lawyers basically maintain that Danchenko never said he spoke to Millian. He only guessed that Millian might have been the caller when the FBI asked him to speculate. And they said he shouldn’t be convicted of a felony for second-guessing the FBI’s invitation.

That said, Danchenko’s lawyers say, he had good reason to believe the caller may well have been Millian. The call came just days after Danchenko had contacted Millian by email after a mutual acquaintance had brokered a connection over email.

And Danchenko’s lawyers say it’s irrelevant that his phone records don’t show a call because Danchenko told the FBI from the start that the call may have taken place over a secure mobile app for which he had no records.

The jury began deliberations Monday afternoon after hearing closing arguments on four counts. On Friday, U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga dismissed a fifth indictmentand said prosecutors had failed to prove it as a matter of law.

Trenga threw out nearly all of the charges before the trial began, citing the legal strength of Danchenko’s defense, but allowed the case to proceed in what he described as “an extremely close call.”

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Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.

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