The FBI offered British ex-spy Christopher Steele an “incentive” of up to $1 million, if he could prove the allegations in his since-discredited anti-Trump dossier, but the former MI6 agent was unable to back up his claims, according to new court testimony.
The bombshell revelation came Tuesday during special counsel John Durham’s false statements trial against Steele’s main dossier source, Russian-born lawyer Igor Danchenko, who has been charged with repeatedly lying to the bureau about his sourcing for information he provided for the dossier in 2016. Danchenko has pleaded not guilty.
FBI supervisory intelligence analyst Brian Auten, who interviewed Danchenko in January 2017 as part of the bureau’s Crossfire Hurricane team, was also among the FBI employees who interviewed Steele in early October 2016 in Rome as the FBI sought more details on the dossier. Auten revealed the lucrative reward the bureau had dangled.
Durham himself questioned Auten, who was the special counsel team’s first witness in the trial that began with jury selection and opening arguments in a federal courtroom on Tuesday, and he pressed the FBI analyst on whether the FBI offered to provide Steele with any incentives in exchange for information corroborating his dossier’s allegations. Danchenko’s lawyers unsuccessfully objected to the question, overruled by the judge.
Yes, it did,” Auten said from the witness stand. “Mr. Steele was offered anywhere up to a million dollars” for information that “could help prove the allegations.”
But Auten said, “No,” when asked if Steele ever provided evidence backing up his dossier claims. The FBI analyst also testified that Danchenko never provided corroboration for the dossier’s allegations either.
The FBI analyst also testified other U.S. intelligence agencies looked into the dossier’s claims but none could confirm the specific claims in the dossier.
Danchenko defense lawyer Danny Onorato asked Auten on Wednesday if Steele would have gotten a payout if he had just provided them Danchenko’s name, but Auten said, “It would not have worked like that.“
Auten said that if Steele was “able to provide corroborating information” that would “lead to a successful prosecution,” then he could have received up to $1 million, but he added that the massive reward was not being offered simply for the name of Steele’s main source.
The FBI analyst described it as “up to a million dollars” for information “that could corroborate the dossier and lead to a successful prosecution.“ That didn’t happen.
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz said that “both“ FBI counterintelligence chief Bill Priestap and now-fired FBI agent Peter Strzok said an FBI agent who joined Auten in Rome had „provided more information than was necessary to Steele.” Horowitz said his team “determined“ that the case agent „did not have prior authorization to make the [classified] disclosure.”
The co-founders of opposition research firm Fusion GPS, which hired Steele to conduct his anti-Trump research, wrote that the October 2016 meeting „yielded an important bit of intelligence for Fusion“ about Crossfire Hurricane. Clinton campaign lawyer Marc Elias hired Fusion GPS and met with Steele in 2016. Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook has said Elias passed along to the Clinton campaign Trump-Russia details he learned from Fusion GPS.
Auten circulated a February 2017 intelligence memo to top FBI officials about the Danchenko interview, but Horowitz said it “did not describe the inconsistencies” from the FBI interview in January 2017. The memo was sent to since-fired FBI Director James Comey and since-fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe in March 2017.
The FBI soon made Danchenko a paid confidential human source starting in March 2017 through October 2020, Durham’s team has said in court filings.
Auten had also played a role in the bureau’s efforts to obtain flawed surveillance against Trump 2016 campaign associate Carter Page.
Horowitz’s December 2019 report undermined the dossier’s Trump-Russia collusion claims, and the watchdog criticized the DOJ and the FBI for at least 17 “significant errors and omissions” related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants against Page and for the bureau’s reliance on Steele’s dossier. Horowitz said FBI interviews with Danchenko “raised significant questions about the reliability of the Steele election reporting.“
During his questioning of Auten, Durham entered in as evidence an October 2020 LinkedIn message from Danchenko in which the Russian bragged to Anastasia Gnezditskaia, saying, „I collected 80% of the raw intel and half of the analysis for the Chris Steele dossier and went through debriefings with the FBI on the collusion matters.“
Auten had been referred by FBI Director Christopher Wray to the Office of Professional Responsibility for disciplinary action following the release of Horowitz’s 2019 FISA abuse report, though Wray said those proceedings were slowed down to cooperate with Durham’s criminal investigation. The disciplinary referral came shortly before Auten’s assessment tied to President Joe Biden’s son Hunter the next year.
According to Durham, Danchenko anonymously sourced a fabricated claim about Trump 2016 campaign manager Paul Manafort to Charles Dolan, a Clinton ally who spent years, including 2016, doing work for Russian businesses and the Russian government.
Durham’s indictment also said Danchenko lied to the FBI about a phone call he claims he received from Sergei Millian, a Belarus-born U.S. citizen and businessman who the Steele source had said told him about a conspiracy of cooperation between former President Donald Trump and the Russians — which the special counsel said is false.
In 2020, Auten separately “opened an assessment which was used by an FBI headquarters team to improperly discredit negative Hunter Biden information as disinformation and caused investigative activity to cease,“ according to whistleblower allegations made public by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who claimed one of the allegations shows „verified and verifiable derogatory information on Hunter Biden was falsely labeled as disinformation.“
You think it’s bad for the FBI now, just wait until we reach the part, where Durham gets FBI people to affirm on the stand under oath to the jury, that they knew all along, who Danchenko and Steele were working for, before they used their fake stuff, to get a fisa warrant.
You think Durham won’t go there ? ABSOLUTELY, he IS going there: