A U.S.-based Russian analyst who gathered information for the so-called Steele Dossier alleging ties between Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and Russia pleaded innocent to charges of lying to FBI agents about the origins of his research.
Igor Danchenko’s plea on November 10 came nearly a week after his indictment by a U.S. grand jury. He was released on a $100,000 bond; earlier he had been ordered to turn over his passport.
The court set a tentative trial date of April 2022.
The indictment was the third secured by Special Counsel John Durham, who has been probing the origins of the FBI investigation that looked at whether Trump’s campaign was collaborating with Russia in 2016.
Earlier, Danchenko's lawyer, Mark Schamel, said that the 39-page indictment “presents a false narrative designed to humiliate and slander a renowned expert in business intelligence.”
“Mr. Danchenko is a respected research analyst who uncovered and exposed Vladimir Putin’s plagiarized PhD thesis and whose work has been recognized all over the world for its intellectual rigor and accuracy,” Schamel said in a statement. “For the past five years, those with an agenda have sought to expose Mr. Danchenko’s identity and tarnish his reputation.... We will expose how Mr. Danchenko has been unfairly maligned by these false allegations."
Danchenko, who lives outside of Washington, D.C., was the primary researcher for Christopher Steele, a former British spy who prepared the dossier for a U.S. private investigation firm called Fusion GPS.
Fusion GPS had been researching Trump, initially for a Republican donor, but then was hired by a law firm that represented the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign. That firm hired Fusion GPS, which in turn brought in Steele.
Steele compiled a series of memos that later were called the Steele Dossier. The file is mostly filled with rumors, third-hand sourcing, and unproven assertions that Trump himself was compromised and his campaign conspired with Russian intelligence to undermine Clinton’s presidential bid.
Some of the research Danchenko did for Steele was provided to the FBI and used to obtain surveillance warrants targeting a former Trump campaign aide who worked in Russia. Some of the information Danchenko obtained allegedly came from a Democratic donor named Charles Dolan who had worked as a public relations consultant in Russia for years.
When it was published in full in January 2017, the dossier roiled U.S. politics, and sent reporters around the world looking to verify or disprove it.
The FBI investigated the dossier’s claims but was unable to confirm or corroborate most of its allegations, according to the indictment.
Danchenko has previously suggested that the information he offered to Steele was not meant to be portrayed as indisputable fact, and that he was not responsible for how Steele made the information public.
“Even raw intelligence from credible sources, I take it with a grain of salt,” Danchenko told The New York Times last year. “Who knows, what if it’s not particularly accurate? Is it just a rumor or is there more to it?”
Danchenko previously worked for a Washington think tank called the Brookings Institution, where he wrote a report showing that Russian President Vladimir Putin had plagiarized his dissertation.
An investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller took over the broader FBI investigation, and ultimately found that Russia meddled in the 2016 election, but did not find sufficient evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.