On Friday of last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee released newly declassified internal FBI documents connected to the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. One of those documents was a fifty-seven (57) page memorandum recounting a three-day-long FBI interview of the “Primary Sub-source” (PSS) used by Christopher Steele to gather information he later passed along to the FBI and various members of the US media.
“Speculation” seems to now have come to rest on a young man named Igor Danchenko as being the PSS. He has a Twitter account under his own name that is now private. He has only 459 followers and describes himself as “Russia/Eurasia political and economic research & analysis, energy, due diligence.” That description is consistent with information the Primary Sub Source (PSS) provided about himself during his interview as best can be determined. The document is heavily redacted, with much information hidden that would likely make his identity much easier to determine.
There are a few issues of relevance to note with regard to the report before getting to its substance, as well as some “administrative” details that are set forth in the text.
First, it has been inaccurately referred to in the press – including by me initially – as an “FBI 302”. It is not. Instead the format of the document is what is called an “Electronic Communication” -- or “EC”.
A “Form 1057 Electronic Communication” is typically used to document information generated as part of a counter-intelligence investigation. It differs from an “FBI 302” in that an EC is meant to be used solely for internal purposes, and is not meant to be a “testimonial” document used in criminal investigations to disclose what an agent might testify to in court.
The FBI 302 document is a written statement of the agent who drafts and signs it – it is not deemed to be a statement of the person interviewed, unless that person reads it after it is complete and then attests to its accuracy via their signature.
An EC, on the other hand, is the document in which the Agent conducting the interview memorializes what was said in the file of the investigation – normally a counter-intelligence investigation – and forwards that information to other agents/supervisors who have a need or reason to know the information.
Also, worth noting is that the EC references an “attachment” -- a “Proffer Agreement” signed by the PSS. This is what is known as “use immunity.” There was an agreement before the interview – as a ground rule for the interview – that nothing the PSS said during the interview would be directly used against him in any future CRIMINAL case. That means no Agent in the room would take the witness stand in a trial and testify to anything the PSS said during the interview. It does not mean the PSS could not be prosecuted, only that his own words could not be used as evidence against him.
Only DOJ attorneys can provide “use immunity”, not FBI, so those documents are generated and signed by government attorneys. Among the attendees at the interview was a DOJ attorney whose name is redacted, but who is listed as “Chief”, National Security Division of DOJ. The head of the National Security Division – Mary McCord at the time – would not be referenced as a “Chief”. Her title – assuming the FBI Agent captured it accurately – would be “Assistant Attorney General”. But the National Security Division has seven “Sections”, and the head of each Section would have the title “Chief”.
The “Office of Intelligence” Section has responsibility for reviewing and approving, in the first instance, all FISA applications. By mid-February, 2017, there had been a concerted effort underway for a long period to verify the information that had been included by Steele in the memos, and which had been included in the original FISA application in October 2016 and the first renewal in January 2017.
By the dates of the multi-day interview of the PSS, the FBI already had four months of information from the Page FISA warrant – including historical information of Page’s past emails, etc., -- and so far as is publicly known at this time, the Page FISA warrant had produced nothing to support the basis uponwhich Crossfire Hurricane was launched. In fact, Peter Strzok’s typewritten notes about a New York Times article in mid-February 2017 confirm this very fact. Strzok wrote:
There is no known intel affiliation and little of any GOR [Government of Russia] affiliation. FBI investigation has shown past contact between Page and SVR [formerly KGB], but not during his association with the Trump Campaign.
That’s it. Four months into the FISA surveillance of Page, and seven months of Crossfire Hurricane altogether -- the FBI had found NO CONTACTS between Page and Russia at any point during which he was connected to the Trump campaign. For FISC purposes, that absence of connection had to be “squared” with the contrary information in the FISA application and renewal which came from the Steele memos. The most likely DOJ attorney in the meeting was the Chief of the Office of Intelligence who had the responsibility to make sure accurate facts were represented to the FISC, and to correct the record with the Court when inaccuracies were uncovered.
At this point, I have been unable to locate what I think is the accurate identification of who that person was in February 2017.
As for the content of the interview with the PSS, the specifics of the allegations set forth in the various Steele memos attributed to the PSS and the PSS’s sub-sources are not all that fascinating. More significant, in my view, is the minimal level of analysis needed to reach the conclusion that the while the information obtained by PSS was maybe “interesting” from a purely objective standpoint, once you took into consideration the sourcing as explained by the PSS, the basis for accepting the information as accurate was so insubstantial and flimsy as to make meaningful reliance completely unacceptable. The fact that the FBI accepted Steele’s information with no verification – and continued to use the information AFTER the lack of verification was confirmed in the three-day interview – raises even more substantial issues of motivation on the part of the people in the FBI and DOJ with the authority to keep pushing this investigation in the face of so many dead-ends.
PSS had no background in gathering intelligence from the Russian government and/or intelligence officials. PSS had no basis to understand if the information coming to him was true, false, plausible, implausible, etc. Everything he gathered was “raw” intelligence in the most basic sense of the word. The PSS was not someone who could “assess” information before he passed it along.
PSS’s “network” of sub-sources inside Russia was mostly just people in his social circle going back to his days growing up in Russia. While substantial portions of his interview are redacted, the basics seem to be that he grew up in Russia through high school, he sought to go abroad to study in college – making it to the UK – and then looked for opportunities to do further post-graduate study in the US.
It was while he was in the UK that he first met Steele. He learned about Orbis when it was a new company, and he suggested to a friend that the friend should apply to Orbis for a job as an analyst. Eventually the PSS came to Steele’s attention because of his fluency in Russian, and Steele sought to engage the PSS to do work for Orbis. The PSS did work mostly involving “research” and “due diligence” on business matters for clients of Steele’s company who needed to get information in Russia about Russian companies or Russian business opportunities. The PSS traveled back and forth to Russia to do this work on Orbis’ behalf, with Orbis paying all the expenses. The nature of his involvement on Orbis’ behalf was hidden by the fact that there was an arrangement with another company to “employ” the PSS on their books, with Orbis funding that employment cost to that company with a “contract” with the company. But PSS was working exclusively for Orbis on taskings given to him by Steele for the benefit of Orbis clients.
It wasn’t until the summer of 2016 that Steele tasked the PSS with trying to find information about Trump as part of work involving the 2016 US Presidential election. Steele gave him 4-5 names – he remembered Manafort, Page, and Cohen – but very little additional information. His tasking was simply to see if his sub-sources inside Russia had any information to offer.
Not a single one of the sub-sources he identified was a Russian government official or had connections to Russian intelligence in a way that would suggest or imply the accuracy of the claim that there was a well-established plot between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign for any purpose in connection with the 2016 election. The sub-sources just didn’t know anyone with that level of information – as was clear from the PSS’s descriptions of who they were, what they did, and the kind of information they relayed to him.
The PSS told the FBI he was made uncomfortable by some of the taskings given to him by Steele. They involved questions or subjects he was nervous asking about. He said that on some subjects when Steele asked him to follow up and see if he could find out more, he didn’t do so simply because he was afraid.
Further, he said that he knew that Steele would ask him what he had learned about specific subjects he’d been asked to pursue, and sometimes he had little or nothing to offer. But he was being paid a salary on a monthly basis by Steele’s firm, and felt like he needed to be productive for the money he was being paid.
He didn’t take notes or keep electronic records of what he was doing, as Steele told him that would be a security risk. His reporting to Steele was mostly oral. They sometimes used encrypted apps to communicate.
The PSS provided no first-hand information. Everything he passed on to Steele came from his sub-sources. When asked if Steele ever asked about his sub-sources the PSS said “No.” Steele was satisfied with the PSS being intermediary, and Steele having no interaction with the sub-sources in Russia.
When he was asked to find information about Manafort, and any connections to Ukraine, the PSS didn’t know who Manafort was. When he learned more about Manafort, he knew his sub-sources would not be useful because they were too far removed from any source of information about Manafort and Ukraine. He ended up finding some “open source” information on Manafort which he passed on to Steele just to show he was being productive on the “election” research. Steele began to focus more and more on the election work in July and August 2016.
Again, these sub-sources were simply social friends of the PSS. The most significant of which – for purposes of the Steele memos – was a female he had known since childhood. She apparently had some form of employment that would bring her into some contact with government officials, but she was not a Russian government official herself.
He admitted in the interview he had no idea who her sources were. But she was the source for information in Steele’s memos on the meeting by Carter Page with senior Russian officials in July 2016, the supposed trip by Michael Cohen and others to Prague where they met with a number of Russians, and the “kompromat” stories about Trump and prostitutes in the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Moscow.
All from one sub-source, a female he had known since middle school in Russia, who was not employed by the Russian government, and about whom he knew nothing in terms of the sources from which she claimed to get her information.
This is “head-shaking” nonsense. The idea that any government investigation – much less the most sensitive investigation in the history of the FBI directed at a sitting President – would be based on this kind of rumor and innuendo untethered to any actual facts, is mind-boggling.
That senior DOJ and FBI officials tasked with undertaking the most important investigations on behalf of the US government would not only pursue an investigation based on such information, but make statements under oath to the FISC that these allegations are true and accurate, is “Alice-in-Wonderland” territory.
What this shows are that some in the FBI and Obama DOJ were so committed to finding something – ANYTHING – on Donald Trump and the Russians that their single-minded pursuit would veer off into this kind of abuse of their authorities.
The fact that this EC existed was revealed in the IG Report on Four FISAs, in which IG Horowitz exposed that the FBI had interviewed Steele’s PSS, and that the PSS had undermined many of the claims attributed to the PSS by Steele’s memos. That was seven months ago. Actually, reading the document now gives the IG revelation new context.
Remember that the IG could not compel testimony from anyone outside DOJ. That means anyone who has departed DOJ or anything who worked for a different government agency not part of DOJ.
The Durham investigation is not hampered by similar limitations. This EC – in my opinion – is the fulcrum upon which potential criminal exposure might turn. Remember that IG Horowitz said his office was never able to obtain satisfactory explanations for many of the problems they uncovered having to do with the Page FISA warrant.
Continuing forward with the investigation in the face of the revelations contained in this EC is an institutional problem for the FBI. Those without satisfactory explanations for having done so, may soon face new problems of their own.
Shipwreckedcrew has 22 years as federal prosecutor; six years in private practice. Follow on Twitter @shipwreckedcrew