The Justice Department plans to produce a “large volume” of classified materials this week in the Russiagate case against the main source for British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s anti-Trump dossier.
Special counsel John Durham made the assertion in a filing Tuesday asking a judge for a deadline extension for the production of classified discovery in accordance with the Classified Information Procedures Act, a law that establishes procedures for protecting classified information in criminal cases. Durham pinned the need for a delay on agency personnel being involved in matters related to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
“To date, the government has produced over 60,000 documents in unclassified discovery. A portion of these documents were originally marked ‘classified’ and the government has worked with the appropriate declassification authorities to produce the documents in an unclassified format,” Durham said in the filing submitted to federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia.
“However, recent world events in Ukraine have contributed to delays in the production of classified discovery. The officials preparing and reviewing the documents at the FBI and intelligence agencies are heavily engaged in matters related to Ukraine. Nevertheless, the government will produce a large volume of classified discovery this week and will continue its efforts to produce documents in classified discovery on a rolling basis, and no later than the proposed deadlines set forth below,” Durham added.
The case revolves around Igor Danchenko, a Russian researcher based in the United States, who was charged in November with five counts of making false statements to the FBI in 2017 about the information he provided to Steele for his discredited dossier during the 2016 election. Danchenko, who has pleaded not guilty, signed a waiver in December agreeing to be defended by the same law firm representing members of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign despite conflict of interest concerns raised by Durham.
Steele was working for Oleg Deripaska, an oligarch linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin, before, during, and after his time targeting then-candidate Donald Trump. The former MI6 agent was hired to put his anti-Trump dossier together by an opposition research firm, Fusion GPS, which was simultaneously working for Kremlin-linked lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya of the now-infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting. His research received funding from the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
Danchenko allegedly relied on a network of Russian contacts, undermined key Trump-Russia collusion claims when interviewed by the FBI, and had previously been investigated as a possible threat to national security due to potential Russian intelligence contacts. According to Durham’s false statements charges, he anonymously sourced a claim about Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort to longtime Clinton ally Chuck Dolan, who spent many years, including 2016, doing work for Russian businesses and the Russian government.
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz concluded in December 2019 that Steele’s dossier played a “central and essential” role in the FBI’s effort to obtain wiretap orders against former Trump campaign associate Carter Page. The Justice Department watchdog determined the FBI’s investigation was filled with serious missteps and errors and concealed potentially exculpatory information from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The inspector general also said Danchenko undermined Steele’s unfounded claims of a “well-developed conspiracy” between Trump and Russia.
Still, Steele has continued to defend the discredited dossier, including as recently as this month.
The deadline to produce classified information in the Danchenko case before the start of the Oct. 11 trial is set for March 29. Durham is asking to push that deadline back to May 13. Along with that date, Durham proposed a number of other pretrial deadlines “in consultation with defense counsel.”
Durham made a similar request earlier this month for a CIPA delay, also citing the war in Ukraine, in a separate case against Michael Sussmann, a Democratic cybersecurity lawyer who was indicted last year on allegations that he concealed his clients — Clinton’s 2016 campaign and “Tech Executive-1,” known to be former Neustar executive Rodney Joffe — from FBI general counsel James Baker when he pushed since-debunked claims of a secret backchannel between the Trump Organization and Russia’s Alfa Bank. Sussmann also pleaded not guilty.