Durham probe: FBI offered Christopher Steele $1 million to corroborate Trump allegations in dossier
Steele couldn't corroborate allegations in dossier paid for by Hillary Clinton campaign and DNC through law firm
The FBI offered ex-British intelligence agent Christopher Steele $1 million to corroborate salacious allegations made in his dossier against former President Donald Trump and members of his 2016 campaign, but he was unable to do so, an FBI official testified Tuesday.
FBI supervisory counterintelligence analyst Brian Auten was the first witness in the trial of Igor Danchenko, the Russian national who served as the primary sub-source for Steele's anti-Trump dossier and has been charged with five counts of making false statements to the bureau.
Auten testified that he and a group of FBI agents went overseas in early October 2016 to speak with Steele about the dossier. During questioning by Special Counsel John Durham on Tuesday, Auten said that during those meetings the FBI offered Steele $1 million if he could corroborate allegations in the dossier. Auten testified that Steele could not do so.
DURHAM PROBE: TRIAL OF DOSSIER SUB-SOURCE IGOR DANCHENKO BEGINS
Auten also said that the FBI had no corroboration of allegations in the dossier but nevertheless took that information and inserted it into the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to surveil former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
"On October 21, 2016 [the date of the Carter Page FISA application], did you have any information to corroborate that information?" Durham asked.
"No," Auten said, confirming that the FBI began receiving Steele’s reports, later known as the dossier, on Sept. 19, 2016, and submitted its first FISA application on Page on Oct. 21, 2016.
Sept. 19, 2016, was also the day that then-Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann brought white papers to a meeting at FBI headquarters with then-FBI General Counsel James Baker that alleged the Trump Organization was using a secret back channel to communicate with Kremlin-linked Alfa Bank in the weeks leading up to the presidential election.
Sussmann was found not guilty of making a false statement to the FBI in June. Sussmann had allegedly brought the information to Baker on Sept. 19, 2016, and he allegedly claimed that he was not doing work on behalf of any client but rather bringing the data as a citizen concerned with national security.
GRASSLEY, JOHNSON DEMAND ANSWERS ON WHY FBI PAID IGOR DANCHENKO AS A SOURCE DURING TRUMP-RUSSIA PROBE
Meanwhile, Auten also said the FBI reached out to other intelligence agencies to see if they could corroborate information relating to dossier, which was commissioned by opposition research firm Fusion GPS and paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee through law firm Perkins Coie.
Auten repeatedly admitted under questioning from Durham that the FBI never received corroboration of the information in the Steele dossier, but he stressed that it was used in the initial FISA application and in the three subsequent renewals.
The special master currently reviewing records seized by the FBI in its unprecedented raid of former President Trump's Mar-a-Lago home, Judge Raymond Dearie, who at the time sat on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, signed off on the final warrant to surveil Page.
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, in 2019, said that the dossier served as the basis for the FISA warrants against Page. Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee first said that the dossier served as the basis for those warrants and surveillance.
The Justice Department admitted in 2020 that the FISA warrants to surveil Page, when stripped of the FBI's misinformation, did not meet the necessary legal threshold and never should have been issued.
Auten also testified Tuesday that the FBI considered submitting FISA applications against Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos but said the FBI ultimately did not do so.
In March 2016, as an aide to the Trump campaign focusing on foreign policy, Papadopoulos met with Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud in London who told him that the Russians had dirt in the form of emails that could damage Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Papadopoulos then told Australian diplomat Alexander Downer of the new information. Downer reported Papadopoulos’ comments to the FBI.
DURHAM MOVES TO ADMIT EVIDENCE IN DANCHENKO TRIAL THAT MAY DISCREDIT TRUMP RITZ-CARLTON MOSCOW ALLEGATIONS
Papadopoulos was charged in former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation with making a false statement to the FBI. The charging document said the false statement was about the timing of his meeting with Mifsud and about his knowledge of Mifsud’s connections to Russia. The charging document also claimed that he "impeded" the investigation by making his false statement.
But Papadopoulos did not only meet with Mifsud and Downer while overseas. He met with Cambridge professor and longtime FBI informant Stefan Halper and his female associate, who went under the alias Azra Turk. Papadopoulos told Fox News that he saw Turk three times in London: once over drinks, once over dinner and once with Halper.
In 2019, Papadopoulos told Fox News that he always suspected he was being recorded. It is unclear which of these people, if any, may have recorded conversations with Papadopoulos.
FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS SLAMS ORIGINAL RUSSIA PROBE AS 'MASTER CLASS IN DECEPTION'
But Papadopoulos' meetings overseas resurfaced in 2019 as part of Durham’s investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia probe, sources told Fox News at the time.
Meanwhile, Mueller's investigation yielded no evidence of criminal conspiracy or coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian officials during the 2016 presidential election.
Auten’s testimony came during the first day of the second trial out of Durham’s years-long investigation.
DESPITE ACQUITTAL, DURHAM TRIAL OF SUSSMANN ADDED TO EVIDENCE CLINTON CAMPAIGN PLOTTED TO TIE TRUMP TO RUSSIA
The charges against Danchenko stem from certain statements he made to the FBI relating to the sources he used in providing information to an investigative firm in the United Kingdom related to the dossier.
CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APP
Danchenko pleaded not guilty last year to lying about the source of information that he provided to Steele for the dossier, which contained salacious and now-debunked allegations against Trump.