By Marshall Cohen, Katelyn Polantz and Evan Perez, CNN
Special counsel John Durham’s office is in the final stages of its closely watched investigation into potential criminal misconduct during the Trump-Russia probe, and his team is finishing up its written report, according to multiple people briefed on the matter.
Top Durham prosecutor Andrew DeFilippis — who led the team’s case against a Hillary Clinton campaign lawyer earlier this year, which ended in a swift acquittal — was supposed to handle another trial next month, but instead is leaving the Justice Department for a job at a private law firm, according to sources. DeFilippis in recent months was at one point working on writing a report on Durham’s findings, which will be submitted to Attorney General Merrick Garland.
The scheduled upcoming trial, against a Russian expat who was a primary source of information for the infamous Trump-Russia dossier, is set to begin next month in Alexandria, Virginia. But four weeks before trial, Durham’s case suffered a significant blow, with prosecutors acknowledging in recent court filings that they can’t convince a critical witness to return to the US to testify.
The October trial against the dossier source, Igor Danchenko, is set to be the third and likely final prosecution of Durham’s sprawling investigation, which began in early 2019 and has since gone after Democratic opposition research efforts against Trump’s 2016 campaign. (Danchenko pleaded not guilty.)
The federal grand jury Durham had used for his investigation has also expired, and there are no plans to revive that type of investigative work, The New York Times reported on Wednesday.
Durham hasn’t charged anyone since indicting Danchenko in November. After the Danchenko trial, Durham’s office is likely to shut down, with the report then ready to hand into the Justice Department before the end of the year, the sources said.
It’ll be up to top Justice Department officials to decide how much to make public, if anything. Garland has previously said he wants to release “as much as possible.”
The Justice Department declined to comment for this story. DeFilippis and his new law firm didn’t respond to requests for comment. Some defense attorneys for those who faced scrutiny from the special counsel’s office also declined to comment, especially given that Durham’s report is not yet public.
Probe falling short of expectations
In all, Durham has prosecuted just three people: Danchenko, the acquitted Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussmann, and a low-level FBI lawyer named Kevin Clinesmith, who avoided jail by pleading guilty in 2020 to doctoring an email in 2017 that his agency used to support the surveillance of a former Trump campaign aide.
There are reports that Durham’s team also looked into a wide range of other matters that former President Donald Trump has publicly complained about — without bringing any charges. This includes potential wrongdoing by the CIA and other parts of the US intelligence community, on topics related to Russia’s pro-Trump interference in the 2016 election.
While special counsel Robert Mueller wrapped up his probe into Russian election-meddling in early 2019, then-Attorney General William Barr tapped Durham to review the FBI’s Russia probe itself. Durham’s inquiry has now gone on longer than the underlying Trump-Russia investigation.
Barr upgraded Durham to “special counsel” status shortly before the 2020 election, making it politically harder for the incoming Biden-run Justice Department to shut down Durham’s team if they wanted to. Garland has let Durham continue, despite complaints gripes from liberal commentators and Durham’s targets that he is twisting the law in furtherance of a Trump-friendly political agenda.
Since Durham became special counsel, his office has not charged any government officials with any crime. And even if Durham had wanted to attempt new cases, the five-year time limit for federal investigators to bring most criminal charges appears to have elapsed, especially related to the lead-up to the surveillance of the former Trump aide, Carter Page.
Durham’s team has spent nearly $4.5 million since October 2020, according to financial data released by the Justice Department. The cost of Durham’s first year and half of work, when he was a US attorney and not a special counsel, has not been disclosed.
These results of Durham’s three-year inquiry are far below the sky-high expectations set publicly by Trump. He has treated the long-running probe as a political weapon, by regularly stoking excitement in the right-wing ecosystem that Durham will deliver Watergate-caliber indictments against Clinton loyalists, senior Obama administration officials and the “deep state.”
Danchenko case takes a hit as witness refuses to testify
The apparently final court showdown for Durham’s team is its trial against Danchenko. He has pleaded not guilty to five counts of lying to the FBI about the Trump-Russia dossier, also known as the Steele dossier, named after the retired British spy who authored it, Christopher Steele.
Danchenko contributed heavily to the now-discredited Steele dossier, which contained gossip, rumors and salacious claims about Trump’s supposed cooperation with the Russian government. Steele has said the dossier was “raw intelligence” that needed additional vetting, though many of the key claims have fallen apart in the five years since it burst into public view.
The indictment accuses Danchenko of lying to the FBI about his contacts with Sergei Millian, an enigmatic Belarusian-American businessman who once did some real estate work with the Trump Organization, stayed in touch with Trump associates during the 2016 campaign, and was accused by a bipartisan Senate panel of possibly being a Russian spy. (He denies that charge.)
Any successful prosecution of Danchenko would be boosted by testimony from Millian, who has publicly stated that he never met with or communicated with Danchenko. However, Durham’s team said in recent court filings that Millian is currently overseas and isn’t willing to cooperate because he “does not trust the FBI and fears being arrested if he returns to the United States.”
“Despite its best efforts, the Government’s attempts to secure Millian’s voluntary testimony have been unsuccessful,” prosecutors acknowledged in a recent filing, adding that they couldn’t even serve a trial subpoena to Millian’s lawyer because he said he “does not know Millian’s address.”
Danchenko’s alleged lies occurred during a series of voluntarily interviews he gave to the FBI throughout 2017, while federal investigators were racing to corroborate details from the dossier.
According to the indictment, Danchenko falsely told the FBI that he believed he spoke on the phone with Millian in July 2016, and that Millian told him that the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russian government to win the 2016 election. Danchenko later passed along similar allegations to Steele, who put those claims in the dossier, which he later provided to the FBI.
Durham said in a recent court filing that Danchenko “fabricated these facts regarding Millian.”
Lawyers for Danchenko did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment. Danchenko maintains that he was always honest with the FBI and was trying to help the US government with its inquiry into Russian election meddling. He has asked District Judge Anthony Trenga to throw out the case, arguing that the evidence is too weak to move forward. The judge has not yet ruled on that request.
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