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Top Source for Steele Dossier Threatening to Sue Trump, Graham, Nunes for Referring to Him as Russian Spy

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Top Source for Steele Dossier Threatening to Sue Trump, Graham, Nunes for Referring to Him as Russian Spy

2020-10-21 18:03:03

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Lindsey Graham (Image source: Michael Vadon via Wikimedia Commons)

The attempt by Donald Trump and his allies to sow as much distrust as they can in the Russia investigation is coming back on them. They outed a source and referred to him as a "Russian spy," leading to him filing a lawsuit against Trump, Senate Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.

One source of information that has been held up to much scrutiny is the so-called Steele dossier. This is a collection of intelligence reports Christopher Steele put together during the last presidential campaign. It was published for the first time just days before Trump was inaugurated. It reportedly includes some lurid and illegal stories about him.

Igor Danchenko was the primary source for the dossier. He contended through his attorney that the three Republicans put his life in danger and damaged his reputation by calling him out as a Russian spy when they have no evidence to support this.

"As you know, Mr. Danchenko is not, nor has he ever been, an asset of the Russian Federation," said attorney Mark Schamel in cease-and-desist letters to Graham, Nunes, and White House counsel Pat Cipollone.

"Your reckless conduct is not only causing substantial harm to Mr. Danchenko's professional and personal reputation; it is endangering his life, as well as the lives of his colleagues, friends, and family."

This is Danchenko's first public attempt to counter the claims about his background and cooperation with Steele. A Russian national, he is affiliated with the Brookings Institution.

It's not expected that Danchenko's legal push will have much success, as lawmakers have broad protection from defamation under the Speech and Debate clause of the Constitution. Claims against members of Congress are often dismissed, with the belief that they are protected from legal claims in the course of their work.

Along with a report from the Justice Department's inspector general, Trump and Republicans have called out the FBI for using the Dossier to obtain a surveillance warrant against Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser. The Democratic Party hired a research firm, Fusion GPS, to investigate Trump's foreign business ties. Fusion GPS hired Steele to investigate his ties to Russia.

Recently, Graham released the transcript of an interview between Danchenko and the FBI from January 2017 after Attorney General William Barr declassified the document. The senator revealed at that time that some of the most shocking allegations in the dossier were based only on hearsay and rumor.

Danchenko was not identified by Graham upon the release of the redacted summary of the interview. However, enough identifying information was included in the unredacted portion of the document that Danchenko was quickly revealed as the unnamed source for Steele.

Graham released another declassified document last month. It included a synopsis of a closed counterintelligence investigation the FBI had conducted of Danchenko from 2009 to 2011. Included in the investigation was whether he had tried to get classified information for Russia, but it was completed without determining this.

However, Trump's allies have used the closed FBI investigation to refer to Danchenko as a "spy" and have accused Democrats and the FBI of weaponizing Russian disinformation by using the dossier to obtain the surveillance warrant on Page.

"They hired a foreign agent [Steele] on the payroll of the Democratic Party who hired a Russian spy to create a document that was absolutely full of misinformation and complete lies," said Graham last month during a hearing with former FBI director James Comey.

Graham added later in the same hearing, "We know that his primary subsource was Igor, the Russian spy."

Nunes joined in as well, describing Danchenko earlier this month during a Fox News appearance as "the Democrats' Russian spy that they hired." 

Schamel claimed that both Nunes and Graham had access to classified information that would have made them privy to "substantial evidence that directly contradicts your public statements about Mr. Danchenko."

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