- The Washington Times - Monday, December 20, 2021

The law firm representing the main source for Christopher Steele’s dossier on former President Donald Trump may have a conflict of interest because one of its lawyers worked for Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Special counsel John Durham, who is probing the FBI’s actions in launching the Trump-Russia collusion investigation, raised the potential conflict of interest in a court filing over the weekend.

The snag in the proceedings further underscores the intertwined worlds of politics and law in Washington, where Mr. Steele’s unsubstantiated and later debunked opposition research against Mr. Trump became the impetus for an FBI probe.

Igor Danchenko, a Russian-born researcher who pleaded not guilty to five counts of making false statements to the FBI about the information he provided Mr. Steele, has retained defense lawyers Danny Onorato and Stuart Sears from the firm Schertler & Onorato.

Another attorney at the firm has deep ties with Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, according to Mr. Durham’s court filing. That could create a potential conflict of interest, Mr. Durham said, asking a federal judge to look into the matter.

“The interests of the Clinton campaign and the defendant might diverge,” Mr. Durham wrote in a filing with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. “For example, the Clinton campaign and the defendant each might have an incentive to shift blame and/or responsibility to the other party for any alleged false information that was contained with the [Steele dossier] and/or provided to the FBI.”

While Mr. Durham did not identify the attorney involved in the Clinton campaign, Justice Department lawyers named him at a court hearing last week.

The attorney, Robert Trout, who is not involved in the Danchenko case, helped represent the Clinton campaign. He also represented former Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta during his December 2017 testimony before the House Intelligence Committee.

In a second appearance before the same committee in 2017, Mr. Podesta was represented by Marc Elias, who served as the Clinton campaign’s top attorney. Mr. Elias, while working for the Clinton campaign, hired Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that taped Mr. Steele to compile the dossier.

A spokesperson for Schertler & Onorato did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Durham said it’s possible the conflict could be waived by the court but he wanted the matter addressed by the court.

Mr. Danchenko earlier this month replaced his former defense attorney, Mark Schamel. Mr. Schamel is also the lawyer for a computer scientist who was identified as “Researcher-1” in Mr. Durham’s indictment of Micheal Sussmann, a lawyer with ties to the Democratic Party.

Mr. Sussmann was indicted in a separate case and stands accused of lying to the FBI’s general counsel in 2016. He allegedly told the FBI he was not representing a specific client when he met to push now-debunked claims about ties between the Trump Organization and Russia’s Alfa Bank.

Mr. Sussmann pleaded not guilty.

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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