Special counsel John Durham’s latest indictments impugn the source of the now-debunked Steele dossier’s most salacious accusations, which quickly elevated Mr. Durham from zero to hero in the eyes of some of his harshest critics.
His investigation into suspected wrongdoing by FBI officials in launching the Trump-Russian collusion investigation was viewed as a laughingstock by former President Donald Trump and his supporters. They mocked the investigation for taking more than two years to produce only one guilty plea.
But the investigation roared to life this fall as Mr. Durham secured indictments against two defendants with ties to the Democratic Party.
One of those defendants, Igor Danchenko, is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday at a federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia. He is expected to plead not guilty to five counts of lying to the FBI about how he obtained information that ended up in British former spy Christopher Steele’s dossier on Mr. Trump.
Michael Sussmann, a lawyer who worked for Democrats and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, was indicted in September. He pleaded not guilty to charges that he lied to the FBI in a 2016 meeting in which he shared purported links between the Trump organization and a Russian bank. The flurry of activity was enough to change Mr. Trump’s mind about the investigation.
Mr. Trump once ridiculed Mr. Durham’s lack of public activity by questioning whether the special counsel was a “living, breathing human being.”
Mr. Trump on Tuesday complimented the special counsel.
“Hats off, because it’s coming out and it’s coming out a level — Durham has come out with things that are absolutely amazing,” Mr. Trump said on Fox News. “We all sort of knew that happened, and now we have the facts, and I think they’re only going to get deeper and deeper — and it all leads back to the Democrats, Hillary and the dirty lawyers.”
Mr. Trump also predicted the information that Mr. Durham has uncovered will be “just the early building blocks.”
Others still aren’t confident in Mr. Durham.
Tom Fitton, the president of the conservative activist group Judicial Watch and a frequent Durham critic, said there is more malfeasance for the special counsel to reveal.
“If this is the beginning, it’s excellent. If it’s the end, it’s awful,” he told The Washington Times. “In my view, there are other individuals who need to be held accountable in the FBI, Justice Department and White House.
“They all knew the dossier was a lie, and they proceeded to use it anyway to attack and spy on Trump and other innocent Americans.”
Conservatives hoped for an investigation that paralleled special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into suspected ties between Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign and Moscow, which interfered in the 2016 election to benefit Mr. Trump.
Over a similar length of time as the Durham probe, Mr. Mueller filed criminal charges against 34 individuals, including seven Trump associates. His work resulted in 12 others being referred for prosecution but did not find evidence of a criminal conspiracy or coordination between Mr. Trump and the Kremlin.
Curt Levey, president of the right-leaning Committee for Justice, said conservatives should temper their expectations for the Durham probe. The goal, he said, is not to rack up prosecutions but to accurately document how now-debunked rumors ended up spurring an FBI probe in the first place.
“The mainstream media is brushing over this, but historians can be more objective over time, and history will remember how it happened. There was no collusion between Trump and Russia, but there was collusion between the FBI and Hillary Clinton,” Mr. Levey said.
Mr. Durham’s latest indictments have rattled Washington. Taken together, the court documents form a narrative that the FBI was coopted by the National Democratic Committee and Clinton campaign and prodded into pursuing a bogus investigation of the Trump campaign.
The September indictment of Mr. Sussmann says he was representing the Clinton campaign when he told the FBI that he had purported evidence tying the Trump campaign to Russia’s Alfa Bank.
Had Mr. Sussmann disclosed that he was working for the Clinton campaign, the FBI would have been more skeptical of his claims, Mr. Durham said.
Ultimately, the FBI concluded that there was nothing to the story. Mr. Mueller didn’t even mention the Alfa Bank accusations in his massive two-volume report on the Russia collusion probe.
Like Mr. Sussmann, Mr. Danchenko stands accused of obscuring his relationship with Democrats when speaking to the FBI about the Steele dossier.
Mr. Danchenko is charged with lying to the FBI about his relationship with prominent Democratic-allied public relations executive Charles Dolan.
The indictment claims Mr. Dolan, who was a state chair for Bill Clinton’s 1992 and 1996 presidential campaigns and “actively campaigned” for Mrs. Clinton in 2016, supplied Mr. Danchenko with rumors about Mr. Trump that ended up in the Steele dossier.
Mr. Steele was paid by the DNC and Clinton campaign to compile the dossier on Mr. Trump.
The Dolan-Danchenko connection undercuts claims that the dossier was sourced from high-level Kremlin intelligence officials and exposes it as a Democratic campaign tool.
While Mr. Durham’s indictments portray the FBI as being misled by the defendants, Mr. Fitton said, the bureau deserves closer scrutiny.
“The record demonstrates that the FBI knew almost immediately that the investigation was opened improperly, the dossier was an unreliable political document, and it never stopped them,” he said. “They doubled down and continued to misuse it to justify spying on the new president and launch a special counsel operation.”