Democratic operative Charles Dolan Jr. testified Thursday that he lied to Igor Danchenko in 2016 when he claimed to have information from a GOP insider about why Paul Manafort resigned from the Trump campaign.
The false claim actually had been pulled from a cable news talking head, Mr. Dolan said at the federal trial of Mr. Danchenko, a Russian analyst who was the primary subsource for the so-called Steele dossier.
The accusation ultimately found its way into that salacious unverified dossier of anti-Trump accusations compiled by British ex-spy Christopher Steele and attributed to “an American political figure associated with Donald Trump.”
Special counsel John Durham has charged Mr. Danchenko with five counts of making false statements to the FBI about how he compiled information that was used in the report.
While on the witness stand, Mr. Dolan read from an Aug. 19, 2016, email in which Mr. Danchenko asked for “thought, rumor or allegation” about Mr. Manafort’s resignation as Trump campaign chairman.
Mr. Dolan responded by saying that he would “dig around” about the resignation and get back to him.
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The next day, Mr. Dolan emailed Mr. Danchenko, writing, “I had drinks with a GOP friend who knows the players.”
Mr. Dolan’s email continues, saying that this GOP insider told him Corey Lewandowski, who served as Mr. Trump’s campaign manager in the early stages of the campaign, “hates Manafort” and “is doing [a] dance” about Mr. Manafort’s resignation.
Mr. Dolan testified that he never spoke with a Republican source and admitted that the information came from an analyst speaking on a cable news talk show.
“I thought I’d embellish a bit,” Mr. Dolan said on the witness stand, adding that Mr. Danchenko had landed him some business, so he wanted to “throw him a bone.”
“You actually didn’t have any inside information, did you?” asked prosecutor Michael Keilty.
“No,” Mr. Dolan responded.
Mr. Danchenko reworded Mr. Dolan’s email and sent it along for inclusion in the Steele dossier.
“An American political figure associated with Donald Trump and his campaign outlined the reasons behind Manafort’s recent demise,” said a section of the dossier, which was read in court. “S/he said it was true that the Ukraine corruption revelations had played a part in this but also, several senior players close to Trump had wanted Manafort out, primarily to loosen his control on strategy and policy formulation.”
“Of particular importance in this regard was Manafort’s predecessor as campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who hated Manafort personally and remained close to Trump with whom he discussed the presidential campaign on a regular basis,” the dossier added.
Mr. Dolan said that he didn’t recognize information he passed along to Mr. Danchenko was used in the Steele dossier until Mr. Durham’s team showed him the dossier side-by-side with his email.
“It looked similar,” Mr. Dolan testified Thursday.
Kevin Helson, an FBI special agent who was Mr. Danchenko’s handler while he was a confidential human source for the bureau, testified that he was struck by the similarities between the Dolan email and what ended up in the Steele dossier.
“It would imply that Chuck Dolan was the source of that information,” he said, adding that he believed Mr. Danchenko provided 80% of the raw intelligence and half of the analysis in the dossier.
On cross-examination, Mr. Helson said Mr. Danchenko didn’t know the information would show up in the Steele dossier until it was published by BuzzFeed in January 2017. Mr. Helson said that Mr. Danchenko was angry that the material was used in the dossier.
The Steele dossier was paid for by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. FBI agents used the dossier to help obtain a warrant to wiretap Trump campaign aide Carter Page, who was suspected of working with Russia.
Mr. Page was never charged with a crime, and no evidence emerged to support claims against him. The dossier was referenced three times when the FBI sought to reauthorize the surveillance warrant.
In 2020, the Justice Department acknowledged that those warrant applications did not meet their necessary legal standards.