After three and a half years of investigating, Special Counsel John Durham notched another defeat on Tuesday.
An Alexandra, Virginia federal jury acquitted researcher Igor Danchenko on four counts, after deliberating for one day. U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga for the Eastern District of Virginia had thrown out one of five counts on which the trial was held last week.
It’s an ignominious end for what’s likely to be the last prosecution launched by Durham, appointed by Attorney General Bill Barr in May 2019 to investigate the origins of the Trump-Russia probe.
Durham’s investigation began as Trump and those around him called for the investigators to be investigated, suggesting that retribution was needed for the FBI investigation that became the Mueller probe.
Since then, Durham has brought charges against two others: attorney Michael Sussmann, who earlier this year was also acquitted, and FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith, who was sentenced to probation after admitting to changing the content of an email.
“While we are disappointed in the outcome, we respect the jury’s decision and thank them for their service,” Durham said in a statement about the Danchenko verdict.
Durham accused Danchenko of lying to the FBI about supposedly fabricating an anonymous phone call from which he received information that wound its way into the Steele dossier.
It was a bizarre basis for a charge, one that matched the Sussmann allegations in its mixture of tenuousness and lack of substance.
Both charges, however, did allow Durham to attempt to tell a story which matched the version of events that Trump has propagated for years: that the entire Trump-Russia investigation was a political witch hunt in which the FBI had strayed far out of the bounds of normalcy.
Reports from the courthouse suggest that Durham went so far as to damage his own case against Danchenko to try to back this point up at trial.
In one exchange, Durham argued with a witness that he had called: FBI intelligence analyst Brian Auten.
Durham suggested to Auten that he had been naive to include information from Danchenko in applications for a FISA warrant.
“You took information from that and put it in an affidavit and didn’t know where it came from?” Durham asked Auten.
The FBI analyst replied that he was not responsible for drafting the application.
It’s not clear what Durham’s next move will be.
This is reportedly the last case that he planned on bringing; a report documenting his findings is also reportedly in the works.
Durham spent three and a half years — two more than Robert Mueller — on the investigation. It’s not clear when the report will be released.