The primary source for the infamous Steele dossier fabricated information out of whole cloth, a group of Russian nationals is alleging. The allegations emerged in court filings released this week in a dossier-related lawsuit.
The Russians say U.S.-based analyst Igor Danchenko falsely identified them as sources for information he passed to former British spy Christopher Steele. Danchenko served as a contractor for Steele during the ex-spy's investigation of the Trump campaign. The FBI used the Steele dossier to obtain surveillance warrants against former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
The Russians' statements further call into question the credibility of the dossier, which has been largely disproven in the four years since it was released. The Justice Department inspector general identified numerous issues with the dossier in a December 2019 report.
The court filings are part of a lawsuit brought by the owners of the Russian Alfa-Bank, who are accused in the dossier of having illicit ties to the Kremlin. Lawyers for the bankers said the statements "call into question the veracity and reliability" of the dossier and underscore the importance of obtaining evidence from Danchenko.
Danchenko, a former analyst at the Brookings Institution, described his supposed source network to the FBI during meetings in January 2017. He said that he collected rumor and gossip from his associates and passed the information along to Steele, who operates a private intelligence firm in London. Danchenko told FBI agents that Steele appeared to have embellished some of the information in the dossier.
Two of Danchenko's alleged sources, Ivan Vorontsov and Sergey Abyshev, said in their statements that they met together with Danchenko in Moscow on June 15, 2016, days before Danchenko submitted the first of 17 memos to Steele that make up the dossier.
In the dossier, Steele alleged that the Russian government was involved in a "well-developed conspiracy of cooperation" with the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 election. The dossier also alleged that the Kremlin was blackmailing Donald Trump with a salacious tape of him with prostitutes in Moscow in 2013. Steele's allegations have faltered in the four-plus years since the dossier was published. Former special counsel Robert Mueller found no evidence to support a Trump-Russia conspiracy.
Vorontsov, who runs a Russian finance website, and Abyshev, a former deputy director at the Russian energy ministry, said they did not discuss anything with Danchenko that was later attributed to them in the dossier.
Abyshev said that Danchenko, whom he has known since 2002, "appeared very intoxicated" during their Moscow meeting. He also said he believes Danchenko identified him as a source to Steele in order to lend credibility to his information.
Abyshev said that Danchenko asked him about an Alfa-Bank owner's relationship with Vladimir Putin. Abyshev said he told Danchenko that the question was "inappropriate." The owners of Alfa-Bank are suing Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm that hired Steele. The firm hired Steele on behalf of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. The Washington Free Beacon hired Fusion GPS for research on Trump during the 2016 Republican primary. The contract ended before Fusion GPS hired Steele.
Vorontsov made another potentially explosive claim in his statement. He said that the FBI interviewed him about Danchenko in June 2016, while he was attending an event at the U.S. ambassador's residence in Moscow.
The FBI had opened a counterintelligence investigation into Danchenko in 2009, based on suspicions that he was working as a Russian spy. Danchenko has denied that he worked for the Kremlin. The bureau declined to comment on Vorontsov's claim.
Vorontsov said that Danchenko later apologized to him for dragging him into the dossier saga. He also said that he views the dossier as "false and inherently improbable."
Four other alleged sources for the dossier submitted affidavits denying that they provided information to Danchenko about Alfa-Bank.
Lyudmila Podobedova, a Russian journalist who covers the energy industry, asserted that Danchenko falsely identified her as a source for the dossier in order to "add credibility to his work." Olga Galkina, a public relations specialist who has known Danchenko since childhood, said in her statement that she did not provide information to him about Alfa-Bank. Danchenko identified Galkina to the FBI as the source for some of the dossier's most salacious allegations.
According to Danchenko, Galkina was the source for the claim that former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen visited Prague in August 2016 to meet with Kremlin insiders to discuss paying off hackers. The special counsel's office determined that the allegation was false and that Cohen never visited Prague.
Danchenko did not respond to multiple requests for comment.