(WASHINGTON) — The long-running special investigation into how the government probed candidate Donald Trump’s ties to Russia brought a new indictment last week and in the process cast fresh doubt on earlier claims that a little-known Belarussian-born businessman named Sergei Millian had been an unwitting source for the “dossier” prepared by former British spy Christopher Steele.
The indictment from special counsel John Durham alleged that Igor Danchenko, the key “collector” hired by Steele to gather information for the dossier, had lied to the FBI when he suggested that he had spoken with Millian, who at the time served as president of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce, and had obtained information from Millian that then made its way into the dossier.
Danchenko, a Russian national living in the U.S., was arrested last week on charges that he “willfully and knowingly” made a number of false statements during interviews with the FBI, including the alleged lies about Millian, in describing how he obtained information that he later provided to Steele for inclusion in the dossier.
“Danchenko stated falsely [to the FBI] that, in or about late July 2016, he received an anonymous phone call from an individual who Danchenko believed to be … then president of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce” and obtained information about Trump from that man, the indictment says, referring to Millian but not naming him. “Danchenko never received such a phone call or such information from any person he believed to be [Millian] … rather, Danchenko fabricated these facts regarding [Millian].” The indictment alleges that Danchenko “never spoke to” Millian at all.
An indictment in the investigation into how officials probed Donald Trump’s ties to Russia has raised new questions about sourcing of the Steele dossier.
It is illegal to lie to a federal agent. Danchenko’s attorney said in court his client intends to plead not guilty, releasing a statement accusing the special counsel of presenting “a false narrative designed to humiliate and slander a renowned expert in business intelligence for political gain.”
The arrest of Danchenko appeared to be an escalation of the wide-ranging probe by Durham, who was appointed by Trump Attorney General William Barr in October 2020 to investigate the origins of the FBI’s Russia investigation.
The new allegations made public last week have reignited questions about the now-infamous Steele dossier and about earlier claims that Millian had been one of many sources for the content.
In March 2017, shortly after the dossier surfaced publicly, people familiar with the dossier told the FBI, and later told media outlets including ABC News, that Millian had been an unwitting source of some of the most salacious but unverified information laid out in the document, including claims that the Russian government had a video of Trump watching prostitutes urinating on a bed at a Moscow hotel, which if true could be used to blackmail the then-candidate and future American president. Trump denied that claim and called the Steele dossier “junk” and “fake.”
Millian strenuously denied being a source of any material in the dossier, including any information about a supposed tape. He went on social media to call the assertions false, and appeared on a Russian television news outlet to call the claims “a blatant lie.”
Millian said on the Russian broadcast that the people who had named him as a source were lying in an attempt “to show our president [Trump] in a bad light, using my name.” And when asked directly if he had any salacious material about Trump that is described in the dossier, Millian said he did not. “I don’t have any information and I doubt it exists,” he said.
Early in the campaign, Millian sought contact with members of Trump’s campaign, citing past work with the candidate’s real estate business marketing Trump-branded properties in Russia, according to texts and messages that later appeared in the Mueller report. He was never accused of any improper conduct.
Millian could not be reached for comment on the new allegations from the Durham investigation that support his 2017 denials.
The development comes as a series of follow-on investigations have cast doubts on several aspects of the Steele dossier.
In 2019, the inspector general for the Department of Justice released a detailed report on the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. In it, the agency watchdog describes an interview with a man later identified as Danchenko, which suggested Steele’s dossier had overstated Danchenko’s reports to him.
Danchenko told the inspector general he “felt that the tenor of Steele’s reports was far more ‘conclusive’ than was justified,” and that much of the information he had provided came from “word of mouth and hearsay,” according to the inspector general report.
Last week’s indictment alleges that Steele — whom the indictment refers to as “U.K. Person -1” — told the FBI that he understood from Danchenko that Millian was one of Danchenko’s sources.
According to the indictment, Steele told the FBI that Danchenko had “met in-person with” Millian “on two or three separate occasions” and that Danchenko had cited Millian as one of the sources of information for portions of dossier — specifically including the allegation regarding the purported salacious tape. The indictment asserts that Steele “believed Danchenko had direct contact” with Millian, and that Danchenko never corrected Steele “about that erroneous belief.”
Just weeks before Danchenko was indicted, Steele was interviewed by ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos for the Hulu documentary, “Out of the Shadows: The Man Behind the Steele Dossier.” In the ABC News interview, Steele said he believed his collector may have “taken fright” at having his cover blown and tried to “downplay and underestimate” his own reporting when he spoke to investigators as part of the inspector general’s probe.
Pressed by Stephanopoulos about why, if it exists, the purported salacious tape has yet to be released, Steele replied that “it hasn’t needed to be released.”
“Why not?” Stephanopoulos asked.
“Because,” Steele said, “I think the Russians felt they’d got pretty good value out of Donald Trump when he was president of the U.S.”
Steele added: “I stand by the work we did, the sources that we had, and the professionalism which we applied to it.”
Reached by ABC News in the hours after Danchenko’s arrest, Steele declined to comment.
Last week’s indictment by Durham says Danchenko’s alleged lies were not a trivial matter. The indictment called them “material” because the FBI investigation of the Trump campaign “relied in large part” on the Steele dossier to obtain FISA warrants against former Trump adviser Carter Page, and said that “the FBI ultimately devoted substantial resources attempting to investigate and corroborate the allegations contained” in the dossier.
In his interview for the Hulu documentary, Steele said he had not cooperated with Durham’s probe and did not expect to be charged in connection with his work on the dossier, but said he will be “interested to see what [Durham] publishes and what he says about us and others.”
Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.