The Russian links to the figures behind Christopher Steele’s discredited dossier have come into clearer focus following special counsel John Durham’s indictments.
Steele was working for Vladimir Putin-linked oligarch Oleg Deripaska before, during, and after his time targeting then-candidate Donald Trump, and the former MI6 agent was hired to put the dossier together by an opposition research firm, Fusion GPS, which was simultaneously working for Kremlin-linked lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya of the now-infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting. The Clinton campaign hired Fusion.
Steele’s main source, U.S.-based Russian national Igor Danchenko, allegedly relied upon a network of Russian contacts, undermined key collusion claims when interviewed by the FBI, and had previously been investigated as a possible threat to national security due to potential Russian intelligence contacts. And, according to Durham’s false statements charges, he anonymously sourced a claim about Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort to longtime Hillary Clinton ally Chuck Dolan, who spent many years, including 2016, doing work for Russian businesses and the Russian government.
Durham's investigation appears to be painting the picture that many of the biggest Trump-Russia collusion claims can be traced back to the Clinton campaign and Democratic operatives.
AFTER STEELE SOURCE INDICTMENT, WILL DURHAM GO AFTER FBI?
Steele and Deripaska
Deripaska paid Steele to investigate Manafort after accusing the Republican operative of stealing millions from him, and Steele sought help from Fusion in early 2016. The firm soon hired Steele to conduct anti-Trump research.
A D.C. mansion tied to Deripaska was raided by the FBI last month.
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report last year found “the Russian government coordinates with and directs Deripaska on many of his influence operations" around the world. The Senate report revealed Steele started working on behalf of Deripaska as early as 2012 through part of 2017. The investigation found “indications that Deripaska had early knowledge of Steele's work," and the report said Steele’s relationship with Deripaska “provided a potential direct channel for Russian influence on the dossier."
An email from Steele in February 2016 claimed Deripaska “is also aware of the thrust of our new intel” and went on to suggest Deripaska “is not the leadership tool [of the Kremlin] some have alleged." But the Senate report revealed investigators “found ample evidence to dispute Steele's assessment.”
The Senate report noted gaping holes in Steele’s dossier related to the Putin ally, writing that “Steele and his subsources appear to have neglected to include or missed in its entirety Paul Manafort’s business relationship with Deripaska.”
Fusion and Veselnitskaya
Veselnitskaya, a former prosecutor with ties to the Kremlin, hired BakerHostetler to help Cyprus-based, Russian-steered Prevezon Holdings in court, and the law firm hired Fusion in 2014. Businessman Bill Browder had alleged Fusion acted as an agent for Russian interests when it helped go after him as Putin tried to combat the Magnitsky Act.
Browder, head of Hermitage Capital, championed the Magnitsky Act, named for his tax lawyer and corruption whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Russian prison in 2009 after his investigation allegedly uncovered hundreds of millions of dollars of tax fraud implicating Russian officials.
The Justice Department alleged Prevezon laundered fraudulent money, and the company later settled for $5.9 million in what the department called "a $230 million Russian tax refund fraud scheme involving corrupt Russian officials." Prevezon was owned by Denis Katsyv, whose father, Pyotr Katsyv, is a Putin ally.
The Justice Department unsealed an indictment against Veselnitskaya, now out of reach in Russia, alleging she’d obstructed justice over her “secret cooperation with a senior Russian prosecutor.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee report said the information Veselnitskaya offered during the Trump Tower meeting "was focused on U.S. sanctions against Russia under the Magnitsky Act" and "was part of a broader influence operation targeting the United States that was coordinated, at least in part, with elements of the Russian government."
The Senate report assessed Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin, who accompanied her, both “have significant connections to the Russian government, including the Russian intelligence services,” and Veselnitskaya's connections "were far more extensive and concerning than what had been publicly known.”
The report noted they “found no evidence that Veselnitskaya used her ties with Fusion GPS to influence the contents of the dossier,” but the senators nevertheless “sought to understand the significance of Veselnitskaya's relationship" with Fusion co-founder Glenn Simpson "because of the timing of their interactions."
Simpson denied any foreknowledge of the Trump Tower meeting despite seeing Veselnitskaya the day before, the day of, and the day after.
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Danchenko and Dolan
Dolan was identified as “PR Executive-1” in Durham’s indictment against Danchenko. One alleged lie Danchenko told was denying he spoke with Dolan about anything in the dossier, despite an admittedly fabricated claim from Dolan about Manafort making it into the dossier via Danchenko.
Foreign Agents Registration Act filings from November 2011 and May 2012 show Dolan was paid $78,000 and $79,000 for “out-of-pocket expenses” while working on behalf of the Russian Federation and Russian state-owned energy giant, Gazprom.
Durham said Dolan “interacted with senior Russian Federation leadership whose names would later appear in" the dossier, and also “maintained relationships with" Russia's ambassador to the United States and the head of the Russian Embassy's Economic Section in Washington, D.C., both of whom appeared in the dossier.
Durham said “PR Executive-1’s role as a contributor of information to the Company Reports was highly relevant" because Dolan “maintained pre-existing and ongoing relationships with numerous persons named” in the dossier. Durham noted that “certain allegations” Danchenko provided to Steele that appeared in the dossier “mirrored and/or reflected information that PR Executive-1 himself also had received through his own interactions with Russian nationals.”
Dolan allegedly asked Danchenko to assist with an October 2016 conference at the Ritz Carlton in Moscow, a location that would be the source of salacious claims about Trump, and Durham said Dolan attended meetings at the Russian Embassy in the U.S. in 2016.
Durham said Dolan described Danchenko in a June 2016 email as a potential former Russian spy, writing, “He is too young for KGB. But I think he worked for FSB."
Durham discovered Danchenko was investigated by the FBI as a possible “threat to national security," according to documents declassified by then-Attorney General William Barr.
Dolan traveled to Moscow in June 2016 on a planning trip for the October conference, where he stayed in the Moscow hotel. Durham said Dolan had a meeting with the general manager of the Moscow hotel and a female hotel staff member to discuss the October conference and received a tour of the hotel, including the presidential suite.
Danchenko visited Dolan and others at the Moscow hotel, and Danchenko flew from Moscow to London to meet with Steele “to provide him with information that would later appear" in the dossier.
The indictment says Danchenko brokered a meeting between Dolan and his Russian friend, Galkina, “to discuss a potential business relationship.” Galkina denies being a dossier source.