The indictment of Igor Danchenko, the primary source for the discredited Steele dossier, provides damning evidence alleging the Russian analyst repeatedly lied to the FBI. But it's only part of a larger portrait emerging in federal court records chronicling how the U.S. government was bamboozled into investigating Donald Trump for Russia collusion by a circle of players connected to Hillary Clinton.
Just a few weeks before his arrest Thursday, Danchenko was served in late September with a federal subpoena in a separate civil case brought by executives connected to the Russia-based Alfa Bank. That case, like the indictment, has produced evidence Danchenko contrived the intelligence he provided to former MI6 agent Christopher Steele in 2016.
Danchenko is not a defendant in the civil case, but rather a witness that the Alfa executives want testimony and documents from. The executives are seeking possible damages against Fusion GPS, the Clinton-connected research firm that hired Steele to write the dossier.
The dossier, funded by Clinton's campaign law firm during the height of the 2016 campaign, became prime evidence used by the FBI to justify FISA surveillance warrants targeting the Trump campaign and former adviser Carter Page, even though agents were never able to verify most of the allegations and in some cases debunked them as false or Russian disinformation.
A federal judge ordered that Danchenko be properly served with papers in the civil case after the Alfa executives' legal team submitted sworn statements from several Russian citizens alleging that Danchenko concocted stories of Trump-Russia collusion and falsely claimed they had provided the information as willing sub-sources for the dossier. He was served the subpoena in late September through his lawyer Mark Schamel, according to court records.
Schamel did not return a call to his office Thursday seeking comment. Danchenko appeared briefly in court and tried to plead innocent to the Durham charges Thursday, but a judge said it was premature to accept a plea.
In the civil case, the plaintiffs have produced several statements from Russian citizens challenging Danchenko and his dossier work.
"In contrast to what Mr. Danchenko told U.S. authorities, I was not a 'source' for the Dossier," Russian journalist Lyudmila Nikolayevna Podobedova said in a sworn declaration submitted to U.S. District Judge Richard Leon on June 21 in the Alfa case. "I never provided Mr. Danchenko (or anyone else) with any information related to the contents of the Dossier ..."
Podobedova said she believe she is the woman identified in the dossier as Sub-Source 5 but that she did not provide the information attributed to her in the dossier though she talked on the phone in 2016 with Danchenko.
"My view is that once Mr. Danchenko realized that the Dossier was coming under scrutiny, he decided to point at me to make it look as if I were involved in the Dossier and thus add credibility to his work," her declaration said.
Likewise, Russian academic Alexey Sergeyevich Dundich said he believes he is the person identified in the dossier as Danchenko's "Sub-Source 4" and declared the information attributed to him was contrived and did not come from him as alleged.
"I believe that Mr. Danchenko framed me as Sub-Source 4 to add credibility to his low-quality work, which is not based on real information or in-depth analysis," Dundich's declaration states. "My impression is that Mr. Danchenko fabricated the information published in the Dossier to make quick money. It is apparent to me that the Dossier is a deliberate fraud and a collection of idle rumors."
A third Russian, banking industry journalist and currency collector Ivan Mikhailovich Vorontsov, alleged in his court declaration that he not only was falsely portrayed as "Sub-Source 2" in the Steele dossier, but that Danchenko later apologized for doing so.
"Although it is apparent that Mr. Danchenko claimed that I was a source of information for the Dossier, in fact I was not a 'source' for the Dossier," Vorontsov said. "I never provided Mr. Danchenko (or anyone else) with any information associated with the contents of the Dossier generally ... Mr. Danchenko later confirmed this to me as well when he expressed guilt for dragging me into this whole controversy concerning the Dossier.
He added: "I believe that the Dossier was fabricated to fit whatever the client who requested the information wanted to receive."
The portrait of a dossier infused with deception and lies was furthered Thursday when Durham unsealed a grand jury indictment accusing Danchenko of lying at least five times to the FBI during the Russia case, lies the prosecutor said hindered agents from getting the truth about the dossier and its underlying allegations.
"All of DANCHENKO's lies were material to the FBI because, among other reasons, (1) the FBI's investigation of the Trump Campaign relied in large part on the Company Reports to obtain FISA warrants on Advisor-1, (2) the FBI ultimately devoted substantial resources attempting to investigate and corroborate the allegations contained in the Company Reports, including the reliability of DANCHENKO's sub-sources; and (3) the Company Reports, as well as information collected for the Reports by DANCHENKO, played a role in the FBI's investigative decisions and in sworn representations that the FBI made to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court throughout the relevant time period," the indictment charged.
You can read the full indictment here:
The indictment says Danchenko's lies included telling the FBI he got an anonymous tip on Trump-Russia collusion that he believed came from a former Russia-American Chamber of Commerce official and he tried to follow up on it.
"In truth and fact, and as DANCHENKO well knew, DANCHENKO never received such a phone call or such information from any person he believed to be Chamber President-1, and DANCEHNKO never made any arrangements to meet Chamber President-1 in New York," the indictment said. "Rather, DANCHENKO fabricated these facts regarding Chamber President-1."
Another lie, alleged in the indictment, was that Danchenko falsely denied to agents that he got any information for the Steele dossier from an American public relations executive who was deeply tied to Hillary Clinton as well as the Russian ambassador in Washington and other senior Russian government officials.
"DANCHENKO stated falsely that he had never communicated with a particular U.S.-based individual — who was a long-time participant in Democratic Party politics and was then an executive at a U.S. public relations firm — about any allegations contained in the Company Reports," the charge documents said. "In truth and in fact, and as DANCHENKO well knew, DANCHENKO sourced one or more specific allegations in the Company Reports anonymously to PR Executive-l."
The indictment didn’t name the PR executive, but Ralph D. Martin, the lawyer for longtime Washington PR executive Charles Dolan Jr. confirmed to CNBC and the New York Times that Dolan was in fact the executive named in the indictment. Martin declined further comment, citing the ongoing criminal case.
Dolan served in Bill Clinton's campaigns for president as a state chairman, was appointed to an advisory board in the Clinton State Department and later "actively campaigned and participated in calls and events as a volunteer on behalf of Hillary Clinton" in 2016, the indictment noted. He is treated as a witness in the indictment, not accused of wrongdoing. And the indictment noted Dolan claimed the Clinton campaign did not know about his dealings with Danchenko.
Danchenko's alleged lie about the PR executive was particularly harmful to the FBI, the indictment charged, because it "bore upon PR Executive-l's reliability, motivations, and potential bias as a source of information."
The indictment also touches on one of the most salacious allegations in the dossier — one that was never corroborated — that Trump had engaged with prostitutes at a Moscow hotel. The indictment suggested that the PR executive, Dolan, could have been connected to part of the allegation because he had visited with hotel staff on 2016 and learned that Trump stayed in the presidential suite at the hotel. But it noted there was no basis for the sexual allegation.
"During the aforementioned tour of the Presidential Suite, a Moscow Hotel staff member told the participants, including PR Executive-1, that Trump had stayed in the Presidential Suite. According to both Organizer-1 and PR Executive-1, the staff member did not mention any sexual or salacious activity," the indictment noted.
The indictment offered one last tantalizing piece of information: An American think tank official introduced Danchenko to both Steele and Dolan years before the dossier.
The indictment did not name the think tank official. But FBI documents obtained by Just the News show Steele told agents in fall 2017, a year after he was terminated as a confidential source in the Russia case, that the think tank official was Fiona Hill, a National Security Council official who later would emerge as a key witness against Trump in the Ukraine impeachment proceedings. Trump was acquitted in that trial.
"The primary subsource was introduced to STEELE and ORBIS by FIONA HILL in or around 2011," the FBI document quoted Steele as saying. Hill at the time worked with Danchenko at the Brookings Institution, a liberal think tank then run by former Clinton administration official Strobe Talbott.
"Emphasizing the sensitivity, STEELE explained that HILL now worked for the White House on the National Security Council," the 2017 FBI document added. "HILL has a very high opinion of the primary sub-source, and she told STEELE that he and ORBIS should take a look at him. HILL is one of STEELE's close friends."
In congressional testimony during impeachment, Hill was not as adoring of Steele, suggesting it was likely Steele and his dosser had been duped by some Russian disinformation.
"It's very likely that the Russians planted disinformation in and among other information that may have been truthful, because that's exactly, again, the way that they operate," she told lawmakers in 2019.