The shadowy figure who funneled information to Christopher Steele for his notorious election-year dossier is Igor Danchenko, a Ukraine-born, Russian-educated researcher who worked in the U.S. and traveled to Moscow to find supposed dirt on candidate Donald Trump.
Washington lawyer Mark E. Schamel told The New York Times that Mr. Danchenko is his client. “Igor Danchenko has been identified as one of the sources who provided data and analysis,” he said.
A number of online activists had identified Mr. Danchenko, as did Real Clear Investigations.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, released a 60-page declassified FBI report that detailed three interviews with Mr. Danchenko in January 2017. The researcher’s name was omitted, and he was referred to only as Mr. Steele’s “primary sub-source.”
Cybersleuths with the blog I Found the Primary Subsource took tidbits from the heavily redacted document and pieced together enough biographical information to name Mr. Danchenko.
Mr. Danchenko describes himself on his restricted Twitter account as “Russia/Eurasia political & economic research & analysis, energy, due diligence.”
Mr. Danchenko was on the payroll of Mr. Steele’s investigative firm, Orbis Business Intelligence, in London. He also worked at the Brookings Institution. He co-wrote with Fiona Hill a 2010 Brookings paper titled “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back? The Realities of a Rising China and Implications for Russia’s Energy Ambitions.”
Ms. Hill went on to join President Trump’s National Security Council staff as a senior European specialist in 2017. She also testified at his House impeachment hearing. She said she believed Mr. Steele, with whom she once worked while he was a British intelligence officer, was played by Russian disinformation.
Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the ranking Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said on Fox News on Sunday that his staff had begun a “full-blown investigation” into the role played by Brookings, Washington’s leading liberal think tank.
Mr. Steele is facing libel charges in a London court from a Russian CEO who the dossier claimed hacked Democrats’ computers.
It came out in court last week that, while Strobe Talbott was Brookings president in 2016, he obtained material from Mr. Steele, who subsequently sent him a message seeking to talk.
“Dear Strobe,” Mr. Steele said in a direct message, according to the Russian’s attorney, “I know this is not straight forward but we need to discuss the package we delivered to you the other week, and sooner the better. What you thought of it, what you did with it, how we (both) should handle it and the issue it highlights going forward etc. Perhaps you could give this some thought and get back to me. All Best Wishes, Chris.”
Mr. Nunes said he wants to explore what role Mr. Talbott, deputy secretary of state in the Clinton administration, played in distributing the dossier.
Mr. Danchenko met Mr. Steele in London as he was setting up Orbis and eventually landed on its payroll. Mr. Steele asked him in 2016 to investigate Mr. Trump and Russia. Mr. Steele’s work was funded by the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton campaign.
The striking theme in the FBI’s interview notes is that Mr. Danchenko relied on a group of like-minded friends, some drinking buddies, for stunning allegations against Mr. Trump and his associates — all of which eventually proved untrue. There are no firsthand Russian sources.
Among the claims: Mr. Trump funded Russian hacking, his attorney secretly visited Prague to meet with operatives of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and there was a well-developed conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
The Prague trip claim came from a lifelong female friend of Mr. Danchenko’s. The conspiracy claim came in an anonymous 15-minute phone call.
Mr. Graham said the FBI document showed that the primary source relied on second- and thirdhand information and that Mr. Steele embellished some narratives before delivering report memos to Fusion GPS, his handler in Washington.
A Justice Department inspector general report said intelligence agencies had warned the FBI that the dossier contained Kremlin disinformation.
The dossier’s importance to the Russia probe cannot be overstated. It was the critical piece of information the FBI needed to gain wiretaps on Trump volunteer Carter Page. It supplied the foundation for allegations against Mr. Page and other Trump associations, and it fed the mainstream news media and Democrats a basket full of Trump allegations to repeat until government reports ultimately disproved Mr. Danchenko’s and Mr. Steele’s work.
“The document reveals that the primary ‘source’ of Steele’s election reporting was not some well-connected current or former Russian official, but a non-Russian-based contract employee of Christopher Steele’s firm,” Mr. Graham said. “Moreover, it demonstrates that the information that Steele’s primary source provided him was second- and thirdhand information and rumor at best.”
The FBI told federal judges in its wiretap requests that the primary sub-source was based in Russia. Mr. Graham said he was not.
The New York Times, a prime peddler of a Trump-Russia election conspiracy narrative that was ultimately debunked, turned the Danchenko revelation into an anti-White House story. The headline: “The F.B.I. Pledged to Keep a Source Anonymous. Trump Allies Aided His Unmasking.”
In a follow-up interview in March 2017, Mr. Danchenko told the FBI that his sub-sources’ information was not worth “a grain of salt.”
Still, the FBI continued to rely on the dossier.
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