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Russian Bankers Seek Christopher Steele’s Testimony About His Dossier Source, Igor Danchenko

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Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter
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  • Lawyers for a group of Russian bankers suing over the dossier want Christopher Steele to testify in a U.S. court about his primary source, Igor Danchenko. 
  • The lawyers, who represent the owners of Alfa Bank, say that Danchenko can provide information regarding the “reliability” of the dossier. 
  • Danchenko undermined several aspects of the dossier during interviews with the FBI in 2017. 

Lawyers for a trio of Russian bankers are seeking testimony in the U.S. from Christopher Steele regarding his contacts with Igor Danchenko, a Russian analyst said to be the primary source for the former British spy’s infamous dossier on President Donald Trump.

The bankers, who own Alfa Bank, asked a federal judge in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday to submit a formal request to the British court system to compel Steele’s testimony in a defamation lawsuit against opposition research firm Fusion GPS and its co-founder, Glenn Simpson.

Lawyers for the bankers said in the court filing that information from Steele regarding Danchenko is “relevant to the reliability” of the dossier. It could also show whether Fusion GPS knew that Danchenko was Steele’s source, and whether information in the dossier regarding Alfa Bank was inaccurate before they shared it with journalists in 2016.

The Alfa Bank owners, Mikhail Fridman, Peter Aven and German Khan, are suing Fusion GPS and Simpson, over a Sept. 14, 2016 memo from the dossier that alleged the bankers had an “illicit” relationship with Vladimir Putin, and had bribed him for decades. (RELATED: Steele Testified His Emails With Dossier Source Were ‘Wiped’)

Lawyers for the bankers are required to submit a request for international judicial assistance because the targets are all British citizens and are not required to comply with subpoenas filed in the U.S.

Danchenko, a Russian national who lives in Washington, D.C., was identified last month as Steele’s primary source of information for the dossier.

Fusion GPS Co-Founder Glenn Simpson (R) leaves after a meeting with members of the House Judiciary and Oversight Committee in the Rayburn Office Building on Capitol Hill on October 16, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

Lawyers for the Alfa trio said that Steele’s interactions with Danchenko are relevant to the lawsuit because the information would show whether the ex-spy distributed the dossier “negligently or recklessly.”

“It is expected that Mr. Steele will be able to provide crucial and relevant testimony on a number of topics,” the lawyers said in the court filing.

They are seeking Steele’s testimony and documents regarding communications with Danchenko from April 1, 2016 to Oct. 3, 2017. They are also seeking information from Steele’s business partner, Christopher Burrows, a Fusion GPS contractor named Edward Baumgartner and Sir Andrew Wood, a former British diplomat who served as a conduit between Steele and Sen. John McCain.

Fusion GPS hired Steele on behalf of the law firm for the Clinton campaign in April 2016 to investigate Donald Trump’s possible ties to Russia. Steele, a former MI6 officer, asked Danchenko to collect any information he could on Trump.

Danchenko worked as an independent contractor for Steele’s London-based consulting firm, Orbis Business Intelligence.

Many of the dossier’s most salacious allegations have either been debunked outright or come under intense scrutiny in the three-plus years since the document was published.

Danchneko undercut several aspects of the dossier during interviews with the FBI in January 2017.

According to memos of the interviews, Danchenko told the FBI that he provided Steele with rumor and speculation about Trump and Russia, but that Steele reported the information as fact in the dossier.

Dancehnko, who worked for the Brookings Institution before working for Steele, told investigators that he had been interested in Alfa Bank for over a decade.

A British judge ruled in favor of the Alfa Bank owners over Steele last month. Sir Mark Warby, the judge, said that Steele’s allegations regarding Alfa Bank were “inaccurate or misleading as a matter of fact.”

Steele said in a deposition in the case in March that he had “wiped” all of his communications with his primary dossier source, now known to be Danchenko.

Steele also testified that he began inquiring about Alfa Bank after a meeting in late July 2016 with Michael Sussmann, a lawyer for Perkins Coie, the law firm that hired Fusion GPS on behalf of the Clinton campaign.

Steele said that Sussmann claimed that servers for Alfa Bank were communicating covertly with those for the Trump Organization. According to Steele, Glenn Simpson, the Fusion co-founder, asked him to investigate Alfa Bank as part of his investigation of Trump. Simpson and Sussmann provided information about the alleged server contacts to reporters at The New York Times and Slate.

A Justice Department inspector general’s report released in December said that the FBI determined by February 2017 that there was not a secret channel of communication between Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization.

The bankers’ attorneys are also seeking communications between Steele, Fusion GPS and former State Department official Jonathan Winer.

Winer served as a conduit between Steele and the State Department, and helped Fusion GPS disseminate the dossier. Winer, who left the State Department in 2017, served as a background source for two news articles published before the 2016 election that cited information from Steele.

The court filings contains several other revelations about Steele’s firm, Orbis, and the Fusion GPS contacts with journalists.

It cites disclosures from Fusion GPS that executives with the firm spoke about Alfa Bank with journalists from Slate, The New York Times, Reuters and Yahoo! News. The filing lists the reporters as Franklin Foer, Newt Royce, Peter Eisner, Charles Lewis, Catherine Belton, Connie Bruce, Mark Hosenball, Eric Lichtblau, and Michael Isikoff.

Belton, who covered Russia-related issues for The Financial Times, was also listed alongside Winer’s name in notes taken during a meeting Steele had at the State Department on Oct. 11, 2016. Winer arranged and attended the meeting.

The Fusion GPS founders also listed two previously undisclosed memos, one regarding Alfa Bank and the other regarding Donald Trump’s alleged contacts with Russia.

The filing cites a memo entitled “ALFA Dossier Open Sources” authored by Edward Baumgartner, the Fusion GPS contractor. It also refers to a document entitled “DT Russia – Draft Open Source Report.” The document is dated March 4, 2016, which was two months before Fusion GPS began working for the DNC and Clinton campaign.

The Fusion GPS founders also said that they dealt with Steele and Burrows at Orbis, as well as two analysts, Sam Stainer and Tatiana Duran.

UPDATE: This article has been updated with additional information from the court filings.

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