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Steele Source Had Meeting In Russia At Crucial Point In Dossier Saga

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Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter
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  • Igor Danchenko, the primary source for Christopher Steele’s dossier, met in June 2016 with an official in the Russian ministry of energy and a journalist who is speculated to be a sub-source for the dossier. 
  • Danchenko’s activities in 2016 have come under intense scrutiny since he was identified as Steele’s source last month. His meetings and travels could shed light on how he obtained information that he later passed to Steele. 
  • Sergey Abyshev, who served as a deputy director in the Russian ministry of energy, confirmed meeting with Danchenko in Russia days before the first memo of the dossier was written. 

In June 2016, a month that is key to the origin story of the Steele dossier, the primary source for that salacious document met with an official in the Russian ministry of energy and a journalist friend in Russia, The Daily Caller News Foundation has learned.

Igor Danchenko, a Russia analyst who worked for Christopher Steele, met with Sergey Abyshev, who was then a deputy director in the energy ministry, and Ivan Vorontsov, the editor-in-chief of a Russian finance website, according to a Facebook post by Vorontsov and confirmation from Abyshev.

It is not entirely clear what relevance the rendezvous might have to the dossier, but it helps fill in the timeline of Danchenko’s interactions and movements at a critical stage in the development of the provocative report.

At the time of the meeting, Danchenko was well at work for Steele collecting information about Donald Trump’s possible ties to Russia.

Danchenko, a Russian national who lives in Washington, D.C., told the FBI in January 2017 that Steele, a former MI6 officer, tasked him in June 2016 to dig up dirt on Trump. Steele was hired in May 2016 by Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm working for the Clinton campaign and DNC.

Vorontsov posted a photo on June 16, 2016 from the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), an annual business conclave, saying he had met the prior evening with Danchenko and Abyshev.

“The night before was so nice with Sergey Abyshev and Igor Danchenko,” Vorontsov wrote.

Four days later, on June 20, 2016, Steele penned the first of 17 memos that make up what is colloquially known as the dossier. Steele has said that most of the information was collected by a single source who worked as an independent contractor for his firm, Orbis Business Intelligence. (RELATED: FBI Memo Raises Red Flags About Sources Behind The Steele Dossier)

Danchenko was identified as the contractor last month by an anonymous Twitter user after the Senate Judiciary Committee released a memo of his interviews with the FBI from Jan. 24-26, 2017.

The first Steele memo contains the dossier’s most eye-catching allegation: that the Kremlin was blackmailing Donald Trump with video of him watching prostitutes urinate on each other in a room at the Moscow Ritz Carlton in 2013.

Danchenko told the FBI that the information came from two sources who are referred to as Source 1 and Source 2 in the FBI memo of the interviews.

It is unclear if Danchenko passed any information from either Vorontsov or Abyshev to Steele, though a group of Twitter sleuths who helped identify Danchenko as Steele’s source have pointed to clues about Vorontsov that match up with descriptions about Source 2.

The DCNF reached both Vorontsov and Abyshev for comment about their interactions with Danchenko and about the dossier.

Abyshev confirmed meeting with Danchenko and Vorontsov after being shown the photo Vorontsov posted on Facebook, though he said that the encounter occurred in Moscow rather than St. Petersburg.

He described the encounter as “an almost accidental meeting in the center of Moscow with three ‘cheerful’ guys.”

“As a result, I had to listen to a lecture on investment opportunities for about 20 minutes,” he said in a message translated from Russian.

The FBI memo describes many of Danchenko’s meetings, but locations and participants are all redacted.

Vorontsov told the DCNF when asked about Danchenko, Abyshev, and the dossier that he was “ready to talk.”

He called Danchenko a “good man” with whom he has a long relationship. Vorontsov later decided against discussing Danchenko, saying that he did not feel comfortable talking about his friend without his consent.

Vorontsov and Danchenko appear to have a close friendship stretching back several years. Vorontsov has posted photos of Danchenko dating as far back as 2014 and as recently as November 2019.

Vorontsov, the editor-in-chief of BANKIFIN, also referred to Danchenko in a post on Nov. 26, 2018 as a “special correspondent” for his media outlet at the 4th annual Russian-British Business Forum, which was held in London.

Danchenko displayed a badge that said he was with Sidar Global Ventures, a Washington, D.C. firm where he worked as a Eurasia analyst.

Cenk Sidar, the president of Sidar Global, said he knows nothing about the dossier, and has never met Danchenko.

“Igor worked for Sidar Global as a political risk and commercial due diligence analyst. He did periodic Russia political reports for my Wall Street and corporate clients, and did a good job,” Sidar told the DCNF.

“I don’t know him personally or don’t have anything to say about his work quality as there were other people who managed him but in general, he is a smart guy and knows well about Russia.”

But Sidar said that Danchenko did not attend the forum in London on behalf of Sidar Global.

“I have no idea about that conference and we did not send him to this event,” he said when shown a photo of Danchenko’s badge.

Carter Page, former foreign policy adviser for the Trump campaign, speaks to the media after testifying before the House Intelligence Committee on November 2, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Danchenko told the FBI about his work for Steele and his sub-sources for the dossier during his interviews. He undercut several aspects of the dossier, telling investigators that he provided Steele with unverified rumors he picked up from friends.

There is no indication of wrongdoing on Danchenko’s part. He agreed to meet with the FBI in exchange for immunity, according to the FBI memo of his interviews. A Justice Department inspector general report released on Dec. 9 said that the FBI described Danchenko as “truthful and cooperative” in applications for surveillance warrants against Carter Page, a former Trump campaign aide.

The IG report did raise the prospect that Danchenko was not entirely forthcoming with investigators. According to the report, the FBI intelligence analyst who took part in the Danchenko interview believed Danchenko might have been “minimizing” his contacts with some of his sub-sources.

A source close to Danchenko told the DCNF that he stands by the information he presented to Steele, but has no comment on how Steele wrote it in the dossier. Steele provided the dossier to the FBI and briefed numerous reporters about it in 2016.

The FBI relied heavily on Steele’s information to obtain warrants to surveil Carter Page.

The revelation last month that Danchenko was Steele’s source has drawn even more scrutiny to the dossier.

That’s because the narrative initially spun by Democrats and Steele-friendly journalists was that the retired spy used a deep network of Russian sources with insight into the Kremlin’s links to Trumpworld and its interference in the U.S. election. Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, cited Steele’s use of Russian sources during a March 20, 2017 hearing in which he touted the allegations in the dossier.

But according to what Danchenko told the FBI, he appears to be far removed from Kremlin power centers. He told investigators that he derived most of his information from friends he had in Russia who he believed had some loose affiliations with Russian government officials.

Danchenko, who worked for the Brookings Institution years before partnering with Steele, told the FBI of six people he said were sources for the information he gave Steele, according to the FBI memo.

One of the purported sources has been identified as Sergei Millian, a Belarusian-American businessman long reported to be a major but unwitting source for the dossier. ABC News and The Wall Street Journal reported on Jan. 24, 2017, the same day that Danchenko met with the FBI, that Millian was a key source for the dossier.

Danchenko undercut the claim that Millian played a prominent role in the dossier in the FBI interview, according to the memo. He told the FBI that he believes he may have talked to Millian by phone once in late July 2016, but that the person on the other end of the line did not identify himself.

His statements conflict with reports that popped up after the dossier was published in January 2017 that said that Millian was the source for the story about Trump with prostitutes in Moscow. (RELATED: A Dossier Source Of Mystery)

Millian, who is referred to as Source 6 in the FBI’s Danchenko interview memo, attended the SPIEF event that Danchenko may also have attended. He posted photos on his Facebook account speaking with Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch who once hired Steele, and Alexander Novak, Russia’s minister of energy.

Danchenko told the FBI that Source 2, who he said was a friend, provided the information to him about the alleged Trump sex tape.

According to Danchenko, the source told him in June 2016 that there was a “well known story” about Trump’s activities at the Ritz Carlton in Moscow. The source said that people knew about the allegation but that “it only becomes fact if people come forward.”

Danchenko told the FBI he investigated the allegation himself, but was unable to verify it after speaking with staff at the Ritz Carlton.

Trump has vehemently denied the so-called “pee tape” allegation. People with him on his trip to Moscow have said Trump spent only a few hours in his hotel room, making it unlikely he would have had the time to take part in a sex romp.

Danchenko also said he met with another source, Source 1, in June 2016 at a cafe in an unidentified location and discussed the purported Trump blackmail.

According to the FBI memo, the source passed along information from a conversation he had with a former Russian intelligence official. Danchenko said that the former spy said the Kremlin had “embarrassing stuff — sexual/pornographic material” on many people, including Trump.

The former Russian spy is not identified in the FBI memo, but Steele indicated in a meeting with State Department officials in October 2016 that Vyacheslav Trubnikov, the former chief of Russia’s FSB, was somehow a source for the dossier.

The Justice Department’s inspector general, which released a scathing report of the FBI’s handling of the dossier, raised the prospect that the Trump sex tape story could have been the product of Russian disinformation.

According to the report, a U.S. intelligence community report dated Feb. 27, 2017 said that a person with possible ties to Trump and Russia claimed that the sex tape allegation was planted by Russian intelligence operatives. The IG report said that allegations in the dossier regarding former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen — which Danchenko said came from a source called Source 3 — may have been Russian disinformation.

Adding more potential significance to Danchenko’s relationship with Vorontsov is speculation that he is Source 2 described in the FBI memo.

Danchenko told the FBI that Source 2 was a collector of some sort, and that he gave the source Scottish currency that he took out of an ATM. Vorontsov’s Facebook account shows that he is an avid collector of foreign currency. In several posts he thanked Danchenko for gifting him paper money and coins.

“I thought Danchenko brought me my salary!” Vorontsov wrote in a March 13, 2015 post. He thanked Danchenko in a post on June 21, 2017 for a bill issued by the United Cigar Stores of America. He referred to Danchenko as Santa Claus in a post on Nov. 9, 2014 thanking him for a coin set from the U.K. Vorontsov thanked Danchenko “for remembering and caring for us” in another post with a five-pound bank note.

Danchenko has not responded to repeated phone calls and messages seeking comment. The DCNF reached his attorney, Mark E. Schamel, with questions about Vorontsov, Abyshev and the dossier, but he was unable to provide comment on the record.

Abyshev, who left the Russian ministry of energy in August 2016, is the highest ranking Russian official identified to date who Danchenko is known to have met.

Abyshev has served in various local and federal government positions, according to his LinkedIn profile. Before joining the ministry of energy in 2011, Abyshev worked for Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service. He served as vice mayor and head of the city duma for Nizhny Novgorod in the early 2000s.

Radio Free Europe, the news outlet, reported in October 2002 that Abyshev was impeached as speaker of the Duma on allegations of embezzlement and improper actions related to budget issues.

Abyshev confirmed to The Daily Caller News Foundation through Facebook chat that he met with Danchenko and Vorontsov, though he suggested that they met in Moscow a day before SPIEF.

Whether Danchenko used any information from Abyshev in the dossier is unclear. Danchenko indicated that some of his sources were unaware that he was working for Steele on an investigation of Trump’s possible contacts with Russia. He also said that his sources provided rumor and speculation over drinks about Trump and Kremlin activities, and that it was unverified information.

Abyshev did not answer a follow-up question about whether he might have been a dossier source, either witting or unwitting. But he did volunteer some information that matches up with details about Danchenko in the FBI memo.

Abyshev told the DCNF that he recalls that Danchenko worked as a translator for a Russian delegation who visited the Library of Congress in 2002.

“Igor was a translator for the Open World program at the Library of Congress in 2002 for the organizers,” Abyshev said.

According to the FBI memo, Danchenko said that he was a “facilitator” for an event held at the Library of Congress. Details of the event are heavily redacted, as are many other pieces of information in the FBI document.

“I don’t remember the details, a lot of time has passed, I don’t even remember the place, but I remember about the congress, because it is not easy for the citizens of the country to get to it,” Abyshev said.

Abyshev said he has not seen Vorontsov since their 2016 rendezvous. He did not say whether he has met with Danchenko, saying that “Igor also never came to Moscow, in any case, I don’t know about it.”

Vorontsov did not address questions about whether he provided Danchenko with information found in the dossier. He shut down access to his Facebook account during the reporting for this story.

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