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Trump's False 'Russian Spy' Claims Put Me in Danger, Says Steele Dossier Source
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=23892"><span class="small">Luke Harding, Guardian UK</span></a>   
Wednesday, 21 October 2020 13:04

Harding writes: "A Russian analyst says he is in hiding and 'afraid for his life' after being unmasked by top congressional Republicans as the source behind the Steele dossier on Donald Trump and Moscow."

Igor Danchenko says he is the victim of a smear campaign by senior Republicans, including President Trump. (photo: The Guardian)
Igor Danchenko says he is the victim of a smear campaign by senior Republicans, including President Trump. (photo: The Guardian)

Trump's False 'Russian Spy' Claims Put Me in Danger, Says Steele Dossier Source

By Luke Harding, Guardian UK

21 October 20

Exclusive: New York-based analyst Igor Danchenko did gather intelligence about Trump but he is certainly not a spy, he says

Russian analyst says he is in hiding and “afraid for his life” after being unmasked by top congressional Republicans as the source behind the Steele dossier on Donald Trump and Moscow.

In his first-ever interview Igor Danchenko said he is the victim of a smear campaign by the president and the Republican senator Lindsey Graham. Both have repeatedly alleged that Danchenko is a suspected Russian spy who fed disinformation to Christopher Steele, the former MI6 officer.

Danchenko said he was not a Kremlin operative. He added that the accusation had made him a target for the pro-Trump radical right and left him effectively unemployed. “It’s a stigma. Being a ‘Russian spy’ is quite different from being James Bond. There are myths,” he told the Guardian.

He is now threatening to take legal action against Trump. Last week Danchenko’s lawyer, Mark E Schamel, sent a cease-and-desist letter to Pat Cipollone, the president’s counsel. It said Trump had endorsed and retweeted “completely unsubstantiated lies”, which damaged Danchenko’s professional reputation and were “endangering his life”.

The letter added: “These allegations of treason and espionage are extraordinarily serious. They are also completely false. Yet the president continues to publish these and similar false statements about Mr Danchenko with disregard for Mr Danchenko’s safety and reputation.”

In spring and summer 2016 Danchenko collected much of the raw intelligence that appeared in Steele’s dossier on Trump’s links with Moscow.

He was outed in July, following interviews he gave in early 2017 to the FBI as part of its Crossfire Hurricane investigation into the Trump’s possible collusion with Russia. He was described in FBI documents as Steele’s “primary sub-source”.

In recent weeks Trump has retweeted claims that Danchenko is a “Russian spy”, and the Republican senator Lindsey Graham made similar assertions to Fox News. Graham recently published the transcript of Danchenko’s FBI interview, after attorney general William Barr cleared it for release.

In an interview with Sean Hannity, Graham said Danchenko had fed Kremlin disinformation to Steele. Steele, whose dossier was funded by Hillary Clinton’s Democrats, had then made it into a “Tom Clancy novel” which was in turn “sold” to the FBI.

Speaking to the Guardian from New York, Danchenko defended his work on the dossier. “I stand by it,” he said. He said he did not resile from explosive allegations that Trump may have been compromised during a visit in 2013 to Moscow’s Ritz-Carlton hotel. “I got it right,” he added.

The Steele dossier alleged that the Kremlin had been cultivating Trump for at least five years. It said that the FSB spy agency had secretly videoed Trump during his trip to Moscow for the Miss Universe beauty pageant, filming him inside the hotel’s presidential suite with two sex workers.

Trump strenuously denies the claim. Danchenko said he couldn’t discuss his sources in Russia or his methods. But he said: “I stand by my raw intelligence.”

He said the “salacious” material in the dossier formed a small part of a 35-page document. The allegation would be “amusing”, he said, were it not for the fact that any covert FSB recording might be used for blackmail purposes.

Danchenko said he collected his raw intelligence from Russia on a “shoestring budget”. He confirmed that he travelled to Moscow and St Petersburg in 2016 for “the Trump-Russia project”.

In August the committee published its counter-intelligence findings into the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia. The bipartisan report was dismissive of Steele’s dossier, but corroborated key elements in it, saying that a Russian intelligence officer was “permanently based” at the Ritz-Carlton hotel, and spied on guests via a “network” of hidden cameras.

The nearly 1,000 page report also laid out multiple contacts between Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager who features in the dossier, and Konstantin Kilimnik, described as a Russian intelligence officer. Manafort gave Kilimnik internal Trump polling data, and the report described his willingness to pass sensitive material to a Moscow spy as a “grave counter-intelligence threat”.

Danchenko said the campaign against him was designed to deflect from the damaging Senate report. “I think they thought I would be an easy target to discredit the dossier. By doubling down on this they would be able to discredit the whole Russia investigation,” he said.

He said his dossier assignment was no different from other projects he’d done before. “I was not on any political fishing expedition on behalf of anyone. My mandate was broad and standard: while doing your research on A and B, also see if there is anything on Trump campaign-Russia. Report any leads or red flags back. As a seasoned Russia expert, that was exactly what I did.”

Danchenko said he cooperated fully with the FBI – but not, as has been suggested, as part of some “deep state” plot. He described its agents as “very knowledgable and professional”. “They treated me with respect,” he said.

During the interviews Danchenko appeared to downplay the reliability of his own information – a point seized upon by Republican commentators. According to inspector general Michael Horowitz, Danchenko told the bureau his work with sub-sources in Russia amounted to “hearsay” and “conversation had with friends over beers”. Statements about Trump’s sexual activities were “jest”, he said.

Danchenko declined to discuss whether he was afraid at the time of his now-leaked FBI interview and therefore keen to minimise his role and the strength of his sources. He said there were “nuances” and questions of interpretation. He stressed: “I didn’t write the summary. I’m not the inspector general.”

Born in the USSR, Danchenko graduated from high school in Perm, Russia, and spent a year as an exchange student in Louisiana. He worked as a Russian-trained lawyer in the oil and construction industry, including in Iran, and later earned degrees from the University of Louisville and Georgetown University.

His US career started at the Brookings Institution, where he worked from 2005 to 2010. One of his close colleagues was Fiona Hill – Trump’s then future and now former national security adviser. In 2009 the FBI launched an investigation into his possible links with Russian intelligence. The inquiry was shelved in 2011.

Danchenko said that as a specialist in Russia and Eurasia and the author of analytical papers it was inevitable he would come into contact with Russian officials. “It would be strange if I didn’t meet them,” he said. “I’m not surprised if one was an intelligence officer of some sort. That’s how they operate, using diplomatic cover. The FBI looked into me, as they should have done.”

Danchenko is based in New York. He said since the Republicans outed him this summer he could no longer return to Russia – even in the event that Putin left power. He had been forced to embark on costly litigation against Trump and others to defend his reputation, he said – and on Monday launched a crowdfunding campaign to pay his legal bills.

He was worried about using his real name when checking into hotels, and was more afraid of renegade Trump supporters than of Kremlin operatives. “I’m afraid for my life. I want to stay healthy. I want to stay alive,” he said. your social media marketing partner