British ex-spy Christopher Steele told the FBI he believed Fiona Hill, the top Russia expert on former President Donald Trump’s National Security Council, knew about the involvement of Steele’s main source with his discredited dossier of salacious and unproven Trump-Russia collusion claims, newly declassified records show.
The Justice Department previously released an almost entirely blacked-out version of Steele’s FBI interview in late 2020, but Just The News reported this week that a less-redacted version had been made public, focusing on the former MI6 agent speaking with the FBI in London on Sept. 18-19, 2017, where he was briefly joined by Orbis Business Intelligence partner Christopher Burrows on the first day.
The FBI wrote, “Steele said Fiona Hill knows that the primary subsource,” identified as U.S.-based and Russian-trained lawyer Igor Danchenko, “was involved in the dossier,” and “when the primary subsource went to ground in January and February 2017, Steele contacted Hill and told Hill that he was worried about the primary subsource.” The bureau added, “Steele said that she probably guesses that the primary subsource was involved.”
Hill is currently a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, where she’d worked before becoming senior director for European and Russian affairs on the NSC from 2017 to 2019. Hill has repeatedly criticized the dossier as possibly compromised by Russian disinformation, and Steele’s claims contradict Hill’s sworn testimony before the House Intelligence Committee in October 2019.
“I have no knowledge whatsoever of how he developed that dossier, none,” Hill said. “The first time I saw that dossier was the day before it was published in BuzzFeed when a colleague, like it seemed to be about half of Washington, D.C., had it, and showed me a copy of it, and I was shocked … That was when I expressed the misgivings and concern that he could have been played.” Hill told House lawmakers in November 2019 it was Brookings President Strobe Talbott who showed her the dossier.
Danchenko also cast doubt on Steele’s claims that Hill had been aware of his dossier work up until the time public disclosures of investigative materials revealed his role.
“I am not aware of any third party having any knowledge of any projects that I worked on in the private sector. And I worked on over 350. In my line of work I am bound by NDAs, and I have never broken them. This is standard professional behaviour in due diligence / business intelligence sector. I never shared any details of my work with anyone, including with Dr. Hill,” Danchenko told the Washington Examiner. “To my knowledge, no one had been aware of my role in the Steele Dossier until my outing in July 2020.”
The Steele source had kind words for Hill, adding, “I did work in research and academia with many people, including with Dr. Hill, prior to my career in the private sector. I hold her and all the scholars I have had the privilege to work with in high regard.”
The records show Steele told the FBI that Danchenko “has a very special story, especially how [redacted] came to work” for his company.
“The primary subsource was introduced to Steele and Orbis by Fiona Hill in or around 2011,” the FBI wrote of Steele’s comments, adding, “Hill has a very high opinion of the primary subsource, and she told Steele that he and Orbis should take a look at him. Hill is one of Steele’s close friends — Steele later described in the interview that his wife went to university with Hill, and that Hill’s daughter is named after a now-deceased mutual college friend of Hill and his wife.”
In her 2015 book, Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin, Hill said Danchenko “provided us with a wealth of insights into and information” about Russian President Vladimir Putin and “gained notoriety as the person (the only person) to obtain, in 2005, a copy of Putin’s dissertation,” which they concluded was plagiarized. Hill and Danchenko also co-wrote a Brookings policy paper on Russia and China in 2010. Hill wrote Danchenko a LinkedIn recommendation in 2011, saying that “over the past several years of working in the United States, Igor has built an extensive network of professional research connections that complements his network in Russia and Europe.”
DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report on the Russia investigation criticized the DOJ and the FBI for at least 17 “significant errors and omissions” related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants against Trump campaign associate Carter Page and for the bureau’s reliance on the Democratic-funded dossier compiled by Steele. Steele was hired by Fusion GPS in June 2016, and the opposition research firm had been hired by Perkins Coie law firm, working for Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Horowitz’s report noted that Steele’s FBI interview “highlighted discrepancies between Steele’s presentation of information in the election reporting and the views of his Primary Sub-source” and “revealed bias against Trump.”
FBI notes of a January 2017 interview with Danchenko showed he told the bureau he “did not know the origins” of some Steele claims and “did not recall” other dossier information. Steele’s source told the FBI that Steele mischaracterized at least one of his Russian source contacts. Danchenko also noted much of what he gave to Steele was “word of mouth and hearsay,” some of which stemmed from a “conversation that [he] had with friends over beers,” and the most salacious allegations may have been made in “jest.”
Orbis Business Intelligence tweeted an article in August from the Spectator that Steele’s company called “a useful corrective.” The report said that “either Danchenko was producing Pulitzer-prize-winning fiction for Steele or he later felt he had to be extremely careful with what he told the FBI” and “Steele’s supporters believe this is what happened.”
“I am afraid I could not possibly comment on others’ assessments of my alleged state of mind four years ago,” Danchenko told the Washington Examiner. “I can only say that the interviews were voluntary.”
Declassified footnotes from Horowitz’s report made public in 2020 indicate the bureau became aware that Steele’s dossier may have been compromised by Russian disinformation. Horowitz said Danchenko “contradicted the allegations of a ‘well-developed conspiracy’ in” Steele’s dossier. Declassified documents also show the FBI previously investigated Danchenko as a possible “threat to national security.”
Hill was critical of Steele’s dossier when she spoke to Congress.
“I almost fell over when I discovered that he was doing this report,” Hill said in October 2019. Hill said she met with Steele in 2016 and noted Steele “was clearly very interested in building up a client base,” which made him a target for Russia, calling it “a great opportunity to, basically, you know, present him with information that he’s looking for that can be couched in some truth and some disinformation.”
Hill testified that Steele’s dossier was a “rabbit hole” and Steele “could have been played” by the Russians. Her testimony was part of the Ukraine-related impeachment proceedings, and she stated that “it’s very likely that the Russians planted disinformation” in the dossier, adding, “I don’t believe it’s appropriate for him to have been hired to do this.”
Steele claimed he wasn’t fooled by Russian disinformation.
“These people simply have no idea what they are talking about. I’ve spent my entire adult life working with Russian disinformation,” Steele told Fusion co-founder Glenn Simpson for a 2019 book. “The ultimate Russian goal was to prevent Hillary Clinton from becoming president, and therefore, the idea that they would intentionally spread embarrassing information about Trump — true or not — is not logical.”
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