by Eric Felten
The indictment of Igor Danchenko, the “primary sub-source” of Christopher Steele’s infamous dossier, reveals that the FBI electronically recorded several previously undisclosed interviews with the Brookings Institution researcher. Separately, it raises suspicions, according to congressional sources, that his Brookings superior Fiona Hill may have committed perjury when testifying about Steele during President Trump’s first impeachment.
The existence of electronic records of Danchenko speaking to the FBI far more extensively than previously known creates the possibility that much more will come out about the origins of the Steele dossier and the way the opposition research was weaponized. And those under scrutiny in Special Counsel John Durham’s investigation of the origins of the Trump-Russia affair will have to wonder whether information to which they previously attested jibes with the Danchenko recordings.
According to Durham’s Nov. 3 indictment of Danchenko, the FBI conducted interviews with him in March, May, June, October, and November of 2017 — well beyond the three days of interviews at the beginning of 2017 previously disclosed in the Trump-Russia affair. (Deep in the Justice Department Inspector General’s report on surveillance court abuses—page 186—there is a passing reference to interviews with the “primary sub-source” in March and May 2017.) Unlike the early interviews, which were memorialized in a “consolidated write-up” of notes taken by agents and provided to lawmakers in heavily redacted form, at least three of the later interviews were recorded legally but without Danchenko’s knowledge — those conducted March 16, May 18, and June 15. The indictment is silent on whether the October 24 and November 16 interviews were also surreptitiously recorded.
It has been known since July 2020 that Danchenko was the primary source of spurious rumors and alcohol-lubricated gossip about Donald Trump compiled by opposition researcher and former British spy Steele. The indictment unsealed last week states that in 2010, it was “Think Tank Employee-1” — Fiona Hill — who introduced Danchenko to “U.K. Person-1”— that is, Steele. The next year Danchenko began working as a contractor for Steele’s company, Orbis, which the indictment refers to as “U.K. Investigative Firm-1.”
Hill, a longtime intelligence analyst who became a deputy assistant on the Trump administration’s National Security Council, was a key witness in the Ukraine-related impeachment of President Trump.
As part of the impeachment proceedings, Hill gave closed-door testimony to House lawmakers and investigators for the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the Committee on Oversight and Reform and the Committee on Foreign Affairs. During that testimony in October 2019, Hill answered many questions emphatically and apparently without leaving herself wiggle room. Hill did not express the sort of memory fog that often afflicts well-coached, evasive witnesses. Asked whether she was “aware of any interaction between Mr. Steele and Ukrainians,” Hill did not say “to the best of my recollection” or “I don’t remember specifically,” or even a simple “no.” Instead she expanded her answer to deny not only any knowledge of Steele and Ukrainians, but to deny any knowledge of anything Steele-related: “I have no knowledge whatsoever of how he developed that dossier. None. I just want to state that.”
Lawmakers are particularly interested in that statement. The Danchenko indictment states that Hill introduced Danchenko both to Steele and to an unnamed public relations executive, since identified as Charles Dolan Jr., a Hillary Clinton ally. Republican members of the House Permanent Select Committee are questioning whether Hill could have had “no knowledge whatsoever” of how the dossier was developed when she had a central role in connecting those key players. RealClearInvestigations was unable to reach Hill through her former attorney.
“It’s hard to believe Fiona Hill introduced Danchenko both to Steele and to Dolan, yet had no idea of the purpose of the introductions she herself was making or what resulted from those introductions,” a source familiar with the thinking of House Republicans tells RealClearInvestigations. “So, yes, Republicans on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence are taking a look at that.”
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Eric Felten is an investigative correspondent for RealClearInvestigations, reporting on government corruption. He is a former columnist for the Wall Street Journal and previously a Kennedy Fellow at Harvard University. Felten has been published in Washingtonian, People, National Geographic Traveler, The Weekly Standard, Daily Beast, National Review, Spectator USA, and Reader’s Digest.
Photo “FBI Investigator” by Sgt. Audrey Hayes.