The Odd Projection by the Steele Dosser’s Claimed Alfa Bank Source

Way back in March 2017, I noted that there was a clear feedback loop behind the Steele dossier. As part of that post, I noted how weird the single report on Alfa Bank in the dossier was. Rather than writing damning information about Trump — which was the entire point of the dossier — it instead described the relationship between Putin and a guy named Oleg Govorun, who the dossier claimed worked for Alfa in the 1990s (that date was wrong but not the affiliation).

Consider report 112, dated September 14. It pertains to “Kremlin-Alpha Group Cooperation.” It doesn’t have much point in a dossier aiming to hurt Trump. None of his associates nor the Russian DNC hack are mentioned. It does suggest that that Alfa Group had a “bag carrier … to deliver large amounts of illicit cash to” Putin when he was Deputy Mayor of St. Petersburg, though describes the current relationship as “both carrot and stick,” relying in part on kompromat pertaining to Putin’s activities while Deputy Mayor. It makes no allegations of current bribery, though says mutual leverage helps Putin “do his political bidding.”

As I said, there’s no point to have that Alfa Bank passage in a dossier on Trump. But it does serve, in its disclosure, to add a data point (albeit not a very interesting one) to the Alfa Server story that (we now know) FBI was already reviewing but which hadn’t been pitched to the press yet. In Corn’s piece, he mentions the Alfa Bank story but not the report on Putin’s ties to it. It may be in there because someone — perhaps already in possession of the Alfa Bank allegations — asked Steele to lay out more about Alfa’s ties with Putin.

Here’s one reason that’s interesting, though. Even aside from all the other reasons the Alfa story is dodgy, it was deliberately packaged for press consumption. Rather than the at least 19 servers that Trump’s spam email was pinging, it revealed just two: Alfa Bank and Spectrum Health (the latter of which got spun, anachronistically, as a DeVos organization that thus had to be tight with Trump). Which is to say, the Alfa story was dodgy and packaged by yet unknown people.

Even though the report didn’t say anything really damning about current Alfa bank personnel, the oligarchs who own the bank have nevertheless engaged in protracted lawfare that seems set on ruining those behind the dossier. As part of the lawsuit against Fusion GPS, the Alfa oligarchs recently submitted declarations from the presumed sources of Igor Danchenko, Steele’s primary subsource. (And yes, two of these declarations claim to be Subsource 4, in both English and Russian.)

Subsource 1: Sergey Vladimirovich Abyshev

Subsource 2: Ivan Mikhailovich Vorontsov

Subsource 3: Olga Aleksandrovna Galkina

Subsource 4: Alexey Sergeyevich Dundich

Subsource 4: Ivan Ivanovich Kurilla

Subsource 5: Lyudmila Nikolayevna Podobedova

With the exception of Galkina, all of these purported subsources state that they have not read the dossier except for the Alfa Bank report, and then assert that they were not a source for the dossier. For example, this is how Dundich disclaimed being a source for the dossier as a whole, which he is sure is low-quality, while admitting he only read one report from it.

I am aware of the Steele Dossier (“Dossier”), but I have never read it save for Company Intelligence Report 112 (“CIR 112”).

[snip]

In contrast to what Mr. Danchenko told U.S. authorities, I was not a “source” of information for the Dossier. I never gave Mr. Danchenko (or anyone else) any information associated with the contents of the Dossier, including CIR 112, Mr. Fridman, Mr. Aven, Mr. Khan, or Alfa. I believe that Mr. Danchenko framed me as Sub-Source 4 to add credibility to his low-quality work, which is not based on real information or in-depth analysis.

Even Galkina, who stated that she had read the dossier when it was published by BuzzFeed, issues a non-denial denial, stating only that when she traveled to the US in 2016 she and Danchenko did not discuss anything about the dossier (the FBI interviewed her in August 2017, which she doesn’t mention here, and she does travel to the States, so she’d be at risk of prosecution if she said anything conflicting with her prior statements or material known to have been obtained from her via FISA 702).

Mr. Danchenko and I met once in 2016. In connection with my job at Servers.com, I traveled to the United States in the spring of 2016 to participate in the Game Developers Conference event and investigate the prospects of running a public relations campaign for the company in the United States. I asked Mr. Danchenko to assist those efforts, and he introduced me to a third party, Charles Dolan, whom he thought could help. Mr. Danchenko and I did not discuss anything related to the Dossier or its contents during this meeting.

But she doesn’t describe her communications with Danchenko via phone and text, which is how Danchenko said he got some of the most important stories sourced to her. And a later denial in her declaration seems to be a (poorly translated) denial limited to providing information specific to the Alfa Bank materials, not a denial of providing other information in it.

I did not provide Mr. Danchenko (or anyone else) with any information mentioned in the Dossier and that was connected to Mr. Fridman, Mr. Aven, Mr. Khan, or Alfa. I believe that Mr. Danchenko identified me as Sub-Source 3 to create more authoritativeness for his work.

In short, none of these declarations could be denials they provided Danchenko information in the dossier, because the one person who has actually read it doesn’t deny she did provide information (that said, her information was some of the most likely to be deliberate disinformation).

These declarations, then, don’t do what a filing attempting to use them to force Danchenko to set for a deposition claims they do, making general denials of being a source for the dossier.

Even more importantly, Mr. Danchenko’s claimed sub-sources have now denied, under penalty of perjury, providing Mr. Danchenko with information related to the contents of the dossier generally or with respect to CIR 112 and Plaintiffs specifically.7

Galkina’s the only one who’d be able to make such a denial, and she doesn’t do so in her declaration.

But I find Abyshev’s denials of interest for other reasons. He admits that he and Vorontsov met with Danchenko on June 15, 2016 and claims that Danchenko got very drunk (earlier he claimed that Danchenko had a drinking problem for a year or two after the compilation of the dossier).

I met with Mr. Danchenko once in 2016, the year that, as I understand, the Dossier was prepared. On June 15, 2016, Mr. Danchenko, Ivan Vorontsov, and I met in Moscow. I recall that Mr. Danchenko appeared very intoxicated and was not able to maintain a conversation. During the meeting, I spoke with Mr. Vorontsov about investments and finance. I do not recall any conversation related to the contents of the Dossier, including allegations related to CIR 112, Mr. Fridman, Mr. Aven, Mr. Khan, or Alfa. This was my last meeting with Mr. Danchenko.

He further admits that Danchenko raised Alfa on a phone call with him at some time that year, but claims he told Danchenko the subject was inappropriate and he should go find out the answers to the question himself.

On one occasion, during a phone call in 2016, Mr. Danchenko asked me how close Mr. Fridman is to President Putin and whether Mr. Fridman had met with President Putin in 2016. I did not respond to Mr. Danchenko’s questions. Instead, I made it clear that the questions were inappropriate and that Mr. Danchenko should seek out answers to them himself.

This denial comes on top of Abyshev’s more general denial about being a source for the report in question.

Contrary to what Mr. Danchenko told U.S. authorities, I was not a “source” of the Dossier. I never provided Mr. Danchenko (or anyone else) with any information related to the contents of the Dossier, including CIR 112, Mr. Fridman, Mr. Aven, Mr. Khan, or Alfa.

On this point, Abyshev’s denial is the only one that is really pertinent, because he’s the only one that Danchenko mentioned in his FBI interview in conjunction with this report (the FBI interviewed Danchenko two more times after this, but those interviews must not be helpful for Trump, because Republicans have never demanded those reports be declassified).

While Danchenko seems to suggest that Source 1, Abyshev, was involved in this story, he doesn’t actually say that. Instead, he explained that he had been working on this story for ten years and that Source 1 had provided him other information on corruption unrelated to Alfa.

That’s interesting, not least because Vorontsov actually said that if you wanted information about the oligarchs running Alfa, you’d look outside of Russia (probably London).

I do not believe that Mr. Danchenko asked anyone inside Russia about Mr. Fridman, Mr. Aven, or Mr. Khan. If Mr. Danchenko were interested in those individuals, he would have sought information from people living outside Russia who would have greater knowledge of Mr. Fridman, Mr. Aven, and Mr. Khan.

In Vorontsov’s opinion, this is the part of the dossier for which Danchenko wouldn’t need a source in Russia.

Here’s where things get interesting. Like everyone save Galkina, Abyshev says the only part of the dossier he read was the Alfa Bank report.

I am aware of the so-called Steele Dossier (“Dossier”), but I have never read it save for the Russian translation of Company Intelligence Report 112 (“CIR 112”), which raises various allegations about Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven, German Khan, and Alfa.

Having not read the dossier, however, Abyshev claims that Danchenko’s job was to substantiate stories his clients want him to tell.

My understanding of Mr. Danchenko’s information-gathering process is that he first receives a story from his clients that he then must substantiate in any manner possible

This actually conflicts with Danchenko’s FBI interview, at least part of which Abyshev claims to have read, in which he says he tried to find information on Paul Manafort but failed to find much.

More interesting still, Abyshev offers up this explanation for what Danchenko was doing.

I infer from my interactions with Mr. Danchenko, from that 2016 telephone conversation, and from the content of what was ultimately published in CIR 112, that Mr. Danchenko had a working theory regarding the relationship between Alfa and its shareholders on the one hand, and President Putin on the other, and that Mr. Danchenko was fishing for information that would fit that preconceived narrative.

I believe it is likely that someone ensured that CIR 112 was included in the Dossier in an effort to persuade U.S. authorities to sanction Mr. Fridman, Mr. Aven, Mr. Khan, and Alfa.

I find that interesting — first, because decades old allegations of corruption would not substantiate a sanctions designation. Abyshev’s claims make no sense given the content that ended up in the report.

More interesting still is how closely Abyshev’s claims match Petr Aven’s testimony to Mueller’s team about how Putin pressured him to try to set up a back channel with Trump’s team during the transition by warning that Alfa would be sanctioned in the aftermath of the 2016 election.

Aven told the Office that he is one of approximately 50 wealthy Russian businessmen who regularly meet with Putin in the Kremlin; these 50 men are often referred to as “oligarchs.”977 Aven told the Office that he met on a quarterly basis with Putin, including in the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2016, shortly after the U.S. presidential election.978 Aven said that he took these meetings seriously and understood that any suggestions or critiques that Putin made during these meetings were implicit directives, and that there would be consequences for A ven if he did not follow through.979 As was typical, the 2016 Q4 meeting with Putin was preceded by a preparatory meeting with Putin’s chief of staff, Anton Vaino.980

According to Aven, at his Q4 2016 one-on-one meeting with Putin,981 Putin raised the prospect that the United States would impose additional sanctions on Russian interests, including sanctions against Aven and/or Alfa-Bank.982 Putin suggested that Aven needed to take steps to protect himself and Alfa-Bank.983 Aven also testified that Putin spoke of the difficulty faced by the Russian government in getting in touch with the incoming Trump Administration.984 According to Aven, Putin indicated that he did not know with whom formally to speak and generally did not know the people around the President-Elect.985

Aven [grand jury redaction] told Putin he would take steps to protect himself and the Alfa-Bank shareholders from potential sanctions, and one of those steps would be to try to reach out to the incoming Administration to establish a line of communication.986

[snip]

In December 2016, weeks after the one-on-one meeting with Putin described in Volume I, Section IV.B.1.b, supra, Petr Aven attended what he described as a separate “all-hands” oligarch meeting between Putin and Russia’s most prominent businessmen. 1167 As in Aven’s one-on-one meeting, a main topic of discussion at the oligarch meeting in December 2016 was the prospect of forthcoming U.S. economic sanctions. 1168

After the December 2016 all-hands meeting, Aven tried to establish a connection to the Trump team. Aven instructed Richard Burt to make contact with the incoming Trump Administration. Burt was on the board of directors for LetterOne (L 1 ), another company headed by Aven, and had done work for Alfa-Bank. 1169 Burt had previously served as U.S. ambassador to Germany and Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs, and one of his primary roles with Alfa-Bank and Ll was to facilitate introductions to business contacts in the United States and other Western countries. 1170

I’ve always believed the Trump Tower server story to be an elaborate disinformation effort, which had the added benefit of drawing attention to Erik Prince but not the things that Prince was doing that were key to the Russian operation (his communications about which were done via garden variety encrypted apps). I likewise always believed that Aven’s testimony might explain why Russia would craft such disinformation: not only to distract from the things that Prince and others really were doing, but to present a way to recruit Alfa’s oligarchs more centrally into Russia’s efforts to push back on sanctions, as oligarchs who weren’t as western-focused had long been.

Here, a filing in a lawsuit attempting to make maximal advantage of whatever success Russia had feeding an old nemesis of theirs disinformation as part of the larger 2016 operation makes the same argument that (according to Aven’s own testimony) Putin made to Aven, only insinuating that the argument would have come from Danchenko, not a Russian disinformation source.

Abyshev is, in addition to Danchenko’s source on the pee tape (at that meeting where Abyshev says Danchenko was badly drunk), also someone Danchenko understood to have close ties to Russian intelligence who appears to have known of Danchenko’s tie to Steele.

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14 replies
  1. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Thank you for the observation about disinformation relating to activities Erik Prince was allegedly engaged in, which served to hide and distract from the nefarious things he might actually have done. When the disinformation is outed as false, as it would be, it will be used to suggest that all claims about Prince’s allegedly nefarious conduct are false. Two added benefits are that the process portrays Prince as a victim – an essential attribute for the authoritarian leader – and undercuts all future allegations about him, regardless of how objectively credible they are.

    That’s the sort of propaganda one puts out when a valuable resource is likely to be outed. That is, burn him for something he did not do, out the lie, then rehabilitate the resource. Given his wealth, far right politics, and line of work, he’s the sort of guy likely to be perennially useful to the right sort of bad actor.

    • RMD says:

      Very similar to 60 Minutes’ investigation into G. Bush around his National Guard non-service.
      Mary Mapes’s was the Producer of the segment with Dan Rather. In her memoir “Truth and Duty: The Press, the President and the Privilege of Power,” Mapes argues her opponents “hope the “truth gets lost in the scrum,” —with questions about “fonts” used and whether the Killian documents are authentic. Initially, Killian reviews the documents and what they report about Bush’s non attendance at required NG service duty. The questions raised about the documents are addressed…. however, he reverses earlier statements attesting to their accuracy… (leaving us to wonder why)
      Result: Bush gets full vindication over a story that had multiple sources, documents, witnesses, including Defense Department attendance logs that are verified.

      No matter.
      The Killian reversal on the narrow question of whether the few documents he examined and attested to as legit, now had the effect of negating ALL of the other evidence, as rw noise departments would have you believe.

  2. OldTulsaDude says:

    Is it reasonable to think that salvaging Prince was the impetus for the dossier disinformation campaign ?

    • Rugger9 says:

      It might be that, since Prince seems to be a guy that is useful to have around for toys and troops that are personally loyal [to the paymaster].

    • Rugger9 says:

      It might be that, since Prince seems to be a guy that is useful to have around for toys and troops that are personally loyal [to the paymaster].

    • emptywheel says:

      Not really.

      First, consider there are two parts of possible disinformation, the dossier and the Alfa Bank allegations. They only cross in this one report, and not very substantively.

      There’s far more evidence the dossier is disinformation. And that is best thought of by the demonstrable role that Oleg Deripaska had in it, and so that is best thought of as a way to maximize Manafort’s pain. But the clearest aspects of disinfo in the dossier deal with Michael Cohen, with allegations that resembled what he was really doing (cleaning up from Trump’s sex partners), while threatening to expose the Russia real estate deal, while making entirely false and very specific allegations.

      Then there’s Trump Tower Alfa Bank. There, Alfa Bank may have been the primary target, Trump secondary, and Prince just a late add-on after he was involved with Stone.

      • Savage Librarian says:

        Thanks so much for putting a fine point on it. Very helpful in getting to understand how disinformation works, especially from Putin’s perspective.

  3. Silly but True says:

    One lamentable outcome is that no one had backbone to do 9/11 type is commission to review all foreign interference associated with 2016 election. There was just too much fatigue with DoJ, Mueller, DoJ OIG, HPSCI, and SSCI among the various parties all looking at aspects.

    From Russian side for its part, it was likely disinformation all the way down.

    For US side, we have to learn, including US media, to quit dancing around like monkeys every time a foreign governments’ organ grinder gets played.

    More than sixth years on, we have no good idea about “the dossier’s” purpose.

    • Rayne says:

      Are you actually saying the 115th Congress — in which the GOP kept their majorities in both the House and the Senate, and a GOP president in the White House — should have agreed to launch a commission into the 2016 election which resulted in the GOP’s domination of all three branches of office? Or that the 116th Congress in which only the House had flipped to Democrats could have done this while trying to win more Congressional seats and support a win in the White House?

      Because if you are, you should seriously consider tapering off whatever hallucinogens you’re using. The closest thing that could happen in those conditions was the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 United States presidential election.

      • Silly but True says:

        I’m saying that the lack of a singularly comprehensive understanding of foreign interference in 2016 election is a missed opportunity for America.

        The problems of 115 & 116 Congresses which you cite are merely symptoms of same larger problems which kept such a comprehensive review from occurring.

        Yes, there are things more important than a politician being re-elected, but it’s the rare politician that will put country before political aspiration.

      • Silly but True says:

        You also ignore that the type of investigation I referenced was the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the “9/11 Commission”).

        This was a Presidential Commission, as could be a “National Commission to Investigate Foreign Election Interference.”

        • Rayne says:

          First, you’re talking 20 years ago, about a totally different reality. Second, you are talking about terrorist attacks the GOP of that time believed targeted them as as well as the rest of the country.

          Why you think the perpetrators as well as the accessories to 2016’s crimes would ever choose to investigate themselves is beyond me. Your refusal to grasp this key point amounts to spamming this thread: it’s not that politicians today refuse to put the country ahead of party, it’s that criminals don’t investigate themselves and obstruct others’ attempts to do so.

          As for the current executive branch investigating 2016: in addition to trying to resolve a pandemic and its secondary effects, they have an insurrection to investigate and put down. They likely won’t touch anything related to 2016 unless the Senate is flipped and a larger majority in the House is won — and that’s where we need to be focused to get around the criminal enterprise you know as the GOP.

          • Silly but True says:

            We know the U.S. government can do more than one thing at a time.

            The experts serving on a apolitical Presidential Commission about foreign election interference, which can consist of retired experts not even in current government, are absolutely not the same people working on resolving the COVID pandemic.

            Also, the fact that it’s been 20 years since last major Presidential commission allow us benefit of plugging all the structural gaps of 9/11 commission, particularly empowering commission against agency or individuals’ stonewalling.

            Additionally, foreign interference in 2016 election comprised more than just Russia. And while Russia’s activities have been extensively investigated, there remain hanging threads which are important to understand.

  4. vicks says:

    I’m not sure if this is old news or has anything to do with the dead end feel of most things Alfa Bank, but if you recall Brian Benczkowski’s represented Alpha (including their defamation suit against Buzzfeed) before he left Kirkland Ellis for his gig at the DOJ, I think we may still be waiting for the details of the waiver that overrode the obvious need for recusals…
    I haven’t thought about it for a while, but this post reminded me that at the time I just assumed he like so many others would be part of Mueller’s big reveal, he certainly would have in a position to be useful to his old client.

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