Above, Sergei Millian and Donald Trump -- a fateful picture for the targeted Belarusian-American.
By Paul Sperry, RealClearInvestigations
November 10, 2021
In January 2017, Igor Danchenko, a primary source for the Steele dossier, told FBI officials in a debriefing that one of his sources for derogatory information about Donald Trump’s alleged ties to Russia was merely an anonymous voice on the other end of a phone call that lasted 10-15 minutes.
The voice, Danchenko claimed, was someone he assumed to be Sergei Millian, an immigrant from Belarus, president and founder of an organization called the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce. As thin as that sourcing sounds, the truth appears to be worse. According to a new criminal indictment, Danchenko lied to FBI agents: There was no voice and there was no phone call. The Russian national made it all up.
Still, the FBI continued to use Danchenko’s supposed source’s claims of a “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” between Russia and Trump to convince a secret federal court to allow investigators to electronically monitor at least one Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page, whom the FBI accused of masterminding the conspiracy based on Danchenko's dubious claims. Agents swore in court documents reviewed by RealClearInvestigations that Danchenko was “truthful and cooperative,” even after discovering he misled them regarding his allegedly well-placed source.
The combination of Danchenko reporting a “conspiracy” and the FBI vouching for his credibility persuaded the powerful Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to authorize wiretapping Page as a suspected Russian agent for almost a year. Page was never charged and is now suing the FBI and Justice Department for $75 million.
Special Counsel John Durham detailed the alleged dossier fiction in a grand jury indictment unsealed last week charging Danchenko with five felony counts of lying to the FBI — four of which relate to the invented phone call with Millian, a New York Realtor who was in reality a big fan of Trump.
“Danchenko never received such a phone call or such information from any person he believed to be [Millian], and Danchenko never made any arrangements to meet [Millian],” the indictment states. “Danchenko fabricated these facts."
When his name first publicly surfaced in early 2017 as a key source of the dossier, Millian said he emphatically denied it in interviews with the Washington media, who were scrambling to corroborate the dossier. He showed RealClearInvestigations emails he exchanged with reporters for the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal -- Rosalind Helderman and Tom Hamburger from the former and Mark Maremont from the latter -- in which he tried to steer them off the story, insisting it was “a vicious lie” and a smear campaign against him and the incoming Republican president. But the newspapers nonetheless reported he was the source for the most explosive parts of the dossier, including the claim that Russian President Vladimir Putin had compromising sex tapes of Trump and that he and Trump were engaged in a “well-developed conspiracy” to steal the 2016 election.
Asked for comment, Maremont of the Journal responded, "I don't know you or your outlet,” then referred a reporter to media relations for his paper's publisher, Dow Jones. The Post reporters did not return requests for comment.
Looking back, Millian speculates that reporters took the word of Glenn Simpson and their other contacts at Fusion GPS over his. A paid Clinton campaign contractor, Simpson hired former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, who in turn hired Danchenko, a former Brookings Institution analyst, to collect dirt for the Clinton dossier. The 42-year-old Millian contends that it was Simpson’s opposition-research shop that put him on the radar of those digging for dirt on Trump, while also pitching his name to journalists at the Post and Journal, as well as the New York Times, who were frenetically covering the “Russiagate” story at the time.
“Clearly I got nothing to do with any of this crazy dossier,” Millian told RCI. “I denied it from the very beginning. It’s all fake from beginning to end.” He added that, in effect, the Clinton campaign and its operatives were trying to “frame" him in order to tar Trump as a president compromised by Moscow. Durham’s investigation, as well as earlier federal probes of the origins of the dossier, appear to back up his claims.
In the fall of 2016, Danchenko’s alleged fabrications about Millian were also fed to the FBI by then-top Justice Department official Bruce Ohr, whose wife, Nellie, worked for Simpson as a researcher on Trump’s alleged Russian connections, according to a 2019 report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz.
Millian’s name was first dug up when Nellie Ohr found a photo on the Internet of Trump, Millian, and another businessman in 2007.
“Millian had popped up in Nellie Ohr’s early reporting for his ties to Trump,” Simpson co-wrote in the 2019 book “Crime in Progress: The Secret History of the Trump-Russia Investigation.” He added that Millian's “record suggested a background entirely consistent with that of some sort of [Russian] state intelligence asset.”
“His role in the events of 2016 remains underappreciated, even today,” Simpson wrote. (He also maintained that Danchenko was considered “among the finest” of Russia analysts and “deserves a medal for service to the West”). Within weeks of Fusion’s research, Danchenko and Steele began using Millian as a stand-in source for false rumors that Trump was compromised by Moscow. Their scheme gained steam after Trump was elected. Their allegations not only formed the basis for continued surveillance of Page, but inspired a raft of congressional inquiries and other investigations that kept Trump's presidency under a cloud of suspicion for his entire term in office.
After meeting with Simpson in December 2016, Bruce Ohr conveyed to the lead agent investigating Trump and his advisers that Millian was the anonymous "Source E” in the dossier "who was central in connecting Trump to Russia,” the Horowitz report said. Ohr also relayed Simpson’s concerns that Millian was a Russian spy — specifically an “RIS [Russian Intelligence Services] officer” — as well as a claim that he was secretly in contact with the Trump team through a computer server controlled by Russia-based Alfa Bank. Ohr told the FBI he heard the same thing about Millian using the Alfa Bank server from his friend Steele the previous month. (Durham debunked the Trump-Alfa claims in an earlier indictment of former Clinton campaign attorney Michael Sussmann, who prosecutors say filed a specious report to the FBI about the alleged cyber link in 2016 while falsely claiming he wasn’t acting on behalf of any client.)
The FBI took the rumors seriously. In late 2016, the agency opened a counterintelligence investigation of Millian, according to the Horowitz report. As a result, Millian told RCI he was “dragged” into interviews with investigators — including agents later assigned to Special Counsel Robert Mueller after he took over the Russia “collusion” case in 2017 — and forced to appear before “secret courts.”
The FBI targeted Millian while knowing it once investigated Millian’s accuser Danchenko on the same suspicion — being a possible Russian spy. The FBI kept its earlier concerns about Danchenko quiet when it sought wiretaps on Trump’s adviser Page, despite internal warnings Danchenko could be feeding investigators “disinformation” about Trump, the Horowitz report also revealed. In other words, FBI counterintelligence agents trusted that a suspected spy was telling the truth about accusations that two Trump supporters — Millian and Page — were themselves spies. They did this knowing from the bureau's own case files that one of their targets — Page -- had actually helped both the FBI and CIA against the Kremlin for many years and couldn’t possibly be a Russian agent, as RCI first reported.
The FBI withheld this exculpatory information about Page from FISA judges. When a case agent in 2017 raised a question about Page’s past CIA cooperation while preparing an application to renew a FISA warrant to continue eavesdropping on Page, a senior FBI attorney falsified a CIA document to make it look like there was no such cooperation, according to Durham's indictment of that lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith, earlier this year.
Throughout 2017, Bruce Ohr continued to act as a conduit between the FBI and the authors of the dossier, funneling their salacious and unsubstantiated material to Joe Pientka, who had been the lead agent on the bureau’s Crossfire Hurricane case. Horowitz found that Ohr acted improperly and "committed consequential errors in judgment.” He was demoted and later resigned.
Ohr is now in Durham’s sights, according to sources familiar with his investigation. His wife is also a witness in the special counsel's mushrooming case, the sources said. Attempts to reach the Ohrs for comment were unsuccessful.
Millian was always an unlikely source for providing the Clinton camp with derogatory information about Trump. A Republican, he avidly supported Trump’s 2016 candidacy. He donated money to Trump, while also buying campaign “emblems, coins and stickers” that he handed out to friends and business associates. Federal election records show Millian gave at least $1,075 to Trump’s campaign and “Make America Great” committee. He also attended the 2017 presidential inauguration.
Millian said he expects the prosecutor's office to indict additional suspects tied to the dossier scheme. Durham has now impaneled criminal grand juries on both side of the Potomac — one in D.C. and another in Eastern district of Virginia — to hear evidence in the sprawling case, which has rocked Washington. Millian said he hopes the Clinton operatives — and Glenn Simpson, in particular — are held accountable for peddling falsehoods that led to the FBI putting him under investigation and the media defaming him.
“It was a very painful experience,” Millian said. “They derailed my career and destroyed my businesses.”
He said Simpson played a central role in pushing scurrilous rumors about him that ended up in the dossier and ultimately the FBI and media (in an example of circular evidence, remarkably, the FBI cited in FISA court affidavits one of the news articles naming Millian as a key dossier source to lend additional support to its probable cause for renewing wiretaps on Page). “Simpson falsely claimed that my name is an ‘alias' and since I was using an alias, I must be a Russian intelligence officer,” he complained.
A declassified FBI document from 2016 reveals that Simpson’s concerns wended their way into FBI headquarters.
“Simpson still thinks Sergei Millian is a key figure connecting Trump to Russia,” according to the FBI’s 302 summary of an interview with Ohr in December 2016. “Simpson believes Millian is [a Russian intelligence] officer, however he is deducing this from Millian’s alias, not because he was told Millian was [a Russian intelligence officer]. Millian may have overseen many financial transfers from Russia to assist the Trump campaign.”
In his book, Simpson pointed out that Millian "changed his name from Siarhei Kukuts,” adding that he’s “from Belarus, a small neighboring Russian satellite state sometimes adopted as a cover for Russian operatives seeking to distance themselves from Russia proper.”
Simpson also speculated Millian likely knew a “good deal about Trump’s activities in Russia and the Kremlin’s alleged support for the Trump campaign." Millian explained that he legally changed his name from the Belarusian surname Kukuts to make it easier for business associates to pronounced his name.
“My grandmother’s name was Millianovich, so I really like that name, and I respect my grandmother, so I decided to shorten it to Millian,” he told RCI, adding that he never hid his birth name and included it with his new legal name on his business website.
An American citizen, Millian said he first came to the U.S. in 2000 on an international trainee grant from Marriott International. He said Simpson, whose lawyer did not return a request for comment, never sought an explanation from him and targeted him in a “witch hunt.” “He is a psychopath,” Millian said.
The national media bit hard on the Millian story shopped by Simpson. First, the Wall Street Journal ran a story in early 2017 naming Millian as the key source of the most egregious dossier allegations, followed by the Washington Post. Millian said neither paper printed his rebuttals at length after reaching out to him by email. (In a Jan. 22, 2017, email obtained by RCI, Maremont, a former colleague of Simpson and now a senior editor at the Wall Street Journal, thanked Millian for his “note” and urged him to trust him before breaking the dubious story about him two days later. “I think if you look carefully at the Wall Street Journal’s news department you will understand that we have an unparalleled reputation for fairness and accuracy,” Maremont wrote. “I personally am a strong champion of that philosophy.”)
“The liberal press never printed my statements,” he said. “They all just went along with Steele's and Simpson’s lies.” Millian said he demanded retractions from both the Post and Journal, arguing their articles were “reckless, defamatory and constitute libel,” but they refused to retract them or run corrections or clarifications. (He said he later hired a lawyer to sue the papers for libel, but the lawyer advised him that the statute of limitations had expired.)
“After I demanded the Washington Post to retract, they informed me that they believe their source and will not delete the story,” he added. “I asked who is their source? They did not answer who.”
In light of the Danchenko indictment, however, the Post may be revisiting its coverage.
“The indictment raises new questions about whether Sergei Millian was a source for the Steele dossier, as the Post reported in 2017,” Post executive editor Sally Buzbee said in a statement last week. “We are continuing to report on the origins and ramifications of the document.”