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Russian in Cyprus Was Behind Key Parts of

Discredited Dossier on Trump

A Wall Street Journal investigation points to the identity of ’Source 3’ as a disgruntled PR executive with a ‘vast network’ of sources

By Alan Cullison in Washington and David Gauthier Villars in Istanbul

November 02, 2020 "Information Clearing House" - -  WSJ Oct. 28, 2020 12:19 pm ET - In the nearly four years since they were published, many of the unverified allegations about President Trump compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele have been widely discredited, including by Special Counsel Robert Mueller ’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

Yet the source of some of the most critical allegations in that dossier and how they reached Mr. Steele have remained a mystery.
A Wall Street Journal investigation provides an answer: a 40-year-old Russian public-relations executive named Olga Galkina fed notes to a friend and former schoolmate who worked for Mr. Steele.​ The Journal relied on interviews, law-enforcement records, declassified documents and the identification of Ms. Galkina by a former top U.S. national security official.
In 2016, Ms. Galkina was working in Cyprus at an affiliate of XBT Holding SA, a web-services company best known for its Webzilla internet hosting unit. XBT is owned by Russian internet entrepreneur Aleksej Gubarev.
That summer, she received a request from an employee of Mr. Steele to help unearth potentially compromising information on then-presidential candidate Donald Trump ’s links to Russia, according to people familiar with the matter. Ms. Galkina was friends with the employee, Igor Danchenko, since their school days in Perm, a Russian provincial city near the Ural mountains.
Ms. Galkina was the source, for instance, of the dossier’s contention that Webzilla played a central role in the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee, according to people familiar with the matter. The release of emails stolen from the Democratic Party leadership roiled the presidential campaign.

The former British spy Christopher Steele arrived to a London court in July to attend his libel trial brought by Russian internet entrepreneur Aleksej Gubarev. - Photo: tolga akmen/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

She was also responsible for the mention of Mr. Gubarev in the dossier as a hacking expert recruited under duress by Russian security services, these people said.

Likewise, she was behind the dossier’s assertion that Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, and Russian intelligence officials, held a secret meeting in Prague in the summer of 2016 to discuss how to pay the hackers and cover up their work, the people said.

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Messrs. Cohen, Gubarev and others have long since denied taking part in the activities described in the dossier. Contacted by the Journal, Ms. Galkina acknowledged receiving a reporter’s written questions, but didn’t respond to them.

While contributing to the dossier, the people familiar with the matter said, Ms. Galkina was in a messy dispute with her employer, Webzilla’s parent company.

A law graduate who spoke five languages and had worked in Russia in a variety of industries, according to an online resume and a person who worked with her, she appeared qualified for the job. But in August 2016, less than 10 months after her arrival in Cyprus, Ms. Galkina’s employer took steps to fire her.

Relations soured to the point where her manager went to authorities in the Cypriot city of Limassol in November of that year and filed a statement with police. According to the statement, which was reviewed by the Journal, Ms. Galkina was chronically showing up late to work, sometimes appearing drunk.
The manager told police that an acquaintance of Ms. Galkina had told him he would face deep trouble, including possible death, unless he paid €10,000 ($11,740) in compensation, according to the statement, which was confirmed by a Cypriot official and a person who attended its recording. Because the manager never filed a formal complaint, the matter was dropped, the official said.
In November 2016, Ms. Galkina was fired. Weeks later, she implicated Webzilla and Mr. Gubarev in the hacking, according to people familiar with the matter.
Mr. Trump has said the dossier was part of a broader attempt to sully his reputation, referring broadly to information about Russian interference in the 2016 election as a “hoax.”
Mr. Mueller’s investigation found that the hacking of the DNC was directed by the Kremlin in a bid to benefit Mr. Trump. Mr. Mueller’s investigators obtained a related indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence officers as well as guilty pleas or convictions against several former aides and associates to Mr. Trump for lying to investigators or separate financial crimes. The investigation didn’t establish a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, which has repeatedly denied interfering in U.S. elections.

Mr. Gubarev arriving to a London court in July to pursue his libel case against Mr. Steele, who he blames for allegedly leaking the dossier to BuzzFeed. - Photo: tolga akmen/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

The Mueller report presented no evidence the purported Prague meeting ever happened. Alleged attendees have denied they had anything to do with the hacking or met in the Czech capital. Mr. Gubarev, Webzilla and XBT have denied any involvement in the hacking.
Mr. Danchenko, the Russian national who conducted research for Mr. Steele’s dossier, was identified publicly for the first time this past summer after the Trump administration declassified documents from a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe into the report’s origins.
In three days of interviews with the FBI in early 2017 as the agency tried to determine the origin of the dossier, Mr. Danchenko said he had been working for Mr. Steele as a researcher, according to the declassified documents. With the approach of U.S. elections in 2016, Mr. Danchenko told the FBI, Mr. Steele asked him for information about Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia.
Mr. Danchenko told the FBI that the task was “outside the normal scope of work and it wasn’t completely comfortable” for him. To find such information on Mr. Trump, he turned to his “social circle” in Russia, according to declassified FBI notes of the meeting.
Mr. Danchenko told the FBI that a school friend, referred to in heavily redacted FBI notes as “Source 3,” had provided him with information for Mr. Steele “across a wide range of topics,” and stood as the dossier’s most important contributor. The former high-ranking U.S. national-security official told The Wall Street Journal that the source in question was Ms. Galkina.
Mr. Danchenko, in a statement released by his attorney, said he wouldn’t confirm or deny information concerning his sources or methods. “I have a longstanding relationship with most of my sources ... and have no reason to believe that any of them fabricated information that was given to me,” Mr. Danchenko said. “More importantly, I have yet to see anything credible that indicates that the raw intelligence I collected was inaccurate.”
Acquaintances of Mr. Danchenko said that he and Ms. Galkina had been friends since high school in Perm. In his FBI interview, Mr. Danchenko said he knew Ms. Galkina since the equivalent of eighth grade and that she had remained a “close, personal friend” who he had helped financially over the years.
Mr. Danchenko told FBI investigators that Ms. Galkina, who had held a variety of jobs in government and the private sector in Russia over the years, had a “vast network of people” she could talk to, including some with connections to the Kremlin, and had helped him gather information in the past, according to the declassified notes.
According to Mr. Danchenko’s FBI interview and FBI notes, Mr. Steele gave him “four to five” names of officials in Mr. Trump’s circle to research, which he passed along to Ms. Galkina in the fall of 2016. “Almost immediately,” she recognized the name of Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Mr. Cohen, according to the declassified notes.
Ms. Galkina’s initial version of alleged contacts between Mr. Cohen and the Russian government was sketchy and she could identify few of the people involved, according to the declassified notes.
In mid-October, Ms. Galkina reported that Mr. Cohen had met with Kremlin officials that summer in an undisclosed European country, where they discussed ways to minimize the appearance of contacts between Mr. Trump’s aides and Russia, the FBI notes said.
In December, Ms. Galkina gave Mr. Danchenko new details about Mr. Cohen’s purported meeting and implicated her erstwhile boss, Mr. Gubarev, in the DNC hacking, the notes said. Mr. Cohen denied in an appearance before Congress in 2019 that he had ever been to Prague or that he had anything to do with the 2016 hacking of the Democrats.
The dossier also alleged that another individual, Seva Kaptsugovich, was involved with Mr. Gubarev in the hacking. A man bearing the same name was a notorious convict in Perm, Ms. Galkina’s Russian hometown, where a court in 2013 sentenced him to more than 18 years in prison on sexual-crime charges. He couldn’t be reached for comment.
The dossier, which consists of reports dated between June and December 2016, sprang from an effort initially commissioned by conservative Republican  opponents of Mr. Trump during the presidential primaries and was later continued by Democrats, including the campaign of candidate Hillary Clinton and the DNC.
Mr. Steele was hired by Fusion GPS, a business-intelligence research firm in Washington. The Journal in January 2017 was first to report that Mr. Steele was the author of the dossier.
Mr. Steele, who has said the dossier wasn’t meant for public consumption, through an associate declined to comment. The dossier was published by BuzzFeed News in January 2017. Other news outlets, including the Journal, subsequently published articles describing some of the allegations and making clear that they were unverified.
Mr. Gubarev sued BuzzFeed in the U.S., where a judge dismissed the case, saying that the dossier had become a government record that the publication couldn’t be held liable for, even if it was incorrect. Mr. Gubarev has filed a libel lawsuit against Mr. Steele in the U.K. Mr. Gubarev declined to comment, citing the pending litigation. Buzzfeed’s editor in chief at the time, Ben Smith, said the ruling was a vindication of the publication’s work.
The FBI in July 2016 launched an investigation into any links between the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the election based on intelligence it had received overseas. Later, acting on a request from former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and complaints by members of Congress, the Justice Department’s inspector general reviewed the FBI’s actions in starting the Russia probe and last year reported it found “serious performance failures” in the FBI’s conduct in a portion of that investigation that relied on the dossier.
The review found that the FBI had reason to open its overall probe and found no evidence that political bias influenced the FBI’s decisions. The probe of the ties to Russia was handed to Mr. Mueller in May 2017.
FBI director Christopher Wray has introduced a series of reforms, including changes to the FBI’s confidential human-source program, under which Mr. Steele provided information to the FBI. The declassified FBI notes indicate U.S. federal agents distrusted Mr. Steele’s source network.
—Nonna Fomenko in Moscow contributed to this article.
Write to Alan Cullison at alan.cullison@wsj.com and David Gauthier-Villars at David.Gauthier-Villars@wsj.com

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See also


Russian woman who was identified as key source in Trump’s ‘golden shower’ dossier denies links to the infamous report,

Libel action against former MI6 officer over Trump 'dossier' rejected by court


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