The story of a man who supposedly was the “central” source of some of the most outrageous allegations regarding President Donald Trump in the Steele dossier has been full of contradictory claims and speculation.
The story told by the main face behind the infamous dossier, former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, clashes with what Steele’s supposed “collector” of information told the FBI. Both of their accounts conflict with other information now available and even with some information in the dossier itself.
The resulting mess has recently led Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) to ponder whether the supposed source was framed.
The dossier, a collection of allegations of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign designed to sway the 2016 election, was produced by Steele under a contract from Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm hired in 2016 by Perkins Coie, which was, in turn, paid for the job by the Democratic National Committee and the campaign of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The FBI used the dossier to obtain an intrusive spying warrant on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. As a result, Page was subjected to at least six months of illegal surveillance.
Steele claimed all the information in the dossier, starting with the first report in June 2016 and following with many others throughout the year, was provided by a singular source that had his or her own network of other sub-sources.
Steele has been reluctant to release the name of his primary source or any of the sub-sources he’s been aware of, except one: Sergei Millian.
Both Steele and Glen Simpson, his employer at Fusion, have been spreading Millian’s name around, weaving webs of mystery around his background. They have portrayed him at the same time as a Russian agent, the source of some of the most explosive allegations in the dossier, and also one of the Trump-Russia co-conspirators.
Yet evidence to back up the allegations ranges from speculative to outright contradictory, raising the question of whether Steele was spreading the wrong name.
The ‘Russian’ Guy From Belarus
Millian, a 41-year-old American citizen born in Belarus, came to the United States in the early 2000s as a hospitality student for the Marriott managerial training program, he told The Epoch Times. He then joined his friends in the real estate business and, by all accounts, has done well for himself.
He’s traveled the world for business meetings and conferences, managed luxurious real estate deals, landed speaking engagements at prestigious universities, regularly received invitations to posh private events, and even starred in an episode of a reality TV show.
In 2006, he set up the nonprofit Russian American Chamber of Commerce. Its goal was to help Russian businesses enter the U.S. market and vice-versa.
During his language studies in Belarus, he worked for a few months as a translator for Beltechexport, the country’s largest arms exporter tied to the Belarusian military. The company was sanctioned by the U.S. government for several years for dealing in controlled technologies with Iran, North Korea, or Syria. Those sanctions were lifted in 2013.
Simpson told Justice Department official Bruce Ohr in December 2016 that Millian was a Russian intelligence officer (pdf); he based the claim on the fact Millian changed his name after coming to America.
Millian’s original name was Siarhei Kukuts. He picked Millian as it was the maiden name of his grandmother (Millianovich), he told Brian Ross, then of ABC News, in July 2016.
As for Millian’s nonprofit organization, it’s reasonable to approach Russian business associations with suspicion, said Ronald Rychlak, a law professor at the University of Mississippi and an expert on Soviet and Russian disinformation. He cautioned, however, against automatically jumping to conclusions.
“It doesn’t mean, of course, that every entity is corrupt or is problematic,” he said.
The issue isn’t so much that the organization would be a spy front, but rather that Moscow could be using it to further its influence in the United States, he said.
“When there’s a friendly outlet in a foreign nation, the Kremlin will exploit it to the extent possible,” Rychlak told The Epoch Times in a phone call.
It shouldn’t be that hard to spot such organizations, he said.
“Are they touting the party line from Moscow? And if they do that, I think you operate on the assumption that that’s what they are.”
Millian said he was already aboard the Trump train when the tycoon announced his candidacy on June 16, 2015. He was a “supporter and believer” from day one, he said.
Shortly after he became a naturalized U.S. citizen, he made a $500 donation to the Trump campaign and in July 2016, reached out to Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos and offered him his contacts in Russia. The two remained in contact.
“I wanted to officially join [the Trump] campaign and reached out to him after reading a news article that Trump is forming a new team,” Millian said.
Joining the campaign was likely a long shot, but not impossible. The campaign was short on advisers and Millian had prior contacts with associates of Trump. He once consulted Trump’s then-lawyer Michael Cohen on plans to build a Trump Tower in Russia, he told ABC. Trump ultimately abandoned the project as his candidacy gained steam.
Yet once Millian learned that advisers such as Papadopoulos were unpaid and “very informal,” he dropped the idea and settled instead for pitching his assistance and ideas to the campaign and to Papadopoulos in particular, he said.
In August, he told Papadopoulos he could provide “a disruptive technology that might be instrumental in your political work for the campaign.”
Millian said they never followed up on the offer and there’s no indication to suggest otherwise. He wouldn’t go into specifics, but said it was “nothing illegal.”
Papadopoulos said in his book, “Deep State Target,” that on Oct. 15, 2016, Millian came to meet him in Chicago and offered him a public relations job in an energy company that would pay $30,000 a month, on the condition that Papadopoulos would get a job in the Trump administration.
Millian disputed the specifics. The meeting was on Nov. 14, he said, presenting a screenshot of a flight ticket to Chicago for that day.
The job was indeed to pay $25,000 to $30,000 a month—at least that’s what Millian said he and Papadopoulos “hoped to pitch” to the company, which Millian didn’t identify.
He also denied that there was a condition to work for the administration. The job would have been in New York and it wouldn’t be possible for Papadopoulos to have one in Washington at the same time, Millian said.
He said he was just trying to help Papadopoulos, who was out of work at the time.
Papadopoulos said he outright refused the offer. Millian disputed this as well, presenting a text message which suggested Papadopoulos did agree to something discussed between the two in Chicago.
When asked about the inconsistencies, Papadopoulos told The Epoch Times it’s possible he wrote the day wrong, but that his notes did show the meeting on Oct. 15.
He recounted the episode as follows:
“I explained to Sergei that I would be happy to work together under three conditions. 1) non sanctioned individuals were in any deal. 2) I was a private citizen. 3) I had nothing to do with the Trump administration,” Papadopoulos said via Twitter direct message. “Sergei then began to explain that it was normal to work for both in other countries and that’s when I began to feel uncomfortable around him, rejected his offer, and he flew back to NY the same night from Chicago.”
He maintained that working for the administration was a condition of the job.
In any case, Papadopoulos ended up not getting a job in the energy company or in the administration.
Source by Voice Only
According to Steele, Millian was the source of allegations in four 2016 dossier reports, dated June 20, July 28, July 30, and Aug. 10.
The allegations included a lurid story about Trump’s 2013 visit to Russia, a claim of a “well-developed conspiracy” between Trump and Russia, and an allegation that Trump received a “very helpful” stream of intelligence from Russia.
Millian was “central in connecting Trump to Russia,” Simpson told Ohr.
But when the FBI finally interviewed Steele’s main source in January 2017, he told a different story.
He said some of the allegations actually came from a different source. Beyond that, he said he received one anonymous phone call that lasted 10 to 15 minutes. During this phone call, some, but not all, of the remaining allegations were conveyed, but the caller never identified himself. The source then guessed the caller was Millian, because the voice sounded similar to a YouTube video of Millian.
Steele’s lawyers claimed in December that his debriefings with the main source “were meticulously documented and recorded” and the materials would shed a “different light” on what the source told the FBI.
But when pressed in British court, the lawyers said the materials “no longer exist” because Steele’s computer systems were “wiped” in early January 2017, according to excerpts of the court transcript released by The Daily Caller.
In any case, the main source’s explanation doesn’t hold water.
Millian denied making any such phone calls, anonymous or otherwise. There’s no indication of whether the FBI even tried to verify his phone records. The bureau had no comment when contacted by The Epoch Times.
Moreover, the allegations supposedly coming from Millian were coming from a person who “organized and managed” Trump’s recent (pre-2016) trips to Russia, the dossier said. Trump only made one such trip—for the November 2013 Miss Universe contest. The pageant, which Trump owned at the time, was financed that year by Russian oligarch Aras Agalarov. His son Emin and the son’s publicist, Rob Goldstone, were involved in organizing the trip.
There’s no evidence Millian had anything to do with the trip, although he stayed at the same hotel as Trump, the Moscow Ritz-Carlton, about two weeks prior during the Moscow international foreign investment forum. He met actor Steven Seagal in the hotel’s lobby and had a picture taken with him.
Steele told the FBI that Millian was supposed to be both “Source D” and “Source E” in his reports, but the dossier at one point uses Source E to confirm information supposedly provided by Source D. Was Millian confirming his own reports?
Steele tried to explain these and other contradictions away by calling Millian an “egotist” and a “boaster” who tends to embellish.
Millian said he doesn’t know how Steele came up with such descriptors. The two never met and Millian didn’t seem to have a reputation at the time for political gossip, embellished or otherwise. In his media appearances, he appeared reserved, even stiff, and avoided delving too deeply into politics.
There is evidence that Millian somewhat overstated his business record. He claimed “a huge success” in helping to sell condos in the Trump Hollywood apartment complex in 2008—the only time he actually met Trump.
He told ABC that “a nice percentage” of the 200 units in the Florida high-rise were sold to Russians.
In fact, it took years for the project to reach some modicum of success as it was trammeled by the 2008 recession. By November 2010, only 22 units officially were sold, Commercial Property Executive reported at the time. Trump distanced himself from the project, saying he had only licensed his name to it.
Millian said he wasn’t directly working for the Trump Organization.
He was contracted to market the property to Russian clients by a brokerage company hired by the Trump Organization and The Related Group, the developer.
“We helped create marketing materials and did translations,” he said via Twitter.
As for the “huge success,” Millian said a certain amount of overstatement is in the nature of the real estate business.
“Every broker claims success [in] anything we do,” he said. “Otherwise, you don’t have [a business].”
The Alfa Bank Conspiracy Theory
As for Millian’s participation in any alleged Trump-Russia conspiracy to sway the election, the FBI probe was taken over in May 2017 by a special counsel, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who after nearly two years of investigation announced that the probe didn’t establish any such conspiracy.
Between August and October 2016, however, the FBI was bombarded with claims that Millian was one of the people behind a secret communication channel between the Trump Tower and a server of Russia’s Alfa Bank.
While it appeared the information was coming to the FBI from different sources, it could all be traced back to Steele and Simpson, according to extensive research on Millian’s case by an online “Russiagate” sleuth who uses the pseudonym “Monsieur America.”
Steele, who was sued in the United Kingdom by Alfa Bank executives for defamation, told the British court that he was given a tip about the supposed backchannel in late July 2016 by Michael Sussman, a lawyer at Perkins Coie and former cybercrime prosecutor.
“I’m very clear is that the first person that ever mentioned the Trump server issue, Alfa server issue, was Mr. Sussman [sic],” Steele told Hugh Tomlinson, a lawyer for the Alfa Bank owners, on March 17, the Daily Caller reported.
Sussmann didn’t respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.
Meanwhile, in early October 2016, a document was circulated among the FBI’s Russia probe team members and supervisors. It said Millian “had historical contact with persons and entities suspected of being linked to [Russian intelligence services],” the Justice Department’s Inspector General (IG) said in his December report on the Russia probe (pdf).
The report only identified Millian as “Person 1.”
So far, only one person and one entity are known to be allegedly linked to Russian intelligence in Millian’s past.
In 2011, Millian was among 50 people who took part in a trip to Russia organized by the Russian Cultural Center in Washington, which is affiliated with Rossotrudnichestvo, a compatriot organization overseen by the Russian foreign affairs ministry.
The trip didn’t seem nefarious at the time, Millian said. In fact, after then-Secretary of State Clinton’s “reset” of Russia relations in 2009, cooperation between the two countries was encouraged at the highest levels.
However, that didn’t last long.
The cultural center’s head at the time, Yury Zaytsev, was later investigated by the FBI for using the trips to recruit spies, and participants, including Millian, were interviewed by the bureau. Three of them later spoke to Mother Jones magazine about their experience. None of them “had encountered any anti-American sentiment on their trip, were offered jobs, or had suspicious interactions with Rossotrudnichestvo afterward,” the article said.
Russia dismissed the investigation as baseless.
After the trip, Millian wrote a thank you letter to Russia’s then-President Dmitry Medvedev. He offered to help with future trips, but the center never asked for any help and he didn’t provide any, he said.
Zaytsev’s replacement at the center was later kicked out of the country by the Trump administration for allegedly being a spy; Russia denied the allegation.
For his part, Millian told ABC he isn’t a Russian agent, doesn’t work with Russian intelligence, and was never asked for information by Russian intelligence. He acknowledged that he talks about U.S. politics when he meets with Russian officials during official functions he’s invited to.
The FBI did investigate the Alfa Bank connection and, in October 2016, opened a counterintelligence investigation on Millian. But by February 2017, it determined that there was no Trump organization link to the bank, the IG said.
An analysis of internet domain records showed the Trump-linked domains involved in the alleged backchannel were actually operated by Central Dynamics (Cendyn), a company involved in marketing for major hotel chains, including Trump Hotels, according to an April report by Ankura, a Washington-based consultancy hired by Alfa Bank to probe the allegations (pdf).
The analysis results, “coupled with the timing of the underlying allegations” suggested that somebody mimicked the Cendyn servers to “send spoofed emails or inauthentic DNS queries” to Alfa Bank “to create a connection between Alfa-Bank and the Trump Organization,” the report said.
“If true, this may constitute a violation of one or more U.S. federal criminal laws.”
It isn’t clear what happened with the probe into Millian; he was never charged with any crime.
He believes Steele and Simpson simply used his name to prop up their dossier.
“They just needed to put a face to the lies and they chose to destroy my reputation by putting my face to those lies,” he said in a June 2017 interview with TMD News’ YouTube channel.
Steele’s firm, Orbis, declined to comment on a list of questions for Steele provided by The Epoch Times. Simpson didn’t respond to a request for comment sent to Fusion GPS.
Life After the Dossier
Starting in January 2017, Millian was identified by multiple newspapers as one of the dossier’s sources, which crippled his professional life overnight.
“Everything I built before was taken away from me,” he said.
He lost positions in several organizations, as well as some real estate clients.
When Mueller released his final report on the Russia investigation, he complained that his team couldn’t reach Millian for an interview about his contacts with Papadopoulos.
Millian disputed the claim.
“They could if they traveled to western Europe as I have been offering,” he said.
And he doesn’t appear to have been hiding very effectively. Millian has been photographed at a number of events in recent years, such as the World Economic Forum in Davos last year or the 2019 Forbes Middle East’s Higher Education Awards. He spoke at the Horasis conferences in 2018 in Ukraine and in Vietnam in 2019.
He declined to disclose his current location.
Despite a lack of an in-person interview with the Mueller team, Millian said he engaged in “a long conversation with special counsel members” spanning several years.
“Before the end of 2020, I promise to make a MAJOR REVELATION about Mueller Investigation,” he said in a Feb. 26 tweet. “I have been in communications with them for a few years.”
When asked in late April about his cooperation with U.S. law enforcement generally, he wouldn’t disclose any details.
“It’s confidential and I prefer not to answer,” he said.
He did note, though, that “whenever [the U.S. Government] asked me for help, I always cooperated.”
Now, Millian has a chance to cooperate again. Nunes has called on him to contact his office for an interview.
“Either he was, you know, working for Fusion GPS and the Clinton campaign dirting up Trump people or it’s quite possible he may have been framed,” Nunes told Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo on April 26.
“We don’t know which of those is true, but we want to find out.”
Nunes promised Millian a guarantee of safety if he comes forward, and Millian seemed open to the idea.
“Let’s start a discussion about our meeting,” he replied to Nunes in an April 26 tweet.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the first name of former ABC reporter Brian Ross. The Epoch Times regrets the error.