US senators demand to know if Russian oligarch hired British ex-spy behind Trump dossier
A prominent Russian oligarch has been drawn into the Trump dossier row after his lawyers were formally asked whether he had worked with the British ex-spy behind the claims.
Representatives for Oleg Deripaska, known in the UK for once hosting Lord Mandelson and George Osborne on his yacht, were approached about links to Christopher Steele earlier this month.
Charles Grassley, the Republican senator who chairs the judiciary committee, demanded to know whether Mr Deripaska had ever hired Mr Steele in a letter sent to his London-based lawyers.
It was written after leaked texts showed that a lobbyist linked to Mr Deripaska offered to arrange a conversation with Mr Steele to a congressman after the US election.
Earlier this week the head of the FBI declined to answer whether Mr Steele had worked for Mr Deripaska when asked during a public committee hearing.
It comes as a heated row rages in Washington about Mr Steele’s dossier of claims on Donald Trump and the role it played in kick-starting the Russian election meddling investigation.
The allegations, made in a series of private memos before the 2016 election, included that Mr Trump asked prostitutes to perform a lurid act while in Russia. He vehemently denied the claim.
Republicans have questioned the dossier’s validity and played up its role in triggering the Russian investigation, while Democrats have noted that wider sources of intelligence triggered the inquiries.
Mr Deripaska, once named the richest man in Russia before the 2008 financial crash, is the president and largest shareholder of the aluminium giant Rusal.
Profile | Christopher Steele
His name has emerged in recent weeks as congressmen investigating Russia ties have attempted to understand how Mr Steele, a former MI6 agent, gathered his information.
Mr Grassley’s letter to Paul Hauser, the Longon-based lawyer believed to represent Mr Deripaska, dated February 9 demands to know if the pair had any business relationship in the past.
He asked in the letter: “Have you ever hired or otherwise worked with Mr. Christopher Steele? … If so, when, and what was the nature of the arrangement?”
“Is it the case that Mr. Steele, through you, works or has worked on behalf of Mr. Deripaska or businesses associated with him? If so, when has such work occurred?
“Are you otherwise aware of any business or financial relationships between Mr. Steele and Russian government officials, Russian oligarchs, or Russian businesses?”
The letter came after texts between Mark Warner, the leading Democrat senator on the intelligence committee, and Adam Waldman, a lobbyist with connections to Mr Deripaska, were leaked.
The pair’s exchange, published by Fox News, shows Mr Waldman appearing to act on behalf of Mr Steele and attempting to arrange a conversation after the election.
“Chris Steele asked me to call you,” Mr Waldman texted Mr Warner on March 16 2017. The senator wrote back: “Will call tomorrow be careful.”
Three days later, Mr Warner texted again: "Can you talk tomorrow want to get with ur English friend.”
Then 10 days after that Mr Warner wrote: “We want to do this right private in London don’t want to send letter yet cuz if we can’t get agreement wud rather not have paper trail."
Profile | Oleg Deripaska
In the lengthy, and friendly, text exchanges Mr Waldman also suggested to Mr Warner that he could arrange a meeting with Mr Deripaska.
The text messages were disclosed by Mr Warner to his own committee, many months later, in October. It came as various congressional committees attempted to hear Mr Steele’s side of the story.
The relationship between Mr Steele and Mr Deripaska also came up on Monday when intelligence chiefs appeared before the Senate intelligence committee.
Christopher Wray, the FBI director, replied: “That’s not something I can answer.” Asked if they could discuss it in a “classified setting”, Mr Wray said: “There might be more we could say there.”
Mr Steele was approached for comment through his London company Orbis Business Intelligence but did not respond.
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