After Special Counsel John Durham last month charged the primary source of the Steele dossier with lying to investigators about a Trump supporter providing its most explosive allegations, some high-profile journalists who made a connection between the supporter, Sergei Millian, and the dossier have retracted their published reporting.
But others have resisted doing so — including Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff and Mother Jones’ David Corn, who co-authored a book erroneously linking Millian to the dossier.
In their 2018 bestseller, Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump, the authors identified Millian as the source of the allegation that the Kremlin had a blackmail tape of Trump with prostitutes—the so-called “pee tape.”
“Millian would come to play an oversized role in the Trump-Russia story by apparently making sensational and unverified claims about what had gone on inside a Moscow hotel room,” Isikoff and Corn wrote. Only, Millian made no such claims.
According to a federal grand jury indictment of Igor Danchenko, a former Brookings Institution analyst who provided much of the dossier’s content, Danchenko falsely attributed the dirt to Millian. The Belarusian-American businessman was described in the dossier as a “close associate” of Trump, which also is untrue, giving unwarranted credibility to the salacious sex rumor. The indictment suggests that the real source was another Clinton operative—former Hillary Clinton campaign adviser Charles Dolan—who confessed to Durham’s investigators there was nothing to the rumor.
A few pages later, Isikoff and Corn reported, based on information passed on to them by paid Clinton campaign agent Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS, that “Simpson would later learn from [ex-UK spy and dossier author Christopher] Steele the identity of Source D, the main source for the ‘golden showers’ allegation. It was Sergei Millian.”
“Like all of those who had spoken to Steele’s collector [Danchenko],” the authors added, “Millian was an unwitting source; he had no idea his conversation with the collector would be passed along to Trump’s political foes.”
But Durham’s review of Danchenko’s phone records and other evidence showed Millian never had such a conversation with Danchenko. The Clinton subcontractor simply made it up. (Danchenko also attributed to Millian the key dossier allegation of a “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, which formed the foundation of FBI warrants to spy on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page for a year. This too was fabricated.)
In the wake of the Durham revelations, the Washington Post has retracted or corrected sections of no fewer than 14 stories about Millian and the dossier. The Wall Street Journal, which first made the connection based on a single anonymous source in a January 2017 story by Pulitzer-winning reporter Mark Maremont, now concedes that the indictment raises “serious questions” about its reporting. ABC News, which aired a January 2017 story by former correspondent Brian Ross and producer Matthew Mosk identifying Millian as a key dossier source, said it is “reviewing” its reporting “in light of new developments.”
Corn, the Washington bureau chief for the leftist political magazine Mother Jones, and Isikoff, the chief investigative correspondent for Yahoo News, were among the first journalists to press the Steele dossier in the media, starting in the fall of 2016. Answering critics on Twitter last month, Isikoff claimed he had disavowed the dossier years ago: “I already did, some time ago (before [Justice Department IG Michael] Horowitz and Durham),” referring to remarks he made to USA Today in 2018.
In that interview, Isikoff indicated blandly that some of the information he was fed was wrong, stating that some of the dossier’s “more sensational allegations are likely false.” He summed up the dossier as a “mixed record.” Now he knows for certain what he reported was incorrect and yet he has issued no corrections or mea culpas.
Isikoff once tweeted a link to his book Russian Roulette to President Trump, arguing “here is what is true, Mr. President.” Currently atop his Twitter page, Isikoff still has a pinned 2018 tweet thanking MSNBC host Rachel Maddow for helping propel the book to No. 1 on Amazon.
In an attempt to face up to his own part in pushing the dossier fables, Corn last month penned a lengthy piece in Mother Jones arguing that just because the dossier turned out to be fiction doesn’t mean the Russiagate narrative is a hoax. He insisted Trump is still “guilty” of betraying America by cozying up to Russia.
Corn avoided mentioning Millian a single time in his 4,000-word essay and even cited Russian Roulette in his defense. In his telling, the fact that he and Isikoff showed some skepticism by reporting that the Justice Department watchdog revealed Steele may have exaggerated his most sensational allegations, makes up for repeating those stories in their book. Corn also continues to feature Russian Roulette as the backdrop to his Twitter page.
Corn admits he “chased after some of the allegations” but “couldn’t nail anything down.” Even so, he called on the FBI to investigate Millian in a January 19, 2017, Mother Jones story. Months earlier, Corn gave a copy of the dossier to then-FBI General Counsel James Baker, whom he knows socially. (The magazine has appended an editor’s note to that article, stating: “Earlier Mother Jones reporting noted that Sergei Millian was reportedly a source for the Steele dossier . . . Content making reference to Millian has been appropriately updated.”)
In an RealClearInvestigations interview, Millian said that in addition to correcting the record, both men owe him an apology.
“Isikoff and Corn played a role in spreading evil rumors and gossip about innocent American citizens,” Millian said, noting he’s retained a libel attorney. “Now they are simply ducking reasonable questions about their role, as if they were not a part of harming people.”
Neither Corn nor Isikoff responded to requests for comment.
While it would be impossible to correct print editions published long ago, neither has the e-edition of their book been revised, as it was around the time of the first Trump impeachment from late 2019 to early 2020 (“completely updated and expanded to reflect the latest investigations,” according to its cover).
Their publisher, Twelve, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, did not reply to emails seeking comment. On the book’s official website, the New York-based publisher promotes Russian Roulette as a “# 1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER,” but has not posted any updates or corrections to the webpage.
The site quotes “praise” for the authors from Maddow, who gushed, “Two of the best and most accomplished investigative reporters of their generation, two of the best investigative reporters we have in this country. . . . [A] superpower reporting team.”
It also includes this blurb from a New York Times review: “Russian Roulette is the most thorough and riveting account.”
Steele first fed the false allegations to the authors in 2016. That fall, Simpson booked a private room at the Tabard Inn in Washington, where he introduced them to Steele. There, the former MI6 agent spilled his secret “intelligence” about Trump and Russia, Isikoff and Corn acknowledged in their book. Steele met for the off-the-record chats with the New York Times, The New Yorker, CNN, the Washington Post and Yahoo News and Mother Jones, but only Yahoo News and Mother Jones bit on his wild and unsubstantiated rumors back then.
“US intel officials probe ties between Trump adviser and Kremlin,” proclaimed a Yahoo headline over the story Isikoff wrote on September 23, 2016, a story the FBI shockingly used to help corroborate Steele’s reporting cited in a warrant to spy on that same Trump adviser, Page, despite the fact that Steele was the main source for Isikoff’s article.
Isikoff acknowledges his close relationship with Simpson in a personal note in the back of his book.
“Full disclosure: Glenn Simpson, a key player in these pages, is a longtime friend,” he wrote in Russian Roulette. “Over many years, I have benefited enormously from Glenn’s insights into Putin’s Russia and American politics. In recounting this story, we have tried to do what he would have done: play it straight.”
His story was one of the most detailed in alleging ties between the Trump campaign and Moscow, creating an important talking point for the Clinton campaign in the final days of the 2016 election. “Glen [sic] asked Chris [Steele] to speak to the Mother Jones reporter. It was Glen’s[sic] Hail Mary attempt” to get the dossier dirt out in the media before Election Day, then-senior Justice Department official Bruce Ohr wrote in notes he took of a meeting he had with Simpson at the time.
Like Isikoff, Corn did not pin Steele down about how he knew his tale of a Trump-Russia conspiracy was true. This was an important omission. As it turned out, there was no “established exchange.” Steele’s primary source, Danchenko,fictionalized the whole thing.
Editor’s Note: A version of this article originally appeared at RealClearInvestigations.