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Aleksej Gubarev questions Christopher Steele dossier mention

September 16, 2018

For entrepreneur Aleksej Gubarev, the most puzzling question in the Russia election meddling investigation is how a low-profile computing wizard like himself end up an accused man in the infamous Christopher Steele dossier.

Mr. Gubarev, a Cyprus-based Russian and founder of server provider Webzilla, doesn’t own the immediately incriminating title of “oligarch close to Putin.” He faces no U.S. sanctions. Apolitical, he has no ties to President Trump.

Yet when news website BuzzFeed published the complete Steele dossier in January 2017, his name was in the last of the former British spy’s 17 memos. It wasn’t just a glancing mention: Mr. Steele pummeled Mr. Gubarev with a charge that he directly participated in the hacking of Democratic Party computers, coerced by Russian intelligence.

A stunned Mr. Gubarev quickly forced BuzzFeed to remove his name and issue an apology. He ultimately filed libel lawsuits against the website in Florida and against Mr. Steele in London.

Val Gurvits, his Boston-based attorney, is now on a mission to try to figure out how Mr. Gubarev was named in an anti-Trump dossier funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party via their agent, opposition research firm Fusion GPS.

“I have described him as the mouse that got caught between warring elephants,” said Mr. Gurvits.

The trial for Mr. Gubarev’s libel lawsuit is scheduled to begin in January unless a judge dismisses the case.

Mr. Gurvits has a theory that ties the December dossier memo to one of many Russia collusion theories that received wide press and social media attention, but proved bogus.

The storyline: The Trump Organization maintained a computer server in its Fifth Avenue digs that linked directly to servers at Alfa Bank, one of Russia’s largest whose partners are tied to President Vladimir Putin. In other words: Donald Trump-Russia collusion.

“I’m investigating the possibility that there is a direct connection between Fusion GPS’s efforts to promote the Trump-Alfa Bank server story and Mr. Gubarev’s name appearing in Christopher Steele’s December memo,” Mr. Gurvits told The Washington Times.

Fusion’s attorney has declined to respond to The Washington Times about the Alfa Bank matter.

Mr. Gurvits’ piece of circumstantial evidence is a Bloomberg View opinion story published on Nov. 1, 2016, a month before the final Steele memo.

A European affairs columnist, Leonid Bershidsky, contacted Mr. Gubarev as an expert witness on the Alfa Bank conspiracy. Mr. Bershidsky, a Russian, has written for a number of news outlets in the U.S. and in Moscow. He immigrated to Germany after Mr. Putin forcibly annexed Crimea in 2014.

The resulting headline: “Clinton Plugs Another Weak Story About Trump’s Ties to Putin: A Trumped-up story about a fishy connection between the Republican nominee and a Russian bank is easily debunked.”

Mr. Bershidsky was fact-checking an Oct. 31, 2016, Slate article that boosted the Alfa conspiracy the same day that The New York Times dismissed it.

The columnist contacted several specialists who said the email domain in question was owned by Cendyn, a company that sends out hotel spam marketing, including Trump’s. He quoted Mr. Gubarev as saying there is no legitimate way to obtain confidential server logs cited by leftist social media as proof of a conspiracy.

Did the Bershidsky column stir enemies of Mr. Trump or Mr. Gubarev to feed bunk to Mr. Steele?

It is now known that Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn R. Simpson pushed the Alfa Bank-Trump conspiracy theory, according to leaked notes taken by former Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr, whose wife worked at Fusion on its anti-Trump project. Mr. Ohr met with Mr. Simpson in December 2016 the same month Mr. Steele wrote the Gubarev memo.

Mr. Ohr wrote that Mr. Simpson said a story debunking the server as mere spam-producer was wrong; it was, in fact, used to communicate directly, back and forth. In a session with Mr. Steele, Mr. Ohr heard Mr. Steele vouch for the Alfa theory, though the former spy hadn’t put it in the dossier.

“I find it extremely suspicious that mere weeks after Mr. Gubarev was quoted commenting on technical aspects of the alleged Trump-Alfa Bank server connection, his name appeared in the last memo of the dossier,” Mr. Gurvits told The Times. “Christopher Steele was working for Fusion GPS. If Fusion GPS was interested in propping up the Trump-Alfa Bank story, then how difficult would it be for them to have Christopher Steele discredit Mr. Gubarev by slandering him in the December memorandum?”

Mr. Gurvits this month deposed a Fusion official but is under a confidentiality agreement and didn’t provide details.

The only public evidence on how Mr. Steele received the Gubarev accusations is contained in his signed declaration in the London libel lawsuit, an ongoing secretive legal process that shows no signs of going to trial soon.

The document, first reported by The Washington Times, is Mr. Steele’s only on-record statements.

After Mr. Trump won the election, Mr. Steele “continued to receive unsolicited intelligence on the matters covered by the pre-election memoranda,” the April 2017 declaration states. The unsolicited information “needed to be analyzed and further investigated/verified,” it says.

In a May declaration, Mr. Steele said: “The December memorandum was a raw intelligence report which contained information gathered from a confidential source (s) about various national security issues that warranted further investigation.”

The identities of the sources were not disclosed.

The dossier sentences accusing Mr. Gubarev are attributed to someone or some entity whose name is blacked out.

The December dossier memo states that ” reported that over the period March-September 2016 a company called XBT/Webzilla and its affiliates had been using bots and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data and conduct ‘alternative operations’ against the Democratic Party leadership. Entities linked to one Alexei [sic] GUBAROV [sic] were involved and he and other hacking expert. Both recruited under duress by the FSB, [named omitted] were significant players in this operation.”

FSB is Russia’s internal intelligence agency.

BuzzFeed hired a consulting firm to investigate Mr. Gubarev’s operations and filed a sealed report in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Mr. Gurvits, Mr. Gubarev’s attorney, said there is no cyberdata linking his companies to election hacking.

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