Self-described Trump Russia associate back in spotlight

The mysterious Russian businessman who went by the name Sergei Millian claimed last year to have long helped Donald Trump pursue Russian investors, a claim the president’s team flatly denied.

The claim is again under scrutiny with the sudden release late Thursday of closed-door congressional testimony.

A Washington intelligence consultant whose reports are at the center of probes into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign told lawmakers that Millian organized a trip for Trump representatives to promote the billionaire’s vodka brand in Russia.

The testimony of Glenn Simpson drew a sharp denial from Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer, and only added to the shroud of mystery hanging over Millian, who was a visible figure early in the investigations into Trump’s ties with Russia but since had disappeared from view.

Trump campaign officials in late 2016 and last year repeatedly said they did not know Millian, who had posted photos at VIP inaugural events that have since been deleted from his Twitter feed. Millian has said that he worked with the Trump Organization as far back as 2007 and his charges appear to contradict the president’s insistence that he does no business in Russia.

Simpson told the House Select Committee on Intelligence last Nov. 14 that Millian had put together a Russia trip for Trump Organization representatives.

“Well one of the guys who organized this trip was a guy who is currently known as Sergei Millian. And he’s been in the press a good bit, I think, although not recently,” he told lawmakers in a voluntary appearance before the panel.

Simpson was testifying because he headed Fusion GPS, the business research firm that was hired first by Republicans and later Democrats to dig up dirt on Donald Trump’s business empire. He in turn hired former British spy Christopher Steele, whose collection of reports formed a dossier that was later shared with the FBI and was part of the impetus for congressional and Justice Department probes into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Simpson, according to the 165-page transcript, alleged that Millian came to the United States under his real name of Siarhei Kukuts. After becoming Sergei Millian, he helped run a group with little Internet footprint called the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce. Millian has said on resumes that he is from Belarus and from Russia, Simpson said.

ABC News had reported last Jan. 30 that Millian was born Kukuts. The Wall Street Journal had reported six days earlier that Millian was the source of some of the unverified allegations in the Steele dossier.

Millian did not respond Thursday to an emailed request from McClatchy for comment about Simpson’s testimony. But less than two weeks ago, on Jan. 9, Millian posted on his Twitter page that he was “looking for recommendations for reputable defamation lawyers” in the United States, Great Britain and Russia.

Coincidentally, Millian tweeted about his interest in a defamation lawyer on the same day a transcript of a separate congressional meeting with Simpson from last August was suddenly made public.

A transcript of that contentious 10 hour interview with the Senate Judiciary Committee was made public by the panel's top Democrat, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, drawing howls from Trump and Republicans. A week earlier, panel Chairman Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina had blindsided her with a formal request to the Justice Department for an investigation of Steele.

Simpson appeared to suggest in his testimony that Millian was working with Michael D. Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer. Cohen led the Trump Organization’s push into Russia and Kazakhstan.

Cohen acknowledged last year that he and another Trump associate, Russian émigré Felix Sater, had pursued a Moscow hotel deal for the Trump Organization during the presidential campaign. In an email to Cohen made public last year, Sater boasted, “Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it.”

Asked anew about Millian on Thursday night, Cohen steadfastly denied any connection.

“I have never met Mr. Milian (sic). He e-mailed me several times with various issues,” Cohen said in an email response to McClatchy, adding that by November 2016 he’d “demanded (Millian) cease contacting me.”

When asked if knew Millian by his reported birth name of Kukuts, Cohen added that “I have no idea who he is; whether it’s under the name Milian (sic) or Kukuts.”

Millian actively retweets many of the tweets sent out by the president and first family. He and Cohen followed each other on Twitter during the campaign and in August 2016 Millian even tweeted out the video of Cohen aggressively challenging a report suggesting Trump was trailing Hillary Clinton.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller, probing whether Trump’s campaign worked with Russia to boost Trump’s election prospects, has already won two plea deals from former campaign officials. He has also indicted lobbyist and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business partner Rick Gates. President Trump insists repeatedly, however, that there has been no evidence yet of collusion.

Other new details in the Simpson testimony include:

  • Steele, who faces lawsuits in the United States and Great Britain over the dossier, was paid about $160,000 for his work that collectively comprised the dossier.
  • Fusion GPS was doing its own Russia work separate from Steele and his dossier. This included probing Donald Trump Jr.’s trips to Kazakhstan, Latvia and elsewhere.
  • Simpson confirmed that after the election, he met with Justice Department official Bruce Ohr, who was demoted in December from his post of associate deputy attorney general because of his contact with Fusion GPS. His wife Nellie Ohr had been hired earlier by Simpson’s group to help research Trump.

Reporters Greg Gordon and David Goldstein contributed

Kevin G. Hall: 202-383-6038, @KevinGHall