Buzzfeed reports that there’s another “Steele Dossier” floating around Washington. But this one isn’t obviously about Donald Trump’s Moscow antics. Instead, it’s a death that was officially an accident, but less officially could be a murder committed by Russian agents at a hotel in the United States.
Mikhail Lesin was one of Vladmir Putin’s top propaganda experts and an oligarch of Russian media. In addition to running Russia’s state-owned television, he was in charge of censoring independent outlets and created the advertising for Putin and other Russian campaigns. For a decade, he was one of Putin’s closest advisers, and like most Putin allies, it paid well—well enough for Lesin to buy no fewer than five multi-million dollar homes around Los Angeles, including a sprawling 13,000 foot Beverly Hills mansion currently priced at $29 million.
In December 2014, Lesin resigned his position with Gazprom-Media and moved full time to the United States. A year later, the Russian media mogul was found dead in his room at the Dupont Circle Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Initial reports suggested that Lesin had died of a heart attack, but officers on the scene reported that Putin’s former propaganda expert showed signs of
“blunt force injuries of the neck, torso, upper extremities and lower extremities.”
An investigation returned what seems to be an unusual cause of death.
After an 11-month investigation, a federal prosecutor announced in late 2016 that Lesin died alone in his room due to a series of drunken falls “after days of excessive consumption of alcohol.” His death was ruled an “accident,” with the coroner adding acute alcohol intoxication as a contributing cause of death, and prosecutors closed the case.
But that is not what former intelligence officer Christopher Steele, or others, have found.
Steele’s explanation for how Lesin ended up bumped and bruised from head to toe is a lot more straightforward than imagining him bumping into furniture for days.
The FBI possesses a secret report asserting that Vladimir Putin’s former media czar was beaten to death by hired thugs in Washington, DC — directly contradicting the US government’s official finding that Mikhail Lesin died by accident.
The report, according to four sources who have read all or parts of it, was written by the former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, who also wrote the famous dossier alleging that Russia had been “cultivating, supporting and assisting” Donald Trump. The bureau received his report while it was helping the Washington, DC, Metropolitan Police Department investigate the Russian media baron’s death, the sources said.
And it seems that Steele isn’t the only one saying that Lesin’s death wasn’t due to a drunken head bump.
The Steele report is not the FBI’s only source for this account of Lesin’s death: Three other people, acting independently from Steele, said they also told the FBI that Lesin had been bludgeoned to death by enforcers working for the same oligarch named by Steele.
And, oddly enough, the official report doesn’t seem to align with the feeling inside the FBI. Or the CIA. Or square with the fact that a grand jury was seated to hear evidence concerning the death.
But it does align with a series of apparently very clumsy or accident-prone Russians over the last few years in both the US and the UK.
In the UK, BuzzFeed News exposed 14 suspicious deaths linked to Russia. In each of those cases, US intelligence officials suspected the dead might have been rubbed out by Russia’s security services or mafia groups — two forces that sometimes work in tandem — and they had shared intelligence with their British counterparts “in the context of assassinations.” In at least one case, that of Alexander Perepilichnyy, the US had determined he was likely killed on orders of Putin or his close associates.
Yet despite that and other evidence, British authorities stuck by their position that the deaths were due to natural causes, accidents, or suicides, and they refused to reopen the cases — until the poisoning this month of Skripal, the former Russian spy.
It’s difficult to suggest that someone accidentally blundered into Soviet-era military nerve agent. But it is interesting to wonder what would have happened if Skripal and his daughter had instead been involved in a car accident, or a fall from a high place, or … bumped their heads.
The report suggests that on both sides of the Atlantic, there may have been a tendency, maybe even a policy, of letting Russians take care of their business. Even if that meant allowing murder on US soil.