Former MI6 agent Christopher Steele feared assassination from Russia after he discovered explosive Trump-Kremlin allegations before the 2016 US election, his friends have told The Telegraph.
People who have known Mr Steele for more than a decade feared he would be the target of reprisal attacks after detailing the claims in a series of memos that became known as 'the dossier'.
The claims Mr Steele uncovered, including a lurid sexual allegation involving prostitutes and Donald Trump, proved highly controversial when they were leaked and published by Buzzfeed online.
Mr Trump has always vehemently denied the allegation. He defeated Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, to win the US presidency in November 2016.
The depth of Mr Steele’s concerns for his safety emerged during reporting for the second episode of Crossfire, a new Telegraph podcast exploring the UK angles to the Trump-Russia scandal.
The episode, published today online, looks into how Mr Steele was hired to investigate Mr Trump’s links to Russia by a US business intelligence firm.
The company was part funded by a law firm working for the Clinton campaign. Both Mr Steele and his dossier have become targets for Mr Trump, who has tweeted about them more than 50 times.
Those who have known Mr Steele in various capacities revealed the strain uncovering the claims in the summer and autumn of 2016, ahead of the November election, put on him.
Graham Davies met Mr Steele when they were both amateur debaters at Cambridge University more than 30 years ago and the pair remain friends to this day.
Speaking to The Telegraph, Mr Davies, now a successful public speaking consultant, said he believed Mr Steele was at risk when compiling his memos.
Mr Davies said: “I deliberately never asked him whether he physically felt in danger. ... It's nevertheless a conclusion I firmly come to and I don't mind saying that on the record now.”
Asked if the fears came from Russia, he added: “I had to come to my own conclusions that there were players in that particular genre who might have wanted to, in some way, harm his welfare.”
Sir Andrew Wood, the former UK ambassador to Russia, was sought out by Mr Steele for advice on how to handle what he had found, meeting both before and after the 2016 election.
He ultimately made a trip to America shortly after Mr Trump won the presidency to meet with John McCain, then the Arizona senator and Trump critic, and alert him to Mr Steele’s allegations.
Sir Andrew said the claims Mr Steele had uncovered were “alarming”, adding he could “read” that his friend feared for his safety, even if that was never said explicitly.
Sir Andrew told this newspaper: “After all, if what he was alleging, or had discovered, turned out to be true and justified there would be people there who have reputations for violence, should we say, who might well wish to do something to stop it.”
Another source familiar with Mr Steele’s thinking said that he feared assassination by the Russians when he traveled to Washington before the election to brief a handful of journalists.
The source said that Mr Steele put the chance of assassination at around 5 per cent and believed before the dossier had been made public there was an incentive for the Russians to keep the claims quiet.
The memos Mr Steele wrote for Fusion GPS, the US firm, ultimately were published in their raw form by Buzzfeed after Mr Trump won the US election but before he took office.
They prompted fury from then president-elect Mr Trump and forced Mr Steele to go into hiding. He has since returned to his job at Orbis Business Intelligence, the firm he co-founded after leaving MI6.
Glenn Simpson, one of the founders of Fusion GPS who commissioned Mr Steele to produce his memos, also talked to The Telegraph about his involvement for the podcast.
Mr Simpson explained that they decided to seek Mr Steele’s help because of his Russian expertise, asking him to better understand Mr Trump’s past attempts to do business in the country.
Asked to describe Mr Steele, Mr Simpson said: “Chris is a very engaging, witty person. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of Russia and Russians, Russian politicians, Russian businessmen.
“He has a somewhat messianic streak that I share when it comes to talking about Russia and the threat that Russia poses to the West. He's quite passionate on this subject, as am I.
“It’s one of the reasons that we became friends and business associates was because we had a very similar view of the emerging threat from Russia to our own countries.”
Mr Steele’s memos included many allegations, ranging from Kremlin attempts to tilt the election in Mr Trump’s favour to suspicious meetings between Trump campaign officials and Russians.
Mr Trump has repeatedly dubbed the so-called dossier containing the claims “fake” and accused Mr Steele of being motivated by political bias and trying to undermine his campaign.
Robert Mueller, the special counsel who investigated Russian election meddling, ultimately concluded the Trump campaign was not involved in a criminal conspiracy with Russia to influence the election.