Did Manafort Prep Trump for the Dossier Lawfare

In the wake of the report that Marc Elias paid for the Steele dossier on behalf of the Democratic party, Ken Vogel linked back to an old story of his, reporting that the day after the Steele dossier came out, Manafort had a conversation with Reince Priebus about it.

It was about a week before Trump’s inauguration, and Manafort wanted to brief Trump’s team on alleged inaccuracies in a recently released dossier of memos written by a former British spy for Trump’s opponents that alleged compromising ties among Russia, Trump and Trump’s associates, including Manafort.

“On the day that the dossier came out in the press, Paul called Reince, as a responsible ally of the president would do, and said this story about me is garbage, and a bunch of the other stuff in there seems implausible,” said a personclose to Manafort.

[snip]

According to a GOP operative familiar with Manafort’s conversation with Priebus, Manafort suggested the errors in the dossier discredited it, as well as the FBI investigation, since the bureau had reached a tentative (but later aborted) agreement to pay the former British spy to continue his research and had briefed both Trump and then-President Barack Obama on the dossier.

Manafort told Priebus that the dossier was tainted by inaccuracies and by the motivations of the people who initiated it, whom he alleged were Democratic activists and donors working in cahoots with Ukrainian government officials, according to the operative.

I think Vogel retweeted it because the story laid out much of what came next.

But I’m interested in it for several other reasons. First, where did Manafort learn of this? Did he learn of it from the Russians tied to the death, just a few weeks earlier, of one of the suspected sources of the dossier? If so, does Mueller have transcripts of those conversations?

And how broadly were Manafort’s comments shared in the White House? Did Brian Benczkowski, then running the transition team at DOJ, but not long later, advising Alfa Bank to sue BuzzFeed over it, learn of Manafort’s comments?

I’ve never been surprised that both Russians and Republicans were engaging in lawfare to expose the underlying circumstances of the dossier’s existence. I’ve just been amazed at how well coordinated that lawfare was. I mean, sure, it didn’t take much to understand that’s where this was going. But did Manafort serve as a go-between here, to make the lawfare more effective?

And if so, did Priebus tell Mueller about it in his interview?

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

13 replies
  1. lefty665 says:

    Portions of the dossier contents had been circulating since October. It is not surprising that Manafort fairly quickly contacted the Trumpies after part of it was actually published. Despite his other unattractive attributes it does not seem that Manafort is dumb.  After the shit hit the fan Manafort going to Priebus and telling him, in effect, this shit is shit seems pretty unremarkable.

    Help please, for those of us not in the know, what looks like coordination between the Russians and Repubs related to exposure of the frailties of the dossier? FWIW, I did not see it in your “lawfare” link, that seemed mostly focused on Steele and suits by webzilla and Alfa bank. Is that Russian coordination with the Repubs?

  2. Watson says:

    If I understand this correctly, Clinton and Trump both got/sought oppo research from Russia.

    Clinton paid in cash.

    Trump paid in influence (e.g., Manafort’s change of the Repub platform position on Ukraine) or promised influence (e.g., sanctions relief).

    • Willis Warren says:

      If you think oppo research that a) is trying to find out how your opponent is in bed with the mafia and b) is trying to hack the DNC illegally are the same, then yes

    • harpie says:

      Steven L. Hall‏ @StevenLHall1  [Retired CIA Chief of Russian Operations. CNN National Security Analyst.]  Retweeted Rep. Eric Swalwell 
       

      The distinction: Steele spied against Russia to get info Russia did not want released; Don Jr took a mtg to get info Russians wanted to give

  3. orionATL says:

    oh, let’s be perfectly outrageous and ask: is brian binckowski co-ordinating the lawfare say through a law firm colleague or through some discreetly non-obvious third party? he certainly is in the catbird seat. and christopher wray is probably but a few doors away :)

    • orionATL says:

      talk about falling into a pit full of vipers.

      i’ve seen it happen before. good guy discovers bad things happening. tries to alert the world. falls into that pit. everybody else stares and goes tsk, tsk. he should have known better.

  4. Watson says:

    I intended my comment above as a defense of HRC.

    It’s legal to buy oppo research. It’s illegal to sell government influence.

    • orionATL says:

      i agree.

      thanks for taking the time to comment.

      this republican legal push is going to turn out to involve serious abuses of the law before all is said and done.

    • bmaz says:

      Well, that is exactly right. It gets slightly technical under the applicable  campaign finance regulations, but you are exactly right.

  5. Bay State Librul says:

    Emptywheel

    What is your gut. I know you are trying to be “open minded” Can you come out and say that Don the Con is a fucking liar and colluded. It is pretty obvious, isn’t it?

  6. matt says:

    *orion* loved your 1:21 pit of vipers post…  it was tragically comical visualizing it- no good deed goes unpunished, as they say…

    ******

    EW, to your question, how did Manifort know so much about the dossier and did he coordinate the lawfare – with a 5-6 year history in the halls of ProRussia Ukraine govt. he would have had contacts of the Russian intelligence who surely got wind of Steele sniffing around for dirt.

    Hey, since we’re back to Manifort, can anyone answer my query from the “Sleazy Influence Peddlers” post.

    ”  how can the Secretary of State who is privy to State secrets and presumably all details of US involvement in Ukraine not know that her campaign manager’s brother lobbied for the Kremlin nor that his close associate Manifort was undermining her foreign policy objectives??”

    Manifort’s highly paid job was to steel control of the Ukraine back for Putin (with Yanukovych in 2010) after Hillary/Obama’s “Orange Revolution” installed pro NATO Yushchenko in 2005.  The Podesta group, Manifort’s firm, and associated Mercury Public Affairs were lobbying for the RUSSIAN-Backed leadership in Ukraine from 2010 until 2014 when Yanukovych fled back to Russia on account of corruption charges.  With multiple meetings with President Obama, the State Department, and NSC The Podesta Group was known to everybody in Washington to represent the interests of Putin/Russia (1)

    I just can’t figure that you can overlook that your campaign manager’s brother was involved in all this, near treasonous activity.  How could you trust someone with such a close relative working totally against you?

    Was John Podesta loyal to Hillary or his brother?

     

    (1) http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/09/politics/podesta-manafort-lobbying/index.html

    • matt says:

      …and in being loyal to his brother, would that loyalty or “interests” extend to his brothers close associate Manifort?…

       

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