What Journalist(s) Told Rinat Akhmetshin about the Steele Dossier?

I’ll eventually do a post on the substance of the Grassley-Graham referral of Christopher Steele to the FBI for (as I predicted) lying about his contacts with journalists. It will surprise none of you to know that I think the commentary so far, from both right and left, is garbage.

But I do want to look at one footnote from the letter that is news for other reasons. The disclosure that, in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Rinat Akhmetshin said

Unsurprisingly, during the summer of 2016, reports of at least some of the dossier allegations began circulating among reporters and people involved in Russian issues.19

19 (U) Akhmetshin Transcript, On File with the Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary (Mr. Akhmetshin informed the Committee that he began hearing from journalists about the dossier before it was published, and thought it was the summer of 2016).

They raise this for the same reasons I’ve worried about the briefings to journalists, the likelihood that as journalists started chasing the story, they might alert people who could, in turn, alert the Russians, making it easier to insert disinformation into Steele’s reporting channels.

As always with these partisan releases, precisely what Akhmetshin said matters. Did he really say he knew about the dossier, or only the allegations about a pee tape and (this is critical) that Russians were preparing to deal kompromat on Hillary? If he knew about the dossier, did he know the folks at Fusion — with whom he enjoyed booze lubricated dinners — were involved?

It’s always possible, of course, that Akhmetshin (who almost certainly has spoken with Mueller’s team at least twice) is lying, admitting he knew of the dossier but attributing it to a reporting channel that shifts blame.

But if it’s true, then there are journalists in DC who, enjoying the same kind of chatty relationships with Akhmetshin I understand a lot of journalists have long enjoyed, know that they told him about the dossier or the underlying intelligence. I think the precise date of such conversations probably needs to remain secret — particularly given the discrepancy between when Akhmetshin says he first heard about the dossier and when Steele and Glenn Simpson say they first started briefing it.

But that a journalist or journalists shared the information might be worth admitting, for the clarity it would give to the story. Two of the journalists at the center of this — David Corn and Michael Isikoff — have been all over the news. Mother Jones is even fundraising off of it.

Surely confirming Akhmetshin’s story, if possible, would be newsworthy?

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.

25 replies
  1. orionATL says:

    one simple question is: how many of steele’s chapters/stories were completed by, say, mid-sept? was there a little, some, or a lot of the steel dossier content available to leak, chapter by chapter, over the summer? was steele’s work real intended not to construct a document to be completed and used in say late sept and october, but an effort to feed journakists with juicy little trump stories from may onward?

    another is: who could have been providing what would have been insider information on steele’s assignment? or were these just circulating stories supplied by political gossip? or, could it be, those devious russkies set loose a bunch of trump stories for journalists to chase? was steele chasing any of this gossip or was he creating his chapters strictly from contacts with russian sources?

    • pseudonymous in nc says:

      The earlier memos cite people connected to the campaign as sources; the later ones don’t. We know that the source network was drying up over the summer, and that some of the subjects of later memos were driven by things bouncing around journalists’ gossip — the Alfa Bank connection — or by Fusion’s open-source research.

  2. pseudonymous in nc says:

    Here’s Julia Ioffe in her piece on Page, dated September 23rd:

     As I started looking into Page, I began getting calls from two separate “corporate investigators” digging into what they claim are all kinds of shady connections Page has to all kinds of shady Russians. One is working on behalf of various unnamed Democratic donors; the other won’t say who turned him on to Page’s scent. Both claimed to me that the FBI was investigating Page for allegedly meeting with Igor Sechin and Sergei Ivanov, who was until recently Putin’s chief of staff—both of whom are on the sanctions list—when Page was in Moscow in July for that speech.

    Only Ioffe could say when she started working on that piece or when those calls came in, but the references to Sechin and Ivanov suggest who the callers were. Not quite the same as the briefings to journalists, but certainly talking to them.

    • orionATL says:

      well, now we’re getting into “metadossier” territory – what multiple journalist had heard long before steele had come close to completing, and leaking, his work (i’ll ignore the dec coda). was steele’s effort actually superceded by stories whispered to journalists in may thru july time period?

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      See my comment on the Ioffe piece, which is from September 2016, in the previous thread, at 12.32 pm. And there’s this piece from the Guardian from December 2017.

      Page denied for about a year meeting Russian government leaders.  His admissions since then have not been forthcoming.  This despite spending the past fifteen years attempting to build his career around such contacts and frequently bragging about them.

      The Ioffe piece seemed well-sourced and quietly scathing about Page.  Ioffe could find few in Moscow who knew him, none who considered his work memorable.  Her take is consistent with Page’s PhD examiners in 2008 and 2010, who failed him.  (He was awarded the degree in 2011 by unnamed examiners; SOAS keeps the dissertation under wraps.)  Those assessments agree with comments on Page in the few Russian intercepts made public, which essentially describe him as a patsy.

      • Trip says:

        Alongside the curious case of Carter Page is Clovis recruiting Papadoupolos. All these unknown easily dismissible little braggart ‘nobodies’ who had ties to Russia as a constant.

  3. orionATL says:

    i’m very curious why any journalist would tell anything to akmeteshin. how would they even know him?

    why would they be talking to – and surely also questioning – a guy not obviously in any washington power loop?

    maybe he got it wrong and it was akmeteshin talking to journalists :)

    • emptywheel says:

      Before the June 9 meeting broke he was quite the gadfly in DC. His kids go to the same schools as everyone else’s kids do.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      DC is a small town, especially among the chattering classes in NW and Capitol Hill.  Even Bob Novak used to walk to work.  You’d be amazed at who you can meet of a Saturday morning at the Safeway or the Marvelous Market on Wisconsin Ave., or Whole Foods at 15th and P.

    • orionATL says:

      if you’re a washington lobbyist, being a social butterfly and knowing which school to park your kids in are important assets.

      i keep wondering which journalists were approaching akhmetshin and why. had they been told about an effort to connect trump and the russian state? if so, was this from simpson or his staff (or from steele in london or on his american visits)? were the conversations of what came to be dated dossier chapters being released to some american journalists as they were written up by steele?

      i would certainly expect any journalist contacted by simpson (or perkins-coie, dnc, or clinton campaign, if any of these were involved) would be one favorable to the clinton effort, e. g., david corn.

      but why talk with akhmetshin? for background or confirmation of trump/russia ties? why expect akhmetshin to know about such matters? maybe a. has a reputation among journalists for being in the know about both government’s activities.

      in any event i see any dem activities that portray trump in a negative light vis-a-vis russian gov schemes as unremarkable american political campaign activity.

      in all of this i have been a supporter and defender of steele due what i consider his good judgement re the current kremlin gang, that is, to his persistent distrust of putin-led russian motives and actions. thus i am concerned about this matter of steele lying. to whom ? the committee under oath, or the fbi?

      i have seen it happen before that individuals fighting gross systematic misconduct or illegality ended up being trapped and legally harmed by their own actions, while the much greater systematic misconduct or illegality gets off scott free.

  4. Willis Warren says:

    What’s the timeline, Marcy?  How many pages of the dossier would this affect?  that would suggest the early dossier has good information and the post leak has bad.

    If all of the dossier is disinformed (knew word!), then the leak came from Simpson or Shearer before anything had even been started

    • pseudonymous in nc says:

      The datestamps for each memo are listed in this EW post.

      Mid-July covers the memo about Page meeting sanctioned individuals in Moscow. The last memo with US-derived sourcing is no. 102 dated August 10, which cites “an ethnic Russian associate.” What makes 102 interesting is that it doesn’t mention a “trusted associate” (in contrast to no. 097) which is either imprecise or implies a direct conversation.

  5. snotboogie says:

    Akhmetshin?
    How is this dude even a citizen. Apart from the white and the money. I can only assume the apparatus has been surveilling him from the get go.

    • T. Jackson says:

      Maybe he was told by a Russian journalist?

      There’s a lot of overlap between Russian intelligence and Russian journalists, so it’s possible it was someone wearing two hats, or had a foot in both camps, or whatever metaphor you might want to construct.

  6. earlofhuntingdon says:

    From EW’s twitter feed, but worth repeating in a different medium.  On Rob Porter and his not having a proper security clearance to read everything that comes across the president’s desk:

    “Did that entire presser involving interim clearances transpire w/o mentioning Jared Kushner?”

    What’s good for the son-in-law must be good for the Rhodes scholar.  And this one about Marine Gen. John Kelly, Gitmo and everything else he touches:

    “Somewhere a bunch of released Gitmo hunger strikers are watching with interest as the DC press corps discovers John Kelly is a horrible person.”

    It almost goes without saying that of the prisoners held at Gitmo – whom Bush/Cheney claimed were the “worst of the worst” – the vast majority were innocent.  Their crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and coming to the attention of an unforgiving occupying army.

  7. pseudonymous in nc says:

    Jonathan Winer gets ahead of Devin Nunes and talks about his relationship with Steele and how he learned of Shearer’s work from Sidney Blumenthal in late September and passed Shearer’s notes to Steele, who forwarded them to the FBI:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/devin-nunes-is-investigating-me-heres-the-truth/2018/02/08/cc621170-0cf4-11e8-8b0d-891602206fb7_story.html

    In terms of the potential feedback loop, September’s when things get pretty messy, not least because you’ve got so many people independently asking questions about similar things.

    • Trip says:

      I haven’t formed an opinion on Winer yet, but Nunes is acting as a McCarthy one man band. Without hearings, and any kind of process, he has been maligning people publicly and through his authority. He has forced people out of employment. There has been no indepth bi-partisan investigation, questions and testimony; simply cherry-picked derogatory conclusions.

      As the boy who cried wolf multiple times, I have a difficult time believing anything he has to say. He’s on a mission to destroy, not to find truth.

       

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