The DNC-Centric Focus of the HPSCI Investigation

Through the duration of the various Russia investigations, skeptics always harp on two questions pertaining to the Russian election year hacks — why the Democrats never turned over the DNC “server,” singular, to the FBI, allegedly leaving the FBI to rely on Crowdstrike’s work, and whether several sets of files released via Guccifer 2.0 showed signs of non-Russian origin. That is, skeptics look exclusively at the DNC, not the totality of the known Russian targeting.

Looking at the list of witnesses the House Intelligence Committee called (which the committee will release in the coming weeks) shows one reason why: that the most public and propagandist of all the Russia investigations focused on the DNC to the detriment of other known Democratic targets.

Here’s what the list of the HPSCI interviews looks like arranged by date (HPSCI will not be releasing the bolded interviews).

  1. [Comey, Jim (May 2 and 4, 2017): Intel]
  2. [Rogers, Mike (May 4, 2017): Intel]
  3. [Brennan, John (May 23, 2017): Intel]
  4. Coats, Dan (June 22, 2017): Intel
  5. Farkas, Evelyn (June 26, 2017): Ukraine/RU DOD
  6. Podesta, John (June 27, 2017): Clinton Chair
  7. Caputo, Michael (July 14, 2017): RU tied Trump
  8. Clapper, James (July 17, 2017): Intel
  9. Kushner, Jared (July 25, 2017): June 9 etc
  10. Carlin, John (July 27, 2017): Early investigation
  11. Gordon, JD (July 26, 2017): Trump NatSec
  12. Brown, Andrew (August 30, 2017): DNC CTO
  13. Tamene, Yared (August 30, 2017): DNC tech contractor
  14. Rice, Susan (September 6, 2017): Obama response to hack/unmasking
  15. Stone, Roger (September 26, 2017): Trump associate
  16. Epshteyn, Boris (September 28, 2017): RU-tied Trump
  17. Tait, Matthew (October 6, 2017): Solicit hack
  18. Safron, Jonathan (October 12, 2017): Peter Smith
  19. Power, Samantha (October 13, 2017): Obama response to hack/unmasking
  20. Catan, Thomas (October 18, 2017): Fusion
  21. Fritsch, Peter (October 18, 2017): Fusion
  22. Lynch, Loretta (October 20, 2017): Investigation
  23. Parscale, Brad (October 24, 2017): Trump’s data
  24. Cohen, Michael (October 24, 2017): Trump lawyer
  25. Rhodes, Benjamin (October 25, 2017): Obama response to hack/unmasking
  26. McCord, Mary (November 1, 2017): Early investigation
  27. Kaveladze, Ike (November 2, 2017): June 9 meeting
  28. Yates, Sally (November 3, 2017): Early investigation
  29. Schiller, Keith (November 7, 2017): Trump bodyguard
  30. Akhmetshin, Rinat (November 13, 2017): June 9
  31. Samachornov, Anatoli (November 28, 2017): June 9
  32. Sessions, Jeff (November 30, 2017): Trump transition
  33. Podesta, John (December 4, 2017): Dossier
  34. Denman, Diana (December 5, 2017): RNC platform
  35. Henry, Shawn (December 5, 2017): Crowdstrike
  36. Trump, Jr. Donald (December 6, 2017): June 9
  37. Phares, Walid (December 8, 2017): Trump NatSec
  38. Clovis, Sam (December 12, 2017): Trump NatSec
  39. Goldfarb, Michael (December 12, 2017): Dossier
  40. Elias, Marc (December 13, 2017): Dossier
  41. Nix, Alexander (December 14, 2017): Cambridge Analytica
  42. Goldstone, Rob (December 18, 2017): June 9
  43. Sussmann, Michael (December 18, 2017): Hack and dossier
  44. McCabe, Andrew (December 19, 2017): Early investigation
  45. Kramer, David (December 19, 2017): Dossier
  46. Sater, Felix (December 20, 2017): RU connected Trump
  47. Gaeta, Mike (December 20, 2017): Dossier go-between
  48. Sullivan, Jake (December 21, 2017): Dossier
  49. [Rohrabacher, Dana (December 21, 2017): Russian compromise]
  50. [Wasserman Schultz, Debbie (December 21, 2017): dossier]
  51. Graff, Rhona (December 22, 2017): June 9
  52. Kramer, David (January 10, 2018): Dossier
  53. Bannon, Stephen (January 16, 2018): Trump official
  54. Lewandowski, Corey (January 17, 2018): Trump official
  55. Dearborn, Rick (January 17, 2018): Trump official
  56. Bannon, Stephen (February 15, 2018): Trump official
  57. Hicks, Hope (February 27, 2018): Trump official
  58. Lewandowski, Corey (March 8, 2018): Trump official

While John Podesta, one of the earliest spearphishing victims, was one of  the earliest witnesses (and, as HPSCI shifted focus to the dossier, one of the last as well), the other hack witnesses, DNC CTO Andrew Brown and DNC IT contractor Yared Tamene, represent the DNC. Perhaps that’s because of the NYT’s big story on the hack, which was obviously misleading in real time and eight months old by the time of those interviews. While Perkins Coie lawyer and former DOJ cyber prosecutor Michael Sussmann would surely have real insight into the scope of all the Democratic targets, he was interviewed during HPSCI’s dossier obsession, not alongside Brown and Tamene.

All of which is to say that the HPSCI investigation of the hack was an investigation of the hack of the DNC, not of the full election year attack.

To get a sense of some of what that missed, consider the victims described in the GRU indictment (which leaves out some of the earlier Republican targets, such as Colin Powell). I’ve included relevant paragraph numbers to ID these victims.

  1. Spearphish victim 3, March 21, 2016 (Podesta)
  2. Spearphish victim 1 Clinton aide, March 25, 2016 (released via dcleaks)
  3. Spearphish victim 4 (DCCC Employee 1), April 12, 2016 ¶24
  4. Spearphish victim 5 (DCCC Employee), April 15, 2016
  5. Spearphish victim 6 (possibly DCCC Employee 2), April 18, 2016 ¶26
  6. Spearphish victim 7 (DNC target), May 10, 2016
  7. Spearphish victim 2 Clinton aide, June 2, 2016 (released via dcleaks)
  8. Spearphish victim 8 (not described), July 6, 2016
  9. Ten DCCC computers ¶24
  10. 33 DNC computers ¶26
  11. DNC Microsoft Exchange Server ¶29
  12. Act Blue ¶33
  13. Third party email provider used by Clinton’s office ¶22 (in response to July 27 Trump request)
  14. 76 email addresses at Clinton campaign ¶22 (in response to July 27 Trump request)
  15. DNC’s Amazon server ¶34
  16. Republican party websites ¶71
  17. Illinois State Board of Elections ¶72
  18. VR Systems ¶73
  19. County websites in GA, IA, and FL ¶75
  20. VR Systems clients in FL ¶76

Effectively, HPSCI (and most hack skeptics) focused exclusively on item 11, the DNC Microsoft Exchange server from which the emails sent to WikiLeaks were stolen.

Yet, at least as laid out by Mueller’s team, the election year hack started elsewhere — with Podesta, then the DCCC, and only after that the DNC. It continued to target Hillary through the year (though with less success than they had with the DNC). And some key things happened after that — such as the seeming response to Trump’s call for Russia to find more Hillary emails, the Info-Ops led targeting of election infrastructure in the summer and fall, and voter registration software. Not to mention some really intriguing research on Republican party websites. And this barely scratches on the social media campaign, largely though not entirely carried out by a Putin-linked corporation.

HPSCI would get no insight on the overwhelming majority of the election year operation, then, by interviewing the witnesses they did. Of particular note, HPSCI would not review how the targeting and release of DCCC opposition research gave Republican congressmen a leg up over their Democratic opponents.

And while HPSCI did interview the available June 9 meeting witnesses, they refused to subpoena the information needed to really understand it. Nor did they interview all the witnesses or subpoena available information to understand the Stone operation and the Peter Smith outreach.

Without examining the other multiple threads via which Russia recruited Republicans, most notably via the NRA, HPSCI wouldn’t even get a sense of all the ways Russia was trying to make Republicans and their party infrastructure into the tools of a hostile foreign country. And there are other parts of the 2016 attack that not only don’t appear in these interviews, but which at least one key member on the committee was utterly clueless about well past the time the investigation finished.

The exception to the rule that HPSCI didn’t seek out information that might damn Republicans, of course, is the interview of Dana Rohrabacher, who (along with President Trump) proved reliably willing to entertain Russian outreach via all known channnels. But that’s one of the interviews Republicans intend to keep buried because — according to an anonymous Daily Beast source — they don’t want Rohrabacher’s constituents to know how badly Russia has pwned him before November 6.

“The Republicans are trying to conceal from the voters their colleague Dana Rohrabacher’s Russia investigation testimony,” said a committee source familiar with the issue. “There were highly concerning contacts between Rohrabacher and Russians during the campaign that the public should hear about.”

By burying the Comey, Rogers, and Brennan transcripts, Republicans suppress further evidence of the degree to which Russia specifically targeted Hillary, and did so to help not just Trump, but the Republican party.

I’m sure there will be some fascinating material in these transcripts when they’re released. But even before the selective release, designed to hide any evidence gathered of how lopsided the targeting was, the scope of these interviews makes clear that the HPSCI investigation was designed to minimize, as much as possible, evidence showing how aggressively Russia worked to help Republicans.

As I laid out in July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

22 replies
  1. billshearn says:

    Thanks Marcy for the concise listings, the pattern reveals so much. I’m prompted to comment now after lurking for years because to me, this explains why Republicans in Congress want the investigations to stop.

    Bill Hearn

    • emptywheel says:

      Welcome. Part of it is just natural partisanship. But yeah,a big chunk of Republicans want to get through this without the party being too badly tainted.

  2. Eric Phillips Christopherson says:

    I’m left wondering whether the breadth of the Russian support for Republicans helps to explain the bump in Republican retirements.

    • BobCon says:

      There’s a big story in the GOP retirements that is being missed – I expect the ratio of stories about supposedly divisive debates among Democrats vs. stories about the wave of GOP retirements is about 10-1.

      Why would the GOP wave have started at a point when the opportunities from Trump’s election had just started, and long before polling data looked so bad? If there is a definitive account if why Ryan is leaving, I haven’t seen it, just bits of speculation here and there.

      I’m sure there are several different forces at work, but there is really no excuse for the narrative being dropped, and now that the election is so close, the chances of a good explanation get closer and closer to zero.

      • pseudonymous in nc says:

        I think the story is more mundane: there’s not an infinite supply of K Street soft landings. Some of the retirements are in districts where seniority and name recognition and so on will not longer get them over the finish line, so might as well devote campaign fundraising hours to securing that private-sector job.

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    To help not just Donald Trump, but the Republican Party.  Lovely strategy:  Corrupt the corrupted, get them to play ball or see themselves outed, irrevocably tainted, and without power.  Develop the expertise and infrastructure to rinse and repeat and use it against any party or group that needs bringing into line or bending to Russia’s will.

    Takes globalization and divide-and-conquer to a new level.  Gets back at an enemy that for generations has done a lower-tech version of that to others around the world.  Karma is a bitch.  But we probably ought to do something to right ourselves.

    • Trip says:

      I responded to you yesterday, but will reiterate; it’s not just Fox News, it’s twitter and every other site that reported/reports on Ford. There is a literal tsunami of comments denigrating her with smears. It’s like 500 to 1, dirtying up Ford, versus support.  They want that out there, in front of and on top of the limited investigation. Roger Stone must be so proud of the little ratfuckers.

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    One can but hope that Donald Trump self-destructs before causing irreversible damage. Trump’s attacking Poppa Bush and his Thousand Points of Light foundation in his West Virginia speech heads in that direction.

    George W.’s first and most satisfying job was as daddy’s protector and enforcer. Protecting the name gave him purpose, it is everything. And he famously holds Texas-sized grudges. Donald Trump’s West Virginia rant just gave him a reason to hold a big one.

    But the Republican cathedral’s walls, dependent as they are on the flying buttresses of billionaire money, dispensed through foundations and political action committees, will stand unless its supports are also taken away. Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination is meant to protect them. Another reason to oppose him.

    • posaune says:

      Great analogy, Earl:  Kavanaugh’s nomination represents the failure of the buttresses at Beauvais (1284) and its subsequent structural reinforcement:   additional buttresses were necessary to support the original structurally unsustainable buttresses (due to building height and the spans transfer of greater lateral forces to the columns).    Brett is expected to keep the building standing.   Buttress indeed.   (h/t Mario Salvador)

      • Gnome de Plume says:

        Love the Beauvais analogy!  I want the whole damn party to collapse because no new stones can be found to build new buttresses.  (And the Stones they do have go to jail!)

  5. Chum'sfriend says:

    “Without examining the other multiple threads via which Russia recruited Republicans, most notably via the NRA, HPSCI wouldn’t even get a sense of all the ways Russia was trying to make Republicans and their party infrastructure into the tools of a hostile foreign country.”

    Russia stated co-opting the NRA and fundamentalist Christian groups in the US as early as 1995.

    “Russians and the American right started plotting in 1995. We have the notes from the first meeting.”

    • Troutwaxer says:

      That’s amazing stuff. Thanks. It’s also worth noting, in the sense of collecting intelligence, that fundamentalist Christians are very susceptible to blackmail, so that in hooking up with American Christians, the Russians kinda got a twofer.

    • BobCon says:

      That article has good detail, although I’d caution that I think it undersells a key part of the dynamic. The hard right Christians in the US aren’t being coopted so much as they are collaborating. The author gives too much credibility to their pious patter.

      It has been an ongoing project of the Christian right to build bridges to authoritarians around the world, both by protestant evangelicals and conservative Catholics. I don’t think the partnership involves subtle courtship, infiltration and undermining by the Russians – it’s a pretty open marketplace of buying and selling.

      The US Christian right has been very clear that it wants to spread a doctrine that is anti-feminist, anti-gay rights, anti-egalitarian, and pretty much everyhing you see in the worldview of Roy Moore. I think many leaders aren’t being swayed by Putin, they are actively enlisting his help – they want his money, his connections and technical expertise, and they’re trading their influence in US politics in return.

      • Trip says:

        Yes, and that collaboration includes the Kochs, Kissinger, Bibi, the Mercers and assorted international oligarchs. I think the conspiracy is wider than Putin. Putin was the worm on the lure for Trump, that seems clear.

        • BobCon says:

          Putin is an oligarch who has shouldered his way into the club. He’s on a rough par with Murdoch, although even now I’d put Murdoch a bit ahead of him.

          The Christian right, however, remains in the second tier. They’re like ward bosses in Daley’s Chicago, not without their influence and corruption, but still unable to get out on top.

  6. Troutwaxer says:

    I’ve noticed that I can sometimes reply to a post here, and sometimes I can’t even successfully click the “Reply” button. I’m using Linux with Firefox if that helps. Thanks.

  7. orionATL says:

    i’m going tomove this here from the “christie” post:

    1. OrionATL says:

    September 28, 2018 at 6:19 pm

    the guardian has put out this story about a russian-american, connected thru acquaintanceship to the organization called russian railways, who gave money to the trump campaign beginning shortly after the june 9, 2016 meeting. (as an aside, i’ve always been curious about the role russian emigres played in the trump campaign.)

    “…Kukes made the claims to Vyacheslav Pavlovsky, a career Kremlin official and former ambassador to Norway. Pavlovsky is currently vice-president of Russian Railways.

    The disclosure raises questions about the role played by [Simon] Kukes in the run-up to the election and what information, if anything, was being relayed by him to his associates in Russia.

    Kukes’s donations began two weeks after the meeting at Trump Tower in June 2016, when Donald Trump Jr, Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner discussed “dirt” on Hillary Clinton with a Russian lawyer.

    In total Kukes gave $273,000 (£207,000) to Trump Victory – a fundraising committee that distributes donations between the candidate, the Republican National Committee (RNC) and state Republican parties. He had no previous history of giving money to political causes.

    During this period he was in regular contact with Pavlovsky. In one email written in July 2016, Kukes wrote in Russian: “I am actively involved in Trump’s election campaign, and am part of the group on strategy development.”

    Kukes said that he would be in Switzerland from 20 July until 2 August, and asked Pavlovsky if he wanted to meet there. Kukes emailed again a week later, saying he would like to introduce Pavlovsky to a “close friend”, a Moscow oil executive, “who has just flown in”.

    They were discussing “very interesting projects for Russia and the US”, he wrote, adding: “I hope one of them will materialise.”…”

    the connection here, which is tenuous but typically russian gov spy ops stuff using unofficial russian wealthy types, is that pavlovsky is a v-p of russian railways of which pyotr katsyv is also a v-p. russian railways is government owned.

    natalia veselnitskaya was a lawyer for the katsyv family including son denis. veselnitskya was one of the attendees at the famous trump tower meeting between trump campaign honchos don jr, manafort, and kushner, and two sets of russian employees of the hyper-rich katsyv and agalarov families.

    the amount of money given is not much, but the possibility of a mule trail for money or other favors is interesting. the any mention of a moscow oil executive raises questions again (shudder) of carter page, though thevexxon exec with plenty of russian experience, rex tillerson, counts in also.

    2. orionATLsays:

    September 28, 2018 at 7:50 pm

    organizational listing of top officials in “russian railways”, wholely owned by the russian federation and created in 2003.

    this includes title and picture of peter kaysyv, deputy chief executive officer and head of the moscow transport hub centre,

    and vyacheslav pavlovskiy, deputy chief executive officer (of what?)

    pavlovskiy is the r.r exec with whom russian-american simon kukes chatted in summer, 2016 according to guardian reporting noted above.

    3. orionATLsays:

    September 30, 2018 at 12:25 am

    the guardian has another report related to the june 9, 2016 trump tower meeting, this time an interview with rob goldstone. goldstone has always seemed a clever, amusing guy to me. here he is that, but no bufoon. underneath the self-disparaging, “i was just a bystander” banter is a very observant, media saavy guy:

  8. Michael Keenan says:

    How would you explain so-called hack of DNCC emails when Sy Hersh was surreptitiously recorded explaining how the FBI knew from Seth Rich’s computer that he was in regular contact with Wikileaks? And Sy Hersh never gives up his contacts or confidential sources. The emails show that Hillary stole the primary from Bernie. This hack was a leak on a thumb drive. McCain claimed this was an act of war by the Russians! Is there any reason that Assange could not be interviewed by Mueller about that?

    As far as the State of Georgia goes the Secretary asked in a letter why did DHS try and breach the voter firewall.

    Finally, I believe this source is a fair explanation as far as the indictments of supposed GRU officials goes.

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