The Dossier Is Not the Measure of the Trump-Russia Conspiracy

It seems like the whole world has decided to measure Trump’s conspiracy with Russia not from the available evidence, but based on whether the Steele dossier correctly predicted all the incriminating evidence we now have before us.

The trend started with NPR. According to them (or, at least, NPR’s Phillip Ewing doing a summary without first getting command of the facts), if Michael Cohen didn’t coordinate a Tower-for-sanctions-relief deal from Prague, then such a deal didn’t happen. That’s the logic of a column dismissing the implications of the recent Cohen allocution showing that when Don Jr took a meeting offering dirt on Hillary as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” he knew his family stood to make hundreds of millions if they stayed on Vladimir Putin’s good side.

Item: Cohen ostensibly played a key role in the version of events told by the infamous, partly unverified Russia dossier. He denied that strongly to Congress. He also has admitted lying to Congress and submitted an important new version of other events.

But that new story didn’t include a trip to Prague, as described in the dossier. Nor did Cohen discuss that in his interview on Friday on ABC News. Could the trip, or a trip, still be substantiated? Yes, maybe — but if it happened, would a man go to prison for three years without anyone having mentioned it?

As I noted, Mueller laid out the following in the unredacted summary of Cohen’s cooperation.

Consider this passage in the Mueller Cohen sentencing memo.

The defendant’s false statements obscured the fact that the Moscow Project was a lucrative business opportunity that sought, and likely required, the assistance of the Russian government. If the project was completed, the Company could have received hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources in licensing fees and other revenues. The fact that Cohen continued to work on the project and discuss it with Individual 1 well into the campaign was material to the ongoing congressional and SCO investigations, particularly because it occurred at a time of sustained efforts by the Russian government to interfere with the U.S. presidential election. Similarly, it was material that Cohen, during the campaign, had a substantive telephone call about the project with an assistant to the press secretary for the President of Russia.

Cohen’s lies, aside from attempting to short circuit the parallel Russian investigations, hid the following facts:

  • Trump Organization stood to earn “hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources” if the Trump Tower deal went through.
  • Cohen’s work on the deal continued “well into the campaign” even as the Russian government made “sustained efforts … to interfere in the U.S. presidential election.”
  • The project “likely required[] the assistance of the Russian government.”
  • “Cohen [during May 2016] had a substantive telephone call about the project with an assistant to the press secretary for the President of Russia [Dmitri Peskov].”

But because the new Cohen details (along with the fact that he booked tickets for St. Petersburg the day of the June 9 meeting, only to cancel after the Russian hack of the DNC became public) didn’t happen in Prague, it’s proof, according to NPR, that there is no collusion. [Note, NPR has revised this lead and added an editors note labeling this piece as analysis, not news.]

Political and legal danger for President Trump may be sharpening by the day, but the case that his campaign might have conspired with the Russian attack on the 2016 election looks weaker than ever.

There are other errors in the piece. It claims “Manafort’s lawyers say he gave the government valuable information,” but they actually claimed he didn’t lie (and it doesn’t note that the two sides may have gone back to the drawing board after that public claim). Moreover, the column seems to entirely misunderstand that Manafort’s plea (would have) excused him from the crimes in chief, which is why they weren’t charged. Nor does it acknowledge the details from prosecutors list of lies that implicate alleged GRU associate Konstantin Kilimnik in an ongoing role throughout Trump’s campaign.

Then there’s the NPR complaint that Mike Flynn, after a year of cooperation, is likely to get no prison time. It uses that to debunk a straw man that Flynn was a Russian foreign agent.

Does that sound like the attitude they would take with someone who had been serving as a Russian factotum and who had been serving as a foreign agent from inside the White House as national security adviser, steps away from the Oval Office?

That’s never been the claim (though the Russians sure seemed like they were cultivating it). Rather, the claim was that Flynn hid details of Trump’s plans to ease sanctions, an easing of sanctions Russians had asked Don Jr to do six months earlier in a meeting when they offered him dirt. The 302 from his FBI interview released last night makes it clear that indeed he did.

Finally, NPR is sad that Carter Page hasn’t been charged.

Will the feds ever charge Trump’s sometime foreign policy adviser, Carter Page, whom they called a Russian agent in the partly declassified application they made to surveil him?

This is not a checklist, where Trump will be implicated in a conspiracy only if the hapless Page is indicted (any case against whom has likely been spoiled anyway given all the leaking). The question, instead, is whether Trump and his spawn and campaign manager and longtime political advisor (the piece names neither Don Jr nor Roger Stone, both of whom have been saying they’ll be indicted) entered into a conspiracy with Russians.

In short, this piece aims to measure whether there was “collusion” not by looking at the evidence, but by looking instead at the Steele dossier to see if it’s a mirror of the known facts.

But NPR isn’t the only outlet measuring reality by how it matches up to the Steele dossier. This piece describes that Michael Isikoff thinks, “All the signs to me are, Mueller is reaching his end game, and we may see less than what many people want him to find,” in part because of the same three points made in the NPR piece (Cohen didn’t go to Prague, no pee tape has been released, and Flynn will get no prison time), but also because Maria Butina — whose investigation was not tied to the Trump one, but whom Isikoff himself had claimed might be — will mostly implicate her former boyfriend, Paul Erickson. In the interview, Isikoff notes that because the dossier has not been corroborated, calling it a “mixed record, at best … most of the specific allegations have not been borne out” and notes his own past predictions have not been fulfilled.  Perhaps Isikoff’s reliance on the dossier arises from his own central role in it, but Isikoff misstates some of what has come out in legal filings to back his claim that less will come of the Mueller investigation than he thought.

Then there is Chuck Ross. Like Isikoff, Ross has invested much of his investigative focus into the dossier, and thus is no better able than Isikoff to see a reality but for the false mirror of the dossier. His tweet linking a story laying out more evidence that Michael Cohen did not go to Prague claims that that news is “a huge blow for the collusion narrative.”

Even when Ross wrote a post pretending to assess whether the Michael Cohen plea allocution shows “collusion,” Ross ultimately fell back on assessing whether the documents instead proved the dossier was true.

Notably absent from the Mueller filing is any indication that Cohen provided information that matches the allegations laid out in the Steele dossier, the infamous document that Democrats tout as the roadmap to collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian government.

The most prominent allegation against Cohen in the 35-page report is that he traveled to Prague in August 2016 to meet with Kremlin insiders to discuss paying off hackers who stole Democrats’ emails.

The Isikoff comments appear to have traveled via Ross to Trump’s Twitter thumbs, all without assessing the evidence in plain sight.

Meanwhile, Lawfare is erring in a parallel direction, checking on the dossier to see “whether information made public as a result of the Mueller investigation—and the passage of two years—has tended to buttress or diminish the crux of Steele’s original reporting.”

Such an exercise is worthwhile, if conducted as a measure of whether Christopher Steele obtained accurate intelligence before it otherwise got reported by credible, public sources. But much of what Lawfare does does the opposite — assessing reports (it even gets the number of reports wrong, saying there are 16, not 17, which might be excusable if precisely that issue hadn’t been the subject of litigation) out of context of when they were published. Even still, aside from Steele’s reports on stuff that was already public (Carter Page’s trip to Moscow, Viktor Yanukovych’s close ties to Paul Manafort), the post reaches one after another conclusion that the dossier actually hasn’t been confirmed.

There’s the 8-year conspiracy of cooperation, including Trump providing Russia intelligence. [my emphasis throughout here]

Most significantly, the dossier reports a “well-developed conspiracy of co-operation between [Trump and his associates] and the Russian leadership,” including an “intelligence exchange [that] had been running between them for at least 8 years.” There has been significant investigative reporting about long-standing connections between Trump, his associates and Kremlin-affiliated individuals, and Trump himself acknowledged that the purpose of a June 2016 meeting between his son, Donald Trump Jr. and a Kremlin-connected lawyer was to obtain “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. But there is, at present, no evidence in the official record that confirms other direct ties or their relevance to the 2016 presidential campaign.

There’s the knowing support for the hack-and-leak among Trump and his top lackeys.

It does not, however, corroborate the statement in the dossier that the Russian intelligence “operation had been conducted with the full knowledge and support of Trump and senior members of his campaign team.”

There’s Cohen’s Trump Tower deal.

These documents relate to Cohen’s false statements to Congress regarding attempted Trump Organization business dealings in Russia. The details buttress Steele’s reporting to some extent, but mostly run parallel, neither corroborating nor disproving information in the dossier.

There’s Cohen’s role in the hack-and-leak, including his trip to Prague.

Even with the additional detail from the Cohen documents, certain core allegations in the dossier related to Cohen—which, if true, would be of utmost relevance to Mueller’s investigation—remain largely unconfirmed, at least from the unredacted material. Specifically, the dossier reports that there was well-established, continuing cooperation between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin; that Cohen played a central role in the coordination of joint efforts; and that he traveled to Prague to meet with Russian officials and cut-outs.

There’s Papadopoulos, who (as Lawfare admits) doesn’t show up in the dossier; here they argue he could have, without asking why Steele missed him running around London talking to people who traveled in Steele’s circles.

We revisit his case because it resonates with one of the themes of the dossier, which is the extensive Russian outreach effort to an array of individuals connected to the Trump campaign. Steele’s sources reported on alleged interactions between Carter Page and Russian officials, but Papadopoulos’s conduct would have fit right in.

Again, except for the stuff that was publicly known, Lawfare assesses one after another claim from the dossier and finds that Mueller’s investigation has not corroborated the specific claims, even while Mueller has provided ample evidence of something else going on. But that doesn’t stop Lawfare from claiming that Mueller has “confirm[ed] pieces of the dossier.”

The Mueller investigation has clearly produced public records that confirm pieces of the dossier. And even where the details are not exact, the general thrust of Steele’s reporting seems credible in light of what we now know about extensive contacts between numerous individuals associated with the Trump campaign and Russian government officials.

However, there is also a good deal in the dossier that has not been corroborated in the official record and perhaps never will be—whether because it’s untrue, unimportant or too sensitive. As a raw intelligence document, the Steele dossier, we believe, holds up well so far. But surely there is more to come from Mueller’s team. We will return to it as the public record develops.

In the end, I actually think Mueller may show that Trump, Stone, and Manafort did abet the hack-and-leak campaign, certainly the later parts of it, and that the Trump Tower deal was a key part of the quid pro quo. That’s aside from anything that Trump did with analytics data made available, if it was. But Mueller has just shown the outlines of where a case in chief might fit thus far. And where has has, those outlines raise one after another question of why Steele missed evidence (like the June 9 meeting) that was literally sitting in front of him. No one is answering those questions in these retrospectives.

One reason this effort, coming from Lawfare, is particularly unfortunate is because of a detail recently disclosed in Comey’s recent testimony to Congress. As you read, remember that this exchange involves Mark Meadows, who is the source of many of the most misleading allegations pertaining to the Russian investigation. In Comey’s first appearance this month (given Comey’s comments after testifying yesterday, I expect we’ll see more of the same today when his transcript is released), Meadows seemed to make much of the fact that Michael Sussman, who works with Marc Elias at Perkins Coie, provided information directly to Lawfare contributor James Baker.

Mr. Meadows. So are you saying that James Baker, your general counsel, who received direct information from Perkins Coie, did so and conveyed that to your team without your knowledge?

Mr. Comey. I don’t know.

Mr. Meadows. What do you mean you don’t know? I mean, did he tell you or not?

Mr. Comey. Oh, I — well —

Mr. Meadows. James Baker, we have testimony that would indicate that he received information directly from Perkins Coie; he had knowledge that they were representing the Democrat National Committee and, indeed, collected that information and conveyed it to the investigative team. Did he tell you that he received that information from them? And I can give you a name if you want to know who he received it from.

Mr. Comey. I don’t remember the name Perkins Coie at all.

Mr. Meadows. What about Michael Sussmann?

Mr. Comey. I think I’ve read that name since then. I don’t remember learning that name when I was FBI Director. I was going to ask you a followup, though. When you say “that information,” what do you mean?

Mr. Meadows. Well, it was cyber information as it relates to the investigation.

Mr. Comey. Yeah, I have some recollection of Baker interacting with — you said the DNC, which sparked my recollection — with the DNC about our effort to get information about the Russian hack of them —

Mr. Meadows. Yeah, that’s — that’s not — that’s not what I’m referring to.

Mr. Comey. — but I don’t — I don’t remember anything beyond that.

Mr. Meadows. And so I can give you something so that you — your counsel can look at it and refresh your memory, perhaps, as we look at that, but I guess my concern is your earlier testimony acted like this was news to you that Perkins Coie represented the Democratic National Committee, and yet your general counsel not only knew that but received information from them that was transmitted to other people in the investigative team. [my emphasis]

I have long wondered how the Perkins Coie meeting with the FBI on the hack timed up with the hiring, by Fusion GPS working for Perkins Coie, of Christopher Steele lined up, and that appears to be where Meadows is going to make his final, desperate stand. An earlier version of this hoax revealed that it pertained to materials on hacking, but did not specify that Steele had anything to do with it (indeed, Steele was always behind public reporting on the hack-and-leak).

Still, it would be of more public utility for Lawfare to clarify this detail than engage in yet another exercise in rehabilitating the dossier.

Instead, they — just like everyone else choosing not to look for evidence (or lack thereof) in the actual evidence before us — instead look back to see whether Steele’s dossier was a mirror of reality or something else entirely. If it’s the latter — and it increasingly looks like it is — then it’s time to figure out how and what it is.

Update: Cheryl Rofer did a line by line assessment of Steele’s dossier which is worthwhile. I would dispute a number of her claims (and insist that Steele’s reporting on the hacks be read in the temporal context in which he always lagged public reporting) and wish she’d note where the public record shows facts that actually conflict with the dosser. But it is a decent read.

As I disclosed 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. 

62 replies
  1. Joseph says:

    This is such a good analysis. Even in ideal circumstances, let alone in the Russian counterintelligence locus, an intelligence brief will include multiple sources with their own agendas and their own sources. So why should we assume that the whole picture is described and rests or falls with the claims in the Steele dossier? This is similar to taking the word of only one or two classical historians for what a certain Caesar did.

    Michael Hayden himself said

    “For someone like me, the Steele dossier is the beginning of the journey, not the end of the journey. And so for every assertion in the dossier, which is all human sourced, for every assertion we would say, “Would that person be likely to know that? Has that person told me other things that turned out to be true?” and then, “Do I have other information that confirms what he or she is claiming?” And you go through that with every human source, with every piece of data they toss at you.”

  2. Peter says:

    So NPR really has been subverted. I did not realize the extent until this article.
    I did stop listening to their take on the news awhile ago, after detecting the right wing bias, but I did not realize the depth.
    Still love Terry Gross and Fresh Air.

    • Michael says:

      I’m not sure that NPR has become more conservative, but they definitely have embraced the idea of “balance” through whataboutism and both-sides-do-it-ism. I’ll never forget one story equated Trump’s long list of egregious political offenses and clear racism with liberals rejecting the use of vaccines. See? Both sides do it.

  3. pseudonymous in nc says:

    “If it’s the latter — and it increasingly looks like it is — then it’s time to figure out how and what it is.”

    Ironically, the public treatment — frothy and non-frothy — of Steele’s work mirrors the private treatment of that work in mid-2016. It showed up first and has distorted everything since.

    There’s plenty of messy speculation about what it is. What kind of steps either from Mueller or from Congress would begin to explain that? Because it feels to me as if we’ll only get clarity on what (and who) was feeding Steele’s source network if there’s a very big reveal of the case-in-chief. And perhaps not even then.

  4. Joseph says:

    This is such a good analysis. Even in ideal circumstances, let alone in the Russian counterintelligence locus, an intelligence brief will include multiple sources with their own agendas and their own sources. So why should we assume that the whole picture is described and rests or falls with the claims in the Steele dossier? This is similar to taking the word of only one or two classical historians for what a certain Caesar did.

    Michael Hayden himself said on Recode Decode

    “For someone like me, the Steele dossier is the beginning of the journey, not the end of the journey. And so for every assertion in the dossier, which is all human sourced, for every assertion we would say, “Would that person be likely to know that? Has that person told me other things that turned out to be true?” and then, “Do I have other information that confirms what he or she is claiming?” And you go through that with every human source, with every piece of data they toss at you.”

  5. Bradley Scott says:

    Like everything else, the cream rises to the top. Marcy always has the cream. Perfect analysis every time. After this is all over, your site will be the gold standard against everything else.

  6. punaise says:


    Flynn / Stones — meet the Flynn / Stones,
    They’re a modern crime age family.
    From the town of Moscow,
    Carter Page, right to the hoosegow

    Let’s ride with the family to the court,
    through the courtesy of Bob’s report.
    When you’re with the Flynn / Stones,
    have a stab at, dab at: do time,
    a stab at: do time,
    we’ll have a plea: no time!

    • Eureka says:

      You are on a tear lately!  I am also recalling the Stones* battle with Rusharuse somewhere round here…

      *(Rolling, not Ratfucker)

      i.e., Brava!

  7. Cheryl Rofer says:


    I’ve got stuff in there that conflicts with the dossier, and noted at least one place where it conflicts with itself. The chronological order bothers me too, but I decided to go with the order in the dossier to make it easier to cross-check. I hope to do another post that will at least partly address the chronological order issue.

    We might talk offline about what you think I’ve missed. The last few days have brought more public information that I need to add, and I think that pace will heat up.

  8. viget says:

    Marcy, what do you think the primary purpose of the Steele dossier was? Was it to basically start a wild goose chase, first at the DNC and then the FBI to distract from what was really happening with regards to the hack-and-leak (and maybe the later IRA shenanigans and targeted data stolen from DNC)? It seems like the basic structure of the case of chief is in there, just that the details were changed, e.g. substitute St. Petersburg for Prague, Papadopolous for Page, etc. And of course, the key details, such as the June 9 meeting were omitted.

    Also, crazy idea, but is it possible that Stone and Trump approached the Russians (or maybe a coalition of Russia, Saudi Arabia, possibly Netanyahu) first rather than the other way around? The idea being, that they could use Russia as a cutout to do the hacking for them? I mean, I just can’t get past the eerie similarities to Watergate, this just feels like a higher tech version (and who would better know than Stone and Manafort). Trying to figure out what the quo would be other than sanctions relief (and that couldn’t be guaranteed), other than just wreaking general chaos on our electoral system.

    • emptywheel says:

      I do think it is likely disinformation–to feed a bunch of near misses out there, as a way to distract from the facts that should have been evident. I also think lulling the Dems into complacency about the hack was a key goal.

      I have always spoken of any agreement bt Trump and the Russians as a dance. We know, for example, it ended on June 14, when Cohen canceled his trip to Prague. Something started it up again. I bet it went like that for a while.

  9. scribe says:

    The media – and most of the actors you castigate, EW, seem to be of the DC/Establishment variety – are looking to bury this the same way Rodino and the Congress buried Nixon’s machinations and all the rest the made up Watergate and related scandals.  No one wants to look too deeply, for a couple reasons.

    1.  I suspect there’s a very good chance a lot of Establishment favorites, both Democrat and Republican, were playing the same kind of game as Flynn (and Cohen and the rest) were playing:  making money shilling for this foreign thug or that.  By way of just one example we know, don’t forget the huge bipartisan effort to legitimate MKK, fueled by a lot of money and all of it quite clearly “material support to a terrorist organization” as defined in statute and clearly illegal under Humanitarian Law Project v. Holder.  The long and the short of it is, there’s a hell of a lot of money to be made, and already has been made, massaging the levers of power the way Flynn got caught doing and the soft-hands/clean collars/warmly heated offices/lush carpeted folks*  like to keep that money flowing.

    2.  The overarching scandal no one wants to look at is that our electoral process was subject to a sustained, directed, and intentional attack by a hostile foreign power using means not readily susceptible of counter, save by giving up the most precious of our Constitutional rights, and that the people charged with supporting, upholding and defending the Constitution ignored, fell down, lacked the moral courage to stand up, or were too stupid to see the attack and do anything about it.  One can craft all sorts of excuses, mitigations, evasions, dissimulations, and other escape routes from responsibility, and the folks responsible have been doing that assiduously all along, but the fact remains it was cowardice and greed at the highest levels and all the way down, both civilian and government, that enabled the foreign powers involved in carrying out their plan.

    3.  The media is perhaps the second most responsible of all the groups involved here.  They foster not only the stupid “horse race” bullshit that passes for political coverage, to the exclusion of all else, but also the political ignorance that lets this society’s elites get away with their failures.  All in exchange for access and getting to drink at the same parties the lever-movers attend.  The White House Correspondent’s Dinner was perhaps the most vibrant example of that rot, at least until Trump took it out by not attending – perhaps one of the most signal benefits of his incumbency.  (As an aside, don’t forget the 2016 Trump campaign was fueled by a very angry Trump reacting to 2011 Obama using his entire schtick at the WHCD to mock Trump.  Lesson to politicians:  DON’T MOCK.  Not if you love your country.)

    Moreover, what passes for journalism today is largely crap designed to press emotional levers in the viewing public to move them in the directions the news editors – themselves lackeys of management – want.  Most of the reporters getting airtime and page space are not there because they know how to find the truth of a story but rather because they’re a good-looking piece of ass or do a very, very assiduous and complete job of satisfying the bosses.  Matt Lauer, failed actor, exemplified that paradigm.  See also Don Henley’s Dirty Laundry:  “I coulda been an actor, but I wound up here.  I just have to look good, I don’t have to be clear.”  You want to have some fun, count the number of times a newsperson uses the word “Emotional” ion a report, telling the audience how they should react.

    4.  Perhaps the most responsible party in this debacle is the one no one talks about:  an education system which fails to teach basic civics.  This system has raised a good two, maybe three generations of students who have no idea how their government works, no idea why it is set up the way it is, and no ability to suss out the truth from the bullshit in their leaders’ pronouncements.  I had the good fortune of a 4th grade teacher who brought in 3 different newspapers and showed us, by the way of comparing the papers’ treatment of stories, the concept of “slant” as well as how they editorialized while purporting to report.  Gave me a life-long bullshit detector.  But our graduates learn quite well to run to the police and snitch, and to expect and demand an authoritarian response. (Aside:  Just for the hell of it, because a friend could not believe that kids were getting tasered in school, I casually looked around for reports on that.  Without any heavy lifting, I found 3 in a day last week.  You send your kid to school and he learns that, if he does not immediately submit to some cop demanding he wear a uniform, he gets tasered?  Or, your kid is profoundly deaf and gets into a snit with his teacher, so the school calls the resource officer who stands behind the kid, gives verbal commands and then tasers the kid for not complying?  That cop was held to be immune from liability because he said he believed the teacher was translating his commands into sign language, BTW.)  Every one of the people deifying Mueller and his team – who, I think, are either the same people or the lineal descendents of those who screamed “Fitz” a dozen years ago – is playing right into that mindset of making everything a police matter, sanctifying everything the police do, and ultimately creating a police state.  (NB:  Keep in mind the latest big case Fitz handled was … defending Michigan State against all the claims arising out of the Larry Nassar debacle.  Hero Fitz.)

    5.  Putin was doing to us that which we’ve done to a lot of other electoral systems over the last few decades.  Whether it’s United Fruit reforming Central American governments so the banana plantations ran more smoothly, or this or that Third World (or First World) government we manipulated for commercial or political advantage, we’ve done it time time and again.  That our system is also manipulable by malign foreigners has got to be a real embarrassment to our PTB, something they desperately want to bury because it’s just the thing that undermines public confidence.  In the end, its public confidence that undergirds our system.

    6.  Putin aimed very carefully and very directly at the fissures and fault lines in our society, looking to engender discord, hate and rage both before and especially after the election.  Every one of you who goes on a rampage – verbal or otherwise – is playing into Putin’s game and making his objective – busting up the United States of America – all the closer.  Knock yourselves out.


    * a reference to the source of a hell of a lot of fatal policies under mid-20th century totalitarian regimes, i.e., men with soft hands and voices and clean white collars deciding the fate of millions from warmly heated offices with lush carpets.

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      I’ve seen some stressed out people who have little (or no) time for civic engagement, who have not the first clue how to prepare for a meeting, make a motion, etc, etc.  There are still places where those activities occur – which IMVHO help keep the civics muscles toned, while also keeping things civil and tend to generate better outcomes.  But they are fewer, and weaker, than they were.

      Your first point is epic: layer on the lack of white collar enforcement the past 30 years, and basically… the immune system of American governance was weakened so severely that it was relatively easy for opportunists to overtake the system.

  10. BobCon says:

    One thing that infuriates me about the Ewing’s “analysis” is that there is no way he came up with it himself. At a minimum he stitched it together from a few sources, or more likely, he was sold it by one source and made a few phone calls to flesh out a few bits.

    And yet it is being presented sourceless, born in the spirit of the season from an immaculate conception.

    It’s bad enough when reporters write up an anonymous source either pushing lies or bland PR that should never be given anonymous status. But not even bothering to show their work is ridiculous.

    As I’ve said before, looking at the common threads in recent media pieces by non-specialists pushing the narrative that this is all wrapping up with limited impact on Trump tells me something. Someone with significant credibility among these reporters, undoubtably outside the Administration, is pushing this story. They’re being careful to keep their fingerprints off. And as is typical, hacky reporters are picking up the narrative rather than exposing the PR campaign.

    • chromiumbook0000 says:

      Agreed, BobCon.  The means by which Trump won the Presidency, and his/his team’s corresponding actions since, represent the symptoms of an illness, but not the illness itself.  For the past 20+ years, we’ve allowed increasing amounts of dark money to flow into this country and slowly corrupt our system.  The sheer number of politicians and journalists who are attempting to minimize, or discredit, this story suggests just how far that illness/corruption has spread. It’s within the answer to “why these people are spinning” where the far bigger story lies and that question is not getting asked/probed nearly enough, imho.

  11. Shaun Mullen says:

    Sorry about this being OT, but I would greatly appreciate the deep thinkers here responding to the assertion by Oxford/Graphika that Russia has been using social media even more “to support” Trump (in the words of the WaPo lede graf) since he took office.

    I do not dispute the assertion, but what is the Russian thinking behind increasing the use of social media since 11/8/16?  And has this been a two-way street considering that we know of two attempts to set up back channels (12/1/16: Kushner-Flynn) and (1/11/17: Prince)?

    • chromiumbook0000 says:

      I think the majority of Graphika’s data set was pre mid-2017.  After the elections, the trolls continued to use social media to sew discord.  They would send non-factual or highly-inflammatory Pro-Trump/Anti-Dem messages to the Republican base, and then send non-factual or highly-inflammatory Anti-Trump/Anti-Repub messages to the Democrat base with, i believe, particular focus on the extremes of each base.  The former served the dual purpose of supporting Trump and sewing discord.

  12. earloffhuntingdon says:

    No, MSNBC, cooperators do not always pay for their crimes.  Here, the reason might be because they gave up solid evidence about a more important and powerful player, who committed impeachable or other crimes.

    The MSM would be doing a public service if they stopped selling the Texas textbook version of how law, politics and power work, and started explaining how it works in practice.

    As for winding up the Trump Foundation, Trump has wanted to do that for some time.  The hang-up came from the NYAG, who wanted it overseen through a judicial process, which could control where the money goes.

    I imagine the NYAG also wanted to make clear who would have successor liability for future claims.  Allegations of wrongdoing by the principals of this supposedly charitable foundation abound; they form the basis for this forced liquidation.  Liquidation is not the end or the beginning of the end of this issue for the Trump family; it is the end of the beginning.  (h/t WSC.)

    • Tom says:

      The business around the Trump Foundation has been swamped by all the coverage of the Flynn sentencing, but I’m inclined to think it might eventually be more damaging to Trump’s support from his base than the fallout from any other investigations because it’s so much easier to understand.    The details around campaign finance violations can be confusing and someone such as Rudy G. can spin them to sound like petty offenses.    But how do you explain away stealing from a charity to pay your own legal bills or indulge your vanity by buying a portrait of yourself?     Plus, Trump, Donald Jr., Ivanka, and Eric have all been branded as not being trustworthy with other people’s money.     These are the deeds that are more likely to strike people as being just plain wrong as opposed to anything coming out of the other investigations, at least so far.

      • Trip says:

        A good portion doesn’t care. They are already on to “Trump was going to shut it down anyway”. Their allegiance to him is driven by fear or hatred of others, losing privilege, or in the case of oligarchs, not paying for anything (in taxes, etc). As far as charity, the ideological underpinnings of Ayn Rand make the less fortunate un-valued and unworthy of assistance. Some will even think, “They got what they deserved”. They like that Trump fucks with the US government and the system. It’s all very twisted. It’s also a serious case of cognitive dissonance and hypocrisy since they’ve released the hounds on the Clinton Foundation.

        • Tom says:

          My understanding is that the Trumps wanted to shut down their Foundation because they realized the authorities were becoming suspicious of how it was being handled.   But anyway … You mention Ayn Rand; I read The Fountainhead decades ago when I was a teenager, mainly because Rand was a well-known ‘intellectual’ figure at the time and I was curious about her, and because The Fountainhead wasn’t as thick as Atlas Shrugged.    I recall being repulsed by the protagonist Howard Roark, a humourless S.O.B. who was a rapist to boot and I couldn’t imagine why anyone would be attracted by that philosophy of Objectivism (isn’t that what it’s called?  Every man for himself, basically?)    I could understand how such an outlook on life might appeal to an unformed self-centered adolescent mind, but to find decades later that grown men like Paul Ryan and others sincerely view Rand as some sort of mentor was baffling and very discouraging, especially as they also present themselves as Christians.      Sure hope you’re wrong about Trump’s base.

        • Trip says:

          @Tom, Your understanding would be accurate. But where does accuracy matter to this group who adhere to the “truth isn’t the truth” nonsense and constantly moving goalposts?

  13. Jockobadger says:

    Great critical thinking and writing here. Great work. Thanks to all of you.

    Jesus how I wish Mueller and his crew could somehow just pull all of the threads together into one reasonably tidy package and drop the hammer on these corrupt sob’s. Put paid to the Trump admin. I hate to think that BobCon may be right.

  14. MattyG says:

    The fear is of course that just like Iran Contra as soon as the scope of the scandal is fully revealed it’ll be swept under the carpet by a few choice congressmen arguing it away with no push back from fellow lawmakers, an administration figure will step in offering “plausible deniability” to protect the big cheese, and a relatively minor player will take the brunt of the fury with comically selective and irrelevant charges and sentence.

    Does Trump have his Orin Hatches, his Poindexter, his Ollie North here?

  15. earlofhuntingdon says:

    I resent the MSNBC commentator who said that Sullivan is “mucking up” the deal. The “deal” is a suggestion to the court, but does not bind it. Sullivan is doing his job. The reaction is protective of the FBI, but it also seems part of the MSM’s normalizing how outrageous has been the behavior of this administration and its key appointees.

    That said, Sullivan was off his game in asking about a charge of “treason.” Sullivan knows that the US government was founded on a rejection of monarchy and the English norm that disloyalty to the person of the sovereign is treason to the state. (Trump would like to change that.)

    In US practice, “treason” is limited to aiding and abetting a foreign enemy during wartime. That circumstance does not apply to Flynn. Sullivan was wrong to use that term.

    Flynn was disloyal and committed felonies doing it. Nominally, he failed to register as the agent of a foreign power. That understates his crimes. His failure was not that of probably hundreds of Beltway power brokers, who serially fail to register as foreign agents while representing and lobbying for foreign governments for private profit.

    Flynn was the National Security Adviser to the President. The NSA is at the top of the American intelligence food chain. It is one of the most senior positions in government.

    Notwithstanding that, Flynn entered into a lucrative private deal with a foreign government. Flynn proposed to abuse the power of the USG and the rights and person of a foreign national resident in the United States. He would have kidnapped that US resident and delivered him to his home government, where he would have been subject to imprisonment and potential death. (Paging MsB, paging MsB.)

    Flynn did not commit treason. But he violated his duty, his loyalty, and his oath of office, and put in jeopardy the national security of the United States.

    • Valley girl says:

      You know how much I respect your comments.  I’d like to have your thoughts on the AUMF.  To be a bit provocative here, are we not on a war footing everywhere?

  16. Trip says:

    @earl. It may not be treason, but there is no doubt Flynn was a traitor, who did sell out his own country, (although perhaps not in the strict legal sense). He held a position of trust and authority and betrayed the US for other interests, including his own.

  17. BobCon says:

    Just to be clear, I’m fine with people selling narratives to the press, and I think good reporters should be listening to people selling half-baked arguments. It’s their job to sort the wheat from the chaff, and sometimes that involves a lot of chaff.

    But what drives me bonkers is when reporters let the storytellers disappear from the story. It not only strips the ability of readers to analyze and judge the story, it hides another, often bigger story from the public. The PR campaign and its players is very often a far bigger story than the PR itself, but too many reporters turn this completely upside down.

  18. punaise says:

    (thought I posted this earlier, maybe it got disappeared?)

    To lighten things up a bit:

    Flynn / Stones — meet the Flynn / Stones,
    They’re a modern crime age family.
    From the town of Moscow,
    Carter Page, right to the hoosegow

    Let’s ride with the family to the court,
    through the courtesy of Bob’s report.
    When you’re with the Flynn / Stones,
    have a stab at, dab at: do time,
    a stab at: do time,
    we’ll have a plea: no time!


  19. jonb says:

    Is the judge saying to flynn…lets wait until your cooperation sees someone going to jail..aka a senior trump official..before I let theses crimes go unpunished….

  20. earlofhuntingdon says:

    To VG upthread, the AUMF is not relevant. For treason to apply, the US has to be in a state of war with the specific foreign government involved. We are and were not at war with Turkey, but it is a foreign government with whom we have various conflicts.

    Moreover, for the NSA to have put himself in this position is a serious abuse of power, above and beyond his violation of foreign agents registration process and his using his office for private profit. That puts the government in jeopardy. The situation is distinguishable from other defendants facing a 0-6 month sentence for similar statutory crimes.

    MSNBC keeps suggesting Sullivan is out of line, that he was emotional and “mad” at Flynn. We don’t need to go there in dealing with Flynn, no matter how irked the news industry is that it could not announced a final sentence for Flynn today.

    • P J Evans says:

      Russia considers itself to be at war with us. Also, reading that article, it looks as though it also covers aid-and-comfort outside of wartime (assuming that you thnik it must be a shooting or declared war – which is iffy).

  21. CaliLawyer says:

    Even if the dossier was never more than a set of data points teed up for further investigation, and the investigations have gone long beyond the original reports, the dossier parlor game is still pretty fun! I don’t think this is the last we’ll hear about the Prague/Not Prague blind item. Both the original report and the denials have all been strangely specific, and a trip to Prague (or more likely its environs) would be easily verifiable from friendly intelligence services. Hard to believe that someone who made it that far up in MI6 couldn’t figure that one out, regardless of what may or may not have gone down during Cohen’s alleged travels. Obviously, Cohen still denies it vociferously.

  22. calvin says:

    Point taken.  Only a pee-brain would assess collusion and criminality exclusively through the lens of the Steele dossier.



  23. Semanticleo says:

    I’m sick of Trumpkins blaming Media for the shingles of bias.

    Capitalism killed the Media by requiring News divisions to be held up for ratings.

    Before the 70s they were autonomous from raising revenue because they were considered PSAs (public service announcements) and therefore not answerable to the bean counters.

    Rumps got the Media their ideology demands…slaves to viewership.

    • Alan says:

      I have that problem intermittently, and I can often solve it my middle-clicking on the Reply button which opens a new tab containing the post, then finding the comment I want to reply to and left-clicking on the Reply button in the new tab. Complicated but is often works, and if not, I just put the comment at the bottom with an @. Not sure if that’s the best work around, but it’s the best I’ve found…

  24. Taxidermist says:

    From the post: That’s aside from anything that Trump did with analytics data made available, if it was.

    Before the tech reports released yesterday, it hadn’t occurred to me that cheeto or the campaign could have provided this information to Russia. Can someone explain the laws potentially broken by giving sensitive or personal identifying information about millions of Americans to Russia? I mean outside the conspiracy part, the intentional transfer of identifiable sensitive information on Americans. Thank you!

    • MattyG says:

      Can’t help with the law but literally abetting a foreign power interfering with the election must be textbook collusion. I recall reporting that Kushner/Flynn may have been the liasons with Russians working that side. Considering the Russians pinched the Democratic Party’s own digital analytics right off their DNC servers – my non legal take is this ‘Uge’. Digital campaign coordination on one side, the sanction relief for election meddling help quid pro quo on the other, and Trump Tower Moscow the glittery bauble right in the middle.

  25. P J Evans says:

    As far as the Prague trip – there was a post at dKos this weekend explaining the Schengen zone, and how someone who, say, flew into Frankfurt could visit most of Europe, including the Czech Republic, without visas or passport-stamping.

    • Gnome de Plume says:

      Yes, you are correct about the EU. Last month I flew into Munich on the way to Athens. Although I spent eight days in Greece and maybe three hours total in Munich, my passport only says that I entered the EU in Germany. There was no passport control in Athens. So Cohen could have gone anywhere once he landed.

  26. David Karson says:

    More great insights from EW!   Thank you! I am not as hard on Lawfare as EW because they cover many different subjects, so while EW’s expertise and focus is on Trump, Mueller and the Russiaa investigation and  is therefore 100x what Lawfare’s broad subject coverage is. And I don’t think Lawfare thinks the Steele Doisser is the be all and end all, and I would assume would readily admit that the investigation has gone far, far  beyond the SD. For those of us that don’ have the time to follow everything closely, and forget much of what we read months ago, a retrospective is helpful. Also, I listen to Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, etc on the radio, and they are the real culprits in trying to convince everyone on a almost a daily basis that the SD is full of mistakes and   uncorroborated and therefore, in sum, Trump is innocent of any collusion. I only wish Marcy could get on those shows and set Hannity’s and Levin’s  audience straight. Keep up the good work!

  27. jf-fl says:

    “If it’s the latter — and it increasingly looks like it is”

    EW had long-standing position that dossier is not worth anything for a long time, but hasn’t really asserted this position… instead attempting to tear down [often dubious] claims by others re: dossier, and then using claims about dossier to suggest that the dossier itself might have been purposeful misinformation.

    One doesn’t imply the other so I’ve begun to wonder what EW bias against dossier might be. Often seems Marcy likes to treat dossier claims as analysis, when I thought it was appropriate where lawfare pointed out they’re more closely akin to 302-aka-witness-interviews. I don’t believe that the fusion gps analysis (which presumably accompangied the dossier) were ever released. Closest were claims by Simpson and Steele that the dossier was raw intel and does contain errors. Steele said he believes it’s 70-90% correct, Simpson put it lower being worthy of discounting by around 50%.

    For myself the most credible aspect of dossier which I’m near certain was both predictive AND not reported on by other outlets in advance of dossier was the secondary offering in Gasprom occuring (the brokerage comission of this transaction which were alleged to have been dangled to trump via carter page). This sale did occur and was announced at least several weeks (may have been almost 2 months) after the dossier report stating it would occur was alleged.

    This information, combined with known Trump associates that were confirmed as sources for steele, makes it hard for me to discount it 100% as marcy would seem to suggest we do. I’m also perplexed as to why here position here isn’t more clear and is mostly a defensive one. Is it some sort of professional jealously? I could agree with her that dossier receives more coverage than other things of greater value, or that it’s covered wrong… but even if these two things are true that doesn’t imply it’s either misinformation and/or completely dis-countable.

    Hopefully EW does a better job of clarifying this in future post, I was hoping this was it but a bit disappointed that I’ll need to keep waiting.

    • bmaz says:

      And why exactly do you think the “dossier” has any particular relevance to anything at this point such that anybody, let alone Marcy of all people, should have to explain anything about it, much less owes “a better job”? Do tell.

      Do you think the “Dossier” has some evidentiary value at this point, or ever did, per se? If so, please delineate how.

    • Michelle says:

      For myself the most credible aspect of dossier which I’m near certain was both predictive AND not reported on by other outlets in advance of dossier was the secondary offering in Gasprom occuring (the brokerage comission of this transaction which were alleged to have been dangled to trump via carter page). This sale did occur and was announced at least several weeks (may have been almost 2 months) after the dossier report stating it would occur was alleged.

      what did the dossier predict here? it was widely reported throughout 2016 (before any appearance in the dossier) that rosneft was seeking to unload a 19.5% share of the company before the end of the year

  28. Eureka says:

    One of my early thoughts upon encountering this blog:  what is this strange wonderful place where nobody GsAF about the Steele dossier?  It was one of many points of credibility for the analyses – and other charms- to be found here.  And so this post has occasioned a very special™ rant, such that I TL:DR’d it:
    Disinformation is NOT {The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth}.
    Which shares some union with:
    There is no legitimate “match game” between the Steele dossier and the Mueller investigation.

  29. cd54 says:

    @BobCon: at 11:37 am

    Same comment, new thread:

    The purest future for our American representative governance is to remove or defenestrate the influence of moneyed interests on our governmental processes. That means TAXING (and pre-clearing with the IRS) any political contribution above $100.00 per person per election cycle, whether direct, indirect, bundled (bundled = single contribution), self-financed, or other, at a % rate in the 1,000’s (VAT) and TAXING all governmental lobbying expenses at a rate of 500%? 1000%? for any for-profit individual/business/corporate interest. In addition, any political contributions which are unexpended and controlled by any candidate should be TAXED at a rate of 75% per annum.

    GOPers rely on big pockets. The deplorables will not pony up — see Turtle’s comments re: ActBlue.

    Shorter: Tax political contributions over $100 at 10,000%;
    Tax business lobbying expenses at 1,000%;
    Tax leftover campaign funds at 75% per year.

  30. David Byron says:

    Marcy Wheeler got a brief mention here:


    “Who can adequately explain the abject loss of journalistic standards when it comes to Russia-gate?
    For Isikoff and Corn, as for other erstwhile serious journalists, there should be more crow than ham or turkey to eat in the weeks ahead.
    Others come to mind: Jane Mayer of The New Yorker; James Risen, formerly of The New York Times; and lesser lights like McClatchy’s Greg Gordon; Marcy Wheeler, Amy Goodman’s go-to Russia-gate pundit at; and extreme-partisan Democrat Marc Ash, who runs Reader Supported News.”

    I remember when Wheeler was good at this stuff and Left wing in the early days of Daily Kos.  What happened?

    I don’t expect any honest answer but what is the end game here?  What happens when it can no longer be denied that Iraq has no WMDs?  What happens when the bubble bursts on Russiagate?

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