Chuck Ross Gets Pissy about Russian Disinformation

I noted a while back that after covering the dossier full time, Chuck Ross had finally figured out it might be Russian disinformation.

In his coverage of the then State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs notes of a briefing from Christopher Steele, he continues that beat, but proves himself to utterly misunderstand the significance of disinformation — and do some of his most dishonest reporting to boot.

The notes from Kathleen Kavalec, which Citizens United liberated and which have been feeding the frothy right and the credulous left for a week, show that she recognized the raw intelligence she was being briefed on had problems, most notably in the claim that payments to a network of Russians in the US were paid out of the Russian Consulate in Miami — a consulate that Kavalec notes in her own notes does not exist (though which is curiously in the same place as Roger Stone).

That said, there are parts of it that actually accord with what we know: that Dmitry Peskov was in the loop, that the election year operation was not run by FSB, and that Russian thought they could keep this operation anonymous but failed. Even the claim that Carter Page was involved is more credible than the actual dossier claims about him, given that when he was in Russia, according to the Mueller Report, Peskov considered meeting with Page but then said,

“I have read about [Page]. Specialists say that he is far from being the main one. So I better not initiate a meeting in the Kremlin.”

The most ridiculous thing in Kavalec’s notes are how the Trump Tower-Alfa Bank-Spectrum Health hoax had gotten into the Christoper Steele reporting chain, which I correctly laid out in March 2017. As Steele (or Jonathan Winer, who may have briefed Kavalec in a game of telephone) understood it, the DNS look ups included Tor and was used by Paul Manafort to communicate with Alfa. That makes the entire story even stupider than it always has been, both on technical grounds (which in turn suggests Steele doesn’t understand computers, which is apparent from every single one of his cybersecurity reports), on logistics (why would Paul Manafort communicate from his Trump Tower condo via a server in Pennsylvania), and Manafort’s own habits (we know him to use foldering and WhatsApp, not Tor).

In other words, Kavalec’s notes, which show either the even rawer  intelligence on which Steele based his raw intelligence reports or a game of telephone that inserted errors at each re-telling, show them to be at once shittier and in a few areas also potentially more accurate than the dossier itself.

It’s on a different area — Kavalec’s citation of Putin advisor Vladislav Surkov and former head of SVR Vyacheslav Trubnikov where Ross totally blows how disinformation works.

Ross takes these Kavalaec notes…

Which get translated into this typed summary by Kavalaec:

And he invents from that that Vyacheslav Trubnikov and Vladislav Surkov are sources, for Steele, for the pee tape allegation.

In her notes, State Department official Kathleen Kavalec also referred to the two Russians — former Russian foreign intelligence chief Vyacheslav Trubnikov and Putin aide Vladislav Surkov — as “sources.”

The references to Trubnikov and Surkov, which have not previously been reported, are not definitive proof that either were sources for Steele’s dossier or that they were involved in an effort to collect blackmail material on Trump.


Trubnikov and Surkov are not identified by name in Steele’s dossier, which the FBI used as part of its investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. But the information that the former British spy attributed to the two Russians involves the dossier’s most salacious allegation: that the Russian government had sexually compromising material on Trump.

Kavalec’s notes said Steele claimed Trump was “filmed engaged in compromising activities” with Russian prostitutes in 2013, but that “the Russians have not needed to use the ‘kompromat’ on [Trump] as he was already in cooperation.”

Steele, who operates a private intelligence firm in London, told Kavalec that Putin and some of his top advisers were running the Trump operation.

“Presidential Advisor Vladislov Surkov and Vyasheslov Trubnikov (former head of Russian External Intelligence Service — SVR) are also involved,” wrote Kavalec, who served as deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian issues.

Kavalec’s handwritten notes also contain a reference to Trubnikov and Surkov as “sources,” but with no additional explanation.

Trubnikov served as head of Russia’s for

eign intelligence service, SVR, from 1996 to 2000. He went on to serve as first deputy for foreign affairs and ambassador to India.

The unverified allegations of sexual blackmail material on Trump are included in the June 20, 2016, memo from Steele’s dossier. Steele had been hired that same month by Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm the DNC and the Clinton campaign paid to investigate Trump.

Citing “a former top level Russian intelligence officer still active inside the Kremlin,” Steele claimed Russian authorities had gathered a substantial amount of “embarrassing material” on Trump and would “be able to blackmail him if they so wished.”

It is difficult to know how to interpret Steele’s claims about Trubnikov and Surkov, given the numerous problems that have emerged with the former British spy’s reporting.

As a threshold matter, this is a gross misreading of Kavalec’s notes. As Ross screencaps, her actual notes put Trubnikov and Surkov’s names under a July heading. The pee tape appears just once in the Steele dossier, in a report dated June 20, 2016. So if Trubnikov and Surkov were sources for Steele in July, they could not be the sources for the pee tape allegation. Moreover, Trubnikov and Surkov appear on a separate page from the reference to the Ritz in her original notes that would reflect a pee tape discussion, and she seems to say the source for that allegation is complicated.

But at least as Kavalec renders the reference to Trubnikov and Surkov in her typed summary of her own notes — which is where Ross gets the claim they’re sources for the pee tape — they are not sources for Steele but instead participants in the election year operation.

Steele stressed that while Trump was filmed in compromising activities with prostitutes in the Ritz Carlton, the Russians have not needed to use that “kompromat” on him as h was already interested in cooperation. (Steele said he is persuaded the story about the prostitutes is accurate because they had their source speak with hotel contacts who confirmed 1) that the FBS was in the hotel while Trump was there and 2) Trump regularly availed himself of prostitutes while in Moscow.) Steele indicated that this operation is run by the Kremlin — former Kremlin COS Sergey Ivanov, Dmitry Peskov and President Putin — and not the FSB. Presidential Advisor Vladislov [sic] Surkov and Vyacheslov [sic] Trubnikov (former head of Russian External Intelligence Service — SVR) are also involved.

Indeed, per Kavalec’s notes, Steele had just one source for the pee tape allegation, not two.

So Ross is, for starters, misreading what Kavalec’s notes say (which is not to say her own rendering of the notes — in either her handwritten notes or typed up summary — is accurate; this is ultimately a giant game of telephone).

But then, in a long piece that includes two paragraphs on how the Mueller Report debunked “Steele’s core claim of a ‘well-developed conspiracy’ between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin,” Ross doesn’t mention what the Report says about the pee tape.

The special counsel’s report all but debunked Steele’s core claim of a “well-developed conspiracy” between the Trump campaign and Kremlin. The report also said Michael Cohen did not visit Prague, which is where Steele claimed the former Trump lawyer met with Kremlin insiders to pay off computer hackers. (RELATED: Mueller Report Undercuts Several Steele Dossier Claims)

Public evidence has not backed up other allegations, including about “kompromat” on Trump. The president has vehemently denied the sex tape claim, and individuals who were with Trump during his Moscow trip have cast doubt on the allegation, saying Trump had virtually no time to take part in the steamy activities described by Steele.

The pee tape is the dossier claim that the Mueller Report most directly corroborates (though, given that Mueller never figured out what Manafort was doing sharing polling data he knew would be shared with Oleg Deripaska, in part because of Trump’s obstruction, we can’t discount the possibility he was coordinating more directly).

In the guise of explaining why Trump may have reacted badly when Jim Comey briefed him on the dossier, Mueller explained how Giorgi Rtskhiladze called Michael Cohen just before the election to assure him that he had “stopped flow of tapes from Russia,” which Rtskhiladze took to mean kompromat from the same 2013 trip Steele said the kompromat came from.

Comey’s briefing included the Steele reporting’s unverified allegation that the Russians had compromising tapes of the President involving conduct when he was a private citizen during a 2013 trip to Moscow for the Miss Universe Pageant. During the 2016 presidential campaign, a similar claim may have reached candidate Trump. On October 30, 20 I 6, Michael Cohen received a text from Russian businessman Giorgi Rtskhiladze that said, “Stopped flow of tapes from Russia but not sure if there’s anything else. Just so you know …. ” 10/30/16 Text Message, Rtskhiladze to Cohen. Rtskhiladze said “tapes” referred to compromising tapes of Trump rumored to be held by persons associated with the Russian real estate conglomerate Crocus Group, which had helped host the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Russia. Rtskhiladze 4/4/18 302, at 12. Cohen said he spoke to Trump about the issue after receiving the texts from Rtskhiladze. Cohen 9/12/18 302, at 13. Rtskhiladze said he was told the tapes were fake, but he did not communicate that to Cohen. Rtskhiladze 5/10/18 302, at 7.

Rtskhiladze has complained about how Mueller’s team portrayed this. But not only does his complaint contradict itself on the key issue of whether the tapes were real or not, it actually provides more reason to question whether the tapes exist or not (as Rtskhiladze worked so hard to deny he had seen them).

I’m not saying the tapes exist — but that’s the point about Russian disinformation, they don’t have to exist. There are four possibilities at this point:

  1. Steele made up the allegation, which no one is alleging
  2. The tape exists but is actually doctored to falsely claim either that Trump was sleeping with prostitutes or was engaging in kink in the Ritz Carlton
  3. The tape exists and is real
  4. The tape doesn’t exist, but someone lied when they told Steele’s source about it, and  Rtskhiladze or someone in his orbit heard of that lie (perhaps by Steele blabbing his mouth in DC) and Rtskhiladze repeated the lie to try to ingratiate himself to Cohen and make Trump fear the Agalarovs (which is who Rtskhiladze claimed had the tapes)

If you believe the dossier is substantially Russian disinformation, then either 2 or 4 are possibilities. Either one, though, changes the import of Russian disinformation, because it shows that Russia was just as happy to target Trump with disinformation in 2016 as they were with Hillary (something I strongly believe to be true).

That possibility would totally fuck with Chuck’s story — which also entails making much of the mention of the fact that Stefan Halper, someone the US government paid to collect intelligence on people including Russians, invited Trubnikov to an event where Halper might collect information from him.

Virtually all the denialists argue that we should not talk about how the pee tape appears in the Mueller Report, even though both Cohen and Rtskhiladze — seemingly independently — seem to have the same understanding of what those text messages relate to, even though both have said that they don’t believe the tapes to actually exist.

For Chuck Ross, the possibility that the Russians might actually use disinformation to manipulate Trump independent of any disinformation fed to Steele would totally fuck up his narrative, even though it is fundamental to the likelihood that the Russians fed Steele disinformation.

Chuck wants this to feed his partisan narrative that the Democrats — in compiling the same kind of oppo research that Steve Bannon did with Clinton Cash — did something bad (they did something incompetent, which is different) and the Russians capitalized on that to make Trump look bad (with information that, in significant parts, alleges things that really happened, but with other people involved). But real or fake, the pee tape referenced by Rtskhiladze undermines that narrative. It means that Russians were happy to sow disinformation targeting everyone.

Unsurprisingly, then, Chuck remains silent about it.

As I disclosed last 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. 

33 replies
  1. scribe says:

    These people can’t keep anything straight. Which, I suppose, they think redounds to their benefit.

    I still can’t stop laughing at the idea of a pee tape. I mean, if you’re going to make a fool of yourself (I guess) ….

    • viget says:

      With Trump, while the idea on its face seems risible, the events described fit his character to a T. I could totally see something like this occurring. If this is disinfo, it’s damn good disinfo.

      Maybe it wasn’t Trump, maybe it was Trump Jr? Or Eric? Both are stupid enough to do something like this.

      • Tracy Lynn says:

        “…If this is disinfo, it’s damn good disinfo…”

        Disinformation is aimed at having people question everything–with no concrete answers. Even if a pee tape doesn’t exist in reality, it exists in peoples’ minds as a possibility.

  2. John B. says:

    Part of the story about tRump and the hotel and the pee tape with Russian prostitutes was that he was almost literally pissing on Obama, well, if not literally pissing on 44 than the bed that he had slept on, or something like that, which is almost believable as one of tRump’s most animating raison detre’s is to embarrass and belittle and dishonor President Obama in any and every way he can.

    • Herringbone says:

      As I remember it, there’s a readout of one of Trump’s conversations with Comey where Trump says specifically that getting peed on is “not my thing.” And since Trump is a noted germophobe, I’ll take him at his word. But getting attractive women to perform a ritual defilement of a bed once occupied by his worst enemy? That I can believe.

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The odds seem good, given Trump’s sexual adventurism, that he used prostitutes in (to Trump) faraway Moscow. Honey traps were virtually invented by the Russians; they would spring them routinely and store the film for future reference. One never knows its value.

    Whether the Russian film library includes a tape of prostitutes urinating on a bed in a golden shower is irrelevant. But it does distract from more likely kompromat the Russians would have acquired on Trump over many years.

    It’s not as if Trump has ever been reluctant to make a fool of himself. He is pathological in his efforts to hide what he does (witness his use of NDAs), which suggests a guilty mind. It also demonstrates an unusual-for-Trump self-awareness of his own use of kompromat he’s acquired on others. (A dynamic that helped make the infinitely smarter and more capable Roy Cohn so powerful).

  4. Ken Haylock says:

    So I have a question… Steele’s work was delivered in tranches, and collected in tranches… what if it started out as good raw intelligence, and then later when the Russians got wind that the ex MI6 head of the Russia desk was poking around their grand US election conspiracy, they started injecting disinformation into his intel gathering process?

    On the pee tape front, why do we believe Rtskhiladze when he says _he_ believed the tapes were fake? Do we believe that he independently heard about these fake tapes, independently sought out the people hawking them around, independently shut them down, and then randomly decided to tell Michael Cohen, complete with a pee joke in the text message when discussing the fake tapes he hadn’t seen or been told about? Or had Trump asked him to deal with something Trump told about [and in the process claimed the tapes were fake] that he had _assumed_ Cohen already knew all about? Did shutting them down involve paying them off, either in money or fealty? And if the tapes WERE fake, why would Trump have even cared? ‘Brutal & despicable smear of candidate by Dem operatives’ goes the headline if fake tapes emerge…

    My logic is, if there are fake tapes that Trump cared enough about to find & quash, that means Trump thought they could have been real. If they could have been real, then Occam’s razor says they _were_ real because why fake a tape of something when you could have just pressed record on the kompromat cameras hidden behind the mirror & in the light fittings& got it for real?

    • emptywheel says:

      I think it’s definitely possible. Though by the third report the dossier is shitty.
      And Rtskhiladze may NOW say the tapes are fake to protect someone (or to protect his relationship with the Agalrovs).

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    “Chuck Ross Gets Pissy…?”

    Someone’s been spending too much time reading punaise.

  6. J R in WV says:

    Relative of a friend and former co-worker worked off and on for months in Beijing installing network equipment for the Beijing Olympic games. He told of being warned before starting that long and profitable assignment that his hotel room would be intensively monitored.

    Sure enough, the mirrors in his room, when all the lights were off and the drapes pulled, he could see dim red LED lamps behind the mirrors, he assumed on cameras aimed at different parts of the the room. Since he was working more like 60 or 70 hours a week, he didn’t really have time nor energy for hanky-panky, even had he wanted to.

    I would expect hotels in Russian frequented by foreign visitors to be as least as wired for video and audio as in China. I would also expect Trump, who has never put in a 60 hour work week in his life, but who is very inclined towards hanky-panky to never reflect that he might be on camera in a hotel room, as he doesn’t seem reflective at all.

    Good that I’m not black-mailable as I’m old, retired, and don’t care who thinks I’m up to hanky-panky at my age.

    • P J Evans says:

      In both those countries – as well as several others – I’d assume that they’d be watching all the tourists they could, because they don’t like foreigners. (I’ll grant that those are countries that have had a lot of foreign interference, so they have some reason for their assumptions.)

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Hotel rooms for foreigners are pretty much hardwired for surveillance. Whether it’s turned on used to depend on who was staying in the room. State security knows who is in which room because each guest checks in via the hotel’s computer system and a parallel state security system network. The arrangement is not unique to China.

  7. Sam Penrose says:

    Has someone written a post-report-debunking account of Steele? Reading about the report before it was debunked I got the impression that he was an unexceptional professional doing a normal job. I’d love to know if that’s true and (especially if it is) how he has reacted to the debunking.

    • bmaz says:

      Chris Steele probably does not give a shit about your claim of “debunking”. Do you understand what raw intelligence is to start with? And continued focus on one of the most irrelevant red herrings in history is silly. As to “unexceptional”, are you not familiar with Steele’s prior work history with MI6, the FBI, and FIFA case, or just have an agenda with that analysis?

      • Sam Penrose says:

        No, I don’t understand what raw intelligence is, and I am not familiar with Steele’s career. I am merely a reader trying to learn from Marcy’s wonderful work. I do have an agenda, but it is to learn more from Marcy’s analyses, not to supply my own. I don’t know enough to do that.

        WRT “raw”, Marcy above uses the words “briefing” and “report”. She also writes “Steele doesn’t understand computers, which is apparent from every single one of his cybersecurity reports”, and I have the impression she has referred to his work with that dismissive tone more than once, which is why I chose the word “debunking”. I mean, when Marcy says that Steele writes about cybersecurity without understanding computers, that fits the definition Google offers me: “expose the falseness or hollowness of … reduce the inflated reputation of (someone), especially by ridicule.”

        It’s my impression that you are an active member of the Emptywheel community, and you may have interpreted my comment as a troll or challenge to Marcy. That is not the case. If you search for my name on the site, you will see that my comments have consisted of 1. effusive compliments 2. minor corrections / additions. I asked my questions about Steele in good faith. If they reveal my ignorance, well, that’s why I’m asking questions: because I know I have more to learn.

    • bell says:

      it’s about making money.. the dem party paid for it, but it looks like they didn’t get there moneys worth… intially john mccain paid for it to take trump out.. that didn’t work either… how can anyone do analysis relying on fabricated bs is beyond me…

  8. CD54 says:

    I thought one of the first questions that Trump asked Comey (related in Comey testimony or memorialized notes) was, “Do you have the tape?”.

  9. K-spin says:

    I feel like focusing on whether the “pee tape” exists is a little beside the point. Trump’s response would suggest that he at least found it possible that “a tape” exists, whether the compromising content was kinky or otherwise – to the extent that he actively attempted to stop said release, smeared Steele/dossier etc repeatedly, and tried to obstruct investigations into whether the Russians have kompromat on him.
    Do they? I don’t know, but it certainly looks like he believes so, and if that belief is affecting his actions, that to me is the point to focus on, not whether he pays women to pee on him.

    • Rayne says:

      I agree there is probably a tape because of Trump’s highly sketchy reaction. Is it a “pee tape”? Probably not — but the inclusion of a tape in the dossier as well as feedback to Cohen about a tape/tapes suggests there’s recorded material hanging over Trump/Trump family member(s). IMO — and I’m the minority report here — the dossier was an indicator more research was required. It indicated there was a threat but the threat was obscured, probably to provide plausible deniability. We’ll probably never have all the facts surrounding the tape(s).

  10. Eureka says:

    It looks like Kavalec’s notes contain a very early reference to “collusion” in the context of Trump campaign-Russia. In one of the instances of a ? different (darker-photocopy-imaged) pen ? overlaid on the notes, she’s wrapped “online collusion” around “computer ex.” (re Alfa bank thing, which is then elaborated some). Looks like this is a continuation of the October 11, 2016 notes, following a redacted point. Anyway, it has me interested in a possibly common source (pool) for favoring that keyword. Trump’s and Stone’s tweets through 2009 at start using “collusion” re Trump-Russia in May and March 2017, respectively. Prior to that, they each have just a couple-few tweets using the word, once each re HRC. First uses, oldest last:

    • May 8, 2017 05:46:00 PM The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end? [Twitter for iPhone]
    • May 8, 2017 05:41:12 PM Director Clapper reiterated what everybody, including the fake media already knows- there is “no evidence” of collusion w/ Russia and Trump. [Twitter for iPhone]
    • Oct 18, 2016 10:34:06 AM Pay-to-play. Collusion. Cover-ups. And now bribery? So CROOKED. I will #DrainTheSwamp.* [Twitter for iPhone]
    • Apr 25, 2016 06:54:21 AM Lyin’ Ted Cruz and 1 for 38 Kasich are unable to beat me on their own so they have to team up (collusion) in a two on one. Shows weakness! [Twitter for Android]

    • Mar 7, 2017 01:34:37 PM RT @StoneColdTruth:* That supposed FBI investigation of collusion with the Russians? Never mind . . . #NationalRevi… [Twitter Web Client]
    • Dec 10, 2016 11:00:31 PM @LeaBlackMiami @StoneColdTruth have you even read the @wikileaks releases exposing the collusion between Clinton and these “news” agencies? [Twitter for iPhone]
    • Feb 7, 2012 11:28:48 PM RT @GarrettNBCNews: Notable. RT @AndrewNBCNews: Who is over @ricksantorum shoulder other than Super PAC funder Foster Friess. COLLUSION ! [TweetDeck]
    • Sep 3, 2011 01:23:22 PM RT @mollyesque: Palin “The collusion of big government, big business and big finance to the detriment of all the rest.” PURE REAGANISM ’76 [TweetDeck]

    *twitter short urls removed

    • Eureka says:

      Trump and Rudy-et-al. have been parroting “no collusion” for so long that I don’t have independent recall of its origins. Kavalec’s notes have me lol-wondering the irony of their co-conspirators as the source. Now so interested, I started to check the dossier for source “collusion”-use, but can’t get through 35 non-ocr’d pages with this blargy headache. Steele himself uses “conspiracy” in the memo-headings.

      Separate question, re the Buzzfeed-published dossier: has it ever been revealed/sussed who was the person/camp who yellow-highlighted that copy? i.e. from whose point-of-view were those markings made?

  11. Eureka says:

    A couple of thoughts on Rtskhiladze contacting Cohen Oct 30th and what Cohen and Trump may have understood any such tapes to be about: isn’t the more parsimonious assumption that then there would be, and would have been fear of release of, tapes of Trump’s backstage behavior at Miss Universe? I lean this way this given Trump’s own statements (to e.g. Howard Stern) and then-public accusations about his pageant behavior, and the post-Access Hollywood tape climate: the campaign* had much fear of _merely_ disparaging remarks about women coming out.

    Second, I figured the reach-out was an attempt to mimic Trump’s indebtedness to Mark Burnett for locking down talk of Apprentice tapes/ set behavior. (Which in turn makes me wonder about any parallel paybacks ( to Agalarovs sector) via inauguration graft/churn/whatnot.)

    *Plus MR > pdf 291, Vol II pp. 78-79, Hicks re Trump’s reaction to SCO appointment. She had only seen him that way one other time, when the Access Hollywood tape came out.

    See e.g. and links therein:

    All of Donald Trump’s Accusers: A Timeline of Every Alleged Grope and Assault

    Source: Trump-Backer Mark Burnett Has Warned Staff On “Apprentice” Leaks

    Mark Burnett of ‘Apprentice’ tells why he can’t release Trump tapes (if they exist)

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