Deza: Oleg Deripaska’s Double Game

Oleg Deripaska was working to weaken Manafort even as he was pushing him to help carve up Ukraine

On July 30, 2016, as explained by the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page, Christopher Steele met with Bruce Ohr in DC. They discussed several things: reporting, paid for by an unknown source, about Russian doping; Steele’s reporting, paid for by Fusion GPS, about Carter Page’s travel to Russia and a claim that Russia had Trump over a barrel; and Steele’s work for one or several Oleg Deripaska attorneys digging up evidence in support of the aluminum oligarch’s lawsuit against Paul Manafort.

Three days later on August 2, 2016, as explained by the Mueller Report, Konstantin Kilimnik met with Paul Manafort and Rick Gates in NYC. They discussed several things: how Manafort planned to win the election by winning PA, MI, WI, and MN; what role Manafort might play in a Russian-backed plan to put Viktor Yanukovych in charge of an autonomous Donbas region that Manafort recognized was a back door effort to carve up Ukraine to Russia’s liking; and how Manafort could fix his urgent financial woes by getting his Ukrainian paymasters to pay money due him and by getting Deripaska to dismiss that lawsuit.

That is just one of the temporal overlaps that make it clear Oleg Deripaska was playing a brutal double game in 2016, pitching a renewed relationship with a financially desperate Manafort via Konstantin Kilimnik at the same time — sometimes even on the same days — when he was offering to provide evidence to the FBI on Manafort’s corruption via Christopher Steele.

Another such overlap came in December, 2016. On December 7, in an interagency meeting, Bruce Ohr suggested the US government engage with Deripaska to learn about corruption — “all the way to the President” — alleged by Steele. The next day, December 8, Kilimnik sent Manafort an email (probably using foldering in a failed attempt to hide it from surveillance) where he pitched Manafort on leading the Ukraine peace deal again. “All that is required to start the process is a very minor ‘wink’ (or slight push) from [Trump] and a decision to authorize you to be a ‘special representative’ and manage this process.” (See the timeline below for the chilling way this double game played out over the course of 2016.)

The double game that Deripaska was playing — making Manafort more vulnerable with threats of legal trouble even while pushing him to lead an effort to carve up Ukraine to Russia’s liking — may be a far more consequential question for American security than the Steele dossier itself is, particularly given how Trump’s efforts to undermine the Russian investigation have led him to undercut Volodymyr Zelensky as he tries to negotiate a peace deal with Russia. If Manafort, out of financial and possibly even electoral desperation, made commitments in August 2016 — and whether he did or not was a question Mueller was unable to answer, in part because Manafort risked more prison time to hide the answer — it would compromise Trump as well, even if he didn’t know of or approve Manafort’s efforts in advance.

Bill Priestap underestimated Vladimir Putin’s strategy

The outline of this double game provides a ready answer to a question that Bill Priestap — the top FBI counterintelligence person at the time he oversaw the Russia investigation — posed when asked whether the FBI had considered that the dossier might be disinformation.

Priestap told us that he recognized that the Russians are “masters at disinformation” and that the Crossfire Hurricane team was aware of the potential for Russian disinformation to influence Steele’s reporting. According to Priestap:

[W]e had a lot of concurrent efforts to try to understand, is [the reporting] true or not, and if it’s not, you know, why is it not? Is it the motivation of [Steele] or one of his sources, meaning [Steele’s] sources?… [Or were they] flipped, they’re actually working for the Russians, and providing disinformation? We considered all of that. …

[snip]

Priestap told us that the FBI “didn’t have any indication whatsoever” by May 2017 that the Russians were running a disinformation campaign through the Steele election reporting. Priestap explained, however, that if the Russians, in fact, were attempting to funnel disinformation through Steele to the FBI using Russian Oligarch 1, he did not understand the goal. Priestap told us that

what he has tried to explain to anybody who will listen is if that’s the theory [that Russian Oligarch 1 ran a disinformation campaign through [Steele] to the FBI], then I’m struggling with what the goal was. So, because, obviously, what [Steele] reported was not helpful, you could argue, to then [candidate] Trump. And if you guys recall, nobody thought then candidate Trump was going to win the election. Why the Russians, and [Russian Oligarch 1] is supposed to be close, very close to the Kremlin, why the Russians would try to denigrate an opponent that the intel community later said they were in favor of who didn’t really have a chance at winning, I’m struggling, with, when you know the Russians, and this I know from my Intelligence Community work: they favored Trump, they’re trying to denigrate Clinton, and they wanted to sow chaos. I don’t know why you’d run a disinformation campaign to denigrate Trump on the side. [brackets original]

Priestap convinced himself this was not disinformation based on three assumptions:

  • Nobody thought Trump would win at the time
  • The Russians favored Trump
  • To help Trump, the Russians were trying to hurt Hillary and sow chaos

Those assumptions led Priestap to believe Russia would, therefore, never do anything to harm Trump, and so concluded this dossier could not be a Russian disinformation effort. But, with the benefit of three years of hindsight, I think we can restate these assumptions such that filling the dossier with disinformation makes perfect sense. Yes, Russia preferred Trump and yes, few people believed Trump could win. But the Russians stood to optimize the chances that Trump would defy expectations by preventing the FBI from thwarting their ongoing operation. And sowing chaos was a goal independent of the hope that Trump might win. Indeed, while Trump would have been preferable for Russia based on policy stances alone, Russia would prefer a weak Trump they could manipulate over a strong Trump any day. By the time of the 2016 operation, Vladimir Putin had already exhibited a willingness to take huge risks to pursue Russian resurgence. Given that audacity, Trump was more useful to Putin not as an equal partner with whom he could negotiate, but as a venal incompetent who could be pushed to dismantle the American security apparatus by playing on his sense of victimhood. Putin likely believed Russia benefitted whether a President Trump voluntarily agreed to Russia’s policy goals or whether Putin took them by immobilizing the US with chaos, and the dossier protected parts of the ongoing Russian operation while making Trump easier to manipulate.

How the dossier might work as disinformation tactically

With that as background, I’d like to repeat an exercise I’ve done before: show how the dossier, as disinformation, would work to Russia’s advantage. Note, this is speculative, based on an assumption the dossier is disinformation, but I’m not accusing anyone of seeding that disinformation. Indeed, the dossier would work as disinformation whether or not Deripaska was the one feeding it, and whether or not Manafort was a willing participant in the Russian operation.

This section will lay out how each of the Steele reports would serve Russia’s interest tactically. These descriptions treat all of the dossier is disinformation, an assumption I don’t believe to be true; I’m just treating them as such to show how they could fit into this frame. I’ve marked the ones that I think would be most useful for these purposes with ⇒ arrows.

Below, I’ll show how it would serve Russia’s larger goals. As background, this spreadsheet lists all reports with the dates they got shared with the FBI.

⇒Report 80, June 20, 2016: Steele’s first report came out on June 20, after several parts of the Russian operation had already been rolled out, privately and publicly. On June 9, Don Jr had listened to a pitch to eliminate the Magnitsky sanctions (possibly as a part of a quid pro quo offering dirt on Hillary in exchange), then expressed a willingness to lift sanctions but not to make any commitments until after the election. On June 14, the Democrats unexpectedly announced the hack and attributed it to Russia. That same day, Michael Cohen decided against attending the St. Petersburg Economic Forum to pursue the Trump Tower Moscow deal (where Deripaska would meet Sergei Millian), possibly in part because the DNC hack revelation would make the Trump Tower deal more controversial.

Steele’s first report would include the pee tape, kompromat that Michael Cohen had known about since 2013 and that, therefore, would not be terrifically effective leverage over Trump in practice (as Cohen’s exchange with Giorgi Rtskhiladze would bear out). But it would likely be news to Hillary and would hold out promise of the kind of scandal that might make Democrats believe Steele’s project would swing the election. The first report would also include a claim that Trump had declined real estate deals with Russia, even though he was, at that moment, still pursuing the Trump Tower Moscow one. And, as noted, this report would tell the Democrats that the Guccifer 2.0 releases were not the kompromat described in the dossier — dated FSB intercepts — which might lead them to be complacent about further dumps from the hack.

Report 94, July 19, 2016: This report came after public reporting of Carter Page’s trip to Moscow, just before which Dmitry Peskov responded to an email that included US-based Dmitri Klimentov on July 6 by judging he should not arrange a meeting for Page at the Kremlin: “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.” It also came out days before the dump of the DNC emails. It would have had the effect of leading Democrats to believe that Page had had the meeting at the Presidential Administration, with Divyekin, that Peskov had pointedly decided not to schedule because Page wasn’t the key Trump person Russia wanted to influence. And it would have repeated the earlier suggestion that the anticipated Hillary kompromat consisted of dated FSB intercepts rather than recently stolen emails.

⇒Report 86, July 26, 2015: Steele’s third report came out in the wake of the WikiLeaks’ release of the DNC emails (though this report is one that only got shared with the FBI much later). It made ridiculous claims that Russia hadn’t had success hacking G7 and NATO targets, even though anyone following Russia’s hacking would have known they had compromised several American targets the previous year. It also said that the FSB had the lead on such hacking, which might have led the Democrats to ignore the more immediate threat from GRU. Both might have been intended to support Russia’s unsuccessful efforts at denying responsibility. And if the report had leaked in detail, the focus on FSB would have minimized the political damage of all the people with GRU ties reaching out to Trump’s people (including Mike Flynn’s past relationship with Igor Sergun, Cohen’s willingness to rely on former GRU general Evgeny Shmykov to broker the Trump Tower deal, and Deripaska’s aides), had those contacts ever became public.

⇒Report 95, July 28, 2016: Report 95 alleged a well-developed conspiracy between Trump and Russia just as the public was raising questions about it (literally, the day after Trump had made his “Russia if you’re listening” comment). It would also have invoked Sergei Millian (as Source E) admitting that there was an active conspiracy days before he would first meet Papadopoulos. This report raised the prospect that DNC insiders were part of the operation on a day when the first Seth Rich conspiracies were starting. It described the import of Russia’s diplomatic facilities to the 2016 operation, but focused on pension payments and the (in the case of Miami, non-existent) consulates rather than the overt involvement of Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. And it suggested that Trump’s ties to China were more corrupt than his Russian ties, something not without basis that might have distracted attention from Russia.

Perhaps most interesting, given Deripaska’s double game, is the allegation that Manafort “was using foreign policy advisor, Carter PAGE and others as intermediaries.” This report came out between the day Manafort accepted Kilimnik’s request for an in-person meeting in NYC and the date of that meeting on August 2. Focusing on Page might have had the effect of providing Kilimnik cover.

Report 97, July 30, 2016: This report came out in the wake of Trump’s “Russia if you’re listening” comment, the day after Roger Stone emailed Manafort promising “Good shit happening” as he was trying to figure out what WikiLeaks had coming, and in between when Manafort had agreed to meet with Kilimnik in NYC and the day they would meet on August 2, and as reporters were working on the stories that would make Manafort’s Russian ties toxic. While junior level Trump aides (including both Papadopoulos and JD Gordan) were being instructed to avoid any outreach involving Russia, both Manafort and Stone were aggressively taking steps to foster outreach. Report 97 suggested that both sides, Russia and Trump, were operating cautiously in the wake of the DNC release, when in fact the outreach was ratcheting up among key players.

⇒Report 100, August 5, 2016; Report 101 August 10, 2016: These two reports offer similar claims about Russia regretting the operation and worrying about releasing any further documents. They came out, however, at a time when Roger Stone was openly claiming that WikiLeaks would release more and he knew what it would be, and just days before Guccifer 2.0 started releasing the DCCC documents. Not only might these reports have further led the DNC to be complacent before more of their files got released, but it helped provide more plausible deniability to active efforts at the time to magnify the benefit of the leaks. (Note, these reports also came out during the period when the Seth Rich conspiracy started forming part of Russia and WikiLeaks’ denials.)

Report 102, August 10, 2016: Days before stories on Manafort’s Russian ties would create new problems for the campaign, this report claimed that the Trump campaign was planning on turning the tables on Hillary (they would, in fact, do so, but with a delayed effort to maximize the Podesta emails). This report also claimed that Trump’s campaign would focus on TV when the campaign was prepping to maximize Facebook and social media backed disinformation, assisted by the Internet Research Agency efforts. The report came long enough after the August 2 meeting between Manafort and Kilimnik that it could have reflected Kilimnik’s briefing on how Manafort planned to win swing states.

⇒Report 105, August 22, 2016: Particularly given Deripaska’s double game, this report focusing on Manafort is of particular interest. It falsely suggests there was no record of Manafort’s kickbacks from Yanukovych and other Ukrainian backers. Moreover, it suggests that Putin was worried that Manafort’s Yanukovych graft would become public, when the reality was that Deripaska was using the vulnerability created by the scandal to push Manafort to lead an effort, headed by Yanukovych, to carve up Ukraine. This report feels really consistent with Deripaska’s double game, both emphasizing Manafort’s corruption, but obscuring the real details of it.

Report 111, September 14, 2016: This report suggests that the decision to release more emails wasn’t made in August, as by all reports it was (indeed, Craig Murray would be involved in some kind of handoff in DC just 11 days later). This would have, again, placated Democratic concerns about still more email dumps. Note, too, that even in September, this suggests the 2016 operation consisted solely of kompromot and not also social media disinformation and probes of voting facilities.

Report 112, September 14, 2016: The IG Report makes clear that Steele and Glenn Simpson were pushing the Alfa Bank story via more channels (including Report 132, which never got released publicly, but which per the IG Report pertained to both Alfa and Manafort). That makes this report, confirming that “Alpha” [sic] was close to Putin, mildly interesting. The Alfa story, as packaged, is interesting for a number of reasons, not least that the Spectrum Health angle, which purported to show a secret tie between Erik Prince and Trump, came at the same time Prince was interacting with Stone (partly on WhatsApp), including funding him. The Alfa story also served to get Petr Aven to be more responsive to Putin’s order to reach out to Trump to push back against sanctions than he otherwise might have been.

Report 113, September 14, 2016: This report is yet another offering conflicting information about Trump’s success in real estate. The reference to Agalarov would have raised the stakes for any discovery of the June 9 meeting. And the allegation of sexual scandal came as Trump’s hush payments were bubbling up in the press.

Report 130, October 12, 2016: After reporting repeatedly that Russia was getting cold feet on more releases, this report claims that Russia was pissed the releases hadn’t had more effect. It also “predicts” the WikiLeaks Podesta releases that had started the previous week. This report includes a credible explanation of why Russia did this (including a focus on Ukraine), but seems to blame FSB for things GRU did (Note: I half wonder whether much of this dossier, including the focus on Millian, arose out of the intra-spook competition in Russia, in which blaming FSB for things GRU had done would serve several purposes).

⇒Report 134 October 18, 2016; Report 135 October 19, 2016; Report 136, October 20, 2016: In three October Reports that would be the last of the publicly released reports before the election, Steele reported that Michael Cohen was trying to clean up after Russian-related scandals. The series came at a time when Cohen was making real attempts to clean up after Trump’s hush payment scandals (including at least one call while he was visiting his daughter in London) and Hope Hicks asked him to address pee tape rumors that TMZ was chasing. The series also came during the Kilimnik-Gates-Manafort crime spree attempting to cover up their Ukrainian graft. It came during a period when the campaign — according to a Mike Flynn reference that has yet to be fully explained — was talking about reaching out to WikiLeaks. And it came during a period when — according to a Trump confession — Cohen’s earlier attempts to chase the Trump Tower deal remained ongoing. (This post shows that the things Cohen was alleged to have done in the dossier were all accounted for in other indictments.) In short, there was a lot of secret stuff going on in October, a month when the Russians might actually have begun to believe that Trump could pull off the win. Some of it even involved Cohen. None of it took place in Prague, and to the extent that anyone looked for it there, they’d be looking in the wrong place for the wrong cover-up.

The other content on this is more interesting. Report 134, mentioning Page, came after Page had told Stefan Halper he believed he had an “open checkbook” to form a pro-Russian think tank. This report suggests his monetary incentive to work with Russia was instead brokerage fees tied to the Rosneft sale. Returning to Carter Page at this point would have been useful for Deripaska given Kilimnik’s personal involvement in attempting to cover up the Ukrainian graft.

Report 135 is the only one that mentions something that could be construed as Manafort’s Deripaska-related scandals, which he and Kilimnik were trying hard to minimize.

Non-titled, non-dated: Bruce Ohr passed on a Steele report that has never been released publicly, suggesting that Russia delayed the selection of Secretary of State to ensure there’d be a pro-Russian person. Once Trump did nominate Rex Tillerson, seeding such a story would let Russia claim credit, whether or not it was true.

⇒Report 166, December 13, 2016: The final report in what BuzzFeed would publish as the dossier came at a time when it was clear there would be a vigorous investigation into Russia that could, if it discovered his embarrassing ties to Russia, discredit Trump. This report is by far the most incendiary one, alleging (among other things) that Cohen paid Russia’s hackers. It also blames the two key parts of the Russian operation on others, blaming Webzilla for activities that sound vaguely like what Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s trolls did, and blaming “Romanian hackers” for what GRU did (effectively doubling down on the Guccifer 2.0 persona). This report was never directly shared with the FBI. It got published after John McCain had shared a set of the dossier reports directly with Jim Comey, at a time when the FBI was fighting with CIA and NSA over whether to include Steele’s intelligence in the Intelligence Community Assessment report on Russia.

How the dossier might serve Russia’s larger goals

The final dossier report (as published in BuzzFeed) seems perfectly suited for what would come next. On January 6, 2017, Jim Comey would brief Trump on the existence of the dossier, focusing in particular on the pee tape allegation that, according to Cohen, Trump should have known about since 2013. The FBI did not yet have, and so could not have briefed Trump, on the last, most inflammatory, report. At least one part of that last report — the claim there were hackers in Romania — would contradict the finding in the ICA  that Guccifer 2.0 was just a persona run by the GRU.

Around January 12, 2017, Manafort attended a meeting with a Deripaska executive, Georgiy Oganov. They discussed “recreating [the] old friendship” between Manafort and Deripaska. Manafort also pushed to resolve the Pericles lawsuit before inauguration day. Either while at that meeting or immediately on his return, Manafort started advising Reince Priebus on how Trump allies could discredit the Russian investigation — which was not predicated on the Steele dossier — by discrediting the Steele dossier. It was a superb strategy! Even in spite of that last, inflammatory report and other sketchy details, even in spite of warnings from the press that they had not been able to corroborate the dossier, it nevertheless was taken as confirmation of the worst accusations against Trump, and served as the focal point of such claims until the June 9 meeting broke in July.

For two years, for many commentators on both sides of the political aisle — up to and including the first journalist to rely on it publicly, Michael Isikoff — the dossier became the measure of whether Trump had conspired with Russia, even as direct evidence of his ties to Russia piled up. The right believed that if it could prove Cohen didn’t go to Prague, it would prove Trump’s innocence of other equally incendiary claims. The left believed if it could prove that Page met with people vaguely like those described in the dossier, it would prove Trump was working with Russia from the start. And just as Paul Manafort, fresh off a meeting to discuss how to return to Deripaska’s good graces, advised, Republicans capitalized on that, using attacks on the dossier as a way to discredit the counterintelligence investigation into Manafort and others that was predicated almost two months before the core investigators first got the dossier (and in Manafort’s case, an investigation that had started a year earlier).

Even before the Republican effort got started in earnest, then, the dossier served to emphasize already toxic political polarization and gave Trump a basis to claim victimhood around which Republicans could rally.

Then there’s the way in which it could discredit Russia’s adversaries.

Christopher Steele. First, consider what an attractive target Steele would be for the Russians. If Russia had identified Steele as one source of the investigation into their sports cheating, on top of pinning former Alexander Litvinienko’s murder on Russia, they’d have real reason to take him out. And he and his business were vulnerable, too. In his meeting with the Crossfire Hurricane team, he accused the FBI of leaks that had led his source network to dry up, something that understandably pissed off the FBI team when they finally acknowledged that Steele had been sharing his intelligence with the press.

that due to leaks, his source network was “drying up.” According to Case Agent 2, Steele complained to the FBI during the meeting about these leaks.

[snip]

Handling Agent 1 added that it “blew his mind” that, given Steele’s intelligence background, Steele was meeting with the press and taking actions that endangered the safety of those in his source network. Case Agent 2 told the OIG that he thought it was “terrible” for Steele to complain to the FBI about leaks during the early October meeting given that he had been meeting with media outlets in September and had provided information that was used in the Yahoo News article.

Steele’s conversations with Bruce Ohr in 2017 also seem to reflect growing concern for his business. Any financial vulnerabilities would make him all the more intent (in an odd mirror image of Manafort’s own desperation) to keep Deripaska’s business. Ultimately, though, the dossier project ended Steele’s relationship with the FBI, publicly exposed his intelligence collection efforts, and damaged his reputation.

Democrats. I’ve written before about how mind-numbingly stupid it was for the Democrats to dig in, not just in hiding their own role in funding the dossier, but also in insisting it remained credible. Had they simply said, early in 2017, “we shared our oppo research with the FBI, just like Steve Bannon did with Clinton Cash, and both led to investigations during the Presidential campaign,” we might be having a bipartisan discussion about the FBI’s use of oppo research during election years. But because Democrats didn’t do that, and because they dug in on the credibility of the dossier even as abundant evidence of other Trump ties to Russia became public, it put them on the defensive and embroiled them in several damaging lawsuits. Now, no one remembers that the Clinton Cash-predicated investigation leaked during the election, but they do think Democrats played dirty for doing precisely what Trump’s team did and, like Trump’s team, succeeding in interesting the FBI in their opposition claims.

The FBI. The FBI took reporting from someone who — compared to the other kinds of sources they rely on for counterintelligence investigations (and the DOJ IG Report admits this) — looked like Prince Charming. They used it to advance the one of four individualized investigations into Trump associates on which they had crystal clear direct involvement of sustained attempted recruitment by Russian intelligence. The first two FISA applications against Page probably would have been approved even if FBI had fully declared all the derogatory information they knew, and the key details Devin Nunes complained about (as part of the Manafort-launched attempt to discredit the Russian investigation by discrediting the dossier) really don’t hold up, because DOJ complied with normal bias reporting on the source of funding for the dossier (and even blamed the Isikoff story on Glenn Simpson). Yes, FBI should have integrated the derogatory information on Steele as they discovered it for later applications. Better yet, they should have stopped relying on the dossier and instead used the intelligence they collected to establish probable cause for ongoing surveillance of Carter Page, or dropped the surveillance altogether as it became clear Page was no longer a key player in Trump’s world. But they didn’t. And now the FBI’s use of intelligence from a credible source, akin to the kind of intelligence they have to rely on every day, has become the excuse for the everyone from the President to DOJ’s Inspector General to former tough on crime Republicans to claim FBI’s counterintelligence experts are corrupt for pursuing counterintelligence investigations against Russian organized crime and election tampering that showed every subject was lying about damning ties to Russia. Along the way, FBI was investigating Manafort without fully realizing that Deripaska was engaged in this double game — something probably alluded to in two key redactions in the IG Report.

[Steele] explained that he worked for Russian Oligarch l’s attorney on litigation matters that involved Russian Oligarch 1 but that he could not provide “specifics” about them for confidentiality reasons. Steele stated that Russian Oligarch 1 had no influence on the substance of his election reporting and no contact with any of his sources. He also stated that he was not aware of any information indicating that Russian Oligarch 1 knew of his investigation relating to the 2016 U.S. elections. 211

While Steele did not get a fuller picture of the FBI’s investigation until early October (generally, the FBI seems to have been pretty good about avoiding telling Ohr anything he might share with Steele, but they did tell Steele the four people who were being investigated in a misguided belief they were tasking him to collect on those people), when the FBI interviewed Deripaska sometime in September 2016, they would not have known that someone separately working for his lawyers was, for a different customer, feeding and directing some of the understanding of Trump’s ties to Russia. (Note, I suspect that, because DOJ IG conflated Steele’s Deripaska work for his Fusion work, reports in it claiming that Steele’s dossier work arose out of his Manafort work may be based on a misunderstanding.)

Bruce Ohr and other experts on Russian organized crime. But it’s not just FBI’s counterintelligence investigators (though it does include people like Andrew McCabe and Peter Strzok, who both had had success pursuing Russian organized crime earlier in their career). Because Steele shared his dossier with those he knew to have an interest and expertise in Russian organized crime — including Bruce Ohr, Kathleen Kavalec, and Jonathan Winer, to say nothing of Fusion GPS and Nellie Ohr — they were implicated as the dossier became a political target, even those like Ohr and Kavalec who raised questions about it in real time. Indeed, DOJ’s IG reversed almost 20 years of recommendations that DOJ and FBI share more information to insinuate that Bruce Ohr should be disciplined or even fired because of his justifiable ties to Steele. And Deripaska would have known this would happen, because he met Ohr through Steele, and knew they continued to share information (additionally, the IG Report describes McCabe explaining that he and Ohr, “spoke periodically between 2003 and 2016 regarding” Deripaska). Effectively, this dossier gave many of America’s top experts on Russian organized crime a kind of Cooties, at precisely the time the country needs experts.

Oleg Deripaska. Donald Trump should be absolutely furious at his campaign manager, who knew months before it broke publicly that he — and with it, Trump’s campaign — would be publicly implicated in Yanukovych’s corruption. Trump should be livid that Manafort’s offer to work for “free” came with tremendous strings attached, largely in the form of Oleg Deripaska leveraging his feud against Manafort all through the campaign (this double game makes sense of Rick Gates’ testimony that Manafort shared polling data to stave off Deripaska; effectively so long as it looked like he might help Trump win, Manafort believed, erroneously, Deripaska wouldn’t press the Pericles lawsuit). Deripaska is the one, via Christopher Steele, who focused some of the FBI’s attention onto Manafort and therefore onto Trump. But because of the way the dossier triggered all the partisan bickering Russia had already stoked during the election, and helped along by Rusal’s investment in the Senate Majority Leader’s state, the opposite has occurred. Trump’s Treasury Department used shell games to permit Rusal to evade the sanctions imposed on Deripaska. And key Republican propaganda outlets — including John Solomon and The Daily Caller — have embraced Deripaska as some kind of truth teller about 2016. This is Reagan rolling over in his grave kind of stuff. But a remarkable coup on Deripaska’s part. And even while Republicans have embraced the possibility that the dossier included disinformation, they don’t, at the same time, realize how that disinformation has made them the playthings of a Russian oligarch who was playing a brutal double game, stoking the investigation into Trump while hard balling his campaign manager, all through the election.

Timeline

2005-2009: Manafort works for Deripaska

2007: Manafort founds Pericles with Deripaska as the sole investor

2012: Orbis hired as a subcontractor by Deripaska lawyer

February 22, 2014: Yanukovych flees Ukraine

December 4, 2014: Deripaska sues Manafort for $18.9 million

September 2015: Ohr meets with Deripaska

January 11, 2016: Steele writes Ohr about Deripaska seeking a visa to attend APEC (many of these 2016 contacts rely on Byron York’s description)

February 8, 2016: Steele writes Ohr to tell him Deripaska has been given an official visa to the US

February 21, 2016: Steele writes Ohr to say there would be a US government meeting on Deripaska, claims he had some Orbis reporting showing that Deripaska was not a “tool” of the Kremlin, says he’ll send it to (probably) Gaeta

March 17, 2016: Steele asks Ohr if he has any travel to Europe planned

March 28, 2016: Manafort hired as Convention Manager

March 30, 2016: Manafort sends Deripaska, Rinat Akhmetov, Serhiy Lyovochkin, and Boris Kelesnikov memos announcing his appointment to the Trump campaign and indicating his willingness to consult on Ukrainian politics in the future

April 11, 2016: Manafort asks Kilimnik if “our friends” had seen the media coverage of his new role, specifically asking about Deripaska:

Manafort: How do we use to get whole. Has [Deripaska] operation seen?

Kilimnik: Yes. I have been sending everything to Victor [Boyarkin], who has been forwarding the coverage directly to OVD.

April to May 2016: On Manafort’s instructions, Gates starts sending the Ukrainian oligarchs and Deripaska internal polling data via WhatsApp

May 7, 2016: Kilimnik and Manafort meet for breakfast in NYC; they discuss Ukrainian events and the Trump campaign

May 19, 2016: Manafort promoted to Campaign Manager

July 1, 2016: Steele says he’s going to meet someone (possibly Gaeta) to discuss ongoing business, then says he wants “to discuss with you informally and separately. It concerns our favourite business tycoon!,” meaning Deripaska

July 7, 2016: Steele and Ohr speak by Skype

July 7, 2016: Manafort asks Kilimnik if there has been any movement on the Pericles lawsuit; Kilimnik replies with optimism they can return to “the original relationship” with Deripaska

Kilimnik: I am carefully optimistic on the question of our biggest interest. Our friend [Boyarkin] said there is lately significantly more attention to the campaign in his boss’ [Deripaska’s] mind, and he will be most likely looking for ways to reach out to you pretty soon, understanding all the time sensitivity. I am more than sure that it will be resolved and we will get back to the original relationship with V. ‘s boss [Deripaska]

Manafort: if [Deripaska] needs private briefings we can accommodate.

July 28, 2016: Kilimnik flies from Kyiv to Moscow

July 29, 2016: Kilimnik pitches a meeting to talk about Yanukovych

Kilimnik: I met today with the guy who gave you your biggest black caviar jar several years ago. We spent about 5 hours talking about his story, and I have several important messages from him to you. He asked me to go and brief you on our conversation. I said I have to run it by you first, but in principle I am prepared to do it. … It has to do about the future of his country, and is quite interesting.

Manafort: Tuesday [August 2] is best . .. Tues or weds in NYC.

July 30, 2016: Steele meets with Bruce and Nellie Ohr in DC and tells them, among other things, about Deripaska’s allegations of corruption against Manafort

July 31, 2016: Kilimnik tells Manafort he needs two hours for the meeting

August 2, 2016: Kilimnik and Manafort (and, for part of the meeting, Gates) meet in NYC and discuss how to win Rust Belt swing states, how to carve up Ukraine to Russia’s liking, and how to get back on the Ukrainian-Deripaska gravy train

August 10, 2016: Manafort books $2.4M in revenue from his Ukrainian paymasters

August 18, 2016: Manafort tells NBC he hasn’t had dealings with Deripaska in four years

September 2016: FBI Agents interview Deripaska, with no notice, about whether Manafort was working with Russia (per John Solomon)

September 23, 2016: Steele tells Ohr that Deripasksa would be willing to share information on Manafort with FBI

October 18, 2016: Steele calls Ohr in a panic because Ukraine has sanctioned Deripaska

December 7, 2016: Interagency strategy meeting including Ohr and FBI on whether and how to engage with Deripaska

December 8, 2016: Kilimnik emails (probably using foldering) Manafort about Ukraine “peace” plan

January 12, 2017: Manafort meeting in Madrid with Deripaska executive Georgiy Oganov

Janaury 19-22, 2017: Manafort meets Kilimnik and Ukrainian oligarch Serhiy Lyovochkin at the Westin Hotel in Alexandria, Virginia; Ukraine “peace” plan comes up again

February 26, 2017: Manafort and Kilimnik meet in Madrid, ostensibly for update on Black Ledger investigation

January 10, 2018: Deripaska sues Manafort and Gates in NYS

OTHER POSTS ON THE DOJ IG REPORT

DOJ IG Report on Carter Page and Related Issues: Mega Summary Post

Timeline of Key Events in DOJ IG Carter Page Report

Crossfire Hurricane Glossary (by bmaz)

Facts appearing in the Carter Page FISA applications

The Inspector General Report on Carter Page Fails to Meet the Standard It Applies to the FBI

“Fact Witness:” How Rod Rosenstein Got DOJ IG To Land a Plane on Bruce Ohr

Eleven Days after Releasing Their Report, DOJ IG Clarified What Crimes FBI Investigated

The Damning Revelations about George Papadopoulos in a DOJ IG Report Claiming Exculpatory Evidence

A Biased FBI Agent Was Running an Informant on an Oppo-Research Predicated Investigation–into Hillary–in 2016

The Carter Page IG Report Debunks a Key [Impeachment-Related] Conspiracy about Paul Manafort

Rosemary Collyer Responds to the DOJ IG Report in Fairly Blasé Fashion

The Flynn Predication

Sam Clovis Responded to a Question about Russia Interfering in the Election by Raising Voter ID

As I disclosed in 2018, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation. 

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53 replies
  1. BobCon says:

    The Priestap analysis seems so unimaginative I have to wonder whether it isn’t omitting something major.

    If the Russians expected Clinton beating Trump, and they knew Steele had some sense of their support for Trump, it seems obvious that they would be doing everything possible to throw Steele off the trail.

    They had to be worried in 2016 that their Trump connections would be exposed by a Clinton administration — why wouldn’t they start the coverup when Steele showed up? Priestap’s stated analysis doesn’t hold up, and I’m open to the possibility he is leaving out some key element.

  2. ThomasH says:

    Thank you Marcy! This reminds me of a LeCarré novel, where the Center has been penetrated by the Soviets and is in shambles, but there’s no George Smiley to pick up the pieces (well, there is Dr. Marcy Wheeler…hello, any non-compromised person in the Justice Dept, if you’re listening!).

  3. Norman Folsom says:

    This comprehensive understanding of such a complex machinery is many things all at once: impressive (of course), courageous, truth-telling, and honorable in its respect for our country and its preservation, the last one only because the crux of all “this business” is its existential threat to the U.S., notwithstanding how hopelessly corrupt we’ve already been, long before the Trump Ascension, or the degree to which we might deserve it.
    What saddens me, and what was no doubt playing through the long game among those Russians all along, is that the story is so complicated that the vast majority of U.S. media will never come close to even trying to parse this for their readers and viewers. Even if they might themselves parse out at least one smaller slice of what you’ve compiled above (and of course the Steele Dossier is itself just a slice of a larger story, even while it touches almost every thread in that story), they might find a way to stop repeating even a few of their lazy mis-truths.
    And I regret if this is off-topic, but this question kinda keeps burning in my mind, rekindled almost every time I read a post on this blog; and I realize it’s much more speculative and generalized than the specificity and laser focus you’re accustomed to.
    But:
    What do we know about (or what might possibly be contained in) any ongoing counter-intelligence investigations… and by this I realize I’m really asking about Rumsfeld Known Unknowns or Unknown Knowns… that have escaped full explanations in the Meuller Report, survived the denigrations and purges by Trumpkunstwerk of the I.C., etc., that might ultimately reveal all this corruption in final and definitive fashion? As in, a much grander gestalt that you just can’t deny or ignore, in which Trump plays a petty but utterly damning part.
    Along the same lines, I would be curious if during the decades-long probes into the Russian (State) Mob by Western Intel, Trump had cropped up episodically, was clearly implicated but just wasn’t even close to being the big fish, then enjoyed some perverse type of immunity because he was suddenly the nominee such that the F.B.I. and others in the U.S. I.C. didn’t want to prejudice him (unlike they did with Clinton)…
    Is there a more compact, comprehensive-but-comprehensible “silver bullet” yet to be revealed that makes Trump’s total kompromat absolutely obvious and undeniable?
    (As if this post ain’t enough.)

  4. e.a.f. says:

    Excellent article! Made my head spin, so I’ll read it twice. Sometimes you have to do that.

    What is clear to me is there were some very nasty people playing around and some of them didn’t care how their country came out of it

    Thank you for the work. It helps many of us understand what is going on around us. Its important.

  5. Njrun says:

    Back when this was debated, I argued that the dossier as misinformation didn’t make sense for much the same reasons as the FBI. I didn’t see an end game for how it helped Russia or Trump.

    I’m not going to dispute that there is misinformation in the dossier. This is not my area of expertise and while I don’t always agree with Marcie I respect the unbelievable amount of knowledge she has compiled. That said, the big picture that Steele was trying to expose in a hair-on-fire way — hey, Trump is compromised by the RUSSIANS!!!!! — is absolutely true and took way too long to be investigated.

    I’m also of the view that the anti-dossier focus distorts the actual impact in the public consciousness. The dossier was never the problem. It explained why Trump was acting as he has, but the problem with foreign policy was always that Trump’s policies promoted Russia’s interests pretty much all the time.

    And now Trump has been impeached, (IMO on too little and too long coming), the only mention of the dossier came from nutjob Republicans.

    • bmaz says:

      Whatever it is, and is not, the “Dossier” is one of the biggest red herrings in history. You have that part exactly right.

      • Njrun says:

        I don’t think you are using the phrase “red herring” correctly, and in any event, that is a meaningless thing to say.

        Again, the point was to raise alarm about Trump’s ties to the Russians, which has mostly been borne out. It never purported to be a finished product.

        Second, I think it had very little impact on the whole investigation and subsequent fallout. You attribute a lot more importance to it than it appears to have had. It has given wingnuts something to drone on about, but they would have latched on to something one way or another.

        But the argument is kind of moot these days.

        • bmaz says:

          Well, let’s see here. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a red herring as something that misleads or distracts from a relevant or important question. So, yes, I am using the phrase appropriately, thanks, and it is certainly not “meaningless.

          I have argued from the start that the “Dossier” is a diversion and there was WAY too much focus put on it, that it was raw intel and so what if not all of it was perfectly right, that its contention that there is an issue with Trump and Russia has been borne out, and that it was not critical to the finding of probable cause in the Page warrants and that they would be granted easily if not a word of it was mentioned.

          Saying “You attribute a lot more importance to it than it appears to have had” is fucking laughable as I am the one who has consistently done exactly the opposite of that. The remainder of your comment supports what I have been saying all along. And, again, yes that makes it a red herring, thanks for proving my point.

  6. MattyG says:

    Great report and one that calls for a slower 2nd read with a copy of the Dossier to follow along with. My own sense is the Dossier has merit in an almost self-fulfilling way – even if the yarn it spins is often peppered with disinformation, the disinformation operation itself confirms the underlying charge that DT is fataly compromised.

  7. viget says:

    Wow, Marcy, thank you so much! I just feel like I experienced the denouement of Knives Out (an excellent movie, for those of you who haven’t seen it), but this makes perfect sense. I have upped my monetary contributions to the site.

    Well, ask and you shall receive I guess. I made a plea for understanding about Deripaska vs. Steele/Ohr the other day, and here it is.

    Two crazy ideas/topics of discussion I have (speculation):

    1. Could the Rosneft commission not all be deza? It is quite interesting that the “sale” of $12 billion for a 19.5% stake did take place in Dec 2016, and the shell game that was played with the money involved QIA buying a stake in Rosneft, which Reuters says was secretly financed by VTB. I say “sale” in quotes, because it appears that much, if not almost all of the money came from VTB through some complicated loan structure using Italy’s Banca Intessa and then secret loans to QIA by VTB to avoid sanctions.

    What is interesting is that the Kushner bailout of 666 5th Ave. in August 2018 came from Brookfied Asset management, which, surprise! is 9% owned by QIA, one of the largest investors in the company. Supposedly, the 666 bailout was to the tune of $1.2B which would be about 10% of the sale price for Rosneft. Sounds a little hefty for a commission fee to me, but then again, that was just a cover story anyway.

    If it’s true that VTB actually did the bulk of the financing, then Russia never really sold Rosneft anyway, and the difference between the loans and what QIA paid for it could represent the $1.2B perhaps. Certainly a creative way to get money to the Kushners from Russia and avoid sanctions.

    2. Was Deripaska Steele’s main “source” for the Russian doping investigation/FIFA bribery in order to build up trust with Steele/provide credibility as source against RU in 2016? Consider that Deripaska is from the region of Russia that includes Sochi, and may have been intimately involved in the planning of the doping scheme, who better to spill the beans? Certainly, Deripaska was probably intimately involved in the planning and construction for Sochi 2014.

    I know the above is very speculative, but it is also very curious that the other main FBI investigations that involved Russia, the FIFA bribery scandal and the GRU hacking of WADA (and also FIFA!) all have ties into the current Trump investigations. The FIFA scandal involved the concurrent awarding of the World Cup to Russia and Qatar (with whom Russia wants to corner the LNG market), and the hacking investigation involved some of the same people who did the DNC hack.

    Would be consistent with the “long game” theory of Russia’s (or at least Deripaska’s) involvement.

  8. orionATL says:

    well this is interesting.

    1. by this account of ew’s, christopher steele could be said to have defrauded his customer(s) by including info in his reports that an experienced russian intelligence analyst like himself would know was likely disinformation. the fraud charge would be stronger given that steele knew deripaksa well, worked with him in the same time interval on other matters, and talked him up with ohr, possibly as a way of getting the american federal police force (fbi) involved in investigating trump vis-a-vis russia.

    2. somewhat drolely i will add the strange possibility that steele could have been enough of a russo-phobe to have attempted to conduct a one man campaign to destroy trump before election day on the assumption trump was perfectly willing to work with putin and would be used by putin against western interests. the accepted explanation is that steele got impatient with the fbi, but that is perfectly consistent. whatever his motive – money or ideology – steele paid heavily for his involvement in american politics.

    3. there is a sort of hidden (non-obvious) conclusion derived from this entire post, to whit, that trump may well have been right that he was treated unfairly by the american intelligence police (though not out of political bias, but rather educated professionals’ contempt for trump the person).

    further, that robert mueller was circumspect about charging trump and refused to be outspoken about his team’s report may well have derived from his understanding of the covert bias at work against trump and the suspect charges involving circumstantial evidence and fevered imagination lodged against the candidate.

    one could conclude that this entire fuss over trump and russia and collusion was a mirage if not a witch hunt.

    human social psychology suggests we have a tendency to think in directions like that.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      One might conclude those things. They would be peripheral opinions based on an obscure reading, but one that Matt, Aaron and Glenn share.

      Among other things, the take ignores powerfully-driven propaganda’s ability to overwhelm the most skilled actors.

      • orionATL says:

        earl of h –

        your comment is not entirely clear to me, and i can only guess who your very familiar “matt, aaron, and glenn” are, but if you don’t understand that the human social psychology that includes, but is not limited to, “powerfully-driven propaganda’s ability to overwhelm the most skilled actors” was at the heart of what I was saying then you missed the pitch badly.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        I caught the pitch. I was objecting to the “hidden (non-obvious) conclusion[s].” PJ is correct, my references were to Taibbi, Mate, and Greenwald – and Craig Murray – who do seem to think along the lines of your non-obvious conclusions.

        • orionATL says:

          you needn’t have worried.

          “hidden (non-obvious)” was the phrase that came to me when i was trying to describe the intuitive feeling I had about the entire post after reading thru the entire post. that was that there may be no clear and obvious collusion or even cooperation between trump and russia.

          the story here is that steele’s information was tainted with calculated disinformation provided by deripaksa and accepted by steele. so it is valueless.

          it may be that manafort and kilimnik-deripaksa were all working for themselves and trump just got caught up in that. personally, i have always been happy to assume that trump generally greenlighted manafort’s actions with the russians. but perhaps not; trump was just an unsophisticated sucker? so toss that out.

          similarly, i have never really understood why deripaksa would be involved in anything other than his effort to get his money back from manafort. but then i have never seen enough details of the manafort-deripaksa communications project transaction to know with confidence who owed who what and why.

          was it the case that deripaksa was working for putin when planting disinformation (if that is actually what he did)? if not what were his motives?

          what clear and unambiguous bits of information tie the trump campaign to putin? well, lots of meetings between campaign officials and russians. but these are never accepted as meaning anything significant.

          some meetings after the election dealing about sanctions, but no dramatic shift in sanctions.

          as the explanations lengthen and contradict, it is all sand running thru our fingers.

    • missing george carlin says:

      Again, if the Deep State was trying to destroy DJT, why did nobody make a 5 min call to a reporter: “DJT campaign under counter intelligence investigation re: Russia!!!”

      Instead, the Deep State goes after HRC with bunk “email” story 11 days before election, tipping 78K winning margin to DJT.

      Let us know, OK!

  9. PeterS says:

    Many thanks for this fascinating post. Some comments/questions.

    Haven’t events shown the main thrust of the dossier to be true? Though I accept some parts are undoubtedly inaccurate and there’s some fraction that is disinformation.

    Russia cannot have predicted how that dossier would become such a toxic partisan issue.

    Russia surely preferred Trump to Clinton.  Yes Russia wanted a weak Trump (on the off chance he won), but what was the downside to keeping their powder dry and releasing information after the election? They did of course continue to compromise him during the campaign by eliciting the numerous contacts. 

    Need Deripaska’s actions have been so deep? He had two somewhat contradictory aims, but couldn’t predict which one was more attainable, and so pursued both. Not unusual in business. 

    Little of what goes on in the world looks to me like a clever plan being executed.  Insofar as Russia does execute clever plans, wasn’t Steele highly qualified to judge?

    • emptywheel says:

      I think your cautions are worthwhile, and that’s what I was trying to do with my acknowledgment that I *don’t* think all of these were disinformation.
      The dossier is not coherent enough for the general thrust to have been proven true. But the very important point is that while it points in the same direction, virtually every fact is wrong, which is precisely the point of disinformation, and why it undercuts true concerns so much.

    • N.E. Brigand says:

      One key point Ms. Wheeler has made in a number of earlier posts (and briefly above) is that Steele’s reports often regurgitate (and sometimes garble) information that was already public.

      • bmaz says:

        Oh, so you mean doing his job hired to do? Which, as you may recall, was political oppo, which is often based on matters that are, at least somewhat, “public”? So what?

  10. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The new image that needs to haunt Trump’s anti-environmentalism should be the Screaming Koalas.

    The teddy bear-like marsupial is impossibly cute from a distance, but it’s not cuddly. It spends its life in Australian coastal eucalyptus groves – the ones madly burning – and rarely moves from tree to tree. Its food and drink comes from its leaves: they burn with them, their lament rising with the smoke. An epitaph for the planet.

  11. N.E. Brigand says:

    Wow! That’s a very useful summary of a concern you’ve been expressing for a couple years. Thank you.

    Two questions:

    1. Do we know for sure that Democrats were being updated on each of Steele’s reports as they came in? I don’t remember the details of Glenn Simpson’s testimony on that subject.

    2. Do we know for sure that Donald Trump and Michael Cohen knew about the Moscow tape rumors as far back as 2013? The five references to the tape(s) I’ve encountered are, in order of becoming public: (1) Steele’s report (including a reference to Steele’s work in David Corn’s Oct. 2016 reporting); (2) Paul Wood’s BBC reporting* that cites former and (at second hand) current U.S. intelligence agents claiming there was more than one tape of more than one event in Moscow and St. Petersburg (has Trump even been to the latter city?); (3) Cohen’s early 2019 Congressional testimony in which he said he’d heard that rumor for years but hadn’t been able to verify it–but no one asked him how far back “years” extended; (4) Mueller’s note on Giorgi Rtslchiladze’s statement to Cohen that he “stopped the flow” (of tapes he believed were fake) and Rtslchiladze’s lawyer’s subsequent response to Mueller’s report; and (5) Hope Hicks’s testimony about asking Cohen to look into rumors TMZ was asking about.

    (*In light of what you write above, Wood’s report is also interesting because he says Trump was offered lucrative Russian deals but “turned them down”; later we learned that the Moscow tower deal was very much alive in 2016. More misdirection?)

    None of those sources, as far as I can recall (but I welcome correction!) indicates that Trump or Cohen knew about the tapes by 2013. I don’t see that mentioned in your April 2019 analysis of Rtslchiladze’s comments, either.

    • emptywheel says:

      In Congressional testimony Cohen said the rumor had been out there since Miss Universe, so 2013. I’m also not saying the tape exists. Just that it started being floated around then.

      • N.E. Brigand says:

        Thank you. I remembered hearing Michael Cohen mention the tape in his public testimony, but I hadn’t recalled him saying specifically that he’d heard about it going that far back (only that he’d known about its rumored existence for “years”, which given he was testifying in 2019, could have meant only since 2016). I looked for a searchable transcript of that testimony not long after he gave it, but couldn’t find it at the time. I appreciate your information about him mentioning that he’d heard about it dating to about the time of the pageant.

        As for the tape’s (or tapes’) uncertain existence, I was struck by something you wrote in your Rtslchiladze post last April:

        “As I read it, the entire point of [Mueller’s report] including this reference [to Rtslchiladze] is not to substantiate the existence of a pee tape. Rather, it’s to explain why Trump may have believed in the existence of one.”

        As you of course realize, there are at least three possibilities: (A) there are no tapes; (B) there is a tape or tapes, but it or they are fake, like that video Ashley Feinberg analyzed in September; or (C) there is a real tape or tapes of Trump as claimed in Steele’s report and Wood’s reporting.

        Giorgi Rtslchiladze has claimed to believe (A) or (B) to be true. As per your commentary above, Russia would probably like Trump to believe (B) or (C) is true. (Even the release of a phony tape could hurt him, like that edited video of Joe Biden that was shared widely yesterday probably damaged the Democratic front-runner a little.) However, it is possible that (A) is true and yet Trump believes that (C) is true, if, his weird protestations notwithstanding, that while Russia didn’t manage to record it, he engaged in salacious activity while in Russia. (The first political commentator I read who suggested that Trump seems to act like there could be a tape even if there isn’t was eternal moderate Josh Barro, of all people, way back in March or April of 2017.)

    • BobCon says:

      Ashley Feinberg at Slate did a great job of dissecting a video that she showed was undeniably fake but also something someone went to significant lengths to make believable, possibly to the point of booking the Moscow Ritz Carleton suite which lists at $18,000.

      Feinberg documented how this elaborate fake had to have been made no earlier than late 2015, which makes it possible it was a source for the Steele rumor, although the fake video may have also been made after the Steele report hit the news.

      https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2019/09/inside-the-convincing-fake-trump-pee-tape.html

      • PhoneInducedPinkEye says:

        If you read the whole article and her comments on Twitter about it, I got the impression she thinks it is likely fake but couldn’t rule it out as possibly being real. She also mentioned that may have been the point.

        Trump is perfectly happy to live his life as a serial sexual assaulter so not sure why such a tape would be a breaking point…

        • BobCon says:

          I think she’s firmly on the side of impossible, while admitting how strongly she wishes it was real.

          I think the framing is to cast side eye at fact checkers and investigative reporters who pretend to be objective scientists. She hates the Glenn Kesslers of the world, and loathes the idea of ever putting out one of his Bernie Sanders bits.

    • bmaz says:

      When you say “the Democrats”, the answer is no, not as far as I am aware, and certainly not in real time as, I think, you are asking. A lawyer, Marc Elias, and his law firm, Perkins Coie, was the point that received as close to “real time”. They were, and still are, very large representatives for general Democratic election interests. But they are not, for the most part, that kind of real time reporters to campaigns directly, and that is by design. Also should be remembered that the Fusion GPS effort that came to include the “Dossier” started as a right wing/GOP effort, not on behalf of Democratic efforts, even though it ended up in the latter generally.

      As a general note, Marc and Perkins Coie are the ones fighting, and usually winning, voting rights cases across the country in the face of massive voter suppression efforts by the GOP. They do good work.

    • Cathy says:

      I think @sproggit (below at January 3, 2020 at 5:16 am) captures a plausible vibe that the info being funneled into Steele’s reports may have more to do with internal dynamics of the (multiple) Russian influence efforts than with a specific tactic used in support of a single strategic plan.

      I agree @ew’s framing in this post opens a discussion of whether an election-influence mastermind used Steele to successfully manipulate Clinton campaign responses to election-influence operations. However, I think @ew’s analysis may show that each time the election-influencers flew a sortie into the theater of operations they released countermeasures (a load of chaff). In other words, they wouldn’t have needed feedback that the deza was affecting Clinton campaign behavior in order to find value in continuing the feed the deza to Steele.

      Idle curiosity leads to wonder whether Deripaska served as a single-point designated chaff delivery system for the various election-influencing factions & Steele was his go-to chaff launcher or whether Steele was just on a list of possible deza vectors that each faction had compiled & Deripaska happened to be a convenient liaison.

  12. sproggit says:

    There are a couple of other elements to this story that we don’t see covered much. I am not sure if they add to this excellent analysis, but I would like to offer them up and ask wiser heads to opine.

    1. Christopher Steele
    It is widely reported that Christopher Steele is a former agent of the British Government, but it is worth noting that his “cover” as an MI6 agent was blown in 1999 when a disgruntled former British agent published a list of 117 names of British spies. Although some names that appear on the list appear to have been discounted, Steele and others did exist. It is inconceivable that the Russian counter-espionage forces were not thoroughly aware of Steele and his exploits, his contacts, his means of communication and his methods. I think this is important because it completely changes the equation for any Russia-based source that Steele may have had (direct or indirect), since it drastically alters the risk landscape such a source would have if they were detected communicating with Steele. Of course, it also significantly increases the probability that Steele would be used to share misinformation.

    2. Christopher Steele’s Data
    Expanding slightly on the first point, it is worth noting, to quote Captain John Sheridan (Babylon 5), “Always wrap a lie inside a truth. It makes it easier to swallow”… Or: if Russian intelligence wanted to have misinformation fed to the west and accepted, then they may be willing to route a mixture of valid (but harmless) and false information to Steele. The valid content might be sufficient to convince Steele that he was still able to function vis-a-vis Russian intelligence and might, played well by Steele, persuade others (the FBI) of this fact. What this would also do, however, is make it harder for the FBI to independently establish the veracity of Steele’s sources. The more we look, especially with the background, the most this looks to be more misinformation than truth.

    3. Christopher Steele’s Data (2)
    To re-quote Captain John Sheridan (Babylon 5), “Always wrap a lie inside a truth. It makes it easier to swallow”… Or put another way… this works in 2 directions. In point 2, above, I suggested that seeding a small amount of truth via Steele would help Russia “sell” deliberate mis-information as valid intelligence.

    But the reciprocal is also true… If Steele had been successful in supplying the British and US Governments with valid intelligence, then offering him something that, along with valid intelligence, contained outrageous or provably false claims might be a good way to burn the channel (Steele) and the underlying sources, by discrediting them for sharing obviously false and ludicrous claims.

    I wondered if – and this is a bit tin-foil-hat territory – the peepee tape might be bait, dangled by the Russians for the Democrats – on the idea that they would seed channels with the idea that “there was a tape” and provoke the Democrats into going public with the claim. If no such tape existed, Trump would then be able to call foul. He would not have been informed of this, however, since “righteous indignation” would be hard to fake, especially with Donald, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you can find…” Trump.

    4. Moscow’s Inner Circle
    This is the most contentious and least substantiated of my theories. You will recall that a Court in the Hague ordered the Russian Government to pay Yukos $50 billion in damages after the fabricated charges against Yukos and Khordorkovsky were shown to be baseless. This is just one example of the way that Putin, through his government, runs Russia by diktat.

    But this doesn’t even scratch the surface of the intrigue and in-fighting within Moscow. Just to level-set for the reader… there is a reasonably-widely-held theory that Moscow’s approach to sanctions-busting has included the deliberate creation of a series of “Oligarchs”, all of whom obviously must swear fealty to Putin. By creating the impression that these “Oligarchs” are somehow self-made entrepreneurs and businessmen (and not merely front-men for the Russian government), the Oligarchs are able to trade internationally and move large [very large] sums of money around the world. As the Panama Papers showed, several of these Billionaires [see e.g. “Putin’s Chef”] have been systematically hiding money overseas for years. Which gets us to the point:-

    In Russia, with essentially a “Mafia Government” in place, a truly frightening amount of power is concentrated in the hands of a small number of central players. Putin is 67 and will not lead Russia forever. So we have a scenario in which the spoils are huge, the modus operandi is *intentionally* underhand and deceptive, and one way to position oneself to succeed Putin might be to get oneself in Putin’s “good graces”.

    If that is the case, then anyone in that Inner Circle who could deliver Trump to Putin, as a supplicant, would instantly become super-powerful. Obviously, this isn’t going to be easy. One might tempt Trump into business deals, or attempt to blackmail him via his peccadilloes. If direct manipulation didn’t work, one might try indirect influence – by putting someone close to Trump, in a position of influence, whilst retaining control over that person.

    But since the likely contenders (Manafort, Flynn, etc) aren’t simply passive puppets, it’s possible that multiple plots could have been in play all at the same time.

    So my last and whackiest theory is that maybe the data we have so far is contradictory and confusing not because of deliberate misinformation [though I concede that this is the most likely explanation given the growing body of evidence] but actually the overlap of two or more independent and mutually frictional plays to control the outcome, not simply to install Trump in the White House, but to be the member of the Inner Circle who delivers that person to Trump.

    We’ve all been looking at this so closely, it’s as though everyone is trying to find a way to fit all the pieces of evidence to a single, coherent pattern, ignoring the possibility that two – or more – competing strategies may have been in play. It’s possible, for instance, that Guccifer 2.0, the Manafort Gambit and the Flynn Deception were not merely sponsored by different factions in Moscow and working independently, but actually working *against each other*.

    After all, a supplicant US President is a pretty big prize to play for.

    • bmaz says:

      To me at least, I think you get to a very good point in your last two paragraphs. As I have said before (as recently as even a few minutes ago!) I think the “Dossier” is one of the biggest red herrings in history. It is a vaporous bogeyman for pretty much everybody, and, no, there is no real single coherent thing there.

      A LOT of competing interests may be, and obviously are, reflected in it. But that was never Steele’s tasking, he was tasked to gather what he could find, not to verify every bit of it. It was effectively raw intel that has been played by people on every side of the divide as a finished work product like Mueller’s Report, or that of the IG.

      The Dossier was never that. If it had been blithely stapled to the FISC warrants it would be the kind of problem people make it out to be. It was not. And those apps hold up without it, despite all the all too convenient caterwauling about it.

      [Warning, it is 3:30 in the morning here, I have something approaching the flu, and woke up thinking I was drowning in my own precious bodily fluids (hat tip to General Jack Ripper in Dr. Stangelove), so I may be a tad loopy.]

      • Bay State Librul says:

        The dossier is a puzzle within a puzzle.
        The answer will arrive either (a) when Jason Leopold tells us, or (b) when a paper bag drinker trips up his story.

          • Bay State Librul says:

            But, but, it is “my” red herring to catch our little ball of hate who resides at Mar-a-Lago.

      • orionATL says:

        just to emphasize, bmaz, flu is very serious for older adults. don’t mess around with it. get the medical help you need from primary care, pulmonologist, or e.r. asap.

        dr. orion, qk.

        • bmaz says:

          Thanks Orion. I’ll be fine. Just a little afflicted, which makes me more cranky than the normal cranky baseline.

          Your advisory is excellent though. The “flu shot” is not perfect, but everybody should get it. And as to any getting a little older, even more so.

          The flu is not a static thing. There are a ton of variations. The flu vaccination manufacturers try to guess the variants and do their best, hopefully. But they are always behind the latest, because it is near impossible to be ahead of the permutations.

          It is STILL a good thing. Everybody go get yer flu shot. It is cheap, and if you have any kind of health insurance, it is probably free at your local pharmacy/grocery store. Please, go get it if you have not already.

          • Cathy says:

            And once the pesky microbes manage to dodge the magic bullet(s): rest (with gentle exercise), plenty of fluids, and puppy-snuggles. The footing in the Commentariat-scape would be less sure without your vigilance, even temporarily. :-)

  13. sproggit says:

    Off-Topic
    I’m sorry that this comments doesn’t directly contribute to the above article, but believe this is fascinating and worth a look. Kate Brannen, writing in an exclusive at Just Security, has conducted some fascinating analysis in to the emails concerning the hold of Ukraine funding. You can read the article here:-

    https://www.justsecurity.org/67863/exclusive-unredacted-ukraine-documents-reveal-extent-of-pentagons-legal-concerns/

    Among a wealth of other detail, one of the most interesting points for me is the way that the article lays out the entirely, unequivocally specious way in which the Department of Justice has been censoring relevant data from this topic – and thus shaping what has become the impeachment narrative. (Brannen has been comparing Main Justice and unredacted versions of a series of emails – and the differences are both outrageous and damning).

    For example, on 7/25 Elaine McCusker, acting Pentagon Comptroller (e.g. the person responsible for releasing Pentagon funds), asked the OMB if the decision to hold up funding had gone through the Defense Department’s General Counsel. Justice redacted this simple question, proffering only an empty email.

    On August 9, McCusker wrote to senior OMB officials to warn that they were running out of time to complete the spending. Justice chose to black out that warning, too.

    In all, it looks very much as though Main Justice chose to redact crucial pieces of information from at least 5 of McCusker’s emails. The content didn’t simply express her serious misgivings at what had been happening, but it would have provided both detail and context to make McCusker a fact witness every bit as important as Laura Cooper, Marie Yovanovitch or Fiona Hill.

    You have to wonder how many other witnesses and how much other information is being held back.

    Especially as I was learning last night that Rudy Giuliana has also been active in Central America, as well as Ukraine.

  14. orionATL says:

    I want to know who has been paying konstantin kilimnik’s salary for the last decade.

    is he an employee directly of the russian state (the assumption i make in my own favorite story of trump and the russians in 2016)?

    is he an employee of deripaksa? for how long, what time periods?

    was he an employee of paul manafort when manafort worked in ukraine? or a business partner?

    did he have his own, shall we say consulting, business?

    • orionATL says:

      as best i can tell kilimnik was paid by derispaska for many years of the time period we are concerned with. that means that all the time kilimnik was working with manafort in ukraine on an effort to install and keep pro-russian ukrainians as head of the ukrainian government, he was working for derispaska. was derispaska in turn working for putin? or was he working for his own benefit? derispaska has been said to be close to putin; derispaska also has substantial business interests in ukraine.

      how derispaksa fits in the larger trump-putin collusion is still a mystery to me. was it derispaska who paid manafort to work in the ukraine? was derispaska directly or indirectly involved in the covert $12 million paid to manafort between 2007-12 and that revealed in the u.s. media in august 2016 causing manafort to be dismissed as trump campaign chair?

      i find it hard to believe that with all he had been thru to get where he was, derispaska would behave with spite toward a single insignificant figure in his life like manafort because of a relatively trivial debt (for a billionaire). i fancy he is too cool a character with too much business experience for that, but perhaps not. i CAN imagine derispaska was working at putin’s behest in ukraine and, later, on related issues discussed here, in the fashion of aras agalarov.

  15. orionATL says:

    here is an interesting article about the potential for worsening global manipulation of voters of the sort practiced by the firm cambridge analytica (and made possible and highly effective, by mark zuckerburg and his corporation i will add) in 2015-16 in the u.s. and britain.

    christopher steele was interviewed here by one of my favorite reporters, carole cadwallader, and is dismayed that the situation will worsen in the u.s. elections in 2020 because of our past failure to punish bad actors. apparently he is still concerned about the behavior of the russian state (and maybe the american too) vis-a-vis our elections.

    https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/jan/04/cambridge-analytica-data-leak-global-election-manipulation?

    and so we diddle around.

    • Cathy says:

      From @orion’s link: “I’m very fearful about what is going to happen in the US election later this year, and I think one of the few ways of protecting ourselves is to get as much information out there as possible.”
      – Brittany Kaiser (ex Cambridge Analytica employee & whistleblower)

      Until we figure out how to distinguish fact from fantasy we remain vulnerable.

      Also, on reflection one of my biggest disappointments is the similarity between failure to deal with known bad actors (Steele’s comment) & failure to deal with known bad actors (in the Great Recession and aftermath).

    • Viget says:

      Yikes… If there’s ever an indication there’s a conspiracy of global elites trying to seize power…there you go. Building the matrix, in real time.

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