John Durham Is the Jim Jordan of Ken Starrs

Last Thursday, John Durham indicted Michael Sussmann, the Perkins Coie lawyer who advised the DNC, DCCC, and Clinton Campaign about cybersecurity in 2016 as they struggled to deal with a hostile nation-state attack aiming — in part — to help elect their opponent. The indictment accuses Sussmann of lying to FBI General Counsel James Baker at a September 19, 2016 meeting at which Sussmann shared information about the curious DNS traffic between a server used by a Trump marketing contractor and Alfa Bank.

emptywheel’s long history of debunking the Alfa Bank story

Before I unpack the indictment, let me remind readers that when this story first publicly broke, I explained why the Spectrum Health (aka my boob hospital at the time) aspect of the allegations made no sense, criticized Hillary’s team (including Jake Sullivan) for jumping on the story, and echoed Rob Graham’s criticism of the researchers who accessed DNS data to conduct this research.

In addition to his technical debunking, Robert Graham made an equally important point: researchers shouldn’t be accessing this data for ad-lib investigations into presidential candidates, and it’s not even clear who would have access to it all except the NSA.

The big story isn’t the conspiracy theory about Trump, but that these malware researchers exploited their privileged access for some purpose other than malware research.

[snip]

In short, of all the sources of “DNS malware information” I’ve heard about, none of it would deliver the information these researchers claim to have (well, except the NSA with their transatlantic undersea taps, of course).

[snip]

[B]efore Tea Leaves started pushing this story to the press, the FBI had been investigating it for two months.

Which, to my mind, raises even more questions about the anonymous researchers’ identities, because (small world and all) the FBI likely knows them, in which case they may have known that the FBI wasn’t jumping on the story by the time they started pitching it.

Or the FBI doesn’t know them, which raises still more questions about the provenance of these files.

Ah well, if President Hillary starts a war with Russia based off Iraq-War style dodgy documents, at least I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing my boob clinic is right there on the front lines.

In March 2017, I observed that the weird Alfa Bank entry in the Steele dossier suggested a feedback loop between the Alfa Bank server story and the dossier project. Then days after that, I noted all the ways that the packaging of this story made it more suspect.

In 2018, I complained about the way Dexter Filkins had strained to sustain the story, while noting that people ought to look more closely at why Alfa Bank might be the focus here; the Mueller Report since confirmed that within weeks after the story broke publicly, Vladimir Putin pushed Oligarchs from Alfa Bank to fight harder against western sanctions, something that the alleged source for the Alfa Bank entry in the dossier seemed to parrot.

In short, I not only have consistently criticized this story, but done so in ways that anticipate the most justifiable parts of the indictment. It’s only the last bit — how the Alfa narrative echoes Putin’s interests — that this indictment doesn’t incorporate.

I guess with five more years Durham might get there…

So in unpacking this indictment, I’m in no way defending the Alfa Bank – Trump Tower story. It was a sketchy allegation, the packaging of it was suspect, and those who conducted the research arguably violated ethical guidelines.

I got to where Durham got in this indictment years and years ago. But that doesn’t make it a crime.

John Durham’s “narrative”

Moreover, that doesn’t mean Durham should tell as strained a “narrative” as those who packaged up this story. Central to Durham’s indictment is an assumption that if a victim of a crime who believed at the time that the crime had a — since confirmed — political goal reports suspicious, potentially related details, the victim must be motivated exclusively out of self-interest, not good citizenship or a concern about national security. That is, this entire indictment assumes that when Russia attacks a Presidential candidate, that is not itself a national security concern, but instead nothing more than a political dispute.

Effectively, John Durham has made it a crime for someone victimized by a Russian influence operation to try to chase down Russian influence operations.

Tech Executive-1 and Clinton both had retained Perkins Coie long before this, with Sussmann getting involved specifically for cybersecurity help in the wake of the Russian hack

The indictment, perhaps deliberately, obscures the timeline and facts leading up to the charged lie. But here’s the story it tells. First, all of Durham’s subjects established contracts with each other, even though all of those contracts (including Fusion GPS’) had scopes far larger than oppo research on Trump’s relationship with Russia.

  • In February 2015, Tech Executive-1 (whom I’ll call TE-1 for brevity) retained Sussmann to deal with a US government agency [Durham does not say whether this matter was resolved or continued in this period in 2016, which is central to the question of what kind of client of Sussmann’s TE-1 was].
  • In April 2015, the Clinton Campaign retained Perkins Coie and made Marc Elias the Campaign’s General Counsel.
  • In April 2016, the victim of a Russian government election-related attack, the DNC, retained Sussmann to help it deal with aftermath, which included meeting with the FBI. As the indictment describes this was not just legal support but cybersecurity.
  • [After a Republican retained them first and on a date that Durham doesn’t reveal,] Perkins Coie retained Fusion GPS to conduct oppo research on Trump pertaining to Russia [and other topics, though Durham doesn’t mention those other topics].

Durham only mentions in passing, later, that the researchers involved here similarly knew each other through relationships that focused on cybersecurity and predated these events.

Via means and on specific dates that Durham doesn’t always provide, Tea Leaves, TE-1, Sussmann, and two Researchers got the DNS data showing an anomaly

There are two sets of research here: that done in a university setting and that done at companies associated with TE-1, though TE-1 is the pivot to both. As depicted, Durham suggests the former are more legally exposed than the latter.

  • By some time in late July 2016 [the exact date Durham doesn’t provide], a guy who always operated under the pseudonym Tea Leaves but whom Durham heavy-handedly calls “Originator-1” instead had assembled “purported DNS data” reflecting apparent DNS lookups between Alfa Bank and “mail1.trump-email.com” that spanned from May 4 through July 29.
  • Tea Leaves was a business associate of TE-1 and via means Durham doesn’t describe, the data Tea Leaves gathered was shared with TE-1.
  • “In or about July 2016” [at a time that, because of the laws of physics, must post-date the late July date when Tea Leaves collected this data and the date when he shared them with TE-1], TE-1 alerted Sussmann to the data.
  • On July 31, Sussmann billed the Clinton Campaign for 24 minutes with the billing description, “communications with Marc Elias regarding server issue.”
  • At some point [Durham doesn’t provide even a month, but by context it was at least as early as July 2016 and could have been far, far earlier], TE-1’s company provided a university with data for a government contract ultimately not contracted until November 2016, including the DNS data from an Executive Branch office of the US government that Tech Exec-1’s company had gotten as a sub-contractor to the US government. [This date of this is critical because it would be the trigger for a Conspiracy to Defraud charge, if Durham goes there.]
  • In or about August 2016 [Durham doesn’t provide a date], a federal government was finalizing but had not yet signed a cybersecurity research contract with [presumably] that same university to receive and analyze large quantities of public and non-public data “to identify the perpetrators of malicious cyber-attacks and protect U.S. national security.” Tea Leaves was the founder of a company that the university was considering [Durham doesn’t provide the date of consideration, but generally these things precede finalization] for a subcontract with the government contract.

TE-1 directs employees of companies under his control to research this issue

Though Durham’s indictment is somewhat vague, at least one piece of research from companies associated with TE-1 was shared with the FBI; it appears that other threads of research were not shared.

  • In or about early August 2016 [the dates of which Durham doesn’t provide], TE-1 directed personnel at two companies in which he had an ownership interest to search for what the indictment calls, “any Internet data reflecting potential connections or communications between Trump or his associates and Russia,” which Durham describes to be “derogatory information on Trump.” In connection with this tasking, TE-1 later stated [on a date Durham doesn’t describe] he was working with someone who had close ties to the Democratic Party.
  • At some point, an individual tasked with this work described being “uncomfortable regarding this tasking,” [Durham doesn’t describe when he learned this or whether there is any contemporaneous proof].
  • At some point [Durham doesn’t describe the date], TE-1 provided one of his companies with personal (but publicly available) data from six Trump associates and one purported US-based lobbyist for Alfa Bank and directed these individuals should be the focus of that company’s data queries and analysis [Durham doesn’t say whether these six associates overlapped with the people Fusion had been tasked to research, nor does he allege they got included in the eventual reports to the FBI; both details are needed to assess his case].
  • On August 12, 2016, Sussmann, Elias, and TE-1 met in Elias’ office; Sussmann billed his time to the Clinton Campaign describing, “confidential meetings with Elias, others.”
  • On August 15, employees at one of the companies queried their holdings against a set of addresses that referred to Trump and/or Alfa Bank.
  • During the same time period [Durham doesn’t specify when], employees at Internet Company-3 drafted a written paper that included technical observations that Sussmann would later convey to the FBI.

Around the time this started, Sussmann met Fusion and a bunch of meetings happened that were billed to Hillary

  • On July 29, Sussmann and Marc Elias met with Fusion GPS [Durham doesn’t affirmatively claim this data pertained to the server issue], and Sussmann billed his time to the Hillary Campaign under “General Political Advice,” a different description than all the other Fusion meetings that Durham more credibly claims relate to the Alfa Bank allegation.
  • Around “the same [August] time period” [Durham doesn’t provide the date], Sussmann, Elias, and Fusion personnel began exchanging emails with the subject line, “Connecting you all by email;” [Durham doesn’t say who initiated the email, but it suggests that before this period, Sussmann and Fusion did not have direct contact].
  • On August 17, 2016, Sussmann, Elias, and TE-1 conducted an additional conference call, for which Sussmann billed his time to the Clinton campaign, noting “telephone conference with” TE-1 and Elias.
  • On August 19, 2016, Sussman and Elias had another in-person meeting that Sussmann described as a meeting with TE-1, which was billed as a “confidential meeting with Elias, others.”

Researchers 1 and 2 and Tea Leaves worked with TE-1 on a “storyline” and “narrative” with varying degrees of skepticism expressed

This is the stuff Durham–with some justification–will and has used to taint all this as a political project.

  • On July 29, Researcher-2 emailed Researcher-1 the data compiled by Tea Leaves [Durham provides no evidence that TE-1 was involved in this exchange].
  • On August 19, Researcher-1 queried Internet data maintained by TE-1’s company [it is not clear but this suggests it was not the data turned over to the University] for the aforementioned mail1.trump-email.com domain. Researcher-1 then emailed TE-1 with the list of domains that had communicated with it, saying the list, “does not make much sense with the storyline you have.”
  • On August 20, Tea Leaves emailed Tech Exec-1, Researcher-1, and Researcher 2, stating that, “even if we found what [TE-1] asks us to find in DNS, we don’t see the money flow, and we don’t see the content of some message saying, ‘send money here’.” Tea Leaves then explained that one could fill out sales forms and cause them, “to appear to communicate with each other in DNS.” Tea Leaves then noted that “it’s just not the case that you can rest assured that Hillary’s opposition research and whatever professional gov and investigative journalists are also digging come up with the same things.”
  • On August 20, TE-1 clarified t that the task was “indeed broad,” and that,
    • Being able to provide evidence of *anything* that shows an attempt to behave badly in relation to this [Durham doesn’t describe what the antecedent of “this” is], the VIPs would be happy. They’re looking for a true story that could be used as the basis for closer examination.
  • Still on August 20, seemingly distinguishing between that task and the Alfa Bank allegations, TE-1 said, “the prior hypothesis was all that they needed: mailserver dedicated or related to trump … and with traffic almost exclusively with Alfa was sufficient to do the job. … Trump has claimed he and his company have had NO dealings with .ru other than the failed Casino, and the Miss universe pageant. He claims absolutely NO interaction with any financial institutions. So any potential like that would be jackpot.” [Ellipses original]
  • On August 21, TE-1 emailed the recipients [but not, apparently, Sussmann], urging them to do further research on Trump which would “given the base of a very useful narrative.” He added that he didn’t believe the trump-email.com domain was a secret communications channel but a “red herring,” because the host was “a legitimate valid company,” stating they could “ignore it, together with others that seem to be part of the marketing world.”
  • On August 22, Researcher-1 raised doubts about whether, using only the tools they were currently using, they could prove their hypothesis. Among the concerns raised is that they couldn’t prove that “this is not spoofed [] traffic.” [brackets original; bolded in the original]
  • Later in or about August 2016 [on dates Durham doesn’t provide], TE-1 exchanged emails with personnel from Fusion.

Sussmann drafts a white paper and (via unstated means) TE-1 gets Researchers 1 and 2 and Tea Leaves to review it

  • Between September 5 and September 14, Sussmann drafted a white paper, generally billing his time to the Clinton Campaign, but on September 14, billing time to both Clinton and TE-1.
  • On September 14, TE-1 [not Sussmann] sent the white paper he had drafted to Researcher 1, Researcher 2, and Tea Leaves to ask them if a review of less than an hour would show this to be plausible. Though some of them noted how limited the standard of “plausibility” was, they agreed it was plausible, and Researcher 2 said [Durham does not quote the specific language here] “the paper should be shared with government officials.”

Sussmann shares this and other information with James Baker and–Durham claims–affirmatively lies about whether he is representing someone

  • Both before the September 19 meeting and after it (notably in a September 12 meeting involving the NYTimes, in which Marc Elias also participated), Sussmann spoke to the press about what Durham credibly suggests was the Alfa Bank white paper. Sussmann billed this to Clinton.
  • On September 19, Sussmann met with Baker and provided him with three white papers and a thumb drive with data. Durham doesn’t actually make clear where all three of these came from.
  • On September 19, Sussmann met with James Baker. Durham claims that “he stated falsely that he was not acting on behalf of any client” [which Durham cannot quote because there’s no contemporaneous record], that he had been approached by multiple cyber experts [Durham doesn’t say whether the three he named were Researcher 1, Researcher 2, and Tea Leaves or other people, as seems to be the case], three white papers [which I may return to because this is another problematic spot in his story], and some of the data, which Durham calls “purported.”
  • Immediately after the September 19 meeting, Baker met with Bill Priestap whose notes read:
    • Michael Sussman[n] — Atty: Perkins Coie — said not doing this for any client
      • Represents DNC, Clinton Foundation, etc. []
      • Been approached by Prominent Cyber People (Academic or Corp. POCs), People like: [three names redacted]
  • Durham substantiates a claim that Sussmann billed the meeting itself to Hillary to a description, “work and communications regarding confidential project,” that does not, at least as he quotes it, mention a meeting with the FBI General Counsel at all.

Some of this — the reference to crafting a narrative and a storyline — is damning and validates my discomfort with the political nature of this project five years ago. Other parts of this emphasize the researchers’ insistence on truth from at least parts of this effort. Still others (such as the recognition that this could be spoofed data) will almost certainly end up being presented as exculpatory if this ever goes to trial, but Durham seems to think is inculpatory.

In one place, Durham describes “aforementioned views,” plural, that the Alfa Bank data was a “red herring,” something only attributed to TE-1 in the indictment, seemingly presenting TE-1’s stated view on August 21 to everyone involved, including Sussmann, who does not appear to have been on that email chain. He claims Sussmann, Researcher 1 and 2, TE-1, and Tea Leaves drafted the white paper(s) shared with the FBI, but all he substantiates is a less than one hour review by everyone but Sussmann. He leaves out a great deal of detail about what Jean Camp and someone using the moniker Tea Leaves did and said, publicly, after the FBI meeting, which may totally undercut Durham’s “narrative.”

But other parts, even of the story that Durham tells, are problematic for his narrative. First, there is not (yet) the least hint that Tea Leaves — whom he calls “The Originator” — fabricated this data (or even packaged it up misleadingly, though I think there is evidence he did). Nor is there the least hint that TE-1 asked Tea Leaves to come up with the data. That part of the story is fundamentally important and Durham simply ignores it with that legally unnecessary — particularly given that Durham clearly labels this person as Tea Leaves — moniker “Originator,” giving the anomalous forensic data a kind of virgin birth. And while two of the four tech experts described herein (there appear to be at least three others not described) expressed some doubt about the meaning of it, none of them seems to have doubted that there was an anomaly in the Trump marketing server and Alfa Bank.

Based on this story, though, Durham insinuates Sussmann fed information that he, Sussmann, knew to be bullshit to the FBI on behalf of both Hillary and TE-1, and in so doing affirmatively hid that the bullshit “storyline” was designed to help Hillary which (he claims) would have led the FBI to treat it differently.

In spite of a lot of thus far extraneous details, that’s the only crime he has alleged.

The existing case is remarkably weak

As a number of people have noted, as charged this is a remarkably weak case. Ben Wittes dedicates a section of his post on this indictment to those weaknesses. They are, succinctly:

  • The evidence regarding the core allegation in the indictment pits Sussmann’s word against James Baker’s; there are no other witnesses.
  • After the meeting with Baker, Sussmann repeatedly admitted under oath he was representing a client, a detail which could be exculpatory or inculpatory.
  • Baker testified to Congress he did believe Sussmann was representing a client (meaning Baker will be used to discredit Baker, the one witness to Sussmann’s alleged lie).
  • Even in Bill Priestap’s nearly-contemporaneous notes which are the only documentation of Sussmann’s comments, he describes Sussmann as Hillary’s lawyer (including for the Clinton Foundation, which may be incorrect), so FBI knew full well that Sussmann represented Hillary.
  • Priestap’s notes may be inadmissible hearsay at trial.

The NYT article predicting these charges also claim Durham is conflating Sussmann’s tracking of his hourly work with the actual money charged to the Hillary campaign.

Moreover, internal billing records Mr. Durham is said to have obtained from Perkins Coie are said to show that when Mr. Sussmann logged certain hours as working on the Alfa Bank matter — though not the meeting with Mr. Baker — he billed the time to Mrs. Clinton’s 2016 campaign.

[snip]

They are also said to have argued that the billing records are misleading because Mr. Sussmann was not charging his client for work on the Alfa Bank matter, but needed to show internally that he was working on something. He was discussing the matter with Mr. Elias and the campaign paid a flat monthly retainer to the firm, so Mr. Sussmann’s hours did not result in any additional charges, they said.

There are a number of other ways that Sussmann’s presumably well-funded defense will combat these charges. But as the to the allegation buried amid all these details, Durham’s evidence is weak.

Durham’s materiality broadcasts his bid for a ConFraudUS conspiracy

But that’s not what this is about.

Durham is not just alleging that Sussmann was hiding that he was working for Hillary. He is also claiming that Sussmann was at the same time representing TE-1 at that meeting. In the indictment, I think that’s based on a single data point — that Sussmann billed TE-1’s company for “communications regarding confidential project” on September 14. I’m not sure whether that makes the false statements case still weaker or stronger.

But it’s a key part of where Durham obviously wants to go.

Not only are many of the details Durham included in the indictment irrelevant to the false statements charge, but if they were crimes by themselves, they would have been tolled under any five year statute of limitations already. There are only two conceivable purposes for including them in this indictment. First, to give the Alfa Bank Oligarchs more cause to sue more people, effectively a US prosecutor assisting Russians in cynical lawfare. Durham’s investigation incorporates stuff the Oligarchs have already liberated, so is itself derivative of Russian lawfare. Effectively, that means that a prosecutor working for Bill Barr’s DOJ pursued a prosecution that was complementary to an intelligence-related effort by foreigners who pay Kirkland & Ellis a lot of money. Sussmann will have real cause to question whether Brian Benczkowski (who recused from matters involving this aspect of Alfa Bank) or any other Kirkland & Ellis lawyer had a role in this strand of the investigation.

Then there’s the most obvious way to extend the statute of limitations on the events that happened in July and August 2016: to include them in a conspiracy that continued after those dates (and indeed, Durham refers to Elias, Researcher 1 and 2, and Tea Leaves in the way DOJ often uses to refer to charged or uncharged co-conspirators).

Given the extended statement Durham includes to explain why Sussmann’s alleged lie is material under the charged statute, that’s undoubtedly where Durham wants to head with his investigation.

SUSSMANN’s lie was material because, among other reasons, SUSSMANN’s false statement misled the FBI General Counsel and other FBI personnel concerning the political nature of his work and deprived the FBI of information that might have permitted it more fully to assess and uncover the origins of the relevant data and technical analysis, including the identities and motivations of SUSSMANN’s clients.

Had the FBI uncovered the origins of the relevant data and analysis and as alleged below, it might have learned, among other things that (i) in compiling and analyzing the Russian Bank-1 allegations, Tech Executive-1 had exploited his access to non-public data at multiple Internet companies to conduct opposition research concerning Trump; (ii) in furtherance of these efforts, Tech Executive-1 had enlisted, and was continuing to enlist, the assistance of researchers at a U.S.-based university who were receiving and analyzing Internet data in connection with a pending federal government cybersecurity research contract; and (iii) SUSSMAN, Tech Executive-1, and Law Firm-1 had coordinated, and were continuing to coordinate, with representatives and agents of the Clinton Campaign with regard to the data and written materials that Sussmann gave to the FBI and the media.

Don’t get me wrong. This will clearly pass the incredibly low standard for materiality under existing precedent. Though Sussmann will surely make much of citing the invented standard Billy Barr used to try to dismiss the Mike Flynn prosecution, which first requires the investigation in question to be legitimate.

The Government is not persuaded that the January 24, 2017 interview was conducted with a legitimate investigative basis and therefore does not believe Mr. Flynn’s statements were material even if untrue. Moreover, we not believe that the Government can prove either the relevant false statements or their materiality beyond a reasonable doubt.

[snip]

In any event, there was no question at the FBI as to the content of the calls; the FBI had in its possession word-for-word transcripts of the actual communications between Mr. Flynn and Mr. Kislyak. See Ex. 5 at 3; Ex. 13. at 3. With no dispute as to what was in fact said, there was no factual basis for the predication of a new counterintelligence investigation. Nor was there a justification or need to interview Mr. Flynn as to his own personal recollections of what had been said. Whatever gaps in his memory Mr. Flynn might or might not reveal upon an interview regurgitating the content of those calls would not have implicated legitimate counterintelligence interests or somehow exposed Mr. Flynn as beholden to Russia.

If DOJ had no interest in figuring out whether Trump was undermining sanctions to pay off a quid pro quo, they sure as hell have no interest in launching a 3-year investigation to figure out the tie between these allegations and Hillary that was obvious to Priestap in real time, particularly given how quickly the FBI dismissed the allegations in 2017 and given that the allegations are not publicly known to have had a tie to their larger Russian investigation.

Still, while Durham will have no trouble proving Sussmann’s claimed lie meets the standards of materiality, Durham’s claims for it are ridiculous.

It’s a load of horseshit that FBI would have treated this tip any differently — which amounted to investigating it, alerting the press there was nothing to it, then dismissing it pretty quickly, as far as is public — if they knew that Sussmann was formally being paid at that meeting by Hillary, if he in fact was. Priestap knew Sussmann was representing Hillary and said as much in the best evidence Durham has! In fact, FBI’s warning to the NYT about this story in October could be presented as evidence that FBI already incorporated an assumption this came from Hillary.

Likewise, it’s a load of horseshit that FBI couldn’t know that the Bureau needed to ID the researchers behind the project. If I was able to figure that was important out before the 2016 election, and I did, then the experts at the FBI surely figured that out.

But what Durham’s materiality statement emphasizes — what Durham claims Sussmann intended to hide with his claimed lie — is that, “researchers at a U.S.-based university … were receiving and analyzing Internet data in connection with a pending federal government cybersecurity research contract.” That’s the significance of ¶¶23a through e of the indictment, which describe how TE-1 provided data that included some from an Executive Branch office of the U.S. government, which his company had obtained “as a sub-contractor in a sensitive relationship between the U.S. government and another company,” to the university at which Researcher 1 and 2 were working, and both with his university researcher allies and employees of his own company, he tasked people to research Donald Trump. Durham is suggesting that subset of data taints the whole pool that TE-1 shared, making it a Federal interest.

It’s not just that Durham is working on a theory that Sussmann deliberately dealt garbage to the FBI (which GOP sources also did on the Clinton Foundation) while trying to hide that fact. It’s that data originally sourced from the government was used in doing that research.

It’s actually the kind of argument that DOJ prosecutors typically succeed with. Except it’s all premised on proving that Sussman was trying to hide all this in his meeting with Baker. Even if the evidence surrounding the meeting weren’t so flimsy, this is another degree of motive that Durham is straining mightily to make.

Durham needs Sussmann to have lied, because a deliberate attempt to obscure the rest is necessary for his “storyline.” His evidence that Sussmann lied — much less, deliberately — is shoddy. But if he can’t get that, then his hopes for a larger “narrative” collapse.

The parts of the story Durham doesn’t tell

That becomes more clear when you consider some details that Durham doesn’t include in his indictment.

Two details that were public to everyone involved make it clear why Durham’s silence about the exact dates in July when this operation started is so corrupt.

On July 22, WikiLeaks published emails that were at the time believed and since have been confirmed by the FBI to have been hacked by Russia. Durham hides the dates in July when many of these events transpired, but everything he includes suggests this activity post-dated the time when WikiLeaks published stolen emails and the entire security community in the US, surely including every researcher mentioned in this story, coalesced on the belief that Russia was the culprit. Durham refers to Russia’s attack on Hillary (and therefore on the US) inaccurately as, “the hacking of its email servers by the Russian government” and “a hack” (the hack went well beyond just email and continued through the period of Sussmann’s meeting with Baker). But, amazingly, Durham’s “narrative” doesn’t account for the fact that Hillary was targeted not just with an attack but with an information operation. And the timeline he presents here affirmatively hides that these events took place after the entire security community understood that there was an information operation aspect to the attack.

Then, on July 27, Trump gave a press conference in Florida where he said numerous things that make all the actions of Sussmann and others justifiable on national security grounds. First, Trump raised doubts about the Russian attribution of the DNC hack that, by that point in July, was the consensus among national security experts, undoubtedly including every tech expert mentioned in this indictment.

I watched this guy Mook and he talked about we think it was Russia that hacked. Now, first of all was what was said on those that’s so bad but he said I watched it. I think he was live. But he said we think it was Russia that hacked.

And then he said — and this is in person sitting and watching television as I’ve been doing — and then he said could be Trump, yeah, yeah. Trump, Trump, oh yeah, Trump. He reminded me of John Lovitz for “Saturday Night Live” in the liar (ph) where he’d go yes, yes, I went to Harvard, Harvard, yes, yes. This is the guy, you have to see it. Yes, it could be Trump, yes, yes. So it is so farfetched. It’s so ridiculous. Honestly I wish I had that power. I’d love to have that power but Russia has no respect for our country.

And that’s why — if it is Russia, nobody even knows this, it’s probably China, or it could be somebody sitting in his bed. But it shows how weak we are, it shows how disrespected we are. Total — assuming it’s Russia or China or one of the major countries and competitors, it’s a total sign of disrespect for our country. Putin and the leaders throughout the world have no respect for our country anymore and they certainly have no respect for our leader. So I know nothing about it.

Trump then offered his bullshit explanation for why he wouldn’t release his tax returns, framing it in terms of whether he had business ties to Russia.

TRUMP: Because it’s under order. And I’ll release them when the audits completed. Nobody would release when it’s under — I’ve had audits for 15 or 16 years. Every year I have a routine audit. I’m under audit, when the audits complete I’ll release them. But zero, I mean I will tell you right now, zero, I have nothing to do with Russia, yes?

Trump then said the nation-state hack of his opponent wasn’t the important thing, the content of the emails that were released was, thereby encouraging the press to participate in the information operation aspect of this attack.

He already did something today where he said don’t blame them, essentially, for your incompetence. Let me tell you, it’s not even about Russia or China or whoever it is that’s doing the hacking. It was about the things that were said in those e-mails. They were terrible things, talking about Jewish, talking about race, talking about atheist, trying to pin labels on people — what was said was a disgrace, and it was Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and believe me, as sure as you’re sitting there, Hillary Clinton knew about it. She knew everything.

Trump then asked Russia to further hack his opponent.

Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.

Trump then doubled down on the comment he made about his taxes, assuring the press that he had “zero” business ties with Russia.

TRUMP: No, I have nothing to do with Russia, John (ph). How many times do I have say that? Are you a smart man? I have nothing to with Russia, I have nothing to do with Russia.

And even — for anything. What do I have to do with Russia? You know the closest I came to Russia, I bought a house a number of years ago in Palm Beach, Florida.

Palm Beach is a very expensive place. There was a man who went bankrupt and I bought the house for $40 million and I sold it to a Russian for $100 million including brokerage commissions. So I sold it. So I bought it for 40, I told it for 100 to a Russian. That was a number of years ago. I guess probably I sell condos to Russians, OK?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: Of course I can. I told you, other than normal stuff — I buy a house if I sold it to a Russian. I have nothing to do with Russia. I said that Putin has much better leadership qualities than Obama, but who doesn’t know that?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: Of course not. I own the Trump organization. Zero, zero. Go ahead.

Trump then reiterated his claim that no one could attribute the DNC hack to Russia.

TRUMP: No, but they seem to be, if it’s Russians. I have no idea. It’s probably not Russia. Nobody knows if it’s Russia. You know the sad thing is? That with the technology and the genius we have in this country, not in government unfortunately, but with the genius we have in government, we don’t even know who took the Democratic National Committee e-mails. We don’t even know who it is.

I heard this morning, one report said they don’t think it’s Russia, they think it might be China. Another report said it might be just a hacker, some guy with a 200 I.Q. that can’t get up in the morning, OK? Nobody knows. Honestly they have no idea if it’s Russia. Might be Russia. But if it’s any foreign country, it shows how little respect they have for the United States. Yes, ma’am.

Finally, Trump also stated that he would consider lifting sanctions on Russia.

QUESTION: I would like to know if you became president, would you recognize (inaudible) Crimea as Russian territory? And also if the U.S. would lift sanctions that are (inaudible)?

TRUMP: We’ll be looking at that. Yeah, we’ll be looking.

Each of these comments, individually, would have raised eyebrows. The same comments, made by an American citizen, would equally have raised alarms among those committed to cybersecurity.

But for a presidential candidate to encourage the hostile nation-state information operation targeting his opponent, then ask the hostile nation-state to further target her, in conjunction with the repeated denials of any business ties to Russia raised real, legitimate questions about whether Trump was putting his own interests above the national security of the country.

You might excuse Durham for excluding this from his indictment because after all he was busy indicting a ham sandwich based on hearsay evidence he might be able to exclude these facts at trial. Except that an August 20 comment from TE-1 that Durham quotes in his indictment may be a direct reference to (and at the least incorporates knowledge of) this press conference.

Trump has claimed he and his company have had NO dealings with .ru other than the failed Casino, and the Miss universe pageant. He claims absolutely NO interaction with any financial institutions. So any potential like that would be jackpot.

That is, Durham included what appears to be a reference to the July 27 press conference. It appears (though Durham obscures this point) that all the actions laid out in this indictment post-date the press conference. Virtually everyone in the US committed to ensuring America’s national security was alarmed by Trump’s comments in this press conference. Yet Durham doesn’t acknowledge that all these actions took place in the wake of public comments that made it reasonable for those committed to cybersecurity to treat Donald Trump as a national security threat, irrespective of partisan affiliation.

Durham will work hard to exclude detail of Trump’s press conference from trial. But I assume that if any of the named subjects of this investigation were to take the stand at trial, they would point out that it was objectively reasonable after July 27 to have national security concerns based on Trump’s encouragement of Russia’s attack on Hillary Clinton and his defensive denials of any business ties. Any of the named subjects of the indictment would be able to make a strong case that there was reason to want to, as a matter of national security, test Trump’s claim to have no financial ties to Russia. Indeed, the bipartisan SSCI Report concluded that Trump posed multiple counterintelligence concerns, and therefore has concluded that Durham’s portrayal of politics as the only potential motive here to be false.

Central to Durham’s theory of prosecution is that there was no sound national security basis to respond to anomalous forensic data suggesting a possible financial tie between Trump and Russia. Except that, after that July 27 speech — and all of these events appear to post-date it — that theory is unsustainable.

The parts of the story Durham doesn’t tell

And not only was it objectively reasonable to test whether Trump’s claims to have “zero” business ties to Russia were false, but those suspecting that Trump was hiding such ties were, in fact, correct.

According to Michael Cohen, when Trump walked off the stage from that July 27 press conference, Cohen asked Trump why he had claimed that he had zero business ties with Russia when he had in fact been pursuing an impossibly lucrative deal to brand a Trump Tower in Moscow. And we now know that within hours of Trump’s request, GRU hackers made a renewed assault on Hillary’s own servers. By the time security researchers pursued anomalous data suggesting covert communications with a Russian bank, Cohen had already participated in discussions about working with two sanctioned Russian banks to fund the Trump Tower deal, had agreed to work with a former GRU officer to broker it, had spoken to an aide of Dmitry Peskov, and had been told that Putin was personally involved in making the deal happen. Just on the Trump Tower basis alone, Trump had publicly lied in such a way that posed a counterintelligence risk to America.

But that was not the only thing that Trump had done by the date when a bunch of security researchers responded to anomalous forensic data to test whether Trump was hiding further ties to Russia’s attack on Hillary Clinton.

In March, Trump hired Paul Manafort, a financially desperate political operative with close ties to a Russian intelligence officer, Konstantin Kilimnik, who (SSCI provided three redacted examples of) may have been involved in the hack-and-leak operation. In April, Manafort started leveraging his relationship with Trump to try to make money. In May, Manafort started regularly sending Kilimnik the campaign’s internal polling data. All that happened before researchers started testing Trump’s claims to have had no tie to Russia. On July 28, Kilimnik emailed Manafort to set up a meeting to talk about the future of Ukraine. Just days after the researchers started the inquiry, on August 2, Manafort met with Kilimnik to discuss carving up Ukraine in the same meeting where he described his strategy to win the election.

In April, an academic with close ties to Russia, Joseph Mifsud, told an unqualified braggart whom Trump had added to his team to pretend he had a foreign policy plan, George Papadopoulos, that Russia had thousands of Hillary’s emails that they intended to release to help Trump.

In May, according to Rick Gates’ testimony, Roger Stone started claiming he had advance knowledge of what would become the WikiLeaks releases. On or about June 15, per Gates, Stone told him that “he had contact with Guccifer 2.” According to a warrant affidavit targeting Stone, he searched Google on “Guccifer” before the Guccifer website went up that day. On June 23, Manafort called Stone and then the two old friends met for 30 minutes in the Trump cafeteria. On June 30, Stone spoke to Trump. According to multiple sources (including Michael Cohen), Stone knew of the DNC drop before it happened.

In June, Don Jr accepted a meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya at which he believed he would get dirt on Hillary Clinton. At the meeting, Veselnitskaya asked Don Jr to end sanctions on Russia, and the candidate’s son said his dad would reconsider it if he won.

In short, the researchers who, in the wake of Trump’s damning comments, were testing whether Trump had lied about having ties to Russia, not only had objectively reasonable reasons to do that research. But their suspicions were proven correct, over and over again.

Durham describes the outcome of the FBI investigation into the allegations this way:

The FBI’s investigation of these allegations nevertheless concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support the allegations of a secret communications channel with Russian Bank-1. In particular, and among other things, the FBI’s investigation revealed that the email server at issue was not owned or operated by the Trump Organization but, rather, had been administered by a mass marketing email company that sent advertisements for Trump hotels and hundreds of other clients.

Nothing here suggests the FBI disproved that this was an anomaly.

And there’s one more detail that Durham didn’t include in the Sussmann indictment: on July 26, Australia first shared their report about what George Papadopoulos told Alexander Downer in May. The next day, July 27, the FBI Legat in the UK got the tip. On July 31 — before the substantive research into the Alfa Bank allegation began — the FBI opened an UNSUB investigation into who got advance warning about the Russian operation and shared it with George Papadopoulos. In other words, by hiding the dates when Tea Leaves first discovered the anomalous data, Durham is hiding not just the damning things that publicly happened before the Alfa Bank operation got started, but probably details about the tip that turned into the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.

In the wake of the Sussmann indictment, the usual Russian denialists have claimed that this proves that what they call “Russiagate” was all a fraud.

Such claims defy the rules of physics, suggesting that events that happened after the FBI opened an investigation to learn how and why the Trump campaign (via three channels, as it turns out) learned of the Russian attack in advance were in fact the cause of it.

It is likely that Durham will be able to exclude all these details from a Michael Sussmann trial, at least if it remains just a false statements case. He will be able to convince Judge Christopher Cooper, who is presiding over the case, that this information — that the researchers not only had reason to believe Trump presented a cybersecurity risk to the country, but that the researchers turned out to be right, and that FBI had itself determined there was reason to carry out the same kinds of investigations that the researchers did, possibly before any one of them took a single step — is irrelevant to the case against Sussmann. But if Durham charges ConFraudUS based on a claim that it was illegitimate to look into why Donald Trump was inviting Russia to hack his opponent, it will become centrally important that, before these researchers started conducting their investigation, the FBI had likewise decided such an investigation had merit.

The Alfa Bank story was sleazy and unethical. But it was still, nevertheless, an instance where someone representing the victim of a nation-state attack attempted to chase down information that may have pertained to that nation-state attack.

John Durham will go down in history as the guy who decided that torturing detainees, even in excess of legal guidance, was not a crime, but a victim sharing concerns about nation-state hacking is.

Update: It’s likely that Richard Burt was one of the people investigated as part of this effort. Per the Mueller Report, he was the person Petr Aven asked to establish a tie with Trump’s transition in 2016.

After the December 2016 all-hands meeting, A ven tried to establish a connection to the Trump team. A ven instructed Richard Burt to make contact with the incoming Trump Administration. Burt was on the board of directors for LetterOne (L 1 ), another company headed by Aven, and had done work for Alfa-Bank. 1169 Burt had previously served as U.S. ambassador to Germany and Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs, and one of his primary roles with Alfa-Bank and Ll was to facilitate introductions to business contacts in the United States and other Western countries. 1170

While at a L1 board meeting held in Luxembourg in late December 2016, Aven pulled Burt aside and told him that he had spoken to someone high in the Russian government who expressed interest in establishing a communications channel between the Kremlin and the Trump Transition Team. 1171 Aven asked for Burt’s help in contacting members of the Transition Team. 1172 Although Burt had been responsible for helping Aven build connections in the past, Burt viewed Aven’s request as unusual and outside the normal realm of his dealings with Aven. 1173

Burt, who is a member of the board of CNI (discussed at Volume I, Section IV.A.4, supra), 1174 decided to approach CNI president Dimitri Simes for help facilitating A ven’ s request, recalling that Simes had some relationship with Kushner. 1175 At the time, Simes was lobbying the Trump Transition Team, on Burt’s behalf, to appoint Burt U.S. ambassador to Russia.1176

Burt contacted Simes by telephone and asked if he could arrange a meeting with Kushner to discuss setting up a high-level communications channel between Putin and the incoming Administration. 1177 Simes told the Office that he declined and stated to Burt that setting up such a channel was not a good idea in light of the media attention surrounding Russian influence in the U.S. presidential election. 1178 According to Simes, he understood that Burt was seeking a secret channel, and Simes did not want CNI to be seen as an intermediary between the Russian government and the incoming Administration. 1179 Based on what Simes had read in the media, he stated that he already had concerns that Trump’s business connections could be exploited by Russia, and Simes said that he did not want CNI to have any involvement or apparent involvement in facilitating any connection. 118

Update: Corrected scope of Benczkowski’s recusal. His should cover the server issue (and Alfa Bank issues for the first two years he was CRM).

Update: Brian Krebs wrote a post laying out all the people who still believe there’s something going on technically. I don’t think that’s inconsistent, at all, with this one. As noted, everyone who looked at this believes it’s an anomaly. What I keep pointing to is the aftermath of that anomaly got Alfa Bank to act in a certain way that is consistent with Putin’s interests. Krebs notes that it has also led to a lot of scrutiny of security researchers in the US, not unlike the way the aftermath of the Steele dossier discredited most top Russian experts in the US government.

SDNY Showed Probable Cause Rudy Giuliani Was Criming While He Represented Trump in the Russian Investigation

In August, the Special Master reviewing Rudy Giuliani and Victoria Toensing’s seized phone contents for privilege determinations, Barbara Jones, publicly filed notice of a conflict between the Trumpsters and the government: how to apply the date range in the warrants.

There is a dispute between Mr. Giuliani and the Government over whether the Special Master’s review process should be limited to materials with electronic metadata within the date range set forth in the search warrants. Mr. Giuliani argues for such a date range limitation; the Government argues against it. I have informed the parties that the issue should be briefed to, and decided by, the Court, and that I would set a briefing schedule for Mr. Giuliani’s motion.

On Thursday, Judge Paul Oetken released his decision deciding the matter. Effectively, he adopted the government’s compromise that it exclude everything that pre-dates 2018.

On June 9, 2021, this Court appointed the Honorable Barbara S. Jones (Ret.) as Special Master to “render decisions regarding privilege issues relating to the materials seized in the execution of certain search warrants” that are the subject of this matter. (Dkt. No. 25.) Giuliani and Toensing ask the Court to restrict the Special Master’s review to the time periods set forth in the search warrants: August 1, 2018 to December 31, 2019 for Giuliani; and January 1, 2019 to December 31, 2019 for Toensing.

The Government has proposed a compromise that significantly limits the scope of the parties’ dispute: it consents to the Special Master’s excluding from her review any documents that clearly and entirely predate 2018. The Court approves this compromise and directs the Special Master to proceed accordingly.

But Oetken notes that the warrants permit the government to determine what materials are responsive to the warrant, meaning Jones should not determine anything further than what is privileged. And he laid out that the warrants permit the government to access materials that were deleted (or accessed, sent, or modified) between — for Rudy — August 1, 2018 and December 31, 2019.

Third, the warrants cover materials “sent, received, posted, created, or otherwise accessed, established, modified, or deleted during [the time range].” It is entirely possible that a document “dated” outside the time range may have been “accessed,” “sent,” “modified,” or “deleted” during the time range. Moreover, the warrants permit review of any of the seized material “if necessary to evaluate its contents and to locate all data responsive to the warrant.” See, e.g., United States v. Gatto, 313 F. Supp. 3d 551, 561 (S.D.N.Y. 2018).

The timeline here is consistent with what I intuited in this post — and, based on what Lev Parnas and others previously revealed, it clarifies the exact date range of the files obtained in November 2019. The Rudy range covers eight months of the period when he was representing Donald Trump in the Russian investigation, goes through the period when (Parnas has earlier alleged) people started deleting files during Trump’s first impeachment, and continues through the meeting Rudy had with Andrii Derkach in December 2019.

And unsurprisingly, the government obtained warrants covering the same period of the earlier search on the parties’ iCloud accounts by providing probable cause to show that they were deleting and modifying earlier files, even files from earlier in 2018, to include the period when both lawyers were pitching a means to represent Trump.

But it’s clear that Rudy and Toensing worry the government may find evidence of crimes that exceeds this timeline, which would give them the opportunity to obtain new warrants with a broader timeframe. That’s because they asked Oetken to force the government to delete everything else.

Finally, the Court denies Giuliani’s and Toensing’s request to order the Government to return or destroy any material at this time.

Oetken denied this request. This means materials that predate these warrants, but also materials from more recently, when Rudy was laundering Russian disinformation and making wildly false claims about the election results, would remain available for further search, if the government can or has demonstrated probable cause.

We’ll learn more about this next week. Oetken also ruled that the letters disputing all this, including those from Dmitro Firtash, will be docketed after the parties fight over redactions.

DOJ Put Someone Who Enabled Sidney Powell’s Lies — Jocelyn Ballantine — in Charge of Prosecuting the Proud Boys

Because of Joe Biggs’ role at the nexus between the mob that attacked Congress and those that orchestrated the mob, his prosecution is the most important case in the entire January 6 investigation. If you prosecute him and his alleged co-conspirators successfully, you might also succeed in holding those who incited the attack on the Capitol accountable. If you botch the Biggs prosecution, then all the most important people will go free.

Which is why it is so unbelievable that DOJ put someone who enabled Sidney Powell’s election season lies about the Mike Flynn prosecution, Jocelyn Ballantine, on that prosecution team.

Yesterday, at the beginning of the Ethan Nordean and Joe Biggs hearing, prosecutor Jason McCullough told the court that in addition to him and Luke Jones, Ballantine was present at the hearing for the prosecution. He may have said that she was “overseeing” this prosecution. (I’ve got a request for clarification in with the US Attorney’s office.)

Ballantine has not filed a notice of appearance in the case (nor does she show on the minute notice for yesterday’s hearing). In the one other January 6 case where she has been noticeably involved — electronically signing the indictment for Nick Kennedy — she likewise has not filed a notice of appearance.

Less than a year ago when she assisted in DOJ’s attempts to overturn the Mike Flynn prosecution, Ballantine did three things that should disqualify her from any DOJ prosecution team, much less serving on the most important prosecution in the entire January 6 investigation:

  • On September 23, she provided three documents that were altered to Sidney Powell, one of which Trump used six days later in a packaged debate attack on Joe Biden
  • On September 24, she submitted an FBI interview report that redacted information — references to Brandon Van Grack — that was material to the proceedings before Judge Emmet Sullivan
  • On October 26, she claimed that lawyers for Peter Strzok and Andrew McCabe had checked their clients’ notes to confirm there were no other alterations to documents submitted to the docket; both lawyers refused to review the documents

After doing these things in support of Bill Barr’s effort to undermine the Flynn prosecution (and within days of the Flynn pardon), Ballantine was given a confidential temporary duty assignment (it may have been a CIA assignment). Apparently she’s back at DC USAO now.

Three documents got altered and another violated Strzok and Page’s privacy

As a reminder, after DOJ moved to hold Mike Flynn accountable for reneging on his plea agreement, Billy Barr put the St. Louis US Attorney, Jeffrey Jensen, in charge of a “review” of the case, which DOJ would later offer as its excuse for attempting to overturn the prosecution.

On September 23, Ballantine provided Powell with five documents, purportedly from Jensen’s investigation into the Flynn prosecution:

I outlined the added date on the first set of Strzok notes here:

There was never any question that the notes could have been taken no earlier than January 5, because they memorialized Jim Comey’s retelling of a meeting that other documentation, including documents submitted in the Flynn docket, shows took place on January 5. Even Chuck Grassley knows what date the meeting took place.

But DOJ, while using the notes as a central part of their excuse for trying to overturn the Flynn prosecution, nevertheless repeatedly suggested that there was uncertainty about the date of the notes, claiming they might have been taken days earlier. And then, relying on DOJ’s false representations about the date, Sidney Powell claimed they they showed that Joe Biden — and not, as documented in Mary McCord’s 302, Bob Litt — was the one who first raised the possibility that Flynn may have violated the Logan Act.

Strzok’s notes believed to be of January 4, 2017, reveal that former President Obama, James Comey, Sally Yates, Joe Biden, and apparently Susan Rice discussed the transcripts of Flynn’s calls and how to proceed against him. Mr. Obama himself directed that “the right people” investigate General Flynn. This caused former FBI Director Comey to acknowledge the obvious: General Flynn’s phone calls with Ambassador Kislyak “appear legit.” According to Strzok’s notes, it appears that Vice President Biden personally raised the idea of the Logan Act.

During the day on September 29, Powell disclosed to Judge Sullivan that she had spoken to Trump (as well as Jenna Ellis) about the case. Then, later that night, Trump delivered a prepared attack on Biden that replicated Powell’s false claim that Biden was behind the renewed investigation into Flynn.

President Donald J. Trump: (01:02:22)
We’ve caught them all. We’ve got it all on tape. We’ve caught them all. And by the way, you gave the idea for the Logan Act against General Flynn. You better take a look at that, because we caught you in a sense, and President Obama was sitting in the office.

In a matter of days, then, what DOJ would claim was an inadvertent error got turned into a campaign attack from the President.

When DOJ first confessed to altering these notes, they claimed all the changes were inadvertent.

In response to the Court and counsel’s questions, the government has learned that, during the review of the Strzok notes, FBI agents assigned to the EDMO review placed a single yellow sticky note on each page of the Strzok notes with estimated dates (the notes themselves are undated). Those two sticky notes were inadvertently not removed when the notes were scanned by FBI Headquarters, before they were forwarded to our office for production. The government has also confirmed with Mr. Goelman and can represent that the content of the notes was not otherwise altered.

Similarly, the government has learned that, at some point during the review of the McCabe notes, someone placed a blue “flag” with clear adhesive to the McCabe notes with an estimated date (the notes themselves are also undated). Again, the flag was inadvertently not removed when the notes were scanned by FBI Headquarters, before they were forwarded to our office for production. Again, the content of the notes was not otherwise altered.

There are multiple reasons to believe this is false. For example, when DOJ submitted notes that Jim Crowell took, they added a date in a redaction, something that could in no way be inadvertent. And as noted, the January 5 notes had already been submitted, without the date change (though then, too, DOJ claimed not to know the date of the document).

But the most important tell is that, when Ballantine sent Powell the three documents altered to add dates, the protective order footer on the documents had been removed in all three, in the case of McCabe’s notes, actually redacted. When she released the re-altered documents (someone digitally removed the date in the McCabe notes rather than providing a new scan), the footer had been added back in. This can easily be seen by comparing the altered documents with the re-altered documents.

The altered January 5, 2017 Strzok notes, without the footer:

The realtered January 5, 2017 Strzok notes, with the footer:

The second set of Strzok notes (originally altered to read March 28), without the footer:

The second set of Strzok notes, with the footer.

The altered McCabe noteswith the footer redacted out:

The realtered McCabe notes, with the footer unredacted:

This is something that had to have happened at DOJ (see William Ockham’s comments below and this post for proof in the metadata that these changes had to have been done by Ballantine). The redaction of the footers strongly suggests that they were provided to Powell with the intention of facilitating their further circulation (the other two documents she shared with Powell that day had no protective order footer). In addition, each of these documents should have a new Bates stamp.

DOJ redacted Brandon Van Grack’s non-misconduct

On September 24, DOJ submitted a report of an FBI interview Jeffrey Jensen’s team did with an Agent who sent pro-Trump texts on his FBI-issued phone, Bill Barnett. In the interview, Barnett made claims that conflicted with actions he had taken on the case. He claimed to be unaware of evidence central to the case against Flynn (for example, that Flynn told Sergey Kislyak that Trump knew of something said on one of their calls). He seemed unaware of the difference between a counterintelligence investigation and a criminal one. And he made claims about Mueller prosecutors — Jeannie Rhee and Andrew Weissmann — with whom he didn’t work directly. In short, the interview was obviously designed to tell a politically convenient story, not the truth.

Even worse than the politicized claims that Barnett made, the FBI or DOJ redacted the interview report such that all reference to Brandon Van Grack was redacted, substituting instead with the label, “SCO Atty 1.” (References to Jeannie Rhee, Andrew Weissmann, and Andrew Goldstein were not redacted; there are probable references to Adam Jed and Zainab Ahmad that are not labeled at all.)

The result of redacting Van Grack’s name is that it hid from Judge Sullivan many complimentary things that Barnett had to say about Van Grack:

Van Grack’s conduct was central to DOJ’s excuse for throwing out the Flynn prosecution. Powell repeatedly accused Van Grack, by name, of engaging in gross prosecutorial misconduct. Yet the report was submitted to Judge Sullivan in such a way as to hide that Barnett had no apparent complaints about Van Grack’s actions on the Flynn case.

I have no reason to believe that Ballantine made those redactions. But according to the discovery letter she sent to Powell, she sent an unredacted copy to Flynn’s team, while acknowledging that the one she was submitting to the docket was redacted. Thus, she had to have known she was hiding material information from the Court when she submitted the interview report.

Ballantine falsely claimed Strzok and McCabe validated their notes

After some of these alterations were made public, Judge Sullivan ordered DOJ to authenticate all the documents they had submitted as part of their effort to overturn the Flynn prosecution. The filing submitted in response was a masterpiece of obfuscation, with three different people making claims while dodging full authentication for some of the most problematic documents. In the filing that Ballantine submitted, she claimed that Michael Bromwich and Aitan Goelman, lawyers for McCabe and Strzok, “confirmed” that no content was altered in the notes.

The government acknowledges its obligation to produce true and accurate copies of documents. The government has fully admitted its administrative error with respect to the failure to remove three reviewer sticky notes containing estimated date notations affixed to three pages of undated notes (two belonging to former Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok, and one page belonging to former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe) prior to their disclosure. These dates were derived from surrounding pages’ dates in order to aid secondary reviewers. These three sticky notes were inadvertently not removed when the relevant documents were scanned by the FBI for production in discovery. See ECF 259. The government reiterates, however, that the content of those exhibits was not altered in any way, as confirmed by attorneys for both former FBI employees. [underline original]

According to an email Bromwich sent Ballantine, when Ballantine asked for help validating the transcripts DOJ did of McCabe’s notes, McCabe declined to do so.

I have spoken with Mr. McCabe and he declines to provide you with any information in response to your request.

He believes DOJ’s conduct in this case is a shocking betrayal of the traditions of the Department of the Justice and undermines the rule of law that he spent his career defending and upholding. If you share with the Court our decision not to provide you with assistance, we ask that you share the reason.

We would of course respond to any request that comes directly from the Court.

And according to an email Goelman sent to Ballantine, they said they could not check transcriptions without the original copies of documents.

Sorry not to get back to you until now.  We have looked at the attachments to the email you sent yesterday (Sunday) afternoon.  We are unable to certify the authenticity of all of the attachments or the accuracy of the transcriptions.  To do so, we would need both more time and access to the original notes, particularly given that U.S. Attorney Jensen’s team has already been caught altering Pete’s notes in two instances.  However, we do want to call your attention to the fact that Exhibit 198-11 is mislabeled, and that these notes are not the notes of Pete “and another agent” taken during the Flynn interview.

Additionally, we want to register our objection to AUSA Ken Kohl’s material misstatements to Judge Sullivan during the September 29, 2020, 2020, [sic] telephonic hearing, during which Mr. Kohl inaccurately represented that Pete viewed himself as an “insurance policy” against President Trump’s election.

I have no reason to believe the content was altered, though I suspect other things were done to McCabe’s notes to misrepresent the context of a reference in his notes to Flynn. But not only had McCabe and Strzok not validated their notes, but they had both pointedly refused to. Indeed, during this same time period, DOJ was refusing to let McCabe see his own notes to prepare for testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Nevertheless, Ballantine represented to Judge Sullivan that they had.

It baffles me why DOJ would put Ballantine on the most important January 6 case. Among other things, the conduct I’ve laid out here will make it easy for the defendants to accuse DOJ of similar misconduct on the Proud Boys case — and doing just that happens to be Nordean’s primary defense strategy.

But I’m mindful that there are people in DC’s US Attorney’s Office (not Ballantine) who took actions in the past that may have made the January 6 attack more likely. In a sentencing memo done on Barr’s orders, prosecutors attempting to minimize the potential sentence against Roger Stone suggested that a threat four Proud Boys helped Roger Stone make against Amy Berman Jackson was no big deal, unworthy of a sentencing enhancement.

Second, the two-level enhancement for obstruction of justice (§ 3C1.1) overlaps to a degree with the offense conduct in this case. Moreover, it is unclear to what extent the defendant’s obstructive conduct actually prejudiced the government at trial.

Judge Jackson disagreed with this assessment. In applying the enhancement, she presciently described how dangerous Stone and the Proud Boys could be if they incited others.

Here, the defendant willfully engaged in behavior that a rational person would find to be inherently obstructive. It’s important to note that he didn’t just fire off a few intemperate emails. He used the tools of social media to achieve the broadest dissemination possible. It wasn’t accidental. He had a staff that helped him do it.

As the defendant emphasized in emails introduced into evidence in this case, using the new social media is his “sweet spot.” It’s his area of expertise. And even the letters submitted on his behalf by his friends emphasized that incendiary activity is precisely what he is specifically known for. He knew exactly what he was doing. And by choosing Instagram and Twitter as his platforms, he understood that he was multiplying the number of people who would hear his message.

By deliberately stoking public opinion against prosecution and the Court in this matter, he willfully increased the risk that someone else, with even poorer judgment than he has, would act on his behalf. This is intolerable to the administration of justice, and the Court cannot sit idly by, shrug its shoulder and say: Oh, that’s just Roger being Roger, or it wouldn’t have grounds to act the next time someone tries it.

The behavior was designed to disrupt and divert the proceedings, and the impact was compounded by the defendant’s disingenuousness.

The people at DOJ who claimed that this toxic team was not dangerous in the past may want to downplay the critical role that Stone and the Proud Boys played — using the same kind of incendiary behavior — in the January 6 assault.

Whatever the reason, though, it is inexcusable that DOJ would put someone like Ballantine on this case. Given Ballantine’s past actions, it risks sabotaging the entire January 6 investigation.

DOJ quite literally put someone who, less than a year ago, facilitated Sidney Powell’s lies onto a prosecution team investigating the aftermath of further Sidney Powell lies.

Update: DC USAO’s media person refused to clarify what Ballantine’s role is, even though it was publicly acknowledged in court.

We are not commenting on cases beyond what is stated or submitted to the Court. We have no comment in response to your question.

Update: Added links to William Ockham’s proof that Ballantine made the realteration of the McCabe notes.

Update: One more point on this. I am not claiming here that anyone at DOJ is deliberately trying to sabotage the January 6 investigation, just that putting someone who, less than a year ago, made multiple representations to a judge that could call into question her candor going forward could discredit the Proud Boys investigation. I think it possible that supervisors at DC USAO put her on the team because they urgently need resources and she was available (possibly newly so after the end of her TDY). I think it possible that supervisors at DC USAO who are also implicated in Barr’s politicization, perhaps more closely tied to the intervention in the Stone case, put her there with corrupt intent.

But it’s also important to understand that up until February 2020, she was viewed as a diligent, ruthless prosecutor. I presume she buckled under a great deal of pressure after that and found herself in a place where competing demands — her duty of candor to the Court and orders from superiors all the way up to the Attorney General — became increasingly impossible to square.

Importantly, Lisa Monaco’s chief deputy John Carlin, and probably Monaco herself, would know Ballantine from their past tenure in the National Security Division as that heretofore ruthless national security prosecutor. The only mainstream outlet that covered anything other than DOJ’s admission they had added post-its to the notes was Politico. And the instinct not to punish career employees like Ballantine would mean what she would have avoided any scrutiny with the transition. So her assignment to the case is not itself evidence of an attempt to sabotage the prosecution.

How Rick Gates Used Maggie Haberman and Ken Vogel

Last week, DOJ released a reprocessed set of most of Rick Gates’ 302s in Jason Leopold’s FOIA for Mueller materials. I used that as an opportunity to pull together all of his 302s to capture the content and pull out the materials withheld under b7A exemptions (b7A exemptions reflect ongoing investigations — though many of these are clearly just counterintelligence investigations into Ukraine’s attempts to influence US politics). I did the same thing for Steve Bannon, Mike Flynn, and Sam Patten’s files.

Reading all the 302s like this shows this, at times, Gates went wobbly on Mueller’s team. And it provides yet more evidence that a NYT article — bylined by two reporters that came up in Gates’ interviews, Maggie Haberman and Ken Vogel — was a (wildly successful) attempt to misrepresent how damning were Gates’ admissions about Paul Manafort’s efforts to provide ongoing campaign updates to Russian intelligence officer Konstantin Kilimnik.

Nevertheless, the NYT has never issued a correction.

It’s not news that Gates went wobbly on his cooperation. Andrew Weissmann described the beginning process of this in his book, Where the Law Ends. But the 302s suggest it was not a one-time event.

As Weissmann told it in his book published before all the 302s came out, in one of his first proffers, Gates told prosecutors that he himself was skimming money from Manafort.

Gates said he understood and, from there, we began in earnest, alternating between Gates admitting his guilt for the crimes he and Manafort had committed and our teasing out information he had about others. This can be an awkward dance, but Gates seemed to be forthcoming. For example, after walking us through how, precisely, he’d helped Manafort launder money from his offshore accounts, Gates explained that he’d also personally stolen money from Ukraine by inflating the invoices he submitted for their political consulting work then pocketing that excess cash. Gates had never told Manafort about this skimming, he said, or reported that extra income on his taxes. We hadn’t known about this—it was new information, and encouraging, since it signaled that Gates understood that he could not hide or minimize his own criminality anymore.

That may have happened in his first interview, on January 29, 2018, when he described diverting income from his DMP work to an account in London.

Having gotten Gates to admit cheating Manafort, Weissmann then turned to what he called a “Jackpot” moment, when Gates described two things: that, at the August 2 meeting in the Havana Room, Manafort had told Kilimnik how he planned to win the campaign (a question Weissmann’s team was obsessed with understanding), and also that Manafort had ordered Gates to send Konstantin Kilimnik polling data throughout the campaign (of which Mueller’s team did not have prior knowledge).

“I learned of that meeting on the same day that it happened,” Gates explained. “Paul asked if I could join him and ‘KK,’ ” as Gates called Kilimnik. “The meeting was supposed to be over dinner, but I got there late.”

I did not look over at Omer, but I knew he was thinking what I was, that it was good that Gates was being forthright so far and confirming what we knew.

“Do you know how long they had already been there?” I asked.

“I don’t, but I think I was fairly late getting there. They were well into the meal.”

“What do you recall being discussed?” Omer asked. “A few things,” Gates explained. One subject was money—certain oligarchs in Ukraine still owed Manafort a considerable amount. Another was a legal dispute between Manafort and the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. We asked Gates if there was any new or unusual information raised about these issues, but he said no—those problems had been percolating for a while. This was not, it seemed, enough of a reason for Kilimnik to come to New York from Moscow.

“What else do you recall being discussed?” Omer asked.

“There was discussion about the campaign,” Gates said. “Paul told KK about his strategy to go after white working-class Democrats in general, and he discussed four battleground states and polling.”

“Did he name any states?” I asked.

“Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota,” Gates said.

“Did he specifically mention those states, and did he describe them as battleground states, or is that your description?” I asked.

“No,” Gates said. “Paul described them that way. And, yes, I remember those four states coming up.”

“And he described polling?” Omer asked.

“Yes, but I had been sending our internal polling data to KK all along,” Gates explained. “So this was a follow-up on that, as opposed to something out of the blue.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “but why were you sending polling data to Kilimnik?”

“Paul told me to send him the data, periodically. So I did. I’d send it using WhatsApp or some other encrypted platform. I assume it was to help Paul financially. I just did what Paul told me to do.”

“KK didn’t have any position on the campaign, right?” I asked.

The 302 from that same first interview shows Gates raised Manafort’s election year meetings with Kilimnik, though he got some details wrong, as I’ll return to. Gates addressed the Havana Bar meeting in his second interview, too, though he continued to tell an implausible story.

In his third interview, Gates attempted to lie about whether he had deleted documents; after a long discussion (still redacted because of an ongoing investigation), Gates admitted “maybe” he had deleted documents after learning of Mueller’s investigation.

In the fourth interview (at which Gates referenced false claims floated in the press to suggest the Mueller investigation had dodgy beginnings), Gates attempted to hide that he had lied to Mercury Public Affairs and Podesta Group about who their Ukrainian client really was, only to admit that “overtime” he realized what he had told them was not truthful; ultimately he admitted that “we got cute” by registering (and getting Podesta Group to register) under the Lobbying Disclosure Act and not FARA. At least as recorded in the 302, that’s the interview where Gates first lied about a meeting Manafort had with Dana Rohrabacher. At the same interview, Gates’ lawyer, Tom Green (who is a friend of Mueller’s), made a statement attributing Gates’ failures to keep certain lobbying documents to DMP archiving policy; in his statement of offense, Manafort admitted he still had those documents when he submitted his lobbying filings.

Weissmann’s book describes catching Gates in the lie about Rohrabacher.

Not long after I reentered the room, our interview with Gates turned to the FARA charges. Gates explained, in a convoluted fashion, that he and Manafort had believed there was no need to register under FARA since they were not personally doing any of the lobbying themselves. Manafort understood now that the law required him to file, Gates said, but he hadn’t understood that at the time.

Nothing about this argument was credible. Manafort was not only a longtime lobbyist but an attorney himself; he had extensive experience navigating the FARA rules and had gotten entangled with the FARA Unit before. (In the eighties, Manafort had a presidential appointment in the Reagan administration, which normally would have prohibited him from also working as a lobbyist, but he’d requested a waiver from that facet of the FARA rules. Interestingly, when his request was denied by a responsible White House attorney, Manafort resigned from his public office in order to continue the more profitable private lobbying work.) We had even uncovered an email from Gates to Manafort that clearly set out the FARA regulations. It was inconceivable that they’d misunderstood the law. Even the factual premise of their purported misunderstanding was untrue: Manafort had personally acted as a lobbyist. We had emails showing that Gates had arranged a meeting for Manafort with the pro-Russia California congressman Dana Rohrabacher in March 2013, shortly after Rohrabacher became chair of the subcommittee that oversaw Ukraine issues.

It was clear that Gates was not being straight with us—not uncommon, initially, with people who try to cooperate; they tell the truth with various degrees of success at first. When we confronted Gates with the emails about the Rohrabacher meeting, Gates simply doubled down, floating an even more absurd claim. He acknowledged that, yes, Manafort and Rohrabacher had met in Washington in 2013, but Gates claimed that he remembered Manafort telling him at the time that the subject of Ukraine had never come up—and therefore, there’d been no reason for Manafort to register under FARA for this activity: It wasn’t actually lobbying.

This wasn’t true, either, and we had evidence to prove it. Gates and Manafort had prepared a memo after the Rohrabacher meeting for President Yanukovych of Ukraine, summarizing the discussion. That memo was one of the many damning documents we’d discovered from Manafort’s condo search. We showed it to Gates: Was everything written here a lie? we asked. He had no response.

Gates’s story was crumbling before our eyes. It was infuriating because it was so counterproductive for everyone, and, on a personal level, displayed a certain contempt for us, and a low opinion of our ability to discern the truth. The good faith we needed, on both sides, was evaporating.

I asked Tom Green, Gates’s counsel, to speak in private, and then decided with him that we should break for the day. I asked Tom to get to the bottom of whatever was happening. All along, Gates had seemed to have trouble when it came to discussing Manafort and his crimes. He was clearly straining to shed his allegiance to his old boss. Still, Gates was discussing his own crimes, and it wasn’t clear why he’d chosen to start lying, so stubbornly, now, about this particular point; the FARA charges weren’t even among the most serious ones we brought.

If there was some explanation, Tom would need to figure it out quickly. The lies we’d just been told were deflating for us, given how hopeful we’d been about Gates’s usefulness as a witness.

Right now, we told Tom, there was no way we could sign Gates up.

Ultimately, Gates would plead guilty to this lie about Rohrabacher as a separate false statement.

The next day, according to Weissmann’s book, Green had seemingly gotten Gates back on track.

Tom came back to our office the next day. “Look,” he said, “my client messed up.”

Gates was scared, he explained. This entire process was wrenching for him. Gates felt pulled between his desire to cooperate and his allegiance to Manafort, and his client had just momentarily broken down. He’d fed us the various cover stories yesterday to avoid implicating Paul on the FARA charges.

In his book, Weissmann doesn’t reflect on the other lies that Gates must have told before his team caught Gates in a lie they could prove was one. But Gates’ earlier testimony does conflict with what he would say later.

And even having recommitted to cooperating, it seems Gates was still shading the truth in those February sessions, at least until he actually pled guilty.

The released 302s show that on February 2, Gates admitted that they should have registered under FARA for the meeting with Rohrabacher. In the same interview, there are five pages discussing a redacted subject that remain exempted under a b7A (ongoing investigation) exemption. Even in that interview, even after admitting he was still on the DMP payroll in the months while everyone was trying to place Manafort on the Trump campaign, Gates offered implausible answers about why Manafort would ask him to provide updates to Oleg Deripaska in the guise of confirming a lawsuit that had been dismissed had been dismissed. Additionally, Gates explained away a briefing for Trump about Manafort’s ties to Ukraine as Manafort’s effort to have Gates prepared to answer press questions about the topic.

Importantly, given later admissions about Gates’ efforts to work the press, when asked about the emails with Kilimnik discussing campaign briefings that had been reported in the press the previous year, Gates claimed he hadn’t spoken to Manafort about those reports. Then, having claimed he and Manafort hadn’t concocted a cover story about them, he claimed that they were references to Deripaska’s lawsuit.

Gates was shown an email thread between Kilimnik and Manafort dated July 7, 2016 through July 29, 2016.

Gates stated he saw some of these email[s] in the news. Gates did not talk to Manafort about the emails when they were leaked to the press. In July 2016, the topic of conversation with Manafort was the Deripaska lawsuit.

But then shortly after, in the very same interview, Gates described talking to Manafort about the emails.

When this email came out in the news, Manafort told Gates, Brad Parscale and [redacted] that the article was “B.S.”

That is, Gates claimed not to have spoken to Manafort about the news, but then described doing just that, and based on that inconsistent claim, asserted that the emails about providing campaign briefings to Deripaska pertained to the lawsuit with the Russian oligarch.

In this interview where Gates was clearly trying to shade the truth, he nevertheless still admitted sending “confidential polling data derived from internal polls” to Kilimnik.

On February 7, Gates had his first interview with another Mueller team, the Russian team led by Jeannie Rhee. The interview largely focused on the role of Dmitri Simes had in Trump’s first foreign policy speech, and touched briefly on the various views people had about sanctions on Russia.

Even though the Mueller team would eventually obtain evidence that Roger Stone tried to influence this process through Gates, Gates never mentioned how he personally released news of the speech through Maggie Haberman as a way to inform Stone about it, effectively using Maggie as a vehicle to communicate with someone, Stone, whom Manafort treated as part of his team while hiding those direct ties.

On April 22, 2016, Maggie Haberman broke the news that Donald Trump would give a foreign policy speech. As she reported, the speech was scheduled to be held at the National Press Club and would be hosted by the Center for National Interest, a group that once had ties to the Richard Nixon Library.

Donald J. Trump will deliver his first foreign policy address at the National Press Club in Washington next week, his campaign said, at an event hosted by an organization founded by President Richard M. Nixon.

The speech, planned for lunchtime on Wednesday, will be Mr. Trump’s first major policy address since a national security speech last fall.

The speech will be hosted by the Center for the National Interest, formerly known as the Nixon Center, and the magazine it publishes, The National Interest, according to a news release provided by the Trump campaign.

The group, which left the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in 2011 to become a nonprofit, says on its website that it was founded by the former president to be a voice to promote “strategic realism in U.S. foreign policy.” Its associates include Henry A. Kissinger, the secretary of state under Nixon, as well as Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama and a senior adviser to Mr. Trump. Roger Stone, a sometime adviser of Mr. Trump, is a former Nixon aide.

That night, according to texts released during his trial, Roger Stone wrote Rick Gates, furious that he had not been consulted about the details of the speech first — though Gates explained that he leaked it to Haberman so Stone would find out. “I cannot learn about a foreign policy speech from the media,” Trump’s rat-fucker said. “This is personally embarrassing. I’m out,” said the advisor who had supposedly quit the campaign almost a year earlier.

Among the things Stone bitched about learning from a leak to Maggie Haberman made partly for his benefit was about the venue. “No detail on venue and no input on content.”

In that same interview where Gates did not disclose Stone’s demand that he get a say on Trump’s foreign policy speeches, he nevertheless reiterated his admission that, “Gates sent Kilimnik both publicly available information and internal information from Fabrizio’s polls.” Gates also provided a description of Cambridge Analytica in the poll mix, though his descriptions of the campaign’s reliance on CA would remain inconsistent through the entirety of his cooperation with Mueller’s team.

Over the next two meetings, things seemed to get closer to finalizing the plea. In an interview on February 9, Gates further elaborated on why he had lied about the meeting with Rohrabacher. Prosecutors also got him on the record on an instance where he gave family members advance information about the acquisition of ID Watchdog, a company he had a stake in, by Equifax. Then in the following interview, Mueller’s team went through one after another crime he may have committed — insider trading (with IDW), bank fraud, bribery, “lack of candor under oath,” including during his 2014 FBI interview and the Skadden Report, campaign fraud, obstruction of justice, all of which would need to be on the record before he pled guilty.

After doing that, prosecutors got Gates on the record about key Mueller-related topics about which they wanted his cooperation, including Stone and Thomas Barrack. In their review of Gates’ description of the August 2 meeting, he confirmed that Deripaska was discussed (though claimed he only knew polling data was shared with the Ukrainian paymasters), and provided a really sketchy explanation of what this was all about:

Gates was asked why Kilimnik referred to Manafort’s “clever plan to defeat” Hillary Clinton in an email. Gates believed this referred to Manafort’s strategy to attack Clinton’s credibility. Gates was asked what was “clever” about this. Gates agreed that it was not clever and he did not know why Kilimnik characterized it as clever.

Gates did not trust Kilimnik. Gates did not know why Manafort was sharing internal polling data with Kilimnik. Gates said Kilimnik could have given the information to anyone.

That’s when the plea deal should have been finalized. But as Weissmann described in his book, it wasn’t.

Gates’ prior attorney (who was also representing someone else against whom Gates would testify), in the guise of demanding past payment, caused a sealed conference to be held before Amy Berman Jackson which alerted the press that he might be cooperating, which in turn generated a great deal of pressure on Gates not to flip (including the involvement of Sean Hannity). From Weissmann again:

But before we received the final versions back, with signatures, the process was disrupted yet again. Gates’s second defense counsel, Walter Mack, called our office unexpectedly and asked what the heck was going on: Was it true that his client was cooperating with the special counsel’s investigation?

It’s hard to convey the strangeness of Walter’s phone call: not only that he didn’t seem to know that Gates was seeking to cooperate, but that he was calling us for answers, instead of asking his own client, or his co-counsel Tom Green. We told Walter that he should direct those questions to Gates or Tom. It was not our place to be an intermediary between defendants and their various attorneys, or to mediate whatever spat Walter had just brought to our doorstep.

I’m still not sure what was going on behind the scenes. Later, Walter would claim a lack of payment from Gates—maybe that had something to do with it. But it was also hard to ignore that Walter happened to be simultaneously representing a man named Steven Brown in a separate case in New York. Brown had enlisted Gates in a fraudulent scheme and therefore could be harmed by information Gates might share if he cooperated.

Regardless, whatever dispute was playing out might have remained irrelevant to our case—except that Walter’s subsequent discussions with Tom apparently unraveled to the point that Walter filed a motion asking to be relieved as Gates’s counsel; this required all of us to appear briefly in court. The short proceeding had very little to do with our office and was under seal at the time, but our mere appearance at the courthouse roused interest from the reporters staking out the building. At the proceeding, the court told Tom to brief Walter on the cooperation progress. Shortly thereafter, someone leaked a story about Gates and his intention to cooperate to the Los Angeles Times.

This media attention was unsettling for Gates—as whoever leaked the story presumably knew it would be. It is hard enough to betray your former mentor, and walk away from your former life, by talking to government investigators. It is more daunting once you’ve seen your decision to cooperate spelled out in a national headline and are forced to discuss it with every friend and family member who calls to ask you if it’s true. Such press also sends out an alarm to those who’d seek to pull Gates back in line and away from the government.

As we feared, once the story ran, Gates got cold feet. Tom and I spoke nearly every day for the next two weeks. He explained that he was still working to convince his client to cooperate, and I expressed bafflement. I’d never seen anything like this before. Gates had passed the point of no return; because he’d already signed the proffer agreement and admitted his criminal liability to all of the charged crimes (and then some), he would be going to trial with effectively no defense if he backed out now. Tom assured me that Gates understood this—but he also said that Gates had lots of people loyal to the White House whispering in his ear.

So prosecutors drew up a second indictment against Manafort and Gates in Virginia. That, plus some advice from Charlie Black, may have been enough to get him back on board.

This time it seemed real. “He’s coming to my office to sign the papers right now,” Tom said.

I was relieved, but still skeptical. I told Tom I’d need to see him and Gates in our office again, to hear Gates explain what the hell had just happened. I also alerted him that we were, at that moment, pushing forward with our indictment in Virginia and, because the courthouse there didn’t allow phones or electronic devices, there was no way for me to call the prosecutors and stop it. Still, I assured Tom, this wouldn’t affect our deal: If Gates proved trustworthy, we’d move to dismiss this second set of charges in Virginia without prejudice and proceed in Washington as planned.

Gates came back into our office the next day. I leveled with him: “I’ve never had this experience before, and I need to understand what happened,” I said. “Why did you balk at the last minute? What’s going on?”

He seemed more vulnerable this time. He explained the intense pressure that Manafort and others were putting on him not to cooperate, how Manafort had told him that money could be raised to defray their legal expenses, and that the White House had their backs—code, Gates knew, to keep quiet and hold out for a pardon.

But, Gates went on, he’d also spoken to Charlie Black. Black had been in business with Manafort years ago, at the firm Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly, then gone on to become a dean of Republican Party strategists and enjoyed a sterling reputation. (In a masterstroke, it turned out, at a moment when Tom was almost out of ideas, he had recruited Black to reach out to Gates and offer advice.) Black told Gates that, were he in a similar predicament, he would cooperate. Gates wasn’t an old man like Black and Manafort, Black explained; he needed to think about himself and his young family. And moreover, Black insisted, Gates would be foolish to count on a pardon. Trump was too self-absorbed to be dependable.

“I took this all in,” Gates said, “and I decided to follow Black’s advice.” Black’s encouragement seemed to have finally empowered Gates to turn on his old boss. “I know there’s a possibility that Paul will get a pardon in the end, and I’ll have to watch him walk free. But I decided I just have to deal with what I’ve done, and own what I have done.” He’d broken the law, he said. He needed to deal with the consequences now and do right by his family.

The first interviews after Gates pled guilty focused on this process, eliciting descriptions of all the people Gates had spoken to in prior days, including the Black conversation, three conversations where Manfort tried to find money to pay Gates’ legal bills, and others. A pardon came up but no one told him he would be pardoned. Someone also tried to help Gates find what would have been his fourth defense team. Gates explained that he had been told the Nunes Memo and the IG Report on the Hillary investigation would change the climate for his defense.

But after that, things started to move forward. Investigators got a list of all the encrypted comms Gates had used and those he knew Manafort had used. Then they began to turn back to all the Manafort graft Gates would help prosecutors untangle.

On March 1 — the first time prosecutors would return to two key Russia-related issues after Gates pled guilty, the August 2 meeting and Roger Stone — Gates revealed that he had lied to Ken Vogel in 2016 (who was then with Politico) about the Havana Club meeting. Gates started by (improbably) claiming he had never before read the June 19, 2017 WaPo story in which Konstantin Kilimnik provided a cover story for the August 2 meeting. That led him to admit lying to Vogel because he believed they’d get away without disclosing the meeting.

Gates stated that he hadn’t previously read the 6/19/2017 Washington Post article, which contained a statement from Konstantin Kilimnik regarding a meeting held in New York on 8/2/2016. Gates stated that following the 8/2/2016 meeting (which was held at New York’s Havana Club), Gates spoke to Paul Manafort regarding a subsequent Politico story about it. The author of the Politico article, Kenneth Vogel, had emailed a list of questions to Manafort. Manafort forwarded these questions to Gates, who answered “no” to all the questions. Gates admitted that he lied to Vogel with these responses. He had been assured no one would find out about this meeting. Gates stated that Jared Kushner became angry following the Politico article, unsure as to why Manafort would have such a meeting.

Then Gates admitted that Manafort did ask him whether anyone called him about the meeting — something still redacted for ongoing investigation. Effectively, Gates admitted that he understood that Manafort expected him to lie about the meeting.

Remember, during precisely this period in 2016, Oleg Deripaska was playing a double game, making Manafort more vulnerable even while getting him to share campaign campaign information. Perhaps not unrelatedly, much of the next month of Rick Gates interviews in 2018 focused on the Pericles lawsuit that Deripaska used as leverage against Manafort to put him in that more vulnerable position.

A March 21 interview covering things like Roger Stone and Cambridge Analytica remains significantly redacted (including one b7A redaction covering the latter topic added since this 302 was last released).

Something sort of interesting happened in April 2018. On two consecutive days, Gates told a slightly different story about Roger Stone. On April 10, Rhee and Aaron Zelinsky joined Manafort prosecutors Weissmann and Andres. At the beginning of the interview, Gates warned that someone was not happy he was cooperating. In the April 10 interview, Gates provided details about Stone’s ongoing relationship with Manafort that don’t appear, in unredacted form, elsewhere, as well as details of calls and meetings from June (these communications were a focus at Stone’s trial). Gates revealed that the day before Stone’s “Podesta time in the barrel” comment on August 21, 2016, Manafort told Gates Stone had told him the emails would come out (this is consistent with at least one of Manafort’s interviews). One subtext of this interview is that the means by which Lewandowski got fired in June was related to Stone’s bid to get Hillary’s emails.

In the April 10 interview, Gates described a June 15, 2016 phone call he had with Manafort and Stone where Stone said “he had been in contact with Guccifer 2.” The FBI spent much of 2018 trying to track down forensic proof that this had indeed happen.

In the same interview, Gates asserted that Manafort,

always intended to use Stone as an outside source of information. Manafort relied on Stone to do operative work and dig up opposition material. Manafort had conveyed to Gates that Stone was in the hunt for Clinton’s emails prior to the Crowdstrike report dated 06/14/2016 announcement. Stone told Gates and Manafort something major was going to happen and that a leak of information was coming.

All told this may be Gates’ most revelatory interview about Stone.

But an April 11 interview, which covers the same issues (and at which Rhee was not present), seems to back off the claim that Manafort was pushing Stone to go get the emails. “[N]o one told Stone to go get” the emails Assange had. In a separate interview that same day (without the Stone team), Weissmann and Andres asked Gates about contacts he had had, though that seems to refer to contacts during 2017. On April 17, an interview seemed to focus on something Manafort had done.

Prosecutors kept asking about his contacts during the investigation (as they did with Mike Flynn during the same period). On May 3, Gates described with whom he had contact since his last interview (on April 19). That included two conversations with Maggie Haberman. Later in May, Gates was interviewed about his and Manafort’s response to an July 2016 AP report on Manfort’s Ukraine graft. In July, Gates revealed that, prior to pleading guilty, Manafort had warned Gates against his attorney Tom Green. In different July interview, Gates also described being in contact with people about a NYT report on him.

Gates’ plea deal required he get prior approval before he revealed any information derived from his cooperation to a third party. But he appears to have remained in touch with the NYT anyway.

In August, investigators grilled Gates about a topic that they hadn’t known about but which he had admitted on the stand while testifying in Paul Manafort’s trial: That he may have submitted a false expense report to the Inauguration Committee, replicating a theft that he had earlier used against Manafort. That discussion remains redacted under b7A redactions. It was not addressed in the government sentencing memo for Gates. It’s one potential crime Gates admitted only after entering into the plea agreement.

During fall interviews, Gates addressed additional investigative interest (such as the spin-off prosecutions arising from Manafort’s graft). He provided an interview on Stone on October 25 (the day before Steve Bannon would be interviewed and one of his last interviews before the election) that generally accorded with past testimony. And he did a few interviews pertaining to Kilimnik (parallel to the time when Manafort was being questioned about the same topic), including one where he reiterated that,

GATES understood that the polling data he was sending to KILIMNIK would be given to LYOVOCHKIN and DERIPASKA. GATES believed MANAFORT would have sent the polling data to LYOVOCHKIN as part of his efforts to get money out of Ukraine. GATES believed MANAFORT would have sent the polling data to DERIPASKA [redacted]. GATES opined that MANAFORT believed that Trump’s strength in the polls would be advantageous to him.

GATES provided KILIMNIK a mix of public polls and the campaign’s Fabrizio polling data based on what MANAFORT thought looked good. The Fabrizio polls were more reliable because they used cell phone polling data.

GATES provided certainly weekly data automatically to KILIMNIK. MANAFORT and GATES would send additional polling data on an ad hoc basis. On multiple occasions, GATES and MANAFORT would receive a poll and MANAFORT would tell GATES to send it to KILIMNIK based on the poll’s content.

That is, while there were conflicting details, after the time Gates started cooperating, his story about sharing polls repeatedly (though not always) acknowledged that Deripaska was receiving the polls. He consistently said the polls included non-public data (though his excuses for doing so varied from interview to interview and never offered a plausible explanation). And while he shifted the timeline earlier during the first interviews where he was telling other lies, after that point Gates never disputed that Manafort provided a more detailed explanation of his campaign strategy to Kilimnik, and he admitted his data sharing continued at least through the time Manafort left the campaign on August 19.

Gates’ description of what happened after that had some variances, as did his description of what polls were included in the sharing — but they always included Fabrizio’s polls, which, based on past work, they were the ones with which Kilimnik would be most familiar.

On November 7, the day Jeff Sessions would be fired, making way for Billy Barr to be nominated and confirmed, Gates did two interviews without his attorney, Tom Green, present.

There was, among the released interviews (there are about 60 that have been released, plus some other identified 302s that haven’t been), just one more in 2018.

Then, in advance of a February 15, 2019 interview, Gates’ attorney reached out to correct a claim that prosecutors had made as part of Manafort’s breach hearing. The important correction was that “GATES did not recall bringing [a document he had printed out earlier that day for a planning meeting] to the [Havana Bar] meeting. Gates affirmed, however, that,

At the 08/02/2016 meeting with GATES, MANAFORT, and KILIMNIK there was a much more detailed discussion of internal polling data compared to the data GATES sent to KILIMNIK via WHATSAPP. At the dinner meeting, GATES, MANAFORT, and KILIMNIK discussed internal polling from FABRIZIO which included battleground states.

[snip]

GATES recalled MANAFORT discussed internal polling from other sources including CAMBRIDGE ANALYTICA. The information provided in this meeting by MANAFORT to KILIMNIK was based on internal information and polls; it was a synthesis that included internal polling data.

In addition to the major correction regarding the document he printed out, however, Gates altered his testimony from many (though not all) of his previous interviews in one key way. At an interview the day after Billy Barr was confirmed as Attorney General and as Mueller’s team were already drafting their report, Gates reported that,

DERIPASKA was also in the mix. GATES recalled, however, that the letter to DERIPASKA was related to MANAFORT’s and DERIPASKA’s legal dispute. GATES does not specifically know if MANAFORT sent internal polling data to DERIPASKA.

That is, in his first interview after Barr became Attorney General, Gates backed off a claim that (at least per the 302s) he had made as recently as late October, that he knew he was sending Deripaska the polling data.

Then, on February 22, Gates had a last interview, by phone (there must have been one or several in advance of the Stone and Greg Craig trials). For a third time, his attorney — Robert Mueller’s friend Tom Green — was not present.

The topic of the interview, like so many before, was whom Gates had had contact with about the investigation. But of course, this time, key details of the investigation, especially about sharing polling data with Kilimnik, had been revealed by one of those redaction failures that sometimes happen at opportune times. Gates described someone “alert[ing] GATES to the allegation discussed above,” but claimed “their communication had no substance.” Before and after that, though, redacted answers that Gates offered seemed to deny speaking to anyone about the allegations, whether the inquiry pertained to comparing notes about answers with others involved — as Gates had denied then disproved happened in summer 2017 — or lying to the media to minimize damage — as Gates had admitted lying to Ken Vogel about the very same allegation.

And in spite of the fact that Weissmann warned Gates at least once not to say anything about his communications with Green, Gates ended the interview by addressing a claim his attorney seems to have made. “GATES stated that his counsel GREEN had been mistaken in indicating to the Special Counsel’s Office that GATES,” with a long paragraph describing what Green had told prosecutors but that Gates, with Green absent, was denying.

It turns out, though, that the demonstrably false story that NYT told resembled the ones Gates told in interviews where he was also lying about Rohrabacher, a year earlier. The NYT claimed that Gates had only transferred the data during the spring, not in August. It claimed “most of the data was public.” And it claimed Gates had only shared the data with two Ukrainian oligarchs, and not Oleg Deripaska.

Both Mr. Manafort and Rick Gates, the deputy campaign manager, transferred the data to Mr. Kilimnik in the spring of 2016 as Mr. Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination, according to a person knowledgeable about the situation. Most of the data was public, but some of it was developed by a private polling firm working for the campaign, according to the person.

Mr. Manafort asked Mr. Gates to tell Mr. Kilimnik to pass the data to two Ukrainian oligarchs, Serhiy Lyovochkin and Rinat Akhmetov, the person said. The oligarchs had financed Russian-aligned Ukrainian political parties that had hired Mr. Manafort as a political consultant.

In his first interview, Gates claimed that the two Kilimnik meetings happened in spring, March and May. He further claimed the last time he spoke to Kilimnik was in May 2016, not that August meeting nor later attempts to craft a cover story for the Skadden Arps intervention. He offered another reason entirely for the meeting than sharing campaign data: Yanukovych wanted Manafort to run his next campaign.

In his second interview, Gates was told clearly the meeting at the Havana Bar happened in August, but then, when he began to admit to sharing campaign information, suggested Manafort had shared “Manafort’s plan for the primaries.” When reminded again that the meeting happened in August, long after Trump sealed up the nomination, Gates still persisted by claiming “they must have talked about the delegate issue and Manafort’s plan to get Trump enough delegates to win the nomination.” This interview appears to be the first time Gates offered the explanations he settled on for sharing campaign strategy — to get the Ukrainians to pay their bills and to get Deripaska to drop his law suit. But when investigators asked the obvious question — why Manafort wanted to share campaign information from someone he thought was Russian intelligence Gates claimed none of this was secret.

Gates was asked why Manafort would provide strategy information on the Trump Campaign to someone he thought was Russian Intelligence. Gates stated that the information on the battleground states and strategy was not secret.

This comment appears between passages redacted for ongoing investigation, so it’s not really clear whether the “he” here means Gates (who later would admit he suspected Kilimnik was a spy) And yet, he and Manafort spent a good deal of time obfuscating about doing just that.

Back in January 2018, before he started getting caught in deliberate lies, Gates was telling stories that shifted the time and the substance regarding why he and Manafort shared campaign data with Konstantin Kilimnik. And then, just as the Mueller team started preparing to write their conclusions, the NYT published a story that adopted the same time shift and subject obfuscations.

And in between, Rick Gates shared details repeatedly about how he used Maggie Haberman and Ken Vogel.

DOJ Treated Jerome Corsi as News Media but Not Roger Stone or Randy Credico (or Julian Assange)

Yesterday, DOJ released both an updated list of times when its media guidelines came into play (here are the 2016, 2017, and 2018 reports), as well as a summary of DOJ’s attempts to get records related to CNN, NYT, and WaPo reporting.

The former has raised some questions about how Mueller’s investigation applied these rules (as a reminder, my interview with the FBI was not with Mueller, though based on a month-long approval process I know to have occurred, I believe there is an entry in the 2017 report that pertains to me).

They’re easier to understand if you work through the second one, for legal process in 2019, first.

In the prosecution of an individual charged with obstructing the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, a United States Attorney authorized the issuance of a subpoena to a member of the news media for testimony. The member of the news media expressly agreed to testify pursuant to the subpoena. Because the member of the news media expressly agreed to testify, Attorney General authorization was not required. See 28 C.F.R. § 50.10(c)(3)(i)(A). The prosecution team did not call the member of the news media at trial.

There was just one trial of anyone for obstructing the investigation into Russian interference in 2016. George Papadopoulos, Mike Flynn, Michael Cohen, and Richard Pinedo never went to trial (nor did Alex Van der Zwaan, though his obstruction covered earlier events). Paul Manafort did go to trial for his tax cheating, but not for interfering with the Russian investigation (his plea breach hearing, which did pertain to lies he told to cover up his role in the Russian interference, was not a trial).

That means this has to be a reference to Roger Stone’s trial.

Two witnesses are known to have been subpoenaed, but not called to testify: Andrew Miller and Jerome Corsi. Randy Credico, a radio personality, testified at great length, including about how he booked Julian Assange and Roger Stone to appear on his radio show.

That’s not enough to prove that the reference is to Corsi (in part because there could have been other witnesses who were subpoenaed but not called to testify that we don’t know about). But now consider the second reference to the Mueller investigation, for something that happened in 2018.

In connection with an investigation into an alleged conspiracy involving persons or entities associated with a foreign government hacking the computers of a United States political party’s central organization, the Deputy Attorney General, acting as Attorney General, authorized the issuance of a grand jury subpoena duces tecum for the production of toll records from a cellular service provider for a telephone used by a member of the news media suspected of participating the conspiracy, as well as an application for a search warrant to search the member of the news media’s internet cloud and email accounts. Following the initial authorization, the Deputy Attorney General, acting as Attorney General, later authorized a voluntary interview of, and the issuance of a testimonial grand jury subpoena to, the member of the news media. All of this information was necessary to further the investigation of whether the member of the news media was involved in the conspiracy to unlawfully obtain and utilize the information from the hacked political party or other victims.

This is a description of someone investigated as a suspect.

While Mueller reviewed whether Don Jr violated the CFAA for accessing a non-public website he got sent a password to, the investigation into whether someone was part of the hack-and-leak conspiracy focused on Roger Stone (and Julian Assange, who does not obviously show up anywhere in this report, even though Mueller obtained a warrant targeting him as well). Two people were known to have been investigated as fellow suspects of Stone: Corsi and Ted Malloch. Mueller’s team obtained warrants and subpoenas targeting both. In Malloch’s case, however, the government is only known to have obtained his phone and his Gmail.

In Corsi’s case, however, Mueller targeted his Apple accounts, as well as email accounts held at CSC Holdings, and Windstream.

Mueller is not, however, known to have obtained a warrant targeting Credico.

If the government treated Corsi as a member of the news media in 2018, when they obtained warrants targeting him as a suspected co-conspirator of Roger Stone, then they likely treated him as a member of the news media in 2019, when they subpoenaed him — but did not call him — as a witness in Stone’s trial. That is, the available evidence strongly suggests that Corsi is the person described in both Mueller entries.

Which, in turn, suggests that DOJ treated Corsi — but not Stone or Credico — as members of the news media.

For what it’s worth, I’m virtually certain that there’s still a Mueller entry missing, pertaining to a member of the news media who asked for a subpoena before he would share materials relating to his work. That person has never been publicly referenced in Mueller-related investigative materials since released, but I believe 302s from the investigation reflect FBI having obtained the materials they were asking for from that member of the news media. But that incident would have fit under 28 CFR 50.10(c)(3)(i)(A), when a member of the news media agrees to provide information so long as he gets a subpoena, which under the media guidelines does not require Attorney General approval.

Update: There’s an important point that has been forgotten by these debates but which is implied in Merrick Garland’s statements about the media policy. There are other means to obtain records on people playing a journalistic function: under FISA, by providing probable cause that they are an agent of a foreign power.

John Durham Won’t Charge Any of Trump’s Favorite Villains

On Friday, WSJ had an article that might have been titled, “John Durham won’t charge any of Donald Trump’s favorite villains.” It reported that Durham is still considering charges against people outside of government and “lower-level FBI employees.”

Mr. Durham has been examining potential criminal charges against several lower-level Federal Bureau of Investigation employees, and people who aren’t in government, according to people familiar with the matter.

But it doesn’t note that, even if Durham does charge those involved in the dossier, it will still mean that many of Trump’s claims about the Russian investigation were investigated for longer than Mueller took, only to fall short of the crimes Trump claimed had happened.

Jim Comey was the FBI Director, not a low-level employee. In spite of Durham’s effort to prove that Comey leaked details of Trump’s efforts to protect Mike Flynn to get a Special Counsel appointed, if Durham is contemplating charges only against “lower-level” FBI employees, he has not found proof that Comey broke the law.

Andrew McCabe was the FBI Deputy Director, not a low-level employee. In spite of Durham’s apparent effort to insinuate that McCabe micromanaged the Russian investigation, pushing investigative steps FBI Agents didn’t support, if Durham is contemplating charges only against “lower-level” FBI employees, he has not found proof that McCabe broke the law.

Bill Priestap was the Assistant Director for Counterintelligence, not a low-level employee. In spite of Durham’s effort to interpret Priestap’s notes as proof that the FBI set up Mike Flynn, if Durham is contemplating charges only against “lower-level” FBI employees, he has not found proof that Priestap broke the law.

Peter Strzok was the Deputy Assistant Director when he opened Crossfire Hurricane, not a low-level employee. In spite of Durham’s extended efforts to suggest that Strzok sustained an investigation into Donald Trump out of some kind of animus or perhaps compensation for his role in Hillary Clinton’s defeat, in spite of Durham’s seeming efforts to suggest that Strzok pushed others to obtain legal process he refused to approve earlier in the investigation, if Durham is contemplating charges only against “lower-level” FBI employees, he has not found proof that Strzok broke the law.

Lisa Page was the Counselor to the Deputy Director, not a low-level employee. In spite of Durham’s efforts to suggest Page had some role in the investigation that DOJ IG already said she didn’t, if Durham is contemplating charges only against “lower-level” FBI employees, he has not found proof that Lisa Page broke the law.

Durham has interviewed few if any of these senior people, who’ve been targeted for years. Without even hearing their side, apparently, Durham has decided they’re not the villains Trump made them out to be.

But Trump’s chief villains aren’t the only targets that — if this report is correct — will not be charged.

The WSJ notes that Durham won’t charge anyone for concluding that Russia not only wanted to defeat Hillary, but affirmatively wanted Trump in power.

Beyond the role of outside tipsters, Mr. Durham’s investigation examined how the FBI first came to open the investigation, as well as a separate 2017 U.S. intelligence report that concluded Moscow interfered in the presidential election in part to help then-candidate Trump.

Mr. Durham’s team isn’t expected to bring any criminal charges in connection with that intelligence assessment, some of the people said.

So John Brennan won’t be getting charged either, in spite of calls for that to happen.

Then there are all the other hoaxes Republicans invented: Durham will not charge anyone for spying on Trump before the opening of the investigation, because it didn’t happen. Durham will not charge the FBI or CIA for setting Joseph Mifsud up to entrap George Papadopoulos, because it didn’t happen.

In spite of the seeming confirmation that four years of insinuations about these people were wrong, the right wing has responded to the seeming news that Peter Strzok won’t be charged with delight.

High Gaslighter Catherine Herridge posted the same partially unsealed footnote (footnote 350 discussed in this post) twice as well as a passage about what the FBI had learned by September 2017, three months after the last FISA order targeting Carter Page.

Jonathan Turley (who ignores the WSJ description that any FBI targets are low-level) claims that Durham’s current focus could “implicate some of the most powerful figures in politics” in his final report, while getting a slew of details (about Bruce and Nellie Ohr, especially) wrong.

The report in The Wall Street Journal said Durham is presenting evidence against FBI agents and possibly others in the use of false information or tips at the start of the Russia investigation in 2016. Those “others” could include a virtual who’s who of Washington politics, and even if they are not indicted, Durham could implicate some of the most powerful figures in politics in his final report, expected in the coming months.

[snip]

This cross-pollination between the campaign and the Justice Department was evident in the strange role of Bruce Ohr, a senior Justice official who was later demoted for concealing his meetings with people pushing the Steele dossier; his wife, Nellie Ohr, worked for Fusion GPS as a researcher on Trump’s purported connections to Russia. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz subsequently found that Bruce Ohr acted improperly and committed “consequential errors in judgment.”

[snip]

Durham also is reportedly looking into information concerning Alfa Bank, a privately owned commercial bank in Russia. That information led to possible access to the Trump campaign server. The Alfa Bank controversy is likely to make a number of powerful people particularly uneasy. Clinton campaign-linked figures such as Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson allegedly pushed the debunked claim that the Trump campaign had a server linked directly to the bank, which in turn was linked to Vladimir Putin and his cronies. The Alfa Bank conspiracy reportedly was pitched to the Justice Department, including in contacts with Bruce Ohr.

Glenn Greenwald, after spending years mocking the prosecutions of Trump’s Campaign and Deputy Campaign Manager, his personal lawyer, his National Security Advisor, a foreign policy advisor, and his rat-fucker — four for covering up what happened in 2016 — and after pushing the Hunter Biden laptop allegedly funneled to a different Trump personal lawyer who is currently being investigated for influence peddling with Russian assets — speaks gleefully of “already one guilty plea: seems like more criminal charges are coming.”

The pseudonymous TechnoFog[gy] highlights the claims of a Russian, Olga Galkina, who — if the dossier was indeed filled with disinformation (and I believe it was) — was the source for much of it, while complaining, in the same breath as they magnify Galkina’s claims, that Igor Danchenko might not be aware that those like Galkina who fed him garbage were doing so for Russian intelligence.

More and more, Durham appears to be chasing what an elaborate lawfare effort from the Alfa Bank oligarchs are throwing out. The effort, like the dossier itself, is transparently problematic, particularly given that FBI debunked it early. The dossier had little to do with the investigation of anyone but Carter Page; the Alfa Bank allegations were entirely a distraction from the investigation. If Durham wants to stake his report on that, it has the potential of making it an easily discredited piece of Russian propaganda.

A focus on the disinformation in the dossier and the way that some ways the Alfa Bank claim was packaged up has a real potential to backfire for Durham, because it can only shine a light on how Russia obfuscated its efforts to get Trump elected in 2016 with disinformation about efforts to get Trump elected.

Paul Manafort Shared the Trump Energy Speech with Tom Barrack

One of the earliest exchanges with the guy described as his handler, Rashid Al Malik, in the indictment against Tom Barrack involved his success at editing a Trump speech otherwise calling for energy independence to include a commitment to “work together with our supportive allies in the Gulf.” Karen DeYoung described the resulting effect as a “jarring” conflict with the rest of the speech.

When, as a candidate, Trump was preparing an early 2016 speech outlining his energy policy, Barrack allegedly prepared a draft for the campaign including a favorable mention of bin Zayed.

The proposal seemed jarring, since the speech was to outline Trump’s plans to build domestic energy production and end oil imports from countries such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia, both leading members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

When he delivered the address, Trump confusingly followed a vow to “become, and stay, totally independent of any need to import energy from the OPEC cartel” with a promise to “work with our gulf allies to develop a positive energy relationship.”

The indictment doesn’t make clear which “senior member of the Campaign” Barrack worked with to include the language.

But Barrack’s December 12, 2017 interview with Mueller does. Close to the end of a long interview that focused closely on Barrack’s role in getting Manafort the job and his own role leading the Inauguration Committee (in which Barrack focused on his efforts to peddle influence with other countries besides UAE), Barrack described that he worked directly with Manafort on the speech (which makes sense, because he did not yet know Rick Gates).

BARRACK stated he contributed to portions of TRUMP’s energy policy. BARRACK’s idea was to create a broad energy policy. MANAFORT had sent BARRACK a draft of a speech TRUMP was to give on energy. BARRACK made notes on the speech and returned his comments to MANAFORT. BARRACK contended, however, his notes to the speech were ultimately thrown out. BARRACK added during this time the TRUMP campaign’s view on Muslims was challenging. Moreover, the campaign seemed to have a negative view toward Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries. BARRACK suggested the campaign needed to divide radical Islam from modern Islam. Before providing comments on the draft energy speech back to MANAFORT, BARRACK shared the draft with [line redacted]. BARRACK asked each about the tone and technical aspects of the draft speech. [four lines redacted]

Barrack’s description that he moderated Trump’s anti-Muslim bias is consistent with actions described later in his indictment, including his effort to distinguish Saudi Arabia and UAE from the countries banned by Trump. Depending on what appears behind those redactions, this explanation for his role in the speech might explain an oddity about the indictment.

The discussion of the speech is included in the section titled, “The Defendants’ Actions in the United States as Agents of the United Arab Emirates,” effectively showing evidence to support the charge that Barrack worked as a Foreign Agent for UAE. But the communications surrounding the speech do not appear in the Overt Acts section describing the acts the defendants took as part of a conspiracy. And, as I noted yesterday, while DOJ included the speech in a list of lies Barrack allegedly told the FBI on June 20, 2019 in a detention memo (and vastly overstated the extent of Barrack’s described edits), those lies are not charged as false statements in the indictment.

(1) writing a draft of a speech to be delivered by the Candidate in May 2016; (2) reviewing a PowerPoint presentation to be delivered to senior UAE officials on how to increase the UAE’s influence in the United States with his assistance;

There may be good reason for this. It may well be that Barrack denied any role in editing Trump’s speech in 2019, after Al Malik had been interviewed by Mueller’s team and subsequently fled the country. He certainly downplayed his role in his own interview with Mueller’s team, which took place five months before Al Malik’s own interview. But he did acknowledge that he attempted to draft the speech.

That is, Barrack may have told the truth in December 2017, when the issue was Manafort’s foreign influence-peddling with Russia, but did not in June 2019, when the issue had become his own with UAE.

The Guardian “Scoop” Would Shift the Timeline and Bureaucracy of the Known 2016 Russian Operation

Luke Harding has a story based on alleged Russian documents that show that Vladimir Putin personally approved of the 2016 Russian operation on January 22, 2016.

In advance of a known meeting — which Russia claimed at the time was convened to talk about Moldova — the Guardian claims Putin was presented with a plan on how an influence operation might work. Putin purportedly approved the operation at the publicly announced meeting. And then all three intelligence agencies implemented it.

The author appears to be Vladimir Symonenko, the senior official in charge of the Kremlin’s expert department – which provides Putin with analytical material and reports, some of them based on foreign intelligence.

The papers indicate that on 14 January 2016 Symonenko circulated a three-page executive summary of his team’s conclusions and recommendations.

In a signed order two days later, Putin instructed the then chief of his foreign policy directorate, Alexander Manzhosin, to convene a closed briefing of the national security council.

Its purpose was to further study the document, the order says. Manzhosin was given a deadline of five days to make arrangements.

What was said inside the second-floor Kremlin senate building room is unknown. But the president and his intelligence officials appear to have signed off on a multi-agency plan to interfere in US democracy, framed in terms of justified self-defence.

[snip]

After the meeting, according to a separate leaked document, Putin issued a decree setting up a new and secret interdepartmental commission. Its urgent task was to realise the goals set out in the “special part” of document No 32-04 \ vd.

Members of the new working body were stated to include Shoigu, Fradkov and Bortnikov. Shoigu was named commission chair. The decree – ukaz in Russian – said the group should take practical steps against the US as soon as possible. These were justified on national security grounds and in accordance with a 2010 federal law, 390-FZ, which allows the council to formulate state policy on security matters.

According to the document, each spy agency was given a role. The defence minister was instructed to coordinate the work of subdivisions and services. Shoigu was also responsible for collecting and systematising necessary information and for “preparing measures to act on the information environment of the object” – a command, it seems, to hack sensitive American cyber-targets identified by the SVR.

The SVR was told to gather additional information to support the commission’s activities. The FSB was assigned counter-intelligence. Putin approved the apparent document, dated 22 January 2016, which his chancellery stamped.

Because the analysis presented in this story says things that many people now believe — that Trump was unstable, that he harmed the US, that Russia’s operation sowed division in the US — it had been uncritically embraced by many.

But experts are raising some cautions. Thomas Rid raises cautions here (not all of which I agree with). Matt Tait raises more cautions here (not all of which I agree with). Craig Unger quotes more experts raising questions about the document.

What few are doing, however, is comparing the claims in the Guardian document to what we (think we) know about the 2016 operation, which not only is a good way to test their accuracy but also might answer the question Douglas London raised with Unger: “‘Coincidence and convenience are red flags in espionage,’ he told SpyTalk. ‘So why now?'”

If these documents are disinformation, they would change the known story in at least two ways. The resulting story would sustain a claim that both key events and key players in the 2016 Russian operation weren’t really part of that operation. That is, if this is disinformation, it likely was told to try to obscure who were the most important players in the 2016 operation and what events were part of it.

A January 22 approval would suggest presumed parts of the 2016 operation weren’t actually part of it

If the Russian operation weren’t approved until January 22, then events believed to be part of the operation that happened before that might be dissociated from it.

Perhaps the most important temporal conflict these documents would introduce would be the Trump Tower Moscow dangle. That effort — floated by Felix Sater and relying on a former GRU officer as a broker — started in fall 2015 and ratcheted up in December 2015. Importantly, a key call Michael Cohen had with Dmitri Peskov’s assistant took place before Putin allegedly approved the operation, on January 20.

On January 20, 2016, Cohen received an email from Elena Poliakova, Peskov’s personal assistant. Writing from her personal email account, Poliakova stated that she had been trying to reach Cohen and asked that he call her on the personal number that she provided.350 Shortly after receiving Poliakova’s email, Cohen called and spoke to her for 20 minutes.351 Cohen described to Poliakova his position at the Trump Organization and outlined the proposed Trump Moscow project, including information about the Russian counterparty with which the Trump Organization had partnered. Cohen requested assistance in moving the project forward, both in securing land to build the project and with financing. According to Cohen, Poliakova asked detailed questions and took notes, stating that she would need to follow up with others in Russia.352

The next day — so still one day before, according to the Guardian document, Putin approved the 2016 operation — Sater responded to Cohen claiming that Putin’s office had called.

However, the day after Cohen’s call with Poliakova, Sater texted Cohen, asking him to “[c]all me when you have a few minutes to chat .. . It’s about Putin they called today.”353 Sater then sent a draft invitation for Cohen to visit Moscow to discuss the Trump Moscow project, 354

If Putin didn’t approve the 2016 operation until January 22, Russia and Trump might claim, this effort wasn’t really an attempt to offer Trump financial salvation in exchange for policy considerations and other quid pro quo that became part of the operation, but instead was a viable (albeit ridiculously lucrative) real estate offer. Indeed, if Russia wanted to bail Trump out of the financial difficulties created by the prosecution of Trump Organization now, they might want to launder this earlier real estate dangle so as to dissociate it with any attempt to buy a president, or else any deals from this point forward might be deemed a continuation of an earlier conspiracy or even an effort to keep Trump afloat long enough to run again in 2024.

Similarly, also before the purported January 22 approval date, Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko started a several month outreach to Trump, one that would be sustained through March.

Trump received and turned down an invitation to the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. In late December 2015, Mira Duma-a contact oflvanka Trump’s from the fashion industry-first passed along invitations for Ivanka Trump and candidate Trump from Sergei Prikhodko, a Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation.377 On January 14, 2016, Rhona Graff sent an email to Duma stating that Trump was “honored to be asked to participate in the highly prestigious” Forum event, but that he would “have to decline” the invitation given his “very grueling and full travel schedule” as a presidential candidate.378 Graff asked Duma whether she recommended that Graff “send a formal note to the Deputy Prime Minister” declining his invitation; Duma replied that a formal note would be “great.”379

It does not appear that Graff prepared that note immediately. According to written answers from President Trump,380 Graff received an email from Deputy Prime Minister Prikhodko on March 17, 2016, again inviting Trump to participate in the 2016 Forum in St. Petersburg.381 Two weeks later, on March 31, 2016, Graff prepared for Trump’s signature a two-paragraph letter declining the invitation.382 The letter stated that Trump’s “schedule has become extremely demanding” because of the presidential campaign, that he “already ha[ d] several commitments in the United States” for the time of the Forum, but that he otherwise “would have gladly given every consideration to attending such an important event.”383 Graff forwarded the letter to another executive assistant at the Trump Organization with instructions to print the document on letterhead for Trump to sign.384

We don’t know what this outreach might have entailed, but like the Trump Tower deal, Trump Organization appears to have withheld evidence about this outreach from one or another investigator, in this case any evidence that Trump declined Prikhodko’s invitation.

Finally there’s the weird way this fits Mike Flynn’s known timeline. To be clear, Flynn was not a full-time part of the Trump campaign when he and his son went to Moscow for the RT Gala in December 2015 and, before he went, he met with Sergei Kislyak in the US. While Flynn was sharing some advice with Trump (as well as some of the other Republican candidates), he would only join Trump’s campaign full time months later. But when Flynn visited Russia, he had prior ties with the GRU. He would later tell the FBI he believed then-GRU head Igor Sergun could work with the US. Days after Flynn’s visit, Sergun died unexpectedly in Syria, and Flynn called Kislyak on January 5 to offer his condolences, the first of Flynn’s 2016 calls with Kislyak picked up on FISA intercepts. Sergun’s death was only widely made public weeks later, after this purported meeting, and there were questions about the circumstances of the death. Those things are probably unrelated, but days after the head of GRU died seems curious timing to put GRU in charge of a risky operation.

The described organization shifts the existing understanding of the 2016 operation

The timing of this meeting, just days after the death of Sergun, is important to explain a claim made in it: that Sergei Shoigu was purportedly put in charge of the GRU part of the operation, its most important part. A January 22 meeting would take place before Sergun’s replacement, Igor Korobov, was appointed (and the suggestion of the story is that Shoigu remained in charge after the later appointment).

And under Shoigu, everything was all tidy and bureaucratic.

According to the document, each spy agency was given a role. The defence minister was instructed to coordinate the work of subdivisions and services. Shoigu was also responsible for collecting and systematising necessary information and for “preparing measures to act on the information environment of the object” – a command, it seems, to hack sensitive American cyber-targets identified by the SVR.

The SVR was told to gather additional information to support the commission’s activities. The FSB was assigned counter-intelligence.

For a lot of reasons I find the designation of FSB for counterintelligence weird, because that’s what they would always be doing and that effort would necessarily (and presumed aspects of which did) long precede any individual operation. Plus, by the end of the year, Putin had taken out two top FSB officers for treason, a prosecution that was later used to offer counter-narratives to the 2016 operation.

But it’s the rest of this narrative that would be intriguing, if true. It would seem to offer an explanation that has never publicly been answered by the US: what the relationship was between the DNC hack by the SVR that started in 2015 to the DNC hack by the GRU that started in 2016. That said, SVR is not known to have hacked several other targets of the 2016 operation: John Podesta individually, state election infrastructure, election vendors, and Hillary’s analytics hosted on an AWS server.

The narrative would be particularly interesting, if true, in the wake of the Solar Winds hack, because it might suggest there will be a GRU sabotage operation following on the entities targeted by SVR. Or maybe Russia wants the west to think that to be true.

That said, there’s a huge part of this neat bureaucratic description not mentioned: The central role of Oligarchs in the 2016 operation.

One might discount the need to include specific instructions for Yevgeniy Prigozhin, as his Internet Research Agency was already engaged in sowing division. But you’d think a description of the bureaucratic structure of the 2016 operation would at least note that a big part of the operation would be accomplished by a known private entity. Furthermore, there are redacted hints in public filings both that Prigozhin’s team interacted with GRU, and that he and Putin had specific conversations about the operation. None of that is accounted for (or arguably, even consistent with) this story.

And that’s the thing: if testimony that Alfa Bank’s Petr Aven gave to the Mueller team is accurate, his role in the 2016 operation got tasked both individually and more generally in quarterly Oligarch meetings with Putin, not through intelligence agencies.

Aven told the Office that he is one of approximately 50 wealthy Russian businessmen who regularly meet with Putin in the Kremlin; these 50 men are often referred to as “oligarchs.”977 Aven told the Office that he met on a quarterly basis with Putin, including in the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2016, shortly after the U.S. presidential election.978 Aven said that he took these meetings seriously and understood that any suggestions or critiques that Putin made during these meetings were implicit directives, and that there would be consequences for Aven if he did not follow through.979 As was typical, the 2016 Q4 meeting with Putin was preceded by a preparatory meeting with Putin’s chief of staff, Anton Vaino.980

According to Aven, at his Q4 2016 one-on-one meeting with Putin,98 1 Putin raised the prospect that the United States would impose additional sanctions on Russian interests, including sanctions against Aven and/or Alfa-Bank.982 Putin suggested that Aven needed to take steps to protect himself and Alfa-Bank.983 Aven also testified that Putin spoke of the difficulty faced by the Russian government in getting in touch with the incoming Trump Administration.984 According to Aven, Putin indicated that he did not know with whom formally to speak and generally did not know the people around the President-Elect.985

Aras Agalarov played a partly successful role in the 2016 operation (in fact, Rob Goldstone offered Trump help from Vkontakte before the January 22 meeting, on January 18). Oleg Deripaska played a wildly successful role (a role that included manipulating Harding’s known source, Christopher Steele). A credible story that their roles got tasked through intelligence agencies and not via meetings directly with Putin might insulate them from responsibility, particularly as the US focuses more explicitly on Konstantin Kilimnik’s role, and particularly for things like sanctions adjudications. But it’s far more credible that something similar to what happened with Aven happened, and happened before the January 22 meeting in question.

Russian kompromat on Trump was never going to be a pee tape

In addition to shifting the timing and presumed bureaucratic structure of the 2016 operation, this story seems to reinflate the expectation of a goddamned pee tape.

There is also apparent confirmation that the Kremlin possesses kompromat, or potentially compromising material, on the future president, collected – the document says – from Trump’s earlier “non-official visits to Russian Federation territory”.

The paper refers to “certain events” that happened during Trump’s trips to Moscow. Security council members are invited to find details in appendix five, at paragraph five, the document states. It is unclear what the appendix contains.

The SSCI Report laid out three different rumors about sexual kompromat, on top of the Steele dossier. But every time someone focuses on a goddamn pee tape, they ignore several details. First, Per his own testimony, Cohen learned of such alleged kompromat shortly after 2013. Even if it existed, it would have far less impact than the many other allegations of sexual abuse that actually did come out in 2016, or the allegations that Trump was cheating on Melania shortly after she gave birth with high profile sex workers. Plus, such stories would have been easily accessible for anyone who wanted to outbid Trump for them.

A pee tape was never going to be the most effective kompromat on Trump, no matter how much people still wish to see humiliating pictures of Trump with sex workers. Financial ties would be.

Importantly, given the way this story would shift the operative start date after much of the discussion about the Trump Tower, Trump hid the Trump Tower Moscow dangle the way he would a pee tape, lying both in real time and to Mueller about it. That is, Trump treated the Trump Tower Moscow dangle as kompromat, which likely was part of the point.

Sure, it’s possible that these documents that magically appear are authentic. It’s also possible that Russia has reasons they want to tell a new story about the timing and key players in the known 2016 operation. Why they would want to do that may be the most interesting aspect of this story.

The Viral Twitter Thread in Which Darrell Cooper Confesses Republicans Were Pawns of Russian Disinformation

For some reason, this Twitter thread by a guy named Darrell Cooper, purporting to explain why Trumpsters came to attack the US Capitol, went viral.

I resisted several requests to fact check it. Now, after it has gone even more viral (including on Tucker Carlson’s show), Phil Bump has done a good fact check. As Bump notes, while Cooper accurately lays out that Trump supporters have lost confidence in institutions, Cooper offers an explanation that relies on a series of false claims so as to put the blame on Democrats.

It is indisputably the case that Trump supporters accept claims about election fraud in part because of their diminished confidence in institutions such as government and the media. What is subject to dispute, though, is the cause of that lack of confidence. While Cooper suggests that it’s emergent, it isn’t. While Cooper argues that it’s a function of investigations into Trump, it’s actually a function of partisan responses — largely but not entirely on the right — driven by Trump himself. And, most important, what Cooper presents as the indisputable facts undergirding his argument are often misleading or false and a function of partisan defenses of Trump that are common in conservative media.

Bump then debunks Cooper’s claims that:

  • The FBI spied on the Trump campaign using evidence manufactured by the Clinton campaign
  • We now know that all involved knew it was fake from Day 1 (see: Brennan’s July 2016 memo, etc)
  • The Steele dossier was the sole evidence used to justify spying on the Trump campaign
  • The entire Russian investigation stemmed from the Page investigation and not George Papadopoulos and Paul Manafort
  • Protests planned in case Trump overturned the election were a plan for violence
  • There were legitimate concerns about the election

Bump is absolutely right that Cooper makes false claims to be able to blame Democrats and Bump’s fact checks are sound (and really exhausting that they’re still required). Bump is likewise correct that a false claim about the Steele dossier is central to Cooper’s story.

I’d add that Cooper doesn’t mention that his claims about the problems with the Steele dossier matter primarily to the third and fourth FISA orders against Carter Page, and so happened under the Trump Administration and in three cases, were signed by people Trump either kept (in the case of Jim Comey) or put in place (in the case of Dana Boente and Rod Rosenstein).

But according to Cooper’s logic, if the dossier hadn’t existed, a series of events that followed wouldn’t have happened, and so Republicans wouldn’t have attacked their own government. Thus far it’s a typical right wing attempt to disclaim responsibility for their own actions.

What Bump doesn’t mention, though, is that it is now almost universally agreed upon on among Trumpsters that the dossier was the product of Russian disinformation. Lindsey Graham — who conducted an investigation into the circumstances of the Carter Page FISA — thinks it is. Chuck Grassley — who led the investigation into the dossier — thinks it is. Ron Johnson — who also made a show of investigating these things — thinks it is. Chuck Ross — the chief scribe of the dossier on the right — thinks it is. The high gaslighter Catherine Herridge thinks it is. Fox News and all their favorite sources think it is. WSJ’s editorial page thinks it is. None of these people have thought through the implications of that, but they do all appear to believe that the Russians fed disinformation through the Democratic-funded dossier to the FBI.

So, even setting aside the implications of the possibility that the dossier was Russian disinformation, according to Cooper’s narrative, Trump’s supporters wouldn’t have attacked their own government if it weren’t for Russian disinformation that set off a chain of events that led them to lose confidence in American institutions.

But consider the implications of the dossier as disinformation, implications that are evident largely thanks to sources that right wing figures have made great effort to liberate.

In response to a Trey Gowdy question at an interview by a GOP-led investigation into the dossier, Bruce Ohr explained that on July 30, 2016, Christopher Steele shared three pieces of information with him (later in his interview he would add a fourth, Russian doping): Two details from what we now know to be the dossier, as well as a third — that Oleg Deripaska’s attorney had information about Paul Manafort stealing money from Deripaska.

And then the third item he mentioned was that Paul Hauser, who was an attorney working for Oleg Deripaska, had information about Paul Manafort, that Paul Manafort had entered into some kind of business deal with Oleg Deripaska, had stolen a large amount of money from Oleg Deripaska, and that Paul Hauser was trying to gather information that would show that, you know, or give more detail about what Paul Manafort had done with respect to Deripaska.

Byron York provided more background on Steele’s efforts to share information from Deripaska with Bruce Ohr. The IG Report done in response to GOP requests provided still more. For example, the IG Report revealed that Steele had set up a meeting between Ohr and Oligarch 1, whom we know to be Deripaska, in September 2015 (these claims are consistent with the heavily redacted Ohr 302s liberated by Judicial Watch).

Handling Agent 1 told the OIG that Steele facilitated meetings in a European city that included Handling Agent 1, Ohr, an attorney of Russian Oligarch 1, and a representative of another Russian oligarch. 209 Russian Oligarch 1 subsequently met with Ohr as well as other representatives of the U.S. government at a different location.

[snip]

Ohr and Steele also communicated frequently over the years regarding Russian Oligarch 1, including in 2016 during the time period before and after Steele was closed as an FBI CHS.409 Steele told us his communications with Ohr concerning Russian Oligarch 1 were the result of an outreach effort started in 2014 with Ohr and Handling Agent 1, to approach oligarchs about cooperating with the U.S. government. Ohr confirmed that he and Handling Agent 1 asked Steele to contact Russian oligarchs for this purpose. This effort resulted in Ohr meeting with Russian Oligarch 1 and an FBI agent in September 2015.

The IG Report also revealed that in September 23 (around the same time Deripaska was interviewed by the FBI), Steele passed on a claim that Deripaska wanted to share information about Manafort.

On September 23, 2016, at Steele’s request, Steele met with Ohr in Washington, D.C. Ohr told us they spoke about various topics related to Russia, including information regarding Russian Oligarch 1 ‘s willingness to talk with the U.S. government about Manafort.

Far more consistently than using Ohr as a channel for dossier reports (and for a longer period of time), Steele used his ties with Ohr to advance Oleg Deripaska’s interests. And for the entirety of the time that Steele was feeding the FBI dossier reports, that meant Steele was feeding Ohr claims that not only presented Deripaska as a trustworthy actor, but did so in part by promising Deripaska’s cooperation in a criminal investigation of Paul Manafort. The FBI (and Mueller after that) didn’t investigate Manafort primarily for the stuff Deripaska was trying to feed the FBI, but Deripaska was making great efforts to ensure that the FBI would investigate Manafort. In the aftermath of all this, Trump and Manafort blamed Democrats for all this, but in fact, Deripaska was at least as responsible.

According to footnotes that Graham, Grassley, and Johnson had declassified, before Deripaska first started offering to help DOJ criminally investigate Manafort — before that July 30, 2016 meeting between Steele and Ohr — a Deripaska associate likely learned about the dossier project (the same declassification revealed that two Russian intelligence officers had learned of the project before that meeting which, given the belief that several of Deripaska’s associates were Russian intelligence officers, may be the same report).

Ohr told the OIG that, based on information that Steele told him about Russian Oligarch 1, such as when Russian Oligarch 1 would be visiting the United States or applying for a visa, and based on Steele at times seeming to be speaking on Russian Oligarch l’s behalf, Ohr said he had the impression that Russian Oligarch 1 was a client of Steele. 210 We asked Steele about whether he had a relationship with Russian Oligarch 1. Steele stated that he did not have a relationship and indicated that he had met Russian Oligarch 1 one time. He 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

210 As we discuss in Chapter Six, members of the Crossfire Hurricane team were unaware of Steele’s connections to Russian Oligarch 1. [redacted]

211 Sensitive source reporting from June 2017 indicated that a [person affiliated] to Russian Oligarch 1 was [possibly aware] of Steele’s election investigation as of early July 2016.

In fact, the IG Report completed in response to Republicans’ requests makes it clear: if the dossier was disinformation, that disinformation most likely involved Oleg Deripaska, with whom Manafort was using his position on the Trump campaign in an attempt to patch up financial and legal relations.

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]

Of course, for months before Deripaska first started offering (through Steele) to cooperate with the FBI against Manafort, Manafort had been trying to exploit his position on Trump’s campaign to ingratiate himself with (among others) Deripaska, in part in hopes to paper over precisely the financial dispute that Deripaska was, through Steele, trying to use to increase Manafort’s legal exposure. Weeks before the July 30 Steele-Ohr meeting, for example, Manafort had offered to brief Deripaska on the Trump campaign.

Immediately upon joining the Campaign, Manafort directed Gates to prepare for his review separate memoranda addressed to Deripaska, Akhmetov, Serhiy Lyovochkin, and Boris Kolesnikov,879 the last three being Ukrainian oligarchs who were senior Opposition Bloc officials. 880 The memoranda described Manafort’ s appointment to the Trump Campaign and indicated his willingness to consult on Ukrainian politics in the future. On March 30, 2016, Gates emailed the memoranda and a press release announcing Manafort’ s appointment to Kilimnik for translation and dissemination.881 Manafort later followed up with Kilimnik to ensure his messages had been delivered, emailing on April 11, 2016 to ask whether Kilimnik had shown “our friends” the media coverage of his new role. 882 Kilimnik replied, “Absolutely. Every article.” Manafort further asked: “How do we use to get whole. Has Ovd [Oleg Vladimirovich Deripaska] operation seen?” Kilimnik wrote back the same day, “Yes, I have been sending everything to Victor [Boyarkin, Deripaska’s deputy], who has been forwarding the coverage directly to OVD.”883

[snip]

The Office also obtained contemporaneous emails that shed light on the purpose of the communications with Deripaska and that are consistent with Gates’s account. For example, in response to a July 7, 20 I 6, email from a Ukrainian reporter about Manafort’ s failed Deripaskabacked investment, Manafort asked Kilimnik whether there had been any movement on “this issue with our friend.”897 Gates stated that “our friend” likely referred to Deripaska,898 and Manafort told the Office that the “issue” (and “our biggest interest,” as stated below) was a solution to the Deripaska-Pericles issue.899 Kilimnik replied:

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].900

Eight minutes later, Manafort replied that Kilimnik should tell Boyarkin’s “boss,” a reference to Deripaska, “that if he needs private briefings we can accommodate.”901

That is, per both Rick Gates and Manafort himself, how Manafort came to meet with Deripaska aide Konstantin Kilimnik on August 2, just three days after Deripaska tried to increase Manafort’s legal exposure via Steele. That’s how — and why! — he provided a briefing on campaign strategy amid a discussion of resolving the debt to Deripaska (as well as a plan to carve up Ukraine), as described by the SSCI Report completed under Chairs Richard Burr and Marco Rubio.

(U) At the meeting, Manafort walked Kilimnik through the internal polling data from Fabrizio in detail.453 According to Gates, Kilimnik wanted to know how Trump could win.454 Manafort explained his strategy in the battleground states and told Kilimnik about polls that identified voter bases in blue-collar, democratic-leaning states which Trump could swing.455 Manafort said these voters could be reached by Trump on issues like economics, but the Campaign needed to implement a ground game.456 Gates recalled that Manafort further discussed the “battleground” states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota.457 (U) The Committee sought to determine with specificity what information Kilimnik actually gleaned from Manafort on August 2, 2016. Information suggests Kilimnik understood that some of the polling data showed that Clinton’s negatives were particularly high; that Manafort’s plan for victory called for focusing on Clinton’s negatives as much as possible; and that given Clinton’s high negatives, there was a chance that Trump could win. (U) Patten’s debriefing with the SCO provides the most granular account of what information Kilimnik obtained at the August 2, 2016 meeting:

Kilimnik told Patten that at the New York cigar bar meeting, Manafort stated that they have a plan to beat Hillary Clinton which included Manafort bringing discipline and an organized strategy to the campaign. Moreover, because Clinton’s negatives were so low [sic]-if they could focus on her negatives they could win the election. Manafort discussed the Fabrizio internal Trump polling data with Kilimnik, and explained that Fabrizio ‘s polling numbers showed that the Clinton negatives, referred to as a ‘therm poll,’ were high. Thus, based on this polling there was a chance Trump could win. 458

(U) Patten relayed similar information to the Committee. In particular, he told the Committee that Kilimnik mentioned Manafort’s belief that “because or Clinton’s high negatives, there was a chance, only because her negatives were so astronomically high, that it was possible . to win.”459

[snip]

(U) In addition to Campaign strategy involving polling data and the Ukraine plan, Manafort and Kilimnik also discussed two financial disputes and debts at the meeting. (U) The first dispute involved Deripaska and Pericles.477 Gates recalled that Kilimnik relayed at the meeting that Deripaska’s lawsuit ha’d been dismissed.478 Gates also recalled that Kilimnik was trying to obtain documentation showing the dismissal.479

In short, even without confirmation the dossier was disinformation, it’s clear that Deripaska was playing a vicious double game, using Steele as a channel to increase Manafort’s legal exposure even while using that legal exposure as a way to get an inside track to Trump’s campaign. But if the dossier is disinformation (as Trumpsters seem to universally agree now), it might help explain the dodgy content of the dossier in ways that aren’t important to this post (for example, it might explain why Steele’s sources falsely claimed that Carter Page was Manafort’s liaison with Russia in the same days when Kilimnik flew to the US to offer a pitch to Manafort on Ukraine involving senior Russians).

Now consider one more detail, given that Trumpsters seem to universally agree the dossier was disinformation and the IG Report’s suggestion that the most likely architect of that disinformation was Oleg Deripaska.

On January 8, 2017, Manafort flew to Madrid to meet with a different Deripaska deputy, Georgiy Oganov. As the SSCI Report explained, while Manafort told investigators they discussed the Pericles lawsuit — the same lawsuit Deripaska was using to make Manafort legally insecure — they also discussed stuff that remains almost entirely redacted, but stuff that includes recreating their “old friendship” which (also per the SSCI Report) involved Manafort conducting influence campaigns for Deripaska.

On January 8, 2017, hours after returning to the United States from a trip to ~ to Madrid, Spain.598 Manafort met with Oganov in Madrid during what he claimed was a one-hour breakfast meeting.599 Manafort told the FBI that, at the meeting, Oganov told him that he needed to meet with Deripaska in person to resolve the Pericles matter.600 Manafort agreed but said he would not travel to Ukraine or Russia for the meeting.601

(U) Manafort provided false and misleading information about the purpose, content, and follow-up to the meeting with Oganov to both the Committee and the SCO. In particular, Manafort told the Committee in a written response through counsel that he attended a meeting on or around January 17, 2017, in Madrid with “Georgy Organov.”602 The written response claimed that the meeting was “regarding a private litigation matter involving Oleg Deripaska.”603 Despite admitting his attendance at the meeting to the Committee in May 2017, Manafort initially denied attending the meeting in his interviews with the SCO in the fall of 2018.604 He eventually admitted to attending the meeting with Oganov, and then repeated what he described in his letter to the Committee-that the meeting had been arranged by his lawyers and concerned only the Pericles lawsuit.605

Manafort’s claims about the meeting were false. As the above messages show, the meeting was not designed to be about Pericles, but was also about recreating the “old friendship” and “global politics.”

Manafort returned to the US on January 12 and, three days later, tried to set up an in-person meeting with KT McFarland.

She checked with Mike Flynn, who told her that the “perception” of meeting with Manafort, “especially now” (this was after Flynn’s own back channels with Russia were beginning to become public) would not be good, so to hold off until they were in the hot seats.

Manafort didn’t meet with Trump’s national security team, but around the same time, per reporting from Ken Vogel, he reached out to Reince Priebus and suggested the errors in the dossier not only discredited it, but also the FBI investigation.

It was about a week before Trump’s inauguration, and Manafort wanted to brief Trump’s team on alleged inaccuracies in a recently released dossier of memos written by a former British spy for Trump’s opponents that alleged compromising ties among Russia, Trump and Trump’s associates, including Manafort.

“On the day that the dossier came out in the press, Paul called Reince, as a responsible ally of the president would do, and said this story about me is garbage, and a bunch of the other stuff in there seems implausible,” said a person close to Manafort.

[snip]

According to a GOP operative familiar with Manafort’s conversation with Priebus, Manafort suggested the errors in the dossier discredited it, as well as the FBI investigation, since the bureau had reached a tentative (but later aborted) agreement to pay the former British spy to continue his research and had briefed both Trump and then-President Barack Obama on the dossier.

Manafort told Priebus that the dossier was tainted by inaccuracies and by the motivations of the people who initiated it, whom he alleged were Democratic activists and donors working in cahoots with Ukrainian government officials, according to the operative. [my emphasis]

According to Rick Gates, at some point Manafort asked Kilimnik to obtain more information from his sources about it, including from Deripaska.

Since that suggestion to Priebus — which he made days after his return from a meeting with Deripaska’s associate — Trump has pursued precisely the strategy laid out by Manafort, using the errors in the dossier — the dossier that all Trumpsters now seem to believe was filled with errors by Russian intelligence and possibly by Deripaska associates — to discredit it and with it, the Russian investigation.

That’s the strategy that led Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller to report on the dossier full time — including forcing the opinion editor at the time to publish a Deripaska column attacking the dossier.

Fusion GPS’s Simpson, in a New York Times op-ed describing his own Judiciary Committee testimony, claimed a neoconservative website “and the Clinton campaign” were “the Republican and Democratic funders of our Trump research.” The Judiciary Committee’s Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) then unilaterally released, over the objection of committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Simpson’s testimony to “set the record straight.” Fusion GPS “commended Senator Feinstein for her courage.”

Yet on March 16, 2017, Daniel Jones — himself a team member of Fusion GPS, self-described former FBI agent and, as we now know from the media, an ex-Feinstein staffer — met with my lawyer, Adam Waldman, and described Fusion as a “shadow media organization helping the government,” funded by a “group of Silicon Valley billionaires and George Soros.” My lawyer testified these facts to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Nov. 3. Mr. Soros is, not coincidentally, also the funder of two “ethics watchdog” NGOs (Democracy 21 and CREW) attacking Rep. Nunes’ committee memo.

A former Obama State Department official, Nuland, has been recently outed as another shadow player, reviewing and disseminating Fusion’s dossier, and reportedly, hundreds of other dossiers over a period of years. “Deep State-proud loyalists” apparently was a Freudian slip, not a joke.

Invented narratives — not “of the people, by the people, for the people,” but rather just from a couple of people, cloaked in the very same hypocritical rhetoric of “freedom” and “democracy” that those are actively undermining — impede internationally shared efforts on the world’s most pressing, real issues, like global health, climate change and the future of energy. My own “Mother Russia” has many problems and challenges, and my country is still in transition from the Soviet regime — a transition some clearly wish us to remain in indefinitely.

And that’s the strategy that led Chuck Grassley, Lindsey Graham, and Ron Johnson to spend their time discrediting the dossier rather than conducting oversight of Donald Trump.

That’s the strategy that led Darrell Cooper to believe (or claim to believe) several false claims about the dossier and then use those false claims to excuse the way Trumpsters lost faith in institutions and so attacked the Capitol. In short, the likelihood that the dossier is disinformation — indeed, the likelihood that the guy twisting the nuts of Trump’s campaign manager fed the dossier full of disinformation even while using that pressure to obtain his cooperation — means that (at least if you believe Cooper’s narrative) that disinformation led, through a series of steps, Americans to attack the American Capitol.

Trumpsters appear to love Cooper’s narrative, I guess because it doesn’t hold them responsible for their own gullibility or betrayal of the country. There are other problems with it (including the replication of other claims that Republicans have agreed is Russian disinformation). But ultimately, even with Cooper’s errors, what his narrative amounts to (at least for all the Trumpsters who believe the dossier was disinformation) is a claim that Russia’s 2016 disinformation campaign led Trump supporters to attack the US Capitol.

Update: After I posted some folks in the thread questioned what the point of the disinformation would be. This post lays out a possible logic to it all.

The Odd Projection by the Steele Dossier’s Claimed Alfa Bank Source

Way back in March 2017, I noted that there was a clear feedback loop behind the Steele dossier. As part of that post, I noted how weird the single report on Alfa Bank in the dossier was. Rather than writing damning information about Trump — which was the entire point of the dossier — it instead described the relationship between Putin and a guy named Oleg Govorun, who the dossier claimed worked for Alfa in the 1990s (that date was wrong but not the affiliation).

Consider report 112, dated September 14. It pertains to “Kremlin-Alpha Group Cooperation.” It doesn’t have much point in a dossier aiming to hurt Trump. None of his associates nor the Russian DNC hack are mentioned. It does suggest that that Alfa Group had a “bag carrier … to deliver large amounts of illicit cash to” Putin when he was Deputy Mayor of St. Petersburg, though describes the current relationship as “both carrot and stick,” relying in part on kompromat pertaining to Putin’s activities while Deputy Mayor. It makes no allegations of current bribery, though says mutual leverage helps Putin “do his political bidding.”

As I said, there’s no point to have that Alfa Bank passage in a dossier on Trump. But it does serve, in its disclosure, to add a data point (albeit not a very interesting one) to the Alfa Server story that (we now know) FBI was already reviewing but which hadn’t been pitched to the press yet. In Corn’s piece, he mentions the Alfa Bank story but not the report on Putin’s ties to it. It may be in there because someone — perhaps already in possession of the Alfa Bank allegations — asked Steele to lay out more about Alfa’s ties with Putin.

Here’s one reason that’s interesting, though. Even aside from all the other reasons the Alfa story is dodgy, it was deliberately packaged for press consumption. Rather than the at least 19 servers that Trump’s spam email was pinging, it revealed just two: Alfa Bank and Spectrum Health (the latter of which got spun, anachronistically, as a DeVos organization that thus had to be tight with Trump). Which is to say, the Alfa story was dodgy and packaged by yet unknown people.

Even though the report didn’t say anything really damning about current Alfa bank personnel, the oligarchs who own the bank have nevertheless engaged in protracted lawfare that seems set on ruining those behind the dossier. As part of the lawsuit against Fusion GPS, the Alfa oligarchs recently submitted declarations from the presumed sources of Igor Danchenko, Steele’s primary subsource. (And yes, two of these declarations claim to be Subsource 4, in both English and Russian.)

Subsource 1: Sergey Vladimirovich Abyshev

Subsource 2: Ivan Mikhailovich Vorontsov

Subsource 3: Olga Aleksandrovna Galkina

Subsource 4: Alexey Sergeyevich Dundich

Subsource 4: Ivan Ivanovich Kurilla

Subsource 5: Lyudmila Nikolayevna Podobedova

With the exception of Galkina, all of these purported subsources state that they have not read the dossier except for the Alfa Bank report, and then assert that they were not a source for the dossier. For example, this is how Dundich disclaimed being a source for the dossier as a whole, which he is sure is low-quality, while admitting he only read one report from it.

I am aware of the Steele Dossier (“Dossier”), but I have never read it save for Company Intelligence Report 112 (“CIR 112”).

[snip]

In contrast to what Mr. Danchenko told U.S. authorities, I was not a “source” of information for the Dossier. I never gave Mr. Danchenko (or anyone else) any information associated with the contents of the Dossier, including CIR 112, Mr. Fridman, Mr. Aven, Mr. Khan, or Alfa. I believe that Mr. Danchenko framed me as Sub-Source 4 to add credibility to his low-quality work, which is not based on real information or in-depth analysis.

Even Galkina, who stated that she had read the dossier when it was published by BuzzFeed, issues a non-denial denial, stating only that when she traveled to the US in 2016 she and Danchenko did not discuss anything about the dossier (the FBI interviewed her in August 2017, which she doesn’t mention here, and she does travel to the States, so she’d be at risk of prosecution if she said anything conflicting with her prior statements or material known to have been obtained from her via FISA 702).

Mr. Danchenko and I met once in 2016. In connection with my job at Servers.com, I traveled to the United States in the spring of 2016 to participate in the Game Developers Conference event and investigate the prospects of running a public relations campaign for the company in the United States. I asked Mr. Danchenko to assist those efforts, and he introduced me to a third party, Charles Dolan, whom he thought could help. Mr. Danchenko and I did not discuss anything related to the Dossier or its contents during this meeting.

But she doesn’t describe her communications with Danchenko via phone and text, which is how Danchenko said he got some of the most important stories sourced to her. And a later denial in her declaration seems to be a (poorly translated) denial limited to providing information specific to the Alfa Bank materials, not a denial of providing other information in it.

I did not provide Mr. Danchenko (or anyone else) with any information mentioned in the Dossier and that was connected to Mr. Fridman, Mr. Aven, Mr. Khan, or Alfa. I believe that Mr. Danchenko identified me as Sub-Source 3 to create more authoritativeness for his work.

In short, none of these declarations could be denials they provided Danchenko information in the dossier, because the one person who has actually read it doesn’t deny she did provide information (that said, her information was some of the most likely to be deliberate disinformation).

These declarations, then, don’t do what a filing attempting to use them to force Danchenko to set for a deposition claims they do, making general denials of being a source for the dossier.

Even more importantly, Mr. Danchenko’s claimed sub-sources have now denied, under penalty of perjury, providing Mr. Danchenko with information related to the contents of the dossier generally or with respect to CIR 112 and Plaintiffs specifically.7

Galkina’s the only one who’d be able to make such a denial, and she doesn’t do so in her declaration.

But I find Abyshev’s denials of interest for other reasons. He admits that he and Vorontsov met with Danchenko on June 15, 2016 and claims that Danchenko got very drunk (earlier he claimed that Danchenko had a drinking problem for a year or two after the compilation of the dossier).

I met with Mr. Danchenko once in 2016, the year that, as I understand, the Dossier was prepared. On June 15, 2016, Mr. Danchenko, Ivan Vorontsov, and I met in Moscow. I recall that Mr. Danchenko appeared very intoxicated and was not able to maintain a conversation. During the meeting, I spoke with Mr. Vorontsov about investments and finance. I do not recall any conversation related to the contents of the Dossier, including allegations related to CIR 112, Mr. Fridman, Mr. Aven, Mr. Khan, or Alfa. This was my last meeting with Mr. Danchenko.

He further admits that Danchenko raised Alfa on a phone call with him at some time that year, but claims he told Danchenko the subject was inappropriate and he should go find out the answers to the question himself.

On one occasion, during a phone call in 2016, Mr. Danchenko asked me how close Mr. Fridman is to President Putin and whether Mr. Fridman had met with President Putin in 2016. I did not respond to Mr. Danchenko’s questions. Instead, I made it clear that the questions were inappropriate and that Mr. Danchenko should seek out answers to them himself.

This denial comes on top of Abyshev’s more general denial about being a source for the report in question.

Contrary to what Mr. Danchenko told U.S. authorities, I was not a “source” of the Dossier. I never provided Mr. Danchenko (or anyone else) with any information related to the contents of the Dossier, including CIR 112, Mr. Fridman, Mr. Aven, Mr. Khan, or Alfa.

On this point, Abyshev’s denial is the only one that is really pertinent, because he’s the only one that Danchenko mentioned in his FBI interview in conjunction with this report (the FBI interviewed Danchenko two more times after this, but those interviews must not be helpful for Trump, because Republicans have never demanded those reports be declassified).

While Danchenko seems to suggest that Source 1, Abyshev, was involved in this story, he doesn’t actually say that. Instead, he explained that he had been working on this story for ten years and that Source 1 had provided him other information on corruption unrelated to Alfa.

That’s interesting, not least because Vorontsov actually said that if you wanted information about the oligarchs running Alfa, you’d look outside of Russia (probably London).

I do not believe that Mr. Danchenko asked anyone inside Russia about Mr. Fridman, Mr. Aven, or Mr. Khan. If Mr. Danchenko were interested in those individuals, he would have sought information from people living outside Russia who would have greater knowledge of Mr. Fridman, Mr. Aven, and Mr. Khan.

In Vorontsov’s opinion, this is the part of the dossier for which Danchenko wouldn’t need a source in Russia.

Here’s where things get interesting. Like everyone save Galkina, Abyshev says the only part of the dossier he read was the Alfa Bank report.

I am aware of the so-called Steele Dossier (“Dossier”), but I have never read it save for the Russian translation of Company Intelligence Report 112 (“CIR 112”), which raises various allegations about Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven, German Khan, and Alfa.

Having not read the dossier, however, Abyshev claims that Danchenko’s job was to substantiate stories his clients want him to tell.

My understanding of Mr. Danchenko’s information-gathering process is that he first receives a story from his clients that he then must substantiate in any manner possible

This actually conflicts with Danchenko’s FBI interview, at least part of which Abyshev claims to have read, in which he says he tried to find information on Paul Manafort but failed to find much.

More interesting still, Abyshev offers up this explanation for what Danchenko was doing.

I infer from my interactions with Mr. Danchenko, from that 2016 telephone conversation, and from the content of what was ultimately published in CIR 112, that Mr. Danchenko had a working theory regarding the relationship between Alfa and its shareholders on the one hand, and President Putin on the other, and that Mr. Danchenko was fishing for information that would fit that preconceived narrative.

I believe it is likely that someone ensured that CIR 112 was included in the Dossier in an effort to persuade U.S. authorities to sanction Mr. Fridman, Mr. Aven, Mr. Khan, and Alfa.

I find that interesting — first, because decades old allegations of corruption would not substantiate a sanctions designation. Abyshev’s claims make no sense given the content that ended up in the report.

More interesting still is how closely Abyshev’s claims match Petr Aven’s testimony to Mueller’s team about how Putin pressured him to try to set up a back channel with Trump’s team during the transition by warning that Alfa would be sanctioned in the aftermath of the 2016 election.

Aven told the Office that he is one of approximately 50 wealthy Russian businessmen who regularly meet with Putin in the Kremlin; these 50 men are often referred to as “oligarchs.”977 Aven told the Office that he met on a quarterly basis with Putin, including in the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2016, shortly after the U.S. presidential election.978 Aven said that he took these meetings seriously and understood that any suggestions or critiques that Putin made during these meetings were implicit directives, and that there would be consequences for A ven if he did not follow through.979 As was typical, the 2016 Q4 meeting with Putin was preceded by a preparatory meeting with Putin’s chief of staff, Anton Vaino.980

According to Aven, at his Q4 2016 one-on-one meeting with Putin,981 Putin raised the prospect that the United States would impose additional sanctions on Russian interests, including sanctions against Aven and/or Alfa-Bank.982 Putin suggested that Aven needed to take steps to protect himself and Alfa-Bank.983 Aven also testified that Putin spoke of the difficulty faced by the Russian government in getting in touch with the incoming Trump Administration.984 According to Aven, Putin indicated that he did not know with whom formally to speak and generally did not know the people around the President-Elect.985

Aven [grand jury redaction] told Putin he would take steps to protect himself and the Alfa-Bank shareholders from potential sanctions, and one of those steps would be to try to reach out to the incoming Administration to establish a line of communication.986

[snip]

In December 2016, weeks after the one-on-one meeting with Putin described in Volume I, Section IV.B.1.b, supra, Petr Aven attended what he described as a separate “all-hands” oligarch meeting between Putin and Russia’s most prominent businessmen. 1167 As in Aven’s one-on-one meeting, a main topic of discussion at the oligarch meeting in December 2016 was the prospect of forthcoming U.S. economic sanctions. 1168

After the December 2016 all-hands meeting, Aven tried to establish a connection to the Trump team. Aven instructed Richard Burt to make contact with the incoming Trump Administration. Burt was on the board of directors for LetterOne (L 1 ), another company headed by Aven, and had done work for Alfa-Bank. 1169 Burt had previously served as U.S. ambassador to Germany and Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs, and one of his primary roles with Alfa-Bank and Ll was to facilitate introductions to business contacts in the United States and other Western countries. 1170

I’ve always believed the Trump Tower server story to be an elaborate disinformation effort, which had the added benefit of drawing attention to Erik Prince but not the things that Prince was doing that were key to the Russian operation (his communications about which were done via garden variety encrypted apps). I likewise always believed that Aven’s testimony might explain why Russia would craft such disinformation: not only to distract from the things that Prince and others really were doing, but to present a way to recruit Alfa’s oligarchs more centrally into Russia’s efforts to push back on sanctions, as oligarchs who weren’t as western-focused had long been.

Here, a filing in a lawsuit attempting to make maximal advantage of whatever success Russia had feeding an old nemesis of theirs disinformation as part of the larger 2016 operation makes the same argument that (according to Aven’s own testimony) Putin made to Aven, only insinuating that the argument would have come from Danchenko, not a Russian disinformation source.

Abyshev is, in addition to Danchenko’s source on the pee tape (at that meeting where Abyshev says Danchenko was badly drunk), also someone Danchenko understood to have close ties to Russian intelligence who appears to have known of Danchenko’s tie to Steele.

image_print