Nunes Memo v Schiff Memo: Neither Were Entirely Right

As I noted, I spent much of the last month wading through the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page. Back when the IG Report came out, a bunch of people — largely Devin Nunes flunkies — declared, incorrectly and apparently without close review, that the IG Report shows that Devin Nunes was right and Adam Schiff was wrong in their memos from 2018.

The reality is that both were talking past each other, with Nunes trying to make the Steele dossier stand in for and discredit the entire investigation, and Schiff trying to point out that the Steele dossier did not predicate the entire Russia investigation. Nunes made dishonest claims about the Ohrs and Comey’s briefing of the Steele dossier to Trump. Schiff wrongly defended the FBI’s treatment of the September 23, 2016 Michael Isikoff story and overstated the known reliability of the dossier at the time of the memo, to which additional details were added by the IG Report.

Schiff overstates both the predicted and actual efficacy of the FISA collection, which is something it’d be nice to see both parties return to. Though it has long been evident that the FBI and the IC generally often continues surveillance (and surveillance programs) past their point of usefulness, the Intelligence Committees do a piss poor job of challenging such collection.

Before I compare the two, though, consider that both memos came before almost a year of parallel investigations (one conducted by House Republicans, another conducted by the DOJ IG) into the process. Even Nunes was not aware when he wrote his memo of some of the problems identified in the IG Report. I say that with great confidence, not least because I spoke with a Republican who had read the FISA application closely months after the Nunes memo was written who told me there was so much else in Carter Page’s FISA application that approval of the application was not a close call even with concerns about the dossier; the person changed his opinion after that time. In other words, when both parties released a memo about the Carter Page application in early 2018, neither side knew of some of the problems revealed in the IG Report. That’s actually evident from the things Nunes does not complain about in his memo (though he may remain silent about Page’s past relationship with CIA for classification reasons), and it means some of Schiff’s assurances about the dossier have been proven inaccurate since.

This post will conduct a paragraph-by-paragraph assessment of the letters that uses the IG Report, with one key exception, as arbiter of accuracy. The exception is DOJ IG’s conclusions on (but not facts presented about) Bruce Ohr, as that is one area where DOJ IG can be shown to misrepresent the record.

Nunes Memo

¶1-4: The introductory paragraphs of the Nunes memo lays out when FBI obtained FISA orders on Page and who approved them. These details are true, though uncontroversial. From there, Nunes adopts an outline of allegations that are either less sound or inaccurate:

¶5 (marked as 1):

“The dossier was essential:”

The IG Report said the FBI lawyer said ” the Steele reporting in September ‘pushed it over’ the line in terms of establishing probable cause,” and generally the IG Report shows that FBI would not have initiated the FISA process without the dossier, though by the time the application was approved FBI had collected more damning information on Page.

The IG Report describes five things substantiated probable cause against Page:

  • Russia’s effort to influence the election
  • The Papadopoulos report
  • Page’s past history with Russia, including his Gazprom dealings, his serial recruitment by Russian intelligence officers, his comments about what he had told the FBI
  • The Steele allegations
  • His enthusiasm about being offered a “blank check” to start a pro-Russian think tank on his July trip to Russia

“Steele was a longtime FBI source:” Steele had been known to Bruce Ohr and Andrew McCabe via mutual interest in combatting organized crime since the 2000s. Ohr first introduced Steele to an FBI handler in 2010. He was formally opened as a CHS in 2013, though the two sides disagreed about the terms of that relationship.

Steele was paid over $160K, to obtain derogatory research: True, but not part of the IG Report. The Nunes memo doesn’t note that Steele was paid $95,000 by the FBI, none of it for dossier-related work.

¶ 6, 7 (marked as 1a and 1b): “Neither the initial applications nor the renewals disclose the role of the DNC, Clinton campaign, or any party/campaign in funding Steele’s efforts, even though the political origins of the Steele dossier were then known to senior DOJ and FBI officials:” The footnote disclosing this did not name any Democrat, but it wouldn’t have in any case. It did say that,

[Steele], who now owns a foreign business/financial intelligence firm, was approached by an identified U.S. person, who indicated to [Steele] that a U.S.-based law firm had hired the identified U.S. person to conduct research regarding Candidate #l’s ties to Russia (the identified U.S. person and [Steele] have a long-standing business relationship). The identified U.S. person hired [Steele] to conduct this research. The identified U.S. person never advised [Steele] as to the motivation behind the research into Candidate #l’s ties to Russia. The FBI speculates that the identified U.S. person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit Candidate # 1 ‘s campaign.

The political origins of the dossier were suspected by senior FBI and DOJ officials before the first application. After that, they had far more specific knowledge of it, thanks largely to Bruce Ohr. The FBI did not disclose its enhanced understanding of the nature of the project in reauthorizations, though some of the people involved believed the initial footnote remained adequate.

“The FBI had separately authorized payment to Steele for the same information.” It wasn’t the same information. FBI authorized Steele to be paid if he completed taskings focused on the subjects of the investigation, but they offered that in the (false) expectation he’d offer them information exclusively. He was not, ultimately, paid for this.

¶8 (marked as 2): “The Carter Page FISA application also cited extensively a September 23, 2016, Yahoo News article by Michael Isikoff … This article does not corroborate the Steele dossier because it is derived from information leaked by Steele himself.

This entirely misstates the point of the Yahoo inclusion, which was to include Page’s denials.

Evans told the OIG that 01 included the reference to the September 23 Yahoo News article in the FISA application solely because it was favorable to Carter Page and not as corroboration for the Steele reporting in the application. According to Evans, the application’s treatment of the article was favorable to Page in three respects: (1) the application described statements in the article that the campaign distanced itself from Page and minimized his role as an advisor; (2) the application stated that Page denied the allegations in the news article in a letter to the Director; and (3) as described below, the application made clear that the people who financed Steele’s reporting were likely the same source for the information in the article.

While it is true that the FISA application did not attribute the quote to Steele (not even after FBI learned he had been the source from Bruce Ohr), the application did attribute it to Glenn Simpson.

Given that the information contained in the September 23rd News Article generally matches the information about Page that [Steele] discovered during his/her research, the FBI assesses that [Steele’s] business associate or the law firm that hired the business associate likely provided this information to the press.

¶9, 10 (marked as 2a and 2b): “Steele was suspended and then terminated as an FBI source for what the FBI defines as the most serious of violations–an unauthorized disclosure to the media of his relationship with the FBI. … Steele should have been terminated for his previous undisclosed contacts with Yahoo.”

This is correct, insofar as Steele was closed for cause because he disclosed that he had shared information with the FBI, which amounted to being a control problem.

Strzok told the OIG that the FBI closed Steele “because he was a control problem. We did not close him because we thought he was [a] fabricator.” According to Strzok, Steele’s decisions to discuss his reporting with the media and to disclose his relationship with the FBI were “horrible and it hurt what we were doing, and no question, he shouldn’t have done it.”

But there are more serious violations, such as breaking the law.

However, a CHS must be closed for cause “if t here is grievous action by the CHS or a discovery of previously unknown facts or circumstances that make the individual unsuitable for use as a CHS.”97 Reasons that justify closing a CHS for cause include commission of unauthorized illegal activity, unwillingness to follow instructions, unreliability, or serious control problems. 98

Also, Steele’s decision to share the information, while utterly stupid from a HUMINT standpoint, was not actually a violation of any warning the FBI had given him, since he disclosed information he had collected for someone else.

Steele’s handling agent said that Steele should have been closed for cause because of the attention he was attracting for himself, but he recognized that Steele was not leaking information he had collected for the FBI (and the IG Report didn’t find any orders that he not speak to the press, either).

Handling Agent 1 told us that he understood why Steele would believe in September 2016 that he did not have an obligation to discuss his press contacts with him given that: (1) Steele’s work resulted from a private client engagement; and (2) Handling Agent 1 told Steele on July 5 that he was not collecting his election reporting on behalf of the FBI. However, Handling Agent 1 ‘s view was that while it was obvious that Fusion GPS would want to publicize Steele’s election information, it was not apparent that Steele would be conducting press briefings and otherwise interjecting himself into the media spotlight. Handling Agent 1 told us that he would have recommended that Steele be closed in September 2016 if he had known about the attention that Steele was attracting to himself. According to Handling Agent 1, Steele should have had the foresight to recognize this fact and the professionalism to afford Handling Agent 1 an opportunity to assess the situation. However, we are unaware of any FBI admonishments that Steele violated by speaking to third parties, including the press, about work that he had done solely for his firm’s clients and where he made no mention of his relationship with the FBI.

[snip]

According to Handling Agent 1, while Steele appeared to follow the directions of Fusion GPS, he did not treat his other client – the FBI – fairly. According to Handling Agent 1, if Steele “had been straight with the FBI,” he would not have been closed as a CHS.

¶11 (marked as 3): Before and after Steele was terminated as a source, he maintained contact with DOJ via … Bruce Ohr.

This is true, but it was part of a 10 year relationship based on sharing information about organized crime, and this information included non-dossier related information on Trump (focused on Oleg Deripaska’s double game offers to offer evidence against Paul Manafort) and other Russian (including doping) and non-Russian matters.

The IG Report makes the same kinds of errors in its portrayal of Ohr as the FISA Application does about Page, effectively arguing Ohr should be disciplined for the kind of information sharing DOJ and FBI have insisted they need to encourage since 9/11.

Ohr said, “Steele said he ‘was desperate.'”

This is true, though the IG Report shows (but then misrepresents) that Ohr specifically said this was an ideological desperation, not a political one: “but was providing reports for ideological reasons, specifically that “Russia [was] bad;”

¶12 (marked as 3a): “During this same time period, Ohr’s wife was employed by Fusion GPS to assist in the cultivation of opposition research on Trump … the Ohrs’ relationship with Steele and Fusion GPS was inexplicably concealed from the FISC.”

This is dishonest. Nellie Ohr’s last day working as a contractor for Fusion was September 24, 2016, so she was no longer employed by Fusion at the time of the first Page application or at the time when Ohr was helping FBI vet the dossier. The IG Report does not say their relationship should have been disclosed to the FISC, nor should it have been, as Nellie Ohr’s research was a separate stream from Steele’s.

¶13 (marked as 4):

“corroboration of the Steele dossier was in its ‘infancy’ at the time of the initial Page application.”

This is true, but that is not unusual in the FISA context.

Evans and other witnesses told us that the fact that the source information in the FISA application had not yet been corroborated was not unusual in the FISA context

DOJ assessed the reliability of this information, for the first application, by assessing Steele’s reliability and including information on his subsources. His past as an MI6 officer gave him more credibility than other sources might have had. All the applications misstated what Steele’s handling agent had said about the degree to which his past reporting had been corroborated.

“a source validation report … assessed Steele’s reporting as only minimally corroborated.”

The source validation that found Steele’s reporting to be minimally corroborated was done in March 2017, after the first two FISA applications and the Trump briefing.

“Yet in early January 2017, Director Comey briefed President-elect Trump on a summary of the Steel dossier, even though it was–according to his June 2017 testimony–‘salacious and unverified.'”

This is an utterly dishonest attack. As noted, the validation review referred to here took place two months after Comey briefed Trump on the dossier. And Comey briefed Trump on it largely because it was salacious, out of desire to warn Trump about what was out there.

“McCabe testified … that no surveillance warrant would have been sought from FISC without the Steele dossier.”

McCabe said something different to the IG when asked about this quote and this discrepancy remains unresolved.

McCabe told us that he did not recall his exact testimony, but that his view was that the FBI would have “absolutely” sought FISA authority on Carter Page, even without the Steele reporting, based upon Page’s historical interactions with known Russian intelligence officers and the fact that Page told known Russian intelligence officers about the FBI’s knowledge of those interactions. However, McCabe also told us that he was not privy to the discussions that took place between attorneys in FBI OGC and Case Agent 1 on the sufficiency of the evidence to establish probable cause before the Crossfire Hurricane team received Steele’s election reports. McCabe said he could not speculate as to whether the FBI would have been successful in obtaining FISA authority from the FISC without the inclusion of the Steele reporting.

Schiff Memo

¶1-4: Introductory matter, including an assertion that ODJ would have been remiss if they had not sought a FISA warrant. The IG Report showed that while there was no question about investigating Page’s ties to Russia, there was some question about the efficacy of the FISA application.

According to Evans, he raised on multiple occasions with the FBI, including with Strzok, Lisa Page, and later McCabe, whether seeking FISA authority targeting Carter Page was a good idea, even if the legal standard was met. He explained that he did not see a compelling “upside” to the FISA because Carter Page knew he was under FBI investigation (according to news reports) and was therefore not likely to say anything incriminating over the telephone or in email. On the other hand, Evans saw significant “downside” because the target of the FISA was politically sensitive and the Department would be criticized later if this FISA was ever disclosed publicly.

¶5: “Steele’s raw intelligence reporting did not inform the FBI’s decision to initiate its counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016. In fact, the FBI’s closely held investigative team only received Steele’s reporting in mid-September.”

This is true. The FBI opened the investigation on July 31 based off the Australian tip, and the Crossfire Hurricane team only got the Steele dossier information on September 19.

¶6-7:

“Multi-pronged rational for surveilling Page” There were five things the first Page application used to establish probable cause, as noted above.

“no longer with the Trump campaign” True.

“narrow use of information from Steele’s sources about Page’s specific activities … did not otherwise rely on Steele’s reporting, including any ‘salacious’ allegations about Trump” This is a bit cynical, because while the FBI did not use all the reports they had gotten from Steele (including the pee tape allegation), the Page application used the specific references to Page plus more general allegations about cooperation between Russia and Trump.

Specifically, the following aspects of Steele’s Reports 80, 94, 95, and 102 were used to support the application:

  • Compromising information about Hillary Clinton had been compiled for many years, was controlled by the Kremlin, and the Kremlin had been feeding information to the Trump campaign for an extended period of time (Report 80);
  • During his July 2016 trip to Moscow, Carter Page attended a secret meeting with Igor Sechin, Chairman of Rosneft and close associate of Putin, to discuss future cooperation and the lifting of Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia; and a secret meeting with Igor Divyekin, another highly placed Russian official, to discuss sharing compromising information about Clinton with the Trump campaign (Report 94);
  • Page was an intermediary between Russia and the Trump campaign’s then manager (Manafort) in a “well-developed conspiracy” of cooperation, which led, with at least Page’s knowledge and agreement, to Russia’s disclosure of hacked DNC emails to Wikileaks in exchange for the Trump campaign’s agreement to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue (Report 95); 267 and
  • Russia released the DNC emails to Wikileaks in an attempt to swing voters to Trump, an objective conceived and promoted by Carter Page and others (Report 102).

“interaction with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign … FBI interviewed Page in March 2016.” It is both true that Page’s actual interactions with Russian officials — including the offer of an “open checkbook” to open a pro-Russian think tank during his July 2016 trip — and his comments to the FBI in March 2016 were part of the case for probable cause.

“DOJ also disclosed” It is true DOJ disclosed Steele’s prior relationship and the details of his termination as a source — though at first they incorrectly only said he had been suspended — but they did not supplement the application with details of the Fusion project as they became known after the first application.

¶8-10: Repetition of the opening blather.

¶11-13: The investigation was started based off Australia’s tip about Papadopoulos and by the time the Crossfire Hurricane team received dossier information on September 19, they had already opened investigations against 4 Trump people, Page, Papadopoulos, Flynn, and Manafort [the other three names of which are redacted]. That’s true. Here’s what the government told FISC about the Papadopoulos tip:

In or about March 2016, George Papadopoulos [footnote omitted] and Carter Page (the target of this application) were publicly identified by Candidate #1 as part of his/her foreign policy team. Based on reporting from a friendly foreign government, which has provided reliable information in the past … the FBI believes that the Russian Government’s efforts are being coordinated with Page and perhaps other individuals associated with Candidate #l’s campaign. In or about July 2016, the above-referenced friendly foreign government provided information to a senior official within the U.S. [government] regarding efforts made by the Russian Government to influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Specifically, according to this information, during a meeting in or about April 2016 between officials of the friendly foreign government and George Papadopoulos … Papadopoulos suggested that Candidate #l’s campaign had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that Russia could assist with the anonymous release of information during the campaign that would be damaging to another candidate for U.S. President (Candidate #2). It was unclear whether Papadopoulos or the Russians were referring to material acquired publicly or through other means. It was also unclear from this reporting how Candidate #l’s campaign reacted to the alleged Russian offer. Nevertheless, as discussed below, the FBI believes that election influence efforts are being coordinated between the RIS and Page, and possibly others.

Note the Schiff memo supplements what the government told FISC and what FBI knew at the time with information from Papadopoulos’ plea deal, though by October 2016, the FBI had come to learn outlines of Papadopoulos’ interactions with Mifsud via an informant.

¶14: Details about the Page applications. As corrected these claims are true. The Schiff memo doesn’t list the judges, but they are:

  • September application: Rosemary Collyer, W appointee
  • January application: Michael Mosman, W appointee
  • April application: Anne Conway, Poppy appointee
  • June application: Raymond Dearie, Reagan appointee

Note that the Schiff memo describes both electronic surveillance and physical search; the IG Report hides the latter. The physical search authorization is important because that provided FBI authorization to obtain Page’s stored communications, including emails.

¶15: FISA was not used to spy on the campaign. True, but the use of physical surveillance would permit the FBI to obtain stored communication, and it’s not public whether the specific minimization procedures adopted by FISC limited the access to emails Page sent while on the campaign.

¶16-17: Page’s connections to Russian Government and intelligence officials. To the extent this information is public, this is largely true (though it’s probably more accurate to state that one of the Russians indicted, Victor Podobnyy, attempted to recruit Page, and he talked about it with a second). We now know, however, that an earlier attempted recruitment happened with the knowledge of CIA, and there’s no allegation that Page hid his willingness to share information with Russian intelligence officers until 2017. That raises problems for claims he was secretly working with Russian spies.

¶18: Page’s suspicious activity during the 2016 campaign. To the extent this is public, it does reflect what FBI told FISC. The memo doesn’t deal with real questions about the allegations about whom Page met with in Russia. There’s still no corroboration that Page met with anyone named Divyekin (indeed, Dmitry Peskov affirmatively chose not to set up a meeting for him with the Kremlin), but the IG Report reveals that the people who brought Page to Moscow provided RUMINT that he had met with Igor Sechin. The Mueller Report concluded Page’s activities in Moscow “were not fully explained.”

¶19: Subsequent renewals. Much of this discussion is redacted, though it’s clear it provides details of Page’s December trip to Moscow, where he met with the Deputy Prime Minister again, and probably refers to Page’s meeting with the VP of Gazprombank in Singapore.

This table shows the new claims made in each FISA application described in the IG Report.

It’s not clear that Page’s denials in the HPSCI interview are as damning as Schiff makes out, as some of them amounted to denials of claims in the dossier than have not been proven. The IG Report would go on to describe other denials from Page that were provably true, denials that did not get included in reauthorization applications.

¶20: The Court-approved surveillance of Page allowed FBI to collect valuable information. Publicly, Michael Horowitz has suggested this is not the case. But the IG Report admits that that investigation team “did not review the entirety of the FISA [intelligence collected by] targeting Carter Page. We reviewed only those [redacted] under FISA authority that were relevant to our review.”

The Report suggests that the reality is that the first two, and possibly three, warrants were useful, as they captured Page interacting with Russia in suspicious ways, but that the fourth and maybe the third application were far less useful, in part because by that point Page knew he was being surveilled and by that point he was no longer a key player in Trump’s orbit.

¶21-22: DOJ was transparent with the Court about Steele’s sourcing. The Schiff memo accurately describes the footnote used to inform the court of the political nature of Steele’s project. It doesn’t describe that FBI didn’t amend that description as more information became known, though there is disagreement over whether more was necessary.

¶23: DOJ explained the FBI’s reasonable basis for finding Steele credible. The Schiff memo accurately describes how DOJ described Steele. But it doesn’t note that the reauthorizations did not reflect questions FBI had come to raise about the credibility of the dossier, nor does it note (and it probably wasn’t known) that the applications used language from an intelligence report rather than from Steele’s handling agent to describe the degree to which his past reporting had been corroborated, and as a result overstated that.

¶24-25: FBI properly notified FISC after it terminated Steele as a source. As a minor point, in the first reauthorization, FBI said Steele had been suspended rather than closed, when he had actually been closed. More seriously, the Schiff memo badly understates how obvious it should have been that Steele had a role in Michael Isikoff’s October 21 story (though, as noted, the FBI attributed the story to Simpson in any case).

¶26: The FBI never paid Steele for the dossier. Here, the two memos are talking past each other dishonestly. The FBI did authorize Steele to be paid for any exclusive reporting on specific taskings, but what he provided was always his work for Fusion.

¶27: DOJ appropriately provided the Court with a comprehensive explanation of Russia’s election interference, including … Papadopoulos. This is largely true. The IG Report complains that FBI didn’t include Papadopolous’ really damning admissions to informants, but the FBI correctly deemed the denials he made (and Joseph Mifsud’s denials) to be inaccurate, so had they been included they would have been included to substantiate deceit.

¶28: DOJ made proper use of news coverage. The unredacted claims are all true (though don’t account for FBI’s failures to identify Isikoff’s article as coming from Steele).

¶29-30: The Majority’s reference to Bruce Ohr is misleading.

This passage states that Ohr’s meeting with the Crossfire Hurricane team happened after the FISA application, which is true, but it doesn’t mention a meeting had with Andrew McCabe (not Crossfire Hurricane) days before the FISA application. The McCabe meeting included reporting from Steele (whom Ohr had spoken to the previous day) and Simpson; I argue, however, that the precipitating reason for the meeting had to do with Oleg Deripaska, which the IG Report inaccurately treats as synonymous with the Steele dossier (though it’s problematic for other reasons).

Also, the Schiff memo speaks of “debriefs” without describing the multiple meetings.

The Schiff memo correctly calls the Nunes memo on insinuating that because Ohr worked with Sally Yates and Rod Rosenstein that meant there was a conspiracy; in fact, the IG Report argues he should be disciplined because he didn’t provide them enough notice of what he was doing.

The evidence in the IG Report backs Schiff’s conclusion — that Ohr’s contacts with the Crossfire Hurricane team amounted to debriefing about Steele’s project — more than it backs its own.

¶31: Strzok and Page’s text messages are irrelevant to the FISA application. That is true. The IG Report found,

As part of this review, in order to determine whether there was any bias in the investigative activities for Crossfire Hurricane that we reviewed, we asked agents and analysts assigned to the case about the roles Strzok and Page played in the Crossfire Hurricane investigation and their level of involvement in decision making. With respect to Strzok, these witnesses told us that while he approved the team’s investigative decisions during the time he was in the supervisory chain of command for the investigation, he did not unilaterally make any decisions or override any proposed investigative steps. Priestap, in addition to telling us that it was his (Priestap’s) decision to initiate the investigation, told us that to his knowledge, Strzok was not the primary or sole decision maker on any investigative step in Crossfire Hurricane. Further, as described above, in January 2017, the Crossfire Hurricane cases were divided between two operational branches within CD, and Strzok no longer supervised the Carter Page investigation, which was transferred to Operations Branch II, CD-1, under the supervision of then DAD Boone. In this report, we describe those occasions when Strzok was involved in investigative decisions.

With respect to Lisa Page, witnesses told us that she did not work with the team on a regular basis or make any decisions that impacted the investigation.

The Bigger Threat for Flynn than Six Months in Prison: the Counterintelligence Language

As I laid out in this post on the government sentencing memo for Mike Flynn, they basically gave Judge Emmet Sullivan all the justification he’d need to throw the book at Mike Flynn, certainly a few months in prison and maybe more.

But that may not be the most worrisome stuff in this memo, particularly given Robert Mueller’s statement, in July, that the FBI continued to investigate aspects of Flynn’s false statements about Russia.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Since it was outside the purview of your investigation your report did not address how Flynn’s false statements could pose a national security risk because the Russians knew the falsity of those statements, right?

MUELLER: I cannot get in to that, mainly because there are many elements of the FBI that are looking at different aspects of that issue.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Currently?

MUELLER: Currently.

The Flynn sentencing memo, for lying about whether he had discussed sanctions with Russia, speaks over and over again about the questions I laid out here: why Flynn lied and whether he did it on Trump’s orders, questions rather conspicuously not answered in the Mueller Report.

On top of repeatedly referring to the “FBI counterintelligence” investigation, for example, for the first time I remember, the government discusses the scope of the inquiry to include whether any Trump associates took actions that would benefit Russia (the Mueller Report did say that it did not establish “coordination” trading Russian assistance during the election for favorable treatment in the future, though there were temporal limits on the scope of that part of the investigation, not including the transition).

The inquiry included examining relationships between individuals associated with the campaign and the Russian government, as well as identifying actions of such individuals that would have benefited the Russian government.

Much later, the memo describes undermining sanctions — what Flynn did, then lied about — as possible evidence of that kind of benefit to Russia.

The topic of sanctions went to the heart of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation. Any effort to undermine those sanctions could have been evidence of links or coordination between the Trump Campaign and Russia.

The sentencing memo even raises the import of who directed that Flynn ask Russian to hold off on retaliating on sanctions — again, something very pointedly not answered in the Mueller Report, but the answer to which might either be “because Trump ordered him to” or “because then counterintelligence suspect Mike Flynn was acting as an Agent of Russia.”

Any effort to undermine the recently imposed sanctions, which were enacted to punish the Russian government for interfering in the 2016 election, could have been evidence of links or coordination between the Trump Campaign and Russia. Accordingly, determining the extent of the defendant’s actions, why the defendant took such actions, and at whose direction he took those actions, were critical to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation.

After raising the import of benefits to Russia like undermining sanctions, the sentencing memo also focuses on why Flynn lied, something else that has not been fully explained.

It was material to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation to know the full extent of the defendant’s communications with the Russian Ambassador, and why he lied to the FBI about those communications.

The sentencing memo describes how the Intelligence Community Assessment raised the stakes on Russia’s actions in the immediate wake of his sanctions call with Sergey Kislyak and how Flynn started lying shortly thereafter and just kept on lying. But that doesn’t explain why he lied in the first place — or why he and KT McFarland created a false paper trail immediately after Kislyak informed Flynn they would not respond.

In one of the memo’s most scathing passages, however, it ties Flynn’s lies — about both Turkey and Russia — to monetizing his influence and power.

The defendant’s conduct was more than just a series of lies; it was an abuse of trust. During the defendant’s pattern of criminal conduct, he was the National Security Advisor to the President of the United States, the former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and a retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General. He held a security clearance with access to the government’s most sensitive information. The only reason the Russian Ambassador contacted the defendant about the sanctions is because the defendant was the incoming National Security Advisor, and thus would soon wield influence and control over the United States’ foreign policy. That is the same reason the defendant’s fledgling company was paid over $500,000 to work on issues for Turkey. The defendant monetized his power and influence over our government, and lied to mask it. When the FBI and DOJ needed information that only the defendant could provide, because of that power and influence, he denied them that information. And so an official tasked with protecting our national security, instead compromised it. [my emphasis]

This may just be shorthand or an attempt to spin both Flynn’s charged lies in most damning light (though this filing has been reviewed with such attention that the government had to get two extensions for the necessary review). But the passage suggests he was engaged in sleazy influence peddling both when he secretly acted as an agent of Turkey while serving as Trump’s top national security campaign advisor, and when he took a call during the Transition and worked to undermine President Obama’s sanctions on Russia. The first is obviously influence peddling, and its import for national security is also fairly clear.

It’s also obvious how the second — Flynn’s attempts to undermine sanctions — compromised national security. The effort basically attempted to eliminate any punishment for Russia’s attempt to pick our President.

What’s not clear, however, is whether (and if so, why) the government includes his calls to Sergey Kislyak in a passage describing him “monetizing his power and influence.”

And Flynn should have known better, the memo implies. Among the reasons why Flynn’s extensive government service is so important, the government explains, is that he should have known the counterintelligence danger from Russia.

The defendant’s extensive military record, as described in his prior sentencing submission, presents a clear factor in mitigation. See Def. Sent’g Mem. at 7-12. However, that extensive record and government service, at the highest levels of the national security apparatus, and his “many years” of working with the FBI, should have made him particularly aware of the harm caused by providing false statements to the government. See id. at 13. That work also exposed him to the threat posed by foreign governments, in particular Russia, seeking to covertly influence our government and democracy.

The sentencing memo gives Emmet Sullivan lots of reason to want to punish Flynn more aggressively than any of the other liars busted by Mueller. In does so, in part, by laying out the stakes of his sleazy influence peddling, describing how it made the country less safe.

And then, the memo notes the Russian government continues its attempts to interfere in “our democratic process,” something that is broader than elections.

The sentence should also to deter others from lying to the government. The FBI protects our homeland from terrorism, espionage, cyber-based attacks, and all other manner of threats. Lying to the FBI, in any context, cannot be tolerated. That is particularly true in a counterintelligence investigation targeting efforts by a foreign government to interfere in our democratic process—a threat that continues to this day.

The sentencing memo argues that Flynn’s lies made it harder for the FBI to protect the country from Russia’s efforts to undermine our democracy and speaks obliquely in terms of benefit and monetization. These oblique references to the counterintelligence investigation ought to be of far more concern to Flynn than the prospect of six months in prison.

Prosecutors Invite Emmet Sullivan to Throw the Book at Mike Flynn

Technically, the scathing sentencing memo for Mike Flynn the government just submitted calls for the same sentence they called for in December 2018, when he was first set to be sentenced, something they note explicitly: a guidelines sentence of 0-6 months in prison.

[T]he government recommends that the court sentence the defendant within the applicable Guidelines range of 0 to 6 months of incarceration.

[snip]

The government notes its decision to withdraw its motion for substantial assistance has no impact on the applicable Guidelines range, which will remain 0 to 6 months of incarceration.

But in their sentencing disparity section, they argue Flynn’s actions are worse than those of George Papadopoulos and Alex van der Zwaan (because of his position of trust and security clearance) and Rick Gates and James Wolfe (because they accepted responsibility), all of whom served prison time.

Along the way, they give Judge Emmet Sullivan all the ammunition he needs and write the memo in such a way as to invite him to, at least, sentence Flynn at the top of a guidelines sentence, 6 months of prison.

Before Flynn fired the very competent Rob Kelner and hired Fox News firebreather Sidney Powell and then blew up his cooperation deal, the government had argued he should be sentenced at the low end of that range, meaning probation. They justify implying he should get a real prison sentence now because of the way he undermined the prosecution of his former partner, Bijan Kian, and reneged on his acceptance of responsibility.

Given the serious nature of the defendant’s offense, his apparent failure to accept responsibility, his failure to complete his cooperation in – and his affirmative efforts to undermine – the prosecution of Bijan Rafiekian, and the need to promote respect for the law and adequately deter such criminal conduct, the government recommends that the court sentence the defendant within the applicable Guidelines range of 0 to 6 months of incarceration.

The government lays out two ways Flynn undermined the Bijan Kian prosecution

Flynn’s reversal on the Kian case is important because — according to the cooperation addendum submitted in 2018 — that’s the one investigation in which he provided “substantial cooperation.

Notably, only the assistance he had provided in the Rafiekian case was deemed “substantial.”

Over the last six months, Flynn has negated all that cooperation.

In light of the complete record, including actions subsequent to December 18, 2018, that negate the benefits of much of the defendant’s earlier cooperation, the government no longer deems the defendant’s assistance “substantial.”

The government substantiates that Flynn changed his testimony by including Kian trial exhibits, Flynn’s grand jury testimony, a Flynn 302, two Rob Kelner 302s (two), and the 302 from another of the lawyers who helped submit his FARA filing. After having substantiated that Flynn reneged on his cooperation, the government then lays out another way Flynn undermined Kian’s prosecution — by contesting that he was Kian’s co-conspirator.

Remarkably, the defendant, through his counsel, then affirmatively intervened in the Rafiekian case and filed a memorandum opposing the government’s theory of admissibility on the grounds that the defendant was not charged or alleged as a coconspirator. See Flynn Memorandum Opposing Designation, United States v. Bijan Rafiekian, No. 18-cr-457 (E.D. Va July 8, 2019) (Doc. 270). This action was wholly inconsistent with the defendant assisting (let alone substantially assisting) or cooperating with the government in that case.12 Accordingly, while the defendant initially helped the prosecutors in EDVA bring the Rafiekian case, he ultimately hindered their prosecution of it.

The government then rebuts first one counterargument Flynn might make — that he should get credit for cooperating anyway since he waived privilege so his Covington lawyers could testify.

12 Any claim by the defendant that the Rafiekian prosecution was aided by his agreement to waive the attorney-client privilege and the attorney work-product doctrine regarding his attorneys’ preparation and filing of the FARA documents would be unfounded. The defendant explicitly did not waive any privileges or protections with respect to the preparation and filing of the FARA documents. No waiver occurred because the government (and the defendant’s attorneys) did not believe a waiver for such information was necessary—information provided to a lawyer for the purposes of a public filing is not privileged. The district judge in Rafiekian agreed with that conclusion, and permitted the defendant’s attorneys to testify about what the defendant and Rafiekian told them because those statements were not privileged or protected as opinion work product. See United States v. Rafiekian, No. 18-cr-457, 2019 WL 3021769, at *2, 17-19 (E.D. Va. July 9, 2019).

And they obliquely rebut an argument that Powell has already made — that EDVA prosecutors chose not to call Flynn only to retaliate against him.

13 The government does not believe it is prudent or necessary to relitigate before this Court every factual dispute between the defendant and the Rafiekian prosecutors. The above explanation of the decision not to call the defendant as a witness in the Rafiekian trial is provided as background for the Court to understand the basis for the government’s decision to exercise its discretion to determine that the defendant has not provided substantial assistance to the government. The government is not asking this Court to make factual determinations concerning the defendant’s interactions with the Rafiekian prosecutors, other than the undisputed fact that the defendant affirmatively litigated against the admission of evidence by the government in that case.

Finally, they quote a Kian filing saying for them what they therefore don’t have to say in such an inflammatory way: Flynn tried to game the Kian prosecution in such a way that he got to benefit from the plea deal without admitting his guilt.

Rafiekian’s counsel characterized the “new Flynn version of events” as “an unbelievable explanation, intended to make Flynn look less culpable than his signed December 1, 2017 Statement of Offense and consistent with his position at his sentencing hearing. In short, Flynn wants to benefit off his plea agreement without actually being guilty of anything.” See Defendant’s Memorandum Regarding Correction at 5, United States v. Bijan Rafiekian, No. 18- cr-457 (E.D. Va. July 5, 2019) (Doc. 262).

The government asks Judge Sullivan to allocute Flynn again

Which may be why the government twice asks Judge Sullivan to force Flynn to admit his guilt again if he wants credit for it in sentencing.

Indeed, the government has reason to believe, through representations by the defendant’s counsel, that the defendant has retreated from his acceptance of responsibility in this case regarding his lies to the FBI. For that reason, the government asks this Court to inquire of the defendant as to whether he maintains those apparent statements of innocence or whether he disavows them and fully accepts responsibility for his criminal conduct.

[snip]

Based on statements made in recent defense filings, the defendant has not accepted responsibility for his criminal conduct, and therefore is not entitled to any such credit unless he clearly and credibly disavows those statements in a colloquy with the Court.

The government lays out evidence of Flynn’s perjury before Emmet Sullivan

But there may be another reason the government invites Sullivan to allocute Flynn again. In an extended passage, the government basically lays out evidence that — given his statements made in the last six months — Flynn perjured himself before Judge Sullivan on December 18, 2018, when the judge had the prescience to put Flynn under oath.

During the hearing, the Court engaged in a dialogue with the defendant concerning arguments in his sentencing memorandum that appeared to challenge the circumstances of the January 24 interview. See 12/18/2018 Hearing Tr. at 6-7. However, when questioned by the Court, the defendant declined to challenge the circumstances of that interview. Id. at 8. When pressed by the Court about whether he wanted to proceed with his guilty plea “[b]ecause you are guilty of this offense,” the defendant unequivocally responded, “Yes, Your Honor.” Id. at 16. And when the Court asked whether he was “continuing to accept responsibility for [his] false statements,” the defendant replied, “I am, Your Honor.” Id. at 10. The defendant’s recent conduct and statements dramatically differ from those representations to the Court, which he made under oath.

Six months later, in June 2019, the defendant began retracting those admissions and denying responsibility for his criminal conduct. Far from accepting the consequences of his unlawful actions, he has sought to blame almost every other person and entity involved in his case, including his former counsel. Most blatantly, the defendant now professes his innocence. See, e.g., Reply in Support of His Motion to Compel Production of Brady Material and to Hold the Prosecutors in Contempt at 2, 6, United States v. Flynn, 17-cr-232 (D.D.C. Oct. 22, 2019) (Doc. 129-2) (“Reply”) (“When the Director of the FBI, and a group of his close associates, plot to set up an innocent man and create a crime . . . ;” alleging that text messages provided by the government “go to the core of Mr. Flynn’s . . . innocence”). With respect to his false statements to the FBI, he now asserts that he “was honest with the agents [on January 24, 2017] to the best of his recollection at the time.” Reply at 23. Such a claim is far from accepting responsibility for his actions. As the defendant admitted in his plea agreement and before this Court, during the January 24 interview the defendant knew he was lying to the FBI, just as he knew he was lying to the Vice President of the United States.

The defendant has also chosen to reverse course and challenge the elements and circumstances of his false statements to the FBI. See, e.g., June 6, 2019 Sidney Powell Letter to the Attorney General (Doc. 122-2) (“Powell Letter to AG”). The defendant now claims that his false statements were not material, see Reply at 27-28, and that the FBI conducted an “ambush interview” to trap him into making false statements, see Reply at 1. The Circuit Court recently stated in United States v. Leyva, 916 F.3d 14 (D.C. Cir. 2019), cert. denied, No. 19-5796, 2019 WL 5150737 (U.S. Oct. 15, 2019), that “[i]t is not error for a district court to ‘require an acceptance of responsibility that extended beyond the narrow elements of the offense’ to ‘all of the circumstances’ surrounding the defendant’s offense.” Id. at 28 (citing United States v. Taylor, 937 F.2d 676, 680-81 (D.C. Cir. 1991)). A defendant cannot “accept responsibility for his conduct and simultaneously contest the sufficiency of the evidence that he engaged in that conduct.” Id. at 29. Any notion of the defendant “clearly” accepted responsibility is further undermined by the defendant’s efforts over the last four months to have the Court dismiss the case. See Reply at 32.7

This effectively lays out a catch-22 for Flynn: either he makes a bid, still, for the acceptance of responsibility he has reneged on, or Sidney Powell instead argues that he perjured himself. One way or another (or in both cases) Flynn lied. Repeatedly.

Notably, the government introduces its discussion of why Flynn’s past lies — which were false statements, not formally perjury — were so important using a SCOTUS discussion of perjury, something they didn’t do in his prior sentencing memo.

That is precisely why providing false statements to the government is a crime. As the Supreme Court has noted:

In this constitutional process of securing a witness’ testimony, perjury simply has no place whatsoever. Perjured testimony is an obvious and flagrant affront to the basic concepts of judicial proceedings. Effective restraints against this type of egregious offense are therefore imperative. The power of subpoena, broad as it is, and the power of contempt for refusing to answer, drastic as that is — and even the solemnity of the oath — cannot insure truthful answers. Hence, Congress has made the giving of false answers a criminal act punishable by severe penalties; in no other way can criminal conduct be flushed into the open where the law can deal with it.

Sidney Powell may be too rash to notice this (as she has missed or not given a shit about other similar warnings in the past). But the government is laying out a case to go after Flynn for perjury if he decides to get cute again.

The government recalls Judge Sullivan’s past disgust with Flynn

Having laid out two reasons why the outcome should be significantly different this time around than the outcome the government argued for in December 2018, they then remind Judge Sullivan how pissed off he was at that hearing (where he asked whether treason had been considered for Flynn), where it seemed clear he was already ready to send Flynn to prison.

The government reminds Judge Sullivan that he himself decided to let Flynn’s “cooperation” play out to see the true nature of it.

At the initial sentencing hearing in December 2018, the Court raised concerns about proceeding to sentencing without “fully understanding the true extent and nature” of the defendant’s assistance.

[snip]

Although the government noted that “some of th[e] benefit” of the defendant’s assistance “may not be fully realized at th[at] time,” it proceeded to sentencing because it believed the defendant’s anticipated testimony in the Rafiekian case had been secured through his grand jury testimony and the Statement of Offense.8 The Court, however, expressed that “courts are reluctant to proceed to sentencing unless and until cooperation has been completed . . . [b]ecause the Court wants to be in a position to fully evaluate someone’s efforts to assist the government.” 12/18/2018 Hearing Tr. at 26. The Court’s concern that the parties had prematurely proceeded to sentencing was prescient.

It then reminds Judge Sullivan that he asked — and the government affirmed — that Flynn could have been charged in a conspiracy to act as an Agent of Turkey, one of the things that Sullivan found so disgusting in the last sentencing hearing.

The Court inquired whether the defendant could have been charged as a co-defendant in the Rafiekian case, and the government affirmed that the defendant could have been charged with various offenses in connection with his false statements in his FARA filings, consistent with his Statement of Offense.

The government next reminds Sullivan that Flynn’s actions were an abuse of public trust, another of the things that really pissed him off in the last sentencing hearing.

Public office is a public trust. The defendant made multiple, material and false statements and omissions, to several DOJ entities, while serving as the President’s National Security Advisor and a senior member of the Presidential Transition Team. As the government represented to the Court at the initial sentencing hearing, the defendant’s offense was serious. See Gov’t Sent’g Mem. at 2; 12/18/2018 Hearing Tr. at 32 (the Court explaining that “[t]his crime is very serious”).

The government returns to those themes to argue — factually but aggressively — that Flynn compromised national security.

The defendant’s conduct was more than just a series of lies; it was an abuse of trust. During the defendant’s pattern of criminal conduct, he was the National Security Advisor to the President of the United States, the former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and a retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General. He held a security clearance with access to the government’s most sensitive information. The only reason the Russian Ambassador contacted the defendant about the sanctions is because the defendant was the incoming National Security Advisor, and thus would soon wield influence and control over the United States’ foreign policy. That is the same reason the defendant’s fledgling company was paid over $500,000 to work on issues for Turkey. The defendant monetized his power and influence over our government, and lied to mask it. When the FBI and DOJ needed information that only the defendant could provide, because of that power and influence, he denied them that information. And so an official tasked with protecting our national security, instead compromised it. [my emphasis]

Having laid out the reasons why Sullivan was ready to send Flynn to prison before he started all the Sidney Powell shenanigans, the government then repeats his past judgment that this is a unique case, and Flynn’s case is worse than all the directly relevant precedents, Papadopoulos, van der Zwaan, and, since the last sentencing hearing, Wolfe and Gates, who were sentenced to a range between two weeks and two months.

It goes without saying that this case is unique. See 12/18/2018 Hearing Tr. at 43 (Court noting that “[t]his case is in a category by itself”). Few courts have sentenced a high-ranking government official and former military general for making false statements. And the government is not aware of any case where such a high-ranking official failed to accept responsibility for his conduct, continued to lie to the government, and took steps to impair a criminal prosecution. Accordingly, while Section 3553(a)(6) requires the court to consider “the need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct,” there are no similarly situated defendants.

Although other persons investigated by the SCO pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and were sentenced to varying terms of incarceration, those individuals and their conduct are easily distinguishable. See id. at 42-43 (“The Court’s of the opinion that those two cases aren’t really analogous to this case. I mean, neither one of those individuals was a high-ranking government official who committed a crime while on the premises of and in the West Wing of the White House.”). Alex van der Zwaan lied to the SCO, pled guilty to violating 18 U.S.C. § 1001, and was sentenced to 30 days incarceration and a fine of $20,000. See United States v. van der Zwaan, No. 18-cr-31 (ABJ). George Papadopoulos likewise lied to the SCO, pled guilty to violating 18 U.S.C. § 1001, and was sentenced to serve 14 days incarceration, to perform 200 hours of community service, and pay a fine of $9,500. See United States v. Papadopoulos, No. 17-cr-182 (RDM). Neither defendant was a high-ranking government official, held a position of trust vis-à-vis the United States, held a security clearance, had a special understanding of the impact of providing misleading information to investigators, or denied responsibility for his unlawful conduct.

[snip]

The Court granted the government’s motion for a significant downward departure pursuant to Section 5K1.1 for providing substantial assistance, gave Gates credit for accepting responsibility, and still sentenced him to 45 days of confinement.

Effectively, then, the government uses Sullivan’s own past judgments, giving him all the reasons he would need to sentence Flynn, at least, near the top of guidelines range six months.

Subtly, the government twice invokes “aggravating factors” (once citing the Wolfe case, which I predicted would happen).

The defendant’s offense is serious, his characteristics and history present aggravating circumstances, and a sentence reflecting those factors is necessary to deter future criminal conduct.

[snip]

The court concluded that Wolfe’s position—which was far less significant than the defendant’s position as National Security Advisor—was an aggravating factor to consider at sentencing, and one that distinguished his case from those of Papadopoulos and van der Zwaan. Moreover, in that case, the defendant received credit for accepting responsibility.

The government doesn’t ask Sullivan to go beyond a guidelines sentence of six months (though even six months would be almost unheard of), though the comparison to Wolfe makes it clear they think Flynn should serve more than two months in prison. But they give him all the ammunition he’d need if he wanted to go there on his own.

Ultimately, as the government notes, the guidelines range is the same. But the facts of the case are now very different.

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page: Policy Considerations

Before and continuing into the holiday break, I wrote a slew of posts on the DOJ IG Carter Page Report. Those are:

Overview and ancillary posts

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

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page: Policy Considerations

Timeline of Key Events in DOJ IG Carter Page Report

Crossfire Hurricane Glossary (by bmaz)

Facts appearing in the Carter Page FISA applications

Nunes Memo v Schiff Memo: Neither Were Entirely Right

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

Report shortcomings

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

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

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

Factual revelations in the report

Deza: Oleg Deripaska’s Double Game

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

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

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

The Flynn Predication

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

The IG Report made nine recommendations, which FBI largely accepted with implementing plans. Those recommendations focus on the paperwork side of FISA applications and the protections against purported politicization. Most of those recommendations (save, especially, the one suggesting Bruce Ohr be punished for sharing national security threat information) are worthwhile. But they are inadequate to ensuring similar problems don’t recur. Moreover, there are questions that should be asked even before we get to “fixing” FISA.

This post attempts to ask some of those questions.

What should FBI have done when faced with a credible allegation Trump’s associates had advance knowledge of a hostile attack on our elections?

This is a question I’ve asked over and over of Republicans, but I’ve never got an answer.

Three of four people who were original subjects of this investigation covered up their actions. There are outstanding questions about all four and there were ongoing investigations into at least Paul Manafort and Mike Flynn when Mueller closed up shop. And a fifth Trump associate — Roger Stone — was found guilty of hiding details of how he tried to optimize the fruits of the Russian attack, without yet revealing what it is that he was hiding. So there’s no question the investigation was merited.

So what should the FBI have done when it got the tip from Australia? The IG Report raises questions about whether FBI should provide defensive briefings in this situation, but not how to conduct an investigation at a time when our country and elections are under active threat.

In retrospect, was the decision not to use other legal process the best one?

Peter Strzok famously lost a fight to investigate more aggressively, the true meaning of his “insurance file” comment. As a result, the FBI did not use any overt methods during the election.

Significantly, that means they didn’t get call records that would have provided a ready explanation for how Papadopoulos had learned Russia wanted to dump emails (particularly in conjunction with what he told CHS 3 about Mifsud). Doing so might have confirmed Carter Page’s claim that Paul Manafort never returned his emails. And it would have identified that Konstantin Kilimnik (who could be targeted under 702) had a suspicious record of communications with Manafort.

Rather unbelievably, FBI may not have asked Apple or Google for Carter Page’s app download history, which is how they usually find out if someone is using encrypted messaging apps (they did not learn what he was using until April 2017).

Particularly given all the chatter about the subjects of investigation, and given that three of them — Page, Manafort, and Papadopoulos — were “fired” from their free campaign jobs because of their ties to Russia, was that really the right decision? And given how successful FBI is at obtaining gags on legal process, was using FISA with Page really that much less invasive or was FISA used simply because his sustained ties to Russian intelligence officers meant FISA was the appropriate framework?

Why did FBI forgo a Section 215 order on Page?

Nothing in the public record suggests FBI got a Section 215 order before they obtained traditional FISA (including physical search) against Page. That’s true, even though the predication for 215 is lower (just talking to an agent of a foreign power, which Page had long been doing, is enough). This would have been a way to obtain the call records and download history that might have indicated that Papadopoulos was a more urgent target than Page, lessening the urgency to get a FISA targeting Page. If FBI in fact did not obtain that 215 order before the content order (once he was approved for the content order, the 215 order would have been presumptively approved), why not, and should they have? Past IG Reports have said the process of applying for a 215 is onerous enough that Agents often forgo it; is that what happened here?

Does the public agree with the FBI about the intrusiveness of informants?

One of the disconcerting aspects of the IG Report is its treatment of informants (Confidential Human Sources, or CHS, in the report). It spends a long time assessing whether the use of informants against Carter Page, Sam Clovis, and George Papadopoulos had the requisite oversight, ultimately concluding FBI followed the rules but the rules for politically exposed people should be more stringent.

Along the way, it revealed that the FBI:

  • Happened to have an informant on the books (Stefan Halper) with existing ties to three of the subjects of the investigation
  • Managed to convince someone Papadopoulos trusted (CHS 3) to report on him and used an accelerated process to open him or her as an informant, and tried but failed to get at least two other people to report on him
  • Had five other people in Trump’s orbit who were informants (Felix Sater might be one of these)
  • Accepted information obtained voluntarily from one of those informants
  • Had used informants to targeted the Clinton Foundation during the election period and at least some of those informants were handled by an Agent who wanted her to lose

That’s probably on top of Patrick Byrne, if indeed his claims to have been tasked against Clinton and Maria Butina in 2016 are true.

That’s a lot of informants situated to report on very powerful people.

Trump’s supporters have declared all this proof that they were “spied” on (ignoring the targeting against Hillary). Meanwhile, the FBI has pointed out that they more than complied with FBI’s rules on using informants, though there was less discussion in the IG Report about the fact that per its Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, FBI could have used these informants at lower levels of predication. Before the IG Report recommended rules about heightened review (much of which would have been satisfied in this case anyway), we might ask whether we, as the public, agree that the use of informants is really as unintrusive as FBI thinks. And does it involve tradeoffs as compared to other methods? For example, which would have been preferable, getting Papadopoulos’ call records (which would have shown his ties to Mifsud), or throwing a series of informants at him?

Is the consideration of least intrusive means adequately reviewed?

The DIOG requires that FBI agents at least consider whether the “least intrusive” means of investigation will be an appropriate investigative step. The IG Report reviews this requirement, which is meant to ensure FBI agents balance privacy considerations with the import of the investigation, but never comments on whether the review here was correct. Moreover, it seems that there’s a rule that lowers this consideration significantly when a matter is deemed to pertain to national security (as this would have been).

I’ve long wondered whether FISA process in general gets adequate review on whether it’s really the correct least intrusive means judgment.

Is the FBI Director declaration regarding other investigative techniques adequately reviewed?

FISA requires that the FBI Director or his designee certify that the information the FISA application wants to obtain, “cannot reasonably be obtained by normal investigative techniques.” The IG Report notes this, largely because that’s what Jim Comey and Andrew McCabe reviewed the Page applications for, not probable cause. But it did not discuss how this determination is made, and I would bet a lot of money that this is an area where FISA could use more review.

Particularly given the use of gags in so much criminal process and the widespread availability of fairly exotic surveillance techniques, what is the measure for this declaration?

Does FBI conduct certain investigative techniques using FISA to keep them secret?

I noted that the FBI was close to concluding they didn’t need another FISA on Carter Page, but then learned he had used some encrypted app, and so got another FISA. This supports my suspicion that the FBI will use certain surveillance techniques under cover of FISA they otherwise would eschew just to keep it secret. There may be good reason for that (indeed, it might ensure that the most exotic surveillance only gets used with much closer District Court judge review than magistrates normally give warrant applications), but it would also skew the incentives for using FISA. While policy makers may not need to know what those techniques are, they deserve to know if FISA makes certain otherwise unavailable techniques available.

Why do we need FISA?

I don’t mean to be glib. Since the IG Report came out, a lot of people who’ve used it have said we need to preserve this ability. But they’re not explaining why. That’s a two-fold question. First, why does FBI need a different probable cause standard for foreign intelligence (the likely and noncontroversial answer is, spying on a lot of people, including diplomats, who haven’t committed an obvious crime). But the other question is, why can’t that level of secrecy and court review be accomplished at normal district courts? In the wake of 9/11, most courts (especially most courts that will regularly have FISA cases, like DC, NY, VA, and CA) have sophisticated court security procedures that would seem to accomplish much of what FISA was originally intended for. Having normal district judges — even if only a subset of them — review FISA applications might inject more viewpoints onto the Fourth Amendment review. Furthermore, it would ensure that more judges reviewing such applications are also seeing the kinds of criminal cases that might arise from them (something that I’ve argued was useful with Michael Mosman, who ironically was the judge that approved Page’s second FISA application).

In recent years, the FBI has devolved its FISA process to its field offices; why can’t that happen in the courts, as well?

Is relationship between lawyers and FBI agents on FISA too attenuated?

The explanation the IG Report used for blaming the FBI agents for all the missing information in FISA applications stems from the more attenuated involvement of National Security Division lawyers (Office of Intelligence, or OI here) in warrant applications than happens in traditional criminal investigations.

NSD officials told us that the nature of FISA practice requires that 01 rely on the FBI agents who are familiar with the investigation to provide accurate and complete information. Unlike federal prosecutors, OI attorneys are usually not involved in an investigation, or even aware of a case’s existence, unless and until OI receives a request to initiate a FISA application. Once OI receives a FISA request, OI attorneys generally interact with field offices remotely and do not have broad access to FBI case files or sensitive source files. NSD officials cautioned that even if 01 received broader access to FBI case and source files, they still believe that the case agents and source handling agents are better positioned to identify all relevant information in the files.

From that the IG Report decides that the problems in the Page applications arose through sloppiness or worse from the agents. But perhaps this is entirely the wrong conclusion. Perhaps, instead, the problems arose from OI lawyers having less ownership of what happens downstream from a FISA application than normal prosecutors would have, meaning they’re outsourcing more decision-making about relevance to agents whose motivations are at odds with that kind of decision-making. In other words, the remedy for this may not be instituting more checklists (which is what DOJ IG recommended and FBI has committed to), but changing the relationship between OI lawyers and the FBI agents applying for FISA?

Is there any legitimate reason to withhold review from defendants?

When Congress passed FISA, it envisioned that at least some defendants would review their FISA applications, but that hasn’t happened, at all. In the interim, the “wall” between FISA and criminal prosecutions has come down, making it more likely that FISA collection will end up as part of a criminal prosecution. Indeed, former NSD AAG David Kris suggests defendants should get review, which would mean that agents would know that any given FISA application might get shared with a defendant if it turned into a criminal case. At the very least, it seems that FBI and NSD should explain to Congress why they shouldn’t be asked to do this.

One of the problems may be with the definition of “aggrieved” under FISA. That includes both the target and those subject to collection under a FISA order. For example, Carter Page would have been aggrieved in Victor Podobnyy’s FISA order (which is probably where the reports that he had been collected under FISA in the past came from), and Mike Flynn would have been aggrieved under a FISA application targeted at Sergey Kislyak. Normally, only the target of a criminal warrant would get to challenge it. Effectively, one way the government is likely using FISA is to find out what Americans are talking to suspected spies, so the FBI would not want to reveal that use. (Though one of the problems likely arises from how the government defines “facilities” that can be targeted, because they don’t have to be owned by the person being targeted.)

Perhaps, then, one way to extend review to the actual defendants who were the targets of FISA surveillance would be to change the definition of aggrieved party, but along the way to change how searches on already collected FISA data are conducted.

What are the boundaries between FISA’s agent of a foreign power, 18 USC 951’s Agent of a Foreign Power, and FARA?

As I noted, the entire DOJ IG Report may suffer from a misunderstanding about what crime(s) FBI was targeting. Until 11 days after the report was released, it appeared to believe that Trump’s aides were only being investigated for FARA, which is basically unregistered political influence peddling. That appears to have been true, but it’s almost certainly not true of Page, against whom there was already an investigation into his willingness to share non-public economic information Russia’s spies ask for. If that’s true that the entirety of the First Amendment analysis in the report is superfluous, because Page — the only Trump aide targeted under FISA — had already met the standards for targeting under the First Amendment before FBI turned to his political speech in August 2016. That is, because Page was already being investigated for sharing non-political stuff with Russian spies , there should never have been a First Amendment question.

Particularly given the different status of FARA in 1978 when FISA was passed, its virtual lapse for years, followed by a recent focus on it in recent years (at a time when there are fewer protections against foreign influence peddling). it seems vitally important for Congress to demand an understanding of how these three statutory regimes intersect, and — hopefully — provide some clarity on it for everyone else.

Update: Added the question about various Foreign Agent designations.

Jerome Corsi’s Descent into Madness

Among the Mueller documents released to BuzzFeed under FOIA the other day are five of Jerome Corsi’s six interview reports (called 302s). Two 302s from Ted Malloch were released as well. I suspect these were released now so that they could be released after Roger Stone’s trial, but before the gag order Amy Berman Jackson imposed is lifted when Stone is sentenced next month, meaning it was a convenient way to hide information behind b7ABC redactions for an ongoing investigation.

While some are heavily (and in one case, entirely) redacted, the reports read in conjunction with Corsi’s book provide a glimpse of what Mueller’s team was focused on in 2018 as they tried to finalize charges against Roger Stone.

Corsi’s “cooperation” can be broken into three periods. From September 6 to 21, Mueller’s team got Corsi to stop lying about his role in Roger Stone’s attempt to learn about WikiLeaks’ releases and testify to the grand jury that a report he did on August 31, 2016 was a cover story Stone asked him to write on August 30. From then until November 2, Mueller’s team unsuccessfully tried to get Corsi to tell them his (or Stone’s) source of information about WikiLeaks’ drops. In response, they tried to use false statements charges to get him to cooperate, but after the election, Jeff Sessions’ replacement with Big Dick Toilet Salesman Matt Whitaker, and some intervention from Trump, Corsi refused to cooperate on November 26.

While there’s a ton that’s still redacted, it seems that Corsi revealed a lot of details about how he and Stone tried to cover up what they were doing in August 2016, but not the stuff they were trying to cover up. Which may be why the government charged Stone just for that cover-up.

Corsi’s claims about joint defense agreements

In his book, Corsi provides an illogical explanation for why he purported was comparing notes with Trump’s lawyers, but not Stone’s.

September 5, 2018: He immediately precedes the description of his first trip to DC to meet with Mueller’s team with an explanation that Jay Sekulow had reached out to his lawyer, David Gray, to offer to enter into a Joint Defense Agreement. Contextually, Gray’s call to accept Sekulow’s offer may have been placed the night before they went to DC.

September 6: First interview (Zelinsky, Goldstein, Rhee)

In the first interview, Corsi attempted to (and publicly said in advance he would) testify that Stone had asked him to break the law, but he had not done what Stone requested. After going through background about how Corsi met Trump, some people on his campaign, and Stone, Aaron Zelinsky made it clear that they had proof Corsi had done what Stone requested. That led Gray to ask prosecutors excuse Corsi’s false testimony because he didn’t have his emails, so hadn’t been able to review what really happened. After Gray offered to have Corsi restore his emails and review what really did happen, they broke for the day.

The unredacted parts of the 302 contradict Corsi’s claims about two topics: how many FBI Agents were in his interview (the 302 appears to show just two) and who started a discussion about recording the interview. According to the 302, Corsi’s lawyer did — and asked to record the interview himself, which led Mueller’s team to ask whether he or Corsi were taping the interview and whether they had recorded their conversations with the FBI Agent who had picked them up. After this discussion in the 302, there’s a long redaction that may pertain to the terms on which Corsi shared his devices.

Much of the unredacted interview includes Corsi’s background, including how he came to move from WorldNetDaily to InfoWars, though this passage redacts Stone’s name for ongoing investigation reasons.

The unredacted passage describes Corsi’s description of visiting Trump campaign headquarters in June. He does not, at least in the unredacted passages, reveal something that he revealed in his book: that he met Trump there, who said, “That’s trouble there.” The 302 includes a detail that isn’t in his book though: that he had extensive interactions with Michael Cohen, who “relayed messages to Trump” for him.

The 302 redacts Corsi’s description of how he came to know Stone, and his claims about what happened in July and August 2016.

Which leads to this description of interacting with Sam Clovis about Ted Malloch.

Around the same time, Corsi told Sam Clovis about Malloch. Clovis was being ignored by the campaign and his foreign policy team was failing. Corsi never met with Clovis in person, but Clovis knew of Corsi’s work.

In his book, Corsi provides a version of something that’s totally redacted (for ongoing investigations) in the 302: how he claimed he did not respond to Stone’s request to try to find out what Julian Assange had.

“As I result of that experience, I told Stone, ‘No,’ that I would not contact Assange or ask anyone to get in touch with Assange,” I explained. “I knew that from the moment I contacted Julian Assange, I would be under investigation from several different intelligence agencies, including those of the U.S. government.” Besides, I asserted to Mueller’s team, even if Assange had told me what Democratic National Committee emails he had and what he planned to do with them, no one would believe me. I argued that I had decided to wait until Assange published the emails. Then, I could write about the stolen emails without being involved in an investigation.

In response to this lie, Zelinsky told Corsi they had proof that he did actually respond (which was an email he forwarded to Ted Malloch on July 25).

The 302 includes (but redacts) some things Corsi said to the FBI Agent who drove him back to his hotel; he said he asked them for help figuring out what proof Zelinsky had that he had actually responded.

In Corsi’s book, he explains how the night after he testified, one of Stone’s lawyers called David Gray. Corsi describes the dilemma he faced about whether to respond (which, he claimed, he worried would leak) or not to (which, he worried, would make Stone think he flipped on him). Ultimately they claim they told Stone’s lawyer, “We decline, for now,” to tell him what happened. Even assuming this is true, Corsi doesn’t reveal whether they later did tell Stone what was going on in his interviews. Effectively Corsi would like you to believe he had no problem sharing notes with Trump but he thought it would be a problem to share them with Stone.

The day after his interview, Agents return his devices, and he describes restoring his emails from 2016. He describes “discovering” the July 25 email (but not, allegedly, the August 2 one or an August 15 one that clearly pertains to WikiLeaks files, nor an August 16 one to Ted Malloch discussing Putin). He also “discovers” an August 15 story he wrote about Stone.

Note: it’s bullshit that he didn’t have the July 25 and August 2 emails. On April 3, 2017, Stone lawyer Grant Smith had sent Corsi what he claimed were the only two emails discussing a request between them.

This got sent while Corsi and Stone were further elaborating on his cover story, so might have been interpreted as a code not to mention Corsi’s response or an August 15 email from him reflecting further knowledge of what emails would drop.

September 17: Second interview (Zelinsky, Rhee, Goldstein)

In any case, at the beginning of the next interview on September 17, per Corsi’s book, Zelinsky told Grey they have specific knowledge that Corsi predicted the Podesta emails and had some effect over their release in October.

In this interview, per his book, Corsi admits he told Stone that the Podesta emails were coming, but claimed not to know who told him about them. The unredacted parts of the 302 seem to show some of what explanation he gave, including his ties to Ted Malloch. The 302 shows Corsi admitting he spoke with Malloch (on Facetime), did not recall Malloch ever providing information from Assange.

The 302 describes Corsi claiming, “[M]any people were interested in Corsi getting in touch with Assange.” That’s probably true, as his WND editor wanted him to interview Assange. But I wonder if it reflects speaking to Trump about it.

Corsi also explained that he had additional ties to the Trump campaign, via Kellyanne Conway and Stephen Miller, the latter of whom is particularly interesting, given his ties to white supremacist culture.

The 302 redacts all of Corsi’s bullshit claims not to know who told him about the Podesta emails.

September 21: Third interview (Zelinsky, Rhee, Goldstein), proffer signed

Corsi’s third interview took place at the DC Courthouse, just before he testified for half an hour before the grand jury. Over the course of the interview, his lawyer asked for a proffer to protect Corsi for being charged with suborning perjury for writing part of Stone’s cover story.

The interview started with Corsi repeating his bullshit story about telling Stone that Podesta’s emails were coming (which is redacted in the 302), but claiming that he didn’t know his own source for that information.

Corsi said, as of August 2016, he had watched and seen Podesta for a long time. Corsi thought WikiLeaks would release Podesta’s emails serially in order to continually feed the news cycle, as opposed to dropping all the information at once. Corsi also thought Julian Assange (Assange) would designed the release of Podesta’s emails to be an “October surprise.”

After that the interview turned to Corsi’s claims in an email (which Mueller was never able to determine the truth of) to have been responsible for WikiLeaks releasing the Podesta emails to stomp on the Access Hollywood video. In this interview, he stated he had no input over that release.

The 302 redacts the discussion of the cover story Corsi helped craft on August 30, but shows the process of Mueller’s team verbally and then later writing up a proffer protecting Corsi from any criminal exposure for doing that.

10:50 AM: SCO enters into a verbal proffer (Corsi’s lawyer realizing his client was at risk for cover-up)

Corsi’s discussion of Ted Malloch is totally redacted (Corsi told Malloch in August that he knew the Podesta emails were coming).

There’s a partly redacted discussion of Corsi’s relationship to someone whose name is redacted. It likely relates to Brexit (because it mentions the EU), and it appears someone offered Corsi a job, which Corsi claims felt like a con-job.

Then interview moves to someone Russian he knows (redacted with b7A but not B, suggesting it was counterintelligence). That discussion appears before the 302 notes that, “Corsi said many people contact him and he doesn’t always know who they are.”

Some of the discussion about October 7, the Podesta email release, is redacted. But there’s a great deal of bullshit claims about how Corsi got the emails released via the strength of his own tweeting.

Corsi was convinced, however, it was through his efforts that WikiLeaks released Podesta’s emails when they did.

Finally, this passage is likely a reference to Stone trying to coach Corsi’s testimony, though the redacted name is likely not Stone’s (because it’s not redacted for b7ABC). Given that one of Stone’s lawyers called him on September 6, it seems likely it was one of the lawyers (possibly Grant Smith by length and his seeming role in Stone’s cover stories). Note he may be trying to move Corsi back to the Credico cover story.

This passage — and the references to Trump getting reports on his testimony — is all the more weird given that his lawyer probably was in close contact with Sekulow during this process (Sekulow doesn’t seem to fit based on length).

After Corsi gave testimony about the August 30 cover story to the grand jury, Mueller’s team told him he might be called back to talk more about his source.

October 22: In the middle of this process, I wrote a post arguing that Stone and Corsi appeared to have not just gotten news of Podesta’s emails, but got the actual emails in advance. I’m sure Mueller’s team had far more evidence to get there on their own, but I find this post worth marking.

October 25:  Before they brought Corsi back again, they interviewed Rick Gates on WikiLeaks stuff, including asking why he got sent Corsi stuff. (PDF 39)

October 29: The FBI finished the first batch of Corsi’s 302s, from September 6, 17, and 21, on October 29, also before he was called back.

October 31: Proffer continued.

DOJ did not release the October 31 Corsi 302 (though it’s supposedly going to come out in a January 17 production). Corsi’s book discusses his testimony from October 31, November 1, and November 2 all in one bunch. But it seems clear that on October 31, the prosecutors showed him more records showing that he was lying about his source for Podesta.

November 1 (Rhee, Goldstein, Zelinsky, Atkinson for some of the interview): Proffer continued

This is the one interview where Rush Atkinson showed up for parts of the interview, which is interesting given that he worked on the Russian side of the investigation.

The interview starts with Corsi shifting his story yet again, claiming he did not remember a lot of what he was shown the day before, so he “realized that the way he wanted to remember things was not actually how things happened.” The interview discusses a bunch of redacted stuff, then again Corsi admitted he, “had been lying to himself to believe his own cover story.”

The discussion then turns to Ted Malloch, interspersed with discussions about WND. He clearly invents another story about how he learned about Podesta’s emails (which Corsi lays out in his book). After more redacted material, the 302 reveals that, rather than (or in addition to) asking Assange about Bernie’s brother on August 16, 2016 — a request Stone had made of him in July — he also mentioned Putin. (!!!)

Corsi did not remember sending Malloch an email on August 16, 2016 about Putin.

This leads directly into a discussion claiming his October 6, 2016 story on John Podesta — which I argued in my October 22 post suggested Corsi had already seen the Joule Holding emails that WikiLeaks would not release until October 11 — is just his August 31 cover story report.

Corsi published the August 31, 2016 memo on October 6, 2016. At that time, he still help himself out as the connection to WikiLeaks. The trigger for the release of the article was the publication of an article about [Paul] Manafort and [Viktor] Yanukovych. Corsi wanted to counter it with a story about Podesta, but he really wanted to provide stimulus to Assange to release whatever he had on Podesta. Corsi was angry with Assange for not releasing emails on October 4, 2016.

The interview then returns to events of October 7, with Corsi again offering some story for how he forced Assange to optimize the release of those Podesta emails. The unredacted parts of this show Corsi equivocating about what he did and did not have a clearly memory of, just as he lays out in his book. But in this case, he admits he did not deserve credit for optimizing the release; the paragraph is half redacted, suggesting maybe he says Stone should get credit for it.

The interview reveals that Corsi met with Malloch and another person on January 7, 2017; but he did not recall any conversation about WikiLeaks, Stone, or Assange

From there, prosecutors made Corsi walk though the March 2017 version of his August 31 report to explain where each bit came from.

The 302 then describes Corsi [going] through the [March 2017 cover story] “Blame Me!” article and said [redacted] Paragraphs three through six were pulled from the Schweitzer report. Over a page is redacted here, which probably pertains to the ongoing cover-up that he and Stone engaged in.

The interview ends with a discussion of his work changes, most notably the move from WND to DCI and InfoWars, which paid better. Whereas an earlier 302 redacts that it was Stone who got Corsi his job, this one reveals that, “Stone told Corsi that WND was not big enough for him and he should work for Jones.” He also revealed he “did not get paid by InfoWars directly.” There were reports that prosecutors were investigating whether this was a means to bribe Corsi to remain silent, which they would later return to. Corsi stopped working for DCI in March or April 2018.

Interspersed in all this, Corsi described Malloch trying to get him involved in a Turkey contract.

November 2: Proffer continued (Rhee, Zelinsky, entirely redacted)

The November 2 302 is entirely redacted (and shorter — just a page long), aside from the boilerplate language that revealed that for the first time, Goldstein did not attend the interview, perhaps because Corsi was just flinging bullshit on most topics.

November 6: Election day.

November 7: November 2 Corsi 302 finished, Sessions gets fired.

November 8: On his podcast, Corsi suggests something big is going down with Mueller/

November 9: Corsi appears before the grand jury and doesn’t give the answer — regarding how he learned that WikiLeaks would release John Podesta’s emails — that prosecutors expected; they told him they were going to charge him with perjury.

November 12: On his podcast, Corsi says he expects to be indicted; a huge media frenzy follows.

November 13: The media frenzy continues until (Corsi claims), moments before starting an MSNBC interview, his lawyer tells him to call it off.

November 13: Plea first offered.

November 14: November 1 Corsi 302 finished.

November 15: Trump tweet apparently reflects Corsi’s claim of prosecutors yelling at him to give specific testimony they seek.

November 18: According to Corsi’s book, he wrote his delirious rant on how he guessed the Podesta emails would be dumped on this date. It is clearly a cover story preparing to reject the plea deal.

November 23: Corsi goes to the WaPo (off the record), AP, and MSNBC (the latter two both on the record) to tell them he is in plea negotiations.

November 25: Zelinsky writes letter on plea deal.

November 26: Corsi announces he has been offered, but will reject, a plea deal to one count of perjury, accuses Mueller of Gestapo tactics, and claims he will file a complaint with Whitaker.

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

How Paul Manafort Lied to Mueller to Protect Jared Kushner

Paul Manafort appears to have saved the President’s son-in-law by lying to Mueller’s prosecutors.

That’s what his 302 from September 13, 2018, released yesterday under FOIA, appears to show.

The 302 records the last interview before he sealed his plea deal (starting at PDF 223). Much of it focuses on how the campaign dealt with WikiLeaks. The 302 includes the following topics:

  1. A reminder that on the previous two days, Manafort had lied about meeting Konstantin Kilimnik in February 2017, but after being shown travel records in this interview he admitted it.
  2. Mostly redacted (for ongoing investigation likely tied to Roger Stone’s prosecution) discussions about how Manafort didn’t want Trump “distracted by the titillation of a WikiLeaks release.”
  3. A claim that the RNC would handle press on the WikiLeaks release, even though three Trump staffers had been strategizing just that for weeks.
  4. Manafort’s claim he was surprised by the “Russia are you listening” comment, which is consistent with other people’s claims, if unbelievable.
  5. Language designed to sustain a claim that Manafort had no idea why Trump attributed the stolen emails to Russia in his “Russia are you listening” comment.
  6. A claim that no one suspected Trump of “colluding” with Russian before Robbie Mook made the allegation.
  7. A discussion that ties the two October 7 events (the release of the Podesta emails and the Access Hollywood tape) with details of his own crimes in Ukraine, along with an admission that Manafort spoke to Trump about all that.
  8. Manafort’s claims to be absolutely ignorant about whether Trump had any entanglements with Russia.
  9. Lies about (almost certainly) Steve Calk’s awareness that his bank loan paperwork submission was false.

Between topic 8 and 9, the 302 also captures the basis for one of Mueller’s claims that Manafort lied during his cooperation agreement, an allegation (that Judge Amy Berman Jackson upheld) that Manafort lied about another DOJ investigation to protect someone.

I laid out what the breach determination disclosed about the investigation here. Basically, shortly before Manafort left the campaign, someone (which it’s now clear is almost certainly Roger Stone and indeed appears to have come up in Stone’s trial) offered up a way to save the candidate. The question is how closely involved someone else — someone with a 7-character name — got involved in this effort to save the candidate. According to the breach proceedings, Manafort told one story that incriminated the person with a 7-character name when first interviewed, prior to getting his plea deal, on September 13 (that is, in this 302). But when Mueller’s team brought prosecutors from another investigation in to hear the story on October 5, Manafort at first gave a very different version, one that was much less incriminating to that 7-character name person, a version that aligned with the story that person was telling the FBI at the time, and that put more of the blame on the 5-character name person, presumably Stone.

It appears highly likely that the person he was protecting was Jared Kushner.

In the breach hearing (discussion starts on page 110), the names of both people involved are redacted.

But in the 302 released yesterday, Kushner’s name is not redacted.

Numerous times in Paul Manafort’s texts with Sean Hannity (who, in another of the 302s released yesterday, he admitted to treating as a back channel to Trump), Manafort talked about his certainty that Mueller would go after Kushner. Indeed, he claimed that’s who he would have to give up to get a plea deal.

We now know he discussed Kushner the day before he got a plea deal. And then he reneged on telling that story.

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

Was Chris Ruddy a Second Back Channel between Manafort and Trump?

Yesterday, Buzzfeed released the next tranche of FOIAed Mueller 302s. There’s actually some interesting details. They show:

  • Details of how KT McFarland lied and then, when she realized Mueller had obtained Transition emails, cleaned up her story in a panic
  • Some but not all of Jerome Corsi’s 302s, which are actually fairly informative
  • Some but not all of Manafort’s 302s where he lied (one of which I’ll return to)
  • Manafort’s admission he used Sean Hannity as a go-between with Trump

It also includes Chris Ruddy’s 302 (starting at PDF 58). As DOJ has been doing with most 302s, they’ve left mostly stuff that showed up in the Mueller Report unredacted, hiding the rest under deliberative (b5) exemptions.

But I’m interested in Ruddys’ 302 because four paragraphs that show a b7ABC redaction, which mostly has been used to hide stuff pertaining to Roger Stone.

I doubt this redaction pertains to Stone, though, at least not exclusively.

As I noted last June when Amy Berman Jackson liberated the Sean Hannity texts with Manafort, she withheld another set of communications (probably showing Kevin Downing reached out to the media, as he had done with Hannity, which is why they were submitted as part of Manafort’s sentencing). She withheld the other texts because of an ongoing proceeding.

At the time, I suggested that the other proceeding might pertain to Chris Ruddy because:

  • Ruddy was a key source for a key Howard Fineman story in the same time frame as Kevin Downing had reached out to Hannity
  • Prosecutors probably obtained all of Manafort’s WhatsApp texts after learning he had been witness tampering using that account
  • Ruddy testified to Mueller the day after they had extracted the Manafort-Hannity texts, suggesting he was a likely candidate to be the other person whose texts showed ongoing communication with the media

Here’s my logic from that post:

All that provides one possible explanation for why Manafort decided it’d be a good idea to put his lawyer directly in touch with Hannity, in violation of her gag order. But that doesn’t explain the other reason ABJ decided not to release the second set of texts: some “ongoing matters” that require the communications remain secret.

[snip]

There’s one other notable date in that time period. As I’ve noted, the Downing – Hannity discussions came just before Howard Fineman reported, on January 30, 3018, not only that Trump planned to beat Mueller by having Sessions investigate him…

Instead, as is now becoming plain, the Trump strategy is to discredit the investigation and the FBI without officially removing the leadership. Trump is even talking to friends about the possibility of asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions to consider prosecuting Mueller and his team.

… But also reported that Trump was confident that Manafort would not flip on him.

He’s decided that a key witness in the Russia probe, Paul Manafort, isn’t going to “flip” and sell him out, friends and aides say.

Chris Ruddy was one source for the Fineman story. And Ruddy was interviewed by the FBI about his knowledge of Trump’s efforts to obstruct justice on June 6, 2018, the day after the FBI extracted the Hannity texts from Manafort’s phone.

On Monday, June 12, 2017, Christopher Ruddy, the chief executive ofNewsmax Media and a longtime friend of the President’s, met at the White House with Priebus and Bannon.547 Ruddy recalled that they told him the President was strongly considering firing the Special Counsel and that he would do so precipitously, without vetting the decision through Administration officials.548 Ruddy asked Priebus if Ruddy could talk publicly about the discussion they had about the Special Counsel, and Priebus said he could.549 Priebus told Ruddy he hoped another blow up like the one that followed the termination of Corney did not happen.550 Later that day, Ruddy stated in a televised interview that the President was “considering perhaps terminating the Special Counsel” based on purported conflicts of interest.551 Ruddy later told another news outlet that “Trump is definitely considering” terminating the Special Counsel and “it’s not something that’s being dismissed.”552 Ruddy’s comments led to extensive coverage in the media that the President was considering firing the Special Counsel.553

547 Ruddy 6/6/18 302, at 5.

548 Ruddy 6/6/18 302, at 5-6.

549 Ruddy 6/6/ l 8 302, at 6.

550 Ruddy 6/6/18 302, at 6.

551 Trump Confidant Christopher Ruddy says Mueller has “real conflicts” as special counsel, PBS (June 12, 2017); Michael D. Shear & Maggie Haberman, Friend Says Trump ls Considering Firing Mueller as Special Counsel, New York Times (June 12, 2017).

If you’re going to contact one of Trump’s close media allies — Hannity — to send Trump an ultimatum about Manafort and get the media person on board for a plan to undercut Mueller, you’re likely to contact Trump’s other closest media ally, Chris Ruddy.

None of that answers what Downing had to explain to Hannity and what the ongoing proceeding might be. But it does suggest that Ruddy was in the same kind of discussion circle in January 2018 as Hannity was.

The four paragraphs in Ruddy’s 302 that, nine months after Mueller finished remain redacted because of an ongoing investigation, suggest my speculation was probably right, and that the ongoing proceeding pertains to communications between either Manafort or Downing back before Howard Fineman reported that Trump had confidence that the one witness who might hurt him, Manafort, would not flip on him.

I’m not sure what ongoing proceeding that would entail. And if Manafort was also using Ruddy as a back channel to Trump, it would mean his later testimony was false, because he didn’t also admit to using Ruddy in that fashion.

Deza: Oleg Deripaska’s Double Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill Priestap underestimated Vladimir Putin’s strategy

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

How the dossier might work as disinformation tactically

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How the dossier might serve Russia’s larger goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timeline

2005-2009: Manafort works for Deripaska

2007: Manafort founds Pericles with Deripaska as the sole investor

2012: Orbis hired as a subcontractor by Deripaska lawyer

February 22, 2014: Yanukovych flees Ukraine

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

September 2015: Ohr meets with Deripaska

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

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

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

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

March 28, 2016: Manafort hired as Convention Manager

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 19, 2016: Manafort promoted to Campaign Manager

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

July 7, 2016: Steele and Ohr speak by Skype

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

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

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

July 28, 2016: Kilimnik flies from Kyiv to Moscow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OTHER POSTS ON THE DOJ IG REPORT

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

Timeline of Key Events in DOJ IG Carter Page Report

Crossfire Hurricane Glossary (by bmaz)

Facts appearing in the Carter Page FISA applications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Flynn Predication

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

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

Horowitz

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

I want to start this post by reiterating that I agree with the conclusion of the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page that there were significant errors with the Carter Page FISA applications, especially the reauthorizations. I think the Report provides a lot of valuable detail about the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, though not necessarily the details about the FISA process or keeping the country safe that policy makers need (which I’ll return to). I think its recommendations are worthwhile but insufficient to fix the problems identified by the review.

So I find the IG Report an important review of the FISA process.

But it is also the case that the IG Report commits precisely the kinds of errors it finds inexcusable in the FBI.

As I lay out here, the major problems with the Carter Page FISA applications all amount to FBI not providing (first) DOJ’s Office of Intelligence and then the FISA Court critical information (regarding Page’s 2009-2013 ties to the CIA, information that undermine claims that Christopher Steele and the dossier were reliable, and other information — some that contradicted the dossier — that the IG Report deems exculpatory). The IG Report also found 17 items over the course of four applications that did not meet the Woods procedure requirement of being backed by documentation in the file (this table lays out that information, along with all the derogatory information in Page’s applications). Some of these Woods procedure problems reflect bureaucratic sloppiness in the procedure that’s supposed to guarantee reliability on FISA issues; some are more significant errors.

Given those errors (again, errors I significantly agree are shown in the Report), then, DOJ IG ought to make damn sure they don’t commit the same kinds of errors they deem serious enough to refer the entire FBI chain of command for discipline up to and including firing). But they did.

Errors identified on publication

Let’s start with the corrections made to the report, first on December 11 and then on December 20. On December 11, there were three changes, one of which reflected prior declassification of the dates of the FISA orders targeting Page and additional declassification regarding Sergei Millian, The other two changes are corrections of inaccurate claims made in the first release of the report.

The first involves an utterly central part of DOJ IG’s inquiry: at what point in time the FBI got informants to interview Carter Page, Sam Clovis, and George Papadopoulos. When the report was initially released, it falsely claimed that Page and Papadopoulos had been targeted with informants before FBI had formally opened its investigation on July 31, 2016.

On pages iv, xvi, 400, and 407, we changed the phrase “before and after” to “both during and after the time.” In all instances, the phrase appears in connection to the time period during which we found that the Crossfire Hurricane team used Confidential Human Sources (CHSs) to interact and consensually record conversations with Page and Papadopoulos. The corrected information appearing in this updated report reflects the accurate information concerning these time periods that previously appeared, and still appears, on pages 305 and 313 (e.g., the statement on page 305 that “the Crossfire Hurricane team tasked CHSs to interact with Page and Papadopoulos both during the time Page and Papadopoulos were advisors to the Trump campaign, and after Page and Papadopoulos were no longer affiliated with the Trump campaign”).

Based in part on the fact that Stefan Halper met Carter Page before he was formally tasked as an informant to collect information from him, and in part on George Papadopoulos’ paranoid rants, the frothy right had been accusing the FBI of using informants before the investigation was opened. And when then Report was initially released, it stated that that had, in fact occurred, even though the narrative in the Report made it clear that that did not happen (though it did show that the FBI had used informants before either Page or Papadopoulos had been kicked off the campaign). So the initial report falsely claimed the Report confirmed a frothy right conspiracy, but within days DOJ IG corrected that false claim. In other words, before subjected to the scrutiny of public review, the Report made a false claim about a core topic of its investigation.

Another of the corrections made on December 11 involves information about what an interview of Christopher Steele’s Sub-Source said when the FBI interviewed him or her to assess the credibility of Steele’s reporting. The report originally stated that the Sub-Source affirmatively stated he or she had no discussion with Steele about WikiLeaks, but the revised Report instead stated that the Sub-Source did not recall having such a discussion.

On pages xi, 242, 368, and 370, we changed the phrase “had no discussion” to “did not recall any discussion or mention.” On page 242, we also changed the phrase “made no mention at all of” to “did not recall any discussion or mention of.” On page 370, we also changed the word “assertion” to “statement,” and the words “and Person 1 had no discussion at all regarding WikiLeaks directly contradicted” to “did not recall any discussion or mention of WikiLeaks during the telephone call was inconsistent with.” In all instances, this phrase appears in connection with statements that Steele’s Primary Sub-source made to the FBI during a January 2017 interview about information he provided to Steele that appeared in Steele’s election reports. The corrected information appearing in this updated report reflects the accurate characterization of the Primary Sub-source’s account to the FBI that previously appeared, and still appears, on page 191, stating that “[the Primary Sub-Source] did not recall any discussion or mention of Wiki[L]eaks.”

The distinction is important because Steele claimed — plausibly — that his Sub-Source was shading how much he gave Steele, given how controversial things had become by 2017; Steele also claims to have documentation of what his Sub-Source claimed when.

Whatever the truth on this point, as the correction acknowledges, the FBI’s 302 of the interview uses the “did not recall” language.

[The Primary Sub-source] recalls that this 10-15 minute conversation included a general discussion about Trump and the Kremlin, that there was “communication” between the parties, and that it was an ongoing relationship. (The Primary Sub-source] recalls that the individual believed to be [Source E in Report 95] said that there was “exchange of information” between Trump and the Kremlin, and that there was “nothing bad about it.” [Source E] said that some of this information exchange could be good for Russia, and some could be damaging to Trump, but deniable. The individual said that the Kremlin might be of help to get Trump elected, but [the Primary Sub-source] did not recall any discussion or mention of Wiki[L]eaks. [my emphasis]

In other words, the FBI had an official source for the Sub-Source’s comments, the 302, and the DOJ IG, in its first release, used language that deviated from what the official source said.

This is precisely the kind of error the Report pointed to as Woods procedure violations, such as the FBI’s description of Steele’s reporting as “corroborated and used in criminal proceedings,” when in fact the official document said something different. The Report complains about a similar variance of phrasing in the renewals specifically as they pertain to whether Steele was “high-ranking” or “moderately senior.”

One might excuse the discrepancy because — after all — DOJ IG fixed this language almost as soon as it became public. Except that language pertaining to Steele’s Sub-Source was declassified the night before the Report release, without Steele having had an opportunity to read it. Thus, it is language that appeared in public in violation of DOJ IG’s rules on document reviews, so might have been avoided if it had followed its normal process.

Finally, one of the corrections made on December 20 — fixing of an error of fact regarding the laws that criminalize acting as an agent of a foreign government or principal without registration, but claiming falsely the correction just amounted to adding a reference to the statute in question — would also be the same kind of error that, in the FISA context, would amount to a Woods procedure violation, as it asserts the statute said something it didn’t. Furthermore, a later discussion of the Senate Report on FISA (still) miscites a page discussing FARA, something else that would count as a Woods violation, particularly given that the passage of the Senate Report cited actually undermined the point DOJ IG was trying to make, explaining why Carter Page’s direct ties to known Russian intelligence officers got well past (according to the intent of Congress) the concerns about him being targeted for his First Amendment activities.

Information excluded from the Bruce Ohr discussion

As this post lays out, the IG Report left out at least two key details in its discussion of Bruce Ohr’s communications with Christopher Steele. First, it made no explicit mention of the at least five communications Ohr had with Steele in 2016 prior to their July 30, 2016 brunch meeting. Those contacts were significantly about — but probably not limited to — Oleg Deripaska. Including those contacts would make it clear that the Deripaska reference during their July 30 meeting was a continuation of past discussions, not a new reference tied to the dossier (indeed, nothing that could relate to the Deripaska feud with Paul Manafort showed up in the dossier until October 19, and even then it would have simply been a reference to his Russian ties). Moreover, it would show that all of the contacts between them were a continuation of past information sharing tied to Ohr’s job.

In addition, the IG Report’s discussion of the July 30 meeting omits a Steele mention about Russian doping. That reference, like the multiple references to topics other than Trump in 2017 that the IG Report does acknowledge, make it clear that Ohr and Steele’s communications always included information about their mutual concerns about transnational organized crime.

In other words, DOJ IG twice left out or glossed over details that would have made it clear the Ohr – Steele communications consisted of more than just dirt on Trump, the equivalent of leaving out exculpatory information in the Carter Page application. And the IG Report’s entire presentation of their Deripaska discussions overstate the degree to which those discussions amounted to to information from the dossier (though there are a lot of other problems with the Deripaska-related communications between the two men).

Possible information excluded from the George Papadopoulos transcript

This post shows that, rather than being exculpatory (as the frothy right has long claimed), the substance of Papadopoulos’ conversations with Stefan Halper and another informant were actually fairly damning. The IG Report does not complain that the Carter Page applications leave out the damning details of these interactions (including that both he and Page spoke similarly about an October surprise).

It does, however, complain that the Carter Page applications leave out Papadopoulos’ denials that the campaign was trying to optimize the WikiLeaks releases, even though those denials were internally inconsistent and Papadopoulos explained to the second informant he had made a categorical denial to Halper because he worried Halper might tell the CIA if had made anything but such a categorical denial.

So the IG Report’s case that these denials should have been included in the Carter Page applications is not all that convincing (though it does therefore endorse one of the frothy right complaints that led to this investigation). DOJ lawyer Stu Evans, who generally always supported more disclosure, treated Papadopoulos’ denials like Joseph Mifsud’s later claims not to have had advance knowledge of the email release, as cover stories, which is precisely what the FBI team believed them to be in real time.

As part of its investigation, the FBI interviewed Mifsud in February 2017, after Renewal Application No. 1 was filed but before Renewal Application No. 2. According to the FD-302 documenting the interview, Mifsud admitted to having met with Papadopoulos but denied having told him about any suggestion or offer from Russia.403 Additionally, according to the FD-302, Mifsud told the FBI that “he had no advance knowledge Russia was in possession of emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and, therefore, did not make any offers or proffer any information to Papadopoulos.”

[snip]

Evans told us that he could not say definitively whether QI would have included this information in subsequent renewal applications without discussing the issue with the team (the FBI and QI), but Evans also said that Mifsud’s denial as described by the QIG sounded like something “potentially factually similarly situated” to the denials made by Papadopoulos that QI determined should have been included. 405

In other words, Evans would have treated both of these denials (correctly, as subsequent investigation would prove) as lies, and dealt with them however such lies are treated in FISA applications. Probably, they would be used to suggest that the individuals in question were trying to keep any interactions secret, therefore supporting rather than undermining a claim that clandestine intelligence cooperation was happening.

But there’s a detail that Papadopoulos has claimed he also included in his comments to Halper that doesn’t show up in the ellipsis-filled excerpts of Papadopoulos’ conversations with Halper. Along with admitting that he likened optimizing the WikiLeaks releases to “treason,” Papadopoulos claimed he pushed back by saying, “I really have nothing to do with Russia.” If Papadopoulos did, in fact, say anything like that, it would have amounted to proof he was lying, especially since the FBI was tracking his ongoing interactions with Sergei Millian at the time, whom they would soon open a counterintelligence investigation into. The IG’s office could not tell me whether such language appeared in the full transcript. But if such language was excluded, then it would amount to an exclusion of a material detail of the sort that the IG Report complains about FBI excluding in Page’s applications.

What makes it into a 302 or not

One of the Woods procedure errors the IG Report rightly describes is that the FBI 302 that purportedly included a discussion of Carter Page being picked up in a limo in Moscow in July 2016 does not actually include the reference.

A June 2017 interview by the FBI of an individual closely tied to the President of the New Economic School in Moscow who stated that Carter Page was selected to give a commencement speech in July 2016 because he was candidate Trump’s “Russia-guy.” This individual also told the FBI that while in Russia in July 2016, Carter Page was picked up in a chauffeured car and it was rumored he met with Igor Sechin. However, the FD-302 documenting this interview, which was included in the Woods File for Renewal Application No. 3, does not contain any reference to a chauffeured car picking up Carter Page. We were unable to locate any document or information in the Woods File that supported this assertion.

371 We asked both agents that interviewed this individual, Case Agent 6 and Case Agent 7, if this individual stated during the interview that Page was picked up in a chauffeured car. Case Agent 6 told us he did recall the individual making this statement; Case Agent 7 did not recall and stated he may have made the statement during a telephone interview that occurred later.

Confusingly, in the appendix where it lists this, it attributes the comment to US person 1, which is presumably how DOJ referred to the source in the application. This is not a reference to Sergei Millian, though he is referred to as Person 1 in the IG Report.

Rather, this was a reference to Yuval Weber, the son of the Schlomo Weber, the rector of the New Economic School in Moscow who invited Page to Moscow in 2016. Per the Mueller Report, Yuval Weber was interviewed on June 1, 2017 (his father was interviewed on July 28, 2017).

This is absolutely a fair complaint.

But the IG Report does not, similarly, complain about or fully incorporate something else that didn’t make an FBI 302. As it describes, the notes from at least one of the attendees at the November 21, 2016 meeting where Bruce Ohr provided context about the Steele dossier included background to Ohr’s description that Steele was “desperate” Trump not be elected.

Steele was “desperate” that Trump not be elected, but was providing reports for ideological reasons, specifically that “Russia [was] bad;”

That is, Ohr’s observation was not about a political view on the part of Steele, but was instead a comment about his concerns about Russia.

This accords with what Steele told the IG’s investigators.

When we interviewed Steele, he told us that he did not state that he was “desperate” that Trump not be elected and thought Ohr might have been paraphrasing his sentiments. Steele told us that based on what he learned during his research he was concerned that Trump was a national security risk and he had no particular animus against Trump otherwise.

Mind you, Steele’s concerns about Trump’s election should have been included in the Carter Page applications in any case. But the context of why Steele was so concerned doesn’t appear in the balance of the IG Report’s discussion of this reference, which thereby treats what the investigation showed was a concern about national security as, instead, political bias.

The FBI is always wrong and DOJ is always right

The IG Report shows remarkable consistency for treating similar behavior from people at FBI as damning while brushing off similar behavior from DOJ lawyers or managers. As I noted in this post, for example, it suggests Jim Comey should have demanded to learn more details about Bruce Ohr’s interactions with Christopher Steele in a November 2016 briefing where Ohr was mentioned, but doesn’t ask why no one in DOJ’s chain of command who got briefed in February 2017 on Ohr’s role didn’t demand more information. Effectively Comey gets held accountable for something mentioned in a briefing, but DOJ lawyers are not. The IG Report admits this explicitly, saying that because FBI would have access to more information, they should be held accountable for more.

Thus, while we believe the opportunities for learning investigative details were greater for FBI leadership than for Department leadership, we were unable to conclusively determine whether FBI leadership was provided with sufficient information, or sufficiently probed the investigative team, to enable them to effectively assess the evidence as the case progressed.

The IG Report applies the same standard to more junior people as well. For example, an Office of Intelligence lawyer excuses himself from including Carter Page’s (truthful) denials in the FISA application because the FBI agent did not flag statements for him, including in a 163-page transcript.

We found that information about the August 2016 meeting was first shared with the 01 Attorney on or about June 20, 2017, when Case Agent 6 sent the 01 Attorney a 163-page document containing the statements made by Page during the meeting. As described in Chapter Seven, Case Agent 6, to bolster probable cause, had added to the draft of FISA Renewal Application No. 3 statements that Page made during this meeting about an “October Surprise” involving an “email dump” of “33 thousand” emails. The OI Attorney told us that he used the 163-page document to accurately quote in the final renewal application Page’s statements concerning the “October Surprise,” but that he did not read the other aspects of the document and that the case agent did not flag for him the statements Page made about Manafort. The OI Attorney told us that these statements, which were available to the FBI before the first application, should have been flagged by the FBI for inclusion in all of the FISA applications because they were relevant to the court’s assessment of the allegations concerning Manafort’s use of Page as an intermediary with Russia. Case Agent 6 told us that he did not know that Page made the statement about Manafort because the August 2016 meeting took place before he was assigned to the investigation. He said that the reason he knew about the “October Surprise” statements in the document was that he had heard about them from Case Agent 1 and did a word search to find the specific discussion of that topic.

Regarding the similar statement Page made during one of his March 2017 interviews with the FBI, the 01 Attorney told us that Case Agent 6 also did not flag this statement for him, but added that he (OI Attorney) should have noticed the statement himself in the interview summary Case Agent 6 forwarded to him on March 24, 2017, since it was only five pages, and the 01 Attorney had read the entire document.

[snip]

Case Agent 6 told us that he did not know that Page made the statement about Manafort because the August 2016 meeting took place before he was assigned to the investigation. He said that the reason he knew about the “October Surprise” statements in the document was that he had heard about them from Case Agent 1 and did a word search to find the specific discussion on that topic. Case Agent 6 further told us that he added the “October Surprise” statements in consultation with the 01 Attorney after the 01 Attorney asked him if there was other information in the case file that would help support probable cause.

In reality, both the FBI Agent and the OI lawyer should be held to the standard of reading the materials in question.

A more remarkable example comes in a passage where the IG Report claims NSD had “no indication” of seven problems it found in the first Carter Page application, but then describes that the FBI Agent had included details on one of them in an email to the OI lawyer in support of the application.

3. Omitted information relevant to the reliability of Person 1, a key Steele sub-source (who, as previously noted, was attributed with providing the information in Report 95 and some of the information in Reports 80 and 102 relied upon in the application), namely that (1) Steele himself told members of the Crossfire Hurricane team that Person 1 was a “boaster” and an “egoist” and “may engage in some embellishment” and (2) the FBI had opened a counterintelligence investigation on Person 1 a few days before the FISA application was filed;

[snip]

We found no indication that NSD officials were aware of these issues at the time they prepared or reviewed the first FISA application. Regarding the third listed item above, the OI Attorney who drafted the application had received an email from Case Agent 1 before the first application was filed containing the information about Steele’s “boaster” and “embellishment” characterization of Person 1, whom the FBI believed to be Source E in Report 95 and the source of other allegations in the application derived from Reports 80 and 102. This information was part of a lengthy email that included descriptions of various individuals in Steele’s source network and other information Steele provided to the Crossfire Hurricane team in early October 2016. The OI Attorney told us that he did not recall the Crossfire Hurricane team flagging this issue for him or that he independently made the connection between this sub-source and Steele’s characterization of Person 1 as an embellisher. We believe Case Agent 1 should have specifically discussed with the OI Attorney the FBI’s assessment that this subsource was Person 1, that Steele had provided derogatory information regarding Person 1, and that [redacted], so that OI could have assessed how these facts might impact the FISA application.

Later, the IG Report explicitly admits that it is doing this, holding the FBI responsible because the DOJ lawyers didn’t read what the FBI provided them.

While we found isolated instances where a case agent forwarded documentation to the OI Attorney that included, among other things, information omitted from the FISA applications, we noted that, in those instances, the Crossfire Hurricane team did not alert the OI Attorney to the information.

It then claims that FBI did not give OI a chance to consider information it shared with OI.

We do not speculate as to whether or how this additional information might have influenced the decisions of senior leaders who supported the applications, if they had known all of the relevant information. Nevertheless, we believe it was the obligation of the agents who were aware of the information to ensure that OI and the decision makers had the opportunity to consider it, both to decide whether to proceed with the applications and, if so, how to present this information to the court.

From a policy perspective, the IG Report provides a more useful observation about the FBI-OI relationship that explains and should be fixed to address the problem of OI not integrating information FBI provided them: that the lawyers in OI aren’t involved in an investigative role like prosecutors who would file a criminal warrant application.

As described in Chapter Five, NSD officials told us that the nature of FISA practice requires that 01 rely on the FBI agents who are familiar with the investigation to provide accurate and complete information. Unlike federal prosecutors, OI attorneys are usually not involved in an investigation, or even aware of a case’s existence, unless and until OI receives a request to initiate a FISA application. Once OI receives a FISA request, OI attorneys generally interact with field offices remotely and do not have broad access to FBI case files or sensitive source files. NSD officials cautioned that even if OI received broader access to FBI case and source files, they still believe that the case agents and source handling agents are better positioned to identify all relevant information in the files. In addition, NSD officials told us that OI attorneys often do not have enough time to go through the files themselves, as it is not unusual for OI to receive requests for emergency authorizations with only a few hours to evaluate the request.

Rather than incorporating this important observation into its findings, thereby identifying a process failure with FISA that likely applies to all FISA applications, the IG Report instead just blames the FBI. This is equivalent to downplaying honest explanations for Carter Page’s enthusiasm for sharing non-public information with Russian intelligence officers — that CIA said it was okay (which would not explain all of his interactions with Russian spies in any case).

Again, I’m not knocking the report as a whole. In much the same way that there was a lot of evidence against Carter Page even given the problems with his FISA applications, the IG Report is important and valuable in spite of these problems.

But the problems probably provide a far better answer to the question posed by the IG Report as a whole: what explains the errors or missing information in the Carter Page FISA applications. In a really worthwhile podcast on the report, Stewart Baker suggests the disproportionate blame on FBI may arise from the scope of DOJ IG’s authority; it is not permitted to criticize the work of prosecutors. Assessed along with DOJ IG’s past reports on Trump targets, these errors may raise questions of bias, whether that bias stems from a failure to reframe investigative missions the IG receives to eliminate the assumptions who assign them (as almost certainly happened in the IG Report’s treatment of Bruce Ohr), or a more general willingness to serve as Trump’s hatchetman (I’ll return to this in a post on Andrew McCabe’s lawsuit).

But the explanation could be and — for many of these errors — likely is more simple. As Julian Sanchez argued convincingly, the better explanation is probably confirmation bias. Once DOJ IG came to believe FBI fucked up (possibly as early as the report on the Hillary investigation), everything it found seemed to confirm that conclusion. That’s natural and not something I am immune to either (and I’m sure I’ll have my share of embarrassing errors in this post!). But particularly with FISA — which disproportionately is used with people with Chinese or Islamic ties — that kind of confirmation bias can end up being discriminatory.

That, again, provides perhaps the most important lesson this report offers about FISA. DOJ IG was able to fix several of its errors because making the report public subjected its work to scrutiny that identified the errors; I’ve been able to point to others simply by an extended deep dive or consulting other public records on these matters, like a Judicial Watch FOIA or the Mueller Report. The problem with FISA applications, however, is they never get exposed to such scrutiny, so that errors that might be addressed in criminal affidavits aren’t for FISA applications. In that Baker podcast, David Kris argued that one way to fix these problems is to let any defendants against whom FISA is used in a prosecution access their application (something that could be done under the CIPA process).

Committing the same kinds of errors it criticizes doesn’t make this IG Report useless or wrong about its key findings on the problems with the Carter Page application (though it does make the recommendations that the FBI and Bruce Ohr be disciplined far weaker). But it does make a meta point about the value of transparency for counteracting confirmation bias.

OTHER POSTS ON THE DOJ IG REPORT

Overview and ancillary posts

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

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page: Policy Considerations

Timeline of Key Events in DOJ IG Carter Page Report

Crossfire Hurricane Glossary (by bmaz)

Facts appearing in the Carter Page FISA applications

Nunes Memo v Schiff Memo: Neither Were Entirely Right

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

Report shortcomings

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

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

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

Factual revelations in the report

Deza: Oleg Deripaska’s Double Game

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

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

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

The Flynn Predication

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

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

As I said in my summary post, the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page shows there were three problems with the Carter Page FISA application:

  • It did not reveal that the first of several attempted recruitments of Page by Russia happened when he was approved for contact by the CIA
  • It failed to update the application as questions about the Steele dossier’s reliability became known over time
  • It did not include exculpatory evidence (though the report overstates whether information related to George Papadopoulos was exculpatory or the opposite)

On that level, the report is an important portrayal of the FISA application process.

But, as I hope to show generally in a follow-up, the report commits precisely the kinds of errors that it takes the FBI to task for. And in the case of its treatment of Bruce Ohr, the report not only commits those types of errors, but does so in a way that risks harming national security. The Report basically suggests Ohr should be punished for doing what DOJ has spent the last 17 years demanding everyone do: share information related to national security.

Since 9/11, DOJ has emphasized sharing information relating to national security

Ever since 9/11, all parts of the government — especially DOJ and FBI — have concluded over and over again that they have to find ways to better share information relating to national security. 9/11 happened, in part, because CIA didn’t tell FBI that suspected al Qaeda figures had entered the US and, in part, because FBI’s Minnesota field office didn’t tell others about a suspect trying to learn to take off but not land planes. We went to war in Iraq on a mistaken premise because information got stovepiped, rather than shared with people who could appropriately vet it. Nidal Hassan was permitted to remain in the military and so kill 13 people because the FBI’s surveillance systems did not flag his prior contacts with Anwar al-Awlaki. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab managed to board a plane and try to blow it up because a warning his father had given US authorities didn’t get entered into the flight screener. The FBI missed an opportunity to prevent the Boston Marathon bombing because warnings from Russia and Tamerlan’s travels didn’t get triggered for full investigation.

The emphasis on information sharing is not limited to terrorism. The government’s approach to cybersecurity, too, has focused on better sharing information among different parts of government and with the private sector. Indeed, in this case, the Democrats (not entirely credibly) claimed the FBI didn’t warn them aggressively enough of ongoing hacks and states (far more credibly) complained they didn’t get notice that Russia was targeting voting infrastructure.

DOJ’s Inspector General has repeatedly emphasized information sharing. Just during 2019, DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s office has released a number of reports calling for more information sharing. On December 20, multiple relevant Inspectors General submitted an assessment mandated by Congress on whether agencies are sharing cybersecurity threat information among themselves and with the private sector; it described continued barriers to sharing such information. On August 1, DOJ IG issued a report calling, in part, for better information sharing between the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations on the border with Mexico. On April 1, DOJ IG issued a report describing some of the impediments to informing victims when they’ve been targeted in a cyberattack, which may delay the victim’s ability to respond. On March 21, DOJ IG issued a report concluding, in part, that FBI Agents conducting assessments about whether terrorists might exploit maritime facilities need to gather better data.

Some of the key reports Horowitz has overseen historically also criticized inadequate information sharing. In March 2018, DOJ IG explained that the FBI gave Congress misleading information about Syed Rizwan Farook’s phone because people weren’t communicating internally about resources available to the Bureau. A September 2017 Report on whether there were known or suspected terrorists in FBI’s witness protection program complained that earlier information sharing recommendations had not yet been implemented. A March 2014 report on DOJ’s efforts to combat mortgage fraud found serious data integrity and collection issues. An October 2013 review of FBI’s responses to being badly burned by Chinese double agent Katrina Leung found the FBI needed to do better tracking and sharing of derogatory information from confidential human sources, a finding pertinent to this report. The September 2012 Fast and Furious report (largely completed prior to Horowitz’s arrival, but released just after he started) emphasized ATF’s inadequate information sharing with DEA and ICE.

None of these conclusions say, “share information, but only after it’s vetted.” DOJ’s Inspector General generally only complains about Department employees sharing information if it involves the sharing of investigative, classified, or sensitive information to unauthorized recipients (including but not limited to the media) or the improper use of whistleblower complaints to retaliate against them.

Ohr did neither of those things.

Indeed, this report is largely about FBI’s failure to share information. There’s even a complaint in there about the over two months it took for Christopher Steele’s first reports to get shared with FBI HQ.

FBI officials we interviewed told us that the length of time it took for Steele’s election reporting to reach FBI Headquarters was excessive and that the reports should have been sent promptly after their receipt by the Legat. Members of the Crossfire Hurricane team told us that their assessment of the Steele election reporting could have started much earlier if the reporting had been made available to them.

One of the three main complaints about FBI’s actions involves their failure to vet the dossier and share the results of that vetting in timely fashion. Along with State Department’s Kathleen Kavalec (whose feedback FBI failed to obtain for over a month), Ohr provided the best timely and accurate details about how the dossier fit into Fusion GPS’s election year process. But one of just nine recommendations DOJ’s IG made in this report is that DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility and DOJ’s Criminal Division review his actions.

The Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility should review our findings related to the conduct of Department attorney Bruce Ohr for any action it deems appropriate. Ohr’s current supervisors in CRM should also review our findings related to Ohr’s performance for any action they deem appropriate.

In short, DOJ’s IG has spent years saying “share more information, share more information, share more information.” Bruce Ohr did just that. In response, DOJ IG insinuated he should be fired for it.

Not only does this response undercut every single exhortation to share national security information since 9/11, but it bears similarities to other efforts by DOJ IG to help President Trump retaliate against his critics.

The IG Report misrepresents the nature of Bruce Ohr’s information sharing

The DOJ IG manages to attack a guy for doing what DOJ IG has repeatedly said people should do, share information, by obscuring the nature of his sharing.

While the IG Office declined to provide an on the record answer to a question not answered in the IG Report itself — why Ohr even came to be the subject of this investigation — the answer is clear: When Congress started nagging Rod Rosenstein about their conspiracy theories about Ohr, claiming that Ohr kept injecting the dossier back into the FBI to sustain an investigation into Trump, Rosenstein got the IG to expand the inquiry to include Ohr. The IG Report’s presentation of Ohr’s actions must be taken against the backdrop of what started it: Rosenstein’s capitulation to politicized claims that someone in his office was responsible for pushing the Steele dossier and therefore the investigation into Trump.

The IG Report never does for Ohr’s conversations what it does with Operation Crossfire as a whole (though the facts it presents merit it) — debunk the conspiracy theory about the role of the dossier in predicating the investigation. It leaves out or downplays some key facts. And its narrative does not fit the actual facts it presents about Ohr’s actions.

The facts it does present show:

  • Ohr and Steele had been sharing information of mutual interest for years as part of Ohr’s efforts to bring an information-sharing approach to combatting organized crime, including Russian organized crime
  • They were sharing information unrelated to the dossier specifically or Trump generally prior to and during their July 30, 2016 meeting
  • The report includes no evidence Ohr shared two allegations from the dossier learned at a July 30 meeting with anyone involved in opening Crossfire Hurricane before the investigation got opened
  • Steele continued to share information with Ohr that did not appear in the dossier (but that, because it involved credulity about Oleg Deripaska’s willingness to help the US government, was problematic for entirely different reasons)
  • Some information Ohr shared from Glenn Simpson was information the FBI otherwise pursued on its own
  • During the weeks after FBI closed Steele as a source, Ohr provided some of the most useful information to vet the dossier and the FBI regarded that information as part of the vetting process
  • The only time Ohr shared reports from the dossier directly with the Crossfire Hurricane team came during and was regarded as useful because it was part of this vetting process
  • The IG Report provides no evidence that Ohr pushed Steele’s Trump-related intelligence in 2017 (even though Steele was working with Dan Jones to continue to collect it)
  • The 2017 conversations Ohr had with Steele about the Trump investigation pertained either to protecting sources — something DOJ treated as a priority even in this Report — or to Steele’s concerns about the consequences of the various ongoing investigations on him and his sources
  • As he had for years, including in 2016, Steele shared information about other topics with Ohr in 2017, proving that this was not an exclusively Trump-focused effort
  • The complaints that Ohr didn’t inform his superiors about this sharing, while justified, are overstated

As noted, there are still problems with what Ohr did in 2016-2017, largely because he and Steele were being used by someone who — lots of evidence suggests — had a role in the 2016 operation, Oleg Deripaska. I plan to do a separate post on what the IG Report says about Deripaska, but the short version is Ohr and Steele’s coziness with him posed real counterintelligence risks. With a few exceptions, it appears that FBI limited the impact of those risks. And that counterintelligence risk is part of the downside of a call to share information widely, but not something unique to Ohr’s actions.

Steele and Ohr had been sharing information as part of their common pursuit against Russian organized crime for years

The IG Report splits up its introduction to how Steele came to work with FBI from its introduction of Ohr’s relationship with him. That means key details about Ohr’s career appear almost 200 pages after the IG Report’s first explanation of how Ohr introduced Steele to his handling agent, Mike Gaeta, described as Handling Agent 1.

In the later section, the IG Report explains Ohr’s background in prosecuting organized crime — including Russian organized crime — and how he moved into more of a policy role on the topic, including leading an Obama initiative to pursue transnational organized crime using an intelligence-based approach similar to the one used to fight terrorism (that is, one based on information sharing). That initiative included a focus on Russian organized crime from the start, and Ohr continued to share information on the topic.

Ohr told the OIG that as Chief of OCRS, he tried to develop the Department’s capacity for fighting transnational organized crime and that this was when he began tracking Russian organized crime.

[snip]

He stated that he was often the Department’s “public face” at conferences and was sometimes approached by individuals who provided information about transnational organized crime.

[snip]

Ohr told us that when he became the OCDETF Director, then DAG Jim Cole expressed his desire for Ohr to expand OCDETF’s mission to include transnational organized crime matters. He said that, as a result, he continued working on transnational organized crime policy and, in order to maintain awareness, tracked Russian organized crime issues.

That later section also describes how Ohr, who had been passing on information from Steele already, came to encourage FBI to open a direct channel with the former MI6 officer for investigative purposes while he continued to accept information from Steele for his own policy purposes.

Ohr said he introduced Steele to Handling Agent 1 so that Steele could provide information directly to the FBI in approximately spring 2010. 407 He told us that he “pushed” to make Steele an FBI Confidential Human Source (CHS) because Steele’s information was valuable. Ohr also said that it was “not efficient” for him to pass Steele’s information to the FBI and he preferred having Steele work directly with an FBI agent. According to Steele, Ohr and Handling Agent 1 coordinated over a period of time with Steele to set up his relationship with the FBI.

Ohr’s contact with Steele did not end after Steele formalized his relationship with Handling Agent 1 and the FBI.408 Ohr met or talked with Steele multiple times from 2014 through fall 2016, and on occasion those in-person meetings or video calls included Handling Agent 1. Ohr told us that he viewed meeting with Steele as part of his job because he needed to maintain awareness of Russian organized crime activities and Steele knew Russian organized crime trends better than anyone else. He said he knew Steele was also speaking to Handling Agent 1 at this time because Steele would say that he provided the same information to Handling Agent 1. Handling Agent 1 told us that he knew Steele and Ohr were in contact and talked about issues “at a higher policy level,” but stated that he did not know anything further regarding their interactions.

Here’s how the more general introduction of Ohr’s introduction of Steele to Gaeta appears without that context, almost 200 pages earlier:

Steele’s introduction in 2010 to the FBI agent who later became Steele’s primary handling agent (Handling Agent 1) was facilitated by Department attorney Bruce Ohr, who was then Chief of the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section in the Department’s Criminal Division in Washington, D.C. Ohr told the OIG that he first met Steele in 2007 when he attended a meeting hosted by a foreign government during which Steele addressed the threat posed by Russian organized crime. Ohr said that, after this first meeting with Steele, he probably met with him less than once a year, and after Steele opened his consulting firm, Orbis Business Intelligence, he furnished Ohr with reports produced by Orbis for its commercial clients that he thought may be of interest to the U.S. government. Ohr said that he eventually put Steele in contact with Handling Agent 1, with whom Ohr had previously worked.

By splitting these two discussions, the IG Report also splits the discussion of the centrality of Steele’s intelligence on Russian oligarchs from the discussion of Ohr’s conversations with Steele in 2016. For example, the FBI formally entered into a source relationship with Steele in 2013 after he shared a report on a fugitive Russian oligarch that proved really valuable.

For example, we learned that, in October 2013, Steele provided lengthy and detailed reports to the FBI on three Russian oligarchs, one of whom was among the FBI’s most wanted fugitives. According to an FBI document, an analyst who reviewed Steele’s reporting on this fugitive found the reporting “extremely valuable and informative” and determined it was corroborated by other information that the FBI had obtained.

The earlier discussion explains how Ohr remained personally involved with Steele in this period, including meeting with Oleg Deripaska (described as Russian Oligarch 1).

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. 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 1’s behalf, Ohr said he had the impression that Russian Oligarch 1 was a client of Steele. 210

Note, the IG Report rather dishonestly either redacts or does not include the dates of these interactions involving Deripaska. Those interactions continued into 2016, and indeed, are — for better and worse — inseparable from any conversations they had about Steele’s work for Fusion.

In addition to providing information on Russian oligarchs that FBI found valuable, Steele also provided information on other topics, including on hacking and Russia’s sports doping.

Steele’s prior reporting to the FBI addressed issues other than Russian oligarchs. For example, we reviewed FBI records reflecting that he provided information on the hack of computer systems of an international corporation, and corruption involving former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. In addition, Steele told us he introduced Handling Agent 1 to sources with knowledge of Russian athletic doping and obtained samples of material for the FBI to analyze.

As a result, FBI paid Steele $64,000 in 2014 and 2015 and — it doesn’t say this explicitly but the math suggests — $31,000 for information in 2016, none of it for information related to the dossier.

As a result, in 2014 and 2015, the FBI made five payments to Steele totaling $64,000. By the time the FBI closed Steele in November 2016, his cumulative compensation totaled $95,000, including reimbursement for expenses.

All of these topics, of course — Russian oligarchs, Russian doping, and Russian hacking — are an integral part of Russian organized crime. All were part of Bruce Ohr’s job in 2016. That’s the kind of information sharing that the IG Report, with its rebuke of Ohr, is saying DOJ shouldn’t do, contrary to what both the IG and DOJ as a whole have been saying for decades.

By suggesting that sharing this kind of information with other experts on the topic merits discipline or firing, as the IG Report does, DOJ IG risks making us less safe.

The IG Report largely ignores Ohr and Steele’s discussions from the first half of 2016

The IG Report then examines what it claims to be Steele and Ohr’s “2016 contacts … regarding Russian issues.” It starts this story with a meeting the two had on July 30, 2016.

Suggesting that Ohr’s July 30, 2016 meeting with Steele is the beginning of the story of contacts they had in 2016 “regarding Russian issues” is profoundly dishonest — the kind of failure to disclose relevant information that the IG Report as a whole condemns the FBI for with regards to Carter Page’s FISA application.

A Judicial Watch FOIA for Ohr’s communications with Steele between January 1, 2015 and December 12, 2017 shows they spoke in March 2016.

In the Judicial Watch FOIA, DOJ redacted the dates on all their other emails in part because of ongoing investigations (suggesting they still had investigative sensitivity at the time DOJ responded to JW’s FOIA), but leaks from Congress to the frothy right made it clear that they also communicated in January, February, and earlier in July. As coverage of those leaks makes clear, the vast majority of their conversations earlier that year include discussion about Deripaska.

The emails, given to Congress by the Justice Department, began on Jan . 12, 2016, when Steele sent Ohr a New Year’s greeting. Steele brought up the case of Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska (referred to in various emails as both OD and OVD), who was at the time seeking a visa to attend an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in the United States. Years earlier, the U.S. revoked Deripaska’s visa, reportedly on the basis of suspected involvement with Russian organized crime. Deripaska was close to Paul Manafort, the short-term Trump campaign chairman now on trial for financial crimes, and this year was sanctioned in the wake of Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election.

“I heard from Adam WALDMAN [a Deripaska lawyer/lobbyist] yesterday that OD is applying for another official US visa ice [sic] APEC business at the end of February,” Steele wrote in the Jan . 12 email. Steele said Deripaska was being “encouraged by the Agency guys who told Adam that the USG [United States Government] stance on [Deripaska] is softening.” Steele concluded: “A positive development it seems.”

Steele also asked Ohr when he might be coming to London, or somewhere in Europe, “as I would be keen to meet up here and talk business.” Ohr replied warmly the same day and said he would likely travel to Europe, but not the U .K ., at least twice in February.

An early July exchange includes the reference to a “favorite business tycoon” that the frothy right would — falsely — spin up into an early reference to Trump (it was another reference to Deripaska).

Then, on July 1, came the first apparent reference to Donald Trump, then preparing to accept the Republican nomination for president. “I am seeing [redacted] in London next week to discuss ongoing business,” Steele wrote to Ohr, “but there is something separate I wanted to discuss with you informally and separately. It concerns our favourite business tycoon!” Steele said he had planned to come to the U.S. soon, but now it looked like it would not be until August. He needed to talk in the next few days, he said, and suggested getting together by Skype before he left on holiday. Ohr suggested talking on July 7. Steele agreed.

Both of these passages, even with the error imagining a Deripaska reference invokes Trump, include discussion (bolded in both) about what appears to be other business. Yes, the reference in the IG Report explaining that Ohr thought Steele might be working for Deripaska, appearing 180 pages earlier, probably incorporates these references. But their earlier 2016 contacts — both about Deripaska (and therefore Russia) and other business — provide important context for the discussion of the July 30 meeting, which IG Report falsely suggests is the beginning of the discussions about Russia they had been happening since the beginning of the year. Not least, because those earlier contacts not only make it clear that their relationship did not shift radically when Steele started working on the dossier, but they also make it clear that Steele and Ohr’s contacts about Deripaska — however problematic — would not appear to be a break from their previous three year focus on Deripaska and other oligarchs.

Having ignored earlier conversations about other topics in 2016, the Report then provides this description of the first meeting where they did speak about Trump.

On Saturday, July 30, 2016, at Steele’s invitation, Ohr and Nellie Ohr had breakfast with Steele and an associate in Washington, D.C. Nellie Ohr told us she initially thought it was going to be a social brunch, but came to understand that Steele wanted to share his current Russia reporting with Ohr. According to Steele, he intended the gathering to be a social brunch, but Ohr asked him what he was working on. Steele told us that he told Ohr about his work related to Russian interference with the election. Ohr told us that, among other things, Steele discussed Carter Page’s travel to Russia and interactions with Russian officials. He also said that Steele told Ohr that Russian Oligarch 1 ‘s attorney was gathering evidence that Paul Manafort stole money from Russian Oligarch 1. Ohr also stated that Steele told him that Russian officials were claiming to have Trump “over a barrel.” According to Ohr, Steele mentioned that he provided two reports concerning these topics to Handling Agent 1 and that Simpson, who owned Fusion GPS, had all of Steele’s reports relating to the election. Steele did not provide Ohr with copies of any of these reports at this time. Later that evening, Steele wrote to Ohr asking to “keep in touch on the substantive issues” and advised Ohr that Simpson was available to speak with him. [my emphasis]

If you didn’t know better, you’d think that on July 30, 2016, Christopher Steele lured Bruce Ohr to brunch to push his dossier and only his dossier.

Except … that would be wrong.

Even leaving out the context of the years during with Steele and Ohr had discussed matters of Russian oligarchs generally and Deripaska specifically, as the IG Report does, Deripaska’s feud with Paul Manafort — while likely crucial background to the dossier — cannot be described as content from the dossier. The only possible reference to the feud in the dossier is a report, dated October 19, referring to “scandals involving MANNAFORT’s [sic] commercial and political role in Russia/Ukraine.” If the Deripaska feud were to be treated as part of the dossier, then so should be Deripaska’s outreach to Manafort on August 2, 2016, one of the most suspect unexplained events from 2016 (as I’ll show in a follow-up, this is a critical overlap, but one that points to other problems the IG Report barely mentions).

Plus, this passage appears to deliberately obscure behind the phrase “among other things,” the full range of what got discussed. As it appears, the phrase suggests Ohr and Steele discussed, among other things, Carter Page’s alleged trip to Moscow, with the other things being Deripaska’s feud with Manafort and Russia’s claim to have Trump “over a barrel.” This passage suggests those are the only three topics discussed.

But that’s false. As Ohr’s own notes and testimony make clear, in between the time he discussed Page and Russia having Trump over a barrel and Manafort’s dispute with Deripaska and when he told Ohr that Steele’s handling agent, Mike Gaeta, had two reports on this and Glenn Simpson had four, Steele discussed something about Russian doping.

Q Were there any other topics that were discussed during your July 30, 2016, meeting?

A Yes, there were. Based on my sketchy notes from the time, I think there was some information relating to the Russian doping scandal, but I don’t recall the substance of that. And based on my notes, it indicated that Chris Steele had provided some reports to the FBI, I think two, but that Glenn Simpson had more.

In other words, in addition to information about the Deripaska feud that doesn’t appear in the dossier, Steele also shared information on Russian doping, information on Russia that had nothing to do with Trump.

In other words, what appears to have happened is that Steele and Ohr had a meeting that, in significant part, reflected a continuation of their past discussions, especially regarding Deripaska, but also Russian doping, both key parts of Ohr’s work on organized crime. Along with that, Steele shared two details that showed up in some form in dossier reports. And Ohr seems to have treated that the way he treated other information he got from Steele. He shared it with Gaeta (who already had received the dossier-related information) and Deputy Assistant Attorney General for International Affairs Bruce Swartz (who had been concerned about Manafort’s corruption for several years). DOJ IG found no evidence he shared it with the people who opened Crossfire Hurricane and therefore no evidence that the dossier was part of the reason they opened the investigation.

Then, Ohr spoke with or met Steele or Glenn Simpson four more times before the election. According to the IG Report’s own descriptions, those four additional times Ohr shared information related to Steele before the election, it was often tangential to matters in the dossier, rather than the key allegations in it.

On August 22, for example, Ohr met with Glenn Simpson, who shared the names of three people who he thought might be intermediaries between Trump and Russia. The two of those that are public — Sergei Millian and (by description) probably Sergey Yatsenko — were of interest in the Mueller Report. In fact, Millian was already on the FBI’s radar, and in October 2016, FBI would open a counterintelligence investigation into him. According to the IG Report, Ohr probably shared that information with Gaeta and maybe with FBI’s Transnational Organized Crime people.

Then, on September 23, Ohr met Steele. They discussed who was funding Fusion GPS’s opposition research, allegations about the Alfa Bank/Trump Tower server, including a claim that Millian also used the Alfa Bank server, and that an individual working with Carter Page was a Russian intelligence officer. None of these topics show up in Steele’s publicly released dossier reports, though FBI obtained three reports that are not public. Steele would explain to DOJ IG that Orbis was not responsible for the Alfa Bank allegations, though would do a report on the relationship Alfa’s founders had with Putin from years earlier. According to the IG Report, Ohr probably shared this information with Bruce Swartz and possibly Gaeta.

On October 13, FBI’s Transnational Organized Crime-East people told Ohr (probably in response to a question from him) that counterintelligence agents had spoken with Gaeta; Ohr told them he had the names of three possible intermediaries, one of whom (Millian) FBI had either just or was about to open an investigation into. The IG Report is inconclusive about whether this conversation went any further.

Early on October 18, Steele contacted Ohr about Oleg Deripaska’s company, Rusal, being sanctioned (probably in Ukraine). Shortly thereafter, Ohr scheduled a meeting to discuss Steele’s information with Andrew McCabe, with whom he had worked on organized crime in the past. According to Lisa Page’s notes from the meeting, they discussed Steele’s background, Nellie Ohr’s by then past relationship with Fusion (her last day was September 24), and the three intermediaries Simpson was concerned about. They also talked about Deripaska.

Lisa Page’s notes from the meeting show that Ohr discussed Steele, provided Steele’s previous employment background, talked about issues concerning Russian Oligarch 1, and indicated that Simpson provided Ohr with names of intermediaries between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign. Lisa Page also wrote that Ohr met with Russian Oligarch 1 the previous year and “Need report?”

DOJ IG was clearly skeptical of Ohr’s decision to set up this meeting after having been told, five days earlier, that counterintelligence agents were meeting with Gaeta. But there’s an explanation that would be bloody obvious if the Report hadn’t downplayed the continuity in Ohr and Steele’s discussions about Deripaska but instead treated all the information coming in from Steele as dossier-related information. This was, according to the description in the IG Report, a meeting significantly focused on Deripaska (which makes sense, given that’s what Steele called Ohr that morning about).

Deripaska was treated at the time less as a counterintelligence issue and more as a witness to Manafort’s corruption. Probably, this was Deripaska’s effort to work both sides, offering to provide dirt on Manafort in exchange for some protection against US sanctions (which makes the reference to “scandals involving MANNAFORT’s [sic] commercial and political role in Russia/Ukraine” in a Steele report the next day all the more provocative). Again, Ohr’s involvement in a Deripaska channel deserves far more attention, but of the kind that the IG Report only gives a passing mention to. But it’s an obvious explanation for why Ohr would schedule this meeting in the wake of discussing increasing pressure on Deripaska’s company.

In any case, at the meeting, per both McCabe and Ohr, Ohr provided information that was treated as derogatory information against Steele: that Nellie had worked with Simpson, that he was sharing his information with a number of others, and that he was collecting the information as opposition research. This is the kind of information the IG Report, generally, complains wasn’t shared widely enough. And yet it faults Ohr for sharing it.

Immediately after Mother Jones published an article demonstrably based on Steele’s reporting, the FBI closed him as a source. Up until that point, Ohr had shared:

  • The Carter Page allegation and a general allegation about Trump that might reflect the pee tape report
  • Information (however problematic from a counterintelligence standpoint) about Oleg Deripaska that showed up in the dossier in passing if at all
  • Information about another Russia-related topic, doping
  • Three names that Glenn Simpson thought might be intermediaries between Trump and Russia, two of whom FBI agreed were suspect
  • Allegations about Alfa Bank that Steele claims did not come from Orbis
  • What the IG Report treats as the kind of derogatory information it wishes FBI had obtained earlier

In short, the IG Report does not support two key conspiracy theories about Ohr’s role — that he introduced the Crossfire Hurricane team to the dossier before they opened the investigation into Trump, and that his information sharing amounted to an effort to push the dossier to the FBI (though he definitely believed Trump’s close ties to Russia merited scrutiny, and kept pushing the names of intermediaries the FBI seems to have considered concerning themselves). Nevertheless, the IG Report seems to treat Ohr’s information sharing as if those conspiracy theories were true.

The IG Report demands that FBI treat information from Ohr as vetting information but doesn’t give Ohr credit for helping FBI to vet the dossier

During the month from November 21 to December 20, Ohr had a series of meetings with the Crossfire Hurricane team or a Supervisory Agent from it (SSA 1) in which he provided extensive information about Steele, the dossier, Glenn Simpson, and his wife Nellie’s work for Simpson (most of which, by time and apparent volume, was paid for by right wing billionaire Paul Singer).

The IG Report makes it clear that the Crossfire Hurricane team treated the first of these meetings, on November 21, as part of their vetting process

Strzok, the OGC Unit Chief, SSA 1, and the Intel Section Chief told us the purpose of the meeting was to better understand Steele’s background and reliability as a source and to identify his source network.

Members of the team believed some of what Ohr shared in the following weeks might be helpful in the vetting process, too. Bill Priestap, FBI’s Counterintelligence Assistant Director, who was overseeing the investigation, described Ohr’s ties with Steele as potentially useful as a way to better understand the dossier.

Priestap stated that the FBI’s engagement with Ohr to learn what Steele had shared with Ohr was potentially useful in understanding Steele and verifying his reporting.

The agent he had follow-up meetings with found Ohr’s background helpful and though Ohr might be able to help him identify Steele’s source network (how the FBI succeeded in identifying Steele’s source network remains unexplained in the IG Report).

SSA 1 stated that he was in “receive mode” with respect to Ohr’s information and was trying to glean from it as much as he could about Steele’s source network. He also said that Ohr was well-versed in Russian organized crime and that, in SSA 1’s view, Ohr’s motives for coming to the FBI were “pure.”

The Supervisory Analyst involved with the investigation told the IG that “the Simpson thumb drive containing some of Steele’s reports the FBI did not already possess [was] an example of useful information from Ohr.”

There’s no evidence in the IG Report that Ohr attempted to protect Steele during this vetting process. Indeed, the IG Report focuses on a number of the potentially derogatory things Ohr says about Steele’s actions or his reporting.

  • Because of the impact of the dossier-based David Corn article, Ohr apologized to Gaeta for even introducing him to Steele
  • Ohr told Kathleen Kavalec (before or after a meeting on how to respond to Russian efforts to influence foreign elections) that Steele’s information was “kind of crazy”
  • Ohr warned the Crossfire Hurricane team that reporting of Kremlin activities “may be exaggerated or conspiracy theory talk,” so Steele cannot know whether all the reporting is true
  • Ohr revealed that Steele was “desperate” that Trump not be elected, but was providing reports for ideological reasons, specifically that “Russia [was] bad”(while notes from the meeting made it clear Ohr described this as ideological, the 302 of that meeting did not reflect that, which has formed a key sound bite to undermine Steele)

And in fact, a failure to integrate Ohr’s candid comments about Steele and the Fusion project — starting at least in October — make up two of the IG Report’s 17 complaints about the FBI’s actions.

11. Omitted information obtained from Ohr about Steele and his election reporting, including that (1) Steele’s reporting was going to Clinton’s presidential campaign and others, (2) Simpson was paying Steele to discuss his reporting with the media, and (3) Steele was “desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being the U.S. President”

12. Failed to update the description of Steele after information became known to the Crossfire Hurricane team, from Ohr and others, that provided greater clarity on the political origins and connections of Steele’s reporting, including that Simpson was hired by someone associated with the Democratic Party and/or the DNC;

Yet, even though the IG Report makes it clear the team treated these discussions as useful for vetting, and even though the IG Report criticizes the FBI for not including derogatory information Ohr provided in the Carter Page FISA applications, the IG Report does not treat these exchanges (or comments from State Department’s Kathleen Kavalec) as part of the vetting process, which it covered 80 pages earlier in the IG Report.

Effectively, then, DOJ IG advocates punishing Ohr for the most timely vetting of the dossier, including the details about Steele’s efforts to share it with the press.

DOJ IG protects sources while complaining that Steele attempted to protect his sources

The final period of Ohr’s communications with Steele covered by the IG Report spans from January 25 through November 2017. As I lay out in this post based on the underlying notes and FBI 302s, those communications largely consist of Steele panicking about the possibility his source will become exposed and require help, followed by Steele’s concern about the impact of ongoing investigations on him or his sources. There’s no mention — in the 302s, the IG Report, or the underlying notes — of Steele sharing any details of his ongoing intelligence collection into Trump, though there continue to be references to Deripaska.

Given that even Bill Barr’s DOJ kept all Steele’s identified sources (even Oleg Deripaska and Sergei Millian) anonymous and the earlier release of the 302s and his notes use the FOIA exemption designated for source protection, DOJ clearly agrees with the import of protecting his sources, so it’s hard to understand how this could be an improper conversation (even if you can be exasperated with Steele’s panic given that he himself was sharing his own raw intelligence with the press).

Moreover, as the IG Report admits far more forthrightly for this period than it did their earlier conversations, to the extent that Steele was sharing his intelligence reporting in 2017, it didn’t have to do with Trump.

In addition to the information summarized in this section, Ohr also provided information to the FBI from Steele and other individuals on unrelated matters.

[snip]

On February 14, 2017, Ohr shared with SSA 3 and Case Agent 8 information on topics Steele was working on for different clients, unrelated to Russia or Crossfire Hurricane.

[snip]

SSA 3 also told us that Ohr forwarded other information to the team regarding Russian oligarchs and other issues unrelated to the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.

Some of these conversations were ill-considered (such as the Deripaska ones, as well as an effort by the lawyer that represented both Julian Assange and Deripaska to trade Assange immunity for advance notice of the Vault 7 files). But the IG Report provides no indication that they were outside the norm for Ohr or detrimental to Trump.

The IG Report also makes it clear that, even though Steele was likely trying to get Ohr to help his clients, it never found evidence he did so. DOJ didn’t find any instance of it.

Ohr said that he understood Steele was “angling” for Ohr to assist him with his clients’ issues. For example, Ohr stated that Steele was hoping that Ohr would intercede on his behalf with the Department attorney handling a matter involving a European company. Ohr denied providing any assistance to Steele in this regard, and we found no evidence that he did.

Nor did the FBI.

The FBI personnel we interviewed generally told us that Ohr did not make any requests of the FBI, nor did he inquire about any ongoing cases or make any recommendations about potential investigative steps.

DOJ IG’s analysis of Ohr’s actions strains to reach a negative conclusion

Which brings us to the basis of the IG’s complaint about Ohr’s information sharing. The complaint is twofold. First, some people claimed that Ohr was doing stuff that was not part of his job. The most credible of those complaints came from the Transnational Organized Crime-East Section Chief, who complained Ohr should have just handed off Steele entirely to the FBI (though Ohr’s direct meeting with Oleg Deripaska happened with an FBI Agent).

The TOC-East Section Chief noted that while it was odd to have a high-level Department official in contact with Russian oligarchs, it did not surprise him that Ohr would be approached by individuals, such as Steele, who wanted to talk to the U.S. government. The TOC-East Section Chief said that it would be “outside [of Ohr’s] lane” to continue the relationship with these potential sources after their introduction to the FBI.

Steele’s handler, Mike Gaeta, knew that Ohr continued his contacts with Steele, even if he didn’t know the substance of them. And one of the Steele emails to Ohr the IG Report does not include in the report shows that Steele also knew his intelligence had to go through Gaeta.

Steele said he would send the reporting to a name that is redacted in the email, “as he has asked, for legal reasons I understand, for all such reporting be filtered through him (to you at DoJ and others).”

That’s consistent with the fact that Steele did not provide any of his reports directly to Ohr; only Simpson did that, during the period the FBI was vetting the dossier.

Meanwhile, contrary to the claims that Ohr was working outside his lane, the State Department believed he was an appropriate attendee for a meeting focusing on Russia’s interference in other countries’ elections.

On the morning of November 21, 2016, at the State Department’s request, Ohr met with Deputy Assistant Secretary Kathleen Kavalec and several other senior State Department officials regarding State Department efforts to investigate Russian influence in foreign elections and how the Department of Justice might assist those efforts.

Perhaps the most telling complaint that Ohr was doing something that was not his job came from Sally Yates, in whose office he worked during the most substantive conversations he had with Steele. She was “stunned,” she told the IG investigators, by press reports describing Ohr communicating to Steele about stuff that “involved the Russia investigation.”

Former DAG Yates told the OIG that she was “stunned” to learn through media reports in late 2017 that Ohr had engaged in these activities without telling her, and that she would have expected Ohr to inform her about his communications with Steele because they were outside of his area of responsibility and involved the Russia investigation. Yates added that she “would have hoped that [Ohr and the FBI] would have both told me” of Ohr’s meetings with Steele and the FBI. She further stated that Ohr’s activities needed to be coordinated with the overall Crossfire Hurricane investigation, which included ensuring that the chain of command at both the Department and FBI were jointly deciding what actions, if any, Ohr might take relating to the Russian interference investigation.

The thing is, Yates’ response is clearly a response to the press reporting, which claimed that every communication they had pertained to the Steele dossier and Trump, not the substance of what Ohr was doing — which included communications about Deripaska and Russian doping. This passage suggests that the IG didn’t inform her the depictions of what Ohr was doing in the press were significantly debunked by what IG investigators found. Yates also complained that Ohr should not have had the October 18 meeting with someone as senior as Andrew McCabe without informing her, which is a far more substantial complaint, except one that is inconsistent with her suggestion that Ohr communicated with the Crossfire Hurricane team without coordinating with FBI’s chain of command.

The person leading the Deputy Attorney General’s office (and therefore the Russian investigation once Jeff Sessions recused) after Yates got fired was Dana Boente. The IG Report shows that Boente — along with the entire rest of the chain of command, including Scott Schools, who would later demote Ohr — at least got briefed of his relationship with Steele in the context of the Russian investigation.

As described in Chapter Nine, handwritten notes of an FBI briefing Boente received in February 2017 indicate that the FBI advised Boente and others at that time-including [Stu] Evans, then Acting Assistant Attorney General Mary McCord, then Deputy Assistant Attorney General George Toscas from NSD, ADAG Tashina Gauhar, ADAG Scott Schools, and Principal ADAG James Crowell-that Ohr knew Steele for several years and remained in contact with him, and that Ohr’s wife worked for Simpson as a Russian linguist. However, none of these handwritten notes-which include separate notes taken by Boente, Schools, and Gauhar-stated that the FBI had interviewed Ohr or that Ohr had provided the FBI with information regarding Steele’s election reporting or Steele’s feelings toward candidate Trump. Schools told us that he recalled a meeting in which the OGC Unit Chief referenced Ohr having contact with Simpson, but Schools was not sure if it was during this February 2017 briefing or another briefing. Further, he said that it was a “passing reference,” and he never would have imagined that Ohr was having regular contact with the Crossfire Hurricane team and providing the information that appeared in the FD-302s. Boente and the other attendees of the February 2017 briefing told the OIG that they did not recall the FBI mentioning Ohr at any time during the investigation, and that they did not know about the FBI’s interviews with Ohr at the time of the FISA applications. According to Gauhar, she was surprised to find a reference to Ohr in her notes, and, regardless, she “would never have dreamt” back then what she knows now concerning the extent of Ohr’s interactions with Steele, Simpson, and the FBI on Steele’s election reporting.

The IG Report seems to complain that the FBI did not offer up Ohr’s role robustly enough. But it seems to hold Jim Comey responsible for having received the same level of briefing about Ohr’s actions (which question, in addition, seems to be premised on the public conspiracies about Ohr which may explain why he didn’t believe he had heard about them).

Comey told us he had no knowledge of Ohr’s communications with members of the Crossfire Hurricane investigative team and only discovered Ohr’s association with Steele and the Crossfire Hurricane investigation when the media reported on it. However, notes taken by Strzok during a November 23, 2016 Crossfire Hurricane update meeting attended by Comey, McCabe, Baker, Lisa Page, Anderson, the OGC Unit Chief, the FBI Chief of Staff, and Priestap, reference a discussion at the meeting concerning “strategy for engagement [with Handling Agent 1] and Ohr” regarding Steele’s reporting. Strzok stated that, based on his notes, he believed he informed FBI leadership that Ohr approached the FBI concerning his relationship with Steele and that Ohr relayed Steele’s information regarding Russia to the team. Although the OGC Unit Chief could not recall when it occurred, she recalled discussing with executive leadership that the FBI should not use Ohr to direct Steele’s actions. Because Strzok’s notes of the meeting were classified at the time we interviewed Comey, and Comey chose not to have his security clearances reinstated for his OIG interview, we were unable to show him the notes and ask about the reference in them to Steele and Ohr. [my emphasis]

That’s especially true given that no one was using Ohr to direct Steele’s actions, which seems to suggest that these questions were based, as many of the ones about Ohr, on a false premise arising from the conspiracy theories that the IG Report does not support.

If you ask top managers whether they knew of Ohr’s actions that exist only in conspiracy theories but not in reality, there may be a ready explanation for why they didn’t know about it: because (as the evidence presented in the IG Report makes clear) the conspiracy theories imagined things had happened that had not.

In any case, DOJ IG seems to hold the FBI to a much higher standard for asking questions at briefings, and so doesn’t treat a briefing where the entire chain of command at ODAG and NSD was informed Ohr had a role as informing them he had a role. Scott Schools, who was in that FBI briefing with NSD and was the one who demoted Ohr, complains that FBI didn’t fully report Ohr’s involvement to NSD.

Then Associate Deputy Attorney General Scott Schools, who was the highest-ranking career official in the Department, and ODAG’s ethics advisor, stated that the FBI had a responsibility to fully report Ohr’s involvement to the Department’s National Security Division (NSD) and that Ohr had a duty to report his involvement to ODAG’s managers.

But he also describes a conversation with Ohr where Ohr asked about ethics.

Schools recalled that Ohr, at some point, “stuck his head in the door and said, hey I just wanted to make sure there’s nothing I need to do. My wife works at Fusion GPS. I don’t know if there’s anything, like, a recusal, or anything I need to deal with.” Schools stated that he responded to Ohr by saying that “you don’t have anything to do with that case. We don’t typically in the Department recuse individuals who aren’t responsible for the matter giving rise to a potential conflict.” Schools believed this conversation occurred a couple months before Ohr’s conduct became public and may have coincided with Ohr’s October 2017 conversation with Rosenstein.

If this conversation really did not take place until October 2017, as Schools says, then his understanding of it is inaccurate, as by that point Nellie Ohr had not worked for Fusion for over a year and Ohr had had no role in sharing substantive information about the Russian investigation for ten months. If Ohr really did raise the issue of a conflict because of Nellie’s work, however, it’s much more likely it happened a year earlier, when he was providing the same warnings to FBI.

In any case, Ohr’s question to Schools, whenever it occurred, raises real questions about why DOJ IG included analysis finding that Ohr “displayed a lapse in judgment” for not choosing to use a process that, guidelines say, should not be characterized as a lapse.

The federal ethics rules further provide in Section 502(a)(2) that an employee “who is concerned that circumstances other than those specifically described in this section would raise a question regarding his impartiality should use the process described in this section [namely, to consult with Department ethics officials] to determine whether he should or should not participate in a particular matter.” However, while OGE has made clear that employees are “encouraged” to use this process, it also has stated that “[t]he election not to use that process should not be characterized … as an ‘ethical lapse.”‘ OGE 94 x 10(1), Letter to a Department Acting Secretary, March 30, 1994; see also, OGE 01 x 8 Letter to a Designated Agency Ethics Official, August 23, 2001. While OGE guidance establishes that Ohr did not commit a formal ethical violation, we nevertheless concluded that Ohr, an experienced Department attorney and a member of the SES, should have been more cognizant of the appearance concerns created by Nellie Ohr’s employment with Fusion GPS and availed himself of the process described in Section 502(a). We found that his failure to take this step displayed a lapse in judgment. [my emphasis]

The first step of using the process, it seems, is asking the department ethics advisor if he needed to use the process.

All of which brings us to Rod Rosenstein’s claimed surprise of hearing about Bruce Ohr’s relationship with Steele. Ohr warned Rosenstein that his role in introducing Steele to the FBI when he learned it might become public. Rosenstein didn’t pursue it until Congress started sowing conspiracy theories about it.

He complains, fairly, about the fact that he did not know Ohr had an operational role in the investigation (note, as with all of this, it’s unclear whether Rosenstein knew the actual details of what Ohr had done when, or whether he understood Ohr to have tried to sustain the Steele dossier, as the GOP was alleging).

Ohr told the OIG that in October 2017, Nellie Ohr received a call from someone at Fusion GPS who told her that the company was providing documents to Congress that identified her as a Fusion GPS contractor and that he realized that then DAG Rosenstein may need to know about this, so he asked to speak with him. He stated that he informed Rosenstein that his wife, Nellie Ohr, worked for Fusion GPS, and that it may become public that Ohr knew Steele and introduced him to the FBI. Ohr told the OIG that he was “prepared to go into more detail [with Rosenstein], but there really wasn’t time.” Rosenstein recalled having this conversation in Ohr’s office and told us he remembered Ohr stating he knew Steele and that Nellie Ohr worked for Fusion GPS. Rosenstein told us that during this conversation, Ohr may have also said that he introduced Steele to the FBI and that all this information may become public. Rosenstein described the meeting with Ohr as casual and noted that he was in Ohr’s office for another reason, which indicated to him that Ohr did not make a special effort to notify him. Rosenstein stated that he left the conversation under the impression that it was only a “strange coincidence” that Ohr knew Steele.

[snip]

Ohr told us that a few weeks after his first conversation with Rosenstein on this issue, he spoke with Rosenstein again and told him that he still talked to Steele from time to time and provided information to the FBI when Steele called him. Rosenstein told us that he recalled a second conversation with Ohr concerning Steele, which he believed occurred in early December 2017. According to Rosenstein, Ohr told him that he delivered a thumb drive containing Steele’s election reports to the FBI. Rosenstein said this information changed his perspective of the situation. Rosenstein told us the fact that Ohr

knew Steele was kind of just an unusual coincidence, but the idea that he had actually had some role in this Russia investigation was shocking to me…. [W]e had been fending off these Congressional inquiries. And they were asking for all sorts of stuff, [FD-]302s and things, and .. .l had no idea that somebody on my staff had actually been involved in … an operational way in the investigation.

[snip]

Rosenstein told us Crowell and Schools reported back to him with their findings, and at that point, he realized Congress likely knew more about Ohr’s activities with Steele and the FBI than anyone in ODAG did. Rosenstein told us:
[It] was really disappointing to me that he had made the decision originally not to brief anybody [on] our staff and then even after it was clear it was going to be … of national interest…he chose not to disclose, at least to [Schools], that he had actually had an active role …. I felt like, if you’re in the DAG’s office, and the DAG is getting criticized by Congress for the handling of the Russia investigation, you ought to tell him that you had some role in it.

Again, this is fair enough, though Rosenstein seems to be interpreting Ohr’s effort to inform him in the light that best serves himself.

The truly crazy take from Rosenstein’s office, however, came from Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General James Crowell, who complained about how bad it would be to have a “potential fact witness” on Rosenstein’s staff when he supervised the Russia investigation.

Crowell stated that he was “flabbergasted” when he learned about Ohr’s involvement with Steele and the FBI. He stated that Ohr should have informed ODAG officials of his relationships with Steele and Simpson and his provision of information from them to the FBI, especially when Rosenstein appointed the Special Counsel and began supervising the investigation, because “a potential fact witness” was on Rosenstein’s staff.

Rosenstein’s staff was worried about Ohr because it meant that “a potential fact witness” was on Rosenstein’s staff.

Bruce Ohr’s name shows up once in the Mueller Report, in a quoted August 2018 tweet from Trump, perhaps not unsurprisingly given that he dossier was not central to the Mueller investigation. Rosenstein’s name shows up 78 times.

If Rosenstein and his deputies were worried about potential fact witnesses working in his office while he supervised the investigation, he should have recused himself.

By all means, Ohr should have revealed his role earlier. Most of all, he should have done so to avoid being criticized for things he did not do — like sustaining the dossier with FBI — so we could instead have a conversation about what point sharing information moves from vetting and becomes a counterintelligence risk.

In a follow-up, I hope to compare what DOJ IG did with Ohr and what Andrew McCabe has substantiated in a recent court filing.

But the bigger concern, to me, is that because Rod Rosenstein was embarrassed by conspiracy theories that this IG Report rebuts, DOJ’s Inspector General wrote up a report that villainizes one of the few people in this Report that was doing what DOJ has spent almost two decades trying to get people to do: sharing information on national security in timely fashion. The facts presented in the report don’t support such a stance, and the facts left out of the report even further undermine the case.

Update: Added the weird ethics language.

OTHER POSTS ON THE DOJ IG REPORT

Overview and ancillary posts

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

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page: Policy Considerations

Timeline of Key Events in DOJ IG Carter Page Report

Crossfire Hurricane Glossary (by bmaz)

Facts appearing in the Carter Page FISA applications

Nunes Memo v Schiff Memo: Neither Were Entirely Right

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

Report shortcomings

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

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

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

Factual revelations in the report

Deza: Oleg Deripaska’s Double Game

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

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

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

The Flynn Predication

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

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