Why Do You Send Your Digital Guy to Meet with the Russian Ambassador?

The HPSCI Democrats have released the report they should have had ready to go last night: their 21-page report on all the thing the HPSCI Russian investigation didn’t cover but should have. It’s an interesting list (though it seriously lets the GOP off the hook for treating this investigation as an obstructive lark). I’ll likely reflect on what kind of mirror it holds up to the Republican sense of which witnesses they had to vet for Trump.

For now, I want to point at an interesting little detail. In the section describing why HPSCI should know more about the Trump campaign’s digital operations, the report reveals that Jared Kushner sent the Trump campaign Assistant Director of Data Analysis, Avi Berkowitz, to go meet with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak a month after the election, around the same time Russia was floating back channels so banks could bail out Kushner’s failing family real estate empire.

Trump Campaign Digital Operation: The Committee ought to interview all relevant persons involved or associated with the Trump campaign’s digital operation to determine whether the campaign coordinated in any way with Russia in its digital program. The Committee will not be able to fully evaluate the campaign’s digital operation without speaking to a broader crosssection of individuals who can provide greater insight into the digital operation’s day-to-day activities or its relationship with Cambridge Analytica. The Committee also must interview individuals from other companies who conducted technology-related work on behalf of the Trump campaign or on behalf of other entities being funded through independent expenditures to gain a full picture of whether there was any coordination between Russia’s extensive social media efforts on Trump’s behalf and the campaign itself.

For example, Avraham (Avi) Berkowitz, served as Assistant Director of Data Analytics on the Trump Campaign. He was also an associate of Jared Kushner and Brad Parscale. The Committee has reason to believe that Mr. Kushner may have dispatched Mr. Berkowitz to meet with Russian Ambassador Kislyak in December 2016. Theresa Hong, who served as Digital Content Director for the Trump campaign, should also be asked to testify. Ms. Hong has spoken to the press about the campaign’s digital operation and her team’s work alongside Cambridge Analytica.

That very same month, I asked whether dark marketing had a role in all the mobs seemingly providing pressure in support of Trump at key moments.

That Berkowitz made that visit did get reported last spring. But not with the emphasis that Berkowitz was so central to the campaign’s digital organization.

Maybe (as someone suggested to me on Twitter) Jared was just sending Berkowitz to retrieve the thumb drives they had shared during the campaign?

Welcome to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Pompeo — the Latest Committee to Have Reason to Investigate Russia!

Yesterday, Rex Tillerson committed the one unforgivable sin on the Trump Administration: holding Russia accountable for its actions. While Trump and Sarah Huckabee Sanders equivocated, Tillerston strongly stated that the poison used in the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter obviously came from Russia.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the poisoning of ex-spy Sergei Skripal in Britain “clearly came from Russia” and “certainly will trigger a response.”

Tillerson says he doesn’t know whether Russia’s government had knowledge of the poisoning. But he is arguing the poison couldn’t have originated anywhere else. He says the substance is known to the U.S. and doesn’t exist widely. He says it’s “only in the hands of a very, very limited number of parties.”

Tillerson calls the poisoning “a really egregious act” and says it’s “almost beyond comprehension” that a state actor would use such a dangerous substance in a public place.

Today, Tillerson’s counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, drew the unenviable task of denying Russia’s involvement, even while the Russian Embassy and Putin himself barely hid their glee about the attack.

“Russia is not responsible,” Sergei Lavrov said during a televised press conference that marked an escalation of the standoff with the UK over the poisoning of the former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia.

Lavrov also suggested Moscow would not comply with a Tuesday midnight deadline set by Theresa May to deliver an explanation or face retaliation. He said Moscow’s requests to see samples of the nerve agent had been turned down, which he called a violation of the chemical weapons convention outlawing the production of chemical weapons.

“We have already made our statement on this case,” he said. “Russia is ready to cooperate in accordance with the convention to ban chemical weapons if the United Kingdom will deign to fulfil its obligations according to the same convention.”

Trump did the predictable thing: Fired Tillerson by tweet, naming Mike Pompeo his successor and torturer Gina Haspel America’s first female CIA Director.

Of course, both those nominations require confirmation. And while it would probably be easy for Haspel to work as Acting Director for the foreseeable future, it may be far, far harder for Pompeo to make the move.

Admittedly, Pompeo was confirmed CIA Director with a 66-32 vote (this was before Democrats got bolder about opposing Trump’s more horrible nominees, and Pompeo was, after all, a member of Congress). But Pompeo likely faces a harder time even getting through committee. While Senate Foreign Relations Committee Dems Jeanne Shaheen and Tim Kaine are among the idiotic Dems who voted for Pompeo for CIA Director, SFRC Republican Rand Paul was the sole Republican voting against Pompeo. So even if just Shaheen and Kaine flip their votes, Pompeo will be bottled up in SFRC. But SFRC also includes several of the other Republicans who’ve been most skeptical of Trump and/or his dalliances with Russia: Bob Corker (who is retiring and has been chilly about Pompeo’s confirmation in the past), Jeff Flake (who is retiring), and Marco Rubio (who was hacked by Russia himself; though he has already said he would support Pompeo).

Since Pompeo’s last confirmation, he has done several things to coddle Trump’s Russia dalliance, as I laid out here.

Already, Pompeo’s cheerleading of Wikileaks during the election should have been disqualifying for the position of CIA Director. That’s even more true now that Pompeo himself has deemed them a non-state hostile intelligence service.

Add in the fact that Pompeo met with Bill Binney to hear the skeptics’ version of the DNC hack, and the fact that Pompeo falsely suggested that the Intelligence Community had determined Russia hadn’t affected the election. Finally, add in the evidence that Pompeo has helped Trump obstruct the investigation and his role spying on CIA’s own investigation into it, and there’s just far too much smoke tying Pompeo to the Russian operation.

Remember, too, that in his last confirmation process, Pompeo refused to rule out using hacked intelligence from Russia, something Rubio should be particularly concerned about.

Pompeo can also expect to be grilled about why he ignored the sanctions against Russia’s top intelligence officers so they could all come for a meet and greet earlier this year.

I’m not saying it won’t happen. But it will be tough for Pompeo to get through the narrowly divided SFRC, much less confirmation in the full senate.

House Intelligence Republicans yesterday made asses of themselves in an attempt to get Russian investigations off the front page. But by nominating Pompeo to be Secretary of State, Trump just gave an entirely different committee, one far more hawkish on Russia issues, reason to start a new investigation into Trump — and Pompeo’s — Russia dalliances.

The Timing of the Felix Sater Interviews

Back in my first post on the structure of Robert Mueller’s team, “Robert Mueller’s Grand Jury and the Significance of Felix Sater,” I noted that he would know what he was dealing with because of past history with Felix Sater, the sometimes business partner of Donald Trump, who has served as an FBI informant on (among other things) the mob.

In BuzzFeed’s fascinating story on Sater’s past as an intelligence and FBI informant, Anthony Cormier and Jason Leopold go further. They point out that Andrew Weissmann signed Sater’s FBI cooperation agreement and Sater has ties with another five members of Mueller’s team.

Today, as he is being questioned about Trump’s business deals and ties to Russia, he has built relationships with at least six members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, some going back more than 10 years.

[snip]

Signing Sater’s cooperation agreement for the Department of Justice was Andrew Weissmann, then an assistant US attorney and now a key member of the special counsel’s team. Mueller himself would be the FBI director for most of the time Sater served as a source.

The mob and fraud and corruption lawyers working for Mueller have a remarkable amount of firsthand knowledge about who Felix Sater is.

Which is why I find the timing of the interviews Sater has had with the three main Russia investigations to be so interesting. These are:

December 2017 [Leopold clarified this via Twitter]: Mueller interview

December 2017 [CNN has reported it occurring on the 20th]: HPSCI interview in lawyer’s office

April 2018: Scheduled interview with SSCI

This, in spite of the fact that Sater’s role in helping pitch a Ukrainian peace deal to Mike Flynn first got reported in February.

A week before Michael T. Flynn resigned as national security adviser, a sealed proposal was hand-delivered to his office, outlining a way for President Trump to lift sanctions against Russia.

[snip]

The amateur diplomats say their goal is simply to help settle a grueling, three-year conflict that has cost 10,000 lives. “Who doesn’t want to help bring about peace?” Mr. Cohen asked.

But the proposal contains more than just a peace plan. Andrii V. Artemenko, the Ukrainian lawmaker, who sees himself as a Trump-style leader of a future Ukraine, claims to have evidence — “names of companies, wire transfers” — showing corruption by the Ukrainian president, Petro O. Poroshenko, that could help oust him. And Mr. Artemenko said he had received encouragement for his plans from top aides to Mr. Putin.

[snip]

Mr. Artemenko said a mutual friend had put him in touch with Mr. Sater. Helping to advance the proposal, Mr. Sater said, made sense.

“I want to stop a war, number one,” he said. “Number two, I absolutely believe that the U.S. and Russia need to be allies, not enemies. If I could achieve both in one stroke, it would be a home run.”

After speaking with Mr. Sater and Mr. Artemenko in person, Mr. Cohen said he would deliver the plan to the White House.

Mr. Cohen said he did not know who in the Russian government had offered encouragement on it, as Mr. Artemenko claims, but he understood there was a promise of proof of corruption by the Ukrainian president.

“Fraud is never good, right?” Mr. Cohen said.

He said Mr. Sater had given him the written proposal in a sealed envelope. When Mr. Cohen met with Mr. Trump in the Oval Office in early February, he said, he left the proposal in Mr. Flynn’s office.

And in spite of the fact that Sater’s role in pitching a Trump Tower deal became known at least as early as August, when Michael Cohen reported it to Congress.

While Donald Trump was running for president in late 2015 and early 2016, his company was pursuing a plan to develop a massive Trump Tower in Moscow, according to several people familiar with the proposal and new records reviewed by Trump Organization lawyers.

As part of the discussions, a Russian-born real estate developer urged Trump to come to Moscow to tout the proposal and suggested that he could get President Vladimir Putin to say “great things” about Trump, according to several people who have been briefed on his correspondence.

The developer, Felix Sater, predicted in a November 2015 email that he and Trump Organization leaders would soon be celebrating — both one of the biggest residential projects in real estate history and Donald Trump’s election as president, according to two of the people with knowledge of the exchange.

Sater wrote to Trump Organization Executive Vice President Michael Cohen “something to the effect of, ‘Can you believe two guys from Brooklyn are going to elect a president?’ ” said one person briefed on the email exchange. Sater emigrated from what was then the Soviet Union when he was 6 and grew up in Brooklyn.

So even Mueller’s prosecutors, who know Sater well, waited at least four months before they interviewed him.

Plus, the timing of these interviews is interesting given the other known interview schedules (see this CNN timeline for the easiest comparison). Sater’s HPSCI interview, for example, took place the same week as long-time, loyal Trump assistant Rhona Graff got interviewed, at a time when Republicans had started blowing through interviews in an attempt to finish their investigation (HPSCI announced they were done with interviews today).

SSCI, by comparison, first tried to interview Michael Cohen — an important participant in both Sater roles — in September, but brought him back on October 25 after he released a public statement.

In Mueller’s investigation, Sater got interviewed around the same time the team was interviewing Hope Hicks and Don McGahn, really high level people with a good degree of personal exposure.

And of course, all of these interviews took place in the wake of the November 30 Mike Flynn plea deal, who reportedly received the Ukrainian pitch.

So December Mueller and HPSCI interviews and an April SSCI interview suggests that all parties, for different reasons, felt like they had to do a lot of work before bringing in Sater, in spite of the fact that he was an identified interest as soon as the Flynn concerns were raised. Remember, too, that the subpoena Mueller just issued to Sam Nunberg started at almost exactly the same time Sater was pitching that Trump Tower deal.

Mind you, I don’t know what to make of the timing. But I do find it interesting that Sater’s old friends didn’t immediately seek him out for his honest testimony.

How the DNC Hack Skeptics’ Dominant Theory Sinks Stone

I’ve been thinking about something since I wrote this piece on Roger Stone’s Swiss cheese denials of conspiring with Guccifer 2.0 or Wikileaks on the hack-and-leak. As I laid out, Stone’s denial consists of two tactics: he admits he spoke with Guccifer 2.0 at a time he believed him to have done the hack but notes that that happened after (he claims six weeks, but it was really three) the documents already started coming out. And he denies knowing anything in advance about Wikileaks, which wouldn’t be a problem anyway, he says, because there’s no evidence Wikileaks is a Russian asset.

Effectively, that puts Stone’s involvement after the undeniably criminal act — the hack of the DNC and puts the rest into simple general foreknowledge of Wikileaks’ plan.

As I noted in my first post on Stone’s non-denials, that doesn’t address the possibility he was involved in the Peter Smith led rat-fuck negotiations with Russian hackers to find Hillary’s deleted emails.

But there’s one other problem with it.

According to the public record, Guccifer 2.0 first spoke with Stone on August 12 (though in his statement to Congress, he fudged that date interestingly and claimed the first contact — perhaps meaning DM — was August 14). While that post-dates all known hacking, it pre-dates at least one and possibly several key dates on the leak part of the operation. As Raffi Khatchadourian lays out, Wikileaks may have obtained the John Podesta emails around this time.

A pattern that was set in June appeared to recur: just before DCLeaks became active with election publications, WikiLeaks began to prepare another tranche of e-mails, this time culled from John Podesta’s Gmail account. “We are working around the clock,” Assange told Fox News in late August. “We have received quite a lot of material.” It is unclear how long Assange had been in possession of the e-mails, but a staffer assigned to the project suggested that he had received them in the late summer: “As soon as we got them, we started working on them, and then we started publishing them. From when we received them to when we published them, it was a real crunch. My only wish is that we had the equivalent from the Republicans.”

All of the raw e-mail files that WikiLeaks published from Podesta’s account are dated September 19th, which appears to indicate the day that they were copied or modified for some purpose.

Indeed, Stone’s “Podesta time in the barrel” comment, which Chuck Todd noted addressed Tony but not John Podesta, may even have preceded Wikileaks’ receipt of the emails.

But Stone’s discussions with Guccifer 2.0 undeniably precede an event that, at least according to the skeptics’ theory, necessarily precedes the publication of Podesta’s emails. That’s Craig Murray obtaining … something from someone while he was in the US for the Sam Adams Award on September 25. He has said he didn’t obtain the documents, but it might be a key or something.

That still doesn’t, by itself, make Stone’s conduct criminal. But it does mean his timeline is not exonerating.

Why Has Putin Changed His Mind about Whether Russians Who Hacked the US Are Patriots Or Others?

Now, with even more performed disdain! As you’ve no doubt heard, Megyn Kelly came out from wherever NBC has been hiding her to do another interview with Vladimir Putin. Over and over, Putin effectively said he doesn’t give a fuck if some Russians interfered in the US election, but that this was not a state effort.

His most noted denial suggested that even if Russians did tamper in the US election, the might not be real Russians: they might be Ukrainians, Tatars, or Jews.

“So what if they’re Russians?” Putin said of the people named in last month’s indictment. “There are 146 million Russians. So what? … I don’t care. I couldn’t care less. … They do not represent the interests of the Russian state.”

Putin even suggested that Jews or other ethnic groups had been involved in the meddling.

“Maybe they’re not even Russians,” he said. “Maybe they’re Ukrainians, Tatars, Jews, just with Russian citizenship. Even that needs to be checked. Maybe they have dual citizenship. Or maybe a green card. Maybe it was the Americans who paid them for this work. How do you know? I don’t know.”

Most of the coverage of this exchange is shocked that Putin made such an anti-semitic (and otherwise bigoted) comment.

But I’m more interested why he did so.

When I last commented on what I saw as a shift from outright denial to admission that Russian hackers might have been involved, Putin was describing the offending Russians as patriots.

Putin raised the possibility of attacks on foreign votes by what he portrayed as free-spirited Russian patriots. Hackers, he said, “are like artists” who choose their targets depending how they feel “when they wake up in the morning.” Any such attacks, he added, could not alter the result of elections in Europe, America or elsewhere.

Artists, he said, paint if they wake up feeling in good spirits while hackers respond if “they wake up and read that something is going on in interstate relations” that prompts them to take action. “If they are patriotically minded, they start making their contributions — which are right, from their point of view — to the fight against those who say bad things about Russia,” Mr. Putin added, apparently referring to Hillary Clinton.

Here, he’s suggesting any freelancing Russian offenders are the opposite, the kind of internal others that Putin has increasingly demonized as part of his formula to stay in power (curiously, however, he didn’t suggest they might be gay). He’s responding to the first accusations of Russian tampering, the Internet Research Agency indictment, by suggesting that any Russian that took part must be other than Russian. He does this even while he mocks the possibility Russia might extradite any of the accused, based on Russia’s standard refusal to extradite “Russians.”

So any Russians accused of tampering in the US election are labeled, post hoc and preemptively (assuming Robert Mueller is on his way to indicting Russians for the hack, as well), Russians for legal purposes, but not-Russian for cultural ones, for the political expediency of having natural scapegoats.

Why is he doing this, and who is his audience?

That he suspects he will need to scapegoat any Russian accused in the operation suggests something about it will be unpleasant, will need deniability in a way it might not have last June.

But is he playing to American prejudices in blaming Jews (and Ukrainians and Tatars, which wouldn’t trigger even the most bigoted Americans)? That might make sense given that this (unlike the June comments, which were for St. Petersburg journalists.

Or is he playing to Russian prejudices (which makes more sense, given the targets)? It would mean Putin’s open disdain for Kelly is a performance for his domestic audience, as well.

Most interestingly, if he is prepping scapegoats for his domestic audience, does he think Russian response to any upcoming exposure at the hands of Mueller will be negative in a way he once believed it’d be positive? That would surprise me … but it is the most logical explanation given how he is pre-emptively demonizing what he once claimed would be patriotic.

[Photo: National Security Agency, Ft. Meade, MD via Wikimedia]

The Preferred Anti-Obama Russian Hack Story Remains Silent on Shadow Brokers

Michael Isikoff and David Corn are fluffing their upcoming book on the Russian tampering with the 2016 election. This installment covers the same ground, and the same arguments, and has the same weaknesses that this WaPo article did: It describes how urgent but closely held the CIA tips were (without considering whether the close hold on the intelligence led the IC to make incorrect conclusions about the attack). It describes efforts to make a public statement that got drowned out by the Pussy Grabber and Podesta releases. It airs the disappointment of those who thought Obama should have launched a more aggressive response.

Perhaps the biggest addition to the WaPo version is that this one includes more discussion of Obama’s thoughts on cyber proliferation, with the acknowledgement that the US would be more vulnerable than Russia in an escalating cyber confrontation.

Michael Daniel and Celeste Wallander, the National Security Council’s top Russia analyst, were convinced the United States needed to strike back hard against the Russians and make it clear that Moscow had crossed a red line. Words alone wouldn’t do the trick; there had to be consequences. “I wanted to send a signal that we would not tolerate disruptions to our electoral process,” Daniel recalled. His basic argument: “The Russians are going to push as hard as they can until we start pushing back.”

Daniel and Wallander began drafting options for more aggressive responses beyond anything the Obama administration or the US government had ever before contemplated in response to a cyberattack. One proposal was to unleash the NSA to mount a series of far-reaching cyberattacks: to dismantle the Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks websites that had been leaking the emails and memos stolen from Democratic targets, to bombard Russian news sites with a wave of automated traffic in a denial-of-service attack that would shut the news sites down, and to launch an attack on the Russian intelligence agencies themselves, seeking to disrupt their command and control modes.

[snip]

One idea Daniel proposed was unusual: The United States and NATO should publicly announce a giant “cyber exercise” against a mythical Eurasian country, demonstrating that Western nations had it within their power to shut down Russia’s entire civil infrastructure and cripple its economy.

[snip]

The principals did discuss cyber responses. The prospect of hitting back with cyber caused trepidation within the deputies and principals meetings. The United States was telling Russia this sort of meddling was unacceptable. If Washington engaged in the same type of covert combat, some of the principals believed, Washington’s demand would mean nothing, and there could be an escalation in cyber warfare. There were concerns that the United States would have more to lose in all-out cyberwar.

“If we got into a tit-for-tat on cyber with the Russians, it would not be to our advantage,” a participant later remarked. “They could do more to damage us in a cyber war or have a greater impact.” In one of the meetings, Clapper said he was worried that Russia might respond with cyberattacks against America’s critical infrastructure—and possibly shut down the electrical grid.

[snip]

Asked at a post-summit news conference about Russia’s hacking of the election, the president spoke in generalities—and insisted the United States did not want a blowup over the issue. “We’ve had problems with cyber intrusions from Russia in the past, from other counties in the past,” he said. “Our goal is not to suddenly in the cyber arena duplicate a cycle escalation that we saw when it comes to other arms races in the past, but rather to start instituting some norms so that everybody’s acting responsibly.”

The most dramatic part of the piece quotes an angry Susan Rice telling her top Russian expert to stand down some time after August 21.

One day in late August, national security adviser Susan Rice called Daniel into her office and demanded he cease and desist from working on the cyber options he was developing. “Don’t get ahead of us,” she warned him. The White House was not prepared to endorse any of these ideas. Daniel and his team in the White House cyber response group were given strict orders: “Stand down.” She told Daniel to “knock it off,” he recalled.

Daniel walked back to his office. “That was one pissed-off national security adviser,” he told one of his aides.

But like the WaPo article before it, and in spite of the greater attentiveness to the specific dates involved, the Isikoff/Corn piece makes not one mention of the Shadow Brokers part of the operation, which first launched just as NSC’s Russian experts were dreaming up huge cyber-assaults on Russia.

On August 13, Shadow Brokers released its first post, releasing files that had compromised US firewall providers and including a message that — while appearing to be an attack on American Elites and tacitly invoking Hillary — emphasizes how vulnerable the US would be if its own cybertools were deployed against it.

We want make sure Wealthy Elite recognizes the danger cyber weapons, this message, our auction, poses to their wealth and control. Let us spell out for Elites. Your wealth and control depends on electronic data. You see what “Equation Group” can do. You see what cryptolockers and stuxnet can do. You see free files we give for free. You see attacks on banks and SWIFT in news. Maybe there is Equation Group version of cryptolocker+stuxnet for banks and financial systems? If Equation Group lose control of cyber weapons, who else lose or find cyber weapons? If electronic data go bye bye where leave Wealthy Elites?

Sure, it’s possible the IC didn’t know right away that this was a Russian op (though Isikoff and Corn claim, dubiously and in contradiction to James Clapper’s November 17, 2016 testimony, that the IC had already IDed all the cut-outs Russia was using on the Guccifer 2.0 and DC Leaks operations). Though certainly the possibility was publicly discussed right away. By December, I was able to map out how it seemed the perpetrators were holding the NSA hostage to any retaliation attempts. Nice little NSA you’ve got here; it’d be a shame if anything happened to it. After the inauguration, Shadow Brokers took a break, until responding to Trump’s Syria strike by complaining that he was abandoning those who had gotten him elected.

Respectfully, what the fuck are you doing? TheShadowBrokers voted for you. TheShadowBrokers supports you. TheShadowBrokers is losing faith in you. Mr. Trump helping theshadowbrokers, helping you. Is appearing you are abandoning “your base”, “the movement”, and the peoples who getting you elected.

That was followed by a release of tools that would soon lead to billion dollar attacks using repurposed NSA tools.

As recently as February, the NSA and CIA were still trying to figure out what Russia (and the stories do appear to confirm the IC believed this was Russia) had obtained.

I mean, it’s all well and good to complain that Obama asked the NSC to stand down from its plans to launch massive cyberattacks as a warning to Putin. But you might, first, consider whether that decision happened at a time when the US was facing far greater uncertainty about our own vulnerabilities on that front.

Oleg Deripaska Gets Ahead of His Own Fusion Dossier (and Manafort Prosecution?) Disclosures

Sometime Paul Manafort client and owner Oleg Deripaska just did a column in the Daily Caller insinuating the Mueller investigation is a Deep State attack on good aluminum smelters like him — though the column seems as much an effort to get ahead of disclosures about his own tie to the Steele dossier or Manafort trial as anything else. 

Chuck Grassley throws breadcrumbs about others tied to the Steele dossier, including Oleg Deripaska

For weeks, I’ve been waiting to learn why Chuck Grassley asked Democrats about the role of a number of people in the Fusion dossier, including Victoria Nuland, former SSCI staffer Dan Jones, and Oleg Deripaska.

Look, now, at this detail from the letters Chuck Grassley sent out to the DNC, its top officials, and the Hillary campaign, and its top officials, trying to find out how much they knew about and used the dossier. Grassley also asks for any communications to, from, or relating to the following (I’ve rearranged and classified them).

Fusion and its formal employees: Fusion GPS; Bean LLC; Glenn Simpson; Mary Jacoby; Peter Fritsch; Tom Catan; Jason Felch; Neil King; David Michaels; Taylor Sears; Patrick Corcoran; Laura Sego; Jay Bagwell; Erica Castro; Nellie Ohr;

Fusion researcher who worked on both the Prevezon and Democratic projects:Edward Baumgartner;

Anti-Magnitsky lobbyists: Rinat Akhmetshin; Ed Lieberman;

Christopher Steele’s business and colleagues: Orbis Business Intelligence Limited; Orbis Business International Limited.; Walsingham Training Limited; Walsingham Partners Limited; Christopher Steele; Christopher Burrows; Sir Andrew Wood,

Hillary-related intelligence and policy types: Cody Shearer; Sidney Blumenthal; Jon Winer; Kathleen Kavalec; Victoria Nuland; Daniel Jones;

DOJ and FBI: Bruce Ohr; Peter Strzok; Andrew McCabe; James Baker; Sally Yates; Loretta Lynch;

Grassley, like me, doesn’t believe Brennan was out of the loop either: John Brennan

Oleg Deripaska and his lawyer: Oleg Deripaska; Paul Hauser;

It’s the last reference I’m particularly interested in.

When Simpson talked about how the dossier got leaked to BuzzFeed, he complains that, “I was very upset. I thought it was a very dangerous thing and that someone had violated my confidences, in any event.” The presumed story is that John McCain and his aide David Kramer were briefed by Andrew Wood at an event that Rinat Akhmetshin also attended, later obtained the memo (I’m still not convinced this was the full memo yet), McCain shared it, again, with the FBI, and Kramer leaked it to Buzzfeed.

But Grassley seems to think Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska was in on the loop of this. Deripaska is important to this story not just for because he owns Paul Manafort (he figures heavily in this worthwhile profile of Manafort). But also because he’s got ties, through Rick Davis, to John McCain. This was just rehashed last year by Circa, which has been running interference on this story.

There is a report that Manafort laid out precisely the strategy focusing on the dossier that is still the main focus of GOP pushback on the charges against Trump and his campaign (and Manafort).

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

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

[snip]

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

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

If Deripaska learned of the dossier — and obtained a copy from McCain or someone close to him — it would make it very easy to lay out the strategy we’re currently seeing.

Victoria Nuland gets ahead of the narrative by explaining her own role in the dossier

Shortly after I asked that question, Nuland (in about the first move that Democrats made to get ahead of the dossier) explained her own role. She had received reports he had done for other people, but when she heard of the Trump dossier, she (wary of Hatch Act violations) said the FBI should take the lead.

Glasser: And so, around this period is also when the famous dossier is starting to circulate. And it’s been reported that you were familiar already—and others were—with the work of Christopher Steele, that he had been a helpful source of information, of analysis and insight over the previous few years. Did you know him personally, or just his work?

Nuland: I did not know him personally. He had—’13, ’14, ’15, he had a number of corporate clients who were interested in who was in the decision-making loop on Ukraine issues in the Kremlin, who was in the—who the back channels were between Ukraine and Russia, and he was generous enough, as many people were in that period, to share their findings and their work with us, and all of us who were trying to understand it as a policy matter were taking all kinds of information. We never—

Glasser: But you weren’t personally debriefing?

Nuland: No, we never worked with him directly. We never tasked him. We never had an official association. His information on Russia and Ukraine was one of hundreds of sources that we were using at the time.

Glasser: When did you first hear about his dossier?

Nuland: I first heard—and I didn’t know who his client was until much later, until 2017, I think, when it came out. I first heard that he had done work for a client asserting these linkages—I think it was late July, something like that.

Glasser: That’s very interesting. And you would have taken him seriously just because you knew that he knew what he was talking about on Russia.

Nuland: What I did was say that this is about U.S. politics, and not the work of—not the business of the State Department, and certainly not the business of a career employee who is subject to the Hatch Act, which requires that you stay out of politics. So, my advice to those who were interfacing with him was that he should get this information to the FBI, and that they could evaluate whether they thought it was credible.

Jones and Deripaska’s roles remain unexplained, even in spite of Jane Mayer’s reporting on the latter

We still hadn’t heard about Jones or Deripaska’s role; Jane Mayer didn’t even clarify the latter in her 15,000 word Steele profile.

Orbis promises confidentiality, and releases no information on its clientele. Some of its purported clients, such as a major Western oil company, are conventional corporations. Others are controversial, including a London law firm representing the interests of Oleg Deripaska, the billionaire victor of Russia’s aluminum wars, a notoriously violent battle. He has been described as Putin’s favorite oligarch. Steele’s possible financial ties to Deripaska recently prompted Senator Grassley to demand more information from the London law firm. If a financial trail between Deripaska and Orbis can be established, it is likely to raise even more questions about Steele, because Deripaska has already figured in the Russia investigation, in an unsavory light. Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, has been accused of defrauding Deripaska’s company while working for it in Ukraine. (Manafort has been indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on charges of money laundering and other financial crimes. He has pleaded not guilty.) Even if Steele’s rumored work for Deripaska is aboveboard, it illustrates the transition that he has made from the world of government service to the ethically gray world of commerce. Oligarchs battling other oligarchs provide some of the most lucrative work for investigators with expertise in Russia. Orbis maintains that, as long as its activities are limited to providing litigation support for Western law firms acting in Western courts, it is helping to settle disputes in a more civilized way than they would be in Russia.

Oleg Deripaska’s bid to get ahead of Deripaska disclosures

Which brings us to Deripaska’s column in the (!?!?!) Daily Caller. Deripaska describes himself — in a column released even as Trump rolls out aluminum sanctions and just weeks after he stepped down as President — as “the founder of UC Rusal, the world’s leading producer of aluminum using clean, renewable hydropower.” The column drops a load of American cultural and historical references: Wag the Dog, Teddy Roosevelt, “World War II hero and former U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye,” and George Soros.

The most remarkable passage, seemingly an attempt to leak where Grassley and Nunes might otherwise go, is this attack on Dan Jones and Nuland.

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

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

Deripaska names Jones as a “self-described former FBI agent,” as if FBI agents here are as thuggish and secretive as FSB agents in Russia. He suggests “we now know from the media” that Jones is “an ex-Feinstein staffer,” as if we don’t know in large part because of the Republican fight against the Torture report in (this is important!) the Senate Intelligence Committee. Then, after explaining on what authority he is sharing all this information — “My lawyer testified these facts to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Nov. 3,” — Deripaska claims third hand that Jones told his lawyer that Fusion is a “shadow media organization helping the government,” funded by a “group of Silicon Valley billionaires and George Soros.”

Among other things then, this is a very crafty attempt to get information submitted to the close-lipped SSCI, but probably not to SJC or HPSCI where everything leaks, into the public.

So Deripaska, presumably using one hell of a ghost writer, manages to spin a Paul Singer funded effort as a Soros cabal.

As noted above, there’s good reason to believe that Deripaska is the mastermind of the entire strategy of discrediting the dossier as a way to discredit the Mueller investigation. The last time he tried to discredit the investigation directly, prosecutors dinged Paul Manafort for violating the gag rule in the DC case; any bets they have the red line of this effort? Yet the name Manafort doesn’t appear here, so perhaps (especially as Manafort is officially on the clock in EDVA after his arraignment today as well as DC) Deripaska’s just getting around the gag.

As you read this work of art (really!), keep the following in mind: for all that Deripaska puts the focus on Jones and Nuland, he never gets around to explaining why Chuck Grassley thinks he had a role in the dissemination of the dossier, too. Or why he demanded immunity to testify to SSCI. At that level this may be an attempt to get ahead of disclosures about his role in the dossier.

Then, on February 14, Alex Van der Zwaan pled guilty to lying about communications with Deripaska’s flunkie Konstantin Kilimnik, making it clear (if it wasn’t already) that Kilimnik and through him Deripaska are a key focus of Mueller’s investigation.

February 14: Alex Van der Zwaan got caught and pled guilty to lying about communications he had with Rick Gates, Konstantin Kilimnik, and Greg Craig in September 2016. On top of whatever he had to say to prosecutors between his second interview on December 1 and his plea on February 14, both Craig and Skadden Arps have surely provided a great deal of cooperation before and since September 2016.

In addition, some currently sealed transcripts will soon be unsealed in the DC case that may name Kilimnik or Deripaska in more detail.

Oleg Deripaska was the key figure behind the larger conspiracy to defraud the US that Paul Manafort currently serves as the figurehead for. That will become increasingly clear in upcoming days (even assuming jailed sex worker Nastya Rybka’s claims to have recordings on election interference and Deripaska’s role in it never get substantiated), whether through additional Mueller indictments, Steele related disclosures, or reporting that finally explains the latter.

Roger Stone’s Rat-Eating Swiss Cheese Denials

Back when Roger Stone leaked his September testimony to HPSCI, I noted that it misrepresented the key allegations against him, meaning he never denied the important parts.

I’m even more interested in how he depicts what he claims are the three allegations made against him.

Members of this Committee have made three basic assertions against me which bust be rebutted her today. The charge that I knew in advance about, and predicted, the hacking of the Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s email, that I had advanced knowledge of the source or actual content of the WikiLeaks disclosures regarding Hillary Clinton or that, my now public exchange with a persona that our intelligence agencies claim, but cannot prove, is a Russian asset, is anything but innocuous and are entirely false.

In point of fact, this tripartite accusation is actually a misstatement of the allegations against him (though in his rebuttal of them, he is helped immensely by the sloppiness of public statements made by Democrats, especially those on the panel, which I’ve criticized myself). Generally, the accusation is more direct: that in conversing with both Julian Assange (though a cut-out) and Guccifer 2.0, Stone was facilitating or in some way helping the Trump campaign maximally exploit the Russian releases that were coming.

The same is true of his interview with Chuck Todd yesterday.

I’m most interested in the way Stone addresses his direct exchange with Guccifer 2.0, then restricts the rest of his denials to Wikileaks. When Todd asks Stone why he reached out to both Guccifer and Wikileaks, Stone focuses his attention on the former.

Todd: Why did you reach out to Guccifer? Why did you reach out to Wikileaks?

Stone: First of all, my direct messages with Guccifer 2.0, if that’s who it really is, come six weeks, almost six weeks after the DNC emails had been published by Wikileaks. So in order to collude in their hacking, which I had nothing whatsoever to do with, one would have needed a time machine. Secondarily, I wrote a very long piece, you can find it still at the Stone Cold Truth. I doubt that Guccifer is, indeed, a Russian operative. I also once believed that he had hacked the DNC. I don’t believe that anymore either. I believe it was an inside job and the preponderance of evidence points to a load to a thumb drive or some other portable device and the device is coming out the back door. But, Chuck, ten days ago, the Washington Post that based on the Democratic minority that the Russians had sent documents to me for review. I never received any documents from the Russians or anybody representing them. I never had any contact with any

Todd: Did you receive any documents and you didn’t know it was a Russian?

Stone: I never received any documents from anyone purporting to be a Russian or otherwise, and I never saw the Wikileaks documents in advance.

In his response he does the following:

  • Raises doubts that he was actually talking to Guccifer 2.0 (even though Guccifer 2.0’s only identity was virtual, so Stone’s online interactions with any entity running the Guccifer Twitter account would by definition be communication with Guccifer 2.0)
  • Repeats his earlier doubts that Guccifer 2.0 is a Russian operative
  • Emphasizes that he couldn’t have couldn’t have been involved in any hack of the DNC Guccifer 2.0 had done because he first spoke to him six weeks after the email release (in reality, he was speaking to him three weeks after the Wikileaks release)
  • Admits he once believed Guccifer 2.0 did the hack but (pointing to the Bill Binney analysis, and giving it a slightly different focus than he had in September) claims he no longer believes that
  • Invents something about a WaPo report that’s not true, thereby shifting the focus to receiving documents (as opposed to, say, information)
  • Denies he received documents from anyone but not that he saw documents (other than the Wikileaks ones) before they were released

This denial stops well short of explaining why he reached out to Guccifer. And it does nothing to change the record — one backed by his own writing — that Stone reached out because he believed Guccifer, whoever he might be, had hacked the DNC.

At the time Stone reached out to Guccifer (as I pointed out, he misrepresented the timing of this somewhat in his testimony), he believed Guccifer had violated the law by hacking the DNC.

He never does explain to Todd why he did reach out.

Guccifer 2.0 never comes back in the remainder of the interview. The first time Todd asks Stone if there had been “collusion” with the Russians, Stone answers it generally, insisting Trump needed no help to beat Hillary.

Todd: You have made the case here that there was no collusion here that you’re aware of. Would it have been wrong to collude with a foreign adversary to undermine Hillary Clinton’s campaign?

Stone: Well, there’s no evidence that this happened, you’re asking me to answer a hypothetical question. It seems to me that Mr. Steele was colluding with the Russians.

Todd: Let me ask you this. Do you think it’s fair game to get incriminating evidence from a foreign government about your political opponent?

Stone: But that didn’t happen, Chuck, so I’m not going to answer a hypothetical question. It was unnecessary. The idea that Donald Trump needed help from the Russians to beat Hillary Clinton it’s an excuse, a canard, a fairy tale. I don’t believe it ever happened.

The next time — when Stone first labels then backs way the fuck off labeling conspiring with the Russians as treason — Stone then focuses on how such conspiring would only be treason if you believed that Assange was a Russian agent.

Stone: Chuck I’ve been accused of being a dirty trickster. There’s one trick that’s not in my bag. That’s treason. I have no knowledge or involvement with Russians–

Todd: And you believe

Stone: And I have no knowledge of anybody else who does.

Todd: Let me establish something. You believe, if unbeknownst to you, there is somebody on the Trump campaign who worked with the Russians on these email releases, that’s a treasonous act?

Stone: No, actually, I don’t think so because for it to be a treasonous act, Assange would have to be provably a Russian asset, and Wikileaks would have to be a Russian front and I do not believe that’s the case.

Todd: Let me back you up there. You think it’s possible Wikileaks and the Trump campaign coordinated the release?

Stone: I didn’t say that at all. I have no knowledge of that and I make no such claim.

Todd: No, I understand that. You just issued that hypothetical. So what you’re saying is had that occurred you don’t believe that’s, you don’t believe, you don’t believe that that’s against the law?

Stone: This is all based on a premise that Wikileaks is a Russian front and Assange is a Russian agent. As I said I reject that. On the other hand I have no knowledge that that happened. It’s certainly did not happen in my case. That isn’t something I was involved in.

When asked whether it would be illegal to work with Wikileaks (Stone’s contacts with Guccifer at a time he believed Guccifer to have hacked the DNC go unmentioned) Stone again focuses on whether Wikileaks was Russian, not on the conspiracy to hack and leak documents.

This focus on Wikileaks instead of Guccifer 2.0 carries over to the statement Stone issued to ABC:

I never received anything whatsoever from WikiLeaks regarding the source, content or timing of their disclosures regarding Hillary Clinton, the DNC or Podesta. I never received any material from them at all. I never received any material from any source that constituted the material ultimately published by WikiLeaks. I never discussed the WikiLeaks disclosures regarding Hillary Clinton or the DNC with candidate or President Donald Trump before during or after the election. I don’t know what Donald Trump knew about the WikiLeaks disclosures regarding Hillary or the DNC if anything and who he learned it from if anyone.

No one, including Sam Nunberg is in possession If any evidence to the contrary because such evidence does not exist … This will be an impossible case to bring because the allegation that I knew about the WikiLeaks disclosures beyond what Assange himself had said in interviews and tweets or that I had and shared this material with anyone in the Trump campaign or anyone else is categorically false. Assange himself has said and written that I never predicted anything that he had not already stated in public.

There’s very good reason Stone would want to focus on Wikileaks rather than Guccifer.

Even by his own dodgy explanation, at the time he reached out to Guccifer, he believed that Guccifer had hacked the DNC. While it’s true that the public record shows Stone stopping short of accepting documents from Guccifer (all this ignores Stone’s reported involvement in a Guccifer-suggested Peter Smith effort to obtain Hillary’s Clinton Foundation emails), Stone’s interest in coordinating with the hack-and-leak is clear.

And it seems Sam Nunberg may fear that his past testimony and communications with Stone would document that interest. If he knows Stone did have non-public communications with Guccifer, but didn’t believe Guccifer to be Russian, it would also explain why Nunberg said he thought Putin was too smart to collude with Trump, but that his testimony might hurt Stone.

Adding one more point to this: early in the interview, Stone goes to some lengths to say that he proved he had actually separated from the Trump campaign by contemporaneously showing two reporters his resignation letter. This is akin to something Carter Page did in his HPSCI testimony. But given how many of those conspiring with Russia on the Trump campaign (Carter Page — especially after his departure, George Papadopoulos, and Paul Manafort) didn’t have formal roles, it’s not clear that letter would be definitive. Indeed, it might be the opposite, one of a group of people who arranged plausible deniability by getting or staying off the campaign payroll.

Update: Fixed my misrepresentation of Stone’s claim about the six week delay, and fact-checked it to note it was only three weeks.

Nunberg’s Claim that Trump Talked of the June 9 Meeting the Week Before Is Plausible

Sometime ratfucker Sam Nunberg has been running from cable channel to cable channel trying to get them to believe he’s going to blow off a subpoena from Robert Mueller to repeat what he said a week and a half ago in an interview before the grand jury, protected by immunity.

Among his crazy rants, he claimed that Trump knew about the June 9 Trump Tower meeting “the week before.”

You know it’s not true. He talked about it the week before. And I don’t know why he did this. All he had to say was, yeah, we met with the Russians. The Russians offered us something and we thought they had something and that was it. I don’t know why he went around trying to hide. He shouldn’t have.

Nothing has reported on how he would know this. He’s close with Roger Stone (indeed, that’s who he says he’s trying to protect by blowing off the subpoena), and Stone remained in touch with Trump — reportedly still does. So maybe that’s how he knows.

But the claim is plausible.

After all, when Rob Goldstone first emailed Don Jr about the meeting on June 3 (six days before the meeting), he suggested he could go through Trump’s assistant Rhona.

Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting.

The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.

This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump – helped along by Aras and Emin.

What do you think is the best way to handle this information and would you be able to speak to Emin about it directly?

I can also send this info to your father via Rhona, but it is ultra sensitive so wanted to send to you first.

He was instead reaching out to Don Jr because the meeting was “ultra sensitive.” But the implication was, ultimately, that Trump should know about this meeting, but that perhaps this was even too sensitive to run through Rhona (as I’ve said, I don’t think Goldstone is really talking about the crown prosecutor).

So the idea was Goldstone calls Don Jr, and Don Jr tells Pops directly.

Had he done that, then Trump would, indeed, have known about the meeting the previous week (June 9 was a Thursday; the 3rd would have been the previous Friday).

So had Uday gone and told Pops right away it is conceivable that Trump (whom Nunberg elsewhere accused of being incapable of colluding with Russian because he would blab about it) was talking about it “the week before.”

Which would change the stakes of the meeting dramatically.

Update: Nunberg told Zack Beauchamp that he was talking of Trump’s public statement on June 7.

Nunberg was actually talking about public comments Trump made on June 7, 2016 — two days before the Trump Tower meeting. In it, Trump promised that he would soon be offering interesting revelations about Clinton.

“I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week, and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons,” then-candidate Trump said. “I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.”

Nunberg interpreted Trump’s comments as a veiled reference to the Trump Tower meeting that Donald Trump Jr. had set up. “He said publicly we’ll find something out about Hillary Clinton,” Nunberg told me about Trump. “You can look it up.”

This, he emphasized during our conversation, is only his interpretation of Trump’s comments. He has no special inside knowledge that Trump was informed of the meeting before it happened, as many have taken his CNN comments to imply, or that Trump was referencing it in that speech. Nunberg thinks that’s what Trump meant, but he never heard any proof.

The Nunberg Subpoena: Is He Protecting Bannon, Rather than Trump?

This WaPo article reporting that Sam Nunberg will refuse to appear before the Grand Jury on Friday confirms that the subpoena everyone reported on was his.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Nunberg said he was asked to come to Washington to appear before the grand jury on Friday. He also provided The Washington Post a copy of his two-page grand jury subpoena seeking documents related to President Trump and nine other people, including emails, correspondence, invoices, telephone logs, calendars and “records of any kind.”

Nunberg, who was reportedly already interviewed by Mueller’s team, says he’s not going to show up.

“Let him arrest me,” Nunberg said. “Mr. Mueller should understand I am not going in on Friday.”

You’d think he was doing this in hopes that Trump might protect him, except this kind of stuff is not the way to elicit favors from Trump.

“The Russians and Trump did not collude,” Nunberg said. “Putin is too smart to collude with Donald Trump.”

[snip]

“Donald Trump won this election on his own. He campaigned his ass off. And there is nobody who hates him more than me.”

Which is why I wonder whether Nunberg’s refusal to testify has more to do with protecting Bannon, with whom he’s still quite chummy, than the President.

“I’m not spending 80 hours going over my emails with Roger Stone and Stephen K. Bannon and producing them,” Nunberg said.

Among those listed in Nunberg’s subpoena, Bannon almost the only one who was a mild surprise.

  1. Carter Page
  2. Corey Lewandowski
  3. Donald J. Trump
  4. Hope Hicks
  5. Keith Schiller
  6. Michael Cohen
  7. Paul Manafort
  8. Rick Gates
  9. Roger Stone
  10. Steve Bannon

Most people on the list are known to be subjects of the investigation. Hicks (who probably is the subject of the obstruction investigation anyway) and Schiller are the two people closest to Trump at key times during the campaign. And Lewandowski was involved in managing the outreach to Europe for key periods of the campaign (and is really squirrelly about what he did after the campaign).

Which leaves Bannon, who was involved in some key meetings during the transition, and whose opposition to the Trump meeting was always about Don Jr and Manafort not involving lawyers than opposition to obtaining stolen emails generally.

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