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The Dossier as Disinformation: Why It Would Matter

As I disclosed last month, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

When I wrote this post suggesting that Oleg Deripaska may have been in a position to make sure Christopher Steele’s Trump oppo research was filled with disinformation, a lot of people not only doubted that the dossier includes disinformation, but scoffed that even if it did it would matter. (See this post for more expert people talking about the possibility the dossier was seeded with disinformation.)

In his testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, Fusion GPS’ founder Glenn Simpson said that the Democrats used the Steele dossier in an effort, “to help [] manage a, you know, exceptional situation and understand what the heck was going on.” The same, we know from an endless series of Devin Nunes-led stunts to conflate the dossier with the FBI investigation, was true of the FBI.

The Democrats and the FBI used the dossier to figure out what was going on.

So to the extent information in the dossier was deliberately inaccurate — particularly in cases where it conflicted with publicly known or (given geographic location and known Steele network) knowable, more accurate information — it would lead the Democrats and the FBI to make incorrect decisions about how to prepare against or investigate the Russian attack.

And while I can’t tell whether the following examples arose from disinformation or some lack of due diligence or plain old hazards of human intelligence, all are examples where using the dossier to make decisions would have led the Democrats or the FBI to waste resources or act with less urgency than they should have.


How accomplished were the Russians at hacking

Steele claim, July 26, 2016:

In terms of the success of Russian offensive cyber operations to date, a senior government figure reported that there had been only limited success in penetrating the “first tier” foreign targets. The comprised western (especially G7 and NATO) governments, security and intelligence services and central banks, and the IFIs. To compensate for this shortfall, massive effort had been invested, with much greater success, in attacking the “secondary targets”, particularly western private banks and the governments of smaller states allied to the West. S/he mentioned Latvia in this regard.


Kaspersky Labs claim, April 21, 2015 (including links to older reporting attributing the attacks to Russia):

CozyDuke (aka CozyBear, CozyCar or “Office Monkeys”) is a precise attacker. Kaspersky Lab has observed signs of attacks against government organizations and commercial entities in the US, Germany, South Korea and Uzbekistan. In 2014, targets included the White House and the US Department of State, as believed.

The operation presents several interesting aspects

  • extremely sensitive high profile victims and targets
  • evolving crypto and anti-detection capabilities

[snip]

Recent CozyDuke APT activity attracted significant attention in the news:

Sources: State Dept. hack the ‘worst ever’, CNN News, March 2015
White House computer network ‘hacked’, BBC News, October 2014
Three Months Later, State Department Hasn’t Rooted Out Hackers, Wall Street Journal, February 2015
State Department shuts down its e-mail system amid concerns about hacking, Washington Post, November 2014

Note: FBI probably intended the DNC to consult to this report, describing “7 years of Russian cyberespionage,” when they first warned the DNC they were being hacked in September 2015, which would have also alerted the Democrats to the sophistication of Russian hacking.

Actions Democrats might have taken

The incorrect information, neglecting to mention known attacks on Germany’s parliament and US national security agencies, might have led Democrats to dismiss the persistence of the hackers targeting them.


What were Russians doing with social media and how social media was driving polarization

Steele claim, December 13, 2016:

[redacted] reported that over the period March-September 2016 a company called [Webzilla] and its affiliates had been using botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data and conduct “altering operations” against the Democratic Party leadership.


Adrian Chen, The Agency, June 2, 2015,:

It has gone by a few names, but I will refer to it by its best known: the Internet Research Agency. The agency had become known for employing hundreds of Russians to post pro-Kremlin propaganda online under fake identities, including on Twitter, in order to create the illusion of a massive army of supporters; it has often been called a “troll farm.” The more I investigated this group, the more links I discovered between it and the hoaxes. In April, I went to St. Petersburg to learn more about the agency and its brand of information warfare, which it has aggressively deployed against political opponents at home, Russia’s perceived enemies abroad and, more recently, me.

Update: at 35:00 in this December 9, 2015 podcast, Chen describes the Russian trolls “only tweeting about Donald Trump and stuff … maybe it’s some kind of opaque strategy of like electing Donald Trump to undermine the US or something, you know like false flag kind of thing.” (h/t JL)

BuzzFeed, Hyperpartisan Facebook Pages Are Publishing False And Misleading Information At An Alarming Rate, October 20, 2016 (and virtually everything else Craig Silverman wrote in the months leading up to it):

Hyperpartisan political Facebook pages and websites are consistently feeding their millions of followers false or misleading information, according to an analysis by BuzzFeed News. The review of more than 1,000 posts from six large hyperpartisan Facebook pages selected from the right and from the left also found that the least accurate pages generated some of the highest numbers of shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook — far more than the three large mainstream political news pages analyzed for comparison.

[snip]

The rapid growth of these pages combines with BuzzFeed News’ findings to suggest a troubling conclusion: The best way to attract and grow an audience for political content on the world’s biggest social network is to eschew factual reporting and instead play to partisan biases using false or misleading information that simply tells people what they want to hear. This approach has precursors in partisan print and television media, but has gained a new scale of distribution on Facebook. And while it isn’t a solely American phenomenon — the British Labour party found powerful support from a similar voice — these pages are central to understanding a profoundly polarized moment in American life.

Actions Democrats might have taken

It’s hard to believe this December report is anything but pure disinformation. And, particularly given that it came just weeks before Manafort counseled Trump to discredit the investigation by discrediting the dossier, it’s easy to imagine that the point of this was to provide easily falsifiable information, seed politically and financially expensive lawfare, and protect Putin crony Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s contribution to the election operation.

In any case, intelligence about the publicly known trolling efforts earlier in campaign season might have led Hillary to pressure her close ally, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, to take the threat more seriously — or at least to pay more attention to Facebook’s optimization program, both in her own and her opponent’s campaign. But a late report blaming a completely different company has only helped to discredit efforts to collect information on Trump’s ties to Russia.


What kompromat did Russia plan to leak on Hillary

Steele claim, June 20, 2016:

Asked about the Kremlin’s reported intelligence feed to TRUMP over recent years and rumours about a Russian dossier of “kompromat” on Hillary CLINTON (being circulated), Source B confirmed the file’s existence. S/he confided in a trusted compatriot that it had been collated by Department K of the FSB for many years, dating back to her husband Bill’s presidency, and compromised mainly eavesdropped conversations of various sorts rather than details/evidence of unorthodox or embarrassing behavior. Some of the conversations were from bugged comments CLINTON had made on her various trips to Russia and focused on things she had said which contradicted her current position on various issues. Others were probably from phone intercepts.


Josef Mifsud to George Papadopoulos, April 26, 2016, over breakfast in a London hotel: the Russians “had emails of Clinton … they have dirt on her … they have thousands of emails.”

Papadopoulos, May 10, 2016, over a drink to Australia’s Ambassador to the UK, in Kensington’s Wine Room, 2.5 miles from Orbis’ office:

During that conversation he (Papadopoulos) mentioned the Russians might use material that they have on Hillary Clinton in the lead-up to the election, which may be damaging.

[snip]

He didn’t say dirt, he said material that could be damaging to her. No, he said it would be damaging. He didn’t say what it was.

Actions Democrats might have taken

At least some of the very first documents Guccifer 2.0 released starting in June were obtained via the Podesta hack. Had the Democrats been worried about “thousands of emails” as kompromat rather than “bugged comments [and] phone intercepts … collated by Department K of the FSB for many years, dating back to her husband Bill’s presidency,” the Democrats might have prepared for an assault more directly targeting Hillary. At the very least, the Guccifer 2.0 releases would have alerted the Democrats that Crowdstrike’s advice — that usually such emails weren’t publicly released — didn’t apply in this case.


Who managed outreach to Russia

Steele claim, undated (after July 22, 2016):

This was managed on the TRUMP side by the Republican candidate’s campaign manager, Paul MANAFORT, who was using foreign policy advisor, Carter PAGE, and others as intermediaries.


Fusion GPS client Natalia Veselnitskaya, before June 9, 2016 Prevezon hearing attended by Simpson:

Around the end of May 2016, during a conversation with a good acquaintance of mine, being my client, Aras Agalarov on a topic that was not related to the United States, I shared the story faced when defending another client, Denis Katsyv, about how terribly misled the US Congress had been by the tax defrauder William Browder, convicted in Russia, who, through his lobbyists and his close-minded rank-and-file Congress staffers, succeeded in adopting the Act in the name of a person whom Browder practically hardly ever knew. I considered it my duty to inform the Congress people about it and asked Mr. Agalarov if there was any possibility of helping me or my colleagues to do this. I do not remember who of us was struck by the idea that maybe his son could talk about this with Donald Trump, Jr., who, although a businessman, was sure to have some acquaintances among Congress people.

[snip]

But upon arrival in New York in the evening of June 8, 2016, in my e-mail box I found a letter from a certain Goldstone, who notified me of the time and place of the meeting with Donald Trump, Jr. In this correspondance Aras Agalarov’s colleague, Irakli Kaveladze, who had been living in the United States for a long time and to whom I left my mail for contacts, was mentioned in the copy.

Veselnitskaya to Rob Goldstone, June 9, 9:24AM, requesting the inclusion of another Fusion client:

I am writing to ask you to pass by Mt. Trump my request to include our trusted associate and lobbyist Mr. Rinat Akhmetshin, who is working to advance these issues with several congressmen.

Paul Manafort to deputy of likely Steele contact Oleg Deripaska, Konstantin Kilimnik, July 7, 2016, of Deripaska:

If he needs private briefings we can accommodate.

Actions Democrats might have taken

On this point, the dossier proved absolutely correct. Manafort was managing the conspiracy with the Russians, at least until he was fired and his hand-picked replacement Steve Bannon took over. But the dossier’s focus on Carter Page — who was part of Russia’s outreach but a marginal figure — served to distract from the far more central figures that Fusion and its contractor Steele had no business missing: Fusion’s clients Natalia Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin, and through them the President’s son and son-in-law, along with Manafort. And Steele contact Oleg Deripaska’s deputy, Konstantin Kilimnik.

Whether intentionally or not, the Page focus in the dossier distracted from the more central players, the ones who interacted directly with the candidate, the ones being run by Steele contact Deripaska.


Whether both sides were comfortable with ongoing operations

Steele claim, July 30, 2016, based off “late July” reporting:

The émigré said there was a high level of anxiety within the TRUMP team as a result of various accusations levelled agains them and indications from the Kremlin that President PUTIN and others in the leadership thought things had gone too far and risked spiralling out of control.

Continuing on this theme, the émigré associate of TRUMP opined that the Kremlin wanted the situation to calm but for “plausible deniability” to be maintained concerning its (extensive) pro-TRUMP and anti-CLINTON operations. S/he therefore judged that it was unlikely these would be ratcheted up, at least for the time being.


July 27, 2016, Donald Trump:

Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.

July 27, 2016:

For example, on or about July 27, 2016, the Conspirators attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton Campaign.

[Note: I’ve spoken with someone involved in the effort to repel this attack, and he described it as a new “wave” of attacks launched seemingly in response to Trump’s comments.]

Actions Democrats might have taken

Because the targeting here was Hillary herself and not the feckless DNC, the Democrats weren’t going to be lulled by this claim that Trump and Russia were laying low. But if the report were disinformation, it may have been intended to disavow the seemingly clear tie between Trump’s requests and GRU’s response.


Who covered up Manafort’s scandals/What Cohen really was doing with Russia

Steele claim, October 19, 2016:

According to the Kremlin insider, [Michael] COHEN now was heavily engaged in a cover up and damage limitation operation in the attempt to prevent the full details of TRUMP’s relationship with Russian being exposed. In pursuit of this aim, COHEN had met secretly with several Russian Presidential Administration (PA) Legal Department officials in an EU country in August 2016. The immediate issues had been to contain further scandals involving MANNAFORT’s [sic] commercial and political role in Russia/Ukraine and to limit the damage arising from exposure of former TRUMP foreign policy advisor, Carter PAGE’s secret meetings with Russian leadership figures in Moscow the previous month.


Starting on August 15, Rick Gates helps Paul Manafort hide their Ukranian consulting by lying to the press and DOJ’s FARA Unit; Deripaska deputy Konstantin Kilimnik would remain closely involved through the next year:

For example, on August 15, 2016, a member of the press e-mailed Manafort and copied a spokesperson for the Trump campaign to solicit a comment for a forthcoming story describing his lobbying. Gates corresponded with Manafort about this outreach and explained that he “provided” the journalist “information on background and then agreed that we would provide these answers to his questions on record.” He then proposed a series of answers to the journalist’s questions and asked Manafort to “review the below and let me know if anything else is needed,” to which Manafort replied, in part, “These answers look fine.” Gates sent a materially identical message to one of the principals of Company B approximately an hour later and “per our conversation.” The proposed answers Gates conveyed to Manafort, the press, and Company B are those excerpted in the indictment in paragraph 26.

An article by this member of the press associating Manafort with undisclosed lobbying on behalf of Ukraine was published shortly after Gates circulated the Manafort-approved false narrative to Company B and the member of the press. Manafort, Gates, and an associate of Manafort’s corresponded about how to respond to this article, including the publication of an article to “punch back” that contended that Manafort had in fact pushed President Yanukovych to join the European Union. Gates responded to the punch-back article that “[w]e need to get this out to as many places as possible. I will see if I can get it to some people,” and Manafort thanked the author by writing “I love you! Thank you.” Manafort resigned his position as chairman of the Trump campaign within days of the press article disclosing his lobbying for Ukraine.

Manafort’s role with the Trump campaign is thus relevant to his motive for undertaking the charged scheme to conceal his lobbying activities on behalf of Ukraine. Here, it would be difficult for the jury to understand why Manafort and Gates began crafting and disseminating a false story regarding their Ukrainian lobbying work nearly two years after that work ceased—but before any inquiry by the FARA Unit—without being made aware of the reason why public scrutiny of Manafort’s work intensified in mid-2016. Nor would Manafort’s motives for continuing to convey that false information to the FARA Unit make sense: having disseminated a false narrative to the press while his position on the Trump campaign was in peril, Manafort either had to admit these falsehoods publicly or continue telling the lie.

Oleg Deripaska deputy Konstantin Kilimnik asks Alex van der Zwaan to call Rick Gates to cover up Yulia Tymoshenko cover-up, September 12, 2016

When confronted with an email dated September 12, 2016, sent by Person A to van der Zwaan, the defendant again lied. The email was sent to the defendant’s email address at his law firm, though the Special Counsel’s Office had obtained the email from another source. The email said, in Russian, that Person A “would like to exchange a few words via WhatsApp or Telegram.” van der Zwaan lied and said he had no idea why that email had not been produced to the government, and further lied when he stated that he had not communicated with Person A in response to the email.

[snip]

Further, van der Zwaan in fact had a series of calls with Gates and Person A—as well as the lead partner on the matter—in September and October 2016. The conversations concerned potential criminal charges in Ukraine about the Tymoshenko report and how the firm was compensated for its work.

Actions Democrats might have taken

I’m particularly interested in how Deripaska contact Christopher Steele told a story that put Michael Cohen at the center of Russia pushback rather than Manafort himself, Rick Gates, and Deripaska deputy Konstantin Kilimnik, because if this is disinformation, it served multiple purposes (not all of which I include here):

  • Distracted from Gates’ actions (and his ongoing ties with Kilimnik) while he remained a central figure on the Trump campaign and transition (effectively, ensuring that a high ranking campaign official with close ties to Deripaska’s deputy remained in place)
  • Distracted from Manafort’s reported ongoing back channel involvement in the campaign
  • Focused attention on Cohen in August, rather than his actions from January to June 2016 to negotiate a Trump Tower deal, something that probably had a more central role in the quid pro quo behind the election operation
  • Shifted focus on ongoing discussions about a Trump Tower deal between reported Steele source Sergei Millian and Russian go-between George Papadopoulos
  • Focused fall attention on Cohen on a Russian cover-up rather than on the sex worker hush payments he facilitated

Again, I don’t know that this line of Steele’s reporting is disinformation (though no evidence Cohen went to Prague has been substantiated). But if it was, it would have been a masterful distraction from a number of key threads that might have been lethal to Trump in the general election if they had become a focus.

In each of these cases, the disinformation would not so much disavow the existence of the election campaign. Indeed, in key respects — the centrality of Paul Manafort and Russia’s desire to end sanctions (though even there, the Steele dossier focused on the Ukrainian sanctions rather than the Magnitsky ones) — the dossier reported what actually happened, though both items were obvious. Rather, the disinformation would include grains of truth but incorrect details that would distract investigators and misinform Democratic decision-makers.

And all that’s before you get into how perfectly the dossier has served to discredit a very real, well-founded counterintelligence investigation and entangled Democrats and the press in expensive lawfare.

In Defense of Trump’s Steele Dossier Tweet

I can’t believe what I’m about to do.

I’m going to defend this tweet from Donald Trump as reasonable.

Before I do, let me say two things.

First, I have zero doubt that the Russians attempted to influence the election. I think it likely Robert Mueller will eventually show evidence that senior people in Trump’s camp attempted to and may have coordinated with people working for Russia, and people more tangential to the campaign sought out Russians for help. I think if the full story of the Russian involvement in the election comes out, it will be worse than what people currently imagine.

I also think Trump opponents have made a really grave error in investing so much in the Steele dossier. That’s true because, from the start, there were some real provenance questions about it, as leaked. Those questions have only grown, as I’ll explain below. The dossier was always way behind ongoing reporting on the hack-and-leak, meaning it is utterly useless for one of the most important parts of last year’s tampering. The dossier provides Trump officials a really easy way to rebut claims of involvement, even when (such as with Michael Cohen) there is ample other evidence to suggest inappropriate ties with Russia. Most importantly, the dossier is not needed for the most common reason people cling to it, to provide a framework to understand Trump’s compromise by Russia. By late January, WaPo’s reporting did a far better job of that, with the advantage that it generally proceeded from events with more public demonstrable proof. And (again, given the abundance of other evidence) there’s no reason to believe the Mueller investigation depends on it.

But because Trump opponents have clung to the damn dossier for months, like a baby’s blanket, hoping for a pee tape, it allows Trump, Republicans, and Russians to engage in lawfare and other means to discredit the dossier as if discrediting the dossier will make the pile of other incriminating evidence disappear.

I believe the Trump opponents’ investment in the Steele dossier will ultimately lead to a bad own goal.

All that said, I think Trump’s tweet today, while as typically douchey as all his tweets, is somewhat defensible (and the fact that it is defensible should serve as a warning to those still clinging to the Steele dossier).

Workers of firm … take the 5th

Trump is referring to the fact that two Fusion employees refused to testify before the House Intelligence Committee under a subpoena issued unilaterally by Devin Nunes. There is significant confusion, spread in part by their attorney, as to why they would not testify. Beforehand, their attorney said the First Amendment permitted them to blow off the committee (which wouldn’t even be true for a journalist, much less an oppo research firm pretending for convenience to be a journalistic enterprise). Since it happened, several credible journalists have said Fusion’s lawyer said they pled the Fifth (which would work, but would also mean they felt they had criminal exposure).

So the point it at least contested.

My guess is they’re just stalling, with the knowledge that if Nunes has to find a way to enforce his subpoena, the rest of the committee will get to weigh in and will refuse to back his effort.

Discredited and Fake

It is true that anonymous sources say that the FBI has corroborated some things in the dossier (and Andy McCarthy makes an uncharacteristically worthwhile argument for what the tea leaves say). It is also true that Dianne Feinstein confirmed during the summer that we only have part (and given the numbering, probably a very small part) of the dossier. So we can’t be sure whether the bits FBI has corroborated are public at all.

There are things, as I’ve noted, that totally discredit parts of the dossier, such as the fact that it reported Russia hadn’t succeeded in hacking top targets almost a year after it was widely reported FSB already had (in general, the dossier is awful on the hack, as I lay out in this post; Steele’s speciality is in following the money and it shows).

Then there’s the fact that the unnecessary report on Alfa bank misspells their name: it’s a minor point but one those engaging in lawfare always point out.

The one thing that most people focus on — a Prague meeting between Cohen and the Russians — is not backed by the US passport he showed BuzzFeed.

A number of people have claimed that the dossier reported, 11 days after it occurred, the June 9 Trump Tower meeting. But as I lay out in this post, the dossier says the kompromat in question is older stuff based off wiretaps of Hillary, and it actually claims that Russia had not yet shared the intelligence in question, meaning the dossier did not confirm the June 9 meeting.

That doesn’t mean it’s discredited. But it doesn’t mean we know what parts of it have been corroborated, and some parts are not true (as we should expect from raw intelligence).

Who paid for it: Russia

The most problematic thing Trump said is that Russia may have paid for the dossier. It’s true we don’t know who paid for the dossier (indeed, that is the chief reason why Fusion doesn’t want to testify, to hide who did pay for it). Rumors say that a Jeb Bush supporter paid for it up until June 2016 (meaning, for a bunch of reports that aren’t public at all), and a Hillary supporter paid for it until November. Steele has claimed in court filings that the reports that came after that, including the December 13 report that has the most incendiary claims (including that Trump paid hackers involved in the operation), that he worked for free after November and that his sources — who normally would be paid — also just dumped the intelligence that happened to be the most inflammatory parts into his lap.

The Defendants continued to receive unsolicited intelligence on the matters covered by the pre-election memoranda after the US Presidential election and the conclusion of the assignment for Fusion.

After receiving some such intelligence [Steele] prepared the confidential December memorandum, … on his own initiative on or around 13 December 2016.

That last claim — that Steele worked for free — is pretty sketchy, especially when you consider that (given the numbering in the dossier and Feinstein’s confirmation we’ve got just part of the dossier) there were likely 31 reports filed between October 19 and December 13.

Regardless of who really paid for the work, the fact that Steele claims he (and his sources) were working for free, the fact that the Russians would have known about the dossier at least by October 31, when David Corn wrote about it, and possibly by mid-September, when Steele started briefing journalists on it, the fact that Aleksej Gubarev quickly sued, the fact that a suspected dossier source died in mysterious circumstances in December, and the fact that the last report tied everything up in a neat little bow, suggests the Russians may have been feeding Steele disinformation by that last report.

Does that mean the Russians paid Steele? Absolutely not. It’s an outrageous insinuation. Does that mean that any disinformation in the dossier was ultimately paid for by Russia and that it is not crazy to imagine the later reports included at least some disinformation? Yup.

Then there’s another detail that makes the Russian accusation at least reasonable: the fact that Rinat Ahkmetshin had a relationship with Fusion (to work on anti-Magnitsky stuff) at precisely the same time as Fusion was working on the Trump dossier. Not only does that fact make it more likely Russians eventually learned of the dossier and fed Steele disinformation, but it also means Fusion was getting paid by Russians at the same time as or not long before it was producing free Steele dossier work.

Who paid for it: FBI

People seem most offended by Trump’s claim that FBI may have paid for the dossier. The reporting on this point conflicts, but note that CNN has said that Steele got paid by the FBI for expenses.

CNN:

The FBI reimbursed some expenses of the former British intelligence operative who produced a dossier containing allegations of President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia, people familiar with the matter said.

WaPo:

The former British spy who authored a controversial dossier on behalf of Donald Trump’s political opponents alleging ties between Trump and Russia reached an agreement with the FBI a few weeks before the election for the bureau to pay him to continue his work, according to several people familiar with the arrangement.

The agreement to compensate former MI6 agent Christopher Steele came as U.S. intelligence agencies reached a consensus that the Russians had interfered in the presidential election by orchestrating hacks of Democratic Party email accounts.

[snip]

Ultimately, the FBI did not pay Steele. Communications between the bureau and the former spy were interrupted as Steele’s now-famous dossier became the subject of news stories, congressional inquiries and presidential denials, according to the people familiar with the arrangement, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

NBC:

The FBI reached a deal in October to pay a former British spy who had compiled a dossier on Donald Trump’s alleged ties with Russia, an indication of how seriously the bureau was taking the allegations, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The deal for the former operative, Christopher Steele, to continue his work on behalf of the FBI fell apart when Steele pulled out, said the source, who has direct knowledge of the situation.

Given what Chuck Grassley has asked and said in response, my suspicion is the reality is that FBI paid Steele’s expenses for trips to explain sourcing and other details of the dossier to them, meaning their funds didn’t pay his sources or for his time, but did pay for him to meet with the FBI.

Who paid for it: Dems

This claim is a no-brainer. According to the public story, a Hillary supporter — who has always been presumed to be a Democrat though there’s no reason that has to be true (indeed, it is utterly conceivable that the same person paid for the work first in Jeb’s name and then in Hillary’s) — paid for all the reports we have, save the December 13 one.

(or all)?

Finally, people are especially offended that Trump, with his “or all,” insinuated that the FBI and Russians were colluding against Trump.

It’s certainly possible that’s what he intended. But the public record at least claims that three different entities paid for the dossier over time; that same record makes a reasonable claim that both the Dems and FBI paid some money to support the dossier.

All of which is to say the serial payment for the dossier does not require that “or all” to be a malicious insinuation of collusion (heh) between FBI and Russia.

I know this will be an unbelievably unpopular post. But the dossier simply isn’t as pristine as those clinging to it want it to be. Which is a good reason for Trump opponents to spend more time highlighting the great reporting of the WaPo or NYT, which often as not has been confirmed and is backed by public information.

Update: Made some tweaks in my argument that Trump opponents should stop clinging to the Steele dossier.

Updates from the Russian Front

I’m working on a post on the fight over Congressional investigations into the Russian hack, but for the moment I wanted to point to two other pieces of news.

Buzzfeed gets sued

First, BuzzFeed is getting sued.

One of the people named in the partial Trump dossier published by BuzzFeed last month, Aleksej Gubarev, has sued for defamation to himself and his companies, which include the hosting company Webzilla. Gubarev also sued Christopher Steele in the UK. In an interview with CNN, Gubarev described the injury suffered as a result of the publication of the unredacted dossier.

The lawsuit criticizes BuzzFeed for publishing the memos, alleging that “BuzzFeed itself admitted it had no idea what — if anything — in the dossier was truthful.”

Indeed, when the news website published the memos on January 10, it justified “publishing the full document so that Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the US government.”

The lawsuit notes that the BuzzFeed story has been viewed almost six million times, and the news site has written eight follow-up articles that all link back to the unsubstantiated dossier.

Before he filed the lawsuit, Gubarev spoke to CNNMoney about the damage he had already experienced from the leaked dossier.

“I’m really damaged by this story. This is why I’m ready to spend money and go to court about this,” he told CNNMoney in mid-January.

“I have a multimillion dollar business. Why do I need these connections with hackers?” he said, speaking by phone from the Mediterranean island of Cyprus where he lives. “It’s absolutely not true, and I can go to the court and say this.”

In his interview with CNNMoney, Gubarev said that three of XBT’s European bank partners froze the company’s $5 million credit line because of reports about the memos. Gubarev declined to provide CNNMoney proof of those frozen credit lines.

After the suit got filed, Buzzfeed redacted Gubaev’s names from the still-published dossier and apologized.

I’m interested in this development for several reasons. First, Donald Trump has repeatedly suggested that he might have sued Steele had the former British spy not gone into hiding. Furthermore, this feels a bit like Peter Thiel. So I wonder whether Gubarev has been advanced as a proxy to go after Buzzfeed.

Also, as noted, the (now-redacted) reference to Gubarev appears in the last entry of the partial dossier Buzzfeed published. As I explained, that last entry is significant because it post-dates any known sharing of the dossier on the part of Steele. That, plus some other aspects of the dossier as released, might have raised more caution in Buzzfeed about provenance before publication. If this suit goes forward, Gubarev would have an opportunity to probe these areas.

Wikileaks didn’t release all DNC emails

Then there’s this story, that reveals numerous DNC staffers and reporters have identified emails of theirs that didn’t get released by WikiLeaks. While multiple people quoted in the story suggest the emails may have been curated to take out worthwhile context, they also admit that there was nothing “explosive” that was excluded.

The question of whether the emails were curated in some way, to appear as damaging as possible to the Democratic Party, has long been whispered about among campaign staffers.

“There was the fact that they were released in drips and drabs, and then, the fact that entire parts of an email chain were missing, which would have given a bit of context to the discussion, but a lot of us weren’t about to say, ‘Hey, you missed some emails!’” said one Democratic Party campaign staffer, who, like others, asked for anonymity to discuss the data breach while investigations continue.

“I think it is unknown that these emails were not just dumped, there was curation happening here,” said another campaign staffer, who also requested anonymity in exchange for discussing the emails. “I would find part of an email chain, but not other parts. At times, the parts missing were the parts that would have given context to the whole discussion.”

Still, he said, among the missing emails was nothing “explosive, or holy shit… a lot of it was mundane stuff or stuff that flushed out and gave context.”

The implication in the story is that WikiLeaks curated the emails (and Assange did not answer Buzzfeed’s query about the missing files).

“The idea that Wikileaks and Julian Assange is about some kind of high minded transparency is totally completely full of shit,” said one former Democratic campaign staffer. “What they wanted was to create the maximum amount of political pain.”

There is precedent for a time when Wikileaks did not publish the entire set of a known dataset — in 2012, when Wikileaks’ version of the Syria files did not include a letter from a Syrian bank to a Russian one reflecting 2 billion Euro in deposits.

[T]he Syria Files should still contain the central bank’s emails from Oct. 26, 2011, concerning its €2 billion and bank account in Moscow: For one, WikiLeaks has published several emails received by the same account ([email protected]) from that day. Secondly, the court records leaked to the Daily Dot reveal the Moscow bank’s emails were, in fact, part of the larger backup file containing numerous emails currently found on the WikiLeaks site. One such email, discussed in depth by RevoluSec members more than nine months before the WikiLeaks release, details the transfer of €5 million from a bank in Frankfurt, Germany, to a European central bank in Austria, the recipient of the email being Central Bank of Syria.

When asked about the missing file, a WikiLeaks spox responded aggressively.

In response to a request for comment, WikiLeaks said the preceding account “is speculation and it is false.” The spokesperson continued: “The release includes many emails referencing Syrian-Russian relations. As a matter of long standing policy we do not comment on claimed sources. It is disappointing to see Daily Dot pushing the Hillary Clinton campaign’s neo-McCarthyist conspiracy theories about critical media.” (WikiLeaks threatened to retaliate against the reporters if they pursued the story: “Go right ahead,” they said, “but you can be sure we will return the favour one day.”)

[snip]

Asked about the possibility it could be duped, WikiLeaks responded flatly: “All Syria files obtained by WikiLeaks have been published and are authentic.”

In both cases, of course, it is possible that WikiLeaks didn’t get all of the documents.

Indeed, perhaps the most interesting detail in this new report — one noted without considering the implications of it — is that at least some staffers at DNC had emails set to delete after 30 days.

Many of the Democratic Party campaign staffers who spoke to BuzzFeed News said it was hard to tell exactly how many messages were missing, since their emails were set to automatically delete every 30 days.

The emails go back to early 2015. Yet GRU — the Russian intelligence service attributed with stealing these emails — didn’t break in until March 2016. The emails would have been backed up (or perhaps not all staffers did have their emails set to delate). But the detail may suggest other things about how the emails obtained by Wikileaks were stolen.

Remember: when the emails were first released, FBI was unsure whether the emails hacked by GRU were the same ones released by Wikileaks.

Trump eyes Poland

Finally, to the actual Russian front. According to this review of Trump’s foreign policy so far, his aides have been seeking information on an alleged incursion by Poland into Belarus, a close Russian ally.

According to one U.S. official, national security aides have sought information about Polish incursions in Belarus, an eyebrow-raising request because little evidence of such activities appears to exist. Poland is among the Eastern European nations worried about Trump’s friendlier tone on Russia.

That suggests the aides in question are getting some wacky ideas from … somewhere.