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George Papadopoulos Tied the Utility of Russian Dirt to the Campaign’s Plan to Use Dirt to Win

Judicial Watch has once again liberated documents from DOJ that undermine their narrative about the Russian investigation (and, in this case, provides yet another reason to question the fidelity of the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page).

In the DOJ IG Report, it provides a description of the tip Australia provided to State which got passed on to the FBI. The most complete description of that (pages 51 to 52) introduces a block quote describing the tip by explaining the Australian tip “stated, in part, that Papadopoulos”

suggested the Trump team had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that it could assist this process with the anonymous release of information during the campaign that would be damaging to Mrs. Clinton (and President Obama). It was unclear whether he or the Russians were referring to material acquired publicly of [sic] through other means. It was also unclear how Mr. Trump’s team reacted to the offer. We note the Trump team’s reaction could, in the end, have little bearing of what Russia decides to do, with or without Mr. Trump’s cooperation.

The IG Report never quotes what the other part of the memo is, but it does quote a long excerpt from a Bill Priestap transcript describing that Papadopoulos expressed confidence (in April!) that Trump would win, in part because of how much dirt the campaign had on Hillary.

In fact, the information we received indicated that Papadopoulos told the [FFG] he felt confident Mr. Trump would win the election, and Papadopoulos commented that the Clintons had a lot of baggage and that the Trump team had plenty of material to use in its campaign.

Priestap understood that the campaign planned to win by using the dirt it had on Hillary Clinton.

Judicial Watch just liberated the FBI document memorializing on the tip. It too, redacts that other part of what Australia passed on (bizarrely, under source and law enforcement exemptions, not privacy, which seem like easily challenged exemptions).

But laid out like this (particularly given the length of the redaction as compared to Priestap’s description), it makes the context more clear.

Papadopoulos said Trump would win because they had dirt on Hillary and then suggested Russia could “assist this process” — that is, using dirt to win the election — by anonymously releasing information damaging to Hillary.

The “this process” hidden behind the redaction is “using dirt to win the election.” The antecedent of “this process” must be (because that description does not and could not appear anywhere else), using dirt to win the election.

It is, perhaps, a subtle thing. But in context as the FBI received it, Papadopoulos tied Russia anonymously dropping dirt on Hillary to the centrality of dirt on Hillary in the Trump campaign’s plan to win. It is true that the tip does not describe Papadopoulos confirming that the campaign would use the Russian dirt or had entered into a relationship to do so.

But particularly given the way Roger Stone claimed WikiLeaks was going to release Clinton Foundation documents while he was boasting of ties to WikiLeaks — that is, the dirt Trump had treated as the Holy Grail all along — the way Papadopoulos tied anonymously released damaging information from Russia to the utility of using dirt to win the election explains the FBI reaction.

Papadopoulos didn’t just raise Russia offering dirt to help win. It raised it in the context of the Trump plan to win by using dirt.

DC Circuit Orders Judge Sullivan to Respond to Mike Flynn’s Mandamus Petition

While I’ve been deep in the weeds in the misrepresentations floated in an attempt to overturn the Mike Flynn prosecution, several tactical moves have occurred. I want to lay them out here.

As I note below, the amicus Emmet Sullivan appointed, John Gleeson, had asked to address any additional information he needed. In a scheduling order, Sullivan did not specifically address when or whether Gleeson should do that. There are obvious things implicated in the motion to dismiss — most notably, the Flynn-Kislyak transcripts which were cited in the motion but not included as exhibits, as well as any substantiation for the claim that DOJ didn’t already know about the “new” exhibits the many times in the past they took a radically different view on this prosecution.

Also of note: The DC Circuit panel is demanding a response from Judge Sullivan within 10 days, so before Gleeson files his amicus brief. It’s unclear whether Sullivan must write the response to the DC Circuit himself.

May 7: Billy Barr’s DOJ filed a motion to dismiss that provided provably false justification justifying why DOJ was presenting radically different views than it did in January.

May 12: In response to a request to file an Amicus brief, Sullivan told petitioners to hold off; Flynn objected to amici on principles that Sidney Powell was contradicting in real time by reiterating her past support for Sullivan’s appointment of a Special Master in response to DOJ abuse. Flynn also said he’d be cool if Sullivan did dismiss his prosecution.

May 13: Sullivan appointed John Gleeson to oppose the government’s motion to dismiss and also to address whether Sullivan should hold Flynn in criminal contempt for perjury.

May 14: Covington & Burling lawyer John Hall filed a notice of appearance, as if Covington might still get to defend against Sidney Powell’s accusations that they provided incompetent representation to Flynn.

May 15: John Gleeson formally moved to file an amicus brief, proposing that his brief address the following topics and asking Sullivan to set a briefing schedule and oral argument:

I respectfully request permission to submit a brief on or before June 10, 2020, addressing three issues: (1) the legal framework applicable to the Court’s authority with respect to a motion to dismiss brought under Rule 48 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure (including both the constitutional validity of the Court’s authority to deny such a motion and the standard to be applied in deciding one); (2) any additional factual development I may need before finalizing my argument in opposition to the government’s motion in this case; and (3) whether, based on the record before the Court, it should order the defendant to show cause why he should not be held in criminal contempt for perjury.

May 18: DOJ provided Flynn with the Bill Priestap 302 that reportedly would undermine the Motion to Dismiss.

May 19: Sullivan set the following schedule (unless one of the parties asks him to reconsider by May 26):

June 10: The Court-appointed amicus curiae shall file the amicus brief by no later than 12:00 PM on June 10, 2020;

June 10: Any motion seeking leave to file an amicus brief by non-Court-appointed amicus curiae

June 17: The government and Mr. Flynn shall file their responses to the amicus brief of the Court-appointed amicus curiae

June 24: The Court-appointed amicus curiae shall file a reply brief by no later than 12:00 PM on June 24, 2020

June 26: The government and Mr. Flynn shall file any sur-reply briefs by no later than 12:00 PM on June 26, 2020

July 2: The government, Mr. Flynn, and the Court-appointed amicus curiae shall file a consolidated response to any amicus brief of non-Court-appointed amicus curiae by no later than 12:00 PM on July 2, 2020.

July 16: Oral arguments

May 19: Flynn files a petition for a writ of mandamus before the DC Circuit

May 21: The DC Circuit (including Poppy Bush appointed Karen Henderson, Obama appointee Robert Wilkins, and Trump hack Neomi Rao (who had recused on other Mueller related matters) instructs Sullivan to respond to Flynn’s petition within 10 days (so May 31), specifically citing US v. Fokker Services. Adding: the DC Circuit also invited the government to weigh in during that same 10 day period. While that suggests the conservatives are inviting a pile on, it also may moot the government’s opportunity to petition for a writ of mandamus if Sullivan has an opportunity to actually rule.

Billy Barr Put a Firearms Prosecutor in Charge of Reviewing a Counterintelligence Investigation

The NYT published a story yesterday that will be very handy for the amicus that Emmet Sullivan appointed in the Mike Flynn case, John Gleeson. It describes two pieces of evidence that St. Louis US Attorney Jeffrey Jensen (whom Barr ordered to conduct a review of Flynn’s prosecution) and Timothy Shea (whose name was on the motion to dismiss asking Sullivan to dismiss the case) failed to account for in their motion.

Most notably, prosecutors interviewed Bill Priestap two days before the motion to dismiss, on May 5. Priestap’s notes have been portrayed by Flynn’s team as proof that the FBI tried to entrap Flynn. In the interview, Priestap disputed the interpretation of the notes that had already been released a week earlier.

That interpretation was wrong, Mr. Priestap told the prosecutors reviewing the case. He said that F.B.I. officials were trying to do the right thing in questioning Mr. Flynn and that he knew of no effort to set him up. Media reports about his notes misconstrued them, he said, according to the people familiar with the investigation.

[snip]

Mr. Jensen and Ms. Ballantine, herself a veteran prosecutor, interviewed Mr. Priestap along with another prosecutor, Sayler Fleming, and an F.B.I. agent from St. Louis who was there to memorialize the encounter.

[snip]

Those notes reflected Mr. Priestap’s own thoughts before meeting with F.B.I. leadership to discuss how to question Mr. Flynn, the people said. A footnote in Mr. Shea’s motion included a reference to Mr. Priestap’s ruminations. The motion described them as “talking points.”

The notes also showed that the F.B.I. softened its interview strategy with Mr. Flynn. Officials decided that agents would be allowed to read back portions of the highly classified phone call transcripts to refresh Mr. Flynn’s memory. F.B.I. investigators felt at the time it was important to figure out whether Mr. Flynn would tell the truth in an interview.

The article also reveals the existence of an FBI email, dated April 23, that reflects the Bureau’s view that Prietap’s notes were not Brady material, but gave them to Flynn’s team only because they were not sensitive.

Eventually the F.B.I. agreed to release the documents because they contained no classified or sensitive material, even though they believed they were not required to share them with the defense, according to an email from lawyers in Mr. Boente’s office on April 23.

Finally, the article describes that Jensen started drafting the motion to dismiss “by the beginning of May,” which would be before interviewing Priestap (the FBI’s drafting of the Hillary declination before her interview is regarded as a key sin among the frothy right).

By the beginning of May, Mr. Jensen recommended to Mr. Barr that the charge be dropped, and the team began to draft the motion to dismiss it.

[snip]

As the lawyers digested the interview with Mr. Priestap, some prosecutors expressed concern that they were moving too fast. But other officials pointed out that in less than a week the department was due to respond to Mr. Flynn’s motion to dismiss the case, and argued against proceeding in that matter if they were about to drop the entire case.

So Jensen’s crack review of the propriety of the Flynn prosecution first turned over the document to Flynn, then started drafting the motion to dismiss, and only then decided to ask Priestap about what the notes mean. It will be interesting to discover whether whoever drafted the motion to dismiss had decided the notes were “talking points” before the Priestap interview and just ignored the interview entrely.

The NYT story reveals another detail, however: who, from Jensen’s team, is conducting this review, a St. Louis prosecutor named Sayler Fleming. Fleming’s day job seems to be entirely focused on prosecuting felon possession of firearms cases, along with typical related crimes, car-jacking and drug trafficking. Because of recent Supreme Court decision, that means he or she has fielded a bunch of appeals in recent months.

But nothing in PACER suggests he or she has any experience with counterintelligence at all, or even national security cases.

And that may explain one of the more egregious errors in the motion to dismiss. The motion admits that the case against Flynn, which was never closed, was predicated on both 18 USC 951 and FARA, two different kinds of Foreign Agent laws. But its analysis of the investigative purpose of the January 24, 2017 interview, claims that the FBI was only investigating the Logan Act.

Believing that the counterintelligence investigation of Mr. Flynn was to be closed, FBI leadership (“the 7th Floor”) determined to continue its investigation of Mr. Flynn on the basis of these calls, and considered opening a new criminal investigation based solely on a potential violation of the Logan Act, 18 U.S.C. § 953. See Ex. 3 at 2-3; Ex. 7 at 1-2; Ex. 8 at 1-5, FBI Emails RE: Logan Act Jan. 4, 2017. Yet discussions with the Department of Justice resulted in the general view that the Logan Act would be difficult to prosecute. Ex. 3 at 2-3; Ex. 4 at 1-2, FBI FD-302, Interview of Sally Yates, Aug. 15, 2017 (Sept. 7, 2017); Ex. 5 at 9. The FBI never opened an independent FBI criminal investigation.

The motion adopts expressive language to suggest the investigative team vacillated between whether there was a criminal investigation or not — in the process, falsely suggesting an interview would only be appropriate if there were a criminal investigation.

Deputy Attorney General Yates and another senior DOJ official became “frustrated” when Director Comey’s justifications for withholding the information from the Trump administration repeatedly “morphed,” vacillating from the potential compromise of a “counterintelligence” investigation to the protection of a purported “criminal” investigation. Ex. 3 at 5; compare Ex. 5 at 5 (“[W]e had an open counterintelligence investigation on Mr. Flynn”), with Ex. 4 at 4 (“Comey had said something to the effect of there being an ‘ongoing criminal investigation’”).

It then goes on to suggest that because records searches had yielded nothing in the 18 USC 951 investigation, a call showing Flynn intervened to undermine official US policy with no hint that he did so on Trump’s orders would not by itself be relevant to a Foreign Agent investigation.

In the case of Mr. Flynn, the evidence shows his statements were not “material” to any viable counterintelligence investigation—or any investigation for that matter—initiated by the FBI. Indeed, the FBI itself had recognized that it lacked sufficient basis to sustain its initial counterintelligence investigation by seeking to close that very investigation without even an interview of Mr. Flynn. See Ex. 1 at 4. Having repeatedly found “no derogatory information” on Mr. Flynn, id. at 2, the FBI’s draft “Closing Communication” made clear that the FBI had found no basis to “predicate further investigative efforts” into whether Mr. Flynn was being directed and controlled by a foreign power (Russia) in a manner that threatened U.S. national security or violated FARA or its related statutes, id. at 3.

With its counterintelligence investigation no longer justifiably predicated, the communications between Mr. Flynn and Mr. Kislyak—the FBI’s sole basis for resurrecting the investigation on January 4, 2017—did not warrant either continuing that existing counterintelligence investigation or opening a new criminal investigation. The calls were entirely appropriate on their face.

When the motion gets around to arguing — relying on the transcripts but not providing them — that Flynn’s call was totally cool, it assessed that question in terms of FARA (undisclosed lobbying) not 18 USC 951.

Nor was anything said on the calls themselves to indicate an inappropriate relationship between Mr. Flynn and a foreign power. Indeed, Mr. Flynn’s request that Russia avoid “escalating” tensions in response to U.S. sanctions in an effort to mollify geopolitical tensions was consistent with him advocating for, not against, the interests of the United States. At bottom, the arms-length communications gave no indication that Mr. Flynn was being “directed and controlled by … the Russian federation,” much less in a manner that “threat[ened] … national security.” Ex. 1 at 2, Ex. 2 at 2. They provided no factual basis for positing that Mr. Flynn had violated FARA.

The motion then imagines that counterintelligence investigators would only interview someone about a transcribed call to learn his recollection of what had been said, again suggesting the Logan Act would be the only reason to interview Flynn.

With no dispute as to what was in fact said, there was no factual basis for the predication of a new counterintelligence investigation. Nor was there a justification or need to interview Mr. Flynn as to his own personal recollections of what had been said. Whatever gaps in his memory Mr. Flynn might or might not reveal upon an interview regurgitating the content of those calls would not have implicated legitimate counterintelligence interests or somehow exposed Mr. Flynn as beholden to Russia.

Notably, at this time FBI did not open a criminal investigation based on Mr. Flynn’s calls with Mr. Kislyak predicated on the Logan Act. See Ex. 7 at 1-2.4 See Ex. 3 at 2-3; Ex. 4 at 1-2; Ex. 5 at 9. The FBI never attempted to open a new investigation of Mr. Flynn on these grounds. Mr. Flynn’s communications with the Russian ambassador implicated no crime.

These moves in the motion to dismiss were always obviously problematic. The exhibits submitted with the motion, including Priestap’s own notes, make it crystal clear that the purpose of the interview was not primarily to investigate the Logan Act, but to determine whether Flynn was hiding a clandestine relationship with Russia, a question primarily implicating 18 USC 951, and in no way limited to or even primarily about FARA, as one claim in this motion suggests.

As such, the claims made about the counterintelligence investigation affirmatively misrepresent even the exhibits submitted in support of the filing. Plus, as noted, the motion makes claims about the transcripts, doesn’t provide them, but the exhibits provide abundant evidence to suggest those claims are wrong (the op-ed Gleeson wrote last week laying out the addition steps Sullivan might take in response to the motion to dismiss specifically suggests Sullivan order the release of the transcripts). Nor does the motion account for the fact that to this day the public evidence claims (improbably) that Flynn was acting on his own when he made that call, which by itself would support a counterintelligence investigation.

In other words, the motion to dismiss makes obvious errors of fact and claims backed by no evidence (and refuted by the evidence present) pertaining to what FBI’s counterintelligence interests would be when the incoming National Security Advisor, seemingly freelancing, called up the country that just attacked us and undermined the official US policy.

One possible explanation for those errors and omissions is that the one career prosecutor Billy Barr put in place to conduct this review is perfectly suited to chasing down felons brandishing guns, but totally inappropriate to assess a counterintelligence investigation.

The Logan Act Is Just the Cherry on Mike Flynn’s Foreign Agent Sundae

There’s an ironic line in Billy Barr’s CBS interview this week, where he acknowledges that prosecutors can become too wedded to a particular outcome.

These are very smart people who were working in the special counsel’s office, and in senior levels of the FBI. So what drove them here?

Well, I think one of the things you have to guard against, both as a prosecutor and I think as an investigator, is that if you get too wedded to a particular outcome and you’re pursuing a particular agenda, you close your eyes to anything that sort of doesn’t fit with your preconception. And I think that’s probably the phenomenon we’re looking at here.

That’s because Barr and Sidney Powell have the frothy right chasing the Logan Act like six year olds after a soccer ball as if that was the only basis to interview Mike Flynn on January 24, 2017. It’s unclear whether frothy commenters have been duped by Barr’s guile, or they just haven’t read the record.

The record is crystal clear, however: When the investigation into Mike Flynn was opened on August 16, 2016, he was being investigated as a witting or unwitting Agent of a Foreign Power (Barr’s DOJ — and DOJ IG — have both made the same error in suggesting this was just about FARA, but the investigation was also predicated under 18 USC 951). Timothy Shea conceded in his motion to dismiss the prosecution that that investigation was never closed. And evidence from three different contemporaneous witnesses — Jim Comey, Mary McCord, and Bill Priestap — say that’s why the FBI interviewed Flynn on January 24, 2017.

Bill Priestap made clear that they did this interview to find out whether Flynn was acting as an agent for Russia.

The FBI’s provided rationale for doing the interview was that the existence of the investigation had already leaked, so Flynn was already aware that the information was being discussed publicly and there was no element of surprise. Priestap told the group the goal of the interview was whether to determine whether or not Flynn was in a clandestine relationship with the Russians.

That’s what Comey said, too.

MR. COMEY: To find out whether there was something we were missing about his relationship with the Russians and whether he would — because we had this disconnect publicly between what the Vice President was saying and what we knew. And so before we closed an investigation of Flynn, I wanted them to sit before him and say what is the deal?

The Priestap notes that the frothy right is pointing to as proof of abuse makes quite clear that the point of the interview was not to create a perjury trap, but to see whether Flynn would be honest about his relationship with the Russians.

Bob Litt, who (per these same records) was the first person to raise the Logan Act, analyzed the ways that Timothy Shea’s motion conflicts with the FBI’s DIOG. He described the interview to be, first and foremost, about counterintelligence.

The attorney general and his minions are making the astounding argument that when the FBI—aware of extensive Russian interference in U.S. politics in order to benefit the Trump campaign—learned that the incoming national security advisor requested that Russia not respond to the sanctions that were imposed in response to that interference and then lied to other government officials about that, it could not even “collect information or facts to determine” whether this created a counterintelligence threat. This cannot be right. Even if the prior investigation into Flynn had been closed, which it had not, these circumstances at a minimum justified an assessment under standard FBI policy.

In fact, the department’s motion virtually concedes the point. It dismisses Flynn’s lies to Pence and Spicer by saying that “[h]ad the FBI been deeply concerned about the disparities between what they knew had been said on the calls and the representations of Vice President Pence or Mr. Spicer, it would have sought to speak with them directly, but did not.” But that would be a kind of investigative activity, and under the DIOG, either the FBI has a basis to investigate or it doesn’t. If the facts justified talking to Pence about Flynn, they justified talking to Flynn.

Once you have a predicated investigation into 18 USC 951, adding another potential crime (the Logan Act) does not change that the investigation into 18 USC 951 remained, per Shea, ongoing.

In his interview, Barr misrepresents the record to claim what Flynn did — undermining the punishment imposed on a hostile foreign country after they attacked us — was “laudable.”

They did not have a basis for a counterintelligence investigation against Flynn at that stage, based on a perfectly legitimate and appropriate call he made as a member of the transition. So.

[snip]

Let me say that, at that point, he was the designated national security adviser for President-Elect Trump, and was part of the transition, which is recognized by the government and funded by the government as an important function to bring in a new administration. And it is very typical, very common for the national security team of the incoming president to communicate with foreign leaders.

And that call, there was nothing wrong with it whatever. In fact, it was laudable. He– and it was nothing inconsistent with the Obama administration’s policies. And it was in U.S. interests. He was saying to the Russians, you know, “Don’t escalate.” And they asked him if he remembered saying that, and he said he didn’t remember that.

There are several problems with this claim.

For starters, at first, Mary McCord agreed with this take. She dismissed the call for the same reasons Barr still does — that this was just the typical communication between an incoming national security team and foreign leaders.

Two things changed her mind.

The first was the evidence that Flynn was lying about what he did to others in the incoming Administration.

It seemed logical to her that there may be some communications between an incoming administration and their foreign partners, so the Logan Act seemed like a stretch to her. She described the matter as “concerning” but with no particular urgency. In early January, McCord did not think people were considering briefing the incoming administration. However, that changed when Vice President Michael Pence went on Face the Nation and said things McCord knew to be untrue. Also, as time went on, and then-White House spokesperson Sean Spicer made comments about Flynn’s actions she knew to be false, the urgency grew.

It is normal for officials in incoming Administrations to reach out to foreign leaders. But it is not the norm for incoming officials to freelance, to set policy that no one else in the Administration knows about. And the public evidence at the time the FBI interviewed Flynn was that he had done this on his own and was actively hiding it form his colleagues (as indeed the current record says he was).

The record that Barr distorted in this interview shows that FBI was in a holding pattern until there was public evidence that Flynn had lied to others in the Administration, which not only changed the calculus about warning the Administration, but created urgency to take an investigative step FBI might not otherwise have done.

The other thing that changed McCord’s mind about whether this was the normal pre-inauguration outreach was reading the transcript.

After reading them, she felt they were “worse” than she initially thought; she noted that her recollection of them is that Flynn proactively raised the issue of sanctions, and she feels it is hard to believe he would forget talking about something he raised himself.

Sally Yates described Flynn make a series of asks, some of which remain classified.

And McCord wasn’t the only one who responded that way. Once Mike Pence and Reince Priebus read the transcripts, Flynn was out the door the next day.

Notably, even though Ric Grenell is in the middle of a declassification spree, neither he nor Barr have chosen to declassify the actual transcripts here, even though Flynn has requested them repeatedly. Barr’s DOJ is also withholding other details that would describe the reaction of Administration officials to reading the transcript in the Buzzfeed FOIA. So it’s easy for Barr to claim this was normal, but a career prosecutor who read the transcripts said they weren’t, and Barr is deliberately withholding information that would let us test that claim.

This is why DOJ’s materiality argument fails, too. Had Flynn told the truth, the FBI might have had reason to treat this as the normal pre-inauguration contact. But once he lied, the FBI had more reason to continue investigating, to try to figure out why he lied. All the more so given that Flynn was hiding his other Foreign Agent relationship with Turkey at the time.

If Flynn’s behavior were, as Barr claims, “laudable,” then he would have simply admitted it. Once he lied about it, the FBI had more reason to suspect he had been freelancing, deliberately undermining American policy without the sanction and knowledge of others in the Trump Administration.

Only one thing explains Barr’s view, and it is damning. The FBI had reason to investigate anyway, and as Litt correctly lays out, these actions were solidly within the guidelines laid out in the FBI’s Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide. But the only way to conclude, as Barr has, that Flynn’s actions — calling up the Russian Ambassador and telling him not to worry about the sanctions imposed for helping Trump get elected — are not clear cut evidence that he was clandestinely operating as an Agent of Russia is if Trump told him to do it.

That doesn’t make it laudable. But it is as close as we’ve ever come to an admission that Flynn did this not just with the knowledge of, but on orders from, Trump. That’s probably why Trump is boasting about learning from Nixon right now: Because unlike Nixon, he got away with cheating to win an election.

Judge Sullivan Has Already Rejected Most of Timothy Shea’s DOJ Flynn Pardon

In this post, I laid out how Acting DC US Attorney Timothy Shea claimed DOJ had “newly” acquired a bunch of information which led it to decide to ask Judge Emmet Sullivan to dismiss Mike Flynn’s prosecution.

Except none of the information was new.

The table below shows what is known about the documents Shea relied on yesterday, using the exhibit numbers from DOJ’s filing. Some were already public, another had been provided to Flynn, others were probably reviewed in investigations of the circumstances of Flynn’s interviews (as explained below). It’s hard to square Shea’s claim that some of this was newly declassified, as most things that had once been classified had already been declassified publicly (and DOJ reclassified two lines from an Andrew McCabe memo, while declassifying a few more lines of it). Other documents were generated as part of this investigation, and so could in no way be deemed “new” to the prosecutors who generated them (nor to Rod Rosenstein, who approved Flynn’s prosecution). As for the rest, Flynn asked for them last year as part of a Brady motion, and Sullivan rejected those requests in a meticulous 92-page opinion written in December.

Effectively, then, Bill Barr appointed Jeffrey Jensen to “review” Flynn’s prosecution for one purpose: to override Judge Sullivan’s Brady decision last December.

As I keep repeating, it’s never a good idea to predict what Judge Sullivan will do. I expect he’ll review these exhibits closely and see whether they change his mind about DOJ’s representations that none of them were helpful to Flynn. He might find the Bill Priestap notes troubling, but that document is not only deliberative (and therefore always excluded from Brady), but it states clearly that, “our goal is to determine if Mike Flynn is going to tell the truth about his relationship w/Russians,” a goal Sullivan has already deemed proper.

It’s possible, however, that Sullivan will view these documents and recognize that they don’t change the order he already issued, finding Flynn’s lies material and his prior guilty pleas still valid. If he does, he may well be peeved that DOJ tried to overturn a judge’s ruling by bureaucratic fiat.

DOJ may not have had two FBI documents

There are just two documents that DOJ probably wouldn’t have already had or reviewed. One is a draft memo closing the investigation into Flynn. The other is the Jim Comey transcript briefing the House Intelligence Committee on the Flynn investigation. Because the former was an FBI document, it’s not clear it would ever have made it into DOJ files. And it dates to earlier than the Brady requests Flynn made last year. That said, the fact that FBI had decided to close out the investigation up until they discovered Flynn’s calls with Sergey Kislyak was public before Flynn pled guilty a second time, when he swore that he had no concerns about Brady. And the circumstances surrounding the non-closure of this investigation made it into 302s otherwise accounted for.

As to the Comey transcript, DOJ said it did not have an unredacted copy of this last year. But like the draft closure, the facts in it have long been public, most notably in the House Intelligence Report on their Russian investigation, which was done nine months before Flynn pled guilty again.

DOJ reviewed Page-Strzok texts and the meetings before and after Flynn’s interview

One of the things DOJ submitted as “new” information yesterday were Page-Strzok texts. We already know that DOJ IG reviewed every one of those, some of them multiple times, particularly if they pertained to Flynn or other Trump people.

As noted, documents pertaining to meetings before and after Flynn’s interview would likely have been reviewed by DOJ already, because DOJ repeatedly chased down allegations made about those meetings. Flynn already got an FBI Inspection Division 302 reflecting Peter Strzok being interviewed about some of these allegations and a Mueller 302 reflecting Lisa Page being interviewed about other ones. The government repeatedly looked into allegations that Andrew McCabe said, “First we fuck Flynn, then we fuck Trump,” at the meeting preparing for the Flynn interview (which is presumably what these notes record).

The defendant’s complaints and accusations are even more incredible considering the extensive efforts the government has made to respond to numerous defense counsel requests, including to some of the very requests repeated in the defendant’s motion. For instance, the defendant alleges that former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe said, “‘First we f**k Flynn, then we f**k Trump,’ or words to that effect;” and that Deputy Director McCabe pressured the agents to change the January 24 interview report. See Mot. to Compel at 4, 6 (Request ##2, 22). Defense counsel first raised these allegations to the government on January 29, 2018, sourcing it to an email from a news reporter. Not only did the government inform defense counsel that it had no information indicating that the allegations were true, it conducted additional due diligence about this serious allegation. On February 2, 2018, the government disclosed to the defendant and his counsel that its due diligence confirmed that the allegations were false, and referenced its interview of the second interviewing agent, 4 who completely denied the allegations. Furthermore, on March 13, 2018, the government provided the defendant with a sworn statement from DAD Strzok, who also denied the allegations.

Nevertheless, on July 17, 2018, the defense revived the same allegations. This time, the defense claimed that the source was a staff member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (“HPSCI”). The HPSCI staff member allegedly told the defendant that the second interviewing agent had told the staff member that after a debrief from the interviewing agents, Deputy Director McCabe said, “F**k Flynn.” Once again, the government reviewed information and conducted interviews, and once again confirmed that the allegations were completely false. And after defendant and his counsel raised the accusation for a third time, on October 15, 2018, the government responded by producing interview reports that directly contradicted the false allegations. Despite possessing all of this information, defense counsel has again resurrected the false allegations, now for a fourth time.

In fact, Bill Priestap’s notes of what appear to be the McCabe meeting show no such claim. He does reflect them talking about how to deal with Flynn’s comments. But they record no reference to Trump.

Emmet Sullivan reviewed two of these 302s

Of particular note, Emmet Sullivan already reviewed several of these documents. In his Brady opinion from December, he described an in camera review he did in December 2018, in part to make sure the summaries of the Mary McCord and Sally Yates 302s was adequate disclosure.

As to Requests a through f and Request i, the government has provided Mr. Flynn with: (a) “information from interviews with [Mr.] McCabe that could reasonably be construed as favorable and material to sentencing”; (b) “information that could reasonably be construed as favorable and material to sentencing about such pre-interview discussions, including the language quoted in the request”; (c) “information about such post-interview debriefings that could reasonably be construed as favorable and material to sentencing”; (d) “information from former [Principal] Associate Deputy Attorney General Matthew Axelrod’s interview report that could reasonably be construed as favorable and material to sentencing”; (e) “information from [Ms.] McCord’s interview report that could reasonably be construed as favorable and material to sentencing, including the information quoted in the request”; (f) “information from [Ms.] Yates’ interview report that could reasonably be construed as favorable and material to sentencing, including the information quoted in the request”;

[snip]

Based on an in camera review of the government’s sealed submissions to the Court on December 14, 2018, see, e.g., Min. Order of Dec. 17, 2018; Gov’t’s Opp’n, ECF No. 122 at 16 n.8; Gov’t’s Notice of Disc. Correspondence, ECF No. 123 at 3, the Court agrees with the government that the requested information in Requests a through f and Request i has already been provided to Mr. Flynn in the form of appropriate summaries, see Gov’t’s App. A, ECF No. 122-1 at 6-7.

Given that Sullivan accounted for these documents, his materiality analysis is unlikely to change

As noted, Sullivan might decide that some of these documents should have been provided under Brady, in spite of his ruling on them. But unless he does, it’s unlikely his view on the materiality of Flynn’s lies will change, contrary to the footnote in Shea’s memo yesterday.

7 The Government appreciates that the Court previously deemed Mr. Flynn’s statements sufficiently “material” to the investigation. United States v. Flynn, 411 F. Supp. 3d 15, 41-42 (D.D.C. 2019). It did so, however, based on the Government’s prior understanding of the nature of the investigation, before new disclosures crystallized the lack of a legitimate investigative basis for the interview of Mr. Flynn, and in the context of a decision on multiple defense Brady motions independent of the Government’s assessment of its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

That’s because Sullivan knew when he wrote his opinion that FBI had almost closed the investigation of Flynn but reopened it after learning of Flynn’s comments to Kislyak. There’s nothing about this discussion that would change given what was disclosed yesterday.

Mr. Flynn argues that his false statements to the FBI were not “material” for two reasons. See Def.’s Reply, ECF No. 133 at 31-32. First, Mr. Flynn contends that his conversations with the Russian Ambassador were unrelated to the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election because the interviewing FBI agents did not ask him a single question about election interference or any coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. See id. Next, Mr. Flynn argues that the FBI had recordings and transcripts of his conversations with the Russian Ambassador, arguing that the FBI “knew exactly what was said” and “nothing impeded [the FBI’s] purported investigation.” Def.’s Sur-Surreply, ECF No. 135 at 12. The government responds that Mr. Flynn’s false statements were “absolutely material” because his false statements “went to the heart” of the FBI’s “counterintelligence investigation into whether individuals associated with the campaign of then candidate Donald J. Trump were coordinating with the Russian government in its activities to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.” Gov’t’s Surreply, ECF No. 132 at 10.

[snip]

Mr. Flynn has a fundamental misunderstanding of the law of materiality under 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(2), which requires a false statement to be “material.” United States v. Stone, 394 F. Supp. 3d 1, 12 (D.D.C. 2019) (materiality is a necessary element to establish a violation of the false statements statute). The Supreme Court has instructed that “[t]he statement must have ‘a natural tendency to influence, or [be] capable of influencing, the decision of the decision-making body to which it was addressed.’” United States v. Gaudin, 515 U.S. 506, 509 (1995) (quoting Kungys v. United States, 485 U.S. 759, 770 (1988)); accord United States v. Diggs, 613 F.2d 988, 999 (D.C. Cir. 1979) (“Proof of actual reliance on the statement is not required; the Government need only make a reasonable showing of its potential effects.”). But “a statement need not actually influence an agency in order to be material.” Moore, 612 F.3d at 701.

As a matter of law, the government need not prove that Mr. Flynn’s false statements impeded the FBI’s investigation in order to establish the materiality element. See id. at 702 (holding that defendant’s false statement “was capable of affecting the Postal Service’s general function of tracking packages and identifying the recipients of packages entrusted to it” and defendant’s false information “could have impeded the ability of the Postal Service to investigate the trafficking of narcotics through the mails”). And Mr. Flynn’s multiple false statements were material regardless of the interviewing FBI agents’ knowledge of any recordings and transcripts of his conversations with the Russian Ambassador—the existence or nonexistence of which have neither been confirmed nor denied by the government, see Gov’t’s App. A, ECF No. 122-1 at 5—and whether the FBI had knowledge of Mr. Flynn’s exact words during those conversations. See United States v. Safavian, 649 F.3d 688, 691 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (rejecting defendant’s argument that his false statements were not material where the interviewing FBI agent “knew, based upon his knowledge of the case file, that the incriminating statements were false when [the defendant] uttered them”).

Mr. Flynn’s other argument—that his false statements about his conversations with the Russian Ambassador were not related to the investigation into Russia’s efforts to interfere in the election—is unavailing. “Application of § 1001 does not require judges to function as amateur sleuths, inquiring whether information specifically requested and unquestionably relevant to the department’s or agency’s charge would really be enough to alert a reasonably clever investigator that wrongdoing was afoot.” United States v. Hansen, 772 F.2d 940, 950 (D.C. Cir. 1985). Here, Mr. Flynn’s false statements to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian Ambassador were relevant to the FBI’s inquiry. See SOF at 1 ¶ 1. It is undisputed that the FBI had already opened the investigation to, among other things, investigate the “nature of any links between individuals associated with the [Trump] Campaign and Russia” at the time of Mr. Flynn’s January 24, 2017 interview. Id. A “lie distorting an investigation already in progress” could impact the FBI’s decision to act and follow leads. Hansen, 772 F.2d at 949; accord United States v. Stadd, 636 F.3d 630, 639 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (defendant’s false statements were material because the truth “would have raised red flags that would have led [the agency’s ethics advisor] to inquire further”). As Judge Amy Berman Jackson has noted, “it is axiomatic that the FBI is not precluded from following leads and, if warranted, opening a new investigation based on those leads when they uncover information in the course of a different investigation.” Kelley v. FBI, 67 F. Supp. 3d 240, 287 n.35 (D.D.C. 2014). The Court therefore finds that Mr. Flynn’s false statements were material within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(2).

It’s hard to look at the extensive record of the discussion about whether Flynn had lied submitted yesterday and not conclude that they presented DOJ with some real conflict about the investigation. Moreover, Comey’s comments, which preceded a number of investigative steps (like obtaining Flynn’s call records and interviews with KT McFarland and others), show that the investigation changed as it developed more proof that Flynn had knowingly lied.

When Flynn tried to get this information, Sullivan reminded him he had already sworn it didn’t matter

Finally, Shea’s silence about Flynn’s plea allocution before Sullivan is particularly damning given that Sullivan addressed it in his Brady motion in December. He pointed out that Flynn had already sworn, under oath, that he was not challenging the circumstances of his interview.

Six days later, on December 7, 2017, the case was randomly reassigned to this Court, which scheduled a sentencing hearing for December 18, 2018. During that hearing, the Court conducted an extension of the plea colloquy in view of statements made in Mr. Flynn’s sentencing memorandum that raised questions as to whether Mr. Flynn sought to challenge the circumstances of his FBI interview. In response to the Court’s questions, Mr. Flynn maintained his plea of guilty upon the advice of counsel. Mr. Flynn neither challenged the conditions of his FBI interview nor expressed any concerns with the government’s obligations pursuant to Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963) and this Court’s Standing Brady Order of February 16, 2018.

[snip]

Finally, the Court summarily disposes of Mr. Flynn’s arguments that the FBI conducted an ambush interview for the purpose of trapping him into making false statements and that the government pressured him to enter a guilty plea. The record proves otherwise. See, e.g., Def.’s Br., ECF No. 109 at 4 (arguing that the government was “putting excruciating pressure on [Mr. Flynn] to enter his guilty plea”); Def.’s Reply, ECF No. 133 at 5 (arguing that “high-ranking FBI officials orchestrated an ambush-interview . . . for the purpose of trapping him into making false statements they could allege as false”); id. at 6 (asserting that the FBI and others “plot[tted] to set up an innocent man and create a crime”); id. at 18 (contending that “[t]he FBI had no factual or legal basis for a criminal investigation” and that the FBI’s investigation was a “pretext for investigating Mr. Flynn”); id. at 27 (arguing that “Mr. Flynn was honest with the [FBI] agents to the best of his recollection at the time, and the [FBI] agents knew it”).

The sworn statements of Mr. Flynn and his former counsel belie his new claims of innocence and his new assertions that he was pressured into pleading guilty to making materially false statements to the FBI. E.g., Sentencing Hr’g Tr., ECF No. 103 at 11 (affirming it was not his “contention that Mr. Flynn was entrapped by the FBI”); id. (affirming that “Mr. Flynn’s rights were [not] violated by the fact that he did not have a lawyer present for the interview”); Plea Agreement, ECF No. 3 at 10 (“I fully understand this [Plea] Agreement and agree to it without reservation. I do this voluntarily and of my own free will, intending to be legally bound.”); Plea Hr’g Tr., ECF No. 16 at 29 (affirming that no one “forced, threatened, or coerced [Mr. Flynn] in any way into entering this plea of guilty”). And it is undisputed that Mr. Flynn not only made those false statements to the FBI agents, but he also made the same false statements to the Vice President and senior White House officials, who, in turn, repeated Mr. Flynn’s false statements to the American people on national television. See Gov’t’s Surreply, ECF No. 132 at 8.

Just six months ago, Emmet Sullivan examined the substance of the arguments that DOJ claims are new. He not only found that they did not affect Flynn’s guilty plea, but he reminded Flynn that Flynn already stated, under oath, that none of the things DOJ raised yesterday change that he was guilty of lying to the FBI.


Exhibits

August 16, 2016: Opening Executive Communication for Flynn investigation (Exhibit 2)

The FBI opened a full investigation into Mike Flynn to figure out whether he was wittingly or unwittingly being run by the FBI that might constitute a federal crime or pose a threat to national security. It listed FARA and 18 USC 951 as the crimes under investigation. This document was created as part of this prosecution. Flynn asked for this last year.

January 4, 2017: Draft Closing Communication closing investigation into Mike Flynn (Exhibit 1)

This reviews the investigative steps taken against Flynn, noting that the investigative team did not presume Flynn was an Agent of a Foreign Power, which limited the investigative steps significantly. Based on those steps, however, the FBI was closing the investigation. Timothy Shea does not contest that this was never finalized.

January 4, 2017: Emails between Jim Baker, Lisa Page, and Peter Strzok about the Logan Act (Exhibit 8)

These emails show FBI was discussing the Logan Act in the wake of discovering the Flynn interview. They don’t show that that was the only thing they discussed (and the public record makes clear it was not the only thing discussed). This discussion is reflected in 302s generated by the Mueller investigation. These documents would be included in the requests Flynn made last year.

January 4 through February 10, 2017: Texts involving Peter Strzok (Exhibit 7)

These texts include ones between Peter Strzok and the agents in charge of the Flynn investigation, asking them not to close it out. It includes texts between Strzok and Page about whether or not the investigation was closed out, and showing that Page had edited the 302. The Page-Strzok texts, by definition, were reviewed by DOJ IG. But the ones pertaining to the edit were actually less interesting than some previously released ones. Other texts were likely reviewed as part of the three investigations into the circumstances of Flynn’s interview. Flynn asked for these last year.

January 21 through 23, 2017: Emails involving Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and others (Exhibit 9)

These emails capture the discussions about what to do about Flynn in the days before his interview, including brainstorming how they would respond to questions he might ask and whether they’d give him a False Statements admonishment. These emails were likely reviewed as part of the multiple reviews of the circumstances of Flynn’s interview. Flynn asked for these last year.

January 24, 2017: Bill Priestap notes on goals for the Mike Flynn interview (Exhibit 10)

These notes reflect a discussion about what investigative goals FBI had for the Flynn interview. Given that they seem to record Andrew McCabe’s statements, they were almost certainly reviewed in the multiple reviews of this meeting. Flynn asked for these last year, alleging they recorded Andrew McCabe saying “First we fuck Flynn, then we fuck Trump.”

January 24, 2017: A version of notes Andy McCabe took when he called up Flynn about an interview (Exhibit 11)

This was first shared with Judge Sullivan in unredacted form when he took Flynn’s plea in December 2018. This version is, in some respects, more classified than a version released last May. For example, last May DOJ revealed that McCabe agreed with Flynn that leaks were a problem.

Today’s version redacts that line as classified.

Obviously, Flynn has had this document since before he pled guilty the second time, and swore under oath that it did not change his guilty plea.

January 24, 2017: FBI Agents’ notes (Exhibit 12)

These were made public in Flynn exhibits in October (actual Pientka, actual Strzok). Sullivan conducted extensive analysis of these notes last year, demonstrating that, contrary to Sidney Powell’s claims, the false statements recorded in every version of Flynn’s 302s are consistent with the notes.

February 14, 2017: 302 from January 24, 2017 interview with Mike Flynn (Exhibit 6)

Flynn has had this since before he pled guilty. It is actually a more redacted version than the most recent one released in the BuzzFeed FOIA. Obviously, this document was generated as part of Flynn’s prosecution, and would have been considered as part of the prosecutorial decision-making.

March 2, 2017: House Intelligence Committee interview with Jim Comey (Exhibit 5)

This interview provides one version of how Comey decided to send FBI Agents to interview Flynn. It also includes a line — which has been egregiously misrepresented — describing how that FBI Agents thought Flynn was a credible liar. The Comey interview came before some other investigative steps would have made even more clear that Flynn had knowingly lied to the FBI. While this transcript had never been made public, the substance of it has long been public, including in the House Intelligence Committee Report on Russia.

July 17, 2017: 302 of FBI interview with Mary McCord (Exhibit 3)

This describes the FBI going through her notes with Mary McCord, who was Acting National Security Division head during the transition and beginning of the Trump Administration. The interview includes damning information making it clear that the Trump Administration tried to quash this investigation. It makes clear that the FBI interviewed Flynn to assess whether he was working for Russia as a clandestine Foreign Agent. In fact, Flynn asked for it because of what it said about him being a Foreign Agent, and on that basis, Sullivan judged it to be irrelevant to his plea for False Statements, and judged that a summary Flynn received before he pled guilty a second time was sufficient. Obviously, this document was generated as part of Flynn’s prosecution, and would have been considered as part of the prosecutorial decision-making.

July 19, 2017: 302 of FBI interview with Peter Strzok (Exhibit 13)

The FBI interviewed Strzok to understand how DOJ and FBI dealt with the Flynn prosecution. It was originally shared with Judge Sullivan in unredacted form at the 2018 sentencing and has been released in this form since then, twice. Obviously, this document was generated as part of Flynn’s prosecution, and would have been considered as part of the prosecutorial decision-making. Flynn had it before pleading guilty the second time, and swore under oath it did not affect his guilty plea.

August 15: 302 for FBI interview with Sally Yates (Exhibit 4)

This interview describes Yates’ understanding of how the investigation into Flynn started. While she describes the conflict between FBI and DOJ, she also makes it clear that she never questioned the seriousness of what Flynn had done. Obviously, this document was generated as part of Flynn’s prosecution, and would have been considered as part of the prosecutorial decision-making. Flynn got a summary of this before he pled guilty the second time, a summary that Sullivan said was sufficient. But he asked for it again last year.

Republicans OUTRAGED That National Security Threat Was Treated Like National Security Threat

I’m in the middle of a very deep dive into the Roger Stone files — which show parts of the investigation remain ongoing — so I’m just going to note two developments that will ensure that two of Trump’s criminals avoid prison.

First, Stone has filed for an appeal of Amy Berman Jackson’s order denying him a new trial. Normally, his appeal would be so weak that he’d be required to report while the appeal is heard. But even in normal circumstances, the Bureau of Prison takes a while to assign new prisoners. And in the case of a non-violent 67-year old like Stone, I imagine BOP will wait to make an assignment until their COVID problem abates. They have enough problems with all the vulnerable prisoners in their COVID death traps now, they aren’t in a big rush to put more in there. [Update: Per Ali Dukakis, BOP has indeed told Stone he won’t have to report right away.]

Meanwhile, Sidney Powell has succeeded wildly with her ploy to undermine the prosecution of Mike Flynn in the press, getting both the NYT and WaPo to present her case with little context. Last week and yesterday she got a released a bunch of documents that the government turned over as part of Jeffrey Jensen’s second-guessing of the prosecution. Those files show:

  • There was a discussion about halting an ongoing investigation into Mike Flynn Jr after his dad pled guilty, but there were no promises made (if there had been, it would add two more lies to the sworn lies Mike Flynn told). The emails make it clear that Covington believed the threat of investigation was real.
  • In advance of the interview of Mike Flynn, the FBI discussed how to handle an investigation into why the National Security Advisor had called up Russia and told them not to worry about the punishment for their interference in our election. They brainstormed how to respond to a bunch of questions he didn’t end up asking. They had been planning to give him a warning about false statements; they did not give that warning. They had discussed showing him the transcript that showed he lied; they did not do that.

Neither of those things are very interesting. The first shows the opposite of what Sidney Powell has claimed (that is, no promises about Jr were made). The second shows that they discussed how to handle a sensitive interview before it happened; we knew that. In addition, because those discussions ultimately didn’t govern the investigation, they would not have been pertinent to the interview.

The thing the frothy right is excited about is that Bill Pristap took notes reflecting a discussion what would happen given all the evidence that the National Security Advisor had called up Russia and told them not to worry about the punishment for their interference. The question was whether they wanted to get him to admit his wrongdoing, in which case (they assumed) he’d be fired, or whether he would lie in which case they might have to prosecute him.

The frothy right believes this is proof that Flynn was ambushed in a perjury [false statements] trap, which I guess means they now agree Flynn lied his ass off.

Somewhere, the circumstances have gotten missed. Not only did the FBI discover that Mike Flynn had called up a hostile foreign government and told them not to worry about being punished for tampering in our election. But it was also already public that Mike Flynn may have been secretly working for Turkey while he was claiming to represent Trump’s national security interests. Flynn would go on to testify, under oath and before a grand jury, that indeed, he had been knowingly pursuing a secret deal with Turkey at the time he sat in on Trump’s first national security briefing. The entire time, he testified, he knew that he was really working for Turkey even though he and his firm went to some efforts to hide that fact.

The FBI might be excused for believing that Flynn would be treated according to one of two ways: firing or prosecution. Because they had Flynn on tape calling up a country that had just attacked our own and told them not to worry about being punished. And they had good reason to believe he was still hiding details about having worked for a frenemy government during a period he retained security clearance. In a sane world, when there’s clear evidence the National Security Advisor has done those things, firing or prosecution are the most obvious options.

In Trump’s world — in the world of the entire Republican party, it seems — those aren’t the only two options. In Trump’s world, it is totally natural to keep someone in charge of the entire country’s national security even after he had called up a country that had just attacked us and said no big deal while actively hiding his relationship with another foreign country.

And that is why Mike Flynn likely won’t ever go to prison: because in Trump’s world, the guy who helps out the country that just attacked us is a hero, not a national security threat.

Update: Here’s the next installment of stuff that Powell claims is damning but which proves her conspiracy theories wrong. It shows that on January 4, 2017, FBI was literally in the process of closing the investigation into Flynn (proving they didn’t set him up and assessed him accurately) when they discovered that he had called up Russia and undermined sanctions.

The DOJ IG Footnotes Show FBI Doing What They Do and Russia Doing What They Do

Three Republican Senators — Chuck Grassley, Ron Johnson, and Lindsey Graham — have gotten Bill Barr and Ric Grenell to declassify a bunch of things pertaining to Carter Page’s surveillance. While the materials have sent the frothy right into a frenzy again, the materials are actually far more interesting, ambiguous, and at times, damning to Trump’s narrative than the right wing stenographers have made out. This post will look at a series of footnotes to the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page that have been declassified. I’m going to look at allegations about Russian knowledge of Steele’s project in July 2016 and evidence the Michael Cohen claims were disinformation in more detailed in a follow-up; both revelations may hurt Trump’s narrative more than help it, contrary to claims by the frothers.

The purge at ODNI enabled this declassification to occur

Before I get into what the declassified footnotes show, it’s important to understand Grenell’s role in it. In his statement releasing the full set of declassified footnotes, Grassley thanked both Bill Barr and Grenell. In Ron Johnson’s WSJ op-ed feeding the ignorant frenzy about the footnotes, he described how he and Grassley had to keep pressing for their declassification until Grenell made it happen.

My colleague Sen. Chuck Grassley and I began pressing Attorney General William Barr, and eventually acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell, for full declassification of these footnotes. That’s why they’re now public.

In Grenell’s letter providing the footnotes (which very notably did not come as a re-released IG Report, as a prior declassification had), he explained that,

[H]aving consulted the heads of the relevant Intelligence Community elements, I have declassified the enclosed footnotes. I consulted with the Attorney General William Barr, and he has authorized the ODNI to say that he concurs in the declassification insofar as it relates to DOJ equities.

Grenell, of course, is doing the DNI job part time, on top of his full-time job as Ambassador to Germany and his day job of trolling dishonestly on the Internet.  So the declassification might be better understood as the work of Kash Patel, who, while he was a staffer on the House Intelligence Committee, started this declassification project and also served as a gatekeeper to ensure GOP Congressmen did not get accurate information on Russia. While he was on the National Security Council, Patel ensured that Trump did not get accurate information on Ukraine. And the release comes just days after Trump got rid of the last Senate confirmed person at ODNI, something that Adam Schiff has raised concerns about.

Don’t get me wrong: I support these declassifications and with a very few exceptions in these footnotes, don’t think embarrassing stuff got hidden because Grenell was involved (I have a different opinion about how stuff was declassified for Lindsey, even while I’m thrilled to have the precedent for entire FISA applications being released). Some of the most interesting declassifications confirm small details about FISA that have long been known, but have been impossible to prove since DOJ guarded that confirmation so assiduously. But it is crystal clear this declassification happened as a result of dismantling longtime Intelligence Community protections, for better and worse.

The footnotes show FBI and FISA worked like it normally does and so did the Russians

As noted, Grenell didn’t effectuate this declassification by having DOJ IG release an updated version of the report, but instead by releasing all the redacted footnotes, with any newly declassified information unmarked, out of context. Not only does that obscure a few key ones that weren’t further declassified or had already been declassified, but it makes it harder to understand what they mean in context. I’ll treat each of them in turn, italicizing the newly disclosed information, if any.

17: The Brits let Steele cooperate

The OIG also interviewed witnesses who were not current or former Department employees regarding their interactions with the FBI on matters falling with the scope of this review, including Christopher Steele and employees of other U.S. government agencies. 17

17 According to Steele, his cooperation with our investigation was done with the consent of his government.

The fact that Steele emphasized this — and the delayed timing of Steele’s cooperation — suggest that the UK wanted to make clear that they were willing to expose their own intelligence weaknesses to cooperate with something Trump had put significant stock in.

21, 354: DOJ IG considered some of the FISA collection on Page irrelevant to this review

We also received and reviewed more than one million documents that were in the Department’s and FBI’s possession. Among these were electronic communications of Department and FBI employees and documents from the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, including interview reports (FD-302s and Electronic Communications or ECs), contemporaneous notes from agents, analysts, and supervisors involved in case-related meetings, documents describing and analyzing Steele’s reporting and information obtained through FISA coverage on Carter Page, and draft and final versions of materials used to prepare the FISA applications and renewals filed with the FISC. 21

21 We did not review the entirety of FISA collections obtained through FISA surveillance and physical searches targeting Carter Page. We reviewed only those documents collected under FISA authority that were pertinent to our review.

[snip]

Emails and other communications reflect that in the first week of surveillance on Carter Page [redacted], following the granting [redacted] application -· in the October 2016, the Crossfire Hurricane team collected [redacted] 354

354 We did not review the entirety of FISA collections obtained through FISA surveillance and physical searches targeting Carter Page. We reviewed only those documents collected under FISA authority that were pertinent to our review.

These declassifications reveals two phrases — “collections,” and “physical searches” — that have long been treated as classified (though they appear elsewhere in the report, usually by accident). The import of these phrases, especially “physical search,” which actually includes “stored communications,” is why they’ve been hidden in the past.

While the meaning of these footnote was always clear, the import of it (that is, what DOJ IG would considered irrelevant to their review) remains unclear, especially given Michael Horowitz’s public questions about whether the collection was ever useful.

That’s especially true given how FISA surveillance was integrated into later Carter Page applications. The applications Lindsey Graham released makes it clear there was a good deal (indeed, it clearly corroborated concerns about Page’s hope to open a pro-Russian think tank as well as sustained questions about whom Page met with in Russia — though that’s partly because he oversold his ties there to the campaign). The redactions, however, were just hiding FISA vocabulary that had previously been hidden.

61 and 63: How the FBI decides to make someone an informant

The CHSPG recognizes that the decision to open an individual as a CHS will not only forever affect the life of that individual, but that the FBI will also be viewed, fairly or unfairly, in light of the conduct or misconduct of that individual. 59 Accordingly, the CHSPG identifies criteria that handling a ents must consider when assessing the risks associated with the potential CHS. [redacted]60 These risks must be weighed against the benefits associated with use of the potential CHS. 61

Once a CHS has been evaluated and recruited, the CHSPG does not allow for tasking until after the CHS has been approved for opening by an FBI SSA; the required approvals for a specific tasking have been granted; and the CHS has met with the co-handling agent assigned to his or her file, who has the same duties, responsibilities, and file access as the handling agent. 62 The CHSPG requires additional supervisory approval by a Special Agent in Charge (SAC) and review by a Chief Division Counsel CDC to open CHSs that are “sensitive” sources, [redacted]

61 Criteria used by agents and analysts to weigh the risks and benefits are: (1) access [redacted] (2) suitability: [redacted] (3) susceptibility: [redacted] (4) accessibility: [redacted] (5) security; [redacted]

62 CHSPG § 3.1.

63 CHSPG Section 3.5.1.1 Special approval and notification requirements also are necessary for CHS operations in extraterritorial jurisdiction, such as tasking a CHS to contact the subject of an investigation who is located in a foreign country. The requirements and notifications differ, for example, depending on whether the CHS operating is a national security extraterritorial operation or a criminal extraterritorial operation involving a sensitive circumstance. Approval from an FBI Assistant Director is necessary for national security extraterritorial operations, [redacted]

[snip]

Under the CHSPG, which vests SSAs with daily oversight responsibility for CHSs in routine investigations, approval at the SSA level was sufficient. 525 The only relevant exception for the Crossfire Hurricane investigation were counterintelligence CHS extraterritorial operations, which required approval by an FBI Assistant Director, and which we found received approval by Priestap. 526

526 As described in Chapter Two, the special approval and notification requirements for CHS operations in extraterritorial jurisdiction differ, for example, depending on whether the CHS operation is a national security extraterritorial operation or a criminal extraterritorial operation involving a sensitive circumstance. Approval from an FBI Assistant Director is necessary for national security extraterritorial operations, CHSPG Sections 19.2, 19.3.3. Because the Crossfire Hurricane investigation at the outset was a national security investigation, the extraterritorial CHS operations in the case required Assistant Director approval.

These sections reveal details of the FBI’s rules on informants and the special approvals needed in some cases. This information had already been liberated by Terry Albury (see PDF 25 and 31ff) for the earlier sections that remain redacted (which is a testament to the novelty of this declassification, since he’s in prison for having released it). They’re interesting in the case of Carter Page because there was some dispute about using Steele (to say nothing of the disagreement between Steele and the FBI about what their relationship really entailed).

Apparently, Bill Priestap had to give approval for overseas use of informants (and this must extend to Stefan Halper), not because the investigation was sensitive, but because it was a national security investigation.

164, 464, 484: Joseph Mifsud was neither a CIA asset nor had CIA collected on him

During one of these meetings, Papadopoulos reportedly “suggested” to an FFG official that the Trump campaign “received some kind of a suggestion from Russia” that it could assist the campaign by anonymously releasing derogatory information about presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. 164

164 During October 25, 2018 testimony before the House Judiciary and House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, Papadopoulos stated that the source of the information he shared with the FFG official was a professor from London, Joseph Mifsud. Papadopoulos testified that Mifsud provided him with information about the Russians possessing “dirt” on Hilary Clinton. Papadopoulos raised the possibility during his Congressional testimony that Mifsud might have been “working with the FBI and this was some sort of operation” to entrap Papadopoulos. As discussed in Chapter Ten of this report, the OIG searched the FBI’s database of Confidential Human Sources (CHS), and did not find any records indicating that Mifsud was an FBI CHS, or that Mifsud’s discussions with Papadopoulos were part of any FBI operation. In Chapter Ten, we also note that the FBI requested information on Mifsud from another U.S. government agency, and received a response from the agency indicating that Mifsud had no relationship with the agency and the agency had no derogatory information on Mifsud.

(U) We refer to Joseph Mifsud by name in this report because the Department publicly revealed Mifsud’s identity in The Special Counsel’s Report (public version). According to The Special Counsel’s Report, Papadopoulos first met Mifsud in March 2016, after Papadopoulos had already learned that he would be serving as a foreign policy advisor for the Trump campaign. According to The Special Counsel’s Report, Mifsud only showed interest in Papadopoulos after learning of Papadopoulos’s role in the campaign, and told Papadopoulos about the Russians possessing “dirt” on then candidate Clinton in late April 2016. The Special Counsel found that Papadopoulos lied to the FBI about the timing of his discussions with Mifsud, as well as the nature and extent of his communications with Mifsud. The Special Counsel charged Papadopoulos under Title 18 U.S.C. § 1001 with making false statements. Papadopoulos pled guilty and was sentenced to 14 days in prison. See The Special Counsel’s Report, Vol. 1, at 192‐94

[snip]

The FBI’s Delta files contain no evidence that Mifsud has ever acted as an FBI CHS,463 and none of the witnesses we interviewed or documents we reviewed had any information to support such an allegation. 464

464 The FBI also requested information on Mifsud from another U.S. government agency, and received a response from that agency indicating that Mifsud had no relationship with that agency.

[snip]

In Crossfire Hurricane, the “articulable factual basis” set forth in the opening EC was the FFG information received from an FBI Legal Attache stating that Papadopoulos had suggested during a meeting in May 2016 with officials from a “trusted foreign partner” that the Trump team had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that it could assist by releasing information damaging to candidate Clinton and President Obama. 484

484 Papadopoulos has stated that the source of the information he shared with the FFG was a professor from London, Joseph Mifsud, and has raised the possibility that Mifsud may have been working with the FBI. As described in Chapter Ten of this report, the OIG searched the FBI’s database of Confidential Human Sources (CHSs) and did not find any records indicating that Mifsud was an FBI CHS, or that Mifsud’s discussions with Papadopoulos were part of any FBI operation. The FBI also requested information on Mifsud from another U.S. government agency and received no information indicating that Mifsud had a relationship with that agency or that the agency had any derogatory information concerning Mifsud.

These declassifications debunk something George Papadopoulos has long claimed: that Joseph Mifsud was part of a Deep State plot run by either the FBI or CIA. The FBI asked CIA if they knew anything about him but did not.

166: How the FBI got involved

The Legat told us he was not provided any other information about the meetings between the FFG and Papadopoulos. 166

166 According to Legat, the senior intelligence official stated at the meeting with the USG official that the FFG information “sounds like an FBI matter.”

This explains how, after Australia passed the Papadopoulos tip to State, State called in both the FBI Legal Attaché in London and a senior intelligence officer — probably Gina Haspel, who at the time was London Station Chief — to explain the tip, after which the SIO said FBI should deal with it. Again, it undermines part of the claims of a Deep State coup.

205: Proof Steele should have known FBI considered him an informant, not a consultant

Steele stated that he never recalled being told that he was a CHS and that he never would have accepted such an arrangement, despite the fact that he signed FBI admonishment and payment paperwork indicating that he was an FBI CHS. 205

205 During his time as an FBI CHS, Steele received a total of $95,000 from the FBI. We reviewed the FBI paperwork for those payments, each of which required Steele’s Signed acknowledgement. On each document, of which there were eight, was the caption “CHS Payment” and “CHS’s Payment Name.” A signature page was missing for one of the payments.

This passage was redacted to hide the fact that when the FBI pays informants they don’t do so under their own name. The passage as a whole provides reason why Steele should have known, contrary to his claims, that FBI treated him bureaucratically as an informant. The fact he had a payment name may or may not strengthen that proof.

208: Oligarchs spent much of 2015 trying to meet the FBI through Steele

In our review of Steele’s CHS file, other pertinent documents, and interviews with Handling Agent 1, Ohr, and Steele, we observed that Steele had multiple contacts with representatives of Russian oligarchs with connections to Russian Intelligence Services (RIS) and senior Kremlin officials. 208

208 (U) A 2015 report concerning oligarchs written by the FBI’s Transnational Organized Crime Intelligence Unit (TOCIU) noted that from January through May 2015, 10 Eurasian oligarchs sought meetings with the FBI, and 5 of these had their intermediaries contact Steele. The report noted that Steele’s contact with 5 Russian oligarchs in a short period of time was unusual and recommended that a validation review be completed on Steele because of this activity. The FBI’s Validation Management Unit did not perform such an assessment on Steele until early 2017 after, as described in Chapter Six, the Crossfire Hurricane team requested an assessment in the context of Steele’s election reporting. Handling Agent 1 told us he had seen the TOCIU report and was not concerned about its findings concerning Steele because he was aware of Steele’s outreach efforts to Russian oligarchs. We found that the TOCIU report was not included in Steele’s Delta file. Handling Agent 1 said that he found preparation of the TOCIU report “curious” because he believed that TOCIU was aware of Steele’s outreach efforts and fully supported them.

The fact that Steele was a liaison between the US government and Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs was not secret. Indeed the sections on Bruce Ohr, as well as Ohr’s declassified 302s, make that clear. What’s most interesting about this (prior) redaction is that, while marked as unclassified, the footnote was redacted. While it’s damning that this was not in Steele’s Delta file, that it had been but is not now redacted may say more about investigations into Ohr and Oleg Deripaska and others, than it does about Steele (meaning they’re no longer protecting those investigations).

210 and 211: Deripaska’s contemporaneous knowledge of the Steele dossier

Ohr told the OIG that, based on information that Steele told him about Russian Oligarch 1, such as when Russian Oligarch 1 would be visiting the United States or applying for a visa, and based on Steele at times seeming to be speaking on Russian Oligarch l’s behalf, Ohr said he had the impression that Russian Oligarch 1 was a client of Steele. 210 We asked Steele about whether he had a relationship with Russian Oligarch 1. Steele stated that he did not have a relationship and indicated that he had met Russian Oligarch 1 one time. He explained that he worked for Russian Oligarch l’s attorney on litigation matters that involved Russian Oligarch 1 but that he could not provide “specifics” about them for confidentiality reasons. Steele stated that Russian Oligarch 1 had no influence on the substance of his election reporting and no contact with any of his sources. He also stated that he was not aware of any information indicating that Russian Oligarch 1 knew of his investigation relating to the 2016 U.S. elections. 211

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

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

I’m going to save my longer discussion on this for a separate post, though I already flagged and explained why these two footnotes were important in this post. The short version is, it suggests that to the extent the dossier was disinformation, focusing on Carter Page would have given cover for whatever mission Konstantin Kilimnik was pursuing in July 2016, at which point Deripaska may have already known of the dossier (remember he went to Moscow and met with Viktor Yanukovych before the meeting). Note, too, that the redacted word that has been substituted as “possibly aware” is too short to be that uncertain, so I question the substitution. Also note that footnote 210 is one of a handful footnotes in the entire report that was not further declassified with this review.

214: Steele used to be a spook

Steele told us he had a source network in place with a proven “track record” that could deliver on Fusion GPS’s requirements. Steele added that this source network previously had furnished intelligence on Russian interference in European affairs. 214

214 Steele told us that the source network did not involve sources from his time as a former foreign government employee and was developed entirely in the period after he retired from governmental service

This redaction only served to hide what we all knew, that Steele used to be an MI6 officer. Either the UK no longer considers that sensitive or they really want to give Trump what he wants.

242: The Carter Page investigation wasn’t only about whether he was a spy

Case Agent 2 told the OIG that he informed Steele that the FBI was interested in obtaining information in “3 buckets.” According to Case Agent 2’s written summary of the meeting, as well as the Supervisory Intel Analyst’s notes, these 3 buckets were:

(1) Additional intelligence/reporting on specific, named individuals (such as [Page] or [Flynn]) involved in facilitating the Trump campaign-Russian relationship; 241 (2) Physical evidence of specific individuals involved in facilitating the Trump campaign-Russian relationship (such as emails, photos, ledgers, memorandums etc); [and] (3) Any individuals or sub sources who [Steele] could identify who could serve as cooperating witnesses to assist in identifying persons involved in the Trump campaign-Russian relationship. 242

242 The FBI advised the OIG that the Crossfire Hurricane investigation was a national security investigation, and these activities therefor[e] involved national security extraterritorial CHS operations [redaction]

The only thing interesting about this declassification is how it relates the earlier and later ones, at 63 and 526, on special approval for using an informant overseas. It is equally interesting, however, that the description of why FBI focused on what they did remains substantially classified.

244: The FBI’s knowledge of Sergei Millian’s activities remains classified

For example, Steele identified a sub-source (Person 1) who Steele said was in direct contact with Steele’s primary source {Primary Sub-source). 244

244 Person 1 [redacted]

Like the footnote about Crossfire Hurricane’s knowledge of Oleg Deripaska’s ties with Steele, nothing new has been redacted here. Incidentally, after the first batch of these declassifications had come out and I called Sergei Millian out on making a chronologically impossible claim about what they showed, we had a charming exchange where he told me his interest in what I told the FBI was unique, which I include here solely to break up the monotony of this post!

253: Someone told Steele that Millian was hiding out

According to Handling Agent l’s records, during October 2016, Steele communicated with him four times and provided seven written reports, one of which concerned Carter Page and thus was responsive to the FBI’s request for information concerning Page’s activities. 253

253 (U) These seven reports, with selected highlights, were:

(U) Report 130 (Putin and his colleagues were surprised and disappointed that leaks of Clinton’s emails had not had a greater impact on the campaign; a stream of hacked Clinton material had been injected by the Kremlin into compliant western media outlets like WikiLeaks and the stream would continue until the election);

[redacted] Report 132 (a top level Russian intelligence figure claimed that Putin regrets the operation to interfere in the U.S. elections);

(U) Report 134 (a close associate of Rosneft President Sechin confirmed a secret meeting with Carter Page in July; Sechin was keen to have sanctions on the company lifted and offered up to a 19 percent stake in return);

(U) Report 135 (Trump attorney Michael Cohen was heavily engaged in a cover up and damage control in an attempt to prevent the full details of Trump’s relationship with Russia being exposed; Cohen had met secretly with several Russian Presidential Administration Legal Department officials; immediate issues were efforts to contain further scandals involving Manafort’s commercial and political role in Russia/Ukraine and to limit damage from the exposure of Carter Page’s secret meetings with Russian leadership figures in Moscow the previous month);

(U) Report 136 (Kremlin insider reports that Cohen’s secret meeting/s with Kremlin officials in August 2016 was/were held in Prague);

[redacted] Report 137 (Divyekin was moved from his position in the Presidential Administration to one in the Duma; this move followed Divyekin being exposed in the western media, e.g., the Yahoo News story of September 23, 2016, as a secret interlocutor of Page); and

[redacted] Report 139 (Person 1 was forced to lie low abroad following his/her exposure in the western media and was currently in [redacted]).

There are three things about these disclosures. First, the redacted bullets were classified (they had some redaction other than the Unclassified markings these other paragraphs have). If they were known disinformation, it’s not clear why they’d be classified.

Second, this and other declassified passages suggest that FBI had IDed Divyekin (otherwise it’s unlikely to be classified). The application itself said FBI believed this person to be Igor Nikolayevich Dyevkin, who work(ed) in the Presidential Administration. Unless these original redactions were attempts to hide what FBI didn’t know but should have?

The other detail is that — whether disinformation or no — Steele got a report in October, during the month after FBI started actively investigating Millian, that claimed he had hidden out. He was in New York at the time, though, and remained out and about at least through the inauguration (where he partied with Papadopoulos). So why redact his purported locale?

This spreadsheet lists which files the FBI got when.

265: Grenell liberates basic FISA vocabulary that has long been hidden

The same day, OGC submitted a FISA request form to OI providing, among other things, a description of the factual information to establish probable cause to believe that Carter Page was an agent of a foreign power, the “facilities” to be targeted under the proposed FISA coverage, and the FBI’s investigative plan. 265

“Facilities” are the items to be searched or subjected to electronic surveillance, such as email accounts, telephone numbers, physical premises, or personal property.

The term facilities has long been unredacted in reports on FISA, but without a definition (though the definition was obvious). Its declassification is long overdue. That said, this definition leaves out a lot of things that can be defined as facilities, such as IP addresses and encryption keys.

276: The rush to surveil Page before he met with foreigners

3: 11 p.m., Lisa Page to McCabe: “QI now has a robust explanation re any possible bias of the chs in the package. Don’t know what the holdup is now, other than Stu’s continued concerns. Strong operational need to have in place before Monday if at all possible, which means ct tomorrow. 276

As described below, it appears the desire to have FISA authority in place before Monday, October, 17, was due, at least in part, to the fact that Carter Page was expected to travel to the United Kingdom and South Africa shortly thereafter, and the Crossfire Hurricane team wanted FISA coverage targeting Carter Page in place before that trip.

This sounds shocking and any rush may have led to problems with the application (though the most serious problems were more substantive than that). But it’s not unusual to tie surveillance to upcoming foreign activities. After all, FBI is trying to understand what someone’s relationship to foreign governments is. And Page had some pretty interesting meetings in places besides just Russia.

Moreover only the details of where Page was traveling were classified in the original release — a description of his travel appears at 321ff.

293, 362, 368, 377: Individualized FISA orders automatically qualify the target for 705(b) surveillance

Yates signed the application, and OI submitted the application to the FISC the same day. By her signature, and as stated in the application, Yates found that the application satisfied the criteria and requirements of the FISA statute and approved its filing with the court. 293

293 Her signature also specifically authorized overseas surveillance of Carter Page under Section 705(b) of the FISA and Executive Order 12333 Section 2.5

362 Her signature also specifically authorized overseas surveillance of Carter Page under Section 705(b) of the FISA and Executive Order 12333 Section 2.5.

368 Boente’s signature also specifically authorized overseas surveillance of Carter Page under Section 705(b) of the FISA and Executive Order 12333 Section 2.5.

Rosenstein’s signature also specifically authorized overseas surveillance of Carter Page under Section 705(b) of the FISA and Executive Order 12333 Section 2.5.

A set of four footnotes describing that the Attorney General designee signature on the Page applications are one of the declassifications that has been significantly misunderstood.

Under FISA, for authorizations that are more strict (with an individualized content warrant being the most strict), authorization for less or equivalent surveillance is fairly automatic. People targeted with individual orders here in the US must either be covered, when they travel overseas, by 703 (surveillance overseas with the assistance of a US provider) or 704 (surveillance without assistance overseas, meaning EO 12333 surveillance), but there’s an authorization, 705(b), that allows both domestic collection and 12333 collection overseas. As far as all public records and some non-public ones show, 703 has never been used. 705(b) has instead, meaning that when people travel overseas, the government uses techniques available under EO 12333. There’s good reason to believe that the techniques available under 705(b)/EO 12333 are much niftier, including (as one example) more sophisticated device hacks.

I wrote about the import of 705(b) authority with Carter Page back in April 2017 (in a piece that also suggested he might be the first person ever to get to review his FISA application).

That he was approved for 705(b) is important because he was surveilled overseas. But that is in no way unique to Page. Nor, even if this were “physical search” mean they were surveilling his person. A hack of a phone, conducted from Maryland, would qualify.

296: Steele fluffed his MI6 experience

Steele is a former [redacted] and has been an FBI source since in or about October 2013. [Steele’s] reporting has been corroborated and used in criminal proceedings and the FBI assesses [Steele] to be reliable. 296

296 Although Case Agent 2’s summary of the early October meeting with Steele states that Steele described his former position in a manner consistent with the footnote in the FISA application, other documentation (discussed in Chapter Eight) indicates that Steele’s former employer told the FBI in November 2016, after the first application was filed, that Steele had served in a “moderately senior” position, not a “high‐ranking” position as Steele suggested.

This is a complaint about whether Steele or the FBI agent was responsible for the depiction of how he was described in a footnote in the application. It basically shows that Steele fluffed his experience when meeting with the Crossfire Hurricane team, but this kind of distinction is often semantics.

301 to 303: Hiding more details about Sergei Millian

Before the initial FISA application was filed, FBI documents and witness testimony indicate that the Crossfire Hurricane team had assessed, particularly following the information Steele provided in early October, that Source E was most likely a person previously known to the FBI, referred to hereinafter as Person 1. 301

[snip]

In addition, we learned that Person 1 was at the time the subject of an open FBI counterintelligence investigation. 302 We also were concerned that the FISA application did not disclose to the court the FBI’s belief that this sub-source was, at the time of the application, the subject of such an investigation. We were told that the Department will usually share with the FISC the fact that a source is a subject in an open case. The 01 Attorney told us he did not recall knowing this information at the time of the first application, even though NYFO opened the case after consulting with and notifying Case Agent 1 and SSA 1 prior to October 12, 2016, nine days before the FISA application was filed. Case Agent 1 said that he may have mentioned the case to the OI Attorney “in passing,” but he did not specifically recall doing so. 303

301 As discussed in Chapter Four, Person 1 [redacted]

302 According to a document circulated among Crossfire Hurricane team members and supervisors in early October 2016, Person 1 had historical contact with persons and entities suspected of being linked to RIS. The document described reporting [redacted] that Person 1 “was rumored to be a former KGB/SVR officer.” In addition, in late December 2016, Department Attorney Bruce Ohr told SSA 1 that he had met with Glenn Simpson and that Simpson had assessed that Person 1 was a RIS officer who was central in connecting Trump to Russia.

303 Although an email indicates that the OI Attorney learned in March 2017 that the FBI had an open case on Person 1, the subsequent renewal applications did not include this fact. According to the OI Attorney, and as reflected in Renewal Application Nos. 2 and 3, the FBI expressed uncertainty about whether this sub‐source was Person 1. However, other FBI documents in the same time period reflect that the ongoing assumption by the Crossfire Hurricane team was that this sub‐source was Person 1.

301 is one of a small number of footnotes that did not get declassified any further. 302 still hides the source of intelligence claiming that Millian was rumored to be a former Russian intelligence officer, though that Glenn Simpson believed it was not really secret. Clearly there are things about Millian — or about the reporting on Millian — that remain legitimately secret. For some reason, 303 was included on the declassification list even though it had been entirely declassified (it was clearly at least FOUO) for the initial release of the report.

328: Secret discussions sometimes remain secret

Priestap said he interpreted the comments about Steele’s judgment to mean that “if he latched on to something … he thought that was the most important thing on the face of this earth” and added that this personality trait doesn’t necessarily “jump out as a particularly bad or horrible [one]” because, as a manager, it can be helpful if the “people reporting to [you] think the stuff they’re working on is the most important thing going on” and use their best efforts to pursue it. Information from these meetings was shared with the Crossfire Hurricane team. However, we found that it was not memorialized in Steele’s Delta file and therefore not considered in a validation review conducted by the FBI’s Validation Management Unit (VMU) in early 2017. 328

328 Priestap told the OIG that he recalled that he may have made a commitment to Steele’s former employer not to document the former’s employer’s views on Steele as a condition for obtaining the information.

It’s unclear whether DOJ IG doesn’t believe Bill Priestap’s explanation for not including details that might be considered derogatory about Steele. And he’s right that the judgment — that Steele might follow shiny objects — might not be a bad thing in a well-managed source. In any case, the US now appears uninterested in hiding this detail.

334: For some reason Steele’s primary sub-source claimed to believe he was getting paid to meet with friends

As noted in the first FISA application, Steele relied on a primary sub-source (Primary Sub-source) for information, and this Primary Sub-source used a network of sub-sources to gather the information that was relayed to Steele; Steele himself was not the originating source of any of the factual information in his reporting. 334

334 When interviewed by the FBI, the Primary Sub‐source stated that he/she did not view his/her contacts as a network of sources, but rather as friends with whom he/she has conversations about current events and government relations. The Primary Sub‐source [was] [redacted]

This passage (the “was” was previously unredacted but is now redacted) has generated a lot of uncritical attention, as has the DOJ IG Report’s reporting on the primary sub-source generally. One possibility for who this person is is that he’s someone in a British-based Russian community; that community has successfully been targeted for assassination repeatedly (and if the person were in Russia, would be even more vulnerable). If this person was knowingly part of disinformation, undermining Steele would be part of the disinformation. If the person was not, he might want to minimize what he did to avoid assassination himself. But the claim — made here — that someone getting paid to tell Steele these stories (as he was) didn’t realize his network was being treated as subsources is laughable, and reflects more on the reliability of what the Primary Subsource actually said, because it is solid evidence he’s spinning his relationship with Steele.

339: People who would have ties to Russian intelligence are alleged to have ties to Russian intelligence

The Primary Sub-source told the FBI that one of his/her subsources furnished information for that part of Report 134 through a text message, but said that the sub-source never stated that Sechin had offered a brokerage interest to Page. 339

339 The Primary Sub‐source also told the FBI at these interviews that the subsource who provided the information about the Carter Page‐ Sechin meeting had connections to Russian Intelligence Services (RIS). [redacted]

From the day the dossier came out, it was explicit that some of the claimed sources for it had ties to Russian intelligence, and it would be unsurprising if someone close to Igor Sechin did too. The context to this footnote — that the Primary Subsource’s texts with the subsource didn’t reflect any payment to Page — is actually far more damning for Steele (or his Subsource, who for reasons I laid out above, I think shouldn’t be trusted). But the fact that spooks talk to spooks is actually not all that interesting (and in Steele’s dossier, is explicit).

Note there’s a redaction after this claim, which may be an assessment of whether the claim, in this case, makes any sense.

342: On top of disinformation, FBI believed both Steele and his sources may have been boasting

According to the Supervisory Intel Analyst, the cause for the discrepancies between the election reporting and explanations later provided to the FBI by Steele’s Primary Sub-source and sub-sources about the reporting was difficult to discern and could be attributed to a number of factors. These included miscommunications between Steele and the Primary Sub-source, exaggerations or misrepresentations by Steele about the information he obtained, or misrepresentations by the Primary Sub-source and/or sub-sources when questioned by the FBI about the information they conveyed to Steele or the Primary Sub-source. 342

342 In late January 2017, a member of the Crossfire Hurricane team received information [redacted] that RIS [may have targeted Orbis; redacted] and research all publicly available information about it. [redacted] However, an early June 2017 USIC report indicated that two persons affiliated with RIS were aware of Steele’s election investigation in early 2016. The Supervisory Intel Analyst told us he was aware of these reports, but that he had no information as of June 2017 that Steele’s election reporting source network had been penetrated or compromised.

There are two allegations in this newly declassified information. First, that someone on the Crossfire Hurricane team received information that said Steele’s company may have been targeted. And second, a recurring report about one or multiple June 2017 reports stating that Russian intelligence knew of Steele’s efforts in “early” or “July” 2016.

The first claim, with the continued redaction, is unclear about three things: whether Steele was targeted by human or cyber spying, and who conducted the open source investigation, and what the “it” refers to (it could be Orbis, or the attempted targeting of him). It would be thoroughly unsurprising if Steele had been phished, for example, as virtually all anti-Russian entities were in this period. Phishing might have entailed open source investigation into Orbis (but then, so would human targeting). If phishing or any other hacking were successful, Russia might have learned of his project that way.

I’ll deal with this June 2017 report(s) in more depth later. Here, though, the Supervisory Intel Analyst was making a distinction between knowing of Steele’s project and compromising it that may not be entirely credible. It’s important in this context because the FBI did not consider, before Page’s June 2017 FISA application, whether Steele’s allegations about him were disinformation. (Elsewhere, Priestap describes that he considered but dismissed the possibility because he didn’t understand how that would work.)

347: FBI used 702 collection to test Steele’s sub-sources

FBI documents reflect that another of Steele’s sub-sources who reviewed the election reporting told the FBI in August 2017 that whatever information in the Steele reports that was attributable to him/her had been “exaggerated” and that he/she did not recognize anything as originating specifically from him/her. 347

347 The FBI [received information in early June 2017 which revealed that, among other things, there were [redacted]] personal and business ties between the sub-source and Steele’s Primary Sub-source; contacts between the sub-source and an individual in the Russian Presidential Administration in June/July 2016; [redacted] and the sub‐source voicing strong support for candidate Clinton in the 2016 U.S. elections. The Supervisory Intel Analyst told us that the FBI did not have Section 702 coverage on any other Steele sub‐source.

A number of frothy right wingers have pointed to this as further proof of a grand conspiracy. It could be that. But that’s not necessarily what this shows. It does show that 1) the sub-source was in touch with both the primary Subsource (which you’d want to prove to make sure the contact actually happened, and 2) the sub-source had the kind of contacts — with Russia’s Presidential Administration — to reflect actual access to information. The Hillary support absolutely could mean that the sub-source played up whatever he or she had learned from Russian sources, in which his or her claim that Steele’s reporting was exaggerated might be a way to deflect blame. That said, the better part of potential sources for this dossier would not have been pro-Hillary.

The declassification reveals the interesting detail that one and only one of Steele’s subsources was targeted under Section 702.

350: The FBI identified the Michael Cohen reporting as erroneous from early on

Stuart Evans, NSD’s Deputy Assistant Attorney General who oversaw OI, stated that if OI had been aware of the information about Steele’s connections to Russian Oligarch 1, it would have been evaluated by OI. He told us: “Counterintelligence investigations are complex, and often involve as I said, you know, double dealing, and people playing all sides…. I think that [the connection between Steele and Russian Oligarch 1] would have been yet another thing we would have wanted to dive into. “350

350 In addition to the information in Steele’s Delta file documenting Steele’s frequent contacts with representatives for multiple Russian oligarchs, we identified reporting the Crossfire Hurricane team received from [redacted] indicating the potential for Russian disinformation influencing Steele’s election reporting. A January 12, 2017, report relayed information from [redacted] outlining an inaccuracy in a limited subset of Steele’s reporting about the activities of Michael Cohen. The [redacted] stated that it did not have high confidence in this subset of Steele’s reporting and assessed that the referenced subset was part of a Russian disinformation campaign to denigrate U.S. foreign relations. A second report from the same [redacted] five days later stated that a person named in the limited subset of Steele’s reporting had denied representations in the reporting and the [redacted] assessed that the person’s denials were truthful. A USIC report dated February 27, 2017, contained information about an individual with reported connections to Trump and Russia who claimed that the public reporting about the details of Trump’s sexual activities in Moscow during a trip in 2013 were false, and that they were the product of RIS “infiltrate[ing] a source into the network” of a [redacted] who compiled a dossier of that individual on Trump’s activities. The [redacted] noted that it had no information indicating that the individual had special access to RIS activities or information.

This footnote is meant to elaborate on Evans’ comment about counterintelligence investigations involving a lot of double dealing, context that is particularly important to reading the still redacted footnote. The footnote explains two things. First, that by January 12, 2017 — that is, days after Buzzfeed published the dossier — what is probably another intelligence service (it could even be the Czechs, given the import of Prague) raised concerns about the accuracy of the subset of reporting on Michael Cohen. Given how Steele represented his reports, however, one set of reports would not necessarily reflect on the accuracy of the others (unless they pointed to disinformation from the primary Subsource); that’s how raw intelligence works! The accuracy of the Cohen reporting does not necessarily reflect on the Page FISA application, which is what this report is about.

The record shows that Mueller did not use the Steele dossier in his investigation of Cohen — which seems to have arisen from Suspicious Activity Reports from his banks showing that immediately after the election a bunch of foreigners, including a key Russian, started paying him large sums. And given what else we know about Cohen, confirmation that this is disinformation actually suggests the disinformation was more sophisticated than otherwise understood, in that it provided cover for other things Russia was doing, something I’ll return to.

As to the 2013 dossier about 2013, because of the redactions, it’s unclear whether the FBI obtained a report of someone reporting that he had learned about a Russian dossier on Trump from his 2013 trip, or that someone else was doing a dossier about someone associated with Trump’s trip. Given what we know from Giorgi Rtskhiladze’s testimony to the FBI and Cohen’s discussion of it since, we already knew there was a dossier material from Trump’s 2013 trip, and had been floated continuously since then. Indeed, this report could actually suggest that the CIA learned of the interactions Rtskhiladze (who had ties to Russia and Trump) had before FBI did.

Update: the version of the footnote that appears in the letter to Grassley shows this footnote was transcribed incorrectly in the full version (replacing “a dossier of information” with “a dossier of that individual”), which raises questions about some of the other transcriptions.

That doesn’t actually change my point:

  1. At least according to Michael Cohen’s sworn testimony, the alleged pee tape had been out there since 2013
  2. Giorgi Rtskhiladze is one person — and if Cohen is to be believed, he’s not alone — who knew of the pee tape allegation, and he definitely wanted to claim it was not real (which I’m not contesting), even while having tried to pressure Cohen with it; he also would fit the description of someone who has ties to Russia and Trump but not public ties to Russian intelligence
  3. The redaction of whose dossier this was — which was DOJ IG’s transcription of the report, not a direct quote — is redacted. If this is about Steele (and I’m not wedded to either reading), then for some reason DOJ IG’s redacted description is sensitive (for some reason they didn’t write “source #1”). And the Steele dossier is not just about Trump’s activities. There are multiple possible explanations for why it is sensitive.

I should not have used “2013” above to distinguish this second claim. But my underlying point remains: in context, that redaction suggests something else is going on.

In any case, I’m grateful to my fan who pointed out the difference in the footnote.

365: Classified stuff about Millian that had already been declassified remains declassified

Renewal Application Nos. 2 and 3 did advise the court of a news article claiming that Person 1 was a source for some of the Steele reports and that Person 1 denied having any compromising information regarding the President. 365

365 In Chapter Five, we describe how the FBI did not specifically and explicitly advise or about the FBI’s assessment before the first FISA application that Person 1 was the sub-source who provided the information relied upon in the application from Steele Reports 80, 95, and 102; that Steele had provided derogatory information regarding Person 1; and that the FBI had an open counterintelligence investigation on Person 1. As noted previously, in the next chapter, we describe the information from the Primary Sub-source interview concerning Person 1 and the information that was not shared with or about inconsistences [sic] between the Primary Sub-source and Steele concerning information provided by Person 1.

As with other instances, there was stuff about Sergei Millian that was declassified for the original release, but as a result was included in this declassification review.

372: FISA collections that corroborated Page’s application has been sequestered

In original form, this footnote (modifying an entirely redacted bullet) described what the third application had said. Because the FISC ordered FBI to sequester all collection from the FISA applications targeting Page, this footnote now marks the information as sequestered.

379: FBI violated minimization procedures in retaining information on Carter Page

According to NSD supervisors, as of October 2019, NSD had not received a formal response from the FISC to the Rule 13 Letter. 379

379 On May 10, 2019, NSD sent a second letter to the FISC concerning the Carter Page FISA applications, advising the court of two indicants in which the FBI failed to comply with the SMPs applicable to physical searches conducted pursuant to the final FISA orders issued by the court on June 29, 2017. According to the letter, the FBI took and retained on an FBI‐issued cell phone photographs of certain property taken in connection with a FISA‐authorized physical search on July 13, 2017, which NSD assessed did not comport with the SMPs. In addition in a separate incident on July 29, 2017, the FBI took photographs in connection with another FISA‐authorized physical search and transferred the photographs to an electronic folder on the FBI’s classified secret network. . According to NSD, court staff contacted an NSD official in response to this letter and asked when the information at issue would be removed from non‐compliant FBI systems, and asked about other cases that might be impacted by the same problem. On October 9, 2019, NSD sent another letter to the FISC advising the court that the FBI completed the remedial process for the information associated with the Page FISA applications and information from other cases impacted by the same problem.

This footnote reveals something specific to Page and more generalized as well. First, FBI did “physical searches” on Page on June 29 and July 13, 2017. Remember, “physical searches” can include searches of stored communication, and in this period, FBI had a specific interest in Page’s use of an encrypted messaging app and bank accounts they had not yet reviewed, so these may not be searches of wherever Page lived at the time (though he has said he was out of the country during one or both of them). It appears the minimization violation pertained to the means by which FBI collected the information, basically by taking a picture of evidence. The language makes it clear that this is a more general problem, one suggesting the FBI had misused cell phones in conjunction with FISA searches (but which are probably totally okay under criminal physical searches).

This is the kind of thing, incidentally, where FBI (or NSA) usually gets FISA to adjust the rules to incorporate such practice, while requiring FBI to purge files of collection that violated the rules when collected.

389: Was the Primary Sub-Source actually not truthful and cooperative?

The Supervisory Intel Analyst did not recall anyone asking him whether he thought the Primary Sub-source was “truthful and cooperative,” as noted in the renewal applications. 389

Email communications reflect that in March 2017—after the first FISA application and first renewal were filed and before the last two renewals—the Supervisory Intel Analyst reviewed the first FISA application and the first renewal at OGC’s request to assist with potential redactions before the Department responded to Congressional information requests. The Supervisory Intel Analyst provided comments to the OGC Attorney, including advising him that the Primary Sub‐source was not [redacted] as stated in the FISA applications, and asking whether a correction should be made. The Supervisory Intel Analyst did not provide any other comments relating to the Primary Sub‐source, and he told us that he did not notice anything else potentially inaccurate or incomplete in the applications at that time.

Nothing new was declassified in this declassification review — the redaction continues to hide what had been claimed about Steele’s Primary Sub-Source. That raises questions about what might still be hidden here, including that there may be some question about how helpful the Primary Sub-Source really was.

475 FBI still had stuff from a pro-Trump informant in their files

The Handling Agent placed the materials into the FBI’s files. 475

475 We notified the FBI upon learning during our review that [redacted] material that the CHS had provided to the FBI were still maintained in FBI files.

This footnote was not further declassified with the declassification review. It pertains to a standing FBI informant who (unbeknownst to the Crossfire Hurricane team) was a part of the Trump campaign and had provided some information to his handler. For some reason, it seems the information should have been removed from FBI files, perhaps because it was disinformation. Note the SSA on this other team was avowedly anti-Hillary and was working on the Clinton Foundation investigation.

Deza: Oleg Deripaska’s Double Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill Priestap underestimated Vladimir Putin’s strategy

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

How the dossier might work as disinformation tactically

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How the dossier might serve Russia’s larger goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timeline

2005-2009: Manafort works for Deripaska

2007: Manafort founds Pericles with Deripaska as the sole investor

2012: Orbis hired as a subcontractor by Deripaska lawyer

February 22, 2014: Yanukovych flees Ukraine

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

September 2015: Ohr meets with Deripaska

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

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

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

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

March 28, 2016: Manafort hired as Convention Manager

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 19, 2016: Manafort promoted to Campaign Manager

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

July 7, 2016: Steele and Ohr speak by Skype

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

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

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

July 28, 2016: Kilimnik flies from Kyiv to Moscow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OTHER POSTS ON THE DOJ IG REPORT

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

Timeline of Key Events in DOJ IG Carter Page Report

Crossfire Hurricane Glossary (by bmaz)

Facts appearing in the Carter Page FISA applications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Flynn Predication

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

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

How Sidney Powell Misrepresents Her Evidence in Her Fake Brady Motion

In this post, I laid out how Sidney Powell used what should have been a reply in her effort to obtain what she called Brady information to instead lay out, for the first time, her argument about how Flynn was abusively caught in his own acts by mean FBI Agents out to get him, and so should have the two guilty pleas he made under oath thrown out. Powell also complains about a slew of things that happen in most FBI investigations, and pretends they’re specifically abusive when they happen with her client.

In this post, I’d like to unpack what Powell does with her so-called evidence, 16 exhibits purportedly included to support her case, but also largely provided to rile up the frothy right.

Virtually everything she claims — with the possible exception that Flynn’s 302 says he acknowledged calling Sergey Kislyak 4-5 times on December 29, 2016, but actually said he didn’t remember that– is not backed by her evidence. In several cases, she presents evidence that undermines her own claims. She supports her most central claim — that the FBI Agents introduced a claim about Flynn getting a response on UN sanctions — by arbitrarily cutting up notes and hiding the continuity of notes that in fact back the Agents.

Exhibit 1: A timeline

Exhibit 1 is a timeline that purports to show how the Deep State was out to get Flynn and how all the people involved in Flynn’s prosecution allegedly involved in abuse. Powell uses the timeline to suggest all the events that happened at DOJ and FBI over a two year was a focused effort to get her client and his boss.

The real evidence the government had long suppressed caused a cavalcade of major events—many within mere days of Mr. Flynn’s plea—and all unknown to him before it. Lisa Page, Special Counsel to Deputy Director McCabe, resigned; she had edited Mr. Flynn’s 302 and was part of the small, high-level group that strategically planned his ambush. Lead Agent Peter Strzok was demoted from the Mueller investigation and ultimately fired. Strzok, who had met extensively with McCabe and the high-level, small group, was primarily responsible for creating the only basis for the charge alleged against Flynn. [emphasis original]

But the timeline is not “evidence” at all. For example, she includes a slew of events that we know don’t relate to her narrative, but which she claims do, including:

  • Andrew McCabe’s firing for (allegedly) lying to the Inspector General about leaking information that confirmed a criminal investigation into the Clinton Foundation during the campaign
  • Lisa Page’s departure from Mueller’s team, which texts to Strzok that Powell chooses not to include makes clear was planned from the time she joined Mueller’s team
  • Rachel Brand’s resignation (as well as the career moves of a bunch of other people that likely don’t relate to Flynn, but are probably best explained by Christopher Wray bringing in his own team)

The timeline includes notable gaps including:

  • President Obama’s warning to Trump not to hire Mike Flynn, based off issues that did not relate to Trump
  • Elijah Cummings’ letter to Mike Pence about Flynn’s problematic meetings with Turkey, which explains the urgency behind DOJ’s FARA questions
  • Mention of the December 23 and 31, 2016 calls from Kislyak to Flynn, which he also lied about; the December 23 call is utterly central to one of Powell’s key claims against the FBI Agents
  • Details around White House requests in early 2017 to see the information on Flynn, which explains some of the texts (indicating what a challenge it was to investigate Flynn and concerns about documenting his interview before he left) Powell elsewhere says are damning
  • The John Dowd call to Rob Kelner pressuring him not to cooperate

The timeline includes evidence that conflicts with Sidney Powell’s argument, including:

  • A quote from Strzok making it clear that in an unfiltered text to Page, he believed Flynn had lied
  • A description of how Rudolph Contreras recused from the Flynn case as soon as it would have become clear to him that Strzok was involved
  • A 302 from Lisa Page undermining her claim that there were “many” meetings to strategize on Flynn’s interview

Exhibit 2: Cherry-picked Strzok-Page texts

Exhibit 2 is a cherry-picked selection of texts from Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.

For example, Powell claims,

The belatedly-disclosed Strzok-Page texts make clear that the agents left the interview with a firm conviction Mr. Flynn was being honest, and they maintained that conviction despite strong expressions of disbelief and cries of “bullshit” from their colleagues.

But one of the texts she includes quotes Strzok describing his, “excitement knowing we had just heard him denying it all, knowing we’d have to pivot into asking.” That comment actually confirms that even in an unguarded moment, there was no doubt in Strzok’s mind that Flynn had lied about the events.

She claims that a text that very obviously pertains to Strzok’s ongoing efforts to pursue leakers — including leakers who harm Trump associates — and suggests it has something to do with animus against Flynn.

April 20, 2017, Strzok texts Page: “I had literally just gone to find this phone to tell you I want to talk to you about media leak strategy with DOJ before you go.” Ex. 2.

This text is instead proof that, rather than being part of a plot to leak information to harm Trump associates, Strzok and Page continued to pursue all leakers, including those damaging Trump associates.

Significantly, Powell does not submit a single text that shows animus towards Flynn personally, as opposed to Trump. Indeed, she includes a text discussing this article on how Trump picked Pence as a running mate; it mentions Flynn, but neither Page nor Strzok mention that (or any concern that he might have picked someone who was already regarded a counterintelligence concern).

Exhibit 3: Cherry-picked Comey memos

Exhibit 3 are two of Comey’s memos. I don’t think Powell ever gets around to using Comey’s first memo as proof FBI was using the briefing about the dossier to see how Trump would react (though the rest of her brief is consistent with that). Instead, she cites to the memos for two purposes, neither of which it supports. First, she uses it to make much of the fact that Comey briefed Trump on the dossier the day after he met with Obama’s National Security advisors.

Then Director Comey had briefed the President-Elect about these “salacious and unverified” allegations on January 6, 2017, a day after meeting in the Oval Office with President Obama, Vice-President Biden, Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, Susan Rice, James Clapper, and John Brennan. Ex. 3.

But of course, the timing has nothing to do with the dossier and everything to do with the fact that Comey, Clapper, and Brennan were briefing Trump on the same thing they briefed Obama on the day before: the preliminary results of the Intelligence Community Assessment. It’s evidence they were treating Trump as they should the incoming president, something that’s backed by other evidence.

She then uses the Comey memos (plus two Strzok 302s below) to support a footnote where Powell deliberately conflates what it takes to open a counterintelligence investigation (which, even ignoring how Powell claims one can only open an investigation if one has proof beyond a reasonable doubt about someone, can also be opened if someone is being targeted by foreign intelligence services) and what it takes to charge someone.

Under federal law, to establish that an American is acting as an agent of a foreign power, the government must show that the American is purposefully engaging in clandestine activities on behalf of a foreign power, and that it is probable that these activities violate federal criminal law. See FISA, Title 50, U.S. Code, Section 1801(b)(2). Mr. Comey and Mr. McCabe publicly admitted that in the summer of 2016, they took it upon themselves to single out four individuals associated with the Trump campaign for investigation. Admittedly, the FBI had no evidence that any of the four had committed a crime—much less that they “knowingly engage[d] in clandestine intelligence gathering activities for or on behalf of a foreign power.” Id; see Ex. 3.

The memo in no way supports the passage.

Powell unsurprisingly doesn’t include the two Comey memos that hurt her client’s claim. The January 27 memo describes Trump telling the FBI Director that, “he has serious reservations about Mike Flynn’s judgement,” which would seem to support FBI’s decisions to treat the Flynn matter seriously. In the February 8 one, Comey describes Reince Priebus asking if FBI has a FISA order targeting Flynn, something that would totally justify the FBI’s concerns about how they were dealing with and documenting an investigation of the National Security Advisor that Powell makes much of.

Exhibit 4: CNN article

Exhibit 4 is a CNN article quoting Strzok-Page texts where Page says the release of the Steele dossier may provide pretext to interview people, which is a clear reference to George Papadopoulos (everything in Steele about Flynn is OSINT). It also describes Strzok to be obviously aggravated by all the leaking going on, as well as discussions about how FBI tried to walk back a problematic NYT article that doesn’t mention Flynn, but instead focused on Paul Manafort and Roger Stone.

Exhibit 5: Peter Strzok’s 302 about Sara Carter and John Solomon’s propaganda

Exhibit 5 is a Peter Strzok 302 that Powell purports to include for what she claims is a quote from it.

In the next two weeks, there were “many meetings” between Strzok and McCabe to discuss “whether to interview [] National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and if so, what interview strategies to use.” Ex. 5.

Except that’s an egregious misquote of what the 302 actually says, which is,

I have attended many meetings with DD McCabe regarding Russian influence investigations, including meetings which discussed whether to interview former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and if so, what interview strategies to use.

The “many” here refers to meetings about Russian influence generally, just a subset of those many meetings relate to Flynn. Nor does the 302 reflect that all those meetings happened in the two weeks before Flynn’s interview.

Powell also uses this 302 to claim that “they all knew” they had no basis to open the CI exhibit, as noted above. The only way this could be used to support the case is to take allegations included in a Sara Carter/John Solomon report claiming bias which (per the government’s last filing) was repeatedly debunked after this time, as truthful, even though Strzok says repeatedly in the 302 they’re not.

Exhibit 6: Peter’s Strzok’s 302 on his own role in the investigation

Exhibit 6 is the 302 recording a July 19, 2017 interview of Strzok describing his role in starting the investigation. Powell uses it, rather than “a seven-line summary of Ms. Yates statement,” they received in discovery, to support a claim about why Sally Yates was angry that the FBI interviewed Flynn.

Comey and McCabe were executing their own agenda—not investigating a crime. This is why, in Brady evidence still suppressed, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates candidly opined that the interview “was problematic” and “it was not always clear what the FBI was doing to investigate Flynn.”8 This is also why Strzok admitted that Yates “was not happy” to learn of the interview and PDAG Axelrod argued with FBI General Counsel James Baker about the FBI’s unilateral decision to interview Flynn. Ex. 6.

To prove she needed the full Yates interview, Powell would need to describe what’s inadequate in the Yates summary, but she chooses not to.

Powell also uses this 302 to support the claim that “they all knew” they had no basis for a counterintelligence investigation, which it doesn’t support.

The other things that Powell uses this exhibit to prove is that the FBI — as it does for all witnesses!!!! — tried to stage the interview to be as useful as possible.

They purposely did not tell him they were investigating him and strategized at length to avoid raising any concerns. Ex. 6 (“Flynn was unguarded and clearly saw the FBI agents as allies.”).

[snip]

The agents did three briefings the day of the interview. They reported he had a sure demeanor, and he was telling the truth or believed he was—even though he did not remember it all. Ex. 6.

[snip]

” They purposely did not tell him they were investigating him and strategized at length to avoid raising any concerns. Ex. 6 (“Flynn was unguarded and clearly saw the FBI agents as allies.”).

Powell slightly misrepresents this, describing the FBI agents as believing that Flynn was telling the truth instead of saying, “both had the impression at the time that Flynn was not lying or did not think he was lying,” and she leaves out key parts of the rest of the description, including that he “did not give any indicators of deception,” which changes the meaning somewhat. In general, however, the description of how FBI planned the interview doesn’t prove bias at all on the part of the FBI; it proves they treated Flynn like they treat everyone.

Exhibit 7: Two pages of the Steele dossier

Exhibit 7 is the two pages of the Steele dossier which include the sole reference in it to Flynn.

Kremlin engaging with several high profile US players, including STEIN, PAGE, and (former DIA Director Michael Flynn), and funding their recent visits to Moscow.

[snip]

Speaking separately, also in early August 2016, a Kremlin official involved in US relations commented on aspects of the Russian operation to date. Its goals had been threefold — asking sympathetic US actors how Moscow could help them; gathering relevant intelligence; and creating and disseminating compromising information (“kompromat”). This had involved the Kremlin supporting various US political figures, including funding indirectly their recent visits to Moscow. S/he named a delegation from Lyndon LAROUCHE; presidential candidate JILL STEIN of the Green Party; TRUMP foreign policy adviser Carter PAGE; and former DIA Director Michael Flynn, in this regard and as successful in terms of perceived outcomes.

According to Powell’s own theory, the RT event took place long after the US government came to be concerned about Flynn as a CI threat, and according to her own claims, Flynn was already on Trump’s campaign at this time, so the FBI would have been reviewing these publicly known facts in real time. And while the Kremlin only indirectly funded these trips, both the Page and the Stein/Flynn trips were paid for, albeit by cut-outs. This is actually an instance where the Steele dossier only repeats generally true, OSINT facts.

Nevertheless, Powell uses it to misrepresent both the timing of Nellie Ohr’s research on Flynn (most of her research was done in 2015 and early 2016, and so was funded by Paul Singer) and why her spouse shared it with the FBI (to help them vet the dossier).

It was only much later the defense learned what the FBI already knew: This document had been bought and paid for by the Clinton campaign and the DNC. Both the FBI and Fusion GPS hired former British spy Christopher Steele. Fusion GPS was on the Clinton payroll, and it also hired Nellie Ohr—a Russia specialist with CIA ties whose husband Bruce was the fourth highestranking official in DOJ. Ms. Ohr was researching Mr. Flynn also, and his name appears twice in the “Steele dossier.” Ms. Ohr and Steele funneled their “work” through Bruce Ohr in a backchannel to the FBI, long after the FBI fired Steele for lying. Ex. 7;

Powell also uses it to demand a letter from MI6 on Steele that the NYT recently reported said that Steele was honest, but displayed questionable judgement (of the sort that might lead him to trust Oleg Deripaska).

Mr. Horowitz has asked witnesses about an assessment of Mr. Steele that MI6, the British spy agency, provided to the F.B.I. after bureau officials received his dossier on Mr. Trump in September 2016. MI6 officials said Mr. Steele, a Russia expert, was honest and persistent but sometimes showed questionable judgment in pursuing targets that others viewed as a waste of time, two people familiar with the assessment said.

Whatever Carter Page’s possible beef with the dossier, all the dossier does on Flynn is report what the FBI was (even according to Powell’s claims) already reviewing with Flynn. And a letter saying that MI6 thought Steele was honest is not going to change that.

Exhibit 8: Not-Comey’s description of Comey’s action

Exhibit 8 is Josh Campbell’s description of how Comey decided to send FBI Agents to interview Flynn without going through the White House Counsel (which Andrew McCabe nevertheless gave Flynn the opportunity to ask to do).

The government did not disclose this to Mr. Flynn until after Mr. Comey bragged about his breach on national television—not because Mr. Van Grack was complying with this Court’s order. This short video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxNhjFrjXqI) reveals Mr. Comey’s deliberate disregard for DOJ and FBI rules. In fact, Mr. Van Grack only disclosed a bland summary four days after Comey gloated about it on national television to a laughing audience— four days before Mr. Flynn’s scheduled sentencing, and because this Court entered its minute order of December 12, 2017. Dkt. 10. Mr. Flynn seeks disclosure of the full report of Mr. Comey’s conduct, any memos, notes, and 302s documenting his decision, which was admittedly the subject of “many intensive discussions” within the FBI. There must be at least notes of several others, including Comey’s Special Assistant Mr. Campbell, that document the efforts directed against Mr. Flynn. Ex. 8;

Powell uses Campbell’s description, which includes the line “screw it,” rather than a transcript of Comey’s statements that she links, which are far less inflammatory, presumably to assume that Campbell must have taken official notes of the many conversations he claims happened.

But this exhibit, like all the others on how FBI tried to optimize this interview, only shows that the FBI treated Flynn like they’d treat anyone.

Exhibits 9 and 10: Joseph Pientka and Strzok’s notes

Exhibits 9 and 10 are the notes that Joe Pientka and Strzok made, respectively, about the Flynn interview. This is the core of any legitimate argument Powell has, though here, as elsewhere, part of what she’s complaining about is normal FBI process where two Agents do an interview and then write up a 302.

Only the junior agent was taking notes during the interview. Strzok’s 302 of July 2017 says that he was handling the interview and his partner was taking notes. A 302 is to be written into Sentinel within five days. Notes are to be signed and dated by the notetaker. Inexplicably, we have two sets of notes with significant redactions—neither of which is signed and dated as required. Exs. 9, 10. Agent Strzok’s notes are far more detailed, lengthy, and written in a way that would not appear to be physically possible to write in a contemporaneous, casual setting. Ex. 10.

Powell’s claims that these notes weren’t dated or signed might have merit, though given that virtually all of her claims misrepresent key details, it’s hard to tell, especially with the way she presents the notes in screen caps followed by transcriptions.

She makes two other substantive claims about the notes. First, she claims that the notes (plus a copy showing changes made on February 10, which is Exhibit 11) falsely claim that Flynn stated that he did not ask for any specific action regarding the UN vote on Egypt’s resolution on illegal Israeli settlements.

Overnight, the most important substantive changes were made to the Flynn 302. Those changes added an unequivocal statement that “FLYNN stated he did not”—in response to whether Mr. Flynn had asked Kislyak to vote in a certain manner or slow down the UN vote. This is a deceptive manipulation because, as the notes of the agents show, Mr. Flynn was not even sure he had spoken to Russia/Kislyak on this issue. He had talked to dozens of countries. Exs. 9, 10, 11.

[snip]

Whatever Mr. Flynn said to anyone regarding the UN issues had nothing to do with the FBI’s alleged “investigation” about the 2016 election and could not be the basis for false statements “material” to that issue. According to the notes, he was not even sure he had spoken to Kislyak on that issue. Exs. 9, 10.

Perhaps Sidney Powell is this dumb, or perhaps she just thinks Emmet Sullivan is, but this is thoroughly dishonest. What Pientka’s notes show is that when Flynn was asked to offer up what contacts he had had with Kislyak, he described the following ones post-election:

  • A condolence call after Russia’s Ambassador to Turkey was killed on December 19, which Flynn described as happening “before Xmas, Mid-December day after assassination”
  • A condolence call after Russia’s military band crashed in Syria on Christmas Day
  • A single call on December 29

Then, when the Agents cue him again, he admits to:

  • The in-person Trump Tower meeting about setting up a back channel around December 1

Then, when asked about the UN vote, Flynn starts by saying, “that’s a good reminder,” then admits to calls with others, makes representations generally about all his calls regarding the UN vote where he claims he only asked about people’s positions, not to abstain, then ends by saying “Appreciate you reminding me that was another convo.” In context, that probably records — and at the very least is consistent with — an admission he spoke with Russia among his UN calls. And given his description of it occurring “Maybe Thurs-Fri prior to Xmas,” he dates it to December 22 or 23, when he claims his call was offering condolences for the assassination. (Powell splits these two up in Pientka’s notes, as she also does with the same exchange in Strzok’s notes, but the flow is clear; this is clearer in the full version of Strzok’s notes submitted with Exhibit 16)

Furthermore, Powell claims that “he talked to dozens of countries,” which she pulls from his comment about his general interactions with other countries. The notes make clear that he instead said he “talked to a bunch” of countries. It’s clear that Powell’s claim he spoke to “dozens” is false in any case, because Flynn was talking about the UNSC, on which there are just 15 members, and Flynn described how those numbers worked out — and the need to get just 5 to abstain — for the Agents.

In other words, what the notes actually show is Flynn lying about his reason for the call, being given an opportunity to fix the lie about the subject of the call, then making claims that would apply to all his UN calls (including the Russian one) that were themselves false.

In short, the notes actually appear to back the Agents.

Exhibit 11: Redline of 302

Exhibit 11 is a redline of Flynn’s 302 which, in Powell’s theory, was changed on February 10, after the press reported that Flynn didn’t speak about sanctions (as if the FBI would respond to press reports on something they already knew to be a lie), to make it more damning.

She’s concerned about two changes made in this section pertaining to the UN vote.

This section is the basis of the most inflammatory claim Powell made.

Those changes added an unequivocal statement that “FLYNN stated he did not”—in response to whether Mr. Flynn had asked Kislyak to vote in a certain manner or slow down the UN vote. This is a deceptive manipulation because, as the notes of the agents show, Mr. Flynn was not even sure he had spoken to Russia/Kislyak on this issue. He had talked to dozens of countries. Exs. 9, 10, 11.

Second, they added: “or if KISLYAK described any Russian response to a request by FLYNN.” That question and answer do not appear in the notes, yet it was made into a criminal offense. The typed version of the highly unusual “deliberative” 302 by that date already included an entire section from whole cloth that also serves as a criminal charge in the Information and purported factual basis regarding “Russia’s response” to any request by Flynn. The draft also shows that the agents moved a sentence to make it seem to be an answer to a question it was not. Exs. 9, 10, 11

As shown above, because Flynn’s comments about his asks regarding the UN vote apply to all the countries in question, it would apply to the Russian one as well.

But as shown, the only way Powell can sustain this claim is to separate Flynn saying three things that are clearly all about the same topic into three different sections of her transcription:

  • That’s a great reminder
  • No hey if you do this
  • Appreciate you reminding me that was another convo

The “Appreciate you reminding me that was another convo” certainly is consistent with the December 23 call Kislyak made to say they weren’t going to abstain, because Flynn talks about it happening the Thurs-Fri before Xmas, which would be consistent with the ask on Thursday, December 22 and the response on Friday, December 23.

Note, too, that the charge that Flynn lied about getting a response from Russia would also apply to whether Flynn acknowledged getting a response back from Kislyak after the December 29 call. As she did with the UN notes, she splits these up too, so separates where Pientka notes “no recollection of that” from where he records Flynn saying, “Nothing long drawn out don’t do something.” Her transcription of “RePP?” and “I don’t, the conversation was on” doesn’t account for the possibility that this is a question — with question mark included — about Russia’s response.

Powell makes a more credible argument about the Agents recording that Flynn affirmatively stated he made 4-5 calls to Kislyak on December 29

Notes by both agents state that Mr. Flynn does not remember making four to five calls to Ambassador Kislyak from the Dominican Republic, where he was on vacation, but that if he did so, it was because phone service was poor and he kept getting dropped. “I don’t remember making 4-5 calls. If I did lousy place to call.” The final 302 states the opposite: “Flynn remembered making four to five calls that day about this issue, but that the Dominican Republic was a difficult place to make a call as he kept having connectivity issues.” Ex. 11. This dramatically demonstrates the wrongheadedness of allowing a 302 to create a federal felony.

But this issue is not an editing one, as the draft doesn’t change on this point.

More importantly, it’s not — as the UN question is — a charged lie.

Powell is right that the problem with charging false statements off a 302 is that the editing process is human, but that doesn’t change that the notes clearly back that Flynn told numerous material lies in his interview, and she doesn’t actually claim he didn’t.

Exhibit 12: Lisa Page rebuts Powell’s claim of “many” meetings to strategize Flynn’s interview

Exhibit 12 is a 302 with Lisa Page that, among other things, proves that contrary to claims the frothy right has made about Mueller’s team not checking about Strzok bias affecting the impact of the Flynn interview, Mueller’s team instead interviewed Page to check just that.

The 302 also disproves Powell’s claim that Strzok claimed he had attended “many” meetings about how to handle the Flynn interview. As reflected in Page’s telling, there was a meeting the night before, and one after the interview.

Powell doesn’t reveal that this 302 damages her story in key ways. Instead, she seems to include it to substantiate this claim:

Lisa Page, Special Counsel to Deputy Director McCabe, resigned; she had edited Mr. Flynn’s 302 and was part of the small, high-level group that strategically planned his ambush.

But she doesn’t actually cite the exhibit here. Nor does she in a later reference to Page editing the 302.

And for his third production, it gave the defense two pages on October 4, 2018. These go precisely to the issue of McCabe’s Special Counsel Lisa Page editing the Flynn 302. Ex. 2.

But in the second instance, the 302 actually shows that Brandon Van Grack provided Flynn texts reflecting Page editing Flynn’s 302 even before they had interviewed her (on October 25) to understand what they meant. That is, this detail shows how responsive Van Grack was, not that he was slow in turning things over.

In short, there’s no basis to believe Page altered the 302. Her edits, if they were actually incorporated, went through Bill Priestap, not Strzok. And she told the FBI that she would often edit things he wrote for grammar.

But unlike the frothy right, which has been harping on this point all weekend, Sullivan may never refer to that 302, because Powell didn’t appear to cite it.

Exhibit 13: WaPo reports on the Strzok-Page texts

Exhibit 13 is a WaPo report describing that Mueller reassigned Strzok in the wake of the discovery of his texts with Page. Powell provides this to substantiate a theory that Mueller’s prosecutors were pressuring Flynn to plead guilty knowing this would come out.

Not only did Mr. Van Grack not disclose a single text message before Mr. Flynn agreed to plead guilty, but Special Counsel apparently managed to control the press on the issue until the plea was entered on December 1, 2017, in Judge Contreras’s court. It defies credulity to suggest that it was only unlucky for Mr. Flynn that the story broke the very next day. Part of the evidence we request includes communications between the press and SCO, which will likely establish that Special Counsel intensified pressure on Mr. Flynn to plead immediately while it was pressuring the press not to explode the truth that destroyed the entire case. Karoun Demirjian, Top FBI official assigned to Mueller’s Russia probe said to have been removed after sending anti-Trump texts, THE WASH. POST (Dec. 2, 2017), https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/two-senior-fbiofficials-on-clinton-trump-probes-exchanged-politically-charged-texts-disparagingtrump/2017/12/02/9846421c-d707-11e7-a986-d0a9770d9a3e_story.html; MTC 11; Ex. 13.

Unfortunately for Powell, that doesn’t change the fact that according to her own timeline, Van Grack had already disclosed this three days earlier, and that the reason the texts came out is because Rod Rosenstein okayed their release in probable violation of the Privacy Act, something that Mueller’s team probably had no way of anticipating.

Exhibit 14: The InfoWars event Flynn co-headlined with Ray McGovern and Julian Assange

Exhibit 14 consists of materials from Flynn’s speaker’s bureau, which Powell submits to show that those events were solidly in the mainstream (which is absolutely true of the Kaspersky event).

Mr. McCabe pointed to Mr. Flynn’s “very public interactions with Vladimir Putin and other Russians.” These “interactions” seem to have arisen from the work of CIA/FBI operatives Stefan Halper and Joseph Mifsud, and bookings made by Mr. Flynn’s American speakers’ bureau, Leading Authorities (which books engagements for countless former government officials and prominent people). Leading Authorities booked him for three events with “Russian connections”: one in Moscow for RT and two in Washington. All were well attended by prominent persons from around the world because of the important issues discussed and the presence of other recognized experts on the programs. See Ex. 14; MTC 4, 16.

Yet among the other things these materials reveal are that the RT event featured Oliver Stone and Max Blumenthal on InfoWars (at a time when Russia had already kicked off its 2016 InfoWar against Putin).

It also featured Julian Assange and Ray McGovern on a panel about security and surveillance.

His talk to Volga-Dnepr Airlines was not recorded or open to the media.

The RT materials, while already broadly public, are especially damning, as they effectively show that Russia orchestrated his appearance, right alongside Putin, at the same event which a bunch of people who would later be part of the effort to deny Russia’s role in this infowar. A number of these people have been friends of mine (though they’re also among the people who’ve attacked me most baselessly once I started saying publicly that Russia did the hack), but they’re in no way the best experts to talk about infowars or how to balance privacy and counterterrorism.

Exhibit 15: Proof that Mueller’s team provided discovery before Flynn pled guilty a second time before Sullivan

Exhibit 15 is another timeline, this one providing the dates — but not the substance — of what Mueller provided in discovery in response to Emmet Sullivan’s order (note: it also gets at least some of the dates wrong, even as compared to her other timeline).

Powell claims in her brief that Flynn didn’t get all this material before he pled guilty the first time.

Neither Mr. Flynn nor his former counsel had any of these documents or knowledge of the plethora of information discussed above when Mr. Flynn entered his plea.

But Powell’s own timeline shows that every installment of the government’s production save one preceded the date last year when Flynn pled guilty again to Emmet Sullivan.

The exception is material handed over on August 16 of this year that relates to Flynn’s time at DIA which (given that it dates to at least two years before he committed the crimes in question) cannot be relevant to his crimes. Indeed, the government says that some of it is inculpatory.

Request #15: The government is not aware of any information in possession of the Defense Intelligence Agency that is favorable and material to sentencing, including the information that the government provided on August 16, 2019. Specifically, the information of which the government is aware, including that August 16 production, is either inculpatory or has no relevance to the defendant’s false statements to the FBI on January 24, 2017, or to the FARA Unit.

In short, Powell’s own timeline shows that the government complied with Sullivan’s standing order before Flynn pled guilty before Sullivan.

Exhibit 16: The handwriting analysis that doesn’t even try to disprove Strzok

Finally, there is Exhibit 16, a declaration from a handwriting analyst. Powell includes it to substantiate a demand for Strzok’s original notes of his interview with Flynn to investigate an “anomaly” that she doesn’t describe (making this request moot from a Brady standpoint).

Agent Strzok’s notes are far more detailed, lengthy, and written in a way that would not appear to be physically possible to write in a contemporaneous, casual setting. Ex. 10. The defense requests production of the actual, original notes, and handwriting samples of Strzok of contemporaneous and non-contemporaneous notes to evaluate another anomaly that further calls into question the entire effort by the FBI to manipulate and set up Mr. Flynn, and its report of that interview. Ex. 16.

But as her expert lays out, getting Strzok’s original notes would not be enough, because he would also need a baseline of how Strzok takes notes.

If additional comparable6 notations of Agent Strzok written under similar conditions could be obtained and submitted for analysis, it may be possible to determine whether the (Q-1) notations were prepared as purported. In consideration of both the observations made, as well as limitations present, further analysis of the original evidence would likely be necessary to support any definitive conclusions in this matter.

Ultimately, her expert says he can’t make any conclusions about whether the notes were “written during the course of the January 24th interview, or prepared at a subsequent time period.”

Based upon the inherent limitations arising from the examination of non-original evidence, compounded with the lack of any known comparison handwritten notations of Agent Peter Strzok (i.e., other non-contested handwritten notations prepared under like conditions), it has been determined that no conclusion can be rendered as to whether the submitted (Q-1) notations were written during the course of the January 24th interview, or prepared at a subsequent time period.

But as Powell makes clear in the very same paragraph where she makes this demand, no one claimed that Strzok wrote these notes during the interview. Only Pientka’s notes were taken during the interview (which is, again, one of those potentially bad things that is normal for FBI interviews that Powell thinks shouldn’t happen with her client).

Only the junior agent was taking notes during the interview. Strzok’s 302 of July 2017 says that he was handling the interview and his partner was taking notes.

So Powell uses this expert to claim she needs the original of Strzok’s notes to prove that he wrote them at a time he didn’t write them.

Which sounds like the definition of sanctionably frivolous behavior.

The Unremarkable Bruce Ohr 302s

Last night, Judicial Watch (and DOJ) released some of the FD-302s (FBI interview reports) between Bruce Ohr and the FBI. This post will lay out what they include.

As a reminder, Ohr is a top DOJ expert on Russian organized crime. He has known Christopher Steele since 2007 and Ohr’s wife — who is an expert on Russia — did some work for Fusion GPS during the election that was related to, but not part of, Steele’s work for Fusion. Ohr and Steele had conversations in 2016 about a range of things, including Oleg Deripaska (for whom Steele was doing work and who Steele trusted far more than he should have), Russian doping, and Trump’s ties to Russia.

Starting on July 30, 2016 and continuing through November 2017, Steele shared first his Trump-related information with Ohr, and then his concerns about how his dossier was all blowing up, including his concern for at least one of his sources. After Steele was cut off as a paid source in November 2016, FBI had Ohr communicate with a Supervisor [note, this was incorrectly reported as Bill Priestap when JW released these], who was a top counterintelligence person at FBI, whenever he spoke with Steele as a way to stay in touch with the former British intelligence officer, at first as part of vetting the dossier, and later to monitor where he was at.

This release of 302s is partial (though that’s based on Judicial Watch’s request, not FBI’s response). It doesn’t include any record of Ohr’s conversations with FBI and DOJ prior to November 22, 2016 (which include at least an early August meeting with Andrew McCabe and Lisa Page and a fall meeting with Page, Peter Strzok, Andrew Weissmann, Zainab Ahmad, and Bruce Swartz). It also doesn’t include Ohr’s communications after May 2017. Thus, it explicitly would exclude any information about how Mueller treated the dossier, details of what FBI and Steele did to try to limit Congress’ investigation into the role of the dossier, and whether and how FBI investigated possible false statements from Steele and (especially) Glenn Simpson.

In addition, while DOJ already released a lot of the backup to this (including Ohr’s communications with Steele and Simpson and some but not all of his notes), Judicial Watch has apparently not posted something DOJ already provided them, which is a file “Manafort Chronology” that JW received in an earlier lawsuit (I’ve asked JW for that file; they say they’re still processing it, even though they received it before these 302s). That document would presumably make it clear (as if the investigative team Ohr met with didn’t already) that more of what Ohr passed on to FBI from Steele before the election would pertain to Manafort, not Carter Page.

These meetings covered by the 302s seem to be broken into three groups:

  • November 22 to December 20: FBI’s review of Steele’s reporting process and collection of relevant materials
  • January 25 to February 14: Steele and Simpson express their panic in the aftermath of the dossier publication to Ohr
  • May 8 to 15: Steele’s panic about Congress increases, FBI offers to set up an FBI contact

November 22, 2016

This meeting was obviously an introductory meeting between Ohr and the Agent. He describes how he first met Steele (which partly redacted here but not redacted in his testimony to HJC/OGR). There’s a redacted comment that probably reflects Ohr’s view of Steele’s sources. That probably pertains to one or more oligarchs, because Ohr then explains his own opinion about the willingness of oligarchs to share information; this paragraph has been redacted because of an ongoing investigation, as has the paragraph describing Ohr’s summary of his meeting with Steele in July 2016 (which Ohr told McCabe about within days). There’s a reference to these notes from July (see PDF 31)

When these notes were released in December 2018, both the source for the “over a barrel” comment and Deripaska’s threats against Manafort were protected for ongoing investigation; at least in this paragraph, some of both are unsealed.

Ohr then explains what he knew about the Fusion GPS oppo research project, including that Simpson was passing the information on to “many individuals or entities.”

It’s clear that Ohr was asked about Michael Isikoff’s Yahoo article on Carter Page. Ohr described meeting with Simpson and Steele around that time, but his focus was instead on the Alfa Bank server allegation, which I’l return to.

Pristap also must have asked Ohr whether Steele made up his allegations, which Ohr said he did not believe Steele had done. Ohr explained that “there are always Russian conspiracy theories that come from the Kremlin.” He stated that he believed that Steele was just reporting what he heard, “but that doesn’t make that story true.”

Ohr was also asked about Jon Winer and whether he knew how Steele handled his sources, as well as for contact information for someone, probably Steele.

December 5

Several weeks after the initial meeting, Priestap interviewed Ohr again with follow-up questions about the dossier. He appears to reveal that he never was present when Steele interviewed a source (though there was a meeting he described). He says he was never present for meetings between Steele and Jon Winer. He described his wife Nellie’s research for Simpson. And he explained that Simpson directed Steele to “speak to the press as that was what Simpson was paying” him to do. The Agent apparently asked if Steele went to David Corn on his own or at the direction of Simpson, which Ohr did not know the answer to.

At that meeting, Ohr handed over the “Manafort Chronology” (which may or may not be Nellie’s work), which is the document JW may not have released yet.

December 12

Ohr met with Simpson on December 10 and obtained a copy of the dossier on thumb drive, so met with the Agent to share that and his notes from that meeting (see PDF 32).

At the meeting, Simpson told Ohr the Michael Cohen allegations (though these should and do appear to be the dated October allegations). Simpson shared gossip about some former Trump person (he thought it was Rick Wilson, but Wilson denied it yesterday) who was concerned about Trump’s ties to Russia. He raised Aleksandr Torshin’s outreach to the NRA and shared this article on it, even while noting there was disagreement on his staff about how much money Russia was funneling to the NRA. Simpson disputed NYT’s doubts about the Alfa Bank server (either the Agent or Simpson got the date of the article wrong); in response to an Ohr question about whether he thought he was safe, Simpson said someone had called and “asked him to find out where all of the Alfa Bank stories were coming from.” Simpson told Ohr he still had concerns about Sergei Millian and noted, “Looking at Millian led Simpson’s company to Cohen” (which Simpson would later share with Congress).

Simpson admitted that he asked Steele “to speak to the Mother Jones reporter as  it was Simpson’s Hail Mary attempt.” Note this means that after the Agent asked Ohr who decided to contact Corn, Ohr asked Simpson, and then passed on the answer. From this point forward, Ohr was basically providing FBI information on the Fusion effort.

Finally, Simpson appeared to suggest that much of Steele’s reporting comes from one source but “Simpson does not know his name.” This also seems to be a question Ohr posed after having been asked about it by the Agent. There are almost entirely redacted notes at PDF 33 listing “possible intermediaries” attributed to Simpson, but it’s unclear if Ohr took those notes at that meeting.

December 20

Several weeks after he said he would do so, Ohr met with the Agent and shared Nellie Ohr’s research for Fusion on a thumb drive.

January 23

On January 20, Simpson contacted Ohr in a panic about one of Steele’s sources. The following day, Ohr and Steele spoke about the concerns. The description of those concerns are treated, among other redactions, as legally classified information. The description of what appears to be the person in Ohr’s notes released last year is protected as part of an ongoing investigation (PDF 34-35). One thing Steele told Ohr, though, was that he knew the person was alive and well because he had posted on Facebook.

On the January 21 call, Steele also told Ohr he had spoken with someone in John McCain’s office sometime “prior to October 2016.” Either he’s only telling Ohr part of the story, or the date is wrong, because Steele’s known contacts related to McCain were in December.

January 25

Several days later, Ohr reached out to the Agent again to update him on what Steele had said in a followup. In that call either Steele or Ohr suggested the person might be exposed because of journalists. (PDF 36)

January 27

Several days later Ohr updated Pristap on his latest WhatsApp contact with Steele.

February 6

A few weeks later, Steele called about two things. First, the firing of Sally Yates led him to believe he needed another contact in case Ohr was fired; the Agent asked Ohr to ask Steele if he’d feel comfortable going through the FBI. He also seemed to be passing on information from someone, probably Deripaska, complaining that because of the 2016 election the FBI considered him a “criminal.” There’s a redacted section, and all this redacted information is protected as an ongoing investigation.

At the same meeting, Ohr offered up that Kathleen Kavalec, who was briefing allies on possible Russian tampering in their elections, had also met with Steele several times before the 2016 election. Ohr said that she said Steele’s reporting was generated mainly from [redacted]; which either pertains to a named source or from a reporting source.

February 14

This was mostly a follow-up reporting on a February 11 FaceTime chat with Steele, though Steele described working for two attorneys, one of whom appears to be redacted as part of an ongoing investigation in Ohr’s notes (PDF 37).

Ohr told the FBI he had not yet asked Steele if he’d be comfortable working through an FBI agent.

Note: There are March WhatsApp texts and written notes Ohr took with no corresponding 302. They pertain to Steele’s concerns about Congressional inquiries.

May 8

Ohr reported on a May 3 WhatsApp call with Steele, in which he expressed concerns about Congress’ scrutiny of his role. Steele also told Ohr that Simpson would be heading over to the UK soon and was lawyering up. But he still offered additional information to the FBI, if it was interested. Note, this is the first 302 where a normal listing of both interviewers is used, though there are indications elsewhere that the Agent was accompanied by someone else.

May 12

Ohr reports on a May 10 WhatsApp call in which Steele tells him the Senate Intelligence Committee is seeking information. The FBI asks Ohr to ask if Steele is willing to “have a conversation” with FBI agents in the UK, and Ohr agrees to pass it on.

May 15

After meeting with the FBI on May 12, Ohr contacted Steele to find out whether he’d be willing to talk to the FBI — “nothing more than a conversation with the FBI;” three days alter he said he would.

Steele also said he had information on a conversation between two people.

Update, 12/21/19: Removed Bill Priestap’s name per DOJ IG Report.