Posts

Horowitz

What a Properly Scoped FISA Abuse Inspector General Report Would Look Like

In this piece on the Jim Comey IG Report, I showed that Michael Horowitz’s department received evidence of two violations of DOJ rules. His office first received seven memos that documented that DOJ’s protocols to ensure the integrity of investigations had collapsed under Donald Trump’s efforts to influence investigations. And then, at some later time, his office learned that Comey had (improperly, according to the report) retained those memos even after being fired and that FBI had classified six words in the memos he retained retroactively.

Horowitz’s office has completed an investigation into an act that otherwise might be punished by termination that already happened. But there is zero evidence that Horowitz has conducted an investigation into the subject of the whistleblower complaint, the breakdown of DOJ’s protections against corruption.

In April 2018, Horowitz released a report (which had been hastily completed in February) detailing that Andrew McCabe had been behind a reactive media release during the 2016 election. But his office has not yet released its conclusions regarding the rampant leaks that McCabe was responding to. In other words, Horowitz seems to have once again released a report on a problem that — however urgent or not — has already been remedied, but not released a report on ongoing harm.

Horowitz is reportedly preparing to release a report on what the frothy right calls “FISA abuse.” but given the content of a Lindsey Graham letter calling for declassification of its underlying materials, it’s seems likely that that report, too, is scoped narrowly, focusing just on Carter Page (and any other Trump officials targeted under FISA). There’s no request for backup materials on the other investigation predicated off of hostile opposition research, the investigation into the Clinton Foundation.

I have long said that if Republicans think the FISA order into Carter Page was abusive, then they’re being remiss in their oversight of FISA generally, because whatever abuse happened with Page happens, in far more egregious fashion, on the FISA applications of other people targeted and prosecuted with them.

If Michael Horowitz is concerned that the information from paid informants is not properly vetted before being used as the basis for a FISA application, they would be better to focus on any number of terrorism defendants. Adel Daoud appears to have been targeted under FISA based off a referral — probably, like Christopher Steele, a paid consultant — claiming he said something in a forum that the government later stopped claiming; Daoud remains in prison right now after having been set up in an FBI sting.

If Michael Horowitz is concerned that the FBI is misusing press reports in FISA applications, they would be better to focus on the case against Keith Gartenlaub. The FBI based its FISA applications partly off a Wired article that was totally unrelated to anything Gartenlaub was involved with. Gartenlaub will forever be branded as a sex criminal because, after finding no evidence that he was a spy, the government found 10 year old child porn they had no evidence he had ever accessed.

If Michael Horowitz is concerned that information underlying a FISA application included errors — such as that there are no Russian consulates in Miami — he should probably review how Xiaoxing Xi got targeted under FISA because the FBI didn’t understand what normal scholarship about semiconductors involves. While DOJ dropped its prosecution of Xi once it became clear how badly they had screwed up, he was charged and arrested.

And if Michael Horowitz is concerned about FISA abuse, then he should examine why zero defendants have ever gotten able to review their applications, even though that was the intent of Congress. Both Daoud and Gartenlaub should have been able to review their files, but both were denied at the appellate level.

The point being, the eventual report on “FISA abuse” will not be about FISA abuse. It will, once again, be about the President’s grievances. It will, at least according to public reporting, not treat far more significant problems, including cases where the injury against the targets was far greater than it was for Carter Page.

I don’t believe Michael Horowitz believes he is serving as an instrument of the President’s grievances. But by scoping his work to include only the evidence that stems from the President’s grievances and leaving out matters that involve ongoing harm, that’s what he is doing.

Admitted Former Foreign Agent Mike Flynn Demands More Classified Information

According to Mike Flynn’s Fox News lawyer, Sidney Powell, to “defend” himself in a guilty plea he has already sworn to twice under oath, he needs to obtain unredacted versions of a Comey memo showing he was not targeted with a FISA warrant and a FISA order showing that people who were targeted with FISA warrants might have been improperly scrutinized while they were overseas.

That’s just part of the batshittery included in a request for Brady material submitted to Emmet Sullivan last Friday.

The motion is 19 pages, most of which speaks in gross generalities about Brady obligations or repeats Ted Stevens Ted Stevens Ted Stevens over and over again, apparently a bid to convince Judge Emmet Sullivan that this case has been subject to the same kind of abuse that the late Senator’s was.

After several readings, I’ve discovered that Powell does make an argument in the motion: that if the government had provided Flynn with every damning detail it has on Peter Strzok, Flynn might not have pled guilty to lying to Strzok about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak or admitted that he used a kickback system to hide that he was a paid agent of Turkey while getting Top Secret briefings with candidate Trump.

They affirmatively suppressed evidence (hiding Brady material) that destroyed the credibility of their primary witness, impugned their entire case against Mr. Flynn, while at the same time putting excruciating pressure on him to enter his guilty plea and manipulating or controlling the press to their advantage to extort that plea. They continued to hide that exculpatory information for months—in direct contravention of this Court’s Order—and they continue to suppress exculpatory information to this day.

One of the things Powell argues Flynn should have received is unredacted copies of every text Strzok sent Lisa Page.

The government’s most stunning suppression of evidence is perhaps the text messages of Peter Srzok and Lisa Page. In July of 2017, (now over two years ago), the Inspector General of the Department of Justice advised Special Counsel of the extreme bias in the now infamous text messages of these two FBI employees. Mr. Van Grack did not produce a single text messages to the defense until March 13, 2018, when he gave them a link to then-publicly available messages. 14

Mr. Van Grack and Ms. Ahmad, among other things, did not disclose that FBI Agent Strzok had been fired from the Special Counsel team as its lead agent almost six months earlier because of his relationship with Deputy Director McCabe’s Counsel—who had also been on the Special Counsel team—and because of their text messages and conduct. One would think that more than a significant subset of those messages had to have been shared by the Inspector General of the Department of Justice with Special Counsel to warrant such a high-level and immediate personnel change. Indeed, Ms. Page left the Department of Justice because of her conduct, and Agent Strzok was terminated from the FBI because of it.

14 There have been additional belated productions. Each time more text messages are found, produced, or unredacted, there is more evidence of the corruption of those two agents. John Bowden, FBI Agent in Texts: ‘We’ll Stop’ Trump From Becoming President, THE HILL (June 14, 2018), https://thehill.com/policy/national-security/392284-fbi-agent-in-texts-well-stop-trumpfrom-becoming-president; see also U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, A Review of Various Actions by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice in Advance of the 2016 Election. Redacted Ed. Washington, D.C. (2018) (https://www.justice.gov/file/1071991/download). But the situation is even worse. After being notified by the Inspector General of the Department of Justice of the extraordinary text communications between Strzok and Page (more than 50,000 texts) and of their personal relationship, which further compromised them, Special Counsel and DOJ destroyed their cell phones. U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, Report of Investigation: Recovery of Text Messages From Certain FBI Mobile Devices, Redacted Ed. Washington, D.C. (2018), https://www.justice.gov/file/1071991/download. This is why our Motion also requests a preservation order like the one this Court entered in the Stevens case.

As is true of most of this filing, Powell gets some facts wrong here. The public record says that as soon as Mueller got the warning from Michael Horowitz about the texts, he started moving Strzok off the team. He didn’t need to see the texts, that they were there was issue enough. And Lisa Page remained at FBI until May 2018, even after the texts were released to the public.

And while, if Sullivan had taken Flynn’s initial guilty plea rather than Rudy Contreras, one might argue that Van Grack should have alerted Flynn’s lawyer Rob Kelner of the existence of the Strzok-Page texts, DOJ was not required to turn them over before Flynn’s guilty plea. Moreover, the problem with claiming that withholding the Strzok-Page texts prevented Flynn from taking them into account, is that they were made public the say day Emmet Sullivan issued his Brady order and Flynn effectively pled guilty again a year after they were released, in sworn statements where he also reiterated his satisfaction with his attorney, Kelner. Any texts suggesting bias had long been released; what remains redacted surely pertains either to their genuine privacy or to other counterintelligence investigations.

Finally, at least as far as public evidence goes, Strzok was, if anything, favorable to Flynn for the period he was part of the investigation. He found Flynn credible in the interview, and four months later didn’t think anything would come of the Mueller investigation. So the available evidence, at least, shows that Flynn was treated well by Strzok.

The filing also complains about information just turned over on August 16.

For example, just two weeks ago, Mr. Van Grack, Ms. Curtis, and Ms. Ballantine produced 330 pages of documents with an abject denial the production included any Brady material.6 Yet that production reveals significant Brady evidence that we include and discuss in our accompanying Motion (filed under seal because the prosecutors produced it under the Protective Order).

6 “[T]he government makes this production to you as a courtesy and not because production of this information is required by either Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), or the Court’s Standing Order dated February 16, 2018.” Letter from Mr. Brandon Van Grack to Sidney K. Powell, Aug. 16, 2019.

Given the timing, it may well consist of the unclassified materials showing that Turkey (and possibly Russia) believed Flynn to be an easy mark and expected to be able to manipulate Trump through him. I await either the unsealing of Powell’s sealed filing or the government response to see if her complaints are any more worthy than this filing.

That’s unlikely. Because the rest of her memo makes a slew of claims that suggest she’s either so badly stuck inside the Fox bubble she doesn’t understand what the documents in question actually say, or doesn’t care. In her demand for other documents that won’t help Flynn she,

  • Misstates the seniority of Bruce Ohr
  • Falsely claims Bruce Ohr continued to serve as a back channel for Steele intelligence when in fact he was providing evidence to Bill Priestap about its shortcomings (whom the filing also impugns)
  • Suggests the Ohr memos pertain to Flynn; none of the ones released so far have the slightest bit to do with Flynn
  • Falsely suggests that Andrew Weissmann was in charge of the Flynn prosecution
  • Claims that Weissman and Zainab Ahmad had multiple meetings with Ohr when the only known meeting with him took place in fall 2016, before Flynn committed the crimes he pled guilty to; the meeting likely pertained to Paul Manafort, not Flynn
  • Includes a complaint from a Flynn associate that pertains to alleged DOD misconduct (under Trump) to suggest DOJ prosecutors are corrupt

In short, Powell takes all the random conspiracy theories about the investigation and throws them in a legal filing without even fact-checking them against the official documents, or even, at times, the frothy right propaganda outlets that first made the allegations.

Things get far weirder when it comes to her demands relating to FISA information. In a bid to claim this is all very pressing, Powell demands she get an unredacted version of the Comey IG Report.

Since our initial request to the Department by confidential letter dated June 6, 2019, we have identified additional documents that we specify in our Motion. Now, with the impending and just-released reports of the Inspector General, there may be more. The Report of the Inspector General regarding James Comey’s memos and leaks is replete with references to Mr. Flynn, and some information is redacted. There may also be a separate classified section relevant to Mr. Flynn. U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, Report of Investigation of Former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey’s Disclosure of Sensitive Investigative Information and Handling of Certain Memoranda, Oversight and Review Division Report 19-02 (Aug. 29, 2019), https://oig.justice.gov/reports/2019/o1902.pdf

The only redacted bits in the report are in Comey’s memos themselves — the stuff that the frothy right is currently claiming was so classified that Comey should have been prosecuted for leaving them in a SCIF at work. Along with unclassified sections quoting Trump saying he has “serious reservations about Mike Flynn’s judgment” (the redacted bit explains that the President was pissed that Flynn didn’t tell him about Putin’s congratulatory call right away) and “he had other concerns about Flynn,” there’s this section that redacts the answer to Reince Priebus’ question about whether the FBI has a FISA order on Flynn (PDF 74).

The answer, though, is almost certainly no. Even if the FBI obtained one later, there was no way that Comey would have told Priebus that Flynn was targeted; the FBI became more concerned about Flynn after this February 8 conversation, in part because of his continued lies about his work with Turkey.

Flynn’s team also demands an unredacted copy of this 2017 FISA 702 Rosemary Collyer opinion, though Powell’s understanding of it seems to based off Sara Carter’s egregiously erroneous reporting on it (here’s my analysis of the opinion).

Judge Rosemary Collyer, Chief Judge of the FISA court, has already found serious Fourth Amendment violations by the FBI in areas that likely also involve their actions against Mr. Flynn. Much of the NSA’s activity is in direct violation of the Fourth Amendment. Not only did the last administration—especially from late 2015 to 2016—dramatically increase its use and abuse of “about queries” in the NSA database, which Judge Collyer has noted was “a very serious Fourth Amendment issue,” it also expanded the distribution of the illegally obtained information among federal agencies.10 Judge Collyer determined that former FBI Director Comey gave illegal unsupervised access to raw NSA data to multiple private contractors. The court also noted that “the improper access granted the [redacted] contractors was apparently in place [redacted] and seems to have been the result of deliberate decision making” including by lawyers.11, 12

10 See also Charlie Savage, NSA Gets More Latitude to Share Intercepted Communications, THE N.Y. TIMES (Jan. 12, 2017) (reporting that Attorney General Loretta Lynch signed new rules for the NSA that permitted the agency to share raw intelligence with sixteen other agencies, thereby increasing the likelihood that personal information would be improperly disclosed), https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/12/us/politics/nsa-gets-more-latitude-to-share-interceptedcommunications.html; See also Exec. Order No. 12,333, 3 C.F.R. 200 (1982), as amended by Exec. Order No. 13,284, 68 Fed. Reg. 4075 (Jan. 23, 2003).

11 FISC Mem. and Order, p. 19, 87 (Apr. 26, 2017) www.dni.gov/files/documents/icotr/51117/2016_Cert_FISC_Memo_Opin_Order_Apr_2017.pdf (noting that 85% of the queries targeting American citizens were unauthorized and illegal).

12 This classified and heavily redacted opinion is one of the documents for which defense counsel requests a security clearance and access.

As a threshold matter, Powell gets virtually everything about the Collyer memo wrong. Collyer didn’t track any increase in “about” searches (it was one of the problems with her memo, that she didn’t demand new numbers on what NSA was doing). It tracked a greater number of certain kinds of violations than previously known. The violation resulting in the 85% number she cited was on US persons targeted between November 2015 and May 2016, but the violation problem existed going back to 2012, when Flynn was still part of the Deep State. What Collyer called a Fourth Amendment violation involved problems with 704/705b targeting under FISA, which are individualized warrants usually tied to individualized warrants under Title I (that is, the kind of order we know targeted Carter Page), and probably a limited set of terrorism targets. Given that the Comey memo almost certainly hides evidence that Flynn was not targeted under FISA as of February 8, 2017, it means Flynn would have had to be a suspected terrorist to otherwise be affected. Moreover, the NSA claimed to have already fixed the behavioral problem by October 4, 2016, even before Carter Page was targeted. I had raised concerns that the problems might have led to problems with Page’s targeting, but since I’ve raised those concerns with Republicans and we haven’t heard about them, I’m now fairly convinced that didn’t happen.

At least some of the FBI violation — letting contractors access raw FISA information — was discontinued in April 2016, before the opening of the investigation into Trump’s flunkies, and probably all was discontinued by October 4, 2016, when it was reported. One specific violation that Powell references, however, pertains to 702 data, which could not have targeted Flynn.

Crazier still, some of the problems described in the opinion (such as that NSA at first only mitigated the problem on the tool most frequently used to conduct back door searches) cover things that happened on days in late January 2017 when a guy named Mike Flynn was National Security Advisor (see PDF 21).

Powell should take up her complaints with the guy running National Security at the time.

Craziest still, Powell describes data collected under EO 12333 as “illegally obtained information” (Powell correctly notes that the Obama Administration permitted sharing from NSA to other agencies, but that EO would not affect the sharing of FISA information at all). If EO 12333 data, which lifetime intelligence officer Mike Flynn used through his entire career, is illegally obtained, then it means lifetime intelligence officer Mike Flynn broke the law through his entire government career.

Sidney Powell is effectively accusing her client (incorrectly) of violating the law in a motion that attempts to argue he shouldn’t be punished for the laws he has already admitted breaking.

In short, most of the stuff we can check in this motion doesn’t help Flynn, at all.

And at least before Powell submitted this, Emmet Sullivan seemed unimpressed with her claims of abuse.

The government and Flynn also submitted a status report earlier on Friday. In the status report, the government was pretty circumspect. Flynn’s cooperation is done (which is what they said almost a year ago), they’d like to schedule sentencing for October or November, and they’ve complied with everything covered by Brady. Anything classified, like Powell is demanding, would be governed by CIPA and only then discoverable if it is helpful to the defense.

Powell made more demands in the status report, renewing her demand for a security clearance and insisting there are other versions of the Flynn 302.

To sort this out, the government suggested a hearing in early September, but Powell said such a hearing shouldn’t take place for another month (during which time some of the IG reports she’s sure will be helpful will come out).

The parties are unable to reach a joint response on the above topics. Accordingly, our respective responses are set forth separately below. Considering these disagreements, the government respectfully requests that the Court schedule a status conference. Defense counsel suggests that a status conference before 30 days would be too soon, but leaves the scheduling of such, if any, to the discretion of the Court. The government is available on September 4th, 5th, 9th or 10th of 2019, or thereafter as the Court may order. Defense counsel are not available on those specific dates.

Judge Sullivan apparently sided with the government (and scheduled the hearing for a date when Flynn’s attorneys claim to be unable to attend).

Every time Flynn has tried to get cute thus far, it has blown up in his face. And while Sullivan likely doesn’t know this, the timing of this status hearing could be particularly beneficial for the government, as they’ll know whether Judge Anthony Trenga will have thrown out Bijan Kian’s conviction because of the way it was charged before the hearing, something that would make it far more likely for the government to say Flynn’s flip-flop on flipping doesn’t amount to full cooperation.

And this filing isn’t even all that cute, as far as transparent bullshit goes.

Judicial Watch Sues DOJ and Obtains Proof that Mark Meadows and His Propagandists Are Conspiracist Idiots

Just over a year ago, on August 11, 2018, the President accused the “Fake News Media” of refusing to cover “Christopher Steele’s many meetings with Deputy A.G. [sic] Bruce Ohr and his beautiful wife, Nelly [sic].” It was the first of around 26 attacks Trump launched against the Ohrs on Twitter over the year.

Trump reported that the FBI received documents from Ohr, which was true; the FBI asked for them as part of vetting the Steele dossier and understanding how it related to Fusion GPS’ other work. Trump complained that Nellie Ohr investigated members of his family for pay (true) and then fed it to her husband who gave it to the FBI; Trump didn’t reveal that FBI asked for the documents and that Steele’s efforts and Nellie’s were separate.  The President claimed that Ohr “told the FBI it (the Fake Dossier) wasn’t true, it was a lie and the FBI was determined to use it anyway,” which was an exaggeration (Ohr said he believed that Steele believed his sources were telling him the truth, but Ohr described that all sorts of conspiracy theories could be spread from the Kremlin). Trump misquoted Ohr sharing with the FBI Steele’s concern that his sources would be exposed in the wake of the Jim Comey firing as a suggestion that Ohr was worried he, personally, would be exposed, which then got further misquoted by Fox propagandists. Trump accused the Ohrs of profiting off the dossier several times, “Bruce & Nelly Ohr’s bank account is getting fatter & fatter because of the Dossier that they are both peddling.”

Over the course of that year, Trump called for Bruce Ohr to be fired at least six times. “How the hell is Bruce Ohr still employed at the Justice Department? Disgraceful! Witch Hunt!”

And yet, documents obtained under FOIA released by Judicial Watch in recent days (Ohr’s 302s, Ohr’s comms) show that virtually all the allegations made to fuel this year long campaign targeting Bruce Ohr are false. It is true that Bruce Ohr had ties to Christopher Steele going back almost a decade and was part of a network of experts combatting organized crime who compared notes (as was his wife Nellie, if the organized crime in question pertained to Ukraine or Russia). It is true that Ohr met with Steele in July 2016 and learned four things, two from the dossier (some version of Russian kompromat on Trump and allegations about Carter Page)  and two not (Oleg Deripaska’s misleading claim to be prepping a legal attack on Paul Manafort and something related to Russian doping), which he passed on to the FBI. He also met and passed on information from Glenn Simpson later that fall, though given the team he met with at DOJ, the information may not have been sourced from the dossier and may have focused on the crimes Manafort has since pled guilty to. Neither of those meetings, however, are covered by the FOIAed documents. Moreover, Judicial Watch has not yet obtained documents from after May 2017, which (based on texts between the two that have been released) could show Steele trying to grill Ohr for details about ongoing investigations into his work. Maybe some day Judicial Watch will find a document that substantiates their attacks.

What the documents released so far don’t show is that Ohr served as some kind of “back channel” to the FBI via which Steele submitted new allegations. As I noted, Ohr’s 302s suggest there were three phases of communications covered by the 302s involving Steele (and Simpson) and Ohr. During the first — November 22 to December 20 — Ohr appeared to be helping the FBI understand Simpson’s project and Steele’s data collection process. He offered critical comments about Steele’s sourcing (noting that lots of fantastic stories come out of the Kremlin), appeared to prod Simpson for what he knew about Steele’s sourcing and then shared that information with the FBI, when he didn’t know answers to FBI questions (most notably, about whether Steele was involved in a key Michael Isikoff story), Ohr asked Simpson and reported the answer back to the FBI. Ohr offered up details about who else might have been briefed by Steele and why Steele was speaking to so many people.

Ohr would have done none of this if he were aiming to serve as a back channel to ensure Steele could continue to feed information to the FBI. The fact that members of the frothy right have, in recent days, focused on previously unknown details that Ohr shared with FBI’s Bill Priestap (such as when Victoria Nuland got briefed by Steele) is a testament to the fact that Ohr was not trying to hide a network of Steele contacts, but instead was helping FBI to understand them. Ohr cannot, simultaneously, be a source for unique knowledge for the FBI and at the same time be part of a Deep State plot aiming to feed the FBI new intelligence from Steele via as many different channels as possible.

Importantly, the main incidences where Ohr gave the FBI materials originating from Fusion — the materials include a timeline on Paul Manafort’s ties to oligarchs, a table showing Trump’s ties with suspect Russians, 137 pages of narrative backup for some of the table (part of which appears at PDF 216 to 299; Judicial Watch did not release this research as an independent link, presumably because it damages their narrative), and the latest version of the dossier from Simpson — came during that vetting period. Indeed, at the meeting where Ohr obtained a copy of the dossier from Fusion — according to his congressional testimony, at least, the only time he ever handled it — was the same meeting where he tried to get Simpson to tell him who Steele’s sources were (see PDF 33), information he passed onto the FBI. What the frothy right should do, if it had a single honest journalist left, would be to admit that Mark Meadows had them chasing a hoax for a year, but now that they can see the underlying evidence, it’s clear Meadows was wrong, lying, or perhaps opposed to the FBI doing the same kind of vetting that he imagines he himself to be doing.

Similarly, the frothy right is spinning what Nellie Ohr’s research shows in utterly deceitful ways. For much of the last year, the story was that Nellie’s work was an integral part of Steele’s dossier, a story that formed a critical part of any claim that Bruce Ohr would have some incentive to prop up the credibility of the dossier (which, as noted, the record shows he didn’t do). Her research shows that, in reality, there is little overlap between her research and Steele’s. There are over 75 names listed in her table of sketchy ties with Russia. The only identifiable overlap with the dossier are the Agalarovs, Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort, Sergei Millian (to the extent he really is one of the subsources for the dossier), and Carter Page. The Flynn and Manafort (and to some degree the Page) stuff goes beyond what is in the dossier.

In addition Nellie’s research includes others who should have been included in any solid HUMINT on what Trump was up to, starting with Felix Sater and Konstantin Kilimnik (but also including Michael Caputo and Giorgi Rtskhiladze). Chuck Ross notes these names in a piece on Nellie’s research, but doesn’t acknowledge the ways their inclusion undermines the conspiracy theories he has been peddling. I said in January 2018 that this open source research would probably have been more valuable for the election than the dossier, and I stand by that.

And look at the dates on Nellie Ohr’s research and the number of reports for each date (something else that Ross ignores the significance of):

  1. November 23, 2015 (12)
  2. December 14, 2015 (19)
  3. February 12, 2016 (8)
  4. February 13, 2016 (1)
  5. February 27, 2016 (1)
  6. March 4, 2016 (5)
  7. April 14, 2016 (2)
  8. April 22, 2016 (5)
  9. May 7, 2016 (1)
  10. May 13, 2016 (2)
  11. May 20, 2016 (1)
  12. May 27, 2016 (2)
  13. June 3, 2016 (1)
  14. June 10, 2016 (1)
  15. June 17, 2016 (4)
  16. June 24, 2016 (2)
  17. June 25, 2016 (3)
  18. July 1, 2016 (4)
  19. July 6, 2016 (3)
  20. July 9, 2016 (1)
  21. September 19, 2016 (2)
  22. September 22, 2016 (1)

Perhaps half of Nellie’s Ohr’s dated reports in this table date to before the Democrats started paying Fusion (that was sometime in April or May 2016, with Steele coming on around June 2016), and well more than half of the actual dated reports are from the primary period. That means that GOP billionaire Paul Singer, and not the Democrats, paid for much of the Nellie Ohr research in the table that the GOP is squawking about.

The GOP is squawking less about Nellie Ohr’s Manafort timeline (which is odd considering some of what Steele shared through Ohr consisted of Manafort details not reported in the dossier). But it’s worth mentioning that some of the same frothy right propagandists complaining here were instrumental in magnifying oppo research targeting John Podesta in 2016. The folks who made much of John Podesta’s stolen emails can’t complain about public source research focusing on Manafort’s corruption.

And for all the frothy right’s focus on Nellie Ohr’s interactions with Bruce’s colleague Lisa Holtyn (with whom Nellie clearly had a direct professional and personal relationship), they don’t mention this email to Holtyn, which suggests that Nellie has absolutely no clue about the connection that Fusion had with this anti-Magnitsky event that Natalia Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin were involved in.

That provides some support to Simpson’s claim to Congress that the people working on the Trump oppo research were compartmented from those working on the Baker-Hostetler project tied to the June 9 meeting (though Nellie was never the most likely overlap).

As to two smoking guns that Mark Meadows claimed to have found when he referred Nellie Ohr for criminal prosecution earlier this year, the first is that at Holtyn’s suggestion, Nellie met, informally, with two organized crime prosecutors,  Joe Wheatley and Ivana Nizich, presumably to give them background on certain aspects of Russian and Ukrainian organized crime. Judicial Watch has focused on the set-up of the meeting, in which Bruce noted it should not be a conflict since Nellie would not be paid. They haven’t noted that Holtyn describes (PDF 31) her colleagues’ interest in the topic to be “some things that they are working on currently” which, if it’s a specific case, she’s careful not to mention directly, but sounds more like enterprise investigation. That kind of meeting is utterly consistent with Nellie’s claim to have no knowledge of ongoing investigations, Russian or otherwise.

Moreover, the aftermath of the meeting (PDF 24) certainly reflects that informal nature.

Meadows claims that this exchange (Nizich and Wheatley continued to exchange information from Nellie afterwards, but this is the only written discussion of a meeting) proves Nellie Ohr lied in this exchange with Democratic staffers Arya Hariharan and Susanne Sachsman Grooms last October.

Q You’ve never worked for the Department of Justice, correct?

A Correct.

Q You don’t currently work for them?

A Correct.

Q So you would not have any knowledge of what is going on in an ongoing investigation?

A Correct.

Ms. Sachsman Grooms. Just to make that one crystal clear, did you, at the time, that you were working for Fusion GPS have any knowledge of the Department of Justice’s investigations on Russia?

Ms. Ohr. No.

As to Meadows’ second allegation, he says that by sharing research on Zakhariy Kalashov, a Russian mobster, with Wheatley and Nizich, Nellie proved knowledge of an ongoing investigation and (he insinuates though doesn’t say directly) shared her Fusion research with people outside of Fusion and her spouse. (Best as I can tell, Judicial Watch hasn’t released this yet, but they have a habit of sitting on documents so it’s unclear if DOJ has released it to them.) If that’s true, Meadows must know Kalashov has some tie to Trump, which is not alleged in any of Nellie’s work for Fusion.

If it were true, I’m pretty sure it would have become a campaign issue.

Meadows has, at several times in his efforts to delegitimize the information sharing by a small network of people who compare notes on Russian organized crime, gotten shockingly close to suggesting that daring to investigate Russian criminals — whether they have any tie to Donald Trump or not — should itself be criminalized. This is one such instance.

But that’s not the most remarkable piece of evidence included these latest releases Judicial Watch that demolishes the attacks on the Ohrs.

That majority of the documents involving Nellie Ohr turned over to Judicial Watch involve not — as you might expect if you read the frothy right — evidence of a Deep State plot. Rather, they are tedious discussions of Ohr’s travel plans, which he either forwarded to Nellie (perhaps because she scandalously likes to know what country her spouse is in or even likes to pick him up from the airport) or discussed the inclusion of Nellie on trips where spouses were invited. Bruce Ohr spends a lot of time figuring out what kind of per diem he’s permitted and seems to travel on a range of airlines (meaning he’s not maximizing frequent flier miles from his work travel, as most business travelers, myself included, like to do). But the most remarkable bit of tedium regarding travel — for a trip to Riga — shows that Bruce Ohr went to some effort to ensure he only claimed €105 a night reimbursement for hotel, rather than €120, because the additional €15 was a charge associated with Nellie’s inclusion (on the same trip, he also didn’t submit for reimbursement for parking at the airport).

This is a couple that has been accused, by the President of the United States — a guy who never met a grift he didn’t love — of sharing information on Russian criminals not because they want to keep the country safe, but to make their bank account “fatter & fatter.”

It turns out, instead, that they’re the kind of people who make sure taxpayers don’t pay an extra €30 for an overseas business trip.

Of course the frothy right hasn’t admitted how obscene it was for Donald Trump to accuse the Ohrs of self-dealing.

Who knows? Maybe Judicial Watch will one day discover the smoking gun that Meadows has been claiming to have found against the Ohrs. Maybe the details surrounding the 2016 communications or Steele’s efforts to undermine the investigation into his work will actually make the Ohrs into the villains they’ve been cast as for the last year.

And certainly, all that’s a different question than Simpson’s candor or the overall wisdom of Steele’s project.

But as far as the Ohrs go, what the evidence that Judicial Watch worked hard to liberate proves is that the President and Congressman Meadows owe this couple an apology — and the frothy right should stop prostrating themselves by parroting what Meadows tells them is there and begin describing all the ways these documents prove their past reporting to be a hoax.

The Ohr 302 Exemptions

As I noted yesterday, the FD-302s of FBI’s conversations with Bruce Ohr released to Judicial Watch the other day are unremarkable. The scope of Judicial Watch’s request left out the time periods — before Ohr was handed off to Bill Priestap after the election, and after Mueller was hired — that would be the most interesting. But what we do see shows that FBI first reached out to Ohr in an effort to assess the Steele dossier production, and Ohr was able and willing to chase down answers for the FBI that go to issues of credibility. Later, Steele reached out to Ohr in a panic about what would happen as Congress scrutinized his work more closely; in what we see, those conversations were not inappropriate (which is not to say I’m sympathetic to Steele’s concerns, given how he publicized his work). Though given Ohr’s notes, they may have been later in the year; at a minimum, they show how aggressively Steele was trying to prepare a public story that ended up being quite partial.

In my opinion, the FOIA exemptions are the most interesting aspect to the 302s. We can learn a bit from the things DOJ chose (or felt obligated) to protect. Here’s a short guide to FOIA exemptions and here’s DOJ’s more thorough one.

The less interesting redactions are for the following purposes:

  • b7C/b6: Protects privacy, used here to protect everything from Steele’s name to other sources
  • b7D: Protects confidential sources (both Steele and his sub-sources would get some protection)
  • b7E: Protects law enforcement techniques, including the bureaucracy of writing up 302s

The exemption, b3, protects information protected by statute, often the National Security Act. For example, that’s one of the exemptions (along with privacy and law enforcement technique exemptions) used to protect boring bureaucratic details about the case file. But it’s interesting in one instance.

The discussions, starting on PDF 14, of how Steele was panicking about one of his sources are protected for privacy, source, and b3, statute (as well as, sometimes, law enforcement technique).

That’s interesting, because FBI is not saying this person’s identity is classified. Nor is it saying that this person is credibly at risk of being killed, which would be a b7F (which is what they’d use to protect our own recruited agents). But they are according Steele’s source some kind of statutory protection.

The exemption, b1, protects classified information. It’s a measure, in these discussions about someone who used to work as an intelligence officer for an ally and who continues to collect HUMINT, of what the DOJ or other agencies considers genuinely classified (and doesn’t always line up with the initial or FOIA review classification marks on the paragraphs). For example, a paragraph describing how Ohr first met Steele — which appears in unredacted form in Ohr’s congressional testimony as follows — is protected by both a b3 and b1 exemption, presumably to protect references to MI6.

I believe I met Chris Steele for the first time around 2007. That was an official meeting. At that time, he was still employed by the British Government. I went to London to talk with British Government officials about Russian organized crime and what they were doing to look at the threat, and the FBI office at the U.S. Embassy in London set up a meeting. That was with Chris Steele. And there were other members of different British Government agencies there. And we met and had a discussion. And afterwards, I believe the agent and I spoke with Chris Steele further over lunch.

A more interesting redaction appears on PDF 8, in a series of paragraphs where Bill Priestap was asking Ohr whether about his personal knowledge of certain aspects of Steele’s work, such as whether he had witnessed Steele’s meetings with Jon Winer. One of those paragraphs is redacted, in part for b3 and b1 reasons, and classified Secret. Whatever that protects, it’s a reminder that Ohr and Steele had real discussions about organized crime in the past.

By far the most interesting exemptions, however, are what FBI has chosen to protect because of ongoing investigations, exemption b7A, starting with what they have not protected: these conversations, generally.

The frothy right believes that Bruce Ohr should go to prison because he shared information about suspected Russian crimes with other experts in the subject. Ohr’s role in the dossier has presumably been under scrutiny for some time as part of DOJ IG’s investigation into the basis for Carter Page’s FISA application. In addition, Christopher Steele and Glenn Simpson have both been referred to DOJ for suspected lies to Congress, the latter more credibly than the former. With one significant possible exception, there’s nothing in these 302s that has been protected for either of those reasons. Ohr’s earlier and later conversations with Steele would be more pertinent to those inquiries (and there’s reason to believe the later ones are being treated as such), but some of these 302s would clearly be too. But FBI has determined they can release these files. That’s interesting, especially, because of the history of this FOIA:

  • August 6, 2018: Initial Judicial Watch FOIA
  • September 10, 2018: JW sues
  • March 15, 2019: DOJ tells JW the files are being withheld in full
  • March 22, 2019: Conclusion of Mueller investigation
  • April 1, 2019: Status report states that FBI is evaluating impact of conclusion of that investigation on FOIA
  • May 8, 2019: DOJ still considering whether FBI can release the files
  • July 25, 2019: DOJ decides it can release the files in part

As recently as August 5, DOJ said it was “still engaged in internal discussions about the redactions necessary to release the requested records to the public.” In other words, a very recent review of these files has determined that files showing how FBI handled the mid-term discussions between Christopher Steele and Bruce Ohr may be released to the public.

The big possible exception pertains to details of the original conversation on Trump and Russia with Steele.

Steele’s initial conversation

The paragraph describing what Steele first told Ohr back on July 30, 2016 is redacted for b1, b3, and b7A reasons.

The redactions in this passage include the entirety of Steele’s explanation for the “over a barrel” comment, which is interesting because other agencies have released these details (which may name the people boasting they had kompromat on Trump). The paragraph also redacts part of the discussion of Deripaska preparing to bring details on Paul Manafort’s “theft” from him to US authorities. That may be for privacy reasons,  but — assuming the order is the same in the interview and the notes, but it seems Ohr was reading verbatim — both are redacted for ongoing investigation reasons in Ohr’s notes released in December.

If, as seems to be the case, Page was not redacted as part of an ongoing investigation in either of these suggests the early Ohr conversation is not one being scrutinized by DOJ IG on the FISA application (especially given the notes were released in December, well before the IG had come close to finishing, as has been reported).

Note, Ohr turned over notes from during and after the meeting with Steele to Priestap. Just these notes were released in December, meaning the notes he wrote after the meeting must be among the 6 pages of Ohr’s notes withheld in that December release, in part to protect an ongoing investigation (that could be consistent both with the known DOJ IG investigation into the origins of the investigation, and an investigation into those two allegations).

One other thing in that first interview pertains, per the redaction to an ongoing investigation: a discussion of a post-Ukrainian invasion meeting involving Ohr, Steele, and oligarchs (possibly, though not definitely, Russian).

 

The description seems to match a meeting Steele is known to have set up with Deripaska (though that meeting was in 2015).

Oleg Deripaska

The treatment of one known Deripaska reference and this reference to cultivating oligarchs as sources (earlier in 2016, Steele had been trying to get DOJ to use Deripaska as a source) is particularly interesting given that, what appear to be additional Deripaska references, are also redacted to protect an ongoing investigation.

A significant chunk of the 302 memorializing the February 6, 2017 interview protects an ongoing investigation.

There are good reasons to think this is a reference to Deripaska. Steele worked for Deripaska lawyer Paul Hauser, and Deripaska was interviewed in September 2016. Deripaska would be directly implicated in the election (two months after this interview, Deripaska was sanctioned).

This may reflect a conversation directly with Hauser though, as the Steele reference in this interview was covered in entirely in a WhatsApp chat. Given the redaction, it’s also possible that Ohr took notes, which would be among the 6 pages not turned over because of an ongoing investigation.

And while less definitive, this passage from the February 14 interview of Steele referring to which lawyers he was working for could also be the Hauser work.

Given the withholdings on Ohr’s note from the meeting, the ongoing investigation does pertain to Steele’s client.

If it is Deripaska, it would suggest that Steele was financially dependent on his Deripaska work, as the other client mentioned, Bilfinger, wasn’t paying him (which he complained about to Ohr).

[Note, this note also has what looks like a reference to “Snowden report,” which makes absolutely no sense to me, so I assume I’m misreading it.] Update: This is likely a reference to the report, from the day before, that Russia was offering Snowden to Trump.

It has long been troubling that Steele had an ongoing relationship with Deripaska during the time he worked on the dossier. It’s clear that Deripaska used Steele to misinform DOJ that he was upping the pressure on Manafort, hiding that Manafort was instead making a desperate — and somewhat successful bid — to get back on Deripaska’s payroll.

A good deal of the ongoing investigation redactions in these Ohr 302s suggest DOJ continues to be interested in all that, as well.

Alfa Bank

The other ongoing investigation redactions are far more surprising, as they suggest (though this is far less definitive than the Deripaska tie) that DOJ may continue to investigate … something pertaining to the Alfa Bank allegations.

The initial reference to Alfa Bank, from the November 22, 2016 interview and discussing his September 2016 meeting with Glenn Simpson, is not protected as part of an ongoing investigation — though what appears to be a continuation of a discussion of it is treated as classified.

But a follow-up reference to Alfa bank does seem to be redacted as part of an ongoing investigation. These two paragraphs from the December 12, 2016 interview of Ohr, at PDF 11, have just one exemption explanation, including the b7A ongoing investigation one.

It’s certainly possible that the second paragraph is unrelated, and that’s what pertains to the ongoing investigation. But treating them as the same FOIA exemptions suggests they’re related.

In the same interview, Ohr explained that when he asked Simpson if he was concerned about his personal safety, Simpson,

mentioned that someone called and asked him to find out where all of the Alfa Bank stories were coming from. Simpson did not state this was a threat from the Russians, but that was the impression made upon OHR based upon the timing of the comment and using that story as a response to OHR’s question.

This seems to suggest more than one Alfa Bank story.

Also note two things. First, when the NYT first got the story of Jared Kushner’s “back channel” meeting with Sergey Gorkov, they had it as a meeting with Alfa Bank (though they misspelled it in the same way that Steele’s dossier did). That meeting would take place four days after Simpson raised whatever crazy tip he got, on December 13.

Kushner agreed to meet with Gorkov. 1151 The one-on-one meeting took place the next day, December 13, 2016, at the Colony Capital building in Manhattan, where Kushner had previously scheduled meetings. 1152

Also, during this period, Petr Aven was trying to reach out to Trump’s people on direct orders from Putin.

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

After the December 2016 all-hands meeting, Aven tried to establish a connection to the Trump team. Aven instructed Richard Burt to make contact with the incoming Trump Administration

It’s highly unlikely that Simpson got wind of any of those things; we would have heard about it. I raise these other instances not because I think Simpson had them, but because it’s clear Mueller chased these Alfa leads much further than we otherwise knew, and the leads themselves still seem not to have amounted to anything (even while showing that Putin leveraged the threat of election-related sanctions on the one bank that was legally acceptable in the west at the time, Alfa, to get its oligarch to join his efforts to cultivate Trump).

These Alfa allegations all still seem to be fluff. But even so, the redactions in the second reference may suggest there’s something here of continued interest to the FBI.

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

The Transcript the Frothy Right Claims Exculpates George Papadopoulos Instead Probably Inculpates Him

Last Monday, Republican huckster lawyer Joe Di Genova promised — among other things — that the documents the frothy right has been promising will blow up the Russian investigation would be released Wednesday — that is, a week ago. The frothy right — which for some unfathomable reason is following sworn liar and all around dope George Papadpoulos like sheep — believes that a transcript of the interactions between him and Stefan Halper somehow includes evidence that undercuts the case that there was probable cause that Carter Page was an agent of a foreign power.

An exchange from Sunday, however, confirms that the transcript in question shows that Papadopoulos was actively lying in September 2016 about his ties to Russia. In an exchange with Papadopoulos, Maria Bartiromo confirmed that the transcript in question is the one on which the former Trump flunkie told Stefan Halper that working with Russia to optimize the release of emails stolen from Hillary would be treason.

Bartiromo said that she had spoken with Papadopoulos on Saturday night, during which he told her that the recorded conversation in question involves him and FBI informant Stefan Halper in September 2016. Papadopoulos allegedly pushed back against Halper’s suggestion that he or the Trump campaign would have wanted Russia to release the Democratic National Committee emails it hacked in 2016.

[snip]

Bartiromo then said that “George Papadopoulos told me last night” that the transcript Gowdy was referring to is from a conversation Papadopoulos had with Halper in London at the Sofitel Hotel in London where she recounted that, according to Papadopoulos, Halper questioned Papadopoulos, saying, “Russia has all of these e-mails of Hillary Clinton and you know, and when they get out that would be really good for you, right? That would be really good for you and the Trump campaign, if all those e-mails got out, right?”

But Bartiromo says Papadopoulos responded to Halper by saying “that’s crazy,” “that would be treason,” “people get hanged for stuff,” and “I would never do something like that.”

That means it’s the same transcript that Mark Meadows — questioning Papadopoulos about what he learned not from his lawyers (who said there was no misconduct with Papadopoulos) but from the John Solomon echo chamber — asks about here.

Mr. Meadows. You say a transcript exists. A transcript exists of that conversation?

Mr. Papadopoulos. That’s I guess what John Solomon reported a couple days ago.

Mr. Meadows. So are you aware of a transcript existing? I mean —

Mr. Papadopoulos. I wasn’t aware of a transcript existing personally.

Mr. Meadows. So you have no personal knowledge of it?

Mr. Papadopoulos. I had no personal knowledge, no.

Mr. Meadows. But you think that he could have been recording you is what you’re suggesting?

Mr. Papadopoulos. Yes.

Mr. Meadows. All right. Go ahead.

Mr. Papadopoulos. And after he was throwing these allegations at me, I —

Mr. Meadows. And by allegations, allegations that the Trump campaign was benefiting from Hillary Clinton emails?

Mr. Papadopoulos. Something along those lines, sir. And I think I pushed back and I told him, I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. What you’re talking about is something along the lines of treason. I’m not involved. I don’t know anyone in the campaign who’s involved. And, you know, I really have nothing to do with Russia. That’s — something along those lines is how I think I responded to this person.

By Papadopoulos’ own memory, he said three things in a mid-September meeting with Stefan Halper:

  1. He didn’t know anything about the Trump campaign benefitting from Hillary Clinton emails
  2. He believed if he did know about such a thing, it would amount to treason
  3. “I really have nothing to do with Russia”

Papadopoulos pled guilty, under oath, with the advice of counsel who knew the contents of this interview, that in fact he did know about the Trump campaign benefitting from Hillary Clinton emails, because he had been told about it in April 2016. So that’s one lie that this supposed exculpatory transcript records him telling.

I’m more interested in the second lie: that he “really has nothing to do with Russia.”

He made that statement sometime around September 16, 2016, in London. A month earlier, Papadopoulos had very different plans for a mid-September trip to London. He planned a meeting in London with the “Office of Putin,” that would hide any formal tie with the campaign.

The frothy right makes much of the fact that that meeting, as far as we know, did not take place. Though there is a written record of Sam Clovis — who probably was not entirely forthcoming in a grand jury appearance — encouraging Papadopoulos and Walid Phares to pursue such a meeting if feasible. More importantly, a year later, at a time when he was purportedly cooperating, Papadopoulos refused to cooperate in transcribing these notes, meaning he was still covering up the details about the fact that as late as mid-August the Trump campaign had plans to have a secret meeting at precisely the same time and in the same place that this Halper transcript was recorded.

Papadopoulos declined to assist in deciphering his notes, telling investigators that he could not read his own handwriting from the journal. Papadopoulos 9/19/17 302, at 21. The notes, however, appear to read as listed in the column to the left of the image above.

Worse still, Papadopoulos continued to show great enthusiasm for Russia even after the meeting where he claimed he “really has nothing to do with Russia.” He proudly alerted Joseph Mifsud of his September 30 column attacking sanctions against Russia.

On or about October 1, 2016, PAPADOPOULOS sent Mifsud a private Facebook message with a link to an article from Interfax.com, a Russian news website. This evidence contradicts PAPADOPOULOS’s statement to the Agents when interviewed on or about January 27, 2017, that he had not been “messaging” with [Mifsud] during the campaign while “with Trump.”

This column led the Trump campaign to sever ties with Papadopoulos.

Papadopoulos was dismissed from the Trump Campaign in early October 2016, after an interview he gave to the Russian news agency Inter/ax generated adverse publicity.492

492 George Papadopoulos: Sanctions Have Done Little More Than to Turn Russia Towards China, Interfax (Sept. 30, 2016).

And in spite of claiming he had “nothing to do with Russia” sometime in mid-September, immediately after the election Papadopoulos pursued deals with Russia, via Sergei Millian.

On November 9, 2016, shortly after the election, Papadopoulos arranged to meet Millian in Chicago to discuss business opportunities, including potential work with Russian “billionaires who are not under sanctions.”511 The meeting took place on November 14, 2016, at the Trump Hotel and Tower in Chicago.512 According to Papadopoulos, the two men discussed partnering on business deals, but Papadopoulos perceived that Millian’s attitude toward him changed when Papadopoulos stated that he was only pursuing private-sector opportunities and was not interested in a job in the Administration.5 13 The two remained in contact, however, and had extended online discussions about possible business opportunities in Russia. 514 The two also arranged to meet at a Washington, D.C. bar when both attended Trump’s inauguration in late January 2017.515

In short, the transcript (if it reflects Papadopoulos claiming he had nothing to do with Russia) is not exculpatory. On the contrary, it’s proof that Papadopoulos lied about at least two of three things Halper grilled him about.

The frothy right doesn’t seem to care that this transcript proves Papadopoulos lied, even before he knew he was under legal scrutiny for ties to Russia he continued to pursue even after being questioned about them.

The frothy right is using it differently. Trey Gowdy claims the transcript proves that the FBI was questioning “Trump campaign officials” (Papadopoulos was never paid by the campaign and would be “fired” two weeks later for his open enthusiasm for sanctions relief) about the campaign.

Gowdy told Bartiromo that this transcript “certainly has the potential to be” a game changer and said that he was “lost” and “clueless” as to why it hadn’t been made public yet, stating that he didn’t think it contained any information that would have an impact on relationships with our allies.

Gowdy further said that the transcripts would show “what questions [the FBI] coached the informants or the cooperating witnesses to ask of the Trump campaign officials” and implied that the questions would show that the FBI had been targeting the Trump campaign rather than simply attempting to combat Russian election interference.

Gowdy claimed that if the transcripts showed that the FBI was “veering over into the campaign or your [the FBI’s] questions are not solely about Russia, then you [the FBI] have been misleading us for two years.”

Here’s how that belief looked when Mark Meadows first mainstreamed it last fall.

Mr. Meadows. So essentially at this point, he was suggesting that there was collusion and you pushed back very firmly is what it sounds like.

Mr. Papadopoulos. That’s what I remember, yes.

Mr. Meadows. Okay. And then what did he do from there?

Mr. Papadopoulos. And then I remember he was — he was quite disappointed. I think he was expecting something else. There was a —

Mr. Meadows. So he thought you would confirm that you were actually benefiting from Hillary Clinton’s email dump?

Mr. Papadopoulos. Perhaps that’s why he was disappointed in what I had to tell him, which was the truth.

Mr. Meadows. So you have no knowledge — you’ve already testified that you have no personal interaction, but you have no knowledge of anybody on the campaign that was working with the Russians in any capacity to get these emails and use them to the advantage. Is that correct?

Mr. Papadopoulos. That’s absolutely correct.

Mark Meadows is pretty dumb. But this line of questioning is pretty shrewd (and may show some awareness of details that were not, at this point, public). His purportedly slam dunk question, proving misconduct, is whether Papadopoulos — who has, at times, been referred to as a “coffee boy” and was not a paid member of the campaign — had personal interaction or “knowledge of anybody on the campaign [] working with the Russians in any capacity to get these emails and use them to the advantage.”

Papadopoulos claimed he did not have that knowledge.

But we know that by the time this meeting with Halper happened, Donald Trump had ordered his top campaign aides to get Roger Stone to reach out to WikiLeaks to “get these emails and use them to the advantage.” Not Russia directly, not anybody still with the campaign, but the campaign did in fact try to “get these emails and use them to the advantage,” which is how Mark Meadows defines “collusion.” In short, this slam dunk exchange defines “collusion” to be precisely what Trump asked his aides to ask his rat-fucker to accomplish.

The Mike Flynn cooperation addendum makes it clear that, “only a select few people were privy” to the discussions about optimizing the WikiLeaks releases. The candidate’s campaign manager was privy to those discussions. The deputy campaign manager was privy to those discussions. The candidate’s top national security advisor was privy to them. The candidate’s rat-fucker was entrusted with those efforts. The candidate himself pushed this effort and got communication back about it.

But the coffee boy was not privy to those discussions.

Finally, let’s turn to the really bizarre part of what is supposed to be a smoking gun.

Trey Gowdy claims to believe that a transcript showing that Papadopoulos was lying to hide his ongoing ties with Russia in September 2016 — the contents of which Papadopoulos’ lawyers appear to have known about, which did not persuade them any misconduct had occurred with their client — should have been disclosed to the FISA Court for an application targeting Carter Page.

Gowdy also claimed that the potentially exonerating info was misleadingly concealed from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court by the FBI, and that this is not the only mysterious transcript yet to be released.

Now, I could be wrong about this. After all, Trey Gowdy is one of the few people who has reviewed the unredacted Page warrant, though in the past has said there was clearly enough evidence to justify the warrant, something the Mueller Report substantiates (in part by making clear that Page told the FBI he’d happily provide non-public information to known Russian spies). But it appears that Papadopoulos appears in Page’s FISA application because events he swore under oath happened suggest that Russia was trying to reach out to the Trump campaign (for which there is abundant evidence), in part by offering energy deals (which is one thing Papadopoulos was still chasing even after November 2016), and there was reason to believe both Papadopoulos and Page had gotten advanced notice of the July 22 DNC email drop.

  • FBI targeted Page because they believed Russia was recruiting him as part of their effort to influence the outcome of the election (4)
  • Trump named both Page and Papadopoulos as advisors in March 2016 (6)
  • What the FBI knew so far of Papadopoulos’ activities [and other things] led the FBI to believe that Russia was not just trying to influence the outcome, but trying to coordinate with Trump’s campaign as well (9)
  • Russia has recruited Page in the past (12-14)
  • [Redacted section that probably explains that Page had told the FBI that he thought providing information to people he knew were Russian intelligence officers was beneficial for both countries and, after he showed up in the Buryakov complaint, he told Russia he had not cooperated with the FBI] (14-15)
  • In addition to allegedly meeting with Sechin and discussing eliminating sanctions, he met with someone assumed to be Igor Nikolayevich Divyekin, also “raised a dossier of ‘kompromat’ that the Kremlin had” on Clinton and the possibility of it being released to Trump’s campaign (18)
  • After those July meetings, Trump appeared to change his platform and publicly announced he might recognize Crimea (21)
  • Once these details became public, the Trump campaign not only denied Page had any ongoing connection to the campaign, but denied he ever had, which was false (24)

Some of those allegations about Page — specifically about whether he was alerted to kompromat harming Hillary when he was in Moscow in July 2016 — may not be true (though Mueller concluded that it remained unresolved). But they were true about Papadopoulos.

Establishing proof that Papadopoulos was lying to people about his ties to Russia in the weeks before his role was included in a FISA application doesn’t really make his inclusion exculpatory. On the contrary, it makes it more justifiable.

The frothy right is so spun up by con man George Papadopoulos that they have run to the TV cameras and claimed that a transcript that shows Papadopoulos was lying to hide his ongoing efforts to establish ties with Russia was in some way exculpatory. I mean, sure, Bill Barr might believe this tale. But no one else should.

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

Aspiring Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe Does Not Want DOJ’s Mob Experts Exchanging Information with Mob Experts

Last night, President Trump announced that Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats is resigning, effective August 15, and will be replaced by Congressman John Ratcliffe, who is totally unqualified for the job, but who said mean things to Robert Mueller the other day, which makes him the perfect Trump pick.

There will be many controversial steps in installing Ratcliffe (not least that Sue Gordon, currently the Principal Deputy, should take over as Acting DNI when Coats leaves, but Trump seems to have a plan to ignore the law that mandates that).

But I also think Ratcliffe’s confirmation process will be troubled, and not just because he’s totally unqualified for the job. Because he has been one of the key players into the Republican investigation into the Trump investigation, there are a bunch of transcripts of him acting really stupid in depositions, even more stupid than he acted in public in the Mueller hearing. As I noted in this post, in Michael Cohen’s second interview with HPSCI, for example, Ratcliffe got his ass handed to him by Cooley Law graduate Cohen.

The Republican conspiracy theory about Bruce Ohr depends on a series of misunderstandings

One of the most alarming examples involves the joint Oversight/Judiciary interview of Bruce Ohr.

The Republicans at the time (and still, I assume) believed that Bruce Ohr served as some secret back channel to keep feeding dossier tidbits to the FBI even after Christopher Steele had been fired as an informant for sharing details of his investigation with the press, part of a nefarious plot by Hillary to keep Steele’s intelligence reports flowing at the FBI. The evidence at least suggests that, instead, FBI was using Ohr as a way to monitor what Steele was doing while keeping the Brit completely firewalled from the actual investigation. In spite of being an expert on the topics implicated by the Russian investigation, Ohr was not read into the investigation or the Mueller probe, and had a relationship with Steele going back years. So he was a good way to get informed updates from Steele without risking Steele might learn more about the investigation.

Mr. Ohr. No. I think they just say thank you for the information, and then it disappears into the FBI.

Republicans also believe that Ohr should not have shared information with DOJ and FBI because his wife, Nellie, was doing contract work with Fusion GPS at the time. Virtually every time the Republicans talk about her role, however, they exhibit rank ignorance of the full scope of Fusion’s work for Democrats and Nellie’s role in that, as well as the way that Steele’s work was largely independent of those other efforts (though did respond to questions posed as part of it).

Mr. Ratcliffe. And if you did, then they would have known that your wife was being compensated in part for contributions to what we’ve referred to as the Steele dossier?

Mr. Ohr. Well, just to be careful about that, my wife was researching various entities who are some of the same people mentioned in the dossier.

My understanding of the dossier, and I didn’t look at it that carefully, but it seems to be reports from Chris Steele to Fusion GPS.

So I don’t think my wife’s information, as far as I knew, was reported in those specific reports. It was certainly provided to Fusion, which had both Chris Steele’s reports and my wife’s research.

Nellie did research that didn’t get published (though likely fed a few stories) that probably proved more accurate than Steele’s HUMINT and as such should have been the focus of the oppo campaign. But the public record (and Ohr’s impression knowing Steele’s past work) is that what is known as the dossier was entirely Steele’s work, not edited by Fusion or integrated with information otherwise obtained by them.

Some Republicans (though not Ratcliffe) also seemed to assume in the hearing that it is remarkable that a women qualified to do research on Russia would get hired to do research on Russia, and instead assume there’s some secret plot that got her hired. But as Bruce Ohr made clear several times in the hearing, he alerted the FBI of his wife’s tie to the contractor paying Steele from the very beginning.

Mr. Meadows. So you gave no commentary on the validity of what the source told you or what you thought? You gave no commentary?

Mr. Ohr. I —

Mr. Meadows. Your 302s don’t suggest that.

Mr. Ohr. No. I warned them that my wife work for Fusion GPS.

Mr. Meadows. When did you do that?

Mr. Ohr. When I first spoke with Mr. McCabe

But the core of the frothy Republican conspiracy about Ohr is an effort to shift the timeline of when Steele started feeding information to the FBI back before the investigation into Trump’s associates got opened, so as to be able to claim that Steele’s information predicated not just Carter Page’s FISA application, but the investigation as a whole.

The information Christopher Steele shared in the July 30 meeting is not the same information that appears in the dossier

An early attempt to do this was to point to communications between Steele and Ohr — who had been sharing information on Russian organized crime since 2007 — and claim a Steele reference to Oleg Deripaska was really proof of an early obsession between the two about Trump.

When that conspiracy was debunked, the frothy right then turned to a meeting Ohr and his wife had with Christopher Steele on July 30, 2016, at which Steele provided some information on Russia, including (but not limited to) some information that would eventually show up in the dossier. After the meeting, Ohr, of his own accord,  passed the information onto someone else he had worked organized crime matters with going back years, Andrew McCabe, whose counselor, Lisa Page, happened to be in the room when that meeting took place. That, in turn, led to a meeting with Peter Strzok. But both those meetings (and certainly the Strzok one) took place after the investigation into Trump’s associates had already gotten opened. Nevertheless, Republicans use that Ohr meeting to claim that Steele was trying to gin up an investigation into Trump even before he first formally shared his dossier with the FBI.

There are a few problems with this theory.

First, as noted, what Steele shared with Ohr on July 30, 2016 was not, precisely, what made it into the dossier. Over the course of his testimony, Ohr described four things that Steele shared with him that day.

Mr. Ohr. In the July 30th conversation, one of the items of information that Chris Steele gave to me was that he had information that a former head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, the SVR, had stated to someone — I didn’t know who — that they had Donald Trump over a barrel.

[snip]

Mr. Ohr. So Chris Steele provided me with basically three items of information. One of them I’ve described to you already, the comment that information supposedly stated and made by the head, former head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service.

He also mentioned that Carter Page had met with certain high-level Russian officials when he was in Moscow. My recollection is at that time, the name Carter Page had already been in the press, and there had been some kind of statement about who he had met with when he went to Moscow. And so the first item that I recall Chris Steele telling me was he had information that Carter Page met with higher-level Russian officials, not just whoever was mentioned in the press article. So that was one item.

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

[snip]

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

A Yes, there were. Based on my sketchy notes from the time, I think there was some information relating to the Russian doping scandal, but I don’t recall the substance of that.

Those four things are:

  1. A former head of SVR (other Steele dossier notes make it clear that this is Vyacheslav Trubnikov) told someone else who told a Steele source that Russia had Trump “over a barrel.” (Note, Ohr’s telling of this adds to the evidence that the frothy right misread Kathleen Kavalec’s notes about Steele’s intelligence to understand Trubnikov as a source for Steele rather than as someone his source was reporting on.)
  2. Carter Page met with some high ranking Russians when he was on his publicized trip to Moscow in July.
  3. Oleg Deripaska was trying to expose details of Paul Manafort’s “theft” from him.
  4. Something about the Russian doping scandal.

Just item 1 and 2 on this list appear in any form in the dossier. But item 1 — which Ohr repeatedly describes, based off his notes, as stating just that Russia had Trump “over a barrel,” doesn’t mention the pee tape at all. (Remember, the allegations that Russia had a compromising video from Trump’s 2013 trip had been out there since shortly after the trip, and both Hope Hicks and Michael Cohen were aware of and responding to those allegations during the campaign.) Moreover, the general allegation that Russia had some means of embarrassing Trump was already true by that point: he had shown a willingness to work with a former GRU officer, sanctioned banks, and the Russian government to chase an improbably lucrative real estate deal in Moscow, and he had lied about having ongoing business projects with Russia just days before Ohr’s July 30 meeting with Steele.

And while the reference to Page meeting with top Russian officials was used in his FISA application, what appears in the application goes well beyond what Steele appears to have shared in the meeting, to include the apparent promise of kompromat before the DNC emails got released. Notably, Page’s actions in Moscow were one of the things the Mueller Report concludes remain unexplained.

Item 3 — that Trump’s campaign manager was at risk of being hit with damning new accusations by a very powerful Russian oligarch — doesn’t show up in the dossier, but was actually true and serves as crucial background to Manafort’s ongoing efforts, just days later, to share campaign information with Deripaska not just to stave off such disclosures, but also to restore his old role installing leaders who would be favorable to Deripaska business interests.

And item 4 has nothing to do with Trump at all, but was a subject of real interest to the FBI, not least because the same GRU officers who conducted the hack of the DNC were — at precisely the time this meeting took place — beginning a similar campaign against international anti-doping agencies.

In other words, none of the things Steele shared with Ohr at that first meeting have proven untrue (though the allegations about Page probably are not true). And the two details that go beyond the dossier — that Manafort was under pressure from Deripaska and that Russian continued to engage with its doping scandal — are not just true, but were unequivocally issues of urgent interest to the FBI.

John Ratcliffe thinks the FBI should remain ignorant about Russian organized crime

And John Ratcliffe, the guy who wants to oversee the entire intelligence community, didn’t think that one of DOJ’s foremost experts in Russian organized crime, Ohr, should learn what he could from another recognized expert in Russian organized crime, Steele, and pass on what he learned to another government expert in Russian organized crime, McCabe.

He grilled Ohr at length, suggesting that it was improper for him to share information with another expert in Russian organized crime, and improper for him to pass on information he obtained to the agents who could vet and, if credible. use the information.

Mr. Ratcliffe. And one of those was shortly after you met with Christopher Steele. On July 30, you had a meeting with Andy McCabe and Lisa Page.

Mr. Ohr. Yes.

[snip]

Mr. Ratcliffe. And it was sometime, you believe, in August, because it was shortly after the meeting with Christopher Steele?

Mr. Ohr. Probably, yes.

Mr. Ratcliffe. And that was because, at that point in time, you wanted the FBI to have that information and be aware of your contact with Christopher Steele?

Mr. Ohr. Yes.

Mr. Ratcliffe. Did anyone prompt that call to Andy McCabe?

Mr. Ohr. No, I don’t think so. I think that was me. Just me.

Mr. Ratcliffe. You, out of just an idea that that was the appropriate thing to do?

Mr. Ohr. Yes.

Mr. Ratcliffe. Okay. But you also thought it was appropriate to be communicating with Christopher Steele.

Mr. Ohr. Yes.

Mr. Ratcliffe. Okay. Even though you don’t have any authority, apparently.

Mr. Ohr. He is just calling me or meeting with me, as we had done on and off for many years. So if he tells me something that is of interest or concern, I pass that to the FBI.

Mr. Ratcliffe. And you said something about you thought that was your job.

Mr. Ohr. Yes. Part of my job, as I saw it, as having been for a long time responsible for organized crime at the Department, was to try to gather as much information or introduce the FBI to possible sources of information, whatever ways to further the program’s goals.

In fact, as Ohr explained in his interview, he had been sharing information with Steele going back almost a decade.

A I believe I met Chris Steele for the first time around 2007. That was an official meeting. At that time, he was still employed by the British Government. I went to London to talk with British Government officials about Russian organized crime and what they were doing to look at the threat, and the FBI office at the U.S. Embassy in London set up a meeting. That was with Chris Steele. And there were other members of different British Government agencies there. And we met and had a discussion. And afterwards, I believe the agent and I spoke with Chris Steele further over lunch. That was, I think, the first time I met him.

Q And you said that Mr. Steele worked for the British Government at the time. Was that at MI-6?

A Yes.

Q And you said in this meeting that he was one of several British Government employees at the meeting?

A Yes.

Q So, based on that introduction, is it fair to say that your contacts with Christopher Steele began as a, you know, shared professional specialization?

A Yes.

Q And that specialization would be Russian organized crime?

A Yes.

In other words, John Ratcliffe wants to make a big deal out of the fact that DOJ’s top person on organized crime was trying to combat organized crime by collecting and sharing information on organized crime. This is the guy Trump wants to be be in charge of the entire intelligence community.

Ratcliffe objects that Ohr shared information with career employees and not his political appointee boss

Ratcliffe didn’t just object that Bruce Ohr compared notes with other experts on Russian organized crime, he also objected to the fact that Ohr passed that information along not to political appointees — who according to the conspiracy theories could then use the information as part of an ultimately unsuccessful Deep State plot to undermine Trump — but instead to career people who could actually decide what to do with the information.

Mr. Ratcliffe. Okay. But yet Sally Yates — she was your boss, right?

Mr. Ohr. Yes.

Mr. Ratcliffe. You said she didn’t know that you were talking to Steele or Simpson?

Mr. Ohr. Correct.

Mr. Ratcliffe. How do you know she didn’t know?

Mr. Ohr. Well, I didn’t tell her.

[snip]

Mr. Ratcliffe. Okay. So, again, going back to the Sally Yates issue, is it your testimony that at some point in time as you were sitting down with the FBI for the purpose of talking to them about information that you were helping to coordinate from Christopher Steele that you shouldn’t have advised or didn’t advise Sally Yates about the fact that you were being interviewed for that purpose?

Mr. Ohr. I did not inform Sally Yates that I was talking to the FBI and that I was receiving information from Chris Steele. That’s correct.

Mr. Ratcliffe. My question is, did you have the thought that it might be a good idea to let my boss know that I’m being interviewed by the FBI?

Mr. Ohr. It was — my thought at the time was I should get this to the career people who would work on it, but that was my thought.

This is ultimately something that Ohr got disciplined for — not revealing the extent of his contacts with Steele earlier. But it was also the opposite of what he would do if he wanted to politicize the information, and precisely what he would do if he considered it the course of normal information exchange. By keeping this information within career channels, Ohr took the most appropriate step to avoid politicizing it.

It’s also true that, absent some proof that Yates found out about some of the details of Steele’s conversations with Ohr (in particular, how concerned Steele was about the possibility of Trump being elected) before she approved the FISA order on Carter Page, this conspiracy theory doesn’t make any sense. Which may be the real reason Ratcliffe is so infuriated that Ohr claims he didn’t inform Yates about what, to Ohr, was ordinary information sharing.

The echo chamber Ratcliffe occupies would prevent him from keeping America safe

Again, Ratcliffe’s own questioning of one of DOJ’s top experts on organized crime makes it appear that he affirmatively objects to the fact that that expert received true and timely information from another recognized expert and passed it on to another expert.

I actually don’t believe John Ratcliffe really is affirmatively opposed to the FBI receiving as much information about Russian Oligarchs threatening to expose top campaign managers or ongoing Russian efforts to retaliate for having been caught cheating in sports, even though that’s what his questioning of Ohr necessarily presumes. I think, instead, he is stuck so deep inside a Republican echo chamber looking for conspiracy theories even in events that can be easily explained that he is incapable of seeing how dangerous his assumptions really are: including the assumption that the FBI should reject information from credible sources about ongoing threats.

That he is so deeply ensconced in the frothy right is why Trump picked him for the job — because, to those who are equally ensconced in the echo chamber, he could appear to have damaged Robert Mueller last week. And of course, Trump will be perfectly happy to have someone who sees not what is, but what needs to be true to feed Trump’s own false claims.

But having picked Ratcliffe, Trump has given Democrats the perfect opportunity to turn frothy conspiracies on their head, to demonstrate the danger of them. Both before Ratcliffe’s eventual confirmation hearing and during it, Democrats will have abundant evidence — from Ratcliffe’s own performance in interviews where he repeatedly gets exposed as a fool — to demonstrate the dangers of appointing someone so deep inside an echo chamber he doesn’t even realize the entire premise of his questioning is that the US should not pursue as much information about threats as possible.

Sure, he’s likely to be confirmed anyway. But Democrats have the opportunity to lay out the costs of Republicans casting such a vote, to install someone who affirmatively objects to FBI getting information on urgent threats to oversee the intelligence community. And when Ratcliffe’s echo chamber beliefs serve to blow up — whether by feeding Trump what he wants to hear about North Korea or Iran or Russia — Democrats will then have the record that Republicans chose to put someone with a clear record arguing that the FBI should have less information about credible threats and not more.

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

Robert Mueller Asked To Be Instructed To Hew To the Report

Since DOJ’s letter to Robert Mueller got released last night, many on the left have fumed that this is part of a nefarious effort by Bill Barr to silence Mueller.

And while I don’t doubt that Barr will do anything he can to limit the damage of Mueller’s testimony to his client, Donald Trump (indeed, there were reports that he met with HJC Ranking Member Doug Collins yesterday), this letter was orchestrated by Mueller, not Barr.

As the letter notes, Mueller wrote to DOJ on July 10. By that point, it was already crystal clear what kind of guidance DOJ would offer if asked. So he had to have known he’d get the letter he did. And yet he asked for instructions, when nothing obligated him to do so.

Moreover, this letter was released by his spox, not by DOJ. Effectively, then, this is Mueller setting — re-setting, repeating what he said in his press conference on May 29 — expectations. That doesn’t mean people can’t ask Mueller questions beyond his report (I would argue that matters about the release of the report are not covered in DOJ’s letter). But he now has the ability to blame DOJ for not answering.

That said, it’s likely that this actually limits GOP plans for the hearing more than Democrats. That’s true, in part, because Democrats have already been planning really milquetoast questions, assuming that having Mueller read directly from his report will be sufficient to generate new outrage over Trump’s actions. But it’s also true because most of the things Republicans want to emphasize — the role of Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, the Steele dossier, the FBI’s use of informants, Carter Page’s FISA application — are mostly outside the scope of the report. About half the questions Chuck Ross suggested, for example, would be outside the scope of the report (while I situated my questions more closely in existing public documents, probably half of mine would be deemed to go beyond the report as well).

If the Republicans want to talk about the Steele dossier, Mueller will guide them to either Jim Comey’s briefing about the dossier on January 6, 2017, or the pee tape — the only allegation in the dossier that made the unredacted parts of the report. And if Republicans choose that option, it’ll mean Mueller will explain over and over that Trump’s fixer, Michael Cohen, was taking steps to chase down the pee tape well before the dossier was made public. (Hope Hicks was also trying to chase down the pee tape, but that didn’t make the report.) It’s not going to help Trump’s case to show that his campaign took the pee tape seriously, along with all the other sex scandals that threatened to erupt right before the election in 2016.

Likewise, if Republicans want to talk about “FISA abuse,” the former FBI Director will either direct them to the three places in the report where Trump included Jeff Sessions’ inaction on FISA among the reasons he wanted to fire him to thwart the investigation, or (more likely) he’ll point to the standard to obtain a FISA warrant.

On four occasions, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) issued warrants based on a finding of probable cause to believe that Page was an agent of a foreign power. 50 U.S.C. §§ 1801 (b ), 1805(a)(2)(A). The FISC’s probable-cause finding was based on a different (and lower) standard than the one governing the Office’s decision whether to bring charges against Page, which is whether admissible evidence would likely be sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Page acted as an agent of the Russian Federation during the period at issue. Cf United States v. Cardoza, 713 F.3d 656, 660 (D.C. Cir. 2013) ( explaining that probable cause requires only “a fair probability,” and not “certainty, or proof beyond a reasonable doubt, or proof by a preponderance of the evidence”).

And he can then point to all the details in the report, such as Page’s willingness to share non-public information with known Russian intelligence officers, and his claims that he represented the interests of Donald Trump in December 2016, including on negotiating a Ukraine deal.

I’m not happy that Mueller is walking into this hearing setting expectations as low as he can. Though I was sympathetic to his offer to testify in closed session, as I’m fairly certain Congress would get more useful answers with less conspiracy theorizing.

But it’s worth noting that these instructions will serve as a tool to shut down Republican grandstanding even more than it will shut down Democrats.

The Steele Dossier and the Mueller Investigation: Michael Cohen

Update: I’m reposting this on July 20 because these warrants have been re-released in less redacted form. As noted below in the update on Section C, that previously redacted section does pertain to Michael Cohen’s hush payments to Stormy Daniels, meaning the only mention of the Steele Dossier in the earliest warrant on Cohen is just to a post-dossier WSJ article used exclusively to explain Cohen’s own description of how he served as Trump’s fixer. 

Because the frothy right thinks it’s an important question but won’t actually consult the public record, I’m doing a series on what that public record says about the relationship between the allegations in the Steele dossier and the known investigative steps against Trump’s associates. In this post, I argued that the way the Steele dossier influenced the Carter Page investigation may be slightly different than generally understood: it appears that the dossier appeared to predict — just like George Papadopoulos had — the release of the DNC emails on July 22. From that point forward, Page continued to do things — such as telling people in Moscow he was representing Donald Trump in December 2016, including on Ukraine policy — that were consistent with the general theory (though not the specific facts) laid out in the Steele dossier. That is, Page kept acting like the the Steele dossier said he would. That said, the government had plenty of reason before the Steele dossier to investigate Page for his stated willingness to share information with Russian spies, and his ongoing behavior continued to give them reason.

I’m more interested in the example of Michael Cohen.

The Steele dossier eventually describes Michael Cohen as the villain of coordination with Russia

The dossier makes allegations against Cohen four times, all after the time when Steele and Fusion GPS were shopping the dossier to the press, increasing the likelihood Russia got wind of the project and were shopping disinformation.

The first three mentions came on three consecutive days (probably based on just two sub-source to Kremlin insider conversations), all apparently sourced to the same second-hand access to a Kremlin insider, and evolving significantly over those three days.  Importantly, the sub-source is also the source for the claim that Page had been offered the brokerage of the publicly announced Rosneft sale, meaning this person purportedly had access to Igor Sechin and a Kremlin insider, and if this source was intentionally feeding disinformation, it would account for the most obviously suspect claims in the dossier.

October 18, 2016 (134): A Kremlin insider tells the sub-source that Michael Cohen was playing a key role in the Trump campaign’s relationship with the Kremlin.

October 19, 2016 (135): The Kremlin insider tells his source that Cohen met with Presidential Administration officials in August 2016 to discuss how to contain Manafort’s Russia/Ukraine scandal and Page’s secret meetings with Russian leaders. Since that August meeting Trump-Russian conversations increasingly took place via pro-government policy institutes.

October 20, 2016 (136): In a communication that “had to be cryptic for security reasons,” a Kremlin insider tells a friend on October 19 that the reported meeting with Cohen took place in Prague using Rossotrudnichestvo as a cover. It involved Duma Head of Foreign Relations Committee Konstantin Kosachev. This is notably different from the PA claim made just the day before.

Then there’s the final report, which Steele has claimed was provided for “free,” dated after David Corn and Kurt Eichenwald’s exposure of the dossier, after the election, after the Obama Administration ratcheted up the investigation on December 9, and after Steele had interested John McCain in the dossier. In addition to offering a report that seems to project blame onto Webzilla for what the Internet Research Agency did, this report alleges what would be a veritable smoking gun, missing from the earlier reports: that Cohen had helped pay for the hackers.

December 13, 2016 (166): The August meeting in Prague was no longer about how to manage the Manafort and Page scandals, but instead to figure out how to make deniable cash payments to hackers (located in Europe, including Romania, where the original Guccifer had come from, not Russia), who were managed by the Presidential Administration, not GRU.

This December report is really the only one that claims Trump had a criminal role in the hack-and-leak, but the claims in the report all engage with already public claims: situating the hackers where the persona Guccifer 2.0 claimed to be from, Romania, suggesting the hackers were independent hackers who had to be paid rather than Russian military officers, and blaming Webzilla rather than Internet Research Agency for disinformation. That is, more than any other, this report looks like it was tailored to the Russian cover story.

The way this story evolved over time should have raised concerns, as should have other obvious problems with the December report. But it’s worth noting that there are two grains of truth in it. Cohen had been the key interlocutor between the Trump campaign and the Presidential Administration during the campaign, but to discuss the building of a Trump Tower in Moscow in January, not how to steal the election in October. Few people (at least in the US) should have known that he had played that interlocutor role; how many knew in Russia is something else entirely. Cohen was also someone that people who had done business with Trump Organization, like Giorgi Rtslchiladze and people associated with Aras Agalarov’s Crocus Group, would know to be Trump’s fixer. That fact would have been far more widely known.

Nevertheless, by the end of it, Cohen was the biggest Trump-associate villain in the Steele dossier. If the Steele dossier had been directing the investigative priorities of the FBI, then Cohen should have been a focus for his role in the hack-and-leak as soon as the FBI received this report. Nothing in the public record suggests that happened. Indeed, at the time the FBI briefed the Gang of Eight on March 9, 2017, Cohen was not among the people described as subjects. Just Roger Stone had been added to the initial four subjects (Page, Manafort, George Papadopoulos, and Mike Flynn) by that point. Congress, including the Devin Nunes-led House Intelligence Committee, would focus closely on Cohen more quickly than the FBI appears to have.

That’s true even though Cohen was doing some of the things he would later be investigated for, including — immediately after the election — establishing financial ties with Viktor Vekselberg even while Felix Sater pitched him on a Ukraine deal.

Suspicious Activity Reports and the investigation into Cohen

The investigation into Cohen appears to have started — given this July 18, 2017 warrant application — as an investigation into suspicious payments, both Cohen’s payments to Stormy Daniels and payments from large, often foreign companies, particularly Columbus Nova, with which Viktor Vekelsberg has close ties, but also including Novartis, Korean Airlines, and Kazkommertsnank. The investigation probably started based off a Suspicious Activity Report submitted by First Republic Bank, where Cohen had multiple accounts, including one for Essential Consulting, where those foreign payments were deposited.

Cohen opened that Essential Consultants account on October 26, 2016, ostensibly to collect fees for domestic real estate consulting work, but in fact to pay off Stormy Daniels. His use of it to accept all those foreign payments would have properly attracted attention and a SAR from the bank under Know Your Customer mandates, particularly with his political exposure through Trump. Sometime in June 2017, First Republic submitted the first of at least three SARs on this account, covering seven months of activity on the account; that SAR and a later one was subsequently made unavailable in the Treasury system as part of a sensitive investigation, which led to a big stink in 2018 and ultimately to charges against an IRS investigator who leaked the other reports. The language of the third one appears to closely match the language in the warrant applications, including a reference to Viktor Vekselberg’s donations to Trump’s inauguration.

The first warrant application against Cohen

On June 21, the FBI served a preservation request to Google for his Gmail and to Microsoft for Cohen’s Trump Organization emails (see this post for the significance of Microsoft’s role). Generally that suggests that already by that point, FBI decided they would likely want that email, but needed to put together the case to get it. The preservation order on Microsoft suggests they may have worried that people at Trump’s company might destroy damning emails. It also suggests the FBI knew that there was something damaging in those emails, which almost certainly came in part from contact information the bank had and call records showing contacts with Felix Sater and Columbus Nova; it might also suggest the NSA may have intercepted some of Cohen’s contacts with Russians in normal collection targeting those Russians.

That July 2017 warrant (confirmed in later warrants to be the first one used against Cohen) lists Acting as a Foreign Agent (18 USC 951) and false statements to a financial institution. It explains:

[T]he FBI is investigating COHEN in connection with, inter alia, statements he made to a known financial institution (hereinafter “Bank 1”) in the course of opening a bank account held in the name of Essential Consultants, LLC and controlled by COHEN. The FBI is also investigating COHEN in connection with funds he received from entities controlled by foreign governments and/or foreign principals, and the activities he engaged in in the United States on their behalf without properly disclosing such relationships to the United States government.

In other words, the predicate for the investigation was his bank account — one in conjunction with which he would eventually plead guilty to several crimes — not the dossier. Had Cohen told the truth about why he was opening that bank account (to pay off the candidate’s former sex partners!), had he not conducted his international graft with it, had he been honest he was going to be accepting large payments from foreign companies, then he might not have been investigated. It’s possible that the public reporting on the dossier made the bank pay more attention, but his actions already reached the level that the bank was required to report it.

In the unredacted parts of the application, there is one citation of the dossier, but only to the title of a WSJ report on Cohen written in the wake of the dossier release, “Intelligence Dossier Puts Longtime Trump Fixer in Spotlight.” It uses the article in a section introducing who he is to cite Cohen explaining that he’s Trump’s “fìx-it guy . . . . Anything that [then-President-elect Trump] needs to be done, any issues that concern him, I handle,” not to describe any allegations in the dossier.

From there, it introduces the bank account, Essential Consulting.

Redacted section C

Update, 7/19: These warrants have now been unsealed, and — as media outlets originally reported — this section is about the hush payment to Stormy Daniels. The section also confirms that much of this investigation came from the KYC work of Cohen’s bank. I’ve marked the paragraphs that consider the possibility this section pertains to Russia with strike-through text.

The next section, C, is six paragraphs long (¶¶13 to 18), and remains entirely redacted. If the substance of the dossier appears in the warrant application, it would appear here. But such a redacted passage does not appear at all in a search warrant application for Paul Manafort from May, and no redacted passage appears as prominently in a Manafort warrant application from ten days later — which describes his relationship with three Russian oligarchs and the June 9 meeting — though there is a six page redaction describing the investigative interest in the June 9 meeting. The difference is significant because the dossier alleged that Manafort was managing relations with Russia until he left the campaign (including during June), so if there were redacted language about the dossier on Cohen, we would expect it to play a similar role in applications on Manafort, but nothing public suggests it does.

Some background on this redacted section. We got the Mueller-related warrants on Cohen because a bunch of media outlets asked Chief Judge Beryl Howell to liberate them on March 26, the week after Mueller officially finished his investigation. At first, Jonathan Kravis, the DC AUSA who has taken the lead in much of the ongoing Mueller word, noticed an appearance to respond. But it was actually Thomas McKay, one of the SDNY AUSA who prosecuted Cohen there, who responded to the request, along with another SDNY attorney.

Although the Warrant Materials were sought and obtained by the Special Counsel’s Office (“SCO”), the Government is represented in this matter by the undersigned attorneys from the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (“SDNY”), as the SCO’s investigation is now complete.

They argue that they’re willing to release the warrant materials under terms consistent with the terms used in SDNY, where information about the FBI affiants and information we know deals with the hush payments investigation got redacted.

Judge Pauley ruled that “the portions of the Materials relating to Cohen’s campaign finance crimes shall be redacted” to protect an ongoing law enforcement investigation, along with “the paragraphs of the search warrant affidavits describing the agents’ experience or law enforcement techniques and procedures.” Cohen, 2019 WL 472577, at *6. By contrast, Judge Pauley ordered that the portions of the materials that did not relate to the campaign finance investigation be unsealed, subject to limited redactions to protect the privacy interests of certain uncharged third parties. Id. at *6-7. Judge Pauley’s decision in these respects is also consistent with prior decisions of this Court, which have recognized the distinction between law enforcement interests in ongoing, as opposed to closed, investigations, as well as the importance of respecting privacy concerns for uncharged third parties. See, e.g., Matter of the Application of WP Company LLC, 16-mc-351 (BAH), 2016 WL 1604976, at *2 & n.2 (D.D.C. Apr. 1, 2016).

Consistent with the foregoing, the Government does not oppose the Petitioners’ request for partial unsealing, but respectfully requests that the Court authorize redactions consistent with those authorized by Judge Pauley in the SDNY litigation.

Because of this language, some people assume the redacted passage C relates to the hush payments, which were, after all, the reason Cohen opened the account in the first place. That may well be the case: if so, the logic of the warrant application would flow like this:

A: Michael Cohen

B: Essential Consultants, LLC

C: Use of Essential Consultants to pay hush payments

[Later warrants would include a new section, D, that described Cohen’s lies about his net worth to First Republic]

D: Foreign Transactions in the Essential Consultants Account with a Russian Nexus

i. Deposits by Columbus Nova, LLC

ii. Plan to Life Russian Sanctions

E: Other Foreign Transactions in the Essential Consultants Account

That would explain McKay’s role in submitting the redactions, as well as his discussion of redacting the warrant consistent with what was done in SDNY, to protect ongoing investigations. (The government will have to provide a status report in August on whether these files still need to be redacted.)

That said, it was not until April 7, 2018 that anyone first asked for a warrant to access Cohen’s email accounts in conjunction with the campaign finance crimes. And some SARs submitted in conjunction with the hush payments, such as one associated with the $130,000 payment on October 27, 2016 to then Daniels lawyer Keith Davidson and one from JP Morgan Chase reflecting the transfer from the Essentials Consulting account to Davidson’s were not restricted in May 2018 in conjunction with a sensitive investigation (nor was the third one reflecting the foreign payments described above), suggesting they weren’t the most sensitive bits in May 2018. Of note, the Elliot Broidy payments to Essential Consulting would post-date this period of the investigation.

That leaves a possibility (though not that likely of one) that Section C could describe the Russian investigation. The next passage after the redacted one describes the “foreign transactions in the Essential Consultants Account with a Russian nexus” (though, as noted, subsequent warrants describe Cohen’s lies in the following paragraph). It describes the $416,664 in payments from Columbus Nova, and describes the tie between Columbus Nova and Vekselberg. After introducing the payments, the affidavit describes the public report on a back channel peace plan pitched by Felix Sater on behalf of Ukrainian politician Andrii Artemenko.

Another possibility is that it describes Trump’s inauguration graft, which embroils Cohen and Broidy (though the investigation into Broidy is in EDNY, not SDNY).

Perhaps most likely, however, is that that section just describes other reasons why that Essential Consulting account merited a SAR. For example, it might describe how Cohen set up a shell company to register the company, something that doesn’t show up in the unredacted sections, but which is a key part of the hush payment prosecution.

If the section does not mention the Russian investigation generally (and the dossier specifically), then it means there is no substantive mention of it in the warrant at all, meaning it played at most a secondary role in the focus on Cohen.

As the timeline of the investigation into Cohen below shows, that redacted section would grow by one paragraph in the next warrant application, for Cohen’s Trump Organization emails, obtained just two weeks later. It would remain that length for all the other unsealed Mueller warrants.

Felix Sater and the investigation into Cohen

The way in which Sater is mentioned in the warrants against Cohen presents conflicting information about what might be in that redacted section. Significantly, Sater (described as Person 3) is introduced as if for the first time, in the discussion of the Ukrainian deal that appears after the redaction. That means that he doesn’t appear in the redacted material. That’s important because Sater would be one other possible focus of any introduction to why Cohen would become the focus of the Russian investigation (aside from the dossier).

The next warrant would also note numerous calls with Sater, reflecting legal process for call records not identified here (the government almost certainly had a PRTT on Cohen’s phones by then). But those calls, as described, were in early 2017 (tied to the suspected Ukrainian peace plan), not in 2015-2016 when the two men were discussing a Trump Tower Moscow.

Mueller interviewed Sater on September 19, 2017, the first of two FBI interviews (he also appeared before the grand jury on an unknown date).

One of the most interesting changes to the Mueller warrants happens after that: In warrant applications submitted on November 13, the unredacted discussion of the Ukraine peace deal gets dropped. It’s unlikely Mueller’s investigation of it was eliminated entirely, because Mike Flynn, who allegedly ultimately received that deal, is not known to have been cooperating yet (his first known proffer was three days later, on November 16), and Mueller was still interested in interviewing Andrii  Artemenko — the Ukrainian politician who pitched the deal — in June 2018.

In addition, based off the details in the Mueller Report cited to Sater’s September interview, Mueller was already investigating the Trump Tower deal. That suggests both topics — the Trump Tower deal and the Ukranian peace pitch — could appear in the redacted passage. Indeed, while the unredacted passages don’t explain it, one important reason to obtain the earlier emails would be to obtain the communications between Sater and Cohen during that period.

None of these warrants explain why Mueller became convinced that Cohen had lied to Congress, but by the second December interview of Sater, he presumably knew that Cohen had lied. But he probably didn’t have all the documents on the deal until he subpoenaed Trump Organization in March 2018.

All of which is to say, the treatment of the warrants’ Sater’s ties to Cohen, so important in any consideration of Cohen’s ties to Russia, ultimately don’t help determine what’s in that section.

If Mueller obtained Cohen’s location data, it was only second-hand

Finally, there’s one other detail not shown in the Mueller warrants you might expect to have if the Steele dossier was central to the Cohen investigation: a concerted effort to confirm his location during August 2016, when the dossier claimed he had been in Prague.

Granted, by obtaining records from Google, Mueller would get lots of information helpful to confirming location. For example, Google would have provided all the IP addresses from which Cohen accessed his account going back to January 2016. He would have obtained calendar data, if Cohen used that Google function. The warrant (as all warrants to Google would) asks for “evidence … to determine the geographic and chronological context of account access” and describes the various ways investigators can use Google to ID location (though it doesn’t specifically talk about location data in conjunction with Google Maps).

Mueller would get even more information from the Apple warrant obtained on August 7, 2017. The warrant for Cohen’s iCloud account on August 7 focused on a new iPhone (a 4s!!!) he obtained on September 28, 2016 and used for a function that gets redacted (which, again, could be the hush payments). It described his use of Dust and WhatsApp on the phone (Dust was what he used with Felix Sater), meaning one reason they were interested in the account was not for Cohen’s Apple content, but for anything associated with the apps he used on his phone (remember that Mueller got Manafort’s otherwise encrypted WhatsApp chats from Apple; the Apple specific language notes that some users back up their WhatsApp texts to iCloud). That said, the language on Apple (as all warrants on it would) specified that users sometimes capture location data with the apps on their phones.

Apple allows applications and websites to use information from cellular, Wi-Fi, Global Positioning System (“GPS”) networks, and Bluetooth, to determine a user’s approximate location.

This is a way the FBI has increasingly gotten location data in recent years, via the apps that access it from your phone. So the FBI would have gotten information that would have helped them rule out a Cohen trip to Prague in 2016.

That said, it’s not until April 7 that the government obtained the only known warrant for cell location data. That warrant focused only on the campaign finance crimes, and it obtained historical data only started on October 1, 2016 — pointedly excluding the August 2016 period when Steele’s dossier alleged Cohen was in Prague.

In short, along the way, Mueller obtained plenty of information that would help him exclude a Prague meeting (and subpoenas and other government information — such as his Homeland Security file — could have helped further exclude a meeting). But there’s no sign in the public record that Mueller investigated the Steele dossier Prague meeting itself.

To sum up: while it’s possible the redacted portions discuss Russia and therefore potentially the dossier. But there are a lot of reasons to think that’s not the case. It is hypothetically possible that between March (when FBI wasn’t investigating Cohen) and May (when Mueller took over) the FBI had done something to chase down the dossier allegations on Cohen. But, there’s no evidence that Mueller investigated them. On the contrary, it appears that the investigation into Cohen arose from the Bank Secrecy Act operating the way it is designed to — to alert the Feds to suspect activity in timely fashion.

In another world, that should placate the frothy right. After all, they complain that the dossier was used in Carter Page’s FISA application. You’d think they’d be happy that, in the eight months between the time FBI obtained that order and started investigating Cohen aggressively, they hadn’t predicated an investigation into the dossier. By that time, there were overt things — like Vekselberg’s donation to the inauguration and the Ukraine plan — that were suspect and grounded in direct evidence.

Timeline

May 18, 2017: Possible date for meeting involving Jay Sekulow, Trump, and Cohen.

May 31, 2017: Cohen and lawfirm subpoenaed by HPSCI.

June 2017: A SAR from Cohen’s bank reflects seven months of suspicious activity in conjunction with this Essential Consulting account

June 2017: Federal Agents review Cohen’s bank accounts.

June 21, 2017: FBI sends a preservation request to Microsoft for Cohen’s Trump Org account.

July 14, 2017: FBI sends a preservation request to Microsoft for all Trump Org accounts.

July 18, 2017: FBI obtains a warrant for Cohen’s Gmail account focused on FARA charges tied primarily to the Columbus Nova stuff, but also his other foreign payments). ¶¶13-18 redacted.

July 20, 2017 and July 25, 2017: Microsoft responds to grand jury subpoenas about both Cohen’s account and TrumpOrg domain generally.

August 1, 2017: FBI obtains a warrant for Cohen’s Trump Org email account (which they obtained from Microsoft), adding bank fraud, money laundering, and FARA (as distinct from 951) to potential charges. ¶¶13-19 redacted. ¶¶20 to 24 note irregularities in claims to First Republic. ¶28 details how Cohen and Andrew Intrater started texting in large amounts on November 8, 2016, showing over 230 calls and 950 texts between then and July 14, 2017. ¶30 includes email reflecting visit to Columbus Nova. ¶31 reflects probable subpoena to bank (rather than just SARs). ¶32 describes Renova paying Cohen through Columbus Nova. ¶36 reflects phone records showing 20 calls with Felix Sater between January 5, 2017 and February 20, 2017, and one with Flynn on January 11, 2017. ¶39, ¶41 include new evidence from Google search.

August 7, 2017: FBI obtains a warrant for Cohen’s Apple ID (tied to his Google email). ¶¶14-20 redacted. ¶50-54 describes Cohen obtaining a new Apple iPhone 4s on September 28, 2016 and using it for a redacted purpose. It describes Cohen downloading Dust (the same encrypted program he used with Felix Sater) the day he set up the phone, and downloading WhatsApp on February 7, 2017.

August 17, 2017: FBI obtains second warrant on Cohen’s Gmail, not publicly released, but identified in second Google warrant. It probably added wire fraud to existing charges being investigated.

August 27-28, 2017: Cohen conducts a preemptive limited hangout on the Trump Tower story feeding WaPo, WSJ, and NYT.

August 31, 2017: Cohen releases the letter his attorney had sent — two weeks earlier — along with two earlier tranches of documents for Congress.

September 19, 2017: FBI interviews Sater. Cohen attempts to preempt an interview with SSCI by releasing a partial statement before testifying, only to have SSCI balk and reschedule the interview.

October 4, 2017: Additional SAR restricted because of ongoing sensitive investigations.

October 20, 2017: Cohen included in expanded scope of investigation.

October 24, 2017: HPSCI interviews Cohen.

October 25, 2017: SSCI interviews Cohen.

November 7, 2017: Mueller extends PR/TT on Cohen Gmail.

November 13, 2017: FBI obtains Cohen’s Gmail going back to June 1, 2015 and his 1&1 email. Adds wire fraud. ¶14-20 redacted.¶23a-25 adds Taxi medallion liability. Eliminates Ukraine/sanctions plan in unredacted section. Adds section F, payments in connection with political activities (associated with AT&T, expand Novartis, add Michael D Cohen and Associates.

December 15, 2017: FBI interviews Sater.

January 4, 2018: Mueller extends PR/TT on Cohen Gmail.

February 8, 2018: Mueller provides SDNY with Gmail and 1&1 email returns.

February 16, 2018: SDNY obtains d-order for header information on 1&1 account.

February 28, 2018: SDNY obtains warrant for emails sent after November 14, 2017 and warrant for emails Mueller handed over in conjunction with different conspiracy, false statements to a bank, wire fraud, and and bank fraud charges.

March 7, 2018: Mueller provides SDNY with iCloud returns.

March 15, 2018: Press reports that Mueller subpoenaed Trump Organization.

April 5, 2018: After CLOUD Act passes, SDNY applies for Google content that had been stored overseas and withheld in February 28 warrant.

April 7, 2018: FBI obtains warrant for cell location for two cell phones, tied only to illegal campaign donation investigation (the FBI would use this to use a triggerfish to identify which room he was in at Loews). FBI obtains warrant to access prior content for use in campaign donation investigation. This is the first warrant that lists 52 USC 30116 and 30109 as crimes being investigated.

April 8, 2018: FBI obtains warrant for cell location for two cell phones, tied only to illegal campaign donation investigation.FBI obtains warrant to search Cohen’s house, office, safe deposit box, hotel room, and two iPhones.

April 9, 2018: FBI obtains a warrant to correct Cohen’s hotel room.

June 20, 2018: Cohen steps down from RNC position.

July 27, 2018: Sources claim Cohen is willing to testify he was present, with others, when Trump approved of the June 9 meeting with the Russians.

August 7, 2018: First Cohen proffer to Mueller.

August 21, 2018: Cohen pleads guilty to SDNY charges. Warner and Burr publicly note that Cohen’s claim to know about the June 9 meeting ahead of time conflicts with his testimony to the committee.

September 12, 2018: Second proffer.

September 18, 2018: Third proffer.

October 8, 2018: Fourth proffer.

October 17, 2018: Fifth proffer.

November 12, 2018: Sixth proffer.

November 20, 2018: Seventh proffer.

November 29, 2018: Cohen pleads guilty to false statements charge.

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

The Steele Dossier and the Mueller Investigation: Carter Page

Predictably, the frothy right wants to know whether Robert Mueller investigated the Steele dossier as part of his investigation into the links between Trump’s campaign and Russia’s interference operation in the election, and if not why not. Of the 27 questions Chuck Ross thinks Mueller should be asked about an investigation into Russia’s attack on the US and Trump’s associates ties to Russia, for example, seven are about the Steele dossier in one way or another (while repeating some of the past errors he has made about the dossier).

In his initial question, for example, he asserts as fact both that the FBI was investigating whether Russia was blackmailing Trump and whether there was a well-developed conspiracy of cooperation between Trump and the Kremlin because of the dossier, and suggests that the dossier would be the only reason to investigate such things.

How important was the Steele dossier to the overall investigation?

The FBI relied on the dossier, which was authored by former British spy Christopher Steele, to obtain four Foreign intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants against former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. The FBI also investigated the allegations in the dossier that the Kremlin was blackmailing Donald Trump and that the campaign was involved in a “well-developed conspiracy of co-operation” with Russia to influence the election.

Mueller’s report all but debunked several key allegations in the dossier. That poses a potential problem for investigators if the probe relied heavily on Steele’s reporting.

Leave aside the presumptions in this question. I’d like to take it on its face and — in a series — show what the public record suggests about the relationship between dossier allegations and the investigation into five people:

  • Carter Page
  • Michael Cohen
  • Paul Manafort
  • Mike Flynn
  • Roger Stone

Here’s my logic for focusing on these five. Obviously, the dossier had a role in the Carter Page investigation — though the continued classification of his FISA application permits Republicans to claim it had a larger role than it actually did. I actually suspect the dossier may have had a larger influence on the rapid progress of the investigation into Michael Cohen than Page. The public record on the investigation into Paul Manafort shows the opposite: FBI didn’t get around to substantiating real evidence that could, even still, support dossier claims about him until relatively late in the investigation. Similarly, the real investigation into Flynn seems to have led rather than followed any real inquiry into the sole allegation about Flynn in the dossier, but that’s likely because that allegation was regurgitated public reporting. Roger Stone — who doesn’t show up in the dossier at all, in spite of his public claims to have advance knowledge of what would be released — provides a useful counterpoint to show what an investigation that could not be influenced by the dossier would look like.

We won’t know for sure until either Bill Barr declassifies all the details about the role of the dossier in the investigation or Jason Leopold or Judicial Watch liberates those details in FOIA. But what we know thus far shows that the FBI generally proceeded based on real predication.

The timelines below also appear in combined form in this page.

Carter Page

Much of the public focus of the dossier’s discussion of Page is on an allegation he’d get to broker the Rosneft sale and his alleged meeting with Igor Sechin.

[July 19 report] [A] Russian source close to Rosneft President, PUTIN close associate and US-sanctioned individual, Igor SECHIN, confided the details of a recent secret meeting between him and visiting Foreign Affairs Advisor to Republican presidential candidate Donald TRUMP, Carter PAGE.

According to SECHIN’s associate, the Rosneft President (CEO) had raised with PAGE the issues of future bilateral energy cooperation and prospects for an associated move to life Ukraine-related western sanctions against Russia.

[snip]

[October 18 report] SECHIN’s associate said that the Rosneft President was so keen to lift personal and corporate western sanctions imposed on the company,  that he offered PAGE/TRUMP’s associates the brokerage of up to a 19 per cent (privatised) stake in Rosneft in return. PAGE expressed interest and confirmed that were TRUMP elected US president, then sanctions on Russia would be lifted.

This stuff does get mentioned in Page’s FISA application. But the unredacted discussion of the alleged meeting quotes from the July 19 report directly, not the October 18 one.

[redacted] reported that, during the meeting, Page and Sechin discussed future bilateral energy cooperation and the prospects for an associated move to lift Ukrainian-related Western sanctions against Russia.

Given the week lead time for preliminary application to the FISA Court and the known dates when Steele briefed the FBI, this is unsurprising, as the second report — the one everyone now focuses on — would seem too late to get into an application approved on October 21.

So while the claim that Russia offered Page energy deals for sanctions relief is part of the application, the visible parts of that initial FISA application use the dossier allegations somewhat differently: to suggest a tie between the alleged offer of “kompromat” on Hillary and the policy stances Trump took in July and August. The logic in the application looks like this:

  • FBI targeted Page because they believed Russia was recruiting him as part of their effort to influence the outcome of the election (4)
  • Trump named both Page and Papadopoulos as advisors in March 2016 (6)
  • What the FBI knew so far of Papadopoulos’ activities [and other things] led the FBI to believe that Russia was not just trying to influence the outcome, but trying to coordinate with Trump’s campaign as well (9)
  • Russia has recruited Page in the past (12-14)
  • [Redacted section that probably explains that Page had told the FBI that he thought providing information to people he knew were Russian intelligence officers was beneficial for both countries and, after he showed up in the Buryakov complaint, he told Russia he had not cooperated with the FBI] (14-15)
  • In addition to allegedly meeting with Sechin and discussing eliminating sanctions, he met with someone assumed to be Igor Nikolayevich Divyekin, also “raised a dossier of ‘kompromat’ that the Kremlin had” on Clinton and the possibility of it being released to Trump’s campaign (18)
  • After those July meetings, Trump appeared to change his platform and publicly announced he might recognize Crimea (21)
  • Once these details became public, the Trump campaign not only denied Page had any ongoing connection to the campaign, but denied he ever had, which was false (24)

Here’s how the “kompromat” language tied to Page appeared in the dossier.

[A] senior colleague in the Internal Political Department of the PA, DIVYEKIN (nfd) also had met secretly with PAGE on his recent visit. Their agenda had included DIVEYKIN raising a dossier of ‘kompromat’ the Kremlin possessed on TRUMP’s Democratic presidential rival, Hillary CLINTON, and its possible release to the Republican’s campaign team.

That is, this offer, in a report dated July 19, looked just like what had happened to Papadopoulos three months earlier: at an alleged meeting that would have taken place weeks before before Russian-stolen emails actually did get released, Russians purportedly offered to share dirt on Hillary with someone publicly identified as a foreign policy advisor on the Trump campaign. Both the alleged offer (dated July 7 or 8) and the report (dated July 19) would look to have predicted what happened on July 22, just as the Papadopoulos offer of dirt did (though, unlike the Papadopoulos dangle, Steele’s report did not predict that the dirt was stolen emails; it said the dirt was FSB intercepts from Hillary’s trips to Russia).

And in response to that, seemingly, Trump changed his policy to be more friendly to Russia.

So to the FBI, Page looked like someone who had, in the past, confessed he’d be happy to share information with Russian spies, who had been brought to Moscow for an event well above his pay grade, who had a known desire to be a player in the Russian energy market (which is how Russia recruited him in 2013). The Steele dossier allegations made it look like the same thing that had happened to Papadopoulos happened to Page as well. And Trump’s public stances in the aftermath looked like his foreign policy, under the advice of the guys who had gotten these dangles, was becoming more Russian friendly, possibly as a result.

And with Page, the FBI had two things they did not yet have with Papadopoulos: someone no longer claimed to be tied to the campaign, and someone with an 8-year track record of showing willingness to respond to Russian entreaties.

Both Sheldon Whitehouse and Trey Gowdy — who are, notably, fairly hawkish former prosecutors — have said there was plenty of evidence to justify a FISA order on Page aside from the dossier, though Gowdy has more recently said that a transcript of Papadopoulos’ meeting with Stephan Halper where he says being involved in this would amount to treason is somehow exonerating of either Papadopoulos or Page (which is really hard to understand). So Page might have been targetable on his own right in any case. But it’s clear that the Steele dossier claim that Page had been offered dirt on Hillary, just as Papadopoulos had, made it look like a pattern, and made it look like it was tied to Trump’s public foreign policy stances taken late enough such that he may have been influenced by his two foreign policy advisors who had been offered dirt.

And once FBI started investigating, Page would look still worse. That’s because the FBI would eventually have found evidence that would seem to corroborate this theory in several ways:

  • In an FBI interview on March 30, 2017, Page described meeting the head of investor relations as Rosneft, Andrey Baranov, and discussing Sechin, the Rosneft sale, and the Trump campaign [see Mueller Report Volume I page 100-101]
  • In the days before his trip, New Economic School employee Denis Klimentov alerted Dmitry Peskov’s office about Page’s visit; Peskov (whom Steele said was a central player in the election influence operation) considered arranging a meeting for Page at the Kremlin, but decided not to because “he is far from being the main” Trump foreign policy advisor [these discussions, and one involving Ministry of Foreign Affairs spox Maria Zakharova, could have been picked up on back door NSA searches of Page’s name]
  • After his meetings, Page wrote emails (which would eventually be turned over to the FBI) boasting of the his discussion with the Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich about “a desire to work together toward devising better solutions in response to the vast range of current international problems” [this email would have been voluntarily turned over to the FBI in the summer of 2017, if Page didn’t turn it over earlier during his five meetings with the FBI in March 2017]
  • After the election, Page would return to Moscow, meeting again briefly with Dvorkovich, who asked Page to put him in touch with the Transition team to discuss future cooperation, and who also floated an academic partnership with Page
  • While on that trip to Moscow, according to Konstantin Kilimnik, Page claimed he represented Trump “on a range of issues of mutual interest, including Ukraine”

That is, the FBI would obtain (in significant part through ongoing FISA collection) that Page continued to meet with senior Russians, discussing both policy changes that FBI suspected might be a response to receiving dirt on Clinton, and business deals that would benefit him personally.

All that raises questions about what the Steele allegations against Page were.

It’s possible the report on his meetings in Moscow were the end result of a game of telephone — a hazard of Steele’s remote HUMINT collection — translating the real Dvorkovich meeting into the alleged Diyevkin one. It’s possible it’s disinformation, an effort to use Page (whom Peskov had already determined wasn’t senior enough to merit Kremlin attention) as a way to taint Trump or confuse the FBI and a presumed future Hillary Clinton Administration; if that’s the case, then it may have been generated by someone with a knowledge of both the real operation itself and the contents of the SVR files explaining how you’d recruit Page if you wanted to do so, with business deals.

Or it’s possible there’s some there there: in both sections on Page, there are significant redactions of what must be Page’s grand jury testimony, and in the discussion of charging decisions, the Mueller Report suggests that Page would have been a willing recruit.

And while the Mueller Report never comments on the corroboration, or not, of any Steele claims, with regards to Page, the conclusion remains particularly non-committal.

The Office was unable to obtain additional evidence or testimony about who Page may have met or communicated with in Moscow; thus, Page’s activities in Russia–as described in his emails with the Campaign–were not fully explained.

In other words, Mueller never ruled out the dossier being correct.

The Steele dossier was clearly a part of the reason why FBI decided to open a full investigation into someone they had had counterintelligence concerns about going back 8 years and as recently as March 2016. But that was largely because the Steele allegations paralleled the reported events involving George Papadopoulos. And every source seemed to corroborate the allegations: the Trump campaign’s false denials of Page’s involvement in the campaign, Russian efforts to cultivate him using precisely the enticements the SVR identified back in 2013, and Page’s own instinct to oversell his access. All provided seeming corroboration of the dossier.

That said, there’s a problem with asking about the centrality of the Steele dossier on Mueller’s investigation of Page. That’s because Page was already aggressively investigated before Mueller took over. The only steps taken by Mueller that are recorded in the Report are interviews with the people who interacted with Page in his July 2016 trip to Moscow: Denis Klimentov on June 9, 2017, Shlomo Weber on July 28, 2017, and apparently one of Weber’s family members in June 2017. In addition, Page appeared before grand jury, though it’s not clear whether that happened in March or after Mueller’s appointment.

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

According to Hope Hicks’s Testimony, Trump Should Applaud Paul Manafort’s Conviction

Every time I review what how dodgy (in the case of Carter Page and George Papadopoulos) or absolute sleazebags (Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort) the first subjects of the Russian investigation are, I grow more and more convinced that Trump must have something to hide, otherwise he’d spend his time beating up these guys for tainting his beautiful campaign, to say nothing of trying to monetize their association with him.

That’s all the more true given that the Trump campaign fired three of the men for the same Russian ties they got investigated for and, according to a number of Trump’s associates, had grown impatient with Flynn even before his calls to Sergey Kislyak. That said, when asked about it in her House Judiciary Committee testimony, Hope Hicks seemed like she was trying to minimize the damage of her testimony that Trump had already soured on Flynn when the former General started lying about his discussions with Sergey Kislyak.

Which is why I find this exchange between Norm Eisen and Hicks so fascinating (note: Eisen is one of the HJC staffers who has read some of the underlying materials in the Mueller investigation, and he asked a number of questions that disclosed those underlying materials, as he does here).

Q Okay. Did you hear candidate Trump tell Mr. Gates, Rick Gates, to keep an eye on Manafort at any point during the campaign?

A Yes.

Q Tell me about that incident.

A It was sometime after the Republican Convention. I think Mr. Trump was displeased with the press reports regarding the platform change, the confusion around the communications of that, Paul sort of stumbling in some interviews and then trying to clarify later and it just being messy. So he was frustrated with that. I don’t think that Mr. Trump understood the longstanding relationship between Rick and Paul. I think he, you know, obviously knew that Rick was Paul’s deputy but not maybe to the extent of — you know, didn’t understand the extent of their relationship. And he said something to the effect of — you know, I’m very much paraphrasing here, so I want to be very careful — but sort of questioned Paul’s past work with other foreign governments, foreign campaigns, and said that, you know, none of that would be appropriate to be ongoing during his service with the Trump campaign and that Rick needed to keep an eye on that and make sure Mr. Trump was aware if anything led him to believe that was ongoing.

Q What do you mean by the “platform change”?

A Whatever was reported in the press. To be honest, I had no knowledge of it during the actual convention.

Q Is it a reference to the change in the RNC platform concerning arming Ukraine?

A Again, I’m not familiar with the details.

The first concerns about the platform were raised on July 18, 2016. The interview where Manafort most famously stumbled was on July 27, 2016 (which happened to be just two days before Manafort agreed to meet with Konstantin Kilimnik about a Viktor Yanukovych plan to carve up Ukraine). According to Hope, Trump’s response to those events was to ask Rick Gates to keep an eye on Manafort.

That would date the request to around the same time as Gates attended part of the August 2, 2016 meeting between Kilimnik and Manafort where the latter briefed his former employee on how the campaign intended to win Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania while talking about how to get more work with Ukrainian oligarchs and Oleg Deripaska. That is, not only was Manafort’s past work with foreign governments continuing during his service on Trump’s campaign — precisely what (according to Hicks) Trump said would be so problematic — but Manafort was using Trump’s campaign to secure ongoing business with those foreigners.

If Trump’s concern about Manafort’s foreign ties back in 2016 were serious — and not just a reaction against bad press — then he should be furious upon the revelation that not only were Manafort’s ties to Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs ongoing during the campaign, not only was he using Trump’s campaign as a way to secure his next big gig, but that Gates knew all that.

Instead, he was and probably still is considering pardoning Paul Manafort.

Either Hicks’ claims about this exchange are spin — for example, claiming that Trump was worried about the conflict generally rather than just the bad press about it — or something happened after the fact that has brought Trump to forgive Manafort for doing precisely what he was so worried he would do, mix loyalties during the election.

It be really nice if Trump were asked why he’s so angry that Mueller discovered that his campaign manager was engaged in just the kind of disloyalty he told Hicks, in real time, he was worried about. Better still, it’d be nice if he were asked why, rather than cheering Manafort’s conviction for these divided loyalties, Trump is instead considering pardoning him.

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