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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 Unremarkable Bruce Ohr 302s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 22, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 5

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

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

December 12

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

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

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

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

December 20

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

January 23

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

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

January 25

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

January 27

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

February 6

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

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

February 14

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

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

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

May 8

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

May 12

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

May 15

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

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

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. 

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. 

If FBI Had Spied on Trump’s Campaign As Alleged, They’d Have Known Why Manafort Traded Michigan for Ukraine

If the FBI had spied on Trump’s campaign as aggressively as alleged by Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan, then Robert Mueller would have been able to determine why Trump’s campaign manager had a meeting on August 2, 2016 to discuss how to get paid (or have debt forgiven) by Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs while discussing how to win Midwestern swing states and how to carve up Ukraine. In fact, the public record suggests that the FBI did not start obtaining criminal warrants on Manafort’s election year activities until the July 25, 2017 warrant authorizing the search of Manafort’s condo, which was the first known warrant obtained on Manafort that mentioned the June 9 meeting. A mid-August warrant authorizing a search of the business email via which Manafort often communicated with Konstantin Kilimnik is probably the first one investigating that August 2 meeting (as distinct from his years of undisclosed Ukrainian foreign influence peddling).

In other words, it took a full year after the Steele dossier first alleged that Paul Manafort was coordinating on the Russian election interference operation, and over a year after he offered Oleg Deripaska private briefings on the Trump campaign, before the FBI obtained a criminal warrant investigating the several known instances where Trump’s campaign manager did discuss campaign details with Russians.

While there are definitely signs that the government has parallel constructed the communications between Kilimnik and Manafort that covered the period during which he was on the campaign (meaning, they’ve obtained communications via both SIGINT collection and criminal process to hide the collection of the former), it seems highly unlikely they would have obtained campaign period communications in real time, given the FBI’s slow discovery and still incomplete understanding of Manafort’s campaign period activities. And the public record offers little certainty about when if ever Manafort — as opposed to Kilimnik who, as a foreigner overseas, was a legitimate target for EO 12333 collection, and would have been first targeted in the existing Ukraine-related investigation — was targeted under FISA directly.

All the while Manafort was on a crime spree, engaging in a quid pro quo with banker Steve Calk to get million dollar loans to ride out his debt crisis and lying to the government in an attempt to hide the extent of his ties with Viktor Yanukovych’s party.

Similarly, by all appearances the FBI remained ignorant of one of George Papadopoulos’ dodgy Russian interlocutors until after his second interview on February 16, 2017, suggesting they not only hadn’t obtained a FISA order covering him, but they hadn’t even done basic criminal process to collect the Facebook call records that would have identified Ivan Timofeev. Papadopoulos told Congress that when the FBI first interviewed him in January 2017, they knew of his extensive Israeli ties, but the asymmetry in the FBI’s understanding of Papadopoulos’ ties suggests it may have come from spying on the Israelis rather than targeting Papadopoulos himself.

Those are a few of the details illustrated by a detailed timeline of the known investigative steps taken against Trump’s associates. The details comport with a claim from Peter Strzok that he lost an argument on August 15, 2016, about whether they should pursue counterintelligence investigations of Trump Associates as aggressively as they normally would. The overt details of the investigation, at least, are consistent with Attorney General William Barr’s May 1, 2019 observation that the investigation into Trump’s associates was “anemic” at first.

The timeline does suggest that one of Trump’s associates may have been investigated more aggressively than he otherwise might have been, given the known facts. That person was Michael Cohen, whom the dossier alleged had played a central role in negotiations with Russia and even — the last, most suspect dossier report claimed — had paid hackers.

Cohen, of course, was never formally part of the campaign.

But even there, Cohen was not under investigation yet at the time Richard Burr shared the targets of the investigation with the White House on March 16, 2017 (at that point, only Roger Stone had been added to Carter Page, Papadopoulos, Manafort, and Mike Flynn, who are believed to be the four initial subjects).

In the days after Robert Mueller was appointed on May 17, 2017, the investigation might still not have amounted to anything, even in spite of Trump’s reaction, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’ m fucked.” The next day, after all, Peter Strzok (who had been involved in the investigation from the start) said, “my gut sense and concern there’s no big there there.” And less than a month later, Lisa Page appears to have suggested to Strzok that the FBI hadn’t decided whether Agents on Mueller’s team would be able to use 702 data — something that, in normal national security investigations, Agents can access at the assessment level.

But by June 21, Mueller was investigating Cohen’s Essential Consulting bank account — the one from which he paid hush payments to Stormy Daniels — because it appeared he was accepting big payments from Viktor Vekselberg, perhaps in conjunction with a plan Felix Sater pitched him on Ukranian peace. At first, Mueller got a preservation order on his Trump Organization emails. But then on July 18 — shortly after Mueller got a preservation order for all of Trump Organization emails in the wake of the June 9 meeting disclosure — Mueller got a warrant for Cohen’s emails, which set off an investigation into whether Cohen had been an unregistered foreign agent for any of a number of countries.

The investigation into the Essential Consulting account would lead the SDNY to charge him in the hush payments. And the collection on Cohen’s Trump Organization emails — collected directly from Microsoft instead of obtained via voluntary production — that would disclose the Trump Tower Moscow plan that Trump lied and lied and lied about.

Only after Mueller started ratcheting up the investigation against Cohen did Mueller first get a warrant on Roger Stone, in August 2017. That’s one of the two investigations (the other being Manafort) that remains ongoing.

Meanwhile, every one of these targets continued to engage in suspect if not criminal behavior. Manafort went on a crime spree to hide his paymasters, stay afloat long enough to re-engage them, and in January 2017 even tried to “recreate [his] old friendship” with Oleg Deripaska. Carter Page went to Moscow in December 2016 and claimed to be speaking on behalf of Trump with regards to Ukrainian deals. Papadopoulos considered a deal with Sergei Millian worth $30,000 a month while working at the White House, starting the day after the election, something even he thought might be illegal (but about which he didn’t call the FBI). Mike Flynn continued to try to implicate Hillary Clinton in his efforts to get Fethullah Gulen arrested on behalf of his secret foreign paymasters, all while getting intelligence briefings. And Cohen moved to collect on reimbursements for the illegal campaign donations he made to silence some of Trump’s former sex partners.

This is just the public record, presented in warrant applications being progressively unsealed by media outlets in court dockets. There may be an entirely asynchronistic counterintelligence investigation conducted using intelligence authorities. Though given the FBI’s actions, it seems highly unlikely, given their apparent ignorance of key details, that’s the case.

Which is to say that the public record supports Peter Strzok’s claims that the investigation lagged what a normal counterintelligence investigation might have. And all the while the investigation slowly moved to uncover the secrets that George Papadopoulos and Mike Flynn and Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort and (allegedly) Roger Stone lied to cover up, those men continued to engage in sketchy behavior, adding more reason to pursue the investigation.

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. 

Timeline

March 2016: Start date on spreadsheet of communications between Konstantin Kilimnik and Paul Manafort (possible parallel construction, though available portions of chart do not show whether contacts include phone calls).

April 26, 2016: Joseph Mifsud tells George Papadopoulos the Russians have Hillary emails that will be damaging to her that they plan to release to help Trump.

May 6, 2016: Papadopoulos speaks to Downer aide Erica Thompson; this is the day the Mueller Report says Papadopoulos first shared news that the Russians had emails.

May 10, 2016: Papadopoulos tells Alexander Downer some of what Mifsud told him.

June 14, 2016: DNC announces Russia has hacked them.

June 15, 2016: Guccifer 2.0 claims credit for the DNC hack.

June – July 2016: Facebook provides FBI two warnings about GRU using social media to conduct an espionage operation.

July 1, 2016: Christoper Steele writes Bruce Ohr email about “our favorite business tycoon,” referring to Oleg Deripaska, part of an effort to pitch Deripaska as a source to the US.

July 7, 2016: Via email, Paul Manafort offers private briefings on the campaign for Oleg Deripaska.

July 19, 2016: Steele dossier allegations about Carter Page trip to Moscow

July 25, 2016: Stone gets BCCed on an email from Charles Ortel that shows James Rosen reporting “a massive dump of HRC emails relating to the CF in September;” Stone now claims this explains his reference to a journalist go-between. Stone emails Jerome Corsi and tells him, “Get to [Assange]. At Ecuadorian Embassy in London and get the pending Wikileaks emails . . . they deal with Foundation, allegedly.” Corsi forwards that email to Ted Malloch.

July 27: Paul Manafort struggles while denying ties to Russia, instead pointing to Hillary’s home server.

July 27, 2016: In a press conference, candidate Trump:

  • Asks Russia to find Hillary’s missing emails
  • Lies about having ongoing business discussions with Russia
  • Suggests he may have ordered someone to reach out to foreign countries (which he seems to have done with Flynn)
  • Suggests he’s considering recognizing Russia’s seizure of Crimea

Both before and after this press conference, Trump asked aides — including Flynn and Gates, and probably Stone to go find the emails.

July 28, 2016: Paul Manafort gets a refinance in exchange for a campaign position for Steve Calk; this has led to a criminal conviction for Manafort and a bribery charge for Calk.

July 30, August 1, 2016: Papadopoulos and Sergei Millian meet in NYC; Millian invites Papadopoulos to two energy conferences.

Before July 30, 2016: First Steele dossier allegation that Manafort managed cooperation with Russia.

July 30: Bruce and Nellie Ohr meet with Christopher Steele; they talk about two claims from dossier, that “a former head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, the SVR, had stated to someone…that they had Donald Trump over a barrel,” and that Carter Page had met with high level Russians while in Moscow. They also discuss Oleg Deripaska’s efforts to get evidence Manafort owes him money (though not, according to Ohr’s notes, the claim that Manafort was coordinating an election-year operation with Russia) and Russian doping. Ohr passes the information on to Andrew McCabe and Lisa Page.

July 31, 2016: FBI opens investigation into Papadopoulos and others based on Australian tip.

July 31, 2016: GAI report on From Russia with Money claiming Viktor Vekselberg’s Skolkovo reflects untoward ties; it hints that a greater John Podesta role would be revealed in her deleted emails and claims he did  not properly disclose role on Joule board when joining Obama Administration. Stone emails Corsi, “Call me MON,” and tells him to send Malloch to see Assange.

August 1, 2016: Steve Bannon and Peter Schweitzer publish a Breitbart version of the GAI report.

August 2, 2016: Paul Manafort meets with Konstantin Kilimnik to talk 1) how the campaign plans to win MI, WI, PA, and MN 2) how to carve up Ukraine 3) how to get paid by his Ukrainian and Russian paymasters. Corsi writes Stone, “Word is friend in embassy plans 2 more dumps. One shortly after I’m back. 2nd in Oct. Impact planned to be very damaging.”

August 4, 2016: Stone flip-flops on whether the Russians or a 400 pound hacker are behind the DNC hack and also tells Sam Nunberg he dined with Julian Assange.

August 5, 2016: Manafort puts Calk on an advisory committee. Stone column in Breitbart claiming Guccifer 2.0 is individual hacker. Page texts Strzok that, “the White House is running this,” which is a reference to the larger Russian active measures investigation.

August 7, 2016: Stone starts complaining about a “rigged” election, claims that Nigel Farage had told him Brexit had been similarly rigged.

August 8, 2016: CrowdStrike report on hack of Democrats (referred to here).

August 10, 2016: Steele dossier reports on Mike Flynn RT meeting that had already been publicly reported.

August 12, 2016: Guccifer 2.0 publicly tweets Stone.

August 10, 2016: Manafort tells his tax preparer that he would get $2.4 million in earned income collectable from work in Ukraine in November.

August 14, 2016: NYT publishes story on secret ledgers. Corsi would later claim (falsely) to have started research in response to NYT story.

August 15, 2016: Papadopoulos follows up with Sam Clovis about a September 2016 meeting with Russia. Manafort and Gates lie to the AP about their undisclosed lobbying, locking in claims they would make under oath later that fall. In response to NYT story on Manafort’s graft, Stone tweets, “@JohnPodesta makes @PaulManafort look like St. Thomas Aquinas Where is the @NewYorkTimes?” Strzok loses an argument with McCabe and Page about aggressively investigating the Trump leads; afterwards he texts Page, “I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office—that there’s no way he gets elected—but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40….”

August 17, 2016: Trump’s first intelligence briefing. While working as an unregistered agent of Turkey, Mike Flynn accompanies Trump to his intelligence briefing.

August 17, 2016: AP publishes story on Manafort’s unreported Ukraine lobbying, describing Podesta Group’s role at length.

August 19, 2016: Paul Manafort resigns from campaign in part because he was not forthright about his ties to Russia/Ukraine.

August 21, 2016: Roger Stone tweets, it will soon be Podestas’ time in the barrel.

August 23, 2016: Sergei Millian offers Papadopoulos “a disruptive technology that might be instrumental in your political work for the campaign.”

August 24, 2016: CrowdStrike report on hack of Democrats (referred to here).

September 1, 2016: Stefan Halper meets with Sam Clovis.

September 2, 2016: Halper reaches out to Papadopoulos. Lisa Page texts Peter Strzok that “POTUS wants to know everything we are doing;” per her sworn testimony, the text is a reference to the larger Russian investigation.

September 12: Following further reporting in the Kyiv Post, Konstantin Kilimnik contacts Alex Van der Zwaan in attempt to hide money laundering to Skadden Arps.

September 13, 2016: DOJ starts inquiring about Manafort obligation to register under FARA.

September 13-15, 2016: Papadopoulos meets with Stefan Halper and Azra Turk in London. He believes Halper records his answer to the emails question, including his remark it would “treason.”

Mid-September: FBI has opened sub-inquiries into Page and (probably) three other people linked to Trump, including Papadopoulos and probably Manafort and Flynn.

September 19, 2016: As part of his work for Turkey, Flynn meets with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Turkish Energy Minister (and Erdogan son-in-law) Berat Albayrak to discuss how to get Fethullah Gulen extradited. After meeting, James Woolsey informs Joe Biden.

September 24, 2016: Trump campaign severs all ties with Carter Page because of his suspect ties to Russia.

Early October 2016: Trump campaign dismisses Papadopoulos in response to Russian-friendly Interfax interview he did.

October 6, 2016: Corsi repeats the Joule/GAI claims.

October 7,  2016: Manafort gets Calk to increase the loan still further. WikiLeaks begins releasing Podesta emails right after Access Hollywood video drops. Steve Bannon associate tells Stone, “well done.”

October 11, 2016: Release of Podesta email allegedly backing Joule story (December 31, 2013 resignation letterJanuary 7, 2014 severance letters).

October 14, 2016: While working as unregistered agent of Turkey, Flynn plans to launch FBI investigation into Fethulah Gulen by alleging ties to Clinton Foundation and Campaign.

October 17, 2016: Michael Cohen forms Essential Consultants LLC.

October 18, 19, 20, 2016: Steele dossier reports on Michael Cohen role in operation.

October 21, 2016: DOJ applies for FISA order on Carter Page (Jim Comey and Sally Yates approve it). Manafort emails Kushner proposing to call Clinton “the failed and corrupt champion of the establishment” based on using WikiLeaks’ leaks. “Wikileaks provides the Trump campaign the ability to make the case in a very credible way – by using the words of Clinton, its campaign officials and DNC members.”

October 26, 2016: Cohen opens bank account for Essential Consultants, claiming it will be for his consulting with domestic clients, uses it to pay Stormy Daniels $130,000 to prevent her from sharing true information about Trump.

October 30, 2016: Giorgi Rtslchiladze texts Michael Cohen to tell him he has stopped the flow of some compromising tapes in Moscow.

November 5, 2016: Manafort predicted Hillary would respond to a loss by, “mov[ing] immediately to discredit the [Trump] victory and claim voter fraud and cyber-fraud, including the claim that the Russians have hacked into the voting machines and tampered with the results.”

November 8, 2016: Mike Flynn publishes op-ed for which Turkey paid almost $600,000, without disclosure, thereby serving as an unregistered agent of a foreign government; Steve Calk approves $9.5 million to Manafort he knew wasn’t backed by underwriting. Michael Cohen starts contacting Andrew Intrater regularly.

November 9, 2016: Papadopoulos arranges to meet Millian to discuss business opportunities with Russian “billionaires who are not under sanctions.”

November 10, 2016: Obama warns Trump against picking Mike Flynn as National Security Advisor; Mike Flynn gets his third payment for working as an unregistered agent of Turkey.

November 11, 2016: Calk asks his loan officer to call Manafort to find out if he’s under consideration for Secretary of Treasury.

November 14, 2016: Calk gives Manafort a list of potential roles in the Trump Administration; Manafort claims he is “involved directly” in the Transition; Papadopoulos and Millian meet in Chicago. Carter Page applies for a job in the Administration.

November 16, 2016: Calk’s bank closes on Manafort’s loan.

November 18, 2016: Elijah Cummings warns Mike Pence about Mike Flynn.

November 30, 2016: Manafort asks Jared Kushner to get Calk appointed Secretary of the Army, in response to which Kushner said he was “on it!”

December 8, 2016: Kilimnik raises plan to carve up Ukraine again in (probably foldered) email to Manafort; he also reports, “Carter Page is in Moscow today, sending messages he is authorized to talk to Russia on behalf of DT on a range of issues of mutual interest, including Ukraine.”

December 13, 2016: Steele dossier reports Michael Cohen contributed money for hackers.

December 15, 2016: Manafort arranges Calk interview for Under Secretary of the Army.

December 22, 2016: Calk directs his loan officer to approve a further $6.5 million loan to Manafort because he’s “influential.”

December 29, 2016: Flynn convinces Kislyak to hold off on retaliating for sanctions.

December 31, 2016: Kislyak tells Flynn they’ve held off because of Trump’s wishes.

January 3, 2017: Loretta Lynch approves procedures authorizing the sharing of NSA EO 12333 data with other intelligence agencies.

January 4, 2017: Manafort signs new $6.5 million loan.

January 5, 2017: IC briefs Obama on Russian investigation; possible unmasking of Flynn’s name in Sergei Kislyak transcripts in attempt to learn why Russians changed their response to sanctions.

January 6, 2017: Comey, James Clapper, John Brennan, and Mike Rogers brief Trump on Russian investigation.

January 10, 2017: Calk interviews for Under Secretary of the Army job. Intrater emails Cohen about the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, referencing Victor Vekselberg.

January 12, 2017: Manafort in Madrid at meeting set up by Kilimnik and Boyarkin to “recreate old friendship” with Deripaska; Manafort stated that “need this finished before Jan. 20.”

January 12, 2017: DOJ applies for FISA reauthorization on Carter Page (Jim Comey and Sally Yates approve it).

Before January 15, 2017: Steve Bannon would have been picked up on a FISA intercept targeting Carter Page telling him not to do an appearance on MSNBC.

January 19, 2017: In NYT report that Manafort investigation relies on foreign intercepts (without specifying whether he or others are targeted), he denies the kinds of meetings he had a week earlier. Stone has (probably erroneously) pointed to mention of his name in article to claim he was targeted under FISA.

January 20, 2017: In conjunction with inauguration, Manafort meets with Ukrainian oligarchs and Papadopoulos parties with Millian.

January 24, 2017: FBI interview of Mike Flynn.

January 27, 2017: FBI interview of George Papadopoulos.

Between January 27 and February 16, 2017: FBI asks if Papadopoulos is willing to wear a wire targeting Mifsud, suggesting they believed his comments in the first interview.

February 10, 2017: FBI interviews Mifsud in DC.

February 16, 2017: By his second FBI interview, FBI still has not subpoenaed logs from George Papadopoulos’ Skype and Facebook accounts (because they don’t know about Ivan Timofeev).

February 17, 2017: Papadopoulos attempts to delete his Facebook account.

February 23, 2017: Papadopoulos gets a new phone.

February 26, 2017: Manafort and Kilimnik meet in Madrid and again discuss Ukraine plan.

March 2017: Carter Page interviewed five times by FBI.

March 5, 2017: White House Counsel learns the FBI wants transition-period records relating to Flynn.

March 7, 2017: Flynn submits a factually false FARA registration.

March 10, 2017: FBI interviews Carter Page.

March 16, 2017: Richard Burr tells White House Counsel FBI is investigating Flynn, Manafort (though not yet for his campaign activities), Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, and Roger Stone. FBI interviews Carter Page.

March 20, 2017: Jim Comey confirms investigation.

March 30, 2017: FBI interviews Carter Page.

March 31, 2017: FBI interviews Carter Page.

Early April 2017: DOJ obtains reauthorization for FISA order on Carter Page (Comey and Dana Boente approve it).

May 7, 2017: Cohen has meeting with Vekselberg at Renova.

May 9, 2017: Jim Comey fired, ostensibly for his treatment of Hillary Clinton investigation; within days Trump admits it was because of Russian investigation.

May 17, 2017: Appointment of Mueller; Rosenstein includes Carter Page, Paul Manafort, and George Papadopoulos along with Flynn in the list of Trump officials whose election year ties might be investigated.

May 18, 2017: Strzok texts Page that, “my gut sense and concern there’s no big there there” in the Russian investigation.

May 27, 2017: Application for search of Manafort’s storage compartment does not mention June 9 meeting.

May 28, 2017: Lisa Page assigned to Mueller’s team.

Early June 2017: Peter Strzok assigned to Mueller’s team.

June 2017: Federal agents review Michael Cohen’s bank accounts.

June 6, 2017: Mueller team still not certain whether they would search on Section 702 materials.

June 16, 2017: Trump campaign tells Mueller GSA does not own Transition materials.

June 21, 2017: FBI sends a preservation order to Microsoft for Michael Cohen’s Trump Organization account.

June 29, 2017: DOJ obtains reauthorization for FISA order on Carter Page (Andrew McCabe and Rod Rosenstein approve it).

July 7, 2017: First date for warrants from Mueller-specific grand jury. (D Orders, PRTT)

July 12, 2017: Mueller subpoenas people and documents pertaining to June 9 meeting.

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

July 15, 2017: Lisa Page leaves Mueller team.

July 18, 2017: Application for search of Michael Cohen’s Gmail reflects suspicions that Essential Consulting account used for payments associated with unregistered lobbying for Ukraine “peace” deal (name of AUSA approving application redacted); warrant obtains email from January 1 through present.

July 19, 2017: Peter Strzok interviewed, apparently to capture events surrounding Flynn firing.

July 20 and 25, 2017: FBI sends grand jury subpoenas for call records related to Michael Cohen Trump Organization account.

July 25, 2017: Application for search of Manafort’s condo includes request for materials relating to June 9 meeting; does not mention election year meetings with Kilimnik.

July 27, 2017: Early morning search of Paul Manafort’s condo. Horowitz tells Mueller about Page-Strzok texts. George Papadopoulos arrested.

July 28, 2017: Strzok moved off Mueller team.

August 2017: First search warrant obtained against Roger Stone, focused on CFAA.

August 1, 2017: Application for search warrant for Cohen’s Trump Organization email account adds Bank Fraud to suspected crimes; Mueller signed the nondisclosure request.

August 2, 2017: Rosenstein memo codifies scope to include Carter Page, Paul Manafort, and George Papadopoulos already under investigation, adds the Manafort financial crimes, the allegations that Papadopoulos had acted as an unregistered agent of Israel, and four allegations against Michael Flynn.

August 7, 2017: FBI obtains search warrant on Cohen’s Apple ID.

August 11, 2017: Strzok receives his exit clearance certificate from Mueller’s team.

August 17, 2017: Application for Manafort’s [email protected] email includes predication (probably Russian investigation related) unrelated to his financial crimes. (A warrant for Rick Gates and Konstantin Kilimnik’s DMP emails submitted that day does not include predication outside of the lobbying.)

August 17, 2017: Andrew McCabe interviewed.

August 23, 2017: Mueller requests Transition emails and devices for nine Transition officials from GSA.

August 30, 2017: Mueller requests Transition emails and devices for an additional four Transition officials.

September 19, 2017: CNN reports that FBI obtained a FISA warrant on Paul Manafort (though claims that search of storage facility happened under FISA, not criminal, warrant).

October 20, 2017: Rosenstein expands scope to include Michael Cohen, Rick Gates, Roger Stone, Don Jr, and at least one other person, plus Jeff Sessions’ lies to Congress.

November 13, 2017: FBI obtains Cohen’s Gmail going back to June 1, 2015 (prior warrants covered January 1, 2016 to present) and personal email hosted by 1&1.

January 19, 2018: Trump signs 702 reauthorization without any new protections on back door searches.

January 29, 2018: By this date, White House had turned over 20,000 pages of records to Mueller covering (see this post for more background):

  • White House response to DOJ concerns about Mike Flynn, his resignation, and White House comments about Jim Comey
  • White House communications about campaign and transition communications with Manafort, Gates, Gordon, Kellogg, Page, Papadopoulos, Phares, Clovis, and Schmitz
  • Records covering Flynn’s campaign and transition communications with Kislyak and other Russian officials, as well as the May 10, 2017 meeting
  • Records relating to the June 9 meeting
  • Records pertaining to Jim Comey’s firing

Between that date and June 5, 2018, the White House also turned over:

  • McGahn’s records pertaining to Flynn and Comey firings
  • White House Counsel documents pertaining to research on firing Comey before it happened
  • Details on the Bedminster meeting in advance of Comey’s firing
  • Details on McCabe’s communications with Trump right after he fired Comey
  • Details on the Trump’s actions during the summer of 2017 during events pertaining to obstruction

March 2018: Mueller subpoenas Trump Organization.

March 9, 2018: Application for search of five AT&T phones includes predication (and, apparently, phones) unrelated to Paul Manafort.

April 9, 2018: Michael Cohen raid.

June 5, 2018: White House turns over some visitor log information.

August 3, 2018: Three warrants against Stone in DC, focused on CFAA (per May 14, 2019 ABJ minute order).

August 8, 2018: Search warrant against Stone in DC, focused on CFAA (per May 14, 2019 ABJ minute order).

Around January 25, 2019: One SDNY, two SDFL, and one DC warrant against Stone focused on false statements.

January 25, 2019: Roger Stone raid and arrest.

February 2019: One DC warrant against Stone focused on CFAA.

Chuck Ross Gets Pissy about Russian Disinformation

I noted a while back that after covering the dossier full time, Chuck Ross had finally figured out it might be Russian disinformation.

In his coverage of the then State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs notes of a briefing from Christopher Steele, he continues that beat, but proves himself to utterly misunderstand the significance of disinformation — and do some of his most dishonest reporting to boot.

The notes from Kathleen Kavalec, which Citizens United liberated and which have been feeding the frothy right and the credulous left for a week, show that she recognized the raw intelligence she was being briefed on had problems, most notably in the claim that payments to a network of Russians in the US were paid out of the Russian Consulate in Miami — a consulate that Kavalec notes in her own notes does not exist (though which is curiously in the same place as Roger Stone).

That said, there are parts of it that actually accord with what we know: that Dmitry Peskov was in the loop, that the election year operation was not run by FSB, and that Russian thought they could keep this operation anonymous but failed. Even the claim that Carter Page was involved is more credible than the actual dossier claims about him, given that when he was in Russia, according to the Mueller Report, Peskov considered meeting with Page but then said,

“I have read about [Page]. Specialists say that he is far from being the main one. So I better not initiate a meeting in the Kremlin.”

The most ridiculous thing in Kavalec’s notes are how the Trump Tower-Alfa Bank-Spectrum Health hoax had gotten into the Christoper Steele reporting chain, which I correctly laid out in March 2017. As Steele (or Jonathan Winer, who may have briefed Kavalec in a game of telephone) understood it, the DNS look ups included Tor and was used by Paul Manafort to communicate with Alfa. That makes the entire story even stupider than it always has been, both on technical grounds (which in turn suggests Steele doesn’t understand computers, which is apparent from every single one of his cybersecurity reports), on logistics (why would Paul Manafort communicate from his Trump Tower condo via a server in Pennsylvania), and Manafort’s own habits (we know him to use foldering and WhatsApp, not Tor).

In other words, Kavalec’s notes, which show either the even rawer  intelligence on which Steele based his raw intelligence reports or a game of telephone that inserted errors at each re-telling, show them to be at once shittier and in a few areas also potentially more accurate than the dossier itself.

It’s on a different area — Kavalec’s citation of Putin advisor Vladislav Surkov and former head of SVR Vyacheslav Trubnikov where Ross totally blows how disinformation works.

Ross takes these Kavalaec notes…

Which get translated into this typed summary by Kavalaec:

And he invents from that that Vyacheslav Trubnikov and Vladislav Surkov are sources, for Steele, for the pee tape allegation.

In her notes, State Department official Kathleen Kavalec also referred to the two Russians — former Russian foreign intelligence chief Vyacheslav Trubnikov and Putin aide Vladislav Surkov — as “sources.”

The references to Trubnikov and Surkov, which have not previously been reported, are not definitive proof that either were sources for Steele’s dossier or that they were involved in an effort to collect blackmail material on Trump.

[snip]

Trubnikov and Surkov are not identified by name in Steele’s dossier, which the FBI used as part of its investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. But the information that the former British spy attributed to the two Russians involves the dossier’s most salacious allegation: that the Russian government had sexually compromising material on Trump.

Kavalec’s notes said Steele claimed Trump was “filmed engaged in compromising activities” with Russian prostitutes in 2013, but that “the Russians have not needed to use the ‘kompromat’ on [Trump] as he was already in cooperation.”

Steele, who operates a private intelligence firm in London, told Kavalec that Putin and some of his top advisers were running the Trump operation.

“Presidential Advisor Vladislov Surkov and Vyasheslov Trubnikov (former head of Russian External Intelligence Service — SVR) are also involved,” wrote Kavalec, who served as deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian issues.

Kavalec’s handwritten notes also contain a reference to Trubnikov and Surkov as “sources,” but with no additional explanation.

Trubnikov served as head of Russia’s for

eign intelligence service, SVR, from 1996 to 2000. He went on to serve as first deputy for foreign affairs and ambassador to India.

The unverified allegations of sexual blackmail material on Trump are included in the June 20, 2016, memo from Steele’s dossier. Steele had been hired that same month by Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm the DNC and the Clinton campaign paid to investigate Trump.

Citing “a former top level Russian intelligence officer still active inside the Kremlin,” Steele claimed Russian authorities had gathered a substantial amount of “embarrassing material” on Trump and would “be able to blackmail him if they so wished.”

It is difficult to know how to interpret Steele’s claims about Trubnikov and Surkov, given the numerous problems that have emerged with the former British spy’s reporting.

As a threshold matter, this is a gross misreading of Kavalec’s notes. As Ross screencaps, her actual notes put Trubnikov and Surkov’s names under a July heading. The pee tape appears just once in the Steele dossier, in a report dated June 20, 2016. So if Trubnikov and Surkov were sources for Steele in July, they could not be the sources for the pee tape allegation. Moreover, Trubnikov and Surkov appear on a separate page from the reference to the Ritz in her original notes that would reflect a pee tape discussion, and she seems to say the source for that allegation is complicated.

But at least as Kavalec renders the reference to Trubnikov and Surkov in her typed summary of her own notes — which is where Ross gets the claim they’re sources for the pee tape — they are not sources for Steele but instead participants in the election year operation.

Steele stressed that while Trump was filmed in compromising activities with prostitutes in the Ritz Carlton, the Russians have not needed to use that “kompromat” on him as h was already interested in cooperation. (Steele said he is persuaded the story about the prostitutes is accurate because they had their source speak with hotel contacts who confirmed 1) that the FBS was in the hotel while Trump was there and 2) Trump regularly availed himself of prostitutes while in Moscow.) Steele indicated that this operation is run by the Kremlin — former Kremlin COS Sergey Ivanov, Dmitry Peskov and President Putin — and not the FSB. Presidential Advisor Vladislov [sic] Surkov and Vyacheslov [sic] Trubnikov (former head of Russian External Intelligence Service — SVR) are also involved.

Indeed, per Kavalec’s notes, Steele had just one source for the pee tape allegation, not two.

So Ross is, for starters, misreading what Kavalec’s notes say (which is not to say her own rendering of the notes — in either her handwritten notes or typed up summary — is accurate; this is ultimately a giant game of telephone).

But then, in a long piece that includes two paragraphs on how the Mueller Report debunked “Steele’s core claim of a ‘well-developed conspiracy’ between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin,” Ross doesn’t mention what the Report says about the pee tape.

The special counsel’s report all but debunked Steele’s core claim of a “well-developed conspiracy” between the Trump campaign and Kremlin. The report also said Michael Cohen did not visit Prague, which is where Steele claimed the former Trump lawyer met with Kremlin insiders to pay off computer hackers. (RELATED: Mueller Report Undercuts Several Steele Dossier Claims)

Public evidence has not backed up other allegations, including about “kompromat” on Trump. The president has vehemently denied the sex tape claim, and individuals who were with Trump during his Moscow trip have cast doubt on the allegation, saying Trump had virtually no time to take part in the steamy activities described by Steele.

The pee tape is the dossier claim that the Mueller Report most directly corroborates (though, given that Mueller never figured out what Manafort was doing sharing polling data he knew would be shared with Oleg Deripaska, in part because of Trump’s obstruction, we can’t discount the possibility he was coordinating more directly).

In the guise of explaining why Trump may have reacted badly when Jim Comey briefed him on the dossier, Mueller explained how Giorgi Rtskhiladze called Michael Cohen just before the election to assure him that he had “stopped flow of tapes from Russia,” which Rtskhiladze took to mean kompromat from the same 2013 trip Steele said the kompromat came from.

Comey’s briefing included the Steele reporting’s unverified allegation that the Russians had compromising tapes of the President involving conduct when he was a private citizen during a 2013 trip to Moscow for the Miss Universe Pageant. During the 2016 presidential campaign, a similar claim may have reached candidate Trump. On October 30, 20 I 6, Michael Cohen received a text from Russian businessman Giorgi Rtskhiladze that said, “Stopped flow of tapes from Russia but not sure if there’s anything else. Just so you know …. ” 10/30/16 Text Message, Rtskhiladze to Cohen. Rtskhiladze said “tapes” referred to compromising tapes of Trump rumored to be held by persons associated with the Russian real estate conglomerate Crocus Group, which had helped host the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Russia. Rtskhiladze 4/4/18 302, at 12. Cohen said he spoke to Trump about the issue after receiving the texts from Rtskhiladze. Cohen 9/12/18 302, at 13. Rtskhiladze said he was told the tapes were fake, but he did not communicate that to Cohen. Rtskhiladze 5/10/18 302, at 7.

Rtskhiladze has complained about how Mueller’s team portrayed this. But not only does his complaint contradict itself on the key issue of whether the tapes were real or not, it actually provides more reason to question whether the tapes exist or not (as Rtskhiladze worked so hard to deny he had seen them).

I’m not saying the tapes exist — but that’s the point about Russian disinformation, they don’t have to exist. There are four possibilities at this point:

  1. Steele made up the allegation, which no one is alleging
  2. The tape exists but is actually doctored to falsely claim either that Trump was sleeping with prostitutes or was engaging in kink in the Ritz Carlton
  3. The tape exists and is real
  4. The tape doesn’t exist, but someone lied when they told Steele’s source about it, and  Rtskhiladze or someone in his orbit heard of that lie (perhaps by Steele blabbing his mouth in DC) and Rtskhiladze repeated the lie to try to ingratiate himself to Cohen and make Trump fear the Agalarovs (which is who Rtskhiladze claimed had the tapes)

If you believe the dossier is substantially Russian disinformation, then either 2 or 4 are possibilities. Either one, though, changes the import of Russian disinformation, because it shows that Russia was just as happy to target Trump with disinformation in 2016 as they were with Hillary (something I strongly believe to be true).

That possibility would totally fuck with Chuck’s story — which also entails making much of the mention of the fact that Stefan Halper, someone the US government paid to collect intelligence on people including Russians, invited Trubnikov to an event where Halper might collect information from him.

Virtually all the denialists argue that we should not talk about how the pee tape appears in the Mueller Report, even though both Cohen and Rtskhiladze — seemingly independently — seem to have the same understanding of what those text messages relate to, even though both have said that they don’t believe the tapes to actually exist.

For Chuck Ross, the possibility that the Russians might actually use disinformation to manipulate Trump independent of any disinformation fed to Steele would totally fuck up his narrative, even though it is fundamental to the likelihood that the Russians fed Steele disinformation.

Chuck wants this to feed his partisan narrative that the Democrats — in compiling the same kind of oppo research that Steve Bannon did with Clinton Cash — did something bad (they did something incompetent, which is different) and the Russians capitalized on that to make Trump look bad (with information that, in significant parts, alleges things that really happened, but with other people involved). But real or fake, the pee tape referenced by Rtskhiladze undermines that narrative. It means that Russians were happy to sow disinformation targeting everyone.

Unsurprisingly, then, Chuck remains silent about it.

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. 

Oleg Deripaska’s Co-Columnist Admits Oleg Deripaska May Have Fed Christopher Steele Disinformation

As early as March 2017, I have been suggesting that first, the last report, and, as time went on, much of the Steele dossier was disinformation.

Chuck Ross is now reporting, giving Daniel Hoffman primary credit for the idea, that the dossier may all have been disinformation. In his piece, he cites several of the ways I have suggested that the Russians would have learned and been able to insert disinformation into Steele’s reporting chain.

Hoffman asserted Russians could easily have learned about Steele’s efforts to collect intelligence on Trump, especially if Russian intelligence had hacked into the computer systems of the DNC, as Mueller has alleged.

The DNC and Clinton campaign hired opposition research firm Fusion GPS during the spring of 2016. Fusion hired Steele in June 2016. During the run-up to the election, Steele and Fusion GPS executives briefed DNC lawyers, reporters and government officials on the Trump investigation. Any emails or documents referring to the Steele project in the DNC computer systems would have been vulnerable to Kremlin-backed hackers.

Steele was also likely on Russia’s radar because of his past work as MI6’s Moscow station chief. Though Steele left British intelligence in 2009 and has not visited Russia since, his private intelligence firm, Orbis Business Intelligence, has handled Russia-related issues. He also provided dozens of private intelligence reports to the State Department, and investigated Russian efforts to bribe FIFA officials to host the 2018 World Cup.

Steele also has a murky business relationship with Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Deripaska had long done business with Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman.

In this post I suggested the GRU (or FSB) may have learned about the dossier project from the hack itself.

I have reason to suspect that Russia obtained — and used — a list of recent FBI informants in developing their operation, which would likely have included Steele.

In this post, I suggested Deripaska may have been a likely Steele source.

But Chuck doesn’t consider the implications of it. I lay out here how the dossier’s contents would have led.

  • Democrats to misunderstand how accomplished the Russians were at hacking American targets
  • The FBI and Democrats to misunderstand how Internet trolling worked
  • Democrats to assume Russia planned to leak dated intercepts rather than recently stolen emails
  • The FBI and Democrats to look at Carter Page rather than Don Jr as a key player in outreach to Russia
  • The FBI to assume there was discomfort with the operation when there was ongoing aggressiveness

There’s one that deserves further attention (particularly for a guy whose outlet has given Deripaska a platform to spew propaganda): what the dossier says about Paul Manafort.

Sometime between July 22 and July 30, 2016, Steele would submit a report that claimed Paul Manafort was in

Speaking in confidence to a compatriot in late July 2016, Source E, an ethnic Russian close associate of Republican US presidential candidate Donald TRUMP, admitted that there was a well-developed conspiracy of co-operation between them and the Russian leadership. This was managed on the TRUMP side by the Republican candidate’s campaign manager, Paul MANAFORT, who was using foreign policy advisor, Carter PAGE, and others as intermediaries.

Weeks before this report, Manafort had been in contact with Konstantin Kilimnik about using briefings on the Trump campaign to get whole with Deripaska. Days after this report, Manafort met clandestinely with Kilimnik in New York to walk him through the campaign’s polling data (which Kilimnik passed on, almost certainly to Deripaska). At the same meeting, Manafort talked about a “peace” deal that would amount to giving Russia everything it wanted in Ukraine. The Ukraine discussions would go through 2018.

The allegation that Paul Manafort was conspiring on election interference is the closest thing in the entire dossier to being true (though probably not the Carter Page part), though it seems clear he was not in command of what the Russians were doing.

That’s important because as the frothy right has been obsessing about for a year, Steele had been pursuing a belief, dating back to February 2016, that Deripaska was ready to flip on Russia. And we know from the transcript of the interview Bruce Ohr did with OGR and HJC that by July 30, 2016, Deripaska’s lawyer had told Steele about Manafort’s debt to Deripaska and was pursuing efforts to recoup it, and Steele had raised the issue with Bruce Ohr on July 30.

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.

So we know at about the same time as Steele did this report, he was in touch with Deripaska’s lawyer, if not Deripaska himself, and believed that Deripaska could be trusted to undermine Putin’s interests.

Now consider the substance of one of the most discredited parts of the dossier: that Michael Cohen went to Prague to meet with Russia. The initial story — the one told in three versions in October, after details of the dossier had already started getting leaked to the press — was not that Cohen was coordinating on the hack-and-leak, but that he was trying to clean up after Manafort (and Page).

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

In reality, at precisely that time, Deripaska aide Kilimnik was working with Rick Gates and Manafort to keep their ties with Ukraine buried.

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

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

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

That’s part of what Manafort’s crime wave in fall 2016 was about, hiding his ties with Ukraine. He continued to lie about that as recently as November, when he was supposed to be cooperating.

If Deripaska was a source for Steele — and it seems inconceivable that Steele would be pitching Deripaska to the FBI as a source if he himself wasn’t relying on Deripaska — then the dossier’s coverage of Manafort is particularly interesting. Because it would suggest that Deripaska exposed Manafort in real time, just days before he would engage in what remains the biggest smoking gun act of the campaign, giving polling data to be passed on to Russia. But then he invented a cover story that hid his own role in the ongoing coverup.

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. 

Oleg Deripaska Met Sergei Millian at the St. Petersburg Forum Michael Cohen Would Have Met Putin

In a piece puzzling through why Oleg Deripaska — who wrote a deceptive op-ed that was published at his outlet — would get polling data from Trump’s campaign manager [Note, NYT has updated reporting to specify that Manafort sent the data to Serhiy Lyovochkin and Rinat Akhmetov], Chuck Ross mentions something that has entirely new meaning given recent disclosures. Oleg Deripaska met with Sergei Millian at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum in June 2016.

Deripaska has denied through intermediaries being a source for Steele, though he was spotted in June 2016 at an economic forum in St. Petersburg with Sergei Millian, an alleged source for the dossier.

Here’s a photo of the meeting, which Wendy Siegelman found.

Of course, Ross mostly cares about all this because Millian was allegedly a source for the Christopher Steele dossier, not for all the other events this one intersects with.

Consider the timeline of some key events below.

It shows that the email hacks paralleled Manafort’s increased responsibility on the campaign.

But even as Russia’s operation to release dirt on Hillary was proceeding (and Russians were reaching out to George Papadopoulos to dangle emails as well), Michael Cohen was negotiating a Trump Tower deal, via Felix Sater, which was premised on a meeting between him — and then later, Trump — and Vladimir Putin. On June 9 — the same day that Don Jr told Aras Agalarov’s representatives that the Trumps would revisit sanctions if Trump was elected — Cohen even started to book his travel for that meeting. He canceled those plans, however, on the same day Russia’s role in hacking the DNC became public.

But two key figures in the operation did meet at the St. Petersburg Forum: Deripaska and Millian. And Millian would pick up the Trump Tower deal after the RNC Convention, laundering it, at that point, through a junior staffer who had proven to be a useful go-between for the Russians.

We don’t know whether Deripaska, whom Steele was pitching as a viable partner to counter Russian organized crime, was a source for Steele’s dossier. We do know that Manafort is the one who pushed Trump to discredit the Russian investigation by attacking the dossier.

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. 

Timeline

January 12, 2016: Steele writes Bruce Ohr to say Oleg Deripaska may obtain a visa for later that year

January 20: Michael Cohen speaks with Dmitry Peskov’s personal assistant for 20 minutes about Trump Tower deal

January 21: Putin’s office contacts Felix Sater about Trump Tower deal

February 21: Steele sends Ohr Orbis reporting claiming Deripaska was not a tool of the Kremlin

February 29: Manafort drafts proposal to work for “free” for Trump

March 19: GRU hacks John Podesta

March 29: After the intervention of Roger Stone and Tom Barrack, Manafort joins the Trump campaign, initially only as Convention Chair

April: Manafort asks Kilimnik,”How do we use to get whole?”

April 18: GRU hacks into DNC via DCCC

April 26: George Papadopoulos learns Russians are offering election assistance in form of leaked emails

April 27: In first foreign policy speech Papadopoulos includes signal to Russians to meet

May 4: Cohen tells Sater he’ll do a trip to Russia before the Convention; Trump will do one after

May 5: Sater passes on Peskov invite to Cohen to attend St. Petersburg Forum to meet Putin or Medvedev

May 19: Manafort formally named campaign chair

May 21: Manafort forwards request for Trump meeting to Rick Gates, warning against sending a signal

June 3: Rob Golstone starts arranging meeting with Don Jr.

June 7: Manafort meets with Trump and Trump announces he’ll have an announcement about Hillary

June 8: GRU releases first emails via dcleaks

June 9: Trump Tower meeting presents dirt for sanctions relief; Cohen makes plans for trip to St. Petersburg Forum

June 14: WaPo reveals Russia hacked DNC; Cohen cancels plan for St. Petersburg trip

June 15: Guccifer 2.0 created

June 16-19: St. Petersburg forum (Putin does attend)

June 20: First Steele report, allegedly relying on Millian as one source

July 7: Manafort tells Kilimnik he’s willing to provide Deripaska private briefings; Ohr call with Steele about Deripaska

Week of July 15: Trump campaign prevents change making platform more belligerent to Ukraine

July 21: Sater visits Trump Tower

July 22: George Papadopoulos asks Ivan Timofeev to help prep for a meeting with Sergei Millian; Millian would eventually pitch Papadopoulos on Trump Tower Moscow deal

August 3: Manafort and Kilimnik meet in New York

August 17: Manafort fired from campaign

August: Manafort and Tom Barrack take boat trip, meet Kilimnik

October 18: Steele and Ohr discuss dispute between Ukraine and RUSAL

January 11 or 12, 2017: Manafort contacts Reince Priebus to tell him how to use the Steele dossier to discredit Russian investigation (remember, Manafort insists he didn’t lie about meeting with Trump officials, because those meetings happened before inauguration)

January 27: Papadopoulos agrees to meet FBI without a lawyer, in part in hopes of sustaining possibility of a job with Trump Admin and possibly a deal with Millian

January or February 2017: Manafort meets Kilimnik in Madrid