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The Publisher of the Steele Dossier, Ben Smith, Reports that the Hunter Biden Laptop Was Just a Political Dirty Trick

The recent Igor Danchenko indictment and overly credulous reporting on it have created a big new push for former BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith to reflect on his role in the dissemination of the Steele dossier.

In a Sunday column on mis- and disinformation, however, he makes no mention of it.

Instead, his column questions the inclusion of the Hunter Biden laptop story in a media executive seminar on, “help[ing] newsroom leaders fight misinformation and media manipulation.” Smith claims that treatment of the laptop story is, in fact, proof that the term “media manipulation” means  “any attempt to shape news coverage by people whose politics you dislike.”

A couple of them, though, told me they were puzzled by the reading package for the first session.

It consisted of a Harvard case study, which a participant shared with me, examining the coverage of Hunter Biden’s lost laptop in the final days of the 2020 campaign. The story had been pushed by aides and allies of then-President Donald J. Trump who tried to persuade journalists that the hard drive’s contents would reveal the corruption of the father.

The news media’s handling of that narrative provides “an instructive case study on the power of social media and news organizations to mitigate media manipulation campaigns,” according to the Shorenstein Center summary.

The Hunter Biden laptop saga sure is instructive about something. As you may recall, panicked Trump allies frantically dumped its contents onto the internet and into reporters’ inboxes, a trove that apparently included embarrassing images and emails purportedly from the candidate’s son showing that he had tried to trade on the family name. The big social media platforms, primed for a repeat of the WikiLeaks 2016 election shenanigans, reacted forcefully: Twitter blocked links to a New York Post story that tied Joe Biden to the emails without strong evidence (though Twitter quickly reversed that decision) and Facebook limited the spread of the Post story under its own “misinformation” policy.

But as it now appears, the story about the laptop was an old-fashioned, politically motivated dirty tricks campaign, and describing it with the word “misinformation” doesn’t add much to our understanding of what happened. While some of the emails purportedly on the laptop have since been called genuine by at least one recipient, the younger Mr. Biden has said he doesn’t know if the laptop in question was his.

And the “media manipulation campaign” was a threadbare, 11th-hour effort to produce a late-campaign scandal, an attempt at an October Surprise that has been part of nearly every presidential campaign I’ve covered.

The Wall Street Journal, as I reported at the time, looked hard at the story. Unable to prove that Joe Biden had tried, as vice president, to change U.S. policy to enrich a family member, The Journal refused to tell it the way the Trump aides wanted, leaving that spin to the right-wing tabloids. What remained was a murky situation that is hard to call “misinformation,” even if some journalists and academics like the clarity of that label. The Journal’s role was, in fact, a pretty standard journalistic exercise, a blend of fact-finding and the sort of news judgment that has fallen a bit out of favor as journalists have found themselves chasing social media.

While some academics use the term carefully, “misinformation” in the case of the lost laptop was more or less synonymous with “material passed along by Trump aides.” And in that context, the phrase “media manipulation” refers to any attempt to shape news coverage by people whose politics you dislike.

Unless Smith considers the two details he cites — some researchers have confirmed that some of the emails are authentic, yet Hunter Biden doesn’t claim to know whether the laptop in question was his — to be proof one way or another that this was a “politically motivated dirty tricks campaign,” he cites no evidence for his conclusion.

Smith doesn’t mention any of the reasons why there was and remains good reason to suspect the laptop — the provenance of which even Glenn Greenwald once proclaimed to be “bizarre at best” — was more than that. From the time President Trump first started extorting an investigation into the Bidens from Ukraine through at least January 2020, Russia’s military intelligence agency, GRU was found hacking Burisma, the company with which Hunter had a sketchy consulting relationship that was the initial hook for the laptop stories. Rudy Giuliani not only played a central role in the brokering of the laptop story, but reportedly had been sitting on a copy of the files for some time. Rudy, of course, had played a key role in Trump’s attempt to extort news of a Biden investigation and even during the impeachment inquiry, in spite of warnings from the intelligence community, traveled to Ukraine to meet with Andrii Derkach, who was subsequently sanctioned as a Russian agent. According to Ben Smith’s employer, Derkach’s efforts to deal “misleading information” to Rudy as part of a 2020 election operation are under investigation by EDNY; a parallel investigation into Rudy for serving as an unregistered agent of Ukrainian interests in events that were part of the impeachment inquiry remains ongoing at SDNY. An intelligence report related to the second story hung on the laptop, regarding Hunter’s ties to China, was disclosed to have been attributed to an intelligence analyst whose identity was entirely fabricated, down to his artificially generated face. And the IC’s report on efforts to interfere in the 2020 election includes one conclusion that sounds suspiciously similar to the efforts that led to the laptop story.

A key element of Moscow’s strategy this election cycle was its use of people linked to Russian intelligence to launder influence narratives–including misleading or unsubstantiated allegations against President Biden–through US media organizations, US officials, and prominent US individuals, some of whom were close to former President Trump and his administration.

If the Hunter Biden laptop story was just a political dirty trick, then it was one that exactly paralleled well-substantiated efforts involving Russian intelligence agents.

We now know, thanks to the investigation into Project Veritas, that the “sister” media package right wing propaganda outlets were pitching, the dissemination of a diary from Hunter’s half-sister in the very same weeks leading up to the election, similarly features a sketchy origin story that — SDNY has shown probable cause to believe — actually serves to hide the theft of the underlying diary. While SDNY has not yet charged anyone much less proven the case, it claims that the story about how reporters came to obtain such a juicy campaign prop was, itself, misinformation hiding theft. That’s another detail that Smith doesn’t mention in his piece.

Even if the similarities between Smith’s “old-fashioned, politically motivated dirty tricks campaign” and the acknowledged interference attempt by Russian agents are mere coinkydink, it nevertheless is the case that the Hunter Biden laptop package was an attempt at media manipulation, part of the reason it was presented to the seminar.

That’s because — again, as even Glenn Greenwald acknowledged — the presumptively authentic emails offered as the dangle in the laptop package provided, “no proof that Biden followed through on any of Hunter’s promises to Burisma.” By offering “authentic” emails and derogatory pictures just before the election, right wing operatives attempted to make a story that had long been reported (and key parts of it debunked by experts testifying under oath as part of the first impeachment) go viral just before the election not by offering any proof of the key allegations, but by waving something “authentic” around that could substitute for real proof.

It briefly worked, too, as high profile journalists disseminated the most inflammatory details in the story — effectively delivering the announcement of a criminal investigation pertaining to Ukraine that Trump demanded from Volodymyr Zelenskyy — and only after that started identifying really problematic parts of the story.

This entire episode was an effort to disseminate something “authentic” that nevertheless lacked proof of the underlying allegations as a way to lead people to believe those allegations. Classic media manipulation, and it nearly succeeded.

And Ben Smith, the man who published a dossier full of unproven allegations that — Republicans in Congress now believe — injected Russian disinformation into what otherwise might have been just an “old-fashioned, politically motivated dirty tricks campaign,” a dossier that (like Hunter Biden’s laptop) long stood as the proxy understanding for a criminal investigation into dramatically different facts, dismisses the possibility that it was disinformation blithely, presenting no real evidence for or against.

It is undoubtedly the case that there remain real questions about the Hunter Biden laptop package, questions that may get renewed attention given the new focus on the Ashley Biden diary package. Maybe one day, Ben Smith will be able to state, as fact, that it was just an, “old-fashioned, politically motivated dirty tricks campaign;” or maybe EDNY will uncover the real provenance of those “authentic” files all packaged up and handed to a guy who made no secret of his willingness to accept and disseminate Russian disinformation.

But at a time when he is actively refusing to reflect on his own actions in disseminating an “old-fashioned, politically motivated dirty tricks campaign” that seems to have been exploited as an easy vehicle for hostile disinformation, Ben Smith might want to be a little more cautious about assuming those lines are so easy to distinguish.

The Disinformation that Got Told: Michael Cohen Was, in Fact, Hiding Secret Communications with the Kremlin

CJR was kind enough to invite me on to discuss media accountability and the Steele dossier with Erik Wemple last week.

On the show, I made the argument that it’s not enough to identify the things that didn’t, but should have, shown up in the dossier: like George Papadopoulos getting advance warning of the Russian operation not far from Christopher Steele’s office, or a dirt-for-sanctions-relief meeting in Trump Tower attended by a client of Fusion GPS, or a deputy for Steele client Oleg Deripaska, Konstantin Kilimnik, trading Trump’s campaign manager $19 million in debt relief to obtain the campaign’s strategy.

Given the way that, on July 30, 2016, Deripaska used Steele (via his lawyers) to make Manafort more vulnerable just days before, on August 2, 2016, Deripaska used that vulnerability to carry out a key step in the election operation, it is reasonable to consider whether any disinformation in the dossier became a key part of the Russian operation. That makes it important to look at the stories that did get told in it, to understand how they related to other aspects of the operation.

In the CJR podcast, Erik Wemple was — as he has been in the past — skeptical.

Wheeler: If, in fact, the dossier is full of disinformation, which is what every Republican in Congress believes and what I think is largely the case, then the question is not, what was the access. The question was, why did Oleg Deripaska learn about it, as the DOJ IG Report suggests happened, why did he learn about it before the second report? Why did two Russian intelligence people learn about it before the second report, and why did the stories that get told get told? So, yes, there’s the absence of, you know, Papadopoulos in London, but the stories of Michael Cohen in Prague which are the, the, the most easily debunked, do, are near misses on things that were really happening in the Russian operation. Michael Cohen was in fact covering up stuff about Russia at the time — he was covering up the Trump Tower deal. Michael Cohen was also covering stuff having to do with sex at the time. You put those two together and you’ve got the Prague thing. That’s a pretty near miss.

Wemple: Is it though? The allegation in the dossier was that he was meeting with Kremlin representatives — as I recall — to —

Wheeler: And he called up the Kremlin and got Putin’s involvement in the Trump Tower deal.

Wemple: But he met in Prague to cover up or figure out how to pay hackers, if I recall the allegation.

Wheeler: Yeah yeah yeah. Yup.

Wemple: I don’t know. I don’t see it as being that close to what Michael Cohen actually did but we can —

Wheeler: Right, but do you deny that Michael Cohen was covering up stuff about Russia that involved, actually, the Kremlin?

Wemple: Well, it’s clear that he was involved in keeping quiet the Trump Tower —

Wheeler: Okay. Which involved the Kremlin. And involved a GRU officer.

Wemple: Unquestionably, no question.

Wheeler: Okay. So that’s my point. Russia knew that. Russia knew that when Trump made a statement in July of 2016 that he had no business in Russia — which by the way, Durham is reacting against; he’s trying to claim it was unreasonable for cybersecurity researchers to respond to that and say, that’s very alarming, which was very alarming. As soon as Trump made that comment, in July of 2016 (and he had made it a bunch of times before that), Russia knew that Michael Cohen and Donald Trump and a number of other people were lying, publicly, about this ridiculously lucrative deal that involved the Kremlin and involved a GRU officer. And so the Prague story is absolutely garbage. And that came from Olga Galkina, right?

Wemple: It did. Who’s a middle school friend of Danchenko

Wheeler: Right. She’s central to the Danchenko indictment. One of the things that Durham charges Danchenko with is trying to hide how obvious, how much Galkina knew about that. And he didn’t hide it at all. I think that allegation is completely, is completely easily debunked if you actually read the interview. But my point is that, in fact, Michael Cohen was covering up communications with the Kremlin and with a GRU officer. And Russia knew that. And if those Michael Cohen reports which, by January 2017, the FBI believed to be disinformation, so if those were disinformation, why did we get that form of disinformation, when in fact Michael Cohen — and if you read Danchenko, Galkina knew, right away, Michael Cohen’s name. She was ready for it, so those questions. If you want to talk about media accountability, those questions have to be asked as well.

The details of any disinformation in the dossier — the possibility that Russian intelligence deliberately planted false stories about secret communications Michael Cohen had with the Kremlin — are important because they may have served the overall Russian operation. In some cases, such as the claim that Carter Page was Paul Manafort’s purported go-between with Russia rather than Konstantin Kilimnik, might have provided cover. The claims that Russia had years old FSB intercepts of Hillary they planned to release as kompromat, rather than recently stolen emails from John Podesta, would similarly provide cover. In others, disinformation might have worked in the same way Oleg Deripaska’s double game did, increasing the vulnerability of Trump’s people even while making it more likely they’d do what Russia wanted.

I have argued in the past that the Trump Tower deal wasn’t important because it showed that Trump was pursuing a real estate deal while running for President. Rather, it was important to the success of the Russian operation because it gave Russia proof, before any hint of the Russian operation became public, that Donald Trump would be willing to work, in secret, with sanctioned banks and a GRU officer to make an impossibly lucrative real estate deal happen.

[T]here is a piece of the Cohen statement of the offense the significance of which hasn’t gotten sufficient attention. That’s the detail that Dmitry Peskov’s personal assistant took detailed notes from a 20-minute January 20, 2016 phone call with Cohen, which led to Putin’s office contacting Felix Sater the next day.

On or about January 16, 2016, COHEN emailed [Peskov]’s office again, said he was trying to reach another high-level Russian official, and asked for someone who spoke English to contact him.

On or about January 20, 2016 , COHEN received an email from the personal assistant to [Peskov] (“Assistant 1 “), stating that she had been trying to reach COHEN and requesting that he call her using a Moscow-based phone number she provided.

Shortly after receiving the email, COHEN called Assistant 1 and spoke to her for approximately 20 minutes. On that call, COHEN described his position at the Company and outlined the proposed Moscow Project, including the Russian development company with which the Company had partnered. COHEN requested assistance in moving the project forward, both in securing land to build the proposed tower and financing the construction. Assistant 1 asked detailed questions and took notes, stating that she would follow up with others in Russia.

The day after COHEN’s call with Assistant 1, [Sater] contacted him, asking for a call. Individual 2 wrote to COHEN, “It’s about [the President of Russia] they called today.”

Cohen had lied about this, claiming that he had emailed Peskov’s public comment line just once, but gotten no response.

This language is important not just because it shows that Cohen lied.  It’s important because of what Cohen would have said to Peskov’s assistant. And it’s important because a written record of what Cohen said got handed on to Putin’s office, if not Putin himself.

[snip]

[W]hen Cohen called Peskov’s assistant, he would have told her that he was speaking on behalf of Donald Trump, that Trump remained interested in a Trump Tower in Moscow (as he had been in 2013, the last time Putin had dangled a personal meeting with Trump), and that on Trump’s behalf Cohen was willing to discuss making a deal involving both a sanctioned bank (whichever one it was) and a former GRU officer.

The impossibly lucrative real estate deal was useful to the Russian operation because it ensured that, even before GRU hacked the DNC, Putin had collected receipts showing that Trump’s personal lawyer had secretly been in discussions about a deal brokered by a GRU officer and sanctioned banks for Trump’s benefit. Trump would want to (and in fact did) keep this fact from voters because it would have proven he was lying about having business interests in Russia. The attribution of the DNC hack to the GRU made Trump’s secret more inflammatory, because it meant Trump stood to benefit personally from the same people who hacked his opponent. Trump and Cohen couldn’t have known all that when Cohen called Peskov in January. But Russia did. Indeed, that may well have been the entire point.

The Cohen-in-Prague story includes outlines of Trump’s real secret: contact by Trump’s personal lawyer with the Kremlin and those who conducted the DNC hack. But the Cohen-in-Prague story displaced the key details of that secret, providing a place and personal details that would be even more damning, but also easier to debunk.

In fact, when Michael Cohen broke the law (by lying to Congress) to cover up this secret, when the Trump Organization withheld from Congress the most damning documents about it, when Trump told his most provable lie to Mueller about it, they (along with Felix Sater and others) used the Cohen-in-Prague story as an easy way to issue true denials while limiting admissions (and lying) about the extent of the Trump Tower deal. Here’s what I described, in August 2017, about the way Cohen used Prague denials to pre-empt his limited (and therefore false) admissions of his pursuit of the Trump Tower deal.

There are real, unanswered questions about the provenance of the document as leaked by BuzzFeed. Some of the circumstances surrounding its production — most notably its funders and their claimed goals, and Steele’s production of a final report, based off voluntarily provided information, for free — raise real questions about parts of the dossier. I think it quite likely some parts of the dossier, especially the last, most inflammatory report (which accuses Cohen of attending a meeting where payments from Trump to the hackers that targeted the Democrats were discussed), were disinformation fed by the Russians. I believe the Intelligence Community is almost certainly lying about what they knew about the dossier. I believe the Russians know precisely how the dossier got constructed (remember, a suspected source for it died in mysterious circumstances in December), and they expect the exposure of those details will discredit it.

So while I think there are truths in the dossier, I do think its current form includes rumor and even affirmative disinformation meant to discredit it.

With that said — and remembering all the time that shortly after this letter got written, documents were disclosed showing Cohen was involved in brokering a deal that Sater thought might get Trump elected — here’s my analysis of the document.

[Cohen’s letter to Congress] is pitched around the claim that HPSCI “included Mr. Cohen in its inquiry based solely upon certain sensational allegations contained” in the Steele dossier. “Absent those allegations,” the letter continues, “Mr. Cohen would not be involved in your investigation.” The idea — presented two weeks before disclosure of emails showing Cohen brokering a deal with Russians in early 2016 — is if Cohen can discredit the dossier, then he will have shown that there is no reason to investigate him or his role brokering deals with the Russians. Even the denial of any documents of interest is limited to the dossier: “We have not uncovered a single document that would in any way corroborate the Dossier’s allegations regarding Mr. Cohen, nor do we believe that any such document exists.”

With that, Cohen’s lawyers address the allegations in the dossier, one by one. As a result, the rebuttal reads kind of like this:

I Did Not Go to Prague I Did Not Go to Prague I Did Not Go to Prague I Did Not Go to Prague

Cohen literally denies that he ever traveled to Prague six times, as well as denying carefully worded, often quoted, versions of meeting with Russians in a European capital in 2016. Of course that formulation — He did not participate in meetings of any kind with Kremlin officials in Prague in August 2016 — stops well short of other potential ties to Russians. And two of his denials look very different given the emails disclosed two weeks later showing an attempt to broker a deal that Felix Sater thought might get Trump elected, including an email from him to one of the most trusted agents of the Kremlin.

Mr. Cohen is not aware of any “secret TRUMP campaign/Kremlin relationship.”

Mr. Cohen is not aware of any indirect communications between the “TRUMP team” and “trusted agents” of the Kremlin.

The Cohen-in-Prague story provided an easy way for Cohen to issue true denials. But it also magnified the risk of the secret — a secret Russia knew — they were keeping, because they committed crimes to keep the secret.

There can be little doubt that, if the Cohen-in-Prague story was deliberate disinformation, it was wildly successful. Indeed, most Trump supporters — including many of the people debunking the dossier full time — seemed to believe that if they could prove that Cohen never went to Prague, that by itself would amount to proof that Trump had no ties with Russia in 2016, a claim every bit as outlandish as the pee tape.

If the Cohen-in-Prague story was deliberate disinformation, it was spectacularly successful, both for obscuring the Trump Tower discussions and for creating an easily debunked stand-in for Trump’s real cooperation, distracting from Manafort’s role.

Years later, we now know there were reasons to think the Cohen-in-Prague story was deliberate disinformation from the start. A declassified DOJ IG footnote describes that, even before the Igor Danchenko interviews in January 2017, FBI had received intelligence suggesting that was the case.

In addition to the information in Steele’s Delta file documenting Steele’s frequent contacts with representatives for multiple Russian oligarchs, we identified reporting the Crossfire Hurricane team received from [redacted] indicating the potential for Russian disinformation influencing Steele’s election reporting. A January 12, 2017, report relayed information from [redacted] outlining an inaccuracy in a limited subset of Steele’s reporting about the activities of Michael Cohen. The [redacted] stated that it did not have high confidence in this subset of Steele’s reporting and assessed that the referenced subset was part of a Russian disinformation campaign to denigrate U.S. foreign relations. [italicized language declassified]

If it was disinformation, Danchenko’s source for it, his childhood friend Olga Galkina, seems to have been prepared. When Danchenko described the sourcing of the report, he explained that that Galkina was “almost immediately” familiar with Cohen when he asked.

[Danchenko] began his explanation of the Prague and Michael Cohen-related reports by stating that Christopher Steele had given him 4-5 names to research for the election-related tasking. He could only remember three of the names: Carter Page, Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen. When he talked to [Galkina] in the fall of 2016 — he believes it was a phone call — he rattled off these names and, out of them, he was surprised to hear that [Galkina] immediately [later [Danchenko] softened this to  “almost immediately”] recognized Cohen’s name.

[snip]

Danchenko believes he had 2, maybe even 3, conversations with [Galkina] on this topic later in October. Nothing on Prague and Cohen was collected during the [redacted] trip in [redacted]. The first conversation is the one during which he believes [Galkina] noted her recognition of Cohen’s name. The second conversation is the one in which she discussed Prague, the visit of Cohen plus three other individuals, and the meeting with the Russia side. There may have been a third conversation on the topic, but [Danchenko] could not recall exactly and said that they had also talked about “a private subject.”

Several details in the Danchenko indictment explain why Galkina might be prepared.

Charles Dolan, the PR Executive whom Danchenko introduced to Galkina that spring, had worked directly with Dmitry Peskov for years and remained in touch with Putin’s Press Secretary in conjunction with an event he was helping plan in October 2016. During the summer, Dolan recommended Galkina to Peskov for a job in the Presidential Administration.

[F]rom in or about 2006 through in or about 2014, the Russian Federation retained PR Executive-I and his then-employer to handle global public relations for the Russian government and a state-owned energy company. PR Executive-I served as a lead consultant during that project and frequently interacted with senior Russian Federation leadership whose names would later appear in the Company Reports, including the Press Secretary of the Russian Presidential Administration (“Russian Press Secretary-I”), the Deputy Press Secretary (“Russian Deputy Press Secretary-I”), and others in the Russian Presidential Press Department.

[snip]

In anticipation of the June 2016 Planning Trip to Moscow, PR Executive-I also communicated with Russian Press Secretary-I and Russian Deputy Press Secretary-I, both of whom worked in the Kremlin and, as noted above, also appeared in the Company Reports.

[snip]

Additionally, on or about July 13, 2016, Russian Sub-Source-I sent a message to a Russia-based associate and stated that PR Executive-I had written a letter to Russian Press Secretary-I in support of Russian-Sub-Source-I’s candidacy for a position in the Russian Presidential Administration.

As it was, Danchenko attributed of any mention of Peskov in the dossier to Galkina. But Galkina’s real ties to Peskov, the person who knew more about Michael Cohen and Trump’s secret than anyone else in Russia — who knew they were pursuing an impossibly lucrative real estate deal involving sanctioned banks and a retired GRU officer with Peskov’s help — had been enhanced in months leading up to that reporting. Galkina’s ties to Peskov would had been enhanced in a way that may have made her source relationship with Danchenko even more evident to Russian spooks (though it would always have been easy to discover).

That is, Dolan’s business relationships with the Russian government may not be important because Galkina appeared to share his enthusiasm for Hillary — the reason Durham included garden variety business networking in the midst of the Danchenko indictment. Rather, it may be important because it made her a much more lucrative target for disinformation.

Olga Galkina was in a position where, if Russia had wanted to tell the secret they knew Trump was keeping from voters, she might have learned the truth behind Cohen’s real, hidden communications with the Kremlin, a truth that voters had a right to know. Instead, she told a false story that mirrored certain aspects of the story that Cohen would do prison time in a failed attempt to hide, but which instead became an easily debunked stand-in for the real story of Trump’s enthusiasm for Russia’s efforts to tamper in America’s democracy.

If the dossier was significantly disinformation, then all Americans were victims of it. It turned a legitimate concern about real Russian interference into American elections into one of the biggest sources of political polarization in recent history. Like the social media trolling from Internet Research Agency, it stoked divisions, with the added benefit that it led significant numbers of Trump voters to trust the Russians who were feeding that disinformation more than they trust the current President. One viral Twitter thread earlier this year even claimed that the dossier (and therefore any Russian disinformation in it) led directly to and justified the attack on the Capitol on January 6. As such, disinformation injected into the dossier should increasingly be treated as a potential central part of the 2016 Russian influence operation — perhaps its most successful and lasting part.

Erik Wemple has spent a lot of time pushing CNN into committing the same reporting failures with the Danchenko indictment as they did on the dossier itself. But that has left largely unexamined the question of why the stories that did get told got told, which may be far more important to understanding how Russia was willing to screw both Paul Manafort and Hillary Clinton.


Danchenko posts

The Igor Danchenko Indictment: Structure

John Durham May Have Made Igor Danchenko “Aggrieved” Under FISA

“Yes and No:” John Durham Confuses Networking with Intelligence Collection

Daisy-Chain: The FBI Appears to Have Asked Danchenko Whether Dolan Was a Source for Steele, Not Danchenko

Source 6A: John Durham’s Twitter Charges

John Durham: Destroying the Purported Victims to Save Them

John Durham’s Cut-and-Paste Failures — and Other Indices of Unreliability

Aleksej Gubarev Drops Lawsuit after DOJ Confirms Steele Dossier Report Naming Gubarev’s Company Came from His Employee

In Story Purporting to “Reckon” with Steele’s Baseless Insinuations, CNN Spreads Durham’s Unsubstantiated Insinuations

On CIPA and Sequestration: Durham’s Discovery Deadends

The Disinformation that Got Told: Michael Cohen Was, in Fact, Hiding Secret Communications with the Kremlin

In Story Purporting to “Reckon” with Steele’s Baseless Insinuations, CNN Spreads Durham’s Unsubstantiated Insinuations

Deep in a CNN report purporting to “reckon” with the Steele dossier, Marshall Cohen claims that “The Mueller report said there wasn’t evidence of a criminal conspiracy to collude.”

This thirteen word sentence has a number of errors. Mueller explicitly noted that “collusion is not a specific offense or theory of liability found in the United States Code, nor is it a term of art in federal criminal law,” so it would be impossible to engage in a criminal conspiracy to collude. The Mueller Report further noted that, “A statement that the investigation did not establish particular facts” — such as the finding that, “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities” — “does not mean there was no evidence of those facts.” The actual crimes for which there was evidence, but insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, were:

  • Serving as an unregistered foreign agent of Russia
  • Criminal campaign finance violation
  • Conspiring in the hack-and-leak operation
  • Conspiring to obstruct a lawful government function

In fact, a footnote declassified days before the 2020 election revealed that, “some of the factual uncertainties,” about whether Roger Stone participated in the hacking conspiracy, “are the subject of ongoing investigations that have been referred by this Office to the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office,” meaning that the investigation into whether Stone conspired with Russia in 2016 remained ongoing after Mueller finished work.

Additionally, the declinations section specifically says that multiple individuals told lies that obstructed the investigation into whether the contacts between the campaign and Russia violated criminal law. If George Papadopoulos hadn’t lied about telling the campaign about the Russian help, if Michael Cohen hadn’t lied about an impossibly lucrative real estate deal in Moscow, if Roger Stone hadn’t lied about how he optimized the email release (and how many times he spoke to Trump about it), if Paul Manafort hadn’t lied about swapping campaign strategy for $19 million in debt relief, and if Mike Flynn hadn’t lied about undermining sanctions, Mueller might have obtained evidence to prove a conspiracy beyond a reasonable doubt.

Mistaking not having enough evidence to prove a conspiracy beyond a reasonable doubt and not having evidence at all is a common error, though more typical coming from those who publish fawning interviews with Konstantin Kilimnik repeating his assurances he’s not a Russian spy.

But it matters in this piece for the way Cohen airs insinuations that John Durham made for which Durham doesn’t, apparently, have enough evidence to prove something beyond a reasonable doubt (and which probably wouldn’t even be crimes).

Cohen starts by asserting, as fact, that “Democratic involvement in Steele’s work was much deeper than previously known,” in the same paragraph where he notes that Charles Dolan has been accused of no crime.

But Democratic involvement in Steele’s work was much deeper than previously known. Court filings from the Durham inquiry recently revealed that some information in the dossier originated from Charles Dolan, 71, a public relations executive with expertise in Russian affairs who had a decades-long political relationship with the Clinton family. He has not been accused of any crimes. [my emphasis]

Cohen continues to describe Dolan’s involvement in four more ways that don’t involve any crime by Dolan: That Dolan was in regular contact with Danchenko (which Danchenko didn’t deny), that Dolan was “indirectly connected” to the pee tape, and that “Dolan was also indirectly linked” to a claim about a Russian diplomat being reassigned, and that Dolan lied to Danchenko — about his source for a true report — at a time Dolan knew nothing of the specifics of the Steele project.

Federal prosecutors said Dolan was in regular contact in 2016 with Steele’s primary source Igor Danchenko, 49, a Russian citizen and foreign policy analyst who lives in Virginia. Danchenko was indicted on November 4 for allegedly lying to the FBI about his dealings with Dolan and a fellow Soviet-born expat that he claimed was one of his sources.

Danchenko pleaded not guilty last week. In a statement to CNN, his defense attorney Mark Schamel said Durham is pushing a “false narrative designed to humiliate and slander a renowned expert in business intelligence for political gain.” Schamel also accused Durham of including legally unnecessary information in the 39-page indictment to smear Danchenko.

“For the past five years, those with an agenda have sought to expose Mr. Danchenko’s identity and tarnish his reputation while undermining U.S. National Security,” Schamel said. “…This latest injustice will not stand. We will expose how Mr. Danchenko has been unfairly maligned by these false allegations.”

The indictment indirectly connected Dolan to the infamous claim that Russia possessed a compromising tape of Trump with prostitutes in Moscow, which became known as the “pee tape.” (Trump and Russia both denied the allegations.) According to the Danchenko indictment, in June 2016, Dolan toured the Ritz-Carlton suite where the alleged liaison occurred, and discussed Trump’s 2013 visit with hotel staff, but wasn’t told about any sexual escapades. It’s still unclear where those salacious details that ended up in the dossier came from.

Dolan was also indirectly linked in the indictment to still-unverified claims about Russian officials who were allegedly part of the election meddling. The indictment also suggested that Steele’s memos exaggerated what Dolan had passed along to Danchenko.

The indictment also says the dossier contained a relatively mundane item about Trump campaign infighting that Dolan later told the FBI he actually gleaned from news articles. Prosecutors say Dolan even lied to Danchenko about where he got the gossip, by attributing it to a “GOP friend” who was “a close associate of Trump.” [my emphasis]

Importantly, for only the last of these dossier reports is Dolan specifically alleged to be a source in the dossier (and, again, Dolan credibly claimed not to know why Danchenko was asking for dirt on Trump). The rest are introduced into the indictment in part by claiming Danchenko — who admitted he and Dolan “talked about … related issues” — lied in part to hide that Dolan, “was otherwise involved in the events and information described in the reports.”

But the two examples that Cohen treats as news — the pee tape and the reassigned diplomat (there’s a third included involving Sergei Ivanov’s removal) — are laid out in the indictment as materiality arguments, not accused crimes that Durham thinks he can prove beyond a reasonable doubt. They’re the things Durham claims Danchenko hid by purportedly lying about whether he had done more than speak to Dolan about related topics. There’s no reason to believe that FBI — which had 702 collection showing extensive ties between Dolan and Danchenko’s Russian source Olga Galkina, undoubtedly including some of the communications Durham relies on in the indictment — ever asked Danchenko whether Dolan was the source for the one report Durham claims Dolan was the source for, much less the three where Durham imagines he had some other kind of role in. (I have noted that Durham appears to have misrepresented the question that led into this answer; it seems to have been whether Dolan served as a source for Steele, not Danchenko.) Durham presents the damage from Danchenko’s claimed lie in terms of questions that the FBI, even sitting on those communications, might have asked, but did not.

Here’s how it looks on the pee tape.

Based on the foregoing, DANCHENKO’s lies to the FBI denying that he had communicated with PR Executive-I regarding information in the Company Reports were highly material. Had DANCHENKO accurately disclosed to FBI agents that PR Executive-I was a source for specific information in the aforementioned Company Reports regarding Campaign Manager-1 ‘s departure from the Trump campaign, see Paragraphs 45-57, supra, the FBI might have taken further investigative steps to, among other things, interview PR Executive-I about (i) the June 2016 Planning Trip, (ii) whether PR Executive-I spoke with DANCHENKO about Trump’s stay and alleged activity in the Presidential Suite of the Moscow Hotel, and (iii) PR Executive-1 ‘s interactions with General Manager-I and other Moscow Hotel staff. In sum, given that PR Executive-I was present at places and events where DANCHENKO collected information for the Company Reports, DANCHENKO’s subsequent lie about PR Executive-1 ‘s connection to the Company Reports was highly material to the FBI’ s investigation of these matters.

As I’ve noted, one likely, and damning, scenario (Durham presents no evidence that he knows what actually did happen) is that Danchenko used the details Dolan told him about the Ritz tour to flesh out the pee tape rumor he attributed to Sergey Abyshev, with whom he met and drank on the same day, using the names of the Ritz staffers without interviewing them. But even if that’s what happened, there’s no hint that Dolan provided this information wittingly as part of an effort to hurt Trump (and even if it was gossip about Trump, it would not be a crime).

Effectively, Durham is arguing it is more important for the FBI to find out if unwitting Democrats provided information for the dossier — and Durham’s fleshed out his claims that Dolan played a role in several of the other reports precisely based on the accuracy of what Dolan had learned from high ranking Russians, not on any claim he was making rumors up — than Russians with ties to the intelligence services feeding deliberate disinformation. If Dolan’s involvement was unwitting, there could be no conspiracy to defraud the government, not even if Danchenko knew his reports were being shared with the FBI, which Durham doesn’t claim he did.

Again, this entire indictment treats unwitting Democrats as more dangerous adversaries than Russians deliberately trying to intervene in America’s election.

By presenting his other Dolan claims as materiality arguments, then, Durham manages to insinuate things — things that aren’t even crimes — without having solid evidence behind them. And he does so in an indictment that doesn’t cut-and-paste quotations faithfully and relies on Sergei Millian’s Twitter feed for a key claim of fact.

And Cohen allows himself — in a piece talking about how foolish it was for the press to repeat the sloppy insinuations from the dossier — to serve as a mouthpiece for Durham’s unsubstantiated insinuations.

There are other errors in this piece. One that bears notice — because it’s another case where Cohen got fooled — is where he claims that Galkina disclaimed being a source for a claim that was attributed to her.

Another Russian who Danchenko told the FBI was one of his sources said in a sworn affidavit in a civil case that she wasn’t the source for at least one claim that was attributed to her. The woman, publicist Olga Galkina, said she believes Danchenko told the FBI she was his source “to create more authoritativeness for his work,” according to court filings.

That’s false. The only thing that Galkina disclaimed being a source for in her declaration was the Alfa Bank story. As I laid out here, in his public interview report, Danchenko associates that report, but does not attribute it, to his drinking buddy, Sergey Abyshev. The declarations from Danchenko’s other sources in that docket, including Galkina’s, were just legal smoke and mirrors (and a way to get those names before Durham and frothy right wingers). The fact that Galkina stated that, “Mr. Danchenko and I did not discuss anything related to the Dossier or its contents during,” a March 2016 meeting in the US where Danchenko introduced her to Dolan, a meeting which preceded the dossier project by months, is a glaring sign that this declaration is a non-denial denial. So, too, is her suggestion that she could only have shared information face to face when Danchenko told the FBI he sourced his stories to her over phone calls.

The dossier has been shown to be full of unsubstantiated insinuations. And Marshall Cohen’s approach to reckoning with CNN’s past magnification of those unsubstantiated insinuations was to treat ones Durham included in the Danchenko indictment just as credulously.

Danchenko posts

The Igor Danchenko Indictment: Structure

John Durham May Have Made Igor Danchenko “Aggrieved” Under FISA

“Yes and No:” John Durham Confuses Networking with Intelligence Collection

Daisy-Chain: The FBI Appears to Have Asked Danchenko Whether Dolan Was a Source for Steele, Not Danchenko

Source 6A: John Durham’s Twitter Charges

John Durham: Destroying the Purported Victims to Save Them

John Durham’s Cut-and-Paste Failures — and Other Indices of Unreliability

Aleksej Gubarev Drops Lawsuit after DOJ Confirms Steele Dossier Report Naming Gubarev’s Company Came from His Employee

In Story Purporting to “Reckon” with Steele’s Baseless Insinuations, CNN Spreads Durham’s Unsubstantiated Insinuations

On CIPA and Sequestration: Durham’s Discovery Deadends

The Disinformation that Got Told: Michael Cohen Was, in Fact, Hiding Secret Communications with the Kremlin

John Durham: Destroying the Purported Victims to Save Them

I’ve covered a great deal of prosecutions involving FISA materials. In just one — that of Reaz Qadir Khan — was the defendant able to use sensitivities around FISA to get a better plea deal (and in that case, there were extenuating circumstances, possibly including a dead FISA target and Stellar Wind collection). I also covered the Scooter Libby case, in which Libby attempted — and very nearly succeeded — in forcing prosecutors to dismiss the case by demanding the declassification of a slew of Presidential Daily Briefs. But even the Libby case may pale in comparison to the difficulties John Durham has signed up for in his prosecution of Igor Danchenko.

That’s true because Danchenko will credibly be able to demand materials from at least two FISA orders, as well as two other counterintelligence investigations, including a sensitive, multi-pronged, ongoing investigation, to defend himself.

Indeed, there’s even a chance DOJ cannot legally prosecute Danchenko in this case.

What follows is true regardless of whether Danchenko was indicted on shoddy evidence as part of a witch hunt or if Durham has Danchenko dead to rights defrauding the FBI to target Donald Trump. I remain agnostic which is the case (the truth is likely somewhere in-between). It is true regardless of whether Carter Page and Sergei Millian were truly victimized as a result of the Steele dossier, or whether they were reasonable counterintelligence targets whose investigations got blown up in a political firestorm.

This has everything to do with the prosecutorial discretion that Durham did not exercise in charging Danchenko (and because of some sloppiness in the way he did so) and nothing to do with Danchenko’s guilt or innocence or Page and Millian’s victimization.

Consider the following moves Durham made in his indictment:

  • He invoked Danchenko’s source, Olga Galkina, in his materiality claims and based his single charge pertaining to Charles Dolan on a June 15, 2017 FBI interview.
  • He relied on claims Sergei Millian made about interactions with Danchenko as part of his proof that Danchenko lied about his belief that he had spoken with Millian. Durham did so, apparently, based entirely on Millian’s currently public Twitter blatherings.
  • He made Carter Page’s FISA targeting — and its role in the investigation into Trump associates (which Durham recklessly called “the Trump campaign”) — central to his materiality claims.

Whether Igor Danchenko is a reckless smear agent or someone screwed by Christopher Steele’s own sloppiness, he is entitled to all the evidence pertaining to the full scope of the indictment, as well as any exculpatory evidence that could help him disprove Durham’s claims. One of the prosecutors in the case, Michael Keilty, already warned Judge Anthony Trenga, who is presiding over the case, that there will be “a vast amount of classified discovery” in this case. But if prosecutors haven’t vetted Millian any further than reading his Twitter feed, they may have no idea what discovery challenges they face.

There has never been a case like this one, relying on two already publicly identified FISA orders, so this is literally uncharted waters.

Durham’s Matryoshka Materiality Claims

Before I explain the challenges Durham faces, it’s worth explaining how Durham has used materiality in this indictment. Durham will have to prove not just that Danchenko lied, but that the lies were material.

The words “material” or “materiality” show up in the indictment 20 times, of which just one instance is used to mean “stuff” (in a misquotation of a Danchenko response to an FBI question stating, “related issues perhaps but … nothing specific”). Five are required in the charging language.

Maybe Durham focused so much making claims about materiality, in part, because he’s smarting about the way people made fun of him for his shoddy materiality claims in the Michael Sussmann indictment. But many of his discussions about the “materiality” of Danchenko’s alleged lies, both charged and uncharged, serve as a gratuitous way for Durham to include accusations in the indictment he didn’t charge. The tactic worked like a charm, as multiple journalists reported that things — particularly regarding the pee tape — were alleged or charged that were not. But now he’s on the hook for them in discovery.

Below, I’ve shown how these materiality claims form a nested set of allegations, such that even the materiality claims for uncharged conduct make up part of his overall materiality argument. I’m not, at all, contesting that Durham has a sound case that — if he can prove Danchenko lied — at least one of lies was material. While some of his materiality claims are provably false and some (such as the claims that Danchenko’s alleged lies about Millian in October and November 2017 mattered for FISA coverage that ended in September 2017) defy physics, the bar for materiality is low and he will clearly surpass it on some of his materiality claims.

The issue, however, is that Durham is now on the hook, with regards to discovery, for all of his materiality claims covering both the charged lies and the uncharged allegations. Danchenko may now demand evidence that undercuts these claims, even the ones that don’t relate directly to the charged lies.

The Section 702 directive targeting Olga Galkina

Durham makes two materiality claims pertaining to Danchenko’s friend, Olga Galkina, to whom he sourced all the discredited Michael Cohen reports and a claim about Carter Page’s meetings in July 2016:

  • That by lying about how indiscreet he was about his relationship with Christopher Steele, Danchenko prevented the FBI from learning that Russian spies might inject disinformation into the dossier through people like Galkina.
  • That by lying on June 15, 2017, Danchenko prevented the FBI from learning that Charles Dolan “maintained a pre-existing and ongoing relationship” with Galkina, which led Galkina to have access to senior Russian officials she wouldn’t otherwise have had. Dolan’s ties with Galkina also appear to have led to Galkina serving as a cut-out between Dolan and Danchenko for information for one of the reports (pertaining to the reassignment of a US Embassy staffer) in the dossier.

I’m unclear why Durham made these claims — possibly because it was one of the only ways to criminalize the way Dolan served as a source for reports that were unrelated to the Carter Page applications, possibly because he wanted to do so to dump HILLARY HILLARY HILLARY in the middle of his indictment. But both claims are false.

To prove the first is false, Danchenko will point to Durham’s miscitation of the question Danchenko was actually asked, his answer — “yes and no” — to a question Durham claims he answered “no” to, and to his descriptions, from his very first interview, of how Galkina knew he was collecting intelligence and had even, after the release of the dossier, tasked him with an intelligence collection request herself.

To prove the second is false, Danchenko will point to the declassified footnote in the DOJ IG Report showing that in “early June 2017” (and so, presumably before June 15), the FBI obtained 702 collection that (the indictment makes clear) reflects extensive communications between Dolan and Galkina.

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

It’s highly likely the FBI set up that June 15, 2017 interview with Danchenko precisely to ask him about things they learned via that Section 702 collection. Based on what Durham has said so far, Danchenko provided information about key details of the relationship between Galkina and Dolan in the interview, thereby validating that he was not hiding the relationship entirely.

Had Danchenko affirmatively lied about this in January or March 2017, rather than just not sharing this information, Durham might have a case. But by June 2017, the FBI was already sitting on that 702 collection (to say nothing of the contact tracing analysts would have used to justify the 702 directive). That’s almost certainly why they asked the question about Dolan.

So even if Durham could manage to avoid introducing, as evidence at trial, Danchenko’s communications with Galkina that the FBI would have first obtained under FISA 702, and thereby stave off the FISA notice process required for aggrieved persons under FISA, Danchenko is still going to have cause to make Durham admit a slew of things about that Section 702 directive targeting Galkina, including:

  • What kind of contact-tracing alerted the FBI and NSA that Galkina had US-cloud based communications that would be of investigative interest (because that contact-tracing, by itself, disproves Durham’s materiality claim)
  • What communications FBI obtained from that Section 702 order and when (because if they indeed had the Galkina-Dolan communications on June 15, then nothing Danchenko could have said impeded the FBI from discovering them)
  • The approval process behind the release of this Section 702 information to Inspector General Michael Horowitz, and then to Congress, which in turn presumably alerted Durham to it, and whether it complied with new requirements about unmasking imposed in 2018 in response to the Carter Page FISA and conspiracy theories about Mike Flynn (it surely did, because unmasking for FBI collections is not really a thing, but Danchenko will have reason to ask how Congress got the communications and from there, how Durham did)

None of this kind of information has been released to a defendant before, but all of it is squarely material to combatting the claim that the FBI didn’t know about Galkina’s communications with Dolan when they asked Danchenko a question precisely because they did know about those communications. And Danchenko has the right to ask for it because of that reference to Section 702 that Ron Johnson and Chuck Grassley insisted on declassifying.

The Sergei Millian counterintelligence investigation

The paragraph describing that Durham is relying on Sergei Millian’s Twitter rants as part of his evidence to prove that Danchenko lied five times about Millian (just four of which are charged) misspells Danchenko’s name, the single such misspelling in the indictment. [Update: Though see William Ockham’s comment below that notes there’s a different misspelling of Danchenko’s name elsewhere in the Millian part of the indictment.]

Chamber President-1 has claimed in public statements and on social media that he never responded to DANCHEKNO’s [sic] emails, and that he and DANCHENKO never met or communicated.

That makes me wonder whether it was added in at the last minute, after all the proof-reading, perhaps in response to a question from the grand jury or Durham’s supervisors. If it was, it might indicate that Durham didn’t really think through all the implications of invoking Millian as a fact witness against Danchenko.

But, unless Durham has rock-solid proof that Danchenko invented a call he claimed to believe had involved Millian altogether, then this reference now gives Danchenko cause to submit incredibly broad discovery requests about Millian to discredit Millian as a witness against him. Durham made no claim that he has such rock-solid proof in the indictment. As I’ve noted, Danchenko told the FBI he replaced his phone by the time the Bureau started vetting the Steele dossier, so to rule out that the call occurred, Durham probably would need to have obtained the phone and found sufficient evidence that survived a factory reset to rule out a Signal call.

Before I explain all the things Danchenko will have good reason to demand, let me review Durham’s explanation for why the alleged lies about Millian (Durham has charged separate lies on March 16, May 18, October 24, and November 16, 2017) were material:

Based on the foregoing, DANCHENKO’s lies to the FBI claiming to have received a late July 2016 anonymous phone call from an individual that DANCHENKO believed to be Chamber President-1 were highly material to the FBI because, among other reasons, the allegations sourced to Chamber President-1 by DANCHENKO formed the basis of a Company Report that, in turn, underpinned the aforementioned four FISA applications targeting a U.S. citizen (Advisor­ 1). Indeed, the allegations sourced to Chamber President-1 played a key role in the FBI’s investigative decisions and in sworn representations that the FBI made to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court throughout the relevant time period. Further, at all times relevant to this Indictment, the FBI continued its attempts to analyze, vet, and corroborate the information in the Company Reports. [my emphasis]

As I have noted above, it is temporally nonsensical to claim that lies Danchenko told in October and November 2017 “played a role in sworn representations that the FBI made to FISC” when the last such representation was made in June 2017. And Danchenko will be able to make a solid case that no matter what he said in March and May, it would have had no impact on the targeting of Carter Page, because as a 400-page report lays out in depth, really damning details about the Millian claim that Danchenko freely did share in January had no impact on the targeting of Carter Page. Even derogatory things Christopher Steele said about Millian in October 2016 never made any of the Page FISA applications. The DOJ IG has claimed and Judge Rosemary Collyer agreed that FBI was at fault for all this, because they weren’t integrating any of the new information learned from vetting the dossier. Danchenko might even be able to call a bunch of FBI witnesses who were fired as a result to prove they were held accountable for it and so he can’t be blamed.

So Durham will substantially have to rely on “investigative decisions” and FBI efforts to vet the dossier to prove that Danchenko’s claimed lies about Millian were material. And that will make the FBI investigations into Millian himself and George Papadopoulos relevant and helpful to Danchenko’s defense, because those are some of the investigative decisions at issue.

That’s not the only reason that Danchenko will be able to demand that DOJ share information on Millian. Durham has made Millian a fact witness against Danchenko, and — by relying on Millian’s Twitter feed — in the most ridiculous possible way. So Danchenko will be able to demand evidence that DOJ should possesses (but may not) that he can use to explain why Millian might lie about a call between the two.

Some things Danchenko will credibly be able to demand in discovery include:

  • Extensive details about Sergei Millian’s Twitter account. Durham presented Millian’s Twitter account to the grand jury as authoritative with regards to Millian’s denials of having any direct call with Danchenko. Danchenko has reason to ask Durham for an explanation why he did so, as well as a collection of all tweets that Millian has made going back to 2016 (most of which Millian has since deleted, some of which will raise questions about Millian’s sincerity and claimed knowledge of non-public information). In addition, because there have been questions (probably baseless, but nevertheless persistent) during this period about whether Millian was personally running his own Twitter campaign, Danchenko can present good cause to ask for the IP and log-in information for the entire period, either from the government or from Twitter. While it would be more of a stretch, Millian’s Twitter crowd includes some accounts that have been identified as inauthentic by Twitter and others that were involved in publicly exposing Danchenko’s identity; Danchenko might point to this as further evidence of Millian’s motives behind his Twitter rants. Finally, Danchenko will also have cause to ask how Millian got seeming advance notice of his own indictment if Durham’s investigators never bothered to put Millian before a grand jury.

  • Details of the counterintelligence investigation into Millian. After the first release of the DOJ IG Report, the FBI declassified parts of discussions of a counterintelligence investigation that the New York Field Office opened into Millian days before October 12, 2016. The IG Report describes that Millian was “previously known to the FBI,” and does not tie that CI investigation to any allegations that Fusion made against Millian (though I don’t rule it out). Danchenko will obviously be able to ask for access to the still-redacted parts of those IG Report references, because the same things (whatever they were) that led FBI to think Millian was a spy would be things that Danchenko could use to offer a motive for why Millian would lie about having spoken to Danchenko. Danchenko also has cause to ask for details from Millian’s own FBI file. The basis for that counterintelligence investigation, and any derogatory conclusions, would provide Danchenko means to raise questions about Millian’s credibility or at least alternative motives for Millian to claim no such call took place.
  • Details of how Millian cultivated George Papadopoulos. The IG Report also reveals that, even before the Carter Page application, the FBI was aware of the extensive ties between Millian and George Papadopoulos. Because Durham claims that Danchenko’s alleged lies — and not direct evidence pertaining to the relationship between Millian and Papadopoulos — drove the FBI’s investigative decisions from 2017 through the end of the Mueller investigation, Danchenko will have reason to ask for non-public details about some aspects of the Papadopoulos investigation, as well, not least because (as the Mueller Report makes clear) the initial contacts between Millian and Papadopoulos exactly parallel in time — and adopted the same proposed initial meeting approach — the initial contact and the call that Danchenko claimed to believe he had with Millian. If the July 2016 call he believes he had with Millian didn’t occur, Danchenko will be able to argue persuasively, then how did he know precisely where and how Millian would conduct such meetings a week in advance of the initial meeting, in New York, that Millian had with Papadopoulos?

The Office investigated another Russia-related contact with Papadopoulos. The Office was not fully able to explore the contact because the individual at issue-Sergei Millian-remained out of the country since the inception of our investigation and declined to meet with members of the Office despite our repeated efforts to obtain an interview. Papadopoulos first connected with Millian via Linked-In on July 15, 2016, shortly after Papadopoulos had attended the TAG Summit with Clovis.500 Millian, an American citizen who is a native of Belarus, introduced himself “as president of [the] New York-based Russian American Chamber of Commerce,” and claimed that through that position he had ” insider knowledge and direct access to the top hierarchy in Russian politics.”501 Papadopoulos asked Timofeev whether he had heard of Millian.502 Although Timofeev said no,503 Papadopoulos met Millian in New York City.504 The meetings took place on July 30 and August 1, 2016.505 Afterwards, Millian invited Papadopoulos to attend-and potentially speak at-two international energy conferences, including one that was to be held in Moscow in September 2016.506 Papadopoulos ultimately did not attend either conference.

On July 31 , 2016, following his first in-person meeting with Millian, Papadopoulos emailed Trump Campaign official Bo Denysyk to say that he had been contacted “by some leaders of Russian-American voters here in the US about their interest in voting for Mr. Trump,” and to ask whether he should “put you in touch with their group (US-Russia chamber of commerce).”507 Denysyk thanked Papadopoulos “for taking the initiative,” but asked him to “hold off with outreach to Russian-Americans” because “too many articles” had already portrayed the Campaign, then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and candidate Trump as “being pro-Russian.”508

On August 23, 2016, Millian sent a Facebook message to Papadopoulos promising that he would ” share with you a disruptive technology that might be instrumental in your political work for the campaign.”509 Papadopoulos claimed to have no recollection of this matter.510

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

John Durham claims that Sergei Millian is a victim. But by making Millian a fact witness against Danchenko, Durham has given Danchenko the opportunity to obtain and air a great many details about why a DOJ prosecutor should review more than Twitter rants before treating Millian as a credible fact witness.

The Oleg Deripaska counterintelligence and sanctions investigations

Durham has also provided Danchenko multiple reasons to request details of a counterintelligence investigation that is ongoing and remains far more sensitive than the Millian one: The investigation into Oleg Deripaska.

Oleg Deripaska was the most likely client for a tasking Steele gave Danchenko immediately before the DNC one, collecting on Paul Manafort. Danchenko credibly claimed to the FBI that he did not know what client had hired Steele. If Deripaska was that client, it would be relevant and helpful to Danchenko’s defense to understand why Deripaska hired Steele.

That’s true, in significant part, because Deripaska is also the most likely culprit behind any disinformation injected into the Steele dossier. Among other things, by asking Steele to collect on Manafort and then monitoring how Steele did that, Deripaska could have used it to identify Steele’s reporting network.

Durham blames Danchenko for hiding the possibility of disinformation with one of his (false) uncharged conduct claims, but the Deripaska angle, about which Danchenko claimed to have no visibility either in real time in 2016 or by 2017, when he is accused of lying, would be the more important angle. And we know they were aware of the possibility and trying to assess whether that was possible even as they were vetting the dossier. But, as Bill Priestap told DOJ IG, he couldn’t figure out how this would work.

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

Since Durham blamed Danchenko for hiding the possibility of disinformation when questions like these did more to impede such considerations, Danchenko has good reason to ask for anything assessing whether Deripaska did use the dossier as disinformation, not least because DOJ was getting ample information to pursue that angle before Danchenko’s first interview, via Bruce Ohr (for which DOJ fired Ohr).

There’s a Millian angle to Danchenko’s case he should get information on the counterintelligence investigation into Deripaska, too. At a time when Deripaska was already tasking both sides of his double game — using Christopher Steele to make Paul Manafort legally vulnerable and then using Manafort’s legal and financial vulnerability to entice his cooperation in the election operation — Deripaska and Millian met at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in June 2016, the same convention that Michael Cohen was invited to attend to pursue an impossibly lucrative Trump Tower deal and to which Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko repeatedly invited Trump (as this post makes clear, Mueller obtained only unsigned versions of Trump’s letter declining Prikhodko’s invitation).

Millian’s documented meeting with Deripaska during 2016 would provide Danchenko several reasons to want access to some of the investigative materials from the Deripaska investigations. First, if Millian and Deripaska had further contact, either in 2016, or since then, it would suggest that Millian’s denials that he called Danchenko may be part of the same disinformation strategy as any disinformation inserted via Deripaska-linked sources into the dossier itself.

If Millian had no ongoing relationship with Deripaska after they met up in June 2016, however, it suggests a possible alternate explanation for the call that, Danchenko consistently claimed in 2017, he believed to be Millian: That someone learned of Danchenko’s outreach (the Novosti journalists through whom Danchenko first got Millian’s contact information are one possible source of this information, but not the only one) and called Danchenko seemingly in response to Danchenko’s outreach to Millian as another way to inject disinformation into the dossier.

Finally, Danchenko may request information on Deripaska to unpack the provenance of the investigation against him altogether. After meeting with a Deripaska deputy in January 2017, Paul Manafort returned to the US and pushed a strategy to discredit the Russian investigation by discrediting the dossier, using Deripaska’s associate Konstantin Kilimnik to obtain information about its sources. That strategy adopted by Manafort is a strategy that has led, directly, to this Durham inquiry.

If Deripaska participated in any disinformation efforts involving the dossier and instructed Manafort to exploit the disinformation he knew had been planted — if this very investigation is the fruit of the same disinformation campaign that Durham blames Danchenko for hiding — then Danchenko would have good reason to make broad discovery requests about it.

DOJ has continued to redact Deripaska-related investigative detail under ongoing investigation exemptions. And Treasury refused Deripaska’s own attempt to learn why he was sanctioned. So it’s likely DOJ would want to guard these details closely.

But Deripaska’s key role in the Russian operation even as he was tasking Steele to harm Manafort, the tie between Millian and Deripaska, and the effort to use the dossier to discredit the Russian investigation make such requests directly relevant and helpful to Danchenko’s defense.

The Carter Page FISA Collection

This entire Durham investigation is, at least metonymically, an attempt to avenge Carter Page’s (and through him, Trump’s) purported victimization at the hands of the Steele dossier.

But even with Page, Durham’s materiality claims may expose Page to more scrutiny than he ever would have been without this case. Page may well have been victimized by the dossier itself, but Danchenko is not accused of any crime in conjunction with his collection related to the dossier. Instead, he is charged with lies to the FBI in March, May, October, and November 2017. There’s plenty of evidence in the 400-page DOJ IG Report that nothing Danchenko could have said in those earlier interviews could have altered FISA targeting decisions in April and June, and it would be impossible for lies told in October and November to have affected coverage that ended in September.

That means that Durham will have to provide Danchenko a great deal of information on the investigation into Page — including on Page’s willing sharing of non-public information with Russians in 2013, his seeming efforts to reestablish contact with the Russians in 2015, his enthusiastic pursuit of Russian funding to set up a think tank in 2016, and his ongoing connections in 2017 — to afford Danchenko the ability to argue that the dossier didn’t matter because, as a Republican Congressperson with access to all the intelligence told me in July 2018, the case for surveilling Page was a slam dunk even without it.

Providing Danchenko the Mueller materials will be the easy part. They would be helpful to Danchenko’s defense because they show that rumors about Page meeting Igor Sechin were circulating Moscow, not just among Steele’s sources; there was time during Page’s July 2016 trip to Moscow that was unaccounted for, even to those who organized his trip; and via the Page investigation, Mueller corroborated that Kirill Dimitriev (the guy who had a back channel meeting with Erik Prince) would be an important source on Russia’s tracking of Trump. Mueller materials will also show that the FBI came to suspect that one of the contacts involved in bringing Page to Russia in July 2016 was being recruited by Russian spies, providing independent reason to continue the investigation into Page. Mueller investigative materials will provide new details on Konstantin Kilimnik’s report to Paul Manafort that Page was claiming to speak on Trump’s behalf on his trip to Moscow in December 2016, something that may have exposed Trump as a victim of Page’s misrepresentations in Russia, which in turn, heightened the import of learning why Page was making such claims. Language from Mueller’s still-classified description of his decision not to charge Page as a Russian agent may also prove relevant and helpful to Danchenko’s defense.

But it’s not just the Mueller materials. To combat Durham’s claim that Danchenko’s claimed lies were material to the ongoing targeting of Carter Page in April and June 2017, the defendant obviously must be given access to substantial materials from Page’s FISA applications (October 2016, January 2017, April 2017, June 2017). Danchenko will be able to undercut Durham’s materiality arguments in at least two ways with these materials. First, as Andrew McCabe understood it, the first period of FISA collection was “very productive,” and others at FBI described that the collection showed Page’s, “access to individuals in Russia and [his communications] with people in the Trump campaign, which created a concern that Russia could use their influence with Carter Page to effect policy.” Danchenko can certainly ask for these discussions to argue that, even before he ever spoke to the FBI in January 2017, things the FBI learned by targeting Page under FISA created new reason to continue to task him, independent of the dossier.

Even more critically, redacted passages of the DOJ IG Report suggest that the decision to continue targeting Page in June 2017 stemmed almost entirely from a desire to get to financial and encrypted app information from Page that might not be otherwise available.

[A]vailable documents indicate that one of the focuses of the Carter Page investigation at this time was obtaining his financial records. NYFO sought compulsory legal process in April 2017 for banking and financial records for Carter Page and his company, Global Energy Capital, as well as information relating to two encrypted online applications, one of which Page utilized on his cell phone. Documents reflect that agents also conducted multiple interviews of individuals associated with Carter Page.

Case Agent 6 told us, and documents reflect, that despite the ongoing investigation, the team did not expect to renew the Carter Page FISA before Renewal Application No. 2’s authority expired on June 30. Case Agent 6 said that the FISA collection the FBI had received during the second renewal period was not yielding any new information. The OGC Attorney told us that when the FBI was considering whether to seek further FISA authority following Renewal Application No. 2, the FISA was “starting to go dark.” During one of the March 2017 interviews, Page told Case Agent 1 and Case Agent 6 that he believed he was under surveillance and the agents did not believe continued surveillance would provide any relevant information. Cast Agent 6 said [redacted]

SSA 5 and SSA 2 said that further investigation yielded previously unknown locations that they believed could provide information of investigative value, and they decided to seek another renewal. Specifically, SSA 5 and Case Agent 6 told us, and documents reflect, that [redacted] they decided to seek a third renewal. [redacted]

If declassified versions of this report (and the underlying back-up) confirm that, it means Danchenko’s alleged lies in May and June were virtually meaningless in ongoing decisions to target Page, because FBI would otherwise have detasked him if not for very specific accounts they wanted to target. Danchenko would need to be able to get declassified versions of that material to be able to make that argument.

Then there’s the FISA collection used to reauthorize FISA targeting on Page. There’s enough public about what FBI obtained for Danchenko to argue that he needs this collection to rebut the materiality claims Durham has made. For example, one redacted passage in reauthorization applications suggests that FBI learned information about whether Page’s break with the campaign was as significant as the campaign publicly claimed it was. Another redacted passage suggests FBI may have obtained intelligence that contradicted Page’s denials of certain meetings in Russia. A third redacted passage suggests that the FBI learned that Page was engaged in a limited hangout with his admissions of such meetings. Not only might some of this validate the dossier (and explain why Mueller treated the question of Page’s trips to Russia as inconclusive), but it provides specific reasons the FISA collection justified suspicions of Page, meaning FBI was no longer relying on the dossier.

Finally, since Durham claims that Danchenko’s lies impeded the FBI’s efforts to vet the dossier, Danchenko will need to be provided a great deal of information on those efforts.  This is another instance where files released as part of Trump’s efforts to undermine the investigation will help Danchenko prove there are discoverable materials he should get. This spreadsheet is what FBI used to vet the dossier. It shows that the FBI obtained information under the Carter Page FISA they used to vet a claim Danchenko sourced to his friend, Galkina, whom Durham made central to questions of materiality. Similarly, the FBI used information from the Page FISA to help vet the claim that Danchenko sourced (incorrectly or not) to Millian, which is utterly central to the case against him. Given Durham’s claims that Danchenko’s lies prevented FBI from doing this vetting, he can easily claim that obtaining this vetting information may be helpful and material to his defense (though it may in fact not be helpful).

This is a very long list and I’m not saying that Danchenko will succeed in getting this information, much less using it at trial.

What I’m saying is that it is quite literally unprecedented for a defendant to know specific details of two FISA orders — the 702 directive targeting Galkina and the Carter Page FISAs — that they can make credible arguments they need access to to mount a defense. Similarly, the ongoing, sensitive counterintelligence investigation into Oleg Deripaska (and Konstantin Kilimnik) is central to the background of the dossier. And Durham has made someone who — like Danchenko before him, was investigated as a potential Russian asset — a fact witness in this case.

Normally, prosecutors might look at the discovery challenges such legitimate defense demands would pose and decide not to try the case (it’s one likely reason, for example, why David Petraeus got away with a wrist-slap for sharing code-word information with his mistress, because the discovery to actually prosecute him would have done more damage than the conviction was worth; similarly, the secrecy of some evidence Mueller accessed likely drove some of his declination decisions). But Durham didn’t do so. He has committed himself to deal with some of the most sensitive discovery ever provided, and to do so with a foreign national defendant, all in pursuit of five not very well-argued false statements charges. That doesn’t mean Danchenko will get the evidence. But it means Durham is now stuck dealing with unprecedented discovery challenges.

In a follow-up, I’ll talk about how this will work and why it may be literally impossible for Durham to succeed.

Update: I’ve corrected the date of the month of the charged interview pertaining to Charles Dolan.

Update: In a story on an ongoing counterintellience investigation into a Russian expat group, Scott Stedman notes that the group was involved in Millian’s pitch to Papadopoulos in 2016.

Forensic News can reveal that Gladysh’s pro-Trump internet activity was much broader than previously known. In 2020, Gladysh’s Seattle-based Russian-American Cooperation Initiative founded a news website that nearly exclusively promoted Trump and disseminated Russian propaganda, according to internet archives.

The news website featured articles with the titles such as “Second Trump term is crucial to prospect of better U.S.-Russia relations, safer world,” and “Biden victory will spell disaster for U.S.-Russia relations, warns billionaire.” The billionaire referenced by the outlet is Oleg Deripaska, a key figure in the 2016 Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia.

[snip]

Morgulis attempted to rally Russian voters for Donald Trump in both the 2016 and 2020 U.S. Presidential Elections and allied himself with numerous associates connected to Russian intelligence and influence operations that have caught the attention of the FBI.

According to the Washington Post, Morgulis and Sergei Millian worked on a plan to rally Russian voters for Trump in 2016. Millian, who was in contact with Trump aide George Papadopoulos, later fled the country and was not able to be interviewed by investigators.

[snip]

Morgulis, Branson, and Millian all received Silver Archer Awards in 2015, a Russian public affairs accomplishment given to U.S. persons advancing Russian cultural and business interests. The founder of Silver Archer is Igor Pisarsky, a “Kremlin-linked public relations power player” who facilitated money transfers from a Russian oligarch to Maria Butina.

This will provide Danchenko cause to ask for details of that counterintelligence investigation.


Durham’s Materiality Claims

Durham’s general materiality argument makes three claims about the way that Danchenko’s alleged lies affected the FBI investigation. And then, nested underneath those claims, he made further claims (about half of which aren’t even charged), about the materiality of other things, a number of which have nothing to do with the Carter Page FISA. Of particular note, the bulk (in terms of pages) of this indictment discusses lies that Durham doesn’t tie back to Carter Page, even though he could have, had he treated Olga Galkina differently.

      • Danchenko’s lies were material because FBI relied on the dossier to obtain FISA warrants on Carter Page: “The FBI’ s investigation of the Trump Campaign relied in large part on the Company Reports to obtain FISA warrants on Advisor-1.”
        • Danchenko’s lie about believing Millian called him in July 2016 because it formed the basis of the FISA applications targeting Page: Danchenko’s alleged lies to the FBI about Millian, “claiming to have received a late July 2016 anonymous phone call from an individual that DANCHENKO believed to be Chamber President-I were highly material to the FBI because, among other reasons, the allegations sourced to Chamber President-I by DANCHENKO formed the basis of a Company Report that, in turn, underpinned the aforementioned four FISA applications targeting a U.S. citizen (Advisor­ 1).”
      • Danchenko’s lies were material because they made it harder for the FBI to vet the dossier: “The FBI ultimately devoted substantial resources attempting to investigate and corroborate the allegations contained in the Company Reports, including the reliability of DANCHENKO’s sub-sources.”
        • Danchenko’s lies about how indiscreet he was about collecting information for Steele prevented the FBI from understanding whether people, including Russia, could inject disinformation into the dossier: Accordingly, DANCHENKO’s January 24, 2017 statements (i) that he never mentioned U .K. Person-I or U .K. Investigative Firm-I to his friends or associates and (ii) that “you [the FBI] are the first people he’s told,” were knowingly and intentionally false. In truth and in fact, and as DANCHENKO well knew, DANCHENKO had informed a number of individuals about his relationship with U.K. Person-I and U.K. Investigative Firm-I. Such lies were material to the FBI’ s ongoing investigation because, among other reasons, it was important for the FBI to understand how discreet or open DANCHENKO had been with his friends and associates about his status as an employee of U .K. Investigative Firm-I, since his practices in this regard could, in tum, affect the likelihood that other individuals – including hostile foreign intelligence services – would learn of and attempt to influence DANCHENKO’s reporting for U.K. Investigative Firm1.
        • Dancheko’s lies about Charles Dolan prevented the FBI from learning that Dolan was well-connected in Russia, Dolan had ties to Hillary, and Danchenko gathered some of his information using access obtained through Dolan:  DANCHENKO’s lies denying PR Executive-1 ‘s role in specific information referenced in the Company Reports were material to the FBI because, among other reasons, they deprived FBI agents and analysts of probative information concerning PR Executive-I that would have, among other things, assisted them in evaluating the credibility, reliability, and veracity of the Company Reports, including DANCHENKO’s sub-sources. In particular, PR Executive-I maintained connections to numerous people and events described in several other reports, and DANCHENKO gathered information that appeared in the Company Reports during the June Planning Trip and the October Conference. In addition, and as alleged below, certain allegations that DANCHENKO provided to U.K. Person-I, and which appeared in other Company Reports, mirrored and/or reflected information that PR Executive-I himself also had received through his own interactions with Russian nationals. As alleged below, all of these facts rendered DANCHENKO’s lies regarding PR Executive-1 ‘s role as a source of information for the Company Reports highly material to the FBI’ s ongoing investigation. [snip] PR Executive-1 ‘s role as a contributor of information to the Company Reports was highly relevant and material to the FBI’s evaluation of those reports because (a) PR Executive-I maintained pre-existing and ongoing relationships with numerous persons named or described in the Company Reports, including one of DANCHENKO’s Russian sub-sources ( detailed below), (b) PR Executive-I maintained historical and ongoing involvement in Democratic politics, which bore upon PR Executive-I’s reliability, motivations, and potential bias as a source of information for the Company Reports, and (c) DANCHENKO gathered some of the information contained in the Company Reports at events in Moscow organized by PR Executive-I and others that DANCHENKO attended at PR Executive-1 ‘s invitation. Indeed, and as alleged below, certain allegations that DANCHENKO provided to U.K. Person-I, and which appeared in the Company Reports, mirrored and/or reflected information that PR Executive-I himself also had received through his own interactions with Russian nationals.
          • Danchenko’s lies about Dolan prevented the FBI from asking whether Dolan spoke to Danchenko about the Ritz Hotel: Based on the foregoing, DANCHENKO’s lies to the FBI denying that he had communicated with PR Executive-I regarding information in the Company Reports were highly material. Had DANCHENKO accurately disclosed to FBI agents that PR Executive-I was a source for specific information in the aforementioned Company Reports regarding Campaign Manager-1 ‘s departure from the Trump campaign, see Paragraphs 45-57, supra, the FBI might have taken further investigative steps to, among other things, interview PR Executive-I about (i) the June 2016 Planning Trip, (ii) whether PR Executive-I spoke with DANCHENKO about Trump’s stay and alleged activity in the Presidential Suite of the Moscow Hotel, and (iii) PR Executive-1 ‘s interactions with General Manager-I and other Moscow Hotel staff. In sum, given that PR Executive-I was present at places and events where DANCHENKO collected information for the Company Reports, DANCHENKO’s subsequent lie about PR Executive-1 ‘s connection to the Company Reports was highly material to the FBI’ s investigation of these matters.
          • Danchenko’s lies about Dolan prevented the FBI from asking Dolan whether he knew about a Russian Diplomat being reassigned from the US Embassy: Based on the foregoing, DANCHENKO’s lies to the FBI denying that he had communicated with PR Executive-I regarding information in the Company Reports were highly material. Had DANCHENKO accurately disclosed to FBI agents that PR Executive-I was a source for specific information in the Company Reports regarding Campaign Manager-I ‘s departure from the Trump campaign, see Paragraphs 45-57, supra, the FBI might also have taken further investigative steps to, among other things, interview PR Executive-I regarding his potential knowledge of Russian Diplomat-1 ‘s departure from the United States. Such investigative steps might have assisted the FBI in resolving the above-described discrepancy between DANCHENKO and U.K. Person-I regarding the sourcing of the allegation concerning Russian Diplomat-I.
          • Danchenko’s lies about Dolan prevented the FBI from asking whether Dolan was the source for the [true] report about reasons why Paul Manafort had left the Trump campaign: Based on the foregoing, DANCHENKO’s lie to the FBI about PR Executive-I not providing information contained in the Company Reports was highly material. Had DANCHENKO accurately disclosed to FBI agents that PR Executive-I was a source for specific information in the aforementioned Company Reports regarding Campaign Manager-I’s departure from the Trump campaign, see Paragraphs 45-57, supra, the FBI might have taken further investigative steps to, among other things, interview PR Executive-I regarding his potential knowledge of additional allegations in the Company Reports regarding Russian Chief of Staff-I. Such investigative steps might have, among other things, assisted the FBI in determining whether PR Executive-I was one of DANCHENKO’s “other friends” who provided the aforementioned information regarding Putin’s firing of Russian Chief of Staff-I.
        • Danchenko’s lies about a phone call made it harder for the FBI to vet the dossier: Danchenko’s alleged lies about Millian were material because, “at all times relevant to this Indictment, the FBI continued its attempts to analyze, vet, and corroborate the information in the Company Report.”
      • The FBI took and did not take certain actions because of Danchenko’s lies: “The Company Reports, as well as information collected for the Reports by DANCHENKO, played a role in the FBI’s investigative decisions and in sworn representations that the FBI made to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court throughout the relevant time period.”
        • Danchenko’s alleged lies about Millian affected both FBI’s investigative decisions and played a role in their FISA applications: They “played a key role in the FBI’s investigative decisions and in sworn representations that the FBI made to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court throughout the relevant time period.”

Sources

DOJ IG Report on Carter Page

Mueller Report

October 2016 Page FISA Application

January 2017 Page FISA Application

April 2017 Page FISA Application

June 2017 Page FISA Application

Dossier vetting spreadsheet

Danchenko posts

The Igor Danchenko Indictment: Structure

John Durham May Have Made Igor Danchenko “Aggrieved” Under FISA

“Yes and No:” John Durham Confuses Networking with Intelligence Collection

Daisy-Chain: The FBI Appears to Have Asked Danchenko Whether Dolan Was a Source for Steele, Not Danchenko

Source 6A: John Durham’s Twitter Charges

John Durham: Destroying the Purported Victims to Save Them

John Durham’s Cut-and-Paste Failures — and Other Indices of Unreliability

Aleksej Gubarev Drops Lawsuit after DOJ Confirms Steele Dossier Report Naming Gubarev’s Company Came from His Employee

In Story Purporting to “Reckon” with Steele’s Baseless Insinuations, CNN Spreads Durham’s Unsubstantiated Insinuations

On CIPA and Sequestration: Durham’s Discovery Deadends

The Disinformation that Got Told: Michael Cohen Was, in Fact, Hiding Secret Communications with the Kremlin

 

Source 6A: John Durham’s Twitter Charges

According to the Igor Danchenko indictment, John Durham does not claim to have interviewed the most important witness in the four false statements charges against Danchenko relating to Sergei Millian: Sergei Millian.

After laying out some of the facts behind the charges that accuse Danchenko of falsely telling the FBI on five occasions (just four of which are charged) that he received a call from someone he assumed to be Millian, who told him about ongoing communications between Trump and Russia, Durham notes that on Twitter, Millian has claimed that he and Danchenko never communicated directly.

Chamber President-1 has claimed in public statements and on social media that he never responded to DANCHEKNO’s [sic] emails, and that he and DANCHENKO never met or communicated.

Let me be clear: the filing of a report based off a call like the one Danchenko described, even assuming it exists, is dodgy as hell. I’m not defending that or arguing that Danchenko didn’t lie; I’ll wait for the trial on the latter point.

But it is astounding that Durham appears to have filed an indictment without ever requiring Millian to go on the record, under oath, particularly given all the evidence about Millian in DOJ’s coffers and some of the other things Millian has said online. If that’s what happened, it exactly replicates the sin that, Republicans wail, happened with the Steele dossier, taking the word of someone who once was under counterintelligence investigation (as Danchenko was years before his work on the dossier and Millian was in 2016), though does so here not just to obtain a FISA warrant, but to obtain an indictment.

Absent a great deal more evidence than what Durham describes here, I think these four counts will pose remarkable challenges for Durham’s prosecution (some of which I’ll explain in a follow-up, hopefully my last post on this indictment).

The general outline of the charge is that, starting with his very first interview, Danchenko attributed significant parts of this report to Millian, whom the FBI referred to as “Source 6”:

a well-developed conspiracy of co-operation between them and the Russian leadership. This was managed on the TRUMP side by the Republican candidates campaign manager, Paul MANAFORT, who was using foreign policy advisor Carter PAGE, and others as intermediaries. The two sides had a mutual interest in defeating Democratic presidential candidate Hillary CLINTON, whom President PUTIN apparently both hated and feared.

Danchenko never described this exchange as anything but sketchy and by his description, he claimed Steele overstated the claim. Here’s how it appeared the first time:

This report involves reporting from “Source E” — reporting which [Danchenko] ties, at least in part, to [Millian]. [Danchenko related the story about his contact with [Millian], in either late June or July 2016. [redacted] — he reached out to [a Novosti journalist]. He asked [the journalist who had written about Millian] some of the questions Orbis had tasked him with regarding Trump’s Russian connections, and [the journalist] put him in contact with another of his [redacted] colleagues, [USPER 2]. [The journalist] said that [USPER2] had [Millian’s] contact information, and that [Millian] was someone with whom [Danchenko] should speak. [Millian] was, according to [Danchenko], someone with whom “they” [redacted] were talking. There was even talk about [Danchenko] meeting with [USPER2] in person, but it did not happen.

[Danchenko] reached out to [Millian] via email twice. He never received a response from the first attempt, but after the second attempt, he received in circa late [redacted] 2016 a very strange phone call from a Russian male who he believed to be [Millian], but who never identified himself. The individual on the other end of the call never identified himself. The two of them talked for a bit, and the two of them tentatively agreed to meet in person in [NY] at the end of July. At the end of July, [Danchenko] traveled with [redacted] to [New York], but the meeting never took place and no one ever called [Danchenko] back. Altogether, he had only a single phone call with an individual he thought to be [Millian]. The call was either a cellular call, or it was a communication through a phone app. [Danchenko will look back at his phone to see if he can get caller information].

The following day, as he did with a few other allegations he explained in the first day of a serial interview, Danchenko provided more details, some of them additional details — such as that he met the Novosti journalist who first directed him to contact Millian at a Thai restaurant — and some clarifications, such as that one email was June or July and a follow-up was September (which was incorrect; it was late August). That clarification, however, should have alerted the FBI that the timeline of this explanation didn’t work, as it would put the claimed phone call before the second email.

As Danchenko described the actual content of the conversation with the anonymous person who called him, all details were arguably true at the time of the conversation in July 2016:

  • There was communication between Russia and Trump
  • There was “exchange of information” but there was “nothing bad about it”
  • Some of this could be damaging to Trump, but deniable, and some could be good for Russia

As he had the previous day, Danchenko offered to pull up his communications to provide more details about this, making it clear that he had not yet done so. Obviously, DOJ ultimately did obtain the emails Danchenko exchanged with Millian and the Novosti journalists, because they are one of the only pieces of proof offered in the indictment for these charges.

Durham didn’t charge this January 2017 instance of what he claims was a lie, perhaps because the FBI came away from that interview believing that Danchenko was, “truthful and cooperative,” probably in part because Danchenko had clarified that the report was overblown.

Instead, Durham charged four other interviews in which Danchenko told the same story: March 16, May 18, October 24, and November 16, 2017, the latter two of which post-dated a Steele interview with the DOJ.

In each instance where Durham quotes Danchenko’s actual words (he doesn’t quote much from the November 16 instance and Durham doesn’t claim that interview was recorded, as the March and May ones were), Durham eliminates a caveat Danchenko made in the interview when describing the alleged lie in the actual charge — “I don’t know,” I’m not sure if I, he called … at the time I was under the impression it was him,” “at least someone who I thought was him” — maintaining a consistent pattern, on Durham’s part, of making material omissions in indictments charging material omissions. He treats a likely inadvertent misstatement from October 24 — that Danchenko believed he spoke to Millian a couple of times — as a lie unto itself.

And Durham lards on the same alleged lie, over and over and over and over. Even if Danchenko were found guilty on all four counts, it would have little effect on the sentence (though if Danchenko is found guilty, the real sentence will be deportation after sentence, after which he surely will face stiff retaliation in Russia for his role in all this).

This is the action of a prosecutor who is either throwing a tantrum, or someone who is uncertain of his own charges, and so is ensuring he gets multiple shots at proving an alleged lie by charging it in four different ways (perhaps hoping he can get Danchenko on his statement that he believed he spoke to Millian a couple of times).

As noted, Durham doesn’t claim to have testimony from Sergei Millian, beyond Millian spouting off on the Internet.

Durham also doesn’t properly account for the fact that Danchenko’s belief that this was Millian in July 2016, which is how the report in question was sourced, would easily have been different than his belief in August 2016, when he sent a follow-up email to Millian, and different still in a series of interviews in 2017, which makes his omission of Danchenko’s caveats on that point all the more problematic.

He similarly doesn’t commit to whether he believes Danchenko made up the entire phone call and attempted meeting in New York (Durham did not, for example, charge Danchenko with fraud for billing poor Christopher Steele for claiming he tried to meet a suspected source when, instead, he was on a jaunt to the Bronx Zoo), or whether he believes someone else called Danchenko, knowing precisely the information Danchenko was looking for, and provided — at least according to Danchenko’s description — accurate information that reflected some knowledge of ongoing contacts between Trump and the Russians.

Again, given that there are no records about what Danchenko told Steele and given their conflicting testimony, he likely can’t know what the truth is (even assuming he’s right that Millian did not call Danchenko, a claim he doesn’t claim to have gotten Millian to assert under oath).

Danchenko replaced his phone before any of these FBI interviews, so unless FBI found a way to retrieve it and managed to reconstruct contents after a factory reset, it’s not clear Durham can rule out a Signal call.

The proof that Durham offers that this is a lie is that, after the failed (claimed) attempt to meet in New York, Danchenko sent an August 18 email to Millian that reflected no prior direct communication, and an August 24, 2016 email to one of the Novosti journalists stating that,

for some reason [Millian] doesn’t respond.

[snip]

Would you be able to ask him to reply to me? I could call or write on Linkedln, but until he responds I would not like to pester him.

It will be a cinch for Danchenko to explain away both of these communications.

Durham doesn’t mention a claim Danchenko made about a conversation he had with the Novosti journalists after the first attempted contact, who told Danchenko that Millian asked them about Danchenko, something that might either corroborate Danchenko’s claimed belief or provide other explanations for the claimed call.

The only other proof that Durham offers in the indictment (it’s possible he will try to bring in communications involving Fusion, except the timing of Fusion’s actual obsessions about Millian are not entirely helpful on that front, and unless and until he finally charges the conspiracy he seems to want to charge, it’s not clear he’ll be able to introduce communications to which Danchenko was not a party) is that Steele had a differing understanding of what happened than Danchenko; there’s abundant evidence both men were fluffing their work for the actual content of the dossier, making it difficult to identify where a game of telephone ended and where actual knowing lies began. Significantly, Durham offers evidence that Danchenko freely admitted to not correcting Steele on whether he actually met or attempted to meet Millian; he offers no evidence that Danchenko affirmatively lied to Steele about whether he met Millian or not.

Sergei Millian was designated Source 6 in the FBI’s attempts to vet Danchenko’s contributions. And now Durham is prosecuting Danchenko based off Twitter evidence, a clear invitation for a significant Sixth Amendment challenge on Danchenko’s part.

Update: On Twitter, Millian (whose tweets are now admissible before EDVA, thanks to John Durham) is making it clear he doesn’t understand the significance of due process and the Sixth Amendment. He even seems to think that the fact that he now claims to be something something independent reporter means that his public statements (and a good deal of what the US government has in its possession) won’t be discoverable to Danchenko.

Millian repeatedly dodged my question about whether he had been interviewed, much less under oath.

Danchenko posts

The Igor Danchenko Indictment: Structure

John Durham May Have Made Igor Danchenko “Aggrieved” Under FISA

“Yes and No:” John Durham Confuses Networking with Intelligence Collection

Daisy-Chain: The FBI Appears to Have Asked Danchenko Whether Dolan Was a Source for Steele, Not Danchenko

Source 6A: John Durham’s Twitter Charges

John Durham: Destroying the Purported Victims to Save Them

John Durham’s Cut-and-Paste Failures — and Other Indices of Unreliability

Aleksej Gubarev Drops Lawsuit after DOJ Confirms Steele Dossier Report Naming Gubarev’s Company Came from His Employee

In Story Purporting to “Reckon” with Steele’s Baseless Insinuations, CNN Spreads Durham’s Unsubstantiated Insinuations

On CIPA and Sequestration: Durham’s Discovery Deadends

The Disinformation that Got Told: Michael Cohen Was, in Fact, Hiding Secret Communications with the Kremlin

Daisy-Chain: The FBI Appears to Have Asked Danchenko Whether Dolan Was a Source for Steele, Not Danchenko

You might be under the impression that John Durham has charged Igor Danchenko with multiple counts of lying regarding the role of Charles Dolan in the sourcing of the dossier. You might similarly be under the impression that, in the indictment, Durham alleges that Dolan was the source for the pee tape.

You’d be forgiven for believing those things. After all, the WaPo reported charges, plural, showed that “some of the material” in the Steele dossier came from Dolan.

The indictment also suggests Danchenko may have lied to Steele and others about where he was getting his information. Some of the material came from a Democratic Party operative with long-standing ties to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, according to the charges, rather than well-connected Russians with insight into the Kremlin.

The allegations cast new uncertainty on some past reporting on the dossier by news organizations, including The Washington Post.

Relying on that report, Jonathan Swan described charges, plural, that Dolan was, “one of the sources for the rumors about Trump.”

And Barry Meier, who so badly misunderstood the import of Oleg Deripaska in his book on private intelligence, also claimed there were charges, plural, relating to Dolan and insinuated that Durham had alleged the pee tape came from him.

In Durham’s indictment, however, Danchenko comes across more like the type of paid informant often found in the world of private spying — one who tells their employer what they want to hear.

According to those charges, he supposedly fed Steele some information that did not come from Kremlin-linked sources, as the dossier claims, but was gossip he picked up from an American public-relations executive with Democratic Party ties who did business in Moscow. In 2016, the indictment states, the manager of the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow gave that executive a tour of the the hotel’s presidential suite, and soon afterward, Danchenko took a selfie of himself and the executive at the hotel.

Reporting on Danchenko’s arraignment, WaPo went off at more length, not only failing to distinguish an uncharged accusation as such (one likely source of the belief that Durham charged multiple counts pertaining to Dolan), but stating as fact that Danchenko made up an entire conversation — one Danchenko has consistently attributed to a named Russian source — regarding the pee tape.

He is also accused of lying about revealing to sources that he was working for Steele.

Durham says Danchenko made up a conversation he claimed was the source of one of the dossier’s most salacious claims, that Trump paid prostitutes at a Moscow hotel room to urinate on a bed in which President Barack Obama had once slept. The dossier also suggested Russian intelligence agencies had secretly recorded that event as potential blackmail material. Trump has denied any such encounter.

The indictment suggests that story came from Dolan, who in June 2016 toured a suite at a hotel in Moscow that was once occupied by Trump.

There is a single charge related to Dolan in the Danchenko indictment. It claims that Danchenko, “denied to the FBI that he had spoken with [Dolan] about any material contained in the Company Reports.”

On or about June 15, 2017, within the Eastern District of Virginia, IGOR DANCHENKO, the defendant, did willfully and knowingly make a materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statement or representation in a matter before the jurisdiction of the executive branch of the Government of the United States, to wit, on or about June 15, 2017, the defendant denied to agents of the FBI that he had spoken with PR Executive-1 about any material contained in the Company Reports, when in truth and in fact, and as the defendant well knew, PR Executive-1 was the source for an allegation contained in a Company Report dated August 22, 2016 and was otherwise involved in the events and information described in the reports. [my emphasis]

But Durham only claims that Dolan was the source for one report in the dossier, a claim that Manafort was forced to resign not just because of the revelations of his Ukrainian corruption, but also because Corey Lewandowski had it in for him.

Close associate of TRUMP explains reasoning behind [Manafort’s] recent resignation. Ukraine revelations played part but others wanted [Manafort] out for various reasons, especially [Lewandowski] who remains influential

[snip]

Speaking separately, also in late August 2016, an American political figure associated with Donald TRUMP and his campaign outlined the reasons behind [Manafort’s] recent demise. S/he said it was true that the Ukraine corruption revelations had played a part in this, but also, several senior players close to TRUMP had wanted [Manafort] out, primarily to loosen his control on strategy and policy formulation. Of particular importance in this regard was [Manafort’s] predecessor as campaign manager, [Lewandowski], who hated [Manafort] personally and remained close to TRUMP with whom he discussed the presidential campaign on a regular basis.

This may be the most provably accurate claim in the dossier. And for good reason: that’s because, as Dolan told the FBI, he didn’t get it from a friend of his, but instead from public news sources.

PR Executive-1 later acknowledged to the FBI that he never met with a “GOP friend” in relation to this information that he passed to DANCHENKO, but, rather, fabricated the fact of the meeting in his communications with DANCHENKO. PR Executive-1 instead obtained the information about Campaign Manager-1 from public news sources. According to PR Executive-1, he (PR Executive-1) was not aware at the time of the specifics of DANCHENKO’s “project against Trump,” or that DANCHENKO’s reporting would be provided to the FBI.

Durham makes no claim that Danchenko knew that Dolan had a make-believe GOP friend. And, as noted, Dolan told the FBI (it’s unclear whether this was Durham’s team or Mueller’s, which is actually critical to the viability of this charge) that at this point in August 2016, two months after the pee tape report, he did not know the specifics of the dossier project.

I don’t doubt that Dolan was the source for the (accurate) Lewandowski claim. And if Durham can also prove that Danchenko considered himself the source for this report (Danchenko seems not to have recognized some reports that Christopher Steele based on his reporting) and that he remembered this particular report when he was asked this question, then Durham might well make this charge stick.

As for the pee tape, Durham insinuates that Dolan had some role in it (and, given Durham’s focus on Dolan’s Democratic ties, suggests it was willful) based on the accusation that Danchenko denied that Dolan, “was otherwise involved in the events and information described in the reports,” which is so vague it’s not clear whether Durham actually knows what actually happened with this and the other allegation relating to Dolan in question. Indeed, given that both Danchenko and Steele injected inaccuracies into the process and neither has records of what occurred between them, it would be hard to know for sure.

In his explanation for that report in his first interviews, Danchenko definitely seems to have either borrowed the events Dolan participated in at the Ritz Hotel (Dolan was there in June 2016 to plan a conference that took place in October 2016, and Danchenko visited at the hotel during his own June 2016 trip to Moscow) or independently asked questions of staffers while he was visiting Dolan. That’s because Danchenko’s description suggests “he had a meeting with the managers” in June 2016 that Durham notes, he didn’t attend.

[H]e had a meeting with the managers [redacted]. During a free minute, he asked about “this stuff about Trump at the hotel.” His interlocutors laughed it off, stating that “all kinds of things happen at the hotel” and with celebrities, “one never knows what they’re doing.” [Danchenko] said that it wasn’t a denial. And asking the hotel staff who were assisting with the [redacted] arrangements, one girl commented that “anything goes at the hotel, and added that, “officially, we don’t have prostitutes.”

I’m agnostic; Danchenko might have been deliberately lying here or forgetful — he definitely corrected misimpressions between his first and second day of interviews without prompting from FBI. But he cleaned this claim up in one of his later interviews (Durham does not describe how long it took FBI to clarify this, and it actually matters to several aspects of his case).

During the Interviews in or about 201 7 in which he was asked about this Company Report, DANCHENKO initially claimed to have stayed at the Moscow Hotel in June 2016. DANCHENKO later acknowledged in a subsequent interview, however, that he did not stay at the Moscow Hotel until the October Conference.

He also, in a March 2017 interview, claimed the staff member of the hotel had not confirmed the pee tape allegation, only that there was chatter about such claims (though this claim, too, may have involved Danchenko borrowing the experience of Dolan to claim he had met with a hotel staffer).

he/she spoke with at least one staff member at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Moscow who said that there were stories concerning Trump’s alleged sexual activities, not that the activities themselves had been confirmed by the staff member

If Danchenko knowingly lied, it seems to have involved borrowing details from the events Dolan attended to make his own account sound more credible, effectively to explain away why he had such ready access to Ritz staffers. That would require no involvement from Dolan aside from sharing details of his own itinerary with Danchenko at lunch and having them unknowingly used to lend credibility to rumors Danchenko was already sharing. Yet the WaPo nevertheless reported as fact that, “The indictment suggests that story came from Dolan.”

I’m not saying Danchenko didn’t either lie or shade his testimony or simply work from memory because he, by design, had almost no records of his work. But that doesn’t mean the charge — to say nothing of Durham’s gratuitous effort to link it to Hillary — is sound.

That’s because the FBI appears to have asked Danchenko not whether Dolan had been a source of Danchenko’s, but instead whether Dolan had been a source for Steele.

Here are the transcript excerpts Durham includes from the June 15, 2017 interview which — as a declassified footnote from the DOJ IG Report has made clear, occurred almost immediately after FBI obtained materials under Section 702 that would have revealed Danchenko’s role in introducing Dolan to Olga Galkina and the extensive follow-up communications between Galkina and Dolan.

FBI AGENT-1: Um, because obviously I don’t think you’re the only …

DANCHENKO: Mm-hmm.

FBI AGENT-1: Person that has been contributing. You may have said one – and this is the other thing we are trying to figure out.

[ … ]

FBI AGENT-1: Do you know a [PR Executive-1]?

DANCHENKO: Do I know [PR Executive-1]? Yeah.

FBI AGENT-1: How long have you known him? [laughing] [pause]

DANCHENKO: I’ve known [PR-Executive-1] for [pause] I don’t know, a couple years maybe.

FBI AGENT-1: Couple years?

DANCHENKO: But but but but but but but I’ve known of him for like 12 years.

[ … ]

DANCHENKO: Yeah. Yeah he likes Russia. I don’t think he is, uh, – would be any way be involved. But-but-uh-b-but he’s uh [UI] what I would think would be easily played. Maybe. Uh, he’s a bit naive in his, um liking of Russia.

FBI AGENT-1: Okay, so you’ve had … was there any … but you had never talked to [PR Executive-1] about anything that showed up in the dossier [Company Reports] right?

DANCHENKO: No.

FBI AGENT-1: You don’t think so?

DANCHENKO: No. We talked about, you know, related issues perhaps but no, no, no, nothing specific. [emphasis Durham’s]

The exchange starts with the FBI Agent saying, “I don’t think you’re the only … person that has been contributing,” presumably to the dossier. This is consistent with Steele’s (weak) claims to have had other  reporting sources besides Danchenko. And it’s consistent with repeated comments from Danchenko that he didn’t know whether or not he was the only subsource collecting for Steele.

Of particular note, on January 25, 2017, Danchenko said this about one of the three reports that Durham insinuates came second-hand from Dolan, one describing the replacement of a staffer at the Russian Embassy in DC.

Looking at Report 2016/111, [Danchenko] was asked about the report’s use of the descriptor, “a trusted compatriot.” — as in paragraph one, “Speaking in confidence to a trusted compatriot in mid-September 2016…” [Danchenko] said that it might be him, but that it could also be others. [Danchenko’s] attorney then jumped in, stating that the “literary device” used by Steele in the dossier was not consistent and not clear, so he wanted to be careful about matching that descriptor to his client. [Danchenko said that, to the best of his knowledge, he is not sure if he was the only one working on this issue for Orbis [and therefore he is not clear if he is always the “trusted compatriot” mentioned in the document.]

Interviewers drew [Danchenko’s] attention to paragraph 5 of the same report, where Mikhail Kalugin [written as Kulagin] is mentioned. [Danchenko] is not clear how this paragraph was put together. [Danchenko] indicated that no MFA official told him [redacted] because of the election issue. About [redacted], [Danchenko] knows that [redacted]. Danchenko knows that [redacted] [Danchenko] that [redacted] was his replacement [redacted] Kalugin had described Bondarev as “a bright young guy.” Danchenko has no idea where the language in this paragraph regarding [redacted] being “clean in this regard” (with respect to knowledge and involvement in US election matters [redacted]).

Danchenko had offered up the explanation that Durham now claims was him taking credit for the report as part of a rambling explanation for why he had the business card for the Russian source in question (the FBI analyst put it under a heading with the report number, but by description that’s not how it was first broached).

Whether Steele had other reporting sources in addition to Danchenko or not, the FBI Agent started this line of questioning based on the assumption Steele did, stating that he was trying to figure out who else was “contributing” to the dossier in the same way Danchenko was. Given the messages between Galkina and Dolan that FBI would have just obtained via Section 702, it would be unsurprising if the FBI suspected Dolan was a source for Steele, not least because he had better personal access than Danchenko did, he and Galkina were talking about things that showed up in the dossier, and Steele and Dolan had been in touch since the spring.

Depending on how quickly after that question the FBI raised Dolan (note the ellipsis), then, Danchenko may well have fairly understood this entire line of questioning to pertain to whether Dolan was not his own, Danchenko’s, source, but Steele’s. If so, then the question of whether Danchenko spoke to Dolan about stuff that showed up in the dossier might be viewed in a variety of different ways, including whether Dolan admitted he was a source for Steele. And while Danchenko’s denial that he and Dolan ever spoke of anything specific that showed up in the dossier would be a clearly knowing lie if, when he was asked it, he understood himself to be the source of the Paul Manafort report, remembered the report, and hadn’t gotten a second source for the claim, Danchenko did not deny outright that he and Dolan spoke about matters “related” to the dossier, just “nothing specific.”

That’s all the more true given something else Danchenko said in his first interviews, describing how he worked. “He used his existing contacts and daisy-chained from them to try to identify others with relevant information.” If, for example, Danchenko got the names of the Ritz personnel from Dolan, “daisy-chaining” from his existing contact (Dolan) to people Dolan met with at the hotel, either to talk with them directly or to fluff up the report to Steele, he might regard those as “related” to the subject of the report, but not the specific detail — the pee tape allegation — in it.

He may well have answered inaccurately to an FBI question or outright lied, but it’s not clear that the FBI was asking him the question that Durham now treats the answer as. And there’s no evidence that, in the remainder of the June 2017 interview or the two later interviews with Danchenko in 2017 (both of which took place after Steele was interviewed) the FBI ever asked about the three specific reports that Durham now believes have some tie to Dolan, which is what it would take to have a solid false statements charge. By comparison, George Papadopoulos wrote the FBI claiming to have checked his record on timing of his contacts with Joseph Mifsud and reiterated his false timeline with the FBI and FBI Agents repeatedly cued Mike Flynn with language he used in his conversations with Sergei Kislyak to make sure he was really lying.

The crazier thing about all this comes from Durham’s materiality claim.

PR Executive-1’s role as a contributor of information to the Company Reports was highly relevant and material to the FBI’s evaluation of those reports because (a) PR Executive-1 maintained pre-existing and ongoing relationships with numerous persons named or described in the Company Reports, including one of DANCHENKO’s Russian sub-sources ( detailed below), (b) PR Executive-1 maintained historical and ongoing involvement in Democratic politics, which bore upon PR Executive-1’s reliability, motivations, and potential bias as a source of information for the Company Reports, and (c) DANCHENKO gathered some of the information contained in the Company Reports at events in Moscow organized by PR Executive-1 and others that DANCHENKO attended at PR Executive-1 ‘s invitation. Indeed, and as alleged below, certain allegations that DANCHENKO provided to U.K. Person-1, and which appeared in the Company

Danchenko revealed the import of the Dolan-organized events in the first interviews — that’s literally part of the “proof” Durham offers that Danchenko lied about it. FBI learned of Dolan’s close ties to Galkina via Section 702 collection before this alleged lie, and when Danchenko was asked in that same June 2017 interview, he explained the key details, effectively confirming what FBI would have learned from its FISA collection (and thereby seemingly passing one test of his candor).

In a later part of the conversation, DANCHENKO stated, in substance and in part, that PR Executive-1 had traveled on the October “delegation” to Moscow; that PR Executive-1 conducted business with Business-1 and Russian Sub-source-1; and that PR Executive-1 had a professional relationship with Russian Press Secretary-1.

That leaves, for the question of materiality, Dolan’s “historical and ongoing involvement in Democratic politics, which bore upon PR Executive-1’s reliability, motivations, and potential bias as a source of information for the Company Reports.”

Again, the Paul Manafort report may be the most provably correct report in the entire dossier. Claiming (correctly) that Manafort was ousted not just because of his corrupt ties in Ukraine — a claim that Republicans have spent five years claiming was just a propaganda campaign launched by Democrats — but also because others wanted him out actually undercuts the story that has always claimed to be the most useful to Democrats. The report on Embassy staff changes was, Durham suggests, based directly off quotes Dolan got from the staffer in question; indeed, Durham points to the accuracy of those quotations to prove the report came from Dolan. There was a flourish added — that the person in question was untainted by involvement with the Russian election operation — which Danchenko disclaims, but there’s no evidence the flourish comes from Dolan (or even Danchenko — it’s the kind of thing Steele seems to have added). In other words, assuming Dolan was the source for the things Durham claims he was, Dolan seems to have been the most accurate source for the dossier.

There was an unbelievable amount of shit in the dossier and it would be useful if there were an accounting of how that happened (which Durham is not doing here). The Danchenko-to-Steele reporting process (which, contrary to Durham’s claims, Danchenko candidly laid out in his first interviews with the FBI) was one source of the problems with the dossier. But at least as much of the shit seems to come from Danchenko’s sources, several of whom had ties to Russian intelligence and who may have been deliberately injecting disinformation into the process. Instead of focusing on that — on Russians who may have been deliberately feeding lies into the process — Durham instead focuses on Dolan, not because Durham claims he wittingly shared bad information to harm Trump (his one lie served to boost an accurate story that went against the grain of the Democrats’ preferred narrative), but because as a Democrat he — not Russian spies — is being treated by Durham as an adversary.

Danchenko posts

The Igor Danchenko Indictment: Structure

John Durham May Have Made Igor Danchenko “Aggrieved” Under FISA

“Yes and No:” John Durham Confuses Networking with Intelligence Collection

Daisy-Chain: The FBI Appears to Have Asked Danchenko Whether Dolan Was a Source for Steele, Not Danchenko

Source 6A: John Durham’s Twitter Charges

John Durham: Destroying the Purported Victims to Save Them

John Durham’s Cut-and-Paste Failures — and Other Indices of Unreliability

Aleksej Gubarev Drops Lawsuit after DOJ Confirms Steele Dossier Report Naming Gubarev’s Company Came from His Employee

In Story Purporting to “Reckon” with Steele’s Baseless Insinuations, CNN Spreads Durham’s Unsubstantiated Insinuations

On CIPA and Sequestration: Durham’s Discovery Deadends

The Disinformation that Got Told: Michael Cohen Was, in Fact, Hiding Secret Communications with the Kremlin

“Yes and No:” John Durham Confuses Networking with Intelligence Collection

John Durham apparently believes li’l ol’ emptywheel is smarter than an entire team of seasoned FBI counterintelligence professionals. That’s the only conclusion I can draw from his effort to explain why a lie he accused — but did not charge — Igor Danchenko of telling was material to an ongoing investigation. Durham claims that in his first set of interviews, Danchenko was deliberately and knowingly hiding how indiscreet he had been about his intelligence work for Christopher Steele.

Such lies were material to the FBI’s ongoing investigation because, among other reasons, it was important for the FBI to understand how discreet or open DANCHENKO had been with his friends and associates about his status as an employee of U .K. Investigative Firm-1, since his practices in this regard could, in turn, affect the likelihood that other individuals — including hostile foreign intelligence services — would learn of and attempt to influence DANCHENKO’s reporting for U.K. Investigative Firm-1.

The alleged lie in question (which, as I’ll show, Durham misrepresents) is that Danchenko claimed to the FBI that he “never mentioned that he worked for [Christopher Steele or Orbis] to his friends or associates.”

In response, DANCHENKO falsely stated, in sum and substance, that while certain friends were aware that DANCHENKO worked generally in due diligence and business intelligence, DANCHENKO never mentioned that he worked for U.K. Person-I or U.K. Investigative Firm-1 to his friends or associates. DANCHENKO further stated, ”you [the FBI] are the first people” he had told. DANCHENKO added that the reason he never told associates about his relationship with U .K. Person-1 and U .K. Investigative Firm-1 was the existence of a non-disclosure agreement he signed with U.K. Person-1 and U .K. Investigative Firm-1.

As noted, Durham makes this claim based off Danchenko’s first series of FBI interviews in late January 2017.

It’s rather confusing that Durham claims Danchenko was hiding how indiscreet he was in those interviews, because after I read heavily redacted summaries of those very same interviews last year, I laid out a slew of ways that Danchenko and Steele were making themselves vulnerable to discovery:

PSS [Danchenko] described that his debriefings with Steele were always at the Orbis office, which meant if Steele himself were surveilled, PSS’ ties to Steele would become obvious.

[snip]

[H]is communications with Steele included many insecure methods. He first met Steele in a Starbucks. Early on, he communicated with him via email and Skype, and Steele would task him, at least in part, via email. He described discussing [Carter] Page’s trip to Russia with Source 3 on some kind of voice call, possibly a phone, while he was at a public swimming pool, though he also described talking in an opaque way about election interference. Likewise, the most problematic December 13 report was based on a conversation with the same source, which was also a phone call.

In short, while Steele and PSS and PSS’ sources made some efforts to protect their communications from the Russians that surely considered Steele a target, those efforts were inconsistent.

PSS described making three trips to Russia for his election year reporting. On the second trip, he got grilled suspiciously at the border. On his third, “nothing bad happened,” which made PSS suspicious about how perfectly everything had gone.

PSS repeatedly described being uncomfortable with the election year tasking, and he seems to have had suspicions in real time that Russia had taken note of it.

I also noted that two of Danchenko’s sources — to whom he admitted he worked in business intelligence — attempted to task him to collect information (indeed, Olga Galkina, described as S3 here, had done so just days before this interview, after the publication of the dossier by BuzzFeed, which she subsequently admitted to reading in detail when it came out). A third — someone Danchenko believed had close ties to an FSB officer — had gotten Danchenko to help him get a scholarship to study in the UK with help from Orbis.

And both Source 2 and Source 3 — the sources for some of the more problematic information in the Steele dossier — knew PSS brokered intelligence. Both also discussed brokering information in Russia.

[S3] is one of the individuals who knows that [PSS] works for due diligence and business intelligence. [As an aside at this point, [PSS] insisted that [S2] probably has a better idea about this than does [S3] because [S2] is always trying to monetize his relationship with [PSS]. [PSS] reiterated again to interviewers that [S2] will often pitch money-making ideas or projects — “Let’s work together. I [S2] can try and get [redacted] to answer a question, but I’ll need some money to do it.”] [S3] has an understanding that [PSS] is “connected.” In fact, either [redacted] morning or [redacted] morning, [S3] reached out to [PSS] and asked him for help in [redacted] on how [redacted] living in the United States are viewing the Trump administration. She is asking him [redacted] by the weekend, probably so she can sell it to a friend in Moscow.

And because PSS asked Orbis to help S1 — the guy with close ties to an FSB officer — get a scholarship for language study in the UK, S1 presumably knows what Orbis and who Steele is.

In other words, in the interview where (Durham claims) Danchenko lied to hide how indiscreet he was, he provided substantive reason to believe he hadn’t been at all discreet with three of his claimed dossier sources.

On top of that, the analyst who wrote up the report noted several times when Danchenko’s answers contradicted his early assertion that he himself had no known ties to Russian intelligence (there’s far more evidence that Danchenko knowingly lied about ties to Russian spooks than any of the charges laid out here, but that doesn’t serve Durham’s narrative and so instead he’s charging more random lies).

Thanks to Bruce Ohr’s help vetting Steele (for which he got fired), the FBI also learned that Steele was working for Oleg Deripaska, a central player in the election-year operation and one of the several obvious ways that Russia would have learned of this project.

If anyone at the FBI came away from these early interviews believing that Steele and Danchenko were exercising adequate operational security for this project (even ignoring Steele’s blabbing to the press), they had no business working in counterintelligence. Then again, Peter Strzok attempted to carry out an extramarital affair on an FBI device that (DOJ IG investigations would later disclose) happened to have a serious vulnerability built into it by a vendor. And in my own very limited experience, the FBI had uncomfortably shoddy operational security. So maybe there’s something to that.

Danchenko candidly told the FBI a number of things that should have given them ample reason to believe the project had been compromised. Importantly, that includes a warning that Galkina knew he was in business intelligence, the single most important detail as laid out in the Danchenko indictment. For Durham to suggest that Danchenko was withholding such details when, in that first interview, he carried out a debate with himself about which of two sources, including Galkina, knew more about his intelligence gathering is, frankly, batshit insane.

Worse still, Durham misrepresents what Danchenko was asked and how he answered.

As noted above (in bold) Durham claimed that Danchenko lied by saying that he, “never mentioned that he worked for Steele or Orbis to his friends or associates.” Durham, as is his sloppy habit, doesn’t quote either the question or Danchenko’s response. As a result, Durham hid the material fact that Danchenko was not asked whether he revealed that he worked for Orbis, but whether he told people he collected intelligence for them. And he didn’t answer, “no;” he answered, “yes and no.”

Here’s the question and the response that Durham didn’t bother to quote in the indictment.

[Danchenko] was asked how he “covers” his queries with his sources. He typically tells his sources that he is working on a research project or an analytical product. He was also asked if there were friends, associates, and/or sources who knew that he was collecting information for Orbis. He said, “yes and no,” and explained that some of his closer friends understand that he works in the area of due diligence and business intelligence. Many of the think that he is doing projects for entities like [redacted], the [redacted], or think tanks [redacted. They don’t know that he works for Orbis, as he signed a non-disclosure agreement and told not to talk about the company. He has never mentioned Chris Steele or Orbis to his friends and associates. He emphasized that “you [the FBI] are the first people he’s told.” [my emphasis]

Danchenko was not asked, generally, whether he talked about Orbis, which is what Durham claims he was asked. Danchenko was asked about how he covers his queries. He was specifically asked if his associates knew “that he was collecting information for Orbis.”

His answer was not “no,” but instead, “yes and no,” because people knew he was collecting intelligence. And (as noted above) he would refer back to the follow-on answer — that his friends understood that he works in business intelligence — by explaining that two of his claimed dossier sources, including Olga Galkina, not only knew that he collected intelligence, but had attempted to task him to collect it themselves. The context of whether he mentioned Steele or Orbis was explicitly a reference to him being paid (through a cut-out arrangement he had just described to the FBI) for intelligence collection by Orbis, not whether he ever networked using Steele’s name.

This is important because some of the “proof” that Durham provides that Danchenko was affirmatively lying that he had told people “he was collecting information for Orbis,” includes stuff that doesn’t mention intelligence collection. There’s nothing about two April 2016 communications with Charles Dolan, for example, that suggest Danchenko appeared to be more than an analyst, which is what he was on paper.

For example, on or about April 29, 2016, DANCHENKO sent an email to PR Executive-I indicating that DANCHENKO had passed a letter to U.K. Person-I on behalf of PR Executive-I. Specifically, the email stated that DANCHENKO had “forwarded your letter” to [U.K. Person-I] and his business partner. “I’ll make sure you gentlemen meet when they are in Washington or when you are in London.”

That same day, DANCHENKO sent an email to PR Executive-1 outlining certain work that DANCHENKO was conducting with U.K. Investigative Firm-1. The email attached a U.K Investigative Firm-1 report titled “Intelligence Briefing Note, ‘Kompromat’ and ‘Nadzor’ in the Russian Banking Sector.”

Indeed, a later reference to these exchanges describes it as “broker[ing] business,” not discussing collecting intelligence.

For example, and as alleged above, DANCHENKO attempted to broker business between PR Executive-1 and U .K. Person-1 as early as in or about April 2016. See Paragraphs 23-25, supra.

Nor does a later email Dolan sent definitively describe Danchenko as collecting intelligence.

Monday night I fly to Moscow and will meet with a Russian guy who is working with me on a couple of projects. He also works for a group of former [allied foreign intelligence service] guys in London who do intelligence for business …. [H]e owes me as his Visa is being held up and I am having a word with the Ambassador.

Durham makes much of the fact that, by the time the dossier was published, Dolan knew that Danchenko was behind it. But Durham provides no evidence about how Dolan learned that (even though Dolan was interviewed by the FBI somewhere along the way). It’s possible, for example, that Dolan put two and two together on his own and/or asked Galkina. And — as Danchenko freely offered up in his first interview! — Galkina knew he was in the intelligence business, so it’s likely she figured it out and told Dolan, not least because the two had shared business interests harmed by the dossier’s allegations, in the last report, about Webzilla.

To be clear, after having obtained warrants on (presumably) all three — Danchenko, Dolan, and Galkina — Durham did find one person with whom Danchenko was clearly discussing the topic he was asked about, collecting intelligence for Steele (as opposed to doing analysis, brokering business, or otherwise networking).

For example, on or about July 28, 2016, DANCHENKO sent a message to an acquaintance and stated “Thanks to my reporting in the past 36 hours, [U .K. Person-I] and [U.K. Investigative Firm-I Employee] are flying in tomorrow for a few days so I might be busy . . . . ” In addition, on or about September 18, 2016, DANCHENKO sent a message to the same acquaintance stating that DANCHENKO had “[w]ork to do for [U.K. Person-I] who’s probably coming to DC on Wednesday.” U.K. Person-I did, in fact, travel to Washington. D.C. on or about September 21, 2016.

That person is either not central to Durham’s narrative, or has reason to have known, because Durham doesn’t explain who it is. But if this person were not, for some reason, read into Danchenko’s cover story, or if the person is sufficiently memorable that Danchenko should have remembered these exchanges, then it does amount to proof that Danchenko answered incorrectly to that January 2017 question.

But all the things that Durham presents to suggest this answer was intentional — perhaps to insinuate that Danchenko didn’t hide the project because it made it more likely Galkina and Dolan would feed him bullshit — are, in fact, related to a different question, a question the FBI did not ask.

There’s one more thing that’s truly bizarre about Durham’s decision to include this allegation (again, it is not charged), particularly given that Danchenko freely offered up information making it clear Galkina knew a fair bit about Danchenko’s intelligence collection. According to the indictment, after that initial interview, the FBI interviewed Danchenko on — at a minimum — March 16, May 18, June 15, October 24, and November 16, 2017. Along the way, the FBI identified Galkina as a subject of particular interest and collected her communications under Section 702 which (among other things) identified precisely the relationships at the core of this indictment, presumably a response to the candid comments Danchenko made in that January 2017 (as well as the fact that she was his claimed source for the dodgiest claims).

But seemingly the FBI never revisited the question about how well Danchenko hid his intelligence collection and his relationship with Christopher Steele.

Perhaps that’s because Danchenko said enough in that first interview to make it clear that neither he nor Steele did adequately protect that relationship. The FBI didn’t return to that question — or the one Durham falsely claims he was asked — because he had already provided the answer with his other descriptions.

Danchenko posts

The Igor Danchenko Indictment: Structure

John Durham May Have Made Igor Danchenko “Aggrieved” Under FISA

“Yes and No:” John Durham Confuses Networking with Intelligence Collection

Daisy-Chain: The FBI Appears to Have Asked Danchenko Whether Dolan Was a Source for Steele, Not Danchenko

Source 6A: John Durham’s Twitter Charges

John Durham: Destroying the Purported Victims to Save Them

John Durham’s Cut-and-Paste Failures — and Other Indices of Unreliability

Aleksej Gubarev Drops Lawsuit after DOJ Confirms Steele Dossier Report Naming Gubarev’s Company Came from His Employee

In Story Purporting to “Reckon” with Steele’s Baseless Insinuations, CNN Spreads Durham’s Unsubstantiated Insinuations

On CIPA and Sequestration: Durham’s Discovery Deadends

The Disinformation that Got Told: Michael Cohen Was, in Fact, Hiding Secret Communications with the Kremlin

The Viral Twitter Thread in Which Darrell Cooper Confesses Republicans Were Pawns of Russian Disinformation

For some reason, this Twitter thread by a guy named Darrell Cooper, purporting to explain why Trumpsters came to attack the US Capitol, went viral.

I resisted several requests to fact check it. Now, after it has gone even more viral (including on Tucker Carlson’s show), Phil Bump has done a good fact check. As Bump notes, while Cooper accurately lays out that Trump supporters have lost confidence in institutions, Cooper offers an explanation that relies on a series of false claims so as to put the blame on Democrats.

It is indisputably the case that Trump supporters accept claims about election fraud in part because of their diminished confidence in institutions such as government and the media. What is subject to dispute, though, is the cause of that lack of confidence. While Cooper suggests that it’s emergent, it isn’t. While Cooper argues that it’s a function of investigations into Trump, it’s actually a function of partisan responses — largely but not entirely on the right — driven by Trump himself. And, most important, what Cooper presents as the indisputable facts undergirding his argument are often misleading or false and a function of partisan defenses of Trump that are common in conservative media.

Bump then debunks Cooper’s claims that:

  • The FBI spied on the Trump campaign using evidence manufactured by the Clinton campaign
  • We now know that all involved knew it was fake from Day 1 (see: Brennan’s July 2016 memo, etc)
  • The Steele dossier was the sole evidence used to justify spying on the Trump campaign
  • The entire Russian investigation stemmed from the Page investigation and not George Papadopoulos and Paul Manafort
  • Protests planned in case Trump overturned the election were a plan for violence
  • There were legitimate concerns about the election

Bump is absolutely right that Cooper makes false claims to be able to blame Democrats and Bump’s fact checks are sound (and really exhausting that they’re still required). Bump is likewise correct that a false claim about the Steele dossier is central to Cooper’s story.

I’d add that Cooper doesn’t mention that his claims about the problems with the Steele dossier matter primarily to the third and fourth FISA orders against Carter Page, and so happened under the Trump Administration and in three cases, were signed by people Trump either kept (in the case of Jim Comey) or put in place (in the case of Dana Boente and Rod Rosenstein).

But according to Cooper’s logic, if the dossier hadn’t existed, a series of events that followed wouldn’t have happened, and so Republicans wouldn’t have attacked their own government. Thus far it’s a typical right wing attempt to disclaim responsibility for their own actions.

What Bump doesn’t mention, though, is that it is now almost universally agreed upon on among Trumpsters that the dossier was the product of Russian disinformation. Lindsey Graham — who conducted an investigation into the circumstances of the Carter Page FISA — thinks it is. Chuck Grassley — who led the investigation into the dossier — thinks it is. Ron Johnson — who also made a show of investigating these things — thinks it is. Chuck Ross — the chief scribe of the dossier on the right — thinks it is. The high gaslighter Catherine Herridge thinks it is. Fox News and all their favorite sources think it is. WSJ’s editorial page thinks it is. None of these people have thought through the implications of that, but they do all appear to believe that the Russians fed disinformation through the Democratic-funded dossier to the FBI.

So, even setting aside the implications of the possibility that the dossier was Russian disinformation, according to Cooper’s narrative, Trump’s supporters wouldn’t have attacked their own government if it weren’t for Russian disinformation that set off a chain of events that led them to lose confidence in American institutions.

But consider the implications of the dossier as disinformation, implications that are evident largely thanks to sources that right wing figures have made great effort to liberate.

In response to a Trey Gowdy question at an interview by a GOP-led investigation into the dossier, Bruce Ohr explained that on July 30, 2016, Christopher Steele shared three pieces of information with him (later in his interview he would add a fourth, Russian doping): Two details from what we now know to be the dossier, as well as a third — that Oleg Deripaska’s attorney had information about Paul Manafort stealing money from Deripaska.

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.

Byron York provided more background on Steele’s efforts to share information from Deripaska with Bruce Ohr. The IG Report done in response to GOP requests provided still more. For example, the IG Report revealed that Steele had set up a meeting between Ohr and Oligarch 1, whom we know to be Deripaska, in September 2015 (these claims are consistent with the heavily redacted Ohr 302s liberated by Judicial Watch).

Handling Agent 1 told the OIG that Steele facilitated meetings in a European city that included Handling Agent 1, Ohr, an attorney of Russian Oligarch 1, and a representative of another Russian oligarch. 209 Russian Oligarch 1 subsequently met with Ohr as well as other representatives of the U.S. government at a different location.

[snip]

Ohr and Steele also communicated frequently over the years regarding Russian Oligarch 1, including in 2016 during the time period before and after Steele was closed as an FBI CHS.409 Steele told us his communications with Ohr concerning Russian Oligarch 1 were the result of an outreach effort started in 2014 with Ohr and Handling Agent 1, to approach oligarchs about cooperating with the U.S. government. Ohr confirmed that he and Handling Agent 1 asked Steele to contact Russian oligarchs for this purpose. This effort resulted in Ohr meeting with Russian Oligarch 1 and an FBI agent in September 2015.

The IG Report also revealed that in September 23 (around the same time Deripaska was interviewed by the FBI), Steele passed on a claim that Deripaska wanted to share information about Manafort.

On September 23, 2016, at Steele’s request, Steele met with Ohr in Washington, D.C. Ohr told us they spoke about various topics related to Russia, including information regarding Russian Oligarch 1 ‘s willingness to talk with the U.S. government about Manafort.

Far more consistently than using Ohr as a channel for dossier reports (and for a longer period of time), Steele used his ties with Ohr to advance Oleg Deripaska’s interests. And for the entirety of the time that Steele was feeding the FBI dossier reports, that meant Steele was feeding Ohr claims that not only presented Deripaska as a trustworthy actor, but did so in part by promising Deripaska’s cooperation in a criminal investigation of Paul Manafort. The FBI (and Mueller after that) didn’t investigate Manafort primarily for the stuff Deripaska was trying to feed the FBI, but Deripaska was making great efforts to ensure that the FBI would investigate Manafort. In the aftermath of all this, Trump and Manafort blamed Democrats for all this, but in fact, Deripaska was at least as responsible.

According to footnotes that Graham, Grassley, and Johnson had declassified, before Deripaska first started offering to help DOJ criminally investigate Manafort — before that July 30, 2016 meeting between Steele and Ohr — a Deripaska associate likely learned about the dossier project (the same declassification revealed that two Russian intelligence officers had learned of the project before that meeting which, given the belief that several of Deripaska’s associates were Russian intelligence officers, may be the same report).

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

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

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

In fact, the IG Report completed in response to Republicans’ requests makes it clear: if the dossier was disinformation, that disinformation most likely involved Oleg Deripaska, with whom Manafort was using his position on the Trump campaign in an attempt to patch up financial and legal relations.

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

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

Of course, for months before Deripaska first started offering (through Steele) to cooperate with the FBI against Manafort, Manafort had been trying to exploit his position on Trump’s campaign to ingratiate himself with (among others) Deripaska, in part in hopes to paper over precisely the financial dispute that Deripaska was, through Steele, trying to use to increase Manafort’s legal exposure. Weeks before the July 30 Steele-Ohr meeting, for example, Manafort had offered to brief Deripaska on the Trump campaign.

Immediately upon joining the Campaign, Manafort directed Gates to prepare for his review separate memoranda addressed to Deripaska, Akhmetov, Serhiy Lyovochkin, and Boris Kolesnikov,879 the last three being Ukrainian oligarchs who were senior Opposition Bloc officials. 880 The memoranda described Manafort’ s appointment to the Trump Campaign and indicated his willingness to consult on Ukrainian politics in the future. On March 30, 2016, Gates emailed the memoranda and a press release announcing Manafort’ s appointment to Kilimnik for translation and dissemination.881 Manafort later followed up with Kilimnik to ensure his messages had been delivered, emailing on April 11, 2016 to ask whether Kilimnik had shown “our friends” the media coverage of his new role. 882 Kilimnik replied, “Absolutely. Every article.” Manafort further asked: “How do we use to get whole. Has Ovd [Oleg Vladimirovich Deripaska] operation seen?” Kilimnik wrote back the same day, “Yes, I have been sending everything to Victor [Boyarkin, Deripaska’s deputy], who has been forwarding the coverage directly to OVD.”883

[snip]

The Office also obtained contemporaneous emails that shed light on the purpose of the communications with Deripaska and that are consistent with Gates’s account. For example, in response to a July 7, 20 I 6, email from a Ukrainian reporter about Manafort’ s failed Deripaskabacked investment, Manafort asked Kilimnik whether there had been any movement on “this issue with our friend.”897 Gates stated that “our friend” likely referred to Deripaska,898 and Manafort told the Office that the “issue” (and “our biggest interest,” as stated below) was a solution to the Deripaska-Pericles issue.899 Kilimnik replied:

I am carefully optimistic on the question of our biggest interest. Our friend [Boyarkin] said there is lately significantly more attention to the campaign in his boss’ [Deripaska’s] mind, and he will be most likely looking for ways to reach out to you pretty soon, understanding all the time sensitivity. I am more than sure that it will be resolved and we will get back to the original relationship with V. ‘s boss [Deripaska].900

Eight minutes later, Manafort replied that Kilimnik should tell Boyarkin’s “boss,” a reference to Deripaska, “that if he needs private briefings we can accommodate.”901

That is, per both Rick Gates and Manafort himself, how Manafort came to meet with Deripaska aide Konstantin Kilimnik on August 2, just three days after Deripaska tried to increase Manafort’s legal exposure via Steele. That’s how — and why! — he provided a briefing on campaign strategy amid a discussion of resolving the debt to Deripaska (as well as a plan to carve up Ukraine), as described by the SSCI Report completed under Chairs Richard Burr and Marco Rubio.

(U) At the meeting, Manafort walked Kilimnik through the internal polling data from Fabrizio in detail.453 According to Gates, Kilimnik wanted to know how Trump could win.454 Manafort explained his strategy in the battleground states and told Kilimnik about polls that identified voter bases in blue-collar, democratic-leaning states which Trump could swing.455 Manafort said these voters could be reached by Trump on issues like economics, but the Campaign needed to implement a ground game.456 Gates recalled that Manafort further discussed the “battleground” states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota.457 (U) The Committee sought to determine with specificity what information Kilimnik actually gleaned from Manafort on August 2, 2016. Information suggests Kilimnik understood that some of the polling data showed that Clinton’s negatives were particularly high; that Manafort’s plan for victory called for focusing on Clinton’s negatives as much as possible; and that given Clinton’s high negatives, there was a chance that Trump could win. (U) Patten’s debriefing with the SCO provides the most granular account of what information Kilimnik obtained at the August 2, 2016 meeting:

Kilimnik told Patten that at the New York cigar bar meeting, Manafort stated that they have a plan to beat Hillary Clinton which included Manafort bringing discipline and an organized strategy to the campaign. Moreover, because Clinton’s negatives were so low [sic]-if they could focus on her negatives they could win the election. Manafort discussed the Fabrizio internal Trump polling data with Kilimnik, and explained that Fabrizio ‘s polling numbers showed that the Clinton negatives, referred to as a ‘therm poll,’ were high. Thus, based on this polling there was a chance Trump could win. 458

(U) Patten relayed similar information to the Committee. In particular, he told the Committee that Kilimnik mentioned Manafort’s belief that “because or Clinton’s high negatives, there was a chance, only because her negatives were so astronomically high, that it was possible . to win.”459

[snip]

(U) In addition to Campaign strategy involving polling data and the Ukraine plan, Manafort and Kilimnik also discussed two financial disputes and debts at the meeting. (U) The first dispute involved Deripaska and Pericles.477 Gates recalled that Kilimnik relayed at the meeting that Deripaska’s lawsuit ha’d been dismissed.478 Gates also recalled that Kilimnik was trying to obtain documentation showing the dismissal.479

In short, even without confirmation the dossier was disinformation, it’s clear that Deripaska was playing a vicious double game, using Steele as a channel to increase Manafort’s legal exposure even while using that legal exposure as a way to get an inside track to Trump’s campaign. But if the dossier is disinformation (as Trumpsters seem to universally agree now), it might help explain the dodgy content of the dossier in ways that aren’t important to this post (for example, it might explain why Steele’s sources falsely claimed that Carter Page was Manafort’s liaison with Russia in the same days when Kilimnik flew to the US to offer a pitch to Manafort on Ukraine involving senior Russians).

Now consider one more detail, given that Trumpsters seem to universally agree the dossier was disinformation and the IG Report’s suggestion that the most likely architect of that disinformation was Oleg Deripaska.

On January 8, 2017, Manafort flew to Madrid to meet with a different Deripaska deputy, Georgiy Oganov. As the SSCI Report explained, while Manafort told investigators they discussed the Pericles lawsuit — the same lawsuit Deripaska was using to make Manafort legally insecure — they also discussed stuff that remains almost entirely redacted, but stuff that includes recreating their “old friendship” which (also per the SSCI Report) involved Manafort conducting influence campaigns for Deripaska.

On January 8, 2017, hours after returning to the United States from a trip to ~ to Madrid, Spain.598 Manafort met with Oganov in Madrid during what he claimed was a one-hour breakfast meeting.599 Manafort told the FBI that, at the meeting, Oganov told him that he needed to meet with Deripaska in person to resolve the Pericles matter.600 Manafort agreed but said he would not travel to Ukraine or Russia for the meeting.601

(U) Manafort provided false and misleading information about the purpose, content, and follow-up to the meeting with Oganov to both the Committee and the SCO. In particular, Manafort told the Committee in a written response through counsel that he attended a meeting on or around January 17, 2017, in Madrid with “Georgy Organov.”602 The written response claimed that the meeting was “regarding a private litigation matter involving Oleg Deripaska.”603 Despite admitting his attendance at the meeting to the Committee in May 2017, Manafort initially denied attending the meeting in his interviews with the SCO in the fall of 2018.604 He eventually admitted to attending the meeting with Oganov, and then repeated what he described in his letter to the Committee-that the meeting had been arranged by his lawyers and concerned only the Pericles lawsuit.605

Manafort’s claims about the meeting were false. As the above messages show, the meeting was not designed to be about Pericles, but was also about recreating the “old friendship” and “global politics.”

Manafort returned to the US on January 12 and, three days later, tried to set up an in-person meeting with KT McFarland.

She checked with Mike Flynn, who told her that the “perception” of meeting with Manafort, “especially now” (this was after Flynn’s own back channels with Russia were beginning to become public) would not be good, so to hold off until they were in the hot seats.

Manafort didn’t meet with Trump’s national security team, but around the same time, per reporting from Ken Vogel, he reached out to Reince Priebus and suggested the errors in the dossier not only discredited it, but also the FBI investigation.

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

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

[snip]

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

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

According to Rick Gates, at some point Manafort asked Kilimnik to obtain more information from his sources about it, including from Deripaska.

Since that suggestion to Priebus — which he made days after his return from a meeting with Deripaska’s associate — Trump has pursued precisely the strategy laid out by Manafort, using the errors in the dossier — the dossier that all Trumpsters now seem to believe was filled with errors by Russian intelligence and possibly by Deripaska associates — to discredit it and with it, the Russian investigation.

That’s the strategy that led Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller to report on the dossier full time — including forcing the opinion editor at the time to publish a Deripaska column attacking the dossier.

Fusion GPS’s Simpson, in a New York Times op-ed describing his own Judiciary Committee testimony, claimed a neoconservative website “and the Clinton campaign” were “the Republican and Democratic funders of our Trump research.” The Judiciary Committee’s Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) then unilaterally released, over the objection of committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Simpson’s testimony to “set the record straight.” Fusion GPS “commended Senator Feinstein for her courage.”

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

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

Invented narratives — not “of the people, by the people, for the people,” but rather just from a couple of people, cloaked in the very same hypocritical rhetoric of “freedom” and “democracy” that those are actively undermining — impede internationally shared efforts on the world’s most pressing, real issues, like global health, climate change and the future of energy. My own “Mother Russia” has many problems and challenges, and my country is still in transition from the Soviet regime — a transition some clearly wish us to remain in indefinitely.

And that’s the strategy that led Chuck Grassley, Lindsey Graham, and Ron Johnson to spend their time discrediting the dossier rather than conducting oversight of Donald Trump.

That’s the strategy that led Darrell Cooper to believe (or claim to believe) several false claims about the dossier and then use those false claims to excuse the way Trumpsters lost faith in institutions and so attacked the Capitol. In short, the likelihood that the dossier is disinformation — indeed, the likelihood that the guy twisting the nuts of Trump’s campaign manager fed the dossier full of disinformation even while using that pressure to obtain his cooperation — means that (at least if you believe Cooper’s narrative) that disinformation led, through a series of steps, Americans to attack the American Capitol.

Trumpsters appear to love Cooper’s narrative, I guess because it doesn’t hold them responsible for their own gullibility or betrayal of the country. There are other problems with it (including the replication of other claims that Republicans have agreed is Russian disinformation). But ultimately, even with Cooper’s errors, what his narrative amounts to (at least for all the Trumpsters who believe the dossier was disinformation) is a claim that Russia’s 2016 disinformation campaign led Trump supporters to attack the US Capitol.

Update: After I posted some folks in the thread questioned what the point of the disinformation would be. This post lays out a possible logic to it all.

The Odd Projection by the Steele Dossier’s Claimed Alfa Bank Source

Way back in March 2017, I noted that there was a clear feedback loop behind the Steele dossier. As part of that post, I noted how weird the single report on Alfa Bank in the dossier was. Rather than writing damning information about Trump — which was the entire point of the dossier — it instead described the relationship between Putin and a guy named Oleg Govorun, who the dossier claimed worked for Alfa in the 1990s (that date was wrong but not the affiliation).

Consider report 112, dated September 14. It pertains to “Kremlin-Alpha Group Cooperation.” It doesn’t have much point in a dossier aiming to hurt Trump. None of his associates nor the Russian DNC hack are mentioned. It does suggest that that Alfa Group had a “bag carrier … to deliver large amounts of illicit cash to” Putin when he was Deputy Mayor of St. Petersburg, though describes the current relationship as “both carrot and stick,” relying in part on kompromat pertaining to Putin’s activities while Deputy Mayor. It makes no allegations of current bribery, though says mutual leverage helps Putin “do his political bidding.”

As I said, there’s no point to have that Alfa Bank passage in a dossier on Trump. But it does serve, in its disclosure, to add a data point (albeit not a very interesting one) to the Alfa Server story that (we now know) FBI was already reviewing but which hadn’t been pitched to the press yet. In Corn’s piece, he mentions the Alfa Bank story but not the report on Putin’s ties to it. It may be in there because someone — perhaps already in possession of the Alfa Bank allegations — asked Steele to lay out more about Alfa’s ties with Putin.

Here’s one reason that’s interesting, though. Even aside from all the other reasons the Alfa story is dodgy, it was deliberately packaged for press consumption. Rather than the at least 19 servers that Trump’s spam email was pinging, it revealed just two: Alfa Bank and Spectrum Health (the latter of which got spun, anachronistically, as a DeVos organization that thus had to be tight with Trump). Which is to say, the Alfa story was dodgy and packaged by yet unknown people.

Even though the report didn’t say anything really damning about current Alfa bank personnel, the oligarchs who own the bank have nevertheless engaged in protracted lawfare that seems set on ruining those behind the dossier. As part of the lawsuit against Fusion GPS, the Alfa oligarchs recently submitted declarations from the presumed sources of Igor Danchenko, Steele’s primary subsource. (And yes, two of these declarations claim to be Subsource 4, in both English and Russian.)

Subsource 1: Sergey Vladimirovich Abyshev

Subsource 2: Ivan Mikhailovich Vorontsov

Subsource 3: Olga Aleksandrovna Galkina

Subsource 4: Alexey Sergeyevich Dundich

Subsource 4: Ivan Ivanovich Kurilla

Subsource 5: Lyudmila Nikolayevna Podobedova

With the exception of Galkina, all of these purported subsources state that they have not read the dossier except for the Alfa Bank report, and then assert that they were not a source for the dossier. For example, this is how Dundich disclaimed being a source for the dossier as a whole, which he is sure is low-quality, while admitting he only read one report from it.

I am aware of the Steele Dossier (“Dossier”), but I have never read it save for Company Intelligence Report 112 (“CIR 112”).

[snip]

In contrast to what Mr. Danchenko told U.S. authorities, I was not a “source” of information for the Dossier. I never gave Mr. Danchenko (or anyone else) any information associated with the contents of the Dossier, including CIR 112, Mr. Fridman, Mr. Aven, Mr. Khan, or Alfa. I believe that Mr. Danchenko framed me as Sub-Source 4 to add credibility to his low-quality work, which is not based on real information or in-depth analysis.

Even Galkina, who stated that she had read the dossier when it was published by BuzzFeed, issues a non-denial denial, stating only that when she traveled to the US in 2016 she and Danchenko did not discuss anything about the dossier (the FBI interviewed her in August 2017, which she doesn’t mention here, and she does travel to the States, so she’d be at risk of prosecution if she said anything conflicting with her prior statements or material known to have been obtained from her via FISA 702).

Mr. Danchenko and I met once in 2016. In connection with my job at Servers.com, I traveled to the United States in the spring of 2016 to participate in the Game Developers Conference event and investigate the prospects of running a public relations campaign for the company in the United States. I asked Mr. Danchenko to assist those efforts, and he introduced me to a third party, Charles Dolan, whom he thought could help. Mr. Danchenko and I did not discuss anything related to the Dossier or its contents during this meeting.

But she doesn’t describe her communications with Danchenko via phone and text, which is how Danchenko said he got some of the most important stories sourced to her. And a later denial in her declaration seems to be a (poorly translated) denial limited to providing information specific to the Alfa Bank materials, not a denial of providing other information in it.

I did not provide Mr. Danchenko (or anyone else) with any information mentioned in the Dossier and that was connected to Mr. Fridman, Mr. Aven, Mr. Khan, or Alfa. I believe that Mr. Danchenko identified me as Sub-Source 3 to create more authoritativeness for his work.

In short, none of these declarations could be denials they provided Danchenko information in the dossier, because the one person who has actually read it doesn’t deny she did provide information (that said, her information was some of the most likely to be deliberate disinformation).

These declarations, then, don’t do what a filing attempting to use them to force Danchenko to set for a deposition claims they do, making general denials of being a source for the dossier.

Even more importantly, Mr. Danchenko’s claimed sub-sources have now denied, under penalty of perjury, providing Mr. Danchenko with information related to the contents of the dossier generally or with respect to CIR 112 and Plaintiffs specifically.7

Galkina’s the only one who’d be able to make such a denial, and she doesn’t do so in her declaration.

But I find Abyshev’s denials of interest for other reasons. He admits that he and Vorontsov met with Danchenko on June 15, 2016 and claims that Danchenko got very drunk (earlier he claimed that Danchenko had a drinking problem for a year or two after the compilation of the dossier).

I met with Mr. Danchenko once in 2016, the year that, as I understand, the Dossier was prepared. On June 15, 2016, Mr. Danchenko, Ivan Vorontsov, and I met in Moscow. I recall that Mr. Danchenko appeared very intoxicated and was not able to maintain a conversation. During the meeting, I spoke with Mr. Vorontsov about investments and finance. I do not recall any conversation related to the contents of the Dossier, including allegations related to CIR 112, Mr. Fridman, Mr. Aven, Mr. Khan, or Alfa. This was my last meeting with Mr. Danchenko.

He further admits that Danchenko raised Alfa on a phone call with him at some time that year, but claims he told Danchenko the subject was inappropriate and he should go find out the answers to the question himself.

On one occasion, during a phone call in 2016, Mr. Danchenko asked me how close Mr. Fridman is to President Putin and whether Mr. Fridman had met with President Putin in 2016. I did not respond to Mr. Danchenko’s questions. Instead, I made it clear that the questions were inappropriate and that Mr. Danchenko should seek out answers to them himself.

This denial comes on top of Abyshev’s more general denial about being a source for the report in question.

Contrary to what Mr. Danchenko told U.S. authorities, I was not a “source” of the Dossier. I never provided Mr. Danchenko (or anyone else) with any information related to the contents of the Dossier, including CIR 112, Mr. Fridman, Mr. Aven, Mr. Khan, or Alfa.

On this point, Abyshev’s denial is the only one that is really pertinent, because he’s the only one that Danchenko mentioned in his FBI interview in conjunction with this report (the FBI interviewed Danchenko two more times after this, but those interviews must not be helpful for Trump, because Republicans have never demanded those reports be declassified).

While Danchenko seems to suggest that Source 1, Abyshev, was involved in this story, he doesn’t actually say that. Instead, he explained that he had been working on this story for ten years and that Source 1 had provided him other information on corruption unrelated to Alfa.

That’s interesting, not least because Vorontsov actually said that if you wanted information about the oligarchs running Alfa, you’d look outside of Russia (probably London).

I do not believe that Mr. Danchenko asked anyone inside Russia about Mr. Fridman, Mr. Aven, or Mr. Khan. If Mr. Danchenko were interested in those individuals, he would have sought information from people living outside Russia who would have greater knowledge of Mr. Fridman, Mr. Aven, and Mr. Khan.

In Vorontsov’s opinion, this is the part of the dossier for which Danchenko wouldn’t need a source in Russia.

Here’s where things get interesting. Like everyone save Galkina, Abyshev says the only part of the dossier he read was the Alfa Bank report.

I am aware of the so-called Steele Dossier (“Dossier”), but I have never read it save for the Russian translation of Company Intelligence Report 112 (“CIR 112”), which raises various allegations about Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven, German Khan, and Alfa.

Having not read the dossier, however, Abyshev claims that Danchenko’s job was to substantiate stories his clients want him to tell.

My understanding of Mr. Danchenko’s information-gathering process is that he first receives a story from his clients that he then must substantiate in any manner possible

This actually conflicts with Danchenko’s FBI interview, at least part of which Abyshev claims to have read, in which he says he tried to find information on Paul Manafort but failed to find much.

More interesting still, Abyshev offers up this explanation for what Danchenko was doing.

I infer from my interactions with Mr. Danchenko, from that 2016 telephone conversation, and from the content of what was ultimately published in CIR 112, that Mr. Danchenko had a working theory regarding the relationship between Alfa and its shareholders on the one hand, and President Putin on the other, and that Mr. Danchenko was fishing for information that would fit that preconceived narrative.

I believe it is likely that someone ensured that CIR 112 was included in the Dossier in an effort to persuade U.S. authorities to sanction Mr. Fridman, Mr. Aven, Mr. Khan, and Alfa.

I find that interesting — first, because decades old allegations of corruption would not substantiate a sanctions designation. Abyshev’s claims make no sense given the content that ended up in the report.

More interesting still is how closely Abyshev’s claims match Petr Aven’s testimony to Mueller’s team about how Putin pressured him to try to set up a back channel with Trump’s team during the transition by warning that Alfa would be sanctioned in the aftermath of the 2016 election.

Aven told the Office that he is one of approximately 50 wealthy Russian businessmen who regularly meet with Putin in the Kremlin; these 50 men are often referred to as “oligarchs.”977 Aven told the Office that he met on a quarterly basis with Putin, including in the fourth quarter (Q4) of 2016, shortly after the U.S. presidential election.978 Aven said that he took these meetings seriously and understood that any suggestions or critiques that Putin made during these meetings were implicit directives, and that there would be consequences for A ven if he did not follow through.979 As was typical, the 2016 Q4 meeting with Putin was preceded by a preparatory meeting with Putin’s chief of staff, Anton Vaino.980

According to Aven, at his Q4 2016 one-on-one meeting with Putin,981 Putin raised the prospect that the United States would impose additional sanctions on Russian interests, including sanctions against Aven and/or Alfa-Bank.982 Putin suggested that Aven needed to take steps to protect himself and Alfa-Bank.983 Aven also testified that Putin spoke of the difficulty faced by the Russian government in getting in touch with the incoming Trump Administration.984 According to Aven, Putin indicated that he did not know with whom formally to speak and generally did not know the people around the President-Elect.985

Aven [grand jury redaction] told Putin he would take steps to protect himself and the Alfa-Bank shareholders from potential sanctions, and one of those steps would be to try to reach out to the incoming Administration to establish a line of communication.986

[snip]

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. Burt was on the board of directors for LetterOne (L 1 ), another company headed by Aven, and had done work for Alfa-Bank. 1169 Burt had previously served as U.S. ambassador to Germany and Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs, and one of his primary roles with Alfa-Bank and Ll was to facilitate introductions to business contacts in the United States and other Western countries. 1170

I’ve always believed the Trump Tower server story to be an elaborate disinformation effort, which had the added benefit of drawing attention to Erik Prince but not the things that Prince was doing that were key to the Russian operation (his communications about which were done via garden variety encrypted apps). I likewise always believed that Aven’s testimony might explain why Russia would craft such disinformation: not only to distract from the things that Prince and others really were doing, but to present a way to recruit Alfa’s oligarchs more centrally into Russia’s efforts to push back on sanctions, as oligarchs who weren’t as western-focused had long been.

Here, a filing in a lawsuit attempting to make maximal advantage of whatever success Russia had feeding an old nemesis of theirs disinformation as part of the larger 2016 operation makes the same argument that (according to Aven’s own testimony) Putin made to Aven, only insinuating that the argument would have come from Danchenko, not a Russian disinformation source.

Abyshev is, in addition to Danchenko’s source on the pee tape (at that meeting where Abyshev says Danchenko was badly drunk), also someone Danchenko understood to have close ties to Russian intelligence who appears to have known of Danchenko’s tie to Steele.

You Cannot Discuss Disinformation and the Steele Dossier without Discussing Oleg Deripaska

The New York Times’ Barry Meier is the latest person to become part of the disinformation project associated with the Steele dossier, while claiming to critique it.

Before I explain why, let me lay out some very basic facts about the Steele dossier about which anyone deigning to comment on it at this point should be expected to exhibit basic awareness.

It is a fact that, starting in 2014 and continuing at least through at least February 2017, Christopher Steele used his relationship with DOJ’s Organized Crime expert, Bruce Ohr, to encourage ties between Oleg Deripaska and the US government. That included brokering a meeting between Ohr and Deripaska in 2015, and several communications in 2016 before Fusion GPS hired Christopher Steele to investigate Trump. It included Steele’s meeting with Ohr on July 30, 2016, at which Steele provided Ohr information on Russian doping, details from his reporting for the DNC, and news about Deripaska’s lawsuit against Paul Manafort. On December 7, 2016 — the day before Deripaska associate Konstantin Kilimnik would renew his pitch to Paul Manafort on a plan to carve up Ukraine — Ohr even suggested that Deripaska would be a useful source to reveal Manafort and Trump’s corruption. Just as Steele was working with the DNC via an attorney client, Steele was working with Deripaska via one or more attorney client. Like Manafort, Steele was under financial pressure in this period, and so was eager to keep Deripaska’s attorneys as a client. This post and this post provide a summary of their exchanges over that year.

It is a fact that Steele’s primary subsource, Igor Danchenko, described that in March 2016, Steele tasked Danchenko to find out what he could learn about Paul Manafort’s corruption and his ties to Ukraine (though Danchenko had little success). When asked about the client for this work, Danchenko, “had no inclinations as to why, or for whom, Steele was asking about Manafort.”

It is a fact that the DOJ Inspector General Report on Carter Page provided evidence to suggest an associate of Oleg Deripaska — and so we should assume Oleg Deripaska himself — learned of Steele’s dossier on Donald Trump by early July 2016, which would have been after just the first report had been completed.

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

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

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

This means that Deripaska’s associate probably learned of the dossier project before Steele met with Ohr on July 30 to share — along with information on Russian doping — information about Deripaska’s lawsuit against Manafort and the first tidbits from Steele’s dossier reporting.

It is a fact that in the same month, early June 2017, that the Intelligence Community found evidence that an Oleg Deripaska associate had learned of the dossier project, the Intelligence Community found evidence that two people with ties to Russian intelligence learned of the dossier project.

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

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

The Intelligence Community has identified two associates of Deripaska — Konstantin Kilimnik and Victor Boyarkin (through both of whom Manafort’s reports on the Trump campaign were funneled) — who have ties to Russian intelligence, so it’s possible that this early June 2017 intelligence is actually the same report, showing that a Manafort associate who had ties to Russian intelligence had learned of the dossier.

It is also a fact that Natalia Veselnitskaya, who because she was also a Fusion GPS client, was by far the most likely person to learn of a project conducted by Fusion GPS (possibly through Ed Baumgartner, who was working both the Fusion project with Veselnitskaya and the one with the DNC), also has ties to Russian intelligence.

It is a fact that when DOJ’s Inspector General entertained with the Crossfire Hurricane team the possibility that the Steele dossier had been injected with disinformation, DOJ IG envisioned Oleg Deripaska running that effort.

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

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

I have laid out the evidence that Oleg Deripaska was playing both sides in 2016, taking steps to make Manafort more vulnerable legally and financially even as his deputy Kilimnik was using Manafort’s vulnerability to swap campaign information for a plan to carve up Ukraine and financial salvation. The same post shows how every single report in the dossier could serve key Russian purposes, both associated with the 2016 operation and more generally (though I’m not arguing the entire dossier was disinformation). If the dossier was disinformation, it would taint a great number of anti-Russian experts, from Steele to the FBI to others in the US government.

If you’re going to write about the Steele dossier at all in 2021, you should exhibit some familiarity with these facts. All the more so if you’re going to talk about whether it was disinformation.

But NYT’s Barry Meier doesn’t do that. Last week, Meier published an excerpt from his book on private intelligence services. The entire excerpt uses the Steele dossier as the exemplar of what can go wrong when private intelligence services sell information collection to clients and also share that information with journalists. I don’t disagree that the dossier was a shit-show, but then I’ve been warning about that for four years now.

As part of Meier’s proof of the shoddy product in the dossier, Meier astoundingly quotes Natalia Veselnitskaya, without clearly explaining that when he says Veselnitskaya “worked alongside” Glenn Simpson, he meant she thought highly enough of his services to employ him.

Over dinner in Moscow in 2019, Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. at Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign, offered her take on the matter. Ms. Veselnitskaya had worked alongside Mr. Simpson when she represented a Russian-owned real estate firm called Prevezon Holdings and said she regarded him as a skilled investigator. As for Mr. Steele and the dossier, she had nothing but contempt.

“If you take this fake stuff for real, then you just have to be brave enough to believe, to completely dismiss all your special services, all your intelligence staff,” she said rapidly through an interpreter. She suggested how odd it was that all those people and agencies “were never able to find out what that talented person found out without ever leaving his room.”

Ms. Veselnitskaya was embroiled in her own legal drama. The Justice Department had indicted her in connection with her work for Prevezon, a charge she denied. Still, she raised an issue that reporters who embraced the dossier had blown past: How did Christopher Steele know more about Donald Trump and Russia than the C.I.A. or MI6?

One basic piece of evidence that the dossier had been compromised was that neither Simpson nor Steele ever figured out Veselnitskaya had floated a quid pro quo directly to Trump’s son — sanctions relief for dirt — with Manafort in attendance. But Meier apparently doesn’t think that Veselnitskaya was the proof that she said Steele missed. That is, he apparently doesn’t even understand — perhaps because he knows so little about what the Mueller investigation actually revealed? — that he’s being trolled by Veselnitskaya and that troll is offered up as proof that Christopher Steele is uniquely vulnerable to getting fooled by spooked up Russians.

That’s Meier’s one piece of primary evidence against the dossier. Otherwise, Meier explains, investigative journalists like himself rely on primary sources.

Investigative journalists normally rely on court records, corporate documents and other tangible pieces of evidence.

But he recites the kind of understanding of Igor Danchenko you’d get from reading right wing propaganda about him, rather than the Danchenko’s interview itself which showed ways that the DOJ IG Report did not faithfully report on the Danchenko interview (and indeed, had to make a significant correction), or, frankly, all the other problems with the DOJ IG Report.

Meier relies on a series that Erik Wemple did, for which he says, “most journalists [Wemple] contacted either defended their work or ignored his inquiries.” Meier doesn’t mention that not only did I not ignore Wemple, but I told him (twice, I think, both for an early inquiry about Chuck Ross’ reporting on the dossier and for his later series) that to the extent the dossier was disinformation, Ross and Wemple had become part of that effort. That is, Meier may not know, but Wemple himself is guilty of what Meier accuses others of, ignoring inconvenient details that undermine his narrative.

Craziest still, Meier relies on the claims of Matt Taibbi, who has harbored outright conspiracy theories about 2016, and whose own “reporting” on the Russian investigation consistently relies on, and usually misrepresents, secondary sources rather than the primary texts.

In an article for Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi cast the media’s handling of the dossier as a replay of a press disaster: the reporting before the Persian Gulf war, which claimed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. “The W.M.D. affair showed what happened when we don’t require sources to show us evidence, when we let political actors use the press to ‘confirm’ their own assertions,” Mr. Taibbi wrote. “Are we never going to own up to this one?”

On its own, Meier’s piece is a performance of the problems he complains about: relying on unreliable sources and apparent ignorance of the public record.

But it gets crazier still once you consider the response Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch posted to Meier’s work. Along with pointing to some inaccuracies in Meier’s attacks on them and some disclosures Meier should have made, they reveal that Fusion GPS played a bit part in the August 2016 NYT story on Manafort that led to his ouster from the Trump campaign.

By the time of the Democratic National Convention in July, we had been researching Trump for some 10 months — work that began for Republicans and was later continued for Democrats. On July 25, 2016, we met on the sidelines of the convention in Philadelphia with two ofthe Times’ top editors, Dean Baquet and Matt Purdy, to share information about our Trump-Russia research.

Among the topics we discussed was Paul Manafort’s prior work for Ukrainians backed by Putin. The next day, at Purdy’s request, we sent the Times a pile of public record documents that supported a conclusion that Manafort was in a compromised position in relation to Moscow, including records that showed he owed millions of dollars to Deripaska.

Purdy connected us with two of his top reporters. Barry Meier was also assigned to the story. He was having a hard time locating the Virginia court records we’d mentioned to Purdy and Baquet and reached out to Simpson and a colleague for help.

Fusion helped Meier find the records, and they featured prominently in the Times story published two weeks later, proving a vital link connecting Manafort and Deripaska:

After that story, Meier even went back to Fusion for any information they had on Deripaska.

The most important takeaway from the dossier is the way it served as a tool in Oleg Deripaska’s two-sided game that turned Paul Manafort into an easy target. And it turns out that way back in 2016, Meier (and Fusion, in yet another undisclosed way) was part of this two-sided game.

Update: The partially sealed documents in Manafort’s docket are being released today. This Rick Gates 302 shows how closely the August 2 meeting tied Deripaska’s efforts to increase Manafort’s legal and financial woes — the lawsuit — with the delivery of detailed information about how to win the campaign.