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The Steele Dossier and the Mueller Investigation: Michael Cohen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suspicious Activity Reports and the investigation into Cohen

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

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

The first warrant application against Cohen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Redacted section C

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: Michael Cohen

B: Essential Consultants, LLC

C: [Use of Essential Consultants to pay hush payments and — maybe — to conduct other illicit business]

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

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

i. Deposits by Columbus Nova, LLC

ii. Plan to Life Russian Sanctions

E: Other Foreign Transactions in the Essential Consultants Account

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Felix Sater and the investigation into Cohen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timeline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 24, 2017: HPSCI interviews Cohen.

October 25, 2017: SSCI interviews Cohen.

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

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

December 15, 2017: FBI interviews Sater.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 7, 2018: First Cohen proffer to Mueller.

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

September 12, 2018: Second proffer.

September 18, 2018: Third proffer.

October 8, 2018: Fourth proffer.

October 17, 2018: Fifth proffer.

November 12, 2018: Sixth proffer.

November 20, 2018: Seventh proffer.

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

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

The Steele Dossier and the Mueller Investigation: Carter Page

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

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

How important was the Steele dossier to the overall investigation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carter Page

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timeline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 12, 2016: Guccifer 2.0 publicly tweets Stone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 24, 2017: FBI interview of Mike Flynn.

January 27, 2017: FBI interview of George Papadopoulos.

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

February 10, 2017: FBI interviews Mifsud in DC.

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

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

February 23, 2017: Papadopoulos gets a new phone.

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

March 2017: Carter Page interviewed five times by FBI.

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

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

March 10, 2017: FBI interviews Carter Page.

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

March 20, 2017: Jim Comey confirms investigation.

March 30, 2017: FBI interviews Carter Page.

March 31, 2017: FBI interviews Carter Page.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 15, 2017: Lisa Page leaves Mueller team.

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

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

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

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

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

July 28, 2017: Strzok moved off Mueller team.

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 17, 2017: Andrew McCabe interviewed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 2018: Mueller subpoenas Trump Organization.

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

April 9, 2018: Michael Cohen raid.

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

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

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

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

January 25, 2019: Roger Stone raid and arrest.

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

Chuck Ross Gets Pissy about Russian Disinformation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ross takes these Kavalaec notes…

Which get translated into this typed summary by Kavalaec:

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

Trubnikov served as head of Russia’s for

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unsurprisingly, then, Chuck remains silent about it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consider the timeline of some key events below.

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

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

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

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

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

Timeline

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

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

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

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

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

March 19: GRU hacks John Podesta

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

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

April 18: GRU hacks into DNC via DCCC

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

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

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

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

May 19: Manafort formally named campaign chair

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

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

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

June 8: GRU releases first emails via dcleaks

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

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

June 15: Guccifer 2.0 created

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

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

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

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

July 21: Sater visits Trump Tower

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

August 3: Manafort and Kilimnik meet in New York

August 17: Manafort fired from campaign

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

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

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

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

January or February 2017: Manafort meets Kilimnik in Madrid

Someone Has Already Been Charged for Most of the Actions the Steele Dossier Attributes to Michael Cohen

Because of a McClatchy story claiming two new details corroborating a Steele dossier claim that Michael Cohen had a meeting with people serving the interests of Putin’s Administration, people have gotten themselves into a tizzy again about what a smoking gun it would be if the allegations in the Steele dossier were proven true.

It’s an utterly bizarre tizzy, both because the allegations in the Steele dossier not only don’t match some more damning allegations Cohen has already pled guilty to, but because Mueller has already charged other people for some of the allegations about Cohen made in the dossier. In other words, the McClatchy story has people excited about the wrong allegations, rather than focusing on the damning things Cohen (and others) have already been charged with.

Indeed, most functional allegations made in the Steele dossier have already been publicly explained in either court filings or sworn testimony. That doesn’t rule out that Cohen had a role in some of them, however. Indeed, one detail from Cohen’s SDNY plea — that among the things Trump Organization reimbursed Cohen for in January 2017 was a $50,000 payment to a tech services company — actually could confirm a detail made in the dossier. But generally, Mueller and other entities have already explained away many of the allegations made against Cohen in the dossier.

I’ve put the substantive claims the Steele dossier made about Cohen below. I’ll take each and show public reporting that explains who did something attributed to Cohen in the dossier.

Cohen met with Russian Presidential Administration Legal Department officials

The central allegation involving Cohen is that he met with people from Putin’s Presidential Administration’s legal department or, in a later version, someone acting on their behalf.

By the time that allegedly happened in August or maybe September, however, Cohen had already established a paper trail with someone more central than some anonymous lawyers. Cohen’s Mueller plea describes Cohen receiving an email on January 20, 2016 from Dmitry Peskov’s personal assistant and shortly thereafter calling her. Somehow Mueller knows that the assistant “asked detailed questions and took notes.” The day after Cohen spoke with the personal assistant, someone from Putin’s office called Felix Sater.

Given that Cohen made reservations to travel to St. Petersburg (for a possible meeting directly with Putin) on June 9, then canceled those reservations on June 14 (after Russia’s role in the DNC hack was made public), those communications about a Trump Tower deal surely tie to the hack-and-leak operation.

It’s certainly possible that, later in the summer (or in the fall, during Cohen’s known trips to London), Cohen would attempt to reschedule that meeting, though the purpose was originally and probably would remain more central to a quid pro quo trading a Trump Tower and election assistance for sanctions relief and policy considerations. But having already exchanged easily collectable communications directly with Peskov’s office (whom the dossier calls “the main protagonist” in the operation), it’s not clear how helpful using Rossotrudnichestvo would be to hide the Trump role. Furthermore, there are other known cut-outs for related matters, including Steele dossier source Sergei Millian and the Agalrovs.

Cohen aimed to contain the Paul Manafort scandal

The three Cohen reports in October all claim that Cohen got involved to tamp down scandals connecting Trump to Russia. That’s not, at all, far-fetched. After all, Cohen was Trump’s fixer and he told a bunch of lies to Congress in an effort to hide Trump’s Moscow Project.

That said, a filing explaining why Mueller might have to mention the Trump campaign in Manafort’s aborted DC trial and a filing in Alex Van der Zwaan’s prosecution show that Manafort and Rick Gates themselves — with the direct involvement of Oleg Deripaska associate Konstantin Kilimnik — worked to contain this scandal.

As Mueller laid out in numerous ways, the Manafort-Gates-Kilimnik team went on a crime spree in the fall trying to cover up their past activities with Russian-backed oligarchs.

Indeed, that a claim that Cohen managed this pushback (and its timing) appeared in the dossier is particularly tantalizing for two reasons. First, one of the things Manafort reportedly lied about after agreeing to cooperate with Mueller pertained a boat trip he took with Tom Barrack; Mueller seems to know that Kilimnik joined the two men. If that happened, then it would show that someone did indeed hold a meeting in August to contain the damage of Manafort’s burgeoning scandals, but that meeting would have been between a key Trump funder, Manafort himself, and someone suspected of ongoing ties with GRU, the agency that conducted the DNC hack.

More intriguing still, as I noted above, Kilimnik was Manafort’s go-between with Oleg Deripaska. That’s interesting because in 2016, Christopher Steele was attempting to convince DOJ’s Bruce Ohr that Deripaska could be a useful source on Russian organized crime. If Steele thought Deripaska would be a useful source for DOJ, he may well have been relying on Deripaska himself. If so, the report that Cohen (who in fact did have communications with Peskov!) was containing the damage of Manafort’s ties to Russian oligarchs might be an attempt to distract from the way that a Russian oligarch was actually working through his handler, Kilimnik, to minimize that damage himself.

Cohen aimed to contain the Carter Page scandal

It likewise seems unlikely that Cohen was the one to try to contain the Carter Page scandal. While he shouldn’t be relied on for anything, several claims in Page’s testimony to HPSCI provide an alternate explanation about who was containing the scandal tied to him.

Page denied ever speaking to Cohen.

But he did describe Keith Kellogg discussing the allegations with him. And he did describe Steve Bannon, both by himself and with the assistance of Trump’s election lawfirm, Jones Day, trying to minimize the Page scandal.

That’s consistent with a number of on-the-record claims from the campaign in the days following Page’s resignation in September. Which is to say, minimizing the Page scandal fell to the campaign itself.

The people who carried out the information operation had been paid by Russia and Trump

The three initial reports on Cohen came, in suspiciously quick succession, in October, after the number of reporters briefed on the Steele dossier started to expand.

The one other report implicating Cohen was the December 13 report, based on intelligence Steele claimed he obtained for “free.”

The report is most notable for the legal battle it caused. The allegations most clearly resemble what Adrian Chen had identified and attributed to the Internet Research Agency year earlier and there had been extensive reporting on it all through the campaign. But instead of blaming Internet Research Agency, the report blames all that on Webzilla. And Webzilla’s owner, Aleksei Gubarev was sufficiently comfortable facing the prospect of discovery to sue BuzzFeed right away (though he lost his lawsuit a few weeks back).

There’s another reference in the report to a long debunked claim made by the Russians — that a Romanian hacker was involved, presumably an allusion to Guccifer 2.0’s half-hearted claim to be Romanian.

Still, much of that last report instead presented the most inflammatory claim in the entire dossier: that Trump’s campaign had helped pay for the information operation targeting Hillary.

On its face, that claim makes zero sense. The scenario as a whole assumes that the hack was done by independent hackers coerced to work for the FSB — perhaps people like Yevgeniy Nikulin, who had already been arrested in Prague by this point. As far as Mueller has shown publicly, however, the information operation was instead done by two entities: Russians in the employ of Putin crony Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s Internet Research Agency and officers in the employ of Russia’s military intelligence agency, GRU. In indictments of both conspirators, Mueller provided details about how the money was handled.

So we’ve already got explanations for how the information operation was funded: by Prigozhin and the Russian state, using a range of money laundering techniques to hide Russia’s role. We even have evidence that — contrary to the claim about information warriors’ loyalty to Sergei Ivanov — Prighozhin’s employees even sucked up to him in one of their dry runs getting Americans to perform IRL actions.

Cohen arranged deniable cash payments to hackers working in Europe against the Clinton campaign

As noted, the December report involving Cohen made the most incendiary claim of all: that the Trump organization planned to pay for some of the hackers that targeted Hillary.

In spite of the fact that Mueller has already explained how the two main groups of participants in the information operation got funded, this allegation gets more interesting given details laid out in Cohen’s SDNY plea. Several of his SDNY crimes, after all, involving making deniable payments, in that case to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.

That shows Cohen’s modus operandi for paying off Trump’s illicit debts. Mind you, it shows that he didn’t use cash. He laundered the funds using more sophisticated money laundering. But it does show that Cohen was the guy who did that kind of thing.

Which makes this detail included — but not explained — in the same plea document intriguing.

Cohen paid some tech company $50,000 in connection with the campaign.

That’s not a whole lot of money, in any case. And if it went to pay off part of the information operation, it would have to have involved some part of the operation not yet publicly identified. Even the one known instance of Trump supporters reaching out to hackers in Europe — Peter Smith’s reported consultation of Weev — is known to have been paid for by other means (in that case, Smith’s own fundraising).

Still, it’s certainly possible that that $50,000 went to some still unidentified entity that played a role in the information operation that, for some reason, didn’t get paid for by Putin’s cronies or the Russian state.

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


18 October

Speaking separately to the same compatriot in mid-October 2016, a Kremlin insider with direct access to the leadership confirmed that a key role in the secret TRUMP campaign/Kremlin was being played by the Republican candidates personal lawyer Michael COHEN. [redacted line]

19 October

1. Speaking in confidence to a longstanding compatriot friend in mid-October 2016, a Kremlin insider highlighted the importance of Republican presidential candidate Donald TRUMP’s lawyer, Michael COHEN, in the ongoing secret liaison relationship between the New York tycoon’s campaign and the Russian leadership. COHEN’s role had grown following the departure of Paul MANNAFORT as campaign manager in August 2016. Prior to that MANNAFORT had led for the TRUMP side.

2. According to the Kremlin insider, COHEN now was heavily engaged in a cover up and damage limitation operation in the attempt to prevent the full details of relationship with Russia being exposed. In pursuit of this aim, COHEN had met secretly with several Russian Presidential Administration (PA) Legal Department officials in an EU country in August 2016. The immediate issues had been to contain further scandals involving MANNAFORT’s commercial and political role in Russia/Ukraine and to limit the damage arising from exposure of former TRUMP foreign policy advisor, Carter PAGE’s secret meetings with Russian leadership figures in Moscow the previous month. The overall objective had been to “to sweep it all under the carpet and make sure no connections could be fully established or proven”

3. Things had become even “hotter” since August on the TRUMP-Russia track. According to the Kremlin insider, this had meant that direct contact between the TRUMP team and Russia had been farmed out by the Kremlin to trusted agents of influence working in pro-government policy institutes like that of Law and Comparative Jurisprudence. COHEN however continued to lead for the TRUMP team.

[snip]

The Kremlin insider was unsure of the identities of the PA officials with whom COHEN met secretly in August, or the exact date/s and locations of the meeting/s. There were significant internal security barriers being erected in the PA as the TRUMP issue became more controversial and damaging. However s/he continued to try to obtain these.

20 October

1. Speaking to a compatriot and friend on 19 October 2016, a Kremlin insider provided further details of reported clandestine meeting/s between Republican presidential candidate, Donald lawyer Michael COHEN and Kremlin representatives in August 2016. Although the communication between them had to be cryptic for security reasons, the Kremlin insider clearly indicated to his/her friend that the reported contact/s took place in Prague, Czech Republic.

2. Continuing on this theme, the Kremlin insider highlighted the importance of the Russian parastatal organisation, Rossotrudnichestvo, in this contact between TRUMP campaign representative/3 and Kremlin officials. Rossotrudnichestvo was being used as cover for this relationship and its office in Prague may well have been used to host the COHEN Russian Presidential Administration (PA) meeting/s. It was considered a “plausibly deniable” vehicle for this, whilst remaining entirely under Kremlin control.

3. The Kremlin insider went on to identify leading pro-PUTIN Duma figure, Konstantin KOSACHEV (Head of the Foreign Relations Committee) as an important figure in the TRUMP campaign-Kremlin liaison operation. KOSACHEV, also “plausibly deniable” being part of the Russian legislature rather than executive, had facilitated the contact in Prague and by implication, may have attended the meeting/s with COHEN there in August.

Company Comment

We reported previously, in our Company Intelligence Report 2016/135 of 19 October 2016 from the same source, that COHEN met officials from the PA Legal Department clandestinely in an EU country in August 2016. This was in order to clean up the mess left behind by western media revelations of TRUMP ex-campaign manager corrupt relationship with the former pro-Russian YANUKOVYCH regime in Ukraine and TRUMP foreign policy advisor, Carter secret meetings in Moscow with senior regime figures in July 2016. According to the Kremlin advisor, these meeting/s were originally scheduled for COHEN in Moscow but shifted to what was considered an operationally “soft” EU country when it was judged too compromising for him to travel to the Russian capital.

13 December

1. We reported previously (2016/135 and /136) on secret meeting/s held in Prague, Czech Republic in August 2016 between then Republican presidential candidate Donald TRUMP’s representative, Michael COHEN and his interlocutors from the Kremlin working under cover of Russian ‘NGO’ Rossotrudnichestvo.

2. [two lines redacted] provided further details of these meeting/s and associated anti- CLINTON/Democratic Party operations. COHEN had been accompanied to Prague by 3 colleagues and the timing of the visit was either in the last week of August or the first week of September. One of their main Russian interlocutors was Oleg SOLODUKHIN operating under Rossotrudnichestvo cover. According to [redacted] the agenda comprised questions on how deniable cash payments were to be made to hackers who had worked in Europe under Kremlin direction against the CLINTON campaign and various contingencies for covering up these operations and Moscow’s secret liaison with the TRUMP team more generally.

3. [redacted] reported that over the period March-September 2016 a company called XBT/Webzilla and its affiliates had been using botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data and conduct “altering operations” against the Democratic Party leadership. Entities linked to one Aleksei GUBAROV were involved and he and another hacking expert, both recruited under duress by the FSB, Seva KAPSUGOVICH, were significant players in this operation. In Prague, COHEN agreed contingency plans for various scenarios to protect the Operation, but in particular what was to be done in the event that Hillary CLINTON won the presidency. It was important in this event that all cash payments owed were made quickly and discreetly and that cyber and other operators were stood down/able to go effectively to ground to cover their traces. (We reported earlier that the involvement of political operatives Paul MANAFORT and Carter PAGE in the secret TRUMP-Kremlin liaison had been exposed in the media in the run-up to Prague and that damage limitation of these also was discussed by COHEN with the Kremlin representatives).

In terms of practical measures to be taken, it was agreed by the two sides in Prague to stand down various “Romanian hackers” (presumably based in their homeland or neighboring eastern Europe) and that other operatives should head for a bolt-hole in Plovdiv, Bulgaria where they should “lay low”. On payments, IVANOV’s associate said that the operatives involved had been paid by both TRUMP’s team and the Kremlin, though their orders and ultimately loyalty lay with IVANOV, as Head of the PA and thus ultimately responsible for the operation, and his designator successor/s after he was dismissed by president PUTIN in connection with the anti-CLINTON operation in mid August.

Mueller Would Not Have Needed a Foreign Intelligence Agency to Geolocate Michael Cohen’s Phone

The same McClatchy team that has long been chasing the Steele dossier allegation that Michael Cohen was in Prague in (the first two reports said) August or maybe (the last report said) September has a new story reporting two new details about the allegation, sourced to four people reporting anonymously and secondhand about what “foreign intelligence connections” told them.

I’ll get to the substance of the report in a second, but first I want to point to a claim they make.

If the foreign intelligence intercepts are accurate, the big questions now are whether Cohen has acknowledged to investigators that a meeting in Prague occurred, informed them what transpired and revealed what, if anything, he told Trump about it.

It’s a remarkable claim from reporters trying to cover a part of the Russian investigation (but who have covered very little aside from the Cohen in Prague allegation). Because no, the big questions are not and have not been for some time whether Cohen told investigators of this.

That’s true, in part, because if one of these claims — that Cohen’s phone showed up near Prague in August or maybe September — is true, then Mueller would have had this since April at the latest, and probably significantly earlier. Here’s the allegation:

A mobile phone traced to President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen briefly sent signals ricocheting off cell towers in the Prague area in late summer 2016, at the height of the presidential campaign, leaving an electronic record to support claims that Cohen met secretly there with Russian officials, four people with knowledge of the matter say.

Weirdly, the reporters writing up this story show no awareness of whether Mueller has obtained Cohen’s records.

Mueller’s investigators, some of whom have met with Steele, likely also pursued Cohen’s cell phone records. It would be a common early step in such an investigation for a prosecutor to obtain a court warrant for all U.S. and foreign phone company records of key subjects, even those dating back more than 18 months.

Cohen is likely to be one of the five people who had the information from their AT&T phones (or a likely comparable number who probably had information their Verizon phones) obtained back on March 9 in the wake of the Rick Gates plea. In any case, we know that the FBI seized a whole slew of Cohen’s phones on April 9 and were able to fully exploit all of them save an old Blackberry.

So we don’t have to rely on extrapolating from what are often common first steps, because we know that Mueller has already obtained Cohen’s actual phones (to say nothing of his phone records).

If any of Cohen’s phones were in the vicinity of Prague in 2016 — whether August or maybe September — Mueller knew about it when he told Judge William Pauley that,

Cohen provided the SCO with useful information concerning certain discrete Russia-related matters core to its investigation that he obtained by virtue of his regular contact with Company executives during the campaign.

That’s the one description of Cohen’s cooperation that might incorporate covering up for Manafort in August or maybe September 2016. Perhaps a Prague meeting is included in that bullet — as I noted in April, Cohen’s then lawyer avoided addressing the issue (though Lanny Davis, working as a flack yet being employed as a lawyer, claimed repeatedly after April that Cohen had not been in Prague).

If it was, however, Mueller nevertheless chose to focus on Cohen’s lies about a Trump Tower deal in Cohen’s allocution.

The defendant lied to Congress about a business project (the “Moscow Project”) that he worked on during the 2016 presidential campaign, while he served as Executive Vice President at a Manhattan-based real estate company (the “Company”) and as Special Counsel to the owner of the Company (“Individual 1”).

Nor was a Prague meeting described to be among the things that Cohen lied about at his first proffer session so as to avoid conflicting with lies he told Congress (and if Cohen did go to Prague, he would have lied to Congress about that).

This initial meeting with the SCO, on August 7, 2018, was set up at Cohen’s request. In that meeting, Cohen voluntarily provided information relevant to other aspects of the SCO’s ongoing investigation, but when asked questions about the Moscow Project, Cohen provided false answers in what he later explained was an effort not to contradict his congressional testimony.

And Mueller didn’t include Cohen’s claims about Prague in a footnote describing Cohen’s other lies about contacts with Russians.

The defendant, without prompting by the SCO, also corrected other false and misleading statements that he had made concerning his outreach to and contacts with Russian officials during the course of the campaign. For example, in a radio interview in September 2015, the defendant suggested that Individual 1 meet with the President of Russia in New York City during his visit for the United Nations General Assembly. When asked previously about these events, the defendant claimed his public comments had been spontaneous and had not been discussed within the campaign or the Company. During his proffer sessions, the defendant admitted that this account was false and that he had in fact conferred with Individual 1 about contacting the Russian government before reaching out to gauge Russia’s interest in such a meeting. The meeting ultimately did not take place.

None of that rules out the McClatchy report that Cohen was in Prague. If Cohen was in Prague, Mueller might well want to keep that secret.

But thus far, Mueller seems to think that Cohen’s role in brokering a Trump Tower deal (including, per BuzzFeed’s reporting, with a banker tied to GRU, the intelligence agency that carried out the election year operation) was a more important lie than anything that got reported in the Steele dossier.

All of which is to say that I still stand by this post, in which I argue that it’s high time for reporters to stop focusing primarily on whether details of the Steele dossier have proven true (particularly if that’s all you do on the Russian investigation, as it substantially is with these reporters), and instead look to laying out the implications of the conspiracy that Mueller has already provided corroboration of.

There is growing evidence that Trump conspired with Russians in 2016. That evidence, however, comes increasingly from Mueller, not from Christopher Steele.

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

The Dossier Is Not the Measure of the Trump-Russia Conspiracy

It seems like the whole world has decided to measure Trump’s conspiracy with Russia not from the available evidence, but based on whether the Steele dossier correctly predicted all the incriminating evidence we now have before us.

The trend started with NPR. According to them (or, at least, NPR’s Phillip Ewing doing a summary without first getting command of the facts), if Michael Cohen didn’t coordinate a Tower-for-sanctions-relief deal from Prague, then such a deal didn’t happen. That’s the logic of a column dismissing the implications of the recent Cohen allocution showing that when Don Jr took a meeting offering dirt on Hillary as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” he knew his family stood to make hundreds of millions if they stayed on Vladimir Putin’s good side.

Item: Cohen ostensibly played a key role in the version of events told by the infamous, partly unverified Russia dossier. He denied that strongly to Congress. He also has admitted lying to Congress and submitted an important new version of other events.

But that new story didn’t include a trip to Prague, as described in the dossier. Nor did Cohen discuss that in his interview on Friday on ABC News. Could the trip, or a trip, still be substantiated? Yes, maybe — but if it happened, would a man go to prison for three years without anyone having mentioned it?

As I noted, Mueller laid out the following in the unredacted summary of Cohen’s cooperation.

Consider this passage in the Mueller Cohen sentencing memo.

The defendant’s false statements obscured the fact that the Moscow Project was a lucrative business opportunity that sought, and likely required, the assistance of the Russian government. If the project was completed, the Company could have received hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources in licensing fees and other revenues. The fact that Cohen continued to work on the project and discuss it with Individual 1 well into the campaign was material to the ongoing congressional and SCO investigations, particularly because it occurred at a time of sustained efforts by the Russian government to interfere with the U.S. presidential election. Similarly, it was material that Cohen, during the campaign, had a substantive telephone call about the project with an assistant to the press secretary for the President of Russia.

Cohen’s lies, aside from attempting to short circuit the parallel Russian investigations, hid the following facts:

  • Trump Organization stood to earn “hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources” if the Trump Tower deal went through.
  • Cohen’s work on the deal continued “well into the campaign” even as the Russian government made “sustained efforts … to interfere in the U.S. presidential election.”
  • The project “likely required[] the assistance of the Russian government.”
  • “Cohen [during May 2016] had a substantive telephone call about the project with an assistant to the press secretary for the President of Russia [Dmitri Peskov].”

But because the new Cohen details (along with the fact that he booked tickets for St. Petersburg the day of the June 9 meeting, only to cancel after the Russian hack of the DNC became public) didn’t happen in Prague, it’s proof, according to NPR, that there is no collusion. [Note, NPR has revised this lead and added an editors note labeling this piece as analysis, not news.]

Political and legal danger for President Trump may be sharpening by the day, but the case that his campaign might have conspired with the Russian attack on the 2016 election looks weaker than ever.

There are other errors in the piece. It claims “Manafort’s lawyers say he gave the government valuable information,” but they actually claimed he didn’t lie (and it doesn’t note that the two sides may have gone back to the drawing board after that public claim). Moreover, the column seems to entirely misunderstand that Manafort’s plea (would have) excused him from the crimes in chief, which is why they weren’t charged. Nor does it acknowledge the details from prosecutors list of lies that implicate alleged GRU associate Konstantin Kilimnik in an ongoing role throughout Trump’s campaign.

Then there’s the NPR complaint that Mike Flynn, after a year of cooperation, is likely to get no prison time. It uses that to debunk a straw man that Flynn was a Russian foreign agent.

Does that sound like the attitude they would take with someone who had been serving as a Russian factotum and who had been serving as a foreign agent from inside the White House as national security adviser, steps away from the Oval Office?

That’s never been the claim (though the Russians sure seemed like they were cultivating it). Rather, the claim was that Flynn hid details of Trump’s plans to ease sanctions, an easing of sanctions Russians had asked Don Jr to do six months earlier in a meeting when they offered him dirt. The 302 from his FBI interview released last night makes it clear that indeed he did.

Finally, NPR is sad that Carter Page hasn’t been charged.

Will the feds ever charge Trump’s sometime foreign policy adviser, Carter Page, whom they called a Russian agent in the partly declassified application they made to surveil him?

This is not a checklist, where Trump will be implicated in a conspiracy only if the hapless Page is indicted (any case against whom has likely been spoiled anyway given all the leaking). The question, instead, is whether Trump and his spawn and campaign manager and longtime political advisor (the piece names neither Don Jr nor Roger Stone, both of whom have been saying they’ll be indicted) entered into a conspiracy with Russians.

In short, this piece aims to measure whether there was “collusion” not by looking at the evidence, but by looking instead at the Steele dossier to see if it’s a mirror of the known facts.

But NPR isn’t the only outlet measuring reality by how it matches up to the Steele dossier. This piece describes that Michael Isikoff thinks, “All the signs to me are, Mueller is reaching his end game, and we may see less than what many people want him to find,” in part because of the same three points made in the NPR piece (Cohen didn’t go to Prague, no pee tape has been released, and Flynn will get no prison time), but also because Maria Butina — whose investigation was not tied to the Trump one, but whom Isikoff himself had claimed might be — will mostly implicate her former boyfriend, Paul Erickson. In the interview, Isikoff notes that because the dossier has not been corroborated, calling it a “mixed record, at best … most of the specific allegations have not been borne out” and notes his own past predictions have not been fulfilled.  Perhaps Isikoff’s reliance on the dossier arises from his own central role in it, but Isikoff misstates some of what has come out in legal filings to back his claim that less will come of the Mueller investigation than he thought.

Then there is Chuck Ross. Like Isikoff, Ross has invested much of his investigative focus into the dossier, and thus is no better able than Isikoff to see a reality but for the false mirror of the dossier. His tweet linking a story laying out more evidence that Michael Cohen did not go to Prague claims that that news is “a huge blow for the collusion narrative.”

Even when Ross wrote a post pretending to assess whether the Michael Cohen plea allocution shows “collusion,” Ross ultimately fell back on assessing whether the documents instead proved the dossier was true.

Notably absent from the Mueller filing is any indication that Cohen provided information that matches the allegations laid out in the Steele dossier, the infamous document that Democrats tout as the roadmap to collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian government.

The most prominent allegation against Cohen in the 35-page report is that he traveled to Prague in August 2016 to meet with Kremlin insiders to discuss paying off hackers who stole Democrats’ emails.

The Isikoff comments appear to have traveled via Ross to Trump’s Twitter thumbs, all without assessing the evidence in plain sight.

Meanwhile, Lawfare is erring in a parallel direction, checking on the dossier to see “whether information made public as a result of the Mueller investigation—and the passage of two years—has tended to buttress or diminish the crux of Steele’s original reporting.”

Such an exercise is worthwhile, if conducted as a measure of whether Christopher Steele obtained accurate intelligence before it otherwise got reported by credible, public sources. But much of what Lawfare does does the opposite — assessing reports (it even gets the number of reports wrong, saying there are 16, not 17, which might be excusable if precisely that issue hadn’t been the subject of litigation) out of context of when they were published. Even still, aside from Steele’s reports on stuff that was already public (Carter Page’s trip to Moscow, Viktor Yanukovych’s close ties to Paul Manafort), the post reaches one after another conclusion that the dossier actually hasn’t been confirmed.

There’s the 8-year conspiracy of cooperation, including Trump providing Russia intelligence. [my emphasis throughout here]

Most significantly, the dossier reports a “well-developed conspiracy of co-operation between [Trump and his associates] and the Russian leadership,” including an “intelligence exchange [that] had been running between them for at least 8 years.” There has been significant investigative reporting about long-standing connections between Trump, his associates and Kremlin-affiliated individuals, and Trump himself acknowledged that the purpose of a June 2016 meeting between his son, Donald Trump Jr. and a Kremlin-connected lawyer was to obtain “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. But there is, at present, no evidence in the official record that confirms other direct ties or their relevance to the 2016 presidential campaign.

There’s the knowing support for the hack-and-leak among Trump and his top lackeys.

It does not, however, corroborate the statement in the dossier that the Russian intelligence “operation had been conducted with the full knowledge and support of Trump and senior members of his campaign team.”

There’s Cohen’s Trump Tower deal.

These documents relate to Cohen’s false statements to Congress regarding attempted Trump Organization business dealings in Russia. The details buttress Steele’s reporting to some extent, but mostly run parallel, neither corroborating nor disproving information in the dossier.

There’s Cohen’s role in the hack-and-leak, including his trip to Prague.

Even with the additional detail from the Cohen documents, certain core allegations in the dossier related to Cohen—which, if true, would be of utmost relevance to Mueller’s investigation—remain largely unconfirmed, at least from the unredacted material. Specifically, the dossier reports that there was well-established, continuing cooperation between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin; that Cohen played a central role in the coordination of joint efforts; and that he traveled to Prague to meet with Russian officials and cut-outs.

There’s Papadopoulos, who (as Lawfare admits) doesn’t show up in the dossier; here they argue he could have, without asking why Steele missed him running around London talking to people who traveled in Steele’s circles.

We revisit his case because it resonates with one of the themes of the dossier, which is the extensive Russian outreach effort to an array of individuals connected to the Trump campaign. Steele’s sources reported on alleged interactions between Carter Page and Russian officials, but Papadopoulos’s conduct would have fit right in.

Again, except for the stuff that was publicly known, Lawfare assesses one after another claim from the dossier and finds that Mueller’s investigation has not corroborated the specific claims, even while Mueller has provided ample evidence of something else going on. But that doesn’t stop Lawfare from claiming that Mueller has “confirm[ed] pieces of the dossier.”

The Mueller investigation has clearly produced public records that confirm pieces of the dossier. And even where the details are not exact, the general thrust of Steele’s reporting seems credible in light of what we now know about extensive contacts between numerous individuals associated with the Trump campaign and Russian government officials.

However, there is also a good deal in the dossier that has not been corroborated in the official record and perhaps never will be—whether because it’s untrue, unimportant or too sensitive. As a raw intelligence document, the Steele dossier, we believe, holds up well so far. But surely there is more to come from Mueller’s team. We will return to it as the public record develops.

In the end, I actually think Mueller may show that Trump, Stone, and Manafort did abet the hack-and-leak campaign, certainly the later parts of it, and that the Trump Tower deal was a key part of the quid pro quo. That’s aside from anything that Trump did with analytics data made available, if it was. But Mueller has just shown the outlines of where a case in chief might fit thus far. And where has has, those outlines raise one after another question of why Steele missed evidence (like the June 9 meeting) that was literally sitting in front of him. No one is answering those questions in these retrospectives.

One reason this effort, coming from Lawfare, is particularly unfortunate is because of a detail recently disclosed in Comey’s recent testimony to Congress. As you read, remember that this exchange involves Mark Meadows, who is the source of many of the most misleading allegations pertaining to the Russian investigation. In Comey’s first appearance this month (given Comey’s comments after testifying yesterday, I expect we’ll see more of the same today when his transcript is released), Meadows seemed to make much of the fact that Michael Sussman, who works with Marc Elias at Perkins Coie, provided information directly to Lawfare contributor James Baker.

Mr. Meadows. So are you saying that James Baker, your general counsel, who received direct information from Perkins Coie, did so and conveyed that to your team without your knowledge?

Mr. Comey. I don’t know.

Mr. Meadows. What do you mean you don’t know? I mean, did he tell you or not?

Mr. Comey. Oh, I — well —

Mr. Meadows. James Baker, we have testimony that would indicate that he received information directly from Perkins Coie; he had knowledge that they were representing the Democrat National Committee and, indeed, collected that information and conveyed it to the investigative team. Did he tell you that he received that information from them? And I can give you a name if you want to know who he received it from.

Mr. Comey. I don’t remember the name Perkins Coie at all.

Mr. Meadows. What about Michael Sussmann?

Mr. Comey. I think I’ve read that name since then. I don’t remember learning that name when I was FBI Director. I was going to ask you a followup, though. When you say “that information,” what do you mean?

Mr. Meadows. Well, it was cyber information as it relates to the investigation.

Mr. Comey. Yeah, I have some recollection of Baker interacting with — you said the DNC, which sparked my recollection — with the DNC about our effort to get information about the Russian hack of them —

Mr. Meadows. Yeah, that’s — that’s not — that’s not what I’m referring to.

Mr. Comey. — but I don’t — I don’t remember anything beyond that.

Mr. Meadows. And so I can give you something so that you — your counsel can look at it and refresh your memory, perhaps, as we look at that, but I guess my concern is your earlier testimony acted like this was news to you that Perkins Coie represented the Democratic National Committee, and yet your general counsel not only knew that but received information from them that was transmitted to other people in the investigative team. [my emphasis]

I have long wondered how the Perkins Coie meeting with the FBI on the hack timed up with the hiring, by Fusion GPS working for Perkins Coie, of Christopher Steele lined up, and that appears to be where Meadows is going to make his final, desperate stand. An earlier version of this hoax revealed that it pertained to materials on hacking, but did not specify that Steele had anything to do with it (indeed, Steele was always behind public reporting on the hack-and-leak).

Still, it would be of more public utility for Lawfare to clarify this detail than engage in yet another exercise in rehabilitating the dossier.

Instead, they — just like everyone else choosing not to look for evidence (or lack thereof) in the actual evidence before us — instead look back to see whether Steele’s dossier was a mirror of reality or something else entirely. If it’s the latter — and it increasingly looks like it is — then it’s time to figure out how and what it is.

Update: Cheryl Rofer did a line by line assessment of Steele’s dossier which is worthwhile. I would dispute a number of her claims (and insist that Steele’s reporting on the hacks be read in the temporal context in which he always lagged public reporting) and wish she’d note where the public record shows facts that actually conflict with the dosser. But it is a decent read.

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

The Committee Playing Games with Perjury Referrals Swears They Can Make Mark Judge Tell the Truth without Testifying

Chuck Grassley and the other Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee are still trying to push Christine Blasey Ford testimony through in time to vote Kavanaugh out of the committee next week. As part of that, a Grassley Counsel who asserted, “Unfazed and determined. We will confirm Judge Kavanaugh,” is also boasting about his tough questioning in lieu of a formal investigation. As part of that, SJC Republicans are asserting that they “obtained a statement under penalty of perjury” from Mark Judge, who really doesn’t want to testify, in part because he has written extensively about his own misogyny and alcohol abuse.

Right.

This is the committee, remember that referred Christopher Steele to the FBI for lying to the FBI, but that refuses to make Don Jr testify a second time to clarify problems with his testimony, much less refer him to FBI for lying about a second meeting at which he accepted election assistance from a foreign government (actually two: the Saudis and the Emirates).

Chuck Grassley has already demonstrated his view of lying to the committee: He’s perfectly okay with it, so long as helps Republicans.

So that statement from Mark Judge, without public testimony, is absolutely worthless.