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Source 6A: John Durham’s Twitter Charges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

for some reason [Millian] doesn’t respond.

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Danchenko posts

The Igor Danchenko Indictment: Structure

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

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

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

Source 6A: John Durham’s Twitter Charges

John Durham: Destroying the Purported Victims to Save Them

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

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

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

On CIPA and Sequestration: Durham’s Discovery Deadends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DANCHENKO: Mm-hmm.

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

[ … ]

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

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

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

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

FBI AGENT-1: Couple years?

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

[ … ]

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

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

DANCHENKO: No.

FBI AGENT-1: You don’t think so?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Danchenko posts

The Igor Danchenko Indictment: Structure

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

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

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

Source 6A: John Durham’s Twitter Charges

John Durham: Destroying the Purported Victims to Save Them

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

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

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

On CIPA and Sequestration: Durham’s Discovery Deadends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Danchenko posts

The Igor Danchenko Indictment: Structure

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

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

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

Source 6A: John Durham’s Twitter Charges

John Durham: Destroying the Purported Victims to Save Them

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

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

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

On CIPA and Sequestration: Durham’s Discovery Deadends

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

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

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

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

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

Bump then debunks Cooper’s claims that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Subsource 1: Sergey Vladimirovich Abyshev

Subsource 2: Ivan Mikhailovich Vorontsov

Subsource 3: Olga Aleksandrovna Galkina

Subsource 4: Alexey Sergeyevich Dundich

Subsource 4: Ivan Ivanovich Kurilla

Subsource 5: Lyudmila Nikolayevna Podobedova

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

After the December 2016 all-hands meeting, Aven tried to establish a connection to the Trump team. Aven instructed Richard Burt to make contact with the incoming Trump Administration. Burt was on the board of directors for LetterOne (L 1 ), another company headed by Aven, and had done work for Alfa-Bank. 1169 Burt had previously served as U.S. ambassador to Germany and Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs, and one of his primary roles with Alfa-Bank and Ll was to facilitate introductions to business contacts in the United States and other Western countries. 1170

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lindsey Graham, Chuck Grassley, and Mike Lee Exhibit Utter Ignorance about FBI Certification on FISA Applications

Jim Comey’s testimony in Lindsey’s Graham’s purported investigation of FISA — by which Lindsey means using the Carter Page FISA application as a stand-in for the Russian investigation more generally while remaining silent about both DOJ IG findings that the problems identified with the Page application are true more generally, and about ongoing 702 abuses under Bill Barr and Chris Wray — just finished.

As a Comey hearing connoisseur, it wasn’t bad. Notably, he repeatedly refused to answer questions for which the presumptions were false.

But as a connoisseur of hearings on FISA and FBI oversight, it was an atrocity.

This hearing was meant to talk about the dangers of counterintelligence investigations that unfairly treat people as Russian agents, meaning Page. But by my count, on at least 19 occasions, Republicans raised the investigation into Christopher Steele’s primary subsource, Igor Danchenko, for being a suspected Russian Agent. The investigation lasted from 2009 to 2011. It used many of the same tactics used against Page, Mike Flynn, and Paul Manafort. While the FBI closed the investigation in 2011 because Danchenko left the country — meaning they never affirmatively decided he wasn’t a Russian spy — neither did they decide he was.

That makes Danchenko exactly like Carter Page, someone once suspected of and investigated over a period for being a Russian Agent, but about whom the investigation was inconclusive, with remaining unanswered questions.

If you believe in due process in this country, you treat Igor Danchenko exactly like you’d like Carter Page to be treated.

And Republicans — starting and ending with Lindsey Graham — over and over again — stated that Danchenko was a suspected Russian agent in 2016 (which is plausible but for which there is no evidence) and even, repeatedly, stated as fact that he was a Russian spy. Lindsey claimed at one point that “the Primary Subsource was a Russian agent.” He later called Danchenko, “Igor the Russian spy.”

Republicans today did everything they complain was done with Carter Page, but they did so in a public hearing.

Danchenko may very well have been still suspect in 2016; that may very well have been something to consider when vetting the dossier (though as Comey noted, it could either corroborate that Danchenko had the sources he claimed or raise concerns about Russian disinformation). That absolutely should have been a factor to raise concerns about Russian disinformation. But everything in the public record shows that Danchenko was, in 2016, in exactly the same status Page will be in 2022, someone against whom an inconclusive foreign agent investigation was closed years earlier.

Still worse, at a hearing in which Lindsey Graham and other Republican Senators claimed they wanted to fix the problems in the FISA process identified as part of the Carter Page application, one after another — including Graham, Chuck Grassley, Mike Lee, Josh Hawley, and Joni Ernst — betrayed utter ignorance about the role of the FBI Director’s certification in a FISA application.

By statute, the FBI Director (or National Security Advisor) certification requires a very limited set of information, basically explaining why the FBI wants to and can use a FISA warrant rather than a criminal warrant, because they believe the desired information in part pertains to a national security threat.

(6)a certification or certifications by the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, an executive branch official or officials designated by the President from among those executive officers employed in the area of national security or defense and appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate, or the Deputy Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, if designated by the President as a certifying official–

(A)that the certifying official deems the information sought to be foreign intelligence information;

(B)that a significant purpose of the surveillance is to obtain foreign intelligence information;

(C)that such information cannot reasonably be obtained by normal investigative techniques;

(D)that designates the type of foreign intelligence information being sought according to the categories described in section 1801(e) of this title; and

(E)including a statement of the basis for the certification that—

(i)the information sought is the type of foreign intelligence information designated; and

(ii)such information cannot reasonably be obtained by normal investigative techniques;

Thanks to the declassification of the Carter Page FISA applications, we can see what the declaration Comey signed looked like. In 8 pages tracking the statutory requirement, it explains (in redacted language) what kind of foreign intelligence information FBI hoped to obtain from the FISA, and why normal investigative methods are not sufficient to achieve those objectives.

Not a shred of that declaration pertains to the underlying affidavit.

And Comey tried to alert people to this, over and over, in the hearing, stating that his certification was very limited, even while taking responsibility in the affidavit that he didn’t sign (and once, in response to a question from Lindsey, stating explicitly that he had not signed). Rather than asking him what his certification entailed and how he thought about that responsibility, Republican Senators entrusted with overseeing FISA insinuated over and over, falsely, that he should have known the underlying pieces of evidence used to obtain the FISA.

Maybe he should have. He frankly exhibited some awareness of what was in that.

But that’s not what the law requires. And if the Senate Judiciary Committee wants FBI Directors signing FISA applications to have that kind of granular awareness of case, they need to rewrite the law to mandate it.

Instead, they simply exhibited their utter lack of awareness of what FISA law requires.

Some of these Senators, notably Grassley, have been overseeing FISA for decades. Lindsey heads this committee. Mike Lee is easily among the Senators who is best informed about FISA. And yet none of them know — not even with a declassified application to read — what it is that the FBI Director certifies.

The Frothy Right Finally Finds a Counterintelligence Investigation They Love!!!

Along with a 302 that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny and some documents that appear to be revamped errors from weeks ago, the Trump Administration also released a report revealing that Igor Danchenko — Christopher Steele’s primary subsource for his dossier — had been under counterintelligence investigation in 2009-2010.

My beliefs about the shit-show of the dossier are well-known, and actually precede those of the frothy right. The fact that Danchenko had high level contacts with Russians in 2009 increases the likelihood his sources had the access that he claimed they did. But the possibility he was being cultivated also increases the chance Russia filled the dossier with disinformation, which I think they did. In any case, Danchenko was not under investigation when he was sharing information with Steele, and hadn’t been for years.

If the dossier is disinformation, though, then Republicans continue to be willful participants in it.

The report is remarkable, however, for the details it provides about how, after a tip about a weird comment Danchenko made (possibly at Brookings), the FBI opened a preliminary and then a full investigation into Danchenko.

After initiating the investigation, the FBI converted it from a preliminary to a full investigation based on the following open source and FBI information:

  • The Primary Sub-source was identified as an associate of two FBI counterintelligence subjects. The FBI assessed that the Primary Sub-source formed the associations with these individuals through a university student organization of which he/she was a member. The FBI identified no additional derogatory information pertaining to these associations.
  • A review of FBI databases revealed that the Primary Sub-source had contact in 2006 with the Russian Embassy and known Russian intelligence officers.
  • In September 2006, the Primary Sub-source was in contact with a known Russian intelligence officer. During these conversations, the Russian Intelligence Officer invited the Primary Sub-source to the Russian Embassy to see his office. The Primary Sub-source told the Russian Intelligence Officer that he/she was interested in entering the Russian diplomatic service one day. The two discussed a time when the Primary Sub-source was to visit. Four days later, the Russian Intelligence Officer contacted the Primary Sub-source and informed him/her they could meet that day to work “on the documents and then think about future plans.” Later in October 2006, the Primary Sub-source contacted the Russian Intelligence Officer seeking a reply “so the documents can be placed in tomorrow’s diplomatic mail pouch.”
  • FBI information further identified, in 2005, the Primary Sub-source making contact with a Washington, D.C.–based Russian officer. It was noted that the Russian officer and the Primary Sub-source seemed very familiar with each other.

INTERVIEWS TO SUPPORT THE INVESTIGATION As part of its investigation, the FBI conducted interviews with the Primary Sub-source’s associates. One individual indicated that the Primary Sub-source was not anti-American but wanted to return to Russia one day. Another described the Primary Sub-source as pro-Russia and indicated that he/she always interjected Russian opinions during policy discussions. While both stated that they did not recall the Primary Sub-source asking directly about their access to classified information, one interviewee did note that the Primary Sub-source persistently asked about the interviewee’s knowledge of a particular military vessel.

The FBI identified known Russian intelligence officers Danchenko was hanging out with, including one with whom he shared information. After finding that open source information, the FBI elevated the investigation to a full investigation and started talking to Danchenko’s associates.

That is, this report describes some of the same kinds of contacts that Mike Flynn (with Turkey), George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, Paul Manafort, Rudy Giuliani, and Trump himself had which led to the opening of an investigation into them. And the FBI investigated Danchenko in the way that the FBI investigated Trump’s associates (though we only know that the Rudy investigation has extended to his grifters, not to Rudy himself yet).

And yet, with Danchenko, the frothy right is not only applauding the investigation, but suggesting that that investigation — though it was closed — should taint Danchenko for the foreseeable future.

BREAKING, Catherine Herridge blared in High Gaslight tone.

The primary sub-source for the Steele dossier was deemed a possible “national security threat” + the subject of 2009 FBI counter-intel probe. According to new records, those facts were known to Crossfire Hurricane team in December 2016.

BREAKING: Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor was deemed a possible “national security threat” and the subject of a 2016 counter-intel probe. According to public records, some of those facts were known to Donald Trump before he hired Flynn in November 2016.

According to the standard the frothy right is adopting with Danchenko, neither Trump nor many of his close associates have any business being anywhere near government.

SSCI’s Asymmetric Interest in Partisan Use of Oppo Research

As I’ve said in past post, the SSCI Report on Russia is better than I expected, but it has some significant gaps (which I’ll discuss in more detail once I’m done reading the whole thing). One fairly inexcusable asymmetry in the committee’s interests, however, pertains to how the two parties dealt with the oppo research floating around in the summer of 2016.

Here’s some of the discussion of SSCI’s effort to figure out how much of Steele’s information got back to both the Clinton campaign and the DNC.

(U) Simpson implied in his interview with the Committee-but would not state outright-that Perkins Coie knew he had hired a subcontractor, along with pursuing other overseas iines of inquiry. 5722 In his book, Simpson said that Elias “had never even heard of Steele. While Elias was aware that Fusion had engaged someone outside the United States to gather information on Trump’s ties to Russia, he did not ask who it was or what the person’s credentials were.”5723 –

(U) Elias represented that the charges associated with Fusion GPS were around $60,000 per month, unevenly split between the Clinton Campaign and the DNC, including the $10,000 per-month fee paid to Perkins Coie.5724

(U) The Committee was unable to fully establish how much of the Steele information was actually transferred to the DNC and the Clinton Campaign. As a general practice, Fusion GPS passed research back to Elias weekly, sending both original source materials and summary documents.5725 Simpson would not say whether or when he gave the memos to Perkins Coie.5726 Elias, through counsel, did not provide details on what information he provided to the DNC or the Clinton Campaign, citing attorney-client privilege. His attorneys conveyed that he provided “advice on communications strategies and the information from.Fusion when warranted. Such information was infrequent, provided orally, and given to both the Clinton Campaign and the DNC.”s121

(U) Robby Mook told the Committee that counsel starting in the summer had briefed him, Podesta, Clinton Campaign Communications Director Jen Palmieri, Jake Sullivan, and Glenn Caplan (a communications staffer) on “pieces of the reporting” in the dossier.5728 The briefings were oral, generally, but Mook remembered one paper memo that counsel distributed then retrieved at the end of the meeting.5729 Palmieri told the Committee she never saw the dossier during the campaign, but she also recalled the Elias briefings: “I don’t recall the term ‘dossier’ being used. He had reports. Some of the things … that I know are in the dossier. Some of the things that I have read are in the dossier I had heard about from Marc, including the famous encounter at the hotel.”573° Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz told the Committee she had no awareness of the dossier, Steele, or Simpson, until the dossier and those names appeared in the press.5731

(U) The Committee also asked Mook whether he fourid the briefings by Elias to be alarming enough to warrant sharing the information with law enforcement. Mook said “No, I don’t recall ever feeling like we had sufficient evidence to go to law enforcement with anything. “5732

SSCI not only interviewed key people from both the campaign and the party (elsewhere, the report also describes what Donna Brazile and John Podesta knew, when), but it tried to understand the communication between them, even though that communication was attorney-client privileged in the same way coordinated attempts to doctor statements to the committee were privileged.

Here is the extent of SSCI’s curiosity in response to learning, from Rick Gates’ 302s and the Mueller Report, that the Trump campaign was working with the RNC to optimize WikiLeaks releases.

(U) Nonetheless, a possible WikiLeaks release appeared central to the Campaign’s · strategic focus. For example, after the June 12 announcement by Assange, Gates described learning from Manafort that the RNC was “energized” by the potential of a WikiLeaks release. Further, Manafort told Gates that the RNC was going to “run the WikiLeaks issue to ground.”1492 Trump and Kushner were reportedly willing to “cooperate” with the RNC’s efforts on this front, overcoming their earlier skepticism of working with the RNC, and demonstrating that both were focused on the possibility of WikiLeaks. releasing Clinton documents. 1493

1492 (U) FBI, FD-302, Gates 4/10/2018. Gates also said that the RNC “indicated they knew the timing of the upcoming releases,” but did not convey who specifically had this information, how it was acquired, or when. The RNC has denied that it had advance knowledge of the timing of WikiLeaks releases.

1493 (U) Ibid It is not clear to the Committee exactly when the notion of cooperation between the RNC and the Campaign arose, and Kushner never mentioned it in any interviews with the Committee. However, the context of these statements suggests that this was in response to early warnings about a pending WikiLeaks d9cument dump and before the July 22 release occurred. The Committee did not examine the RNC’s activity or its interactions with the Campaign on this topic. [my emphasis]

This is supposed to be a counterintelligence investigation of the ways that dalliances with foreign actors might compromise American security. RNC efforts to maximize the impact of documents stolen by Russia had just as much a possibility of compromising those involved as Trump’s own efforts.

And yet, SSCI was far more concerned about Democratic awareness of a report that — the SSCI report makes clear — was done by a guy (Steele) described as having no partisan leanings besides being anti-Putin working for a guy (Glenn Simpson) who didn’t much care for the Clintons but who wanted to make a buck off research already completed.

Horowitz

DOJ’s Accounting of Its FISA Errors Cannot Be Compared to the Carter Page Report

Last year, Bill Barr adopted the stance that Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s assessment of FISA — in the report on the Carter Page FISA applications — wasn’t strict enough, because it found no evidence that the errors in the applications arose from political bias. Last week, Bill Barr’s DOJ adopted the opposite stance, that DOJ IG was too critical of FISA, finding errors in the FBI process where there were none.

It did so in the second of two filings reviewing the errors that DOJ IG had found in 29 other FISA applications. When DOJ IG released an interim report (MAM) describing those errors in March, it appeared to suggest that the level of error in the Carter Page applications — at least with respect to the Woods Files — was actually lower than what DOJ IG had found in the 25 applications.

Now, DOJ appears to be trying to claim — without basis — that that’s not the case.

Ahead of the release of the actual filing, DOJ and FBI orchestrated a press release last week, announcing that they would tell the court none of the errors identified by DOJ IG invalidated the probable cause finding for the 29 files. Predictably, both the responsible press and the frothy right (in stories that misunderstood the findings of either DOJ IG report and at times made errors about the FISA process), concluded that this review shows that Page’s application was uniquely bad.

Only after the press had jumped on that conclusion did DOJ release the filing (here’s the earlier one and here’s AAG John Demers’ statement in conjunction with last week’s release).

The filing makes it clear that it is impossible to draw any comparison between these findings about the earlier Carter Page ones (or even to declare — as many in the press have — that this filing proves DOJ’s FISA problems aren’t as bad as DOJ IG suggested).

That’s true for three reasons:

  • DOJ IG has not finished the kind of review on any of the 29 files it did for Page, and DOJ is not claiming it did either
  • DOJ used a dramatically different methodology for this Woods review than DOJ IG did for the Page review
  • DOJ effectively disagreed with DOJ IG’s findings for roughly 46% of the errors DOJ IG identified — and it’s not clear they explained to the FISA Court why they did so

Before I explain these, there’s a more important takeaway.

In giving itself a clean bill of health, DOJ judged that it doesn’t matter that a 2016 FISA application claimed that one of their sources accused a person of sympathizing with a particular terrorist organization when in fact the source said the person had become sympathetic to radical Muslim causes. For the purposes of FISA, this is a huge distinction, because a terrorist organization counts as a foreign power for the sake of FISA, but radical Muslim causes do not. It’s the difference between targeting someone as a suspected agent of a foreign power and targeting them for First Amendment protected activities. DOJ said this error didn’t matter because there was so much other derogatory information against the target; whether that’s true or not, it remains the case that DOJ’s self-congratulation nevertheless admits to a key First Amendment problem in one of the applications.

Woods violations are different from significant inaccuracies are different from material inaccuracies are different from probable cause

As I explained in this post, the IG Report on Carter Page found two types of problems: 17 “significant inaccuracies” that were mostly errors of omission (see PDF 12 and 14-15 for a list), and Woods file errors (PDF 460ff) for which an assertion made in the application did not have or match the back-up in the accuracy file that is supposed to prove it. The “significant inaccuracies” are the more serious of the two, but a number of those were overblown and in a few cases, dubious, in the DOJ IG Report.

Both of those categories are different from material misstatements, of which DOJ admitted to a number by the time they withdrew the probable cause claim from the third and fourth, but not the first two, Page applications. Before the conclusion of the DOJ IG Report they had told the court of the following material misstatements:

  • July 12, 2018: Cover stories Papadopoulos gave to informants that FBI accurately assessed in real time as false, statements Bruce Ohr made that (in the slightly misrepresented form included in the DOJ IG Report) call into question Christopher Steele’s motives, admissions that Steele himself had spoken to the press
  • October 25, 2019 and November 27, 2019: Details about the actions of Kevin Clinesmith — first not disclosing and then altering a document to hide Page’s relationship with the CIA that covered some but not all of his willful sharing of non-public information with known Russian intelligence officers

It’s not clear the government specified which aspects of the DOJ IG Report it submitted to Rosemary Collyer in December 2019 it deemed material, but she focused on:

  • Statements made by Steele’s primary sub-source that undermined key claims about Page
  • Page’s denials (some proven true, some of still undetermined veracity) of details in the Steele dossier
  • Steele’s derogatory comments about Sergei Millian

On the scale of severity, the material misstatements are the ones that matter, because they’re the ones that will affect whether someone gets wiretapped or not. But the Woods file errors in the Carter Page report identified by DOJ IG describe just four (arguably, three) details even related to things ultimately deemed material which, in turn, led to the withdrawal of two of the applications. None directly described the core issues that led to the withdrawal of the two applications (though the Page denials in conjunction with the sub-source comments did).

Indeed, one key conclusion of this entire process — one that DOJ, DOJ IG, and FISC have all agreed with — is that the Woods files process is not very useful at finding the more important errors of omission of the kind that were the most serious problems in the Page application.

And that’s important because all three of these reports — the March DOJ IG MAM and the June and July responses to FISA — stem from, and only explicitly claim to address, Woods file errors. In its MAM, DOJ IG described what it called its “initial” review this way:

During this initial review, we have not made judgments about whether the errors or concerns we identified were material. Also, we do not speculate as to whether the potential errors would have influenced the decision to file the application or the FISC’s decision to approve the FISA application. In addition, our review was limited to assessing the FBI’s execution of its Woods Procedures, which are not focused on affirming the completeness of the information in FISA applications.

For its part, DOJ calls DOJ IG’s report “preliminary” (seemingly ignoring that the IG claimed in that MAM and claims on its website to be continuing this part of what it calls a preliminary part of a larger review of FISA). DOJ’s Office of Intelligence did do materiality reviews of both the errors DOJ IG found and some that it found in the process of compiling these reports (in addition to the CT material misstatement described above, it found what sounds like the omission of exculpatory statements in a CI case).

But all this amounts to the more basic of the two kinds of reviews that DOJ IG did in the Carter Page case.

For these reports, DOJ continued to use the accuracy review methodology it now agrees is inadequate

As noted, all parties now agree that the Woods procedure wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do. One reason it wasn’t is because the FBI has always given agents a few weeks notice before they review one of their Woods files, allowing them to scramble to fill out the accuracy file.

But DOJ IG (perfectly reasonably) didn’t give the Crossfire Hurricane team or any of the people involved in the 29 FISA applications it reviewed here that same notice. It conducted its Woods file assessment on what was actually in the accuracy file. In the case of the Carter Page review, they found a placeholder for a 302 that said exactly what DOJ IG faulted FBI for not having evidence for, an observation about how much Stefan Halper has been paid, and publicly available details about Gazprombank, among other true claims that were nevertheless not backed up in the Woods file. It would have been child’s play — but take some work — to get proof of those and most other claims in the file. The Woods file review that DOJ IG did in the Page case — and almost certainly, the review of the 29 files — tested whether the Woods procedures were being adhered to at all, not whether the Woods procedure effectively ensured only documented claims made it into a FISA application.

If you’re going to rely on the Woods procedure as an accuracy tool, that’s what reviews need to do, because otherwise they’re doing nothing to test the accuracy of the reports.

And DOJ now agrees. In its June filing, DOJ committed to changing how it does accuracy reviews starting in September (maybe). Starting then, agents will get no notice of a review before it happens, and the accuracy rate of that no-notice review will be tracked along with the accuracy once an agent is given time to chase down the documentation he didn’t include the first time.

NSD has determined that commencing with accuracy reviews starting after September 30, 2020, it will not inform the FBI field offices undergoing NSD oversight reviews which applications will be subjected to accuracy reviews in advance of those reviews. This date is subject to current operational limitations the coronavirus outbreak is imposing. NSD would not apply this change in practice to accuracy reviews conducted in response to a request to use FISA information in a criminal proceeding, given the need to identify particular information from particular collections that is subject to use. NSD also would not apply this change in practice to completeness reviews ( discussed further below); because of the pre-review coordination that is contemplated for those reviews.

NSD will expect that the relevant FBI field offices have ready, upon NSD’s arrival, the accuracy sub-files for the most recent applications for all FISAs seeking electronic surveillance or physical search. NSD will then, on its arrival, inform the FBI field office of the application(s) that will be subject to an accuracy review. If the case will also be subject to a completeness review, pre-coordination, as detailed below, will be necessary. The Government assesses that implementing this change in practice will encourage case agents in all FISA matters to be more vigilant about applying the accuracy procedures in their day-to-day work.

In addition, although NSD’s accuracy reviews allow NSD to assess individual compliance with the accuracy procedures, NSD’s historical practice has been to allow agents to obtain documentation during a review that may be missing from the accuracy sub-file. NSD only assesses the errors or omissions identified once the agent has been given the opportunity to gather any additional required documentation. While the Government believes that, in order to appropriately assess the accuracy of an application’s content, it should continue to allow agents to gather additional documentation during the accuracy review, it assesses that this historical practice has not allowed for the evaluation of how effective agents have been at complying with the requirement to maintain an accuracy sub-file, complete with all required documentation.

As a result, NSD will tally and report as a part of its accuracy review process all facts for which any documentation, or appropriate documentation, was not a part of the accuracy sub-file at the time the accuracy review commenced.

That said, that’s not how DOJ did these reviews. In fact, John Demers emphasized this fact in his statement claiming victory over these reviews.

In addition, when the OIG found a fact unsupported by a document in the Woods file, the OIG did not give the FBI the opportunity to locate a supporting document for the fact outside the file.

Indeed, that’s not the only thing that DOJ did to help DOJ clean up DOJ’s shitty performance on DOJ IG’s review of their work. After FBI Field Office lawyers got the DOJ IG assessment, they pulled together the existing documentation, then DOJ’s OI worked with agents to fill in what wasn’t there. In fact, DOJ even got an extension on the second report because DOJ and FBI agents were still working through the files, suggesting it took up to three months of work to get the files to where DOJ was willing to tell FISC about them.

In other words, whereas the Crossfire Hurricane team got judged — by Bill Barr’s DOJ — on what was in the Woods file when DOJ IG found it, Bill Barr’s DOJ is judging Bill Barr’s DOJ on what might be in a Woods file after agents have up to three months to look for paperwork to support claims they made as long as six years ago.

DOJ disagreed with DOJ IG’s finding of error about 46% of the time

Finally, DOJ and DOJ IG did not use the same categories of information to track errors on the Woods file reviews, and one of the most common ways they dismissed the import of an error was by saying that DOJ IG was wrong.

The MAM divides the errors it found into three categories: claims not supported by any documentation, claims not corroborated by the supposed back-up, and claims that were inconsistent with the supporting documentation.

[W]e identified facts stated in the FISA application that were: (a) not supported by any documentation in the Woods File, (b) not clearly corroborated by the supporting documentation in the Woods File, or (c) inconsistent with the supporting documentation in the Woods File.

In addition to the two material errors they found, DOJ claims the errors they found fall into five categories (described starting on page 10):

  • Non-material date errors
  • Non-material typographical errors
  • Non-material deviations from the source documentation
  • Non-material misidentified sources of information
  • Non-material facts lacking supporting documentation

But to get to that number, DOJ also weeded out a number of other problems identified by DOJ IG via three other categories of determination reflected in the up to three month back and forth with OI:

  • Claims made that were substantiated by documents added to the file after DOJ IG’s review
  • Claims that, after reviewing additional information, OI “determined that the application accurately stated or described the supporting documentation, or accurately summarized other assertions in the application that were supported by the accuracy subfile”
  • Claims not backed by any document, but for which “the supporting documentation taken as a whole provided support for the fact in the application”

DOJ doesn’t count those instances in its overview — as distinct from individual narratives — of the report (indeed, the scope of added documentation is not qualified at all). And while the DOJ fillings say FBI described that it added documentation to the file in the redacted FBI declaration for FISC, it’s not clear whether it told FISC what it added and how much and where and when it came from (FBI has been known to write 302s long after the fact to document events not otherwise documented in real time).

Here’s what all this looks like in one table (FBI did what is probably a similar table, but it’s classified). Note that DOJ IG used still different categories for the Carter Page review: “Supporting document does not state this fact,” which is probably the same as their “not clearly corroborated” category. In my table, I’ve counted that as a “lacking documentation error.”

There are several takeaways from this table.

First, the numerical discrepancy provides some idea of how many errors DOJ IG found that DOJ made go away either by finding documentation for them, or by deciding that DOJ IG was wrong. DOJ IG said it found an average of 20 errors in the 25 applications it was able to review, or 500 total. DOJ says it found 63 errors in the June report and 138 errors in the July Report, over a total of 29 applications (they did a review of the four files for which DOJ IG was provided with no Woods file, so had 4 more files than DOJ IG).

My numbers are off by 3 from theirs, which might be partly accounted for recurrent errors in a reauthorized application or lack of clarity on DOJ’s narrative. Or maybe like DOJ, I subtracted 48 from 138 and got 91.

Approximately 48 of these 138 non-material errors reflect typographical errors or date discrepancies between an assertion in an application and a source document. Of the remaining 91 non-material errors or unsupported facts, four involve nonmaterial factual assertions that may be accurate, but for which a supporting document could not be located in the FBI’s files; 73 involve non-material deviations between a source document and an application; and 13 involve errors in which the source of an otherwise accurate factual assertion was misidentified.

But my count shows that DOJ simply declared DOJ IG to be wrong 151 times in its assessment that something was an error, with an amazing 35 examples of that in one application, and of which 14 across all applications were instances where DOJ couldn’t find a document to support a claim (not even with three months to look), but instead said the totality of the application supported a claim.

Claiming that the totality of an application supports a claim, while being unable to find documentation for a discrete fact, sure sounds like confirmation bias.

And in the up to three months of review, FBI found documentation to support upwards of 130 claims that originally were not supported in the Woods file. In other words, these weren’t errors of fact — they were just instances of FBI not following the Woods procedure.

We know that if the Crossfire Hurricane team had been measured by the standard DOJ did in these filings, it would have done better than most of these applications (again, only with respect to the Woods file). That’s because, aside from the four claims that rely on intercepted information (which is not public), there is public documentation to support every claim deemed unsupported in the report but three: the one claiming that James Clapper had said that Russia was providing money in addition to the disinformation to help Trump.

The DNI commented that this influence included providing money to particular candidates or providing disinformation.

And the two claiming that Christopher Steele’s reporting had been corroborated, something the DOJ IG Report lays out at length was not true in the terms FBI normally measured. Except, even there, Steele handler Mike Gaeta’s sworn testimony actually said it had been. He described jumping when Steele told him he had information because he was a professional,

And at that time there were a number of instances when his information had borne out, had been corroborated by other sources.

He also provided a perfectly reasonable explanation for why Steele’s reporting was not corroborated in the way DOJ IG measured it in the report: because you could never put Steele on a stand, so his testimony would never be used to prosecute people.

From a criminal perspective and a criminal investigative kind of framework, you know, Christopher Steele and [redacted] were never individuals who were going to be on a witness stand.

In other words, while it appears that DOJ cleaned up many of the errors identified by DOJ IG by finding the documentation to back it over the course of months, the public record makes it clear that Crossfire Hurricane would have been able to clear up even more of the Page Woods file.

The exceptions prove the rule. There are, as my table notes, two or three claims that do not accurately describe what the underlying document says, claiming:

  • That Page never refuted the claims against him (he had, and in many cases, was telling the truth in his refutations)
  • That Steele told the FBI he never shared information with anyone outside his “business associate” [Fusion] and the FBI (he also shared it with State, as other parts of FBI had been told)
  • That in his first FBI interviews Papadopoulos admitted he had met with Australian officials but not that he discussed Russia during those meetings (it’s unclear how accurate this claim is)

Assume the last bullet (used just once) reflects the redacted parts of Papadopoulos’ 302s even though it does match his current statements, that nevertheless leaves you with an error rate on arguably the worst category — misrepresenting your evidence — of 2 or 3 per application. The first two of these are the Woods file errors that turned out to have a tie (a significant one in the first bullet) with the material reasons why some of the files were withdrawn. They’re the two errors in the Woods file that most directly tied to omitted evidence in the application that would lead to their withdrawal.

Of the 29 applications reviewed by DOJ, 12 of them have 3 or more “deviations from the source” material. One has 14 and another has 15.

So on the worst measure that this review actually did measure, the one that on Page’s application tied most directly to reasons to withdraw the application, Page’s application actually was within the norm.

It may well be that when all the reviews are done, DOJ will have proof that Carter Page’s application was an exceptionally bad application. Certainly, the material misstatements may end up being worse.

But the only thing this apples to oranges comparison of the Page methodology and the traditional DOJ methodology has proven is that — as a matter of the Woods file reviews — Bill Barr has used a different standard for Bill Barr’s DOJ than he has with Crossfire Hurricane. And that if the Page file had been treated as all the others were, from a Woods file perspective, it actually wouldn’t look that bad.

It also shows that when Bill Barr’s DOJ wants to continue spying on Americans who don’t happen to be associated with Donald Trump, he’s happy to argue that Michael Horowitz’s very legalistic reviews of the sort that did Andrew McCabe in are wrong.

Updated for clarity.