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John Brennan Denies a Special Harry Reid Briefing

This passage from John Brennan’s testimony about Russia to the House Intelligence Committee yesterday has gotten a lot of attention:

Through the so-called Gang of Eight process, we kept Congress apprised of these issues as we identified them. Again, in consultation with the White House, I personally briefed the full details of our understanding of Russian attempts to interfere with the election to Congressional leadership, specifically Senators Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, Dianne Feinstein, and Richard Burr, and to Representatives Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi, Devin Nunes, and Adam Schiff between 11 August and 6 September. I provided the same briefing to each of the Gang of Eight members.  Given the highly sensitive nature of what was an active counterintelligence case involving an ongoing Russian effort to interfere in our presidential election, the full details of what we knew at the time were shared only with those members of Congress, each of whom was accompanied by one senior staff member. The substance of those briefings was entirely consistent with the main judgments contained in the January classified and unclassified assessments, namely that Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton and harm her electability and potential presidency and to help President Trump’s election chances.

The passage has been used to question why GOP leaders, most especially Mitch McConnell, didn’t react more strongly, particularly given public reports that he wouldn’t sign onto a more aggressive statement about Russian efforts.

As I noted in this post, the record thus far reflects a difference in emphasis (on protecting the election systems rather than on Russian attempts to hurt Clinton).

But I want to look more closely at what Brennan actually said.

His description of the briefings seems to be a denial of what I laid out in this post — the NYT report that he gave Harry Reid a special briefing (one which may have been based on the Christopher Steele dossier) that was more alarming than others.

CIA DIRECTORS SHOULD NOT MEET WITH JUST ONE GANG OF EIGHT MEMBER

The second detail I find most interesting in this story is that John Brennan privately briefed Harry Reid about his concerns about the Russians.

John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director, was so concerned about the Russian threat that he gave an unusual private briefing in the late summer to Harry Reid, then the Senate Democratic leader.

Top congressional officials had already received briefings on Russia’s meddling, but the one for Mr. Reid appears to have gone further. In a public letter to Mr. Comey several weeks later, Mr. Reid said that “it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government — a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States.”

While I’m generally sympathetic to Democrats’ complaints that DOJ should have either remained silent about both investigations or revealed both of them, it was stupid for Brennan to give this private briefing (and I hope he gets grilled about it by HPSCI when he testifies in a few weeks). In addition to the things Reid said publicly about the investigation, it’s fairly clear he and his staffers were also behind some of the key leaks here (and, as CNN reported yesterday, leaks about the investigation actually led targets of it to alter their behavior). For reasons beyond what appears in this story, I think it likely Reid served as a cut-out for Brennan.

And that’s simply not appropriate. There may well have been reasons to avoid briefing Richard Burr (who was advising Trump). But spooks should not be sharing information with just one party. CIA did so during its torture cover-up in ways that are particularly troubling and I find this — while not as bad — equally problematic.

When Brennan said he “provided the same briefing to each of the Gang of Eight members,” he might be seen as denying that the briefing to Reid was anything unusual.

Except this NYT article describes Reid’s as taking place in “late summer” and describes top officials as already having received briefings. Another NYT article describes the special briefing for Reid as having taken place on August 25.

In an Aug. 25 briefing for Harry Reid, then the top Democrat in the Senate, Mr. Brennan indicated that Russia’s hackings appeared aimed at helping Mr. Trump win the November election, according to two former officials with knowledge of the briefing.

The officials said Mr. Brennan also indicated that unnamed advisers to Mr. Trump might be working with the Russians to interfere in the election. The F.B.I. and two congressional committees are now investigating that claim, focusing on possible communications and financial dealings between Russian affiliates and a handful of former advisers to Mr. Trump. So far, no proof of collusion has emerged publicly.

Mr. Trump has rejected any suggestion of a Russian connection as “ridiculous” and “fake news.” The White House has also sought to redirect the focus from the investigation and toward what Mr. Trump has said, with no evidence, was President Barack Obama’s wiretapping of phones in Trump Tower during the presidential campaign.

The C.I.A. and the F.B.I. declined to comment for this article, as did Mr. Brennan and senior lawmakers who were part of the summer briefings.

In the August briefing for Mr. Reid, the two former officials said, Mr. Brennan indicated that the C.I.A., focused on foreign intelligence, was limited in its legal ability to investigate possible connections to Mr. Trump. The officials said Mr. Brennan told Mr. Reid that the F.B.I., in charge of domestic intelligence, would have to lead the way.

As described by the NYT, the Reid briefing went beyond what Brennan says he briefed all the Gang of Eight members on, specially with regards to Trump advisors working with Russia. It’s possible Brennan briefed Reid twice.

Much later in the hearing, Trey Gowdy asked Brennan about the Steele dossier. Some of Brennan’s responses — especially his claim not to know who commissioned the Steele dossier; watch him play with his pen — were not all that believable. Brennan went on to say that the CIA didn’t rely on the dossier, but his denial pertained to the IC report on the hack.

It wasn’t part of the corpus of intelligence, uh, information that we had. It was not in any way used as a basis for the intelligence community assessment that was done, uh, it was not.

Note the funny mouth gesture which used to be Brennan’s main “tell.”

Gowdy being Gowdy was not smart enough to ask whether the dossier was ever used in a briefing to members of Congress.

As I have noted, the IC denials pertaining to the dossier are, um, unconvincing (one two three). That’s all the more true given that Steele has admitted to sharing copies of his dossier with his former employer, who would naturally share with Brennan (elsewhere in the hearing Brennan refused to address what our foreign partners had shared with us).

In any case, it seems to me the question is not so much whether McConnell blew off the seriousness of the Brennan warning, but, still, whether Reid received another briefing–perhaps outside that date scope–that included information McConnell didn’t get.

Grassley Continues to Ask Worthwhile Questions about the Steele Dossier

In this post, I noted several details made clear by Christopher Steele’s defense in a lawsuit pertaining to the dossier he did for opponents to Donald Trump:

  • Steele also shared his dossier with an active British intelligence official, which is a second channel via which the US intelligence community may have obtained the dossier in spite of their hilariously unconvincing denials
  • Steele’s claims he wasn’t sharing actual copies of the dossier with the press, at least, don’t accord with other public claims
  • Steele said absolutely nothing about how he shared the dossier with the FBI (which may have been an alternative channel via which it leaked)
  • Steele obtained the most inflammatory claims in the dossier at a time when he claims neither to have been paid nor to have been actively collecting intelligence (and paying sources)

Taken together, these inconsistencies suggest certain alternative stories about the dossier. For example, it’s possible the dossier was used as a way to launder intelligence gathered via other means, as a way to protect sources and methods. It’s likely the US IC had more awareness and involvement in the dossier than they’ve publicly claimed.

With that in mind, I find it very interesting that Chuck Grassley claims to have found inconsistencies in the story FBI and DOJ are giving him about the dossier.

As I noted at the time, Grassley raised some really good questions in a letter to FBI back on March 6, questions made all the more salient given three somewhat conflicting reports about whether the FBI ever paid Steele.

Yesterday, he held a presser to release another letter to FBI, which he sent last Friday. He explained that nine days after he sent his letter, Comey briefed him and Dianne Feinstein on the circumstances surrounding Mike Flynn’s ouster, and answered a few of the questions Grassley had asked in his March 6 letter. But FBI never did respond to the letter itself, beyond sending a four sentence boilerplate letter on April 19, claiming the questions had been answered in the briefing.

In the letter, Grassley makes clear that documents the committee received from DOJ since (are these not FBI? If so are they NSD?) conflict with what Comey relayed in the briefing in that FBI actually had a more substantive relationship than Comey let on.

There appear to be material inconsistencies between the description of the FBI’s relationship with Mr. Steele that you did provide in your briefing and information contained in Justice Department documents made available to the Committee only after the briefing.  Whether those inconsistencies were honest mistakes or an attempt to downplay the actual extent of the FBI’s relationship with Mr. Steele, it is essential that the FBI fully answer all of the questions from the March 6 letter and provide all the requested documents in order to resolve these and related issues.

Significantly, after having asked these questions about public reports that FBI had discussed paying Steele,

All FBI records relating to the agreement with Mr. Steele regarding his investigation of President Trump and his associates, including the agreement itself, all drafts, all internal FBI communications about the agreement, all FBI communications with Mr. Steele about the agreement, all FBI requests for authorization for the agreement, and all records documenting the approval of the agreement.

[snip]

Did the agreement with Mr. Steele ever enter into force?  If so, for how long?  If it did not, why not?

Grassley is restating that question, asking for documentation of all payments to Steele.

Documentation of all payments made to Mr. Steele, including for travel expenses, if any; the date of any such payments; the amount of such payments; the authorization for such payments.

He asked about it in today’s oversight hearing with Comey, and Comey insisted the appearance of conflict was easy to explain (and promised to explain it). I suspect DOJ may have paid for Steele’s travel to the US in October 2016, which might be fine, but that was also when Steele shared his dossier with David Corn. Otherwise, Comey refused to answer in a public forum questions about whether FBI made any representations to a judge relying on the dossier (for example for the FISA order), whether the FBI was aware that Steele paid sources who paid subsources, and whether Comey or the FBI knew that Fusion employed a former Russian intelligence officer who was (like Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort) were serving as an unregistered agent of a foreign power, in this case to help Russia fight Magnitsky sanctions.

The last question pertains to Fusion employee, Rinat Akhmetshin. In July 2016, Hermitage Capital Management filed a FARA complaint against him and number of other people alleging they were unregistered lobbyists for Prevezon Holdings, a Cyprus based firm that was seeking to push back against sanctions. The complaint alleges, among other things, that Akhmetshin is a former GRU officer, hired to generate negative publicity, and has been ” accused of organizing, on behalf of Russian oligarch Andrey Melnichenko, for the computers of International Mineral Resources to be hacked to steal “confidential, personal and otherwise sensitive information” so that it could be disseminated.”

Grassley surely raised the issue (as he also did in a March letter to Dana Boente in the latter’s role as Acting Attorney General) to accuse Steele’s associates of the same things Steele and others have accused Paul Manafort of (and Mike Flynn has admitted). But it seems an utterly valid issue in any case, not least because it raises questions of why Fusion brought in Steele when Akhmetshin could have collected Russian intelligence on Trump himself. Did he? If so, was that included in the parts of the dossier we haven’t seen. More importantly, was Akhmetshin still around when the dossier got leaked? Does he have any ongoing ties with Russia that might lead to the murder of sourced named in the dossier?

In today’s hearing, Grassley said that Fusion refused to cooperate with the questions he posed to them about the dossier. It seems the firms paid to compile that dossier are obfuscating on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Virgin Birth of the Most Inflammatory Trump Dossier Claims

In a response to Alexsej Gubarev’s British libel lawsuit, Christopher Steele has submitted a defense making certain claims about the dossier on Trump he reportedly did for Trump’s opponents. (Washington Times published the filing along with this story.) The defense provides some limited information on the dossier, while remaining entirely silent about known details.

The defense provides further explanation of how Steele came to share the dossier with John McCain. Sir Andrew Wood is an Associate of Steele’s firm, which is how he knew about the dossier. At an undated meeting between Wood and John McCain and his associate David Kramer, Wood told the Americans about the dossier. That piqued McCain’s interest, so Kramer met with Steele in Surrey on November 28. After Kramer returned to DC, he arranged to get a hard copy of the dossier for McCain, and requested that “any further intelligence gathered by the Defendants about alleged Russian interference in the US Presidential election” be provided to him on behalf of McCain.

Steele denies he shared the dossier with journalists

Of critical importance, to substantiate a claim that he wasn’t spreading the document all over creation, Steele states,

The Defendants did not, however, provide any of the pre-election memoranda to media organizations or journalists. Nor did they authorize anyone to do so. Nor did they provide the confidential December memorandum to media organizations or journalists. Nor did they authorize anyone to do so.

[snip]

[Steele] gave off the record briefings to a small number of journalists about the pre-election memoranda in late summer/autumn 2016.

I find the claim rather suspicious.

The changing (BBC) story about how it got (shown) the Steele dossier

Steele’s claim that he wasn’t sharing the dossier itself is dubious for several reasons. For example, the defense makes no mention of Steele sharing the dossier with the FBI, in spite of multiple reports of him doing so.

More damning, one of the reporters with whom the dossier was shared before the election, BBC’s Paul Wood, has changed a published story about receiving the dossier on two occasions. The original story appeared like this.

Sometime between the original publication and 14:06 GMT, the paragraph claiming the American oppo research company, Fusion, disseminated the document was removed from the story.

Then, by 15:32 GMT — roughly 20 minutes after I did a post noting the first change — that passage was again changed, this time to suggest the pages were shown, but not given, to journalists.

I’ve been told second-hand that actual pages were given, not shown, to at least one journalist, suggesting the middle story may be the accurate one. Moreover, the actual dossier would have had to have been shared for James Clapper’s claim that the dossier “was widely circulated … among the media, members of Congress and Congressional staff ” to be true.

Steele’s free report based off unsolicited intelligence

All that pertains to the dossier, generally, though. It’s actually irrelevant to the lawsuit, since Gubarev is suing over claims made in the last report, dated December 13 (see this post for why that date is important).

Here’s what Steele claims about that last report.

The Defendants continued to receive unsolicited intelligence on the matters covered by the pre-election memoranda after the US Presidential election and the conclusion of the assignment for Fusion.

After receiving some such intelligence [Steele] prepared the confidential December memorandum, … on his own initiative on or around 13 December 2016.

[snip]

Accordingly, [Steele] provided a copy of the December memorandum to:

a. A senior UK government national security official acting in his official capacity, on a confidential basis in hard copy form; and

b. Fusion, by enciphered email with an instruction to Fusion to provide a hard copy to Sen. McCain via Mr Kramer.

Nowhere in this defense does Steele specify when he gave McCain the dossier, aside from sometime after November 28. Presumably it was on or before December 9, when McCain reportedly handed the dossier over to the FBI (though McCain was a bit sketchier about when he got and handed on the dossier and — very significantly — doesn’t describe doing so twice).

Steele does confirm he also shared the dossier with “a senior UK government national security official,” which is another way the US intelligence community might have gotten the dossier they shared with Trump before BuzzFeed leaked it, contrary to their utterly ridiculous claims to have been the last to know of it.

In any case, the timeline suggests that, after sources started leaking aggressively about Putin affirmatively trying to elect Trump on December 9 (even as Obama called for a review of the intelligence), Steele all of a sudden got new intelligence (or, less plausibly, decided to write down the intelligence he had before he sent McCain the dossier but hadn’t written up).

Multiple reports have said that Steele was working for free in that period. Apparently, too, the sources that Steele had been paying up to this point decided they would provide unsolicited intelligence.

Did they get paid, either?

The virgin birth of the most inflammatory claims

And this is all very interesting because — as I have noted before — this last brief includes three far more inflammatory claims than Steele had ever provided before.

First, as part of the claims Gubarev is suing over, Steele claimed he had been told that in addition to using botnets to “transmit viruses, plant bugs, and steal data,” (which sounds nothing like what allegedly actually happened in the hack), XBT also conducted “altering operations,” a suggestion that Russia was tampering with data rather than just stealing it.

Second, whereas earlier reporting on Michael Cohen’s role had been more vague, this report described him discussing “deniable cash payments to the hackers who had worked in Europe under Kremlin direction against the CLINTON campaign.” That is, the dossier made far stronger claims that Trump’s team had discussed the hack itself, rather than making quid pro quo deals to alter US policy.

Finally, and most importantly, Steele’s “unsolicited” intelligence claimed that Trump had paid the hackers.

On payments, IVANOV’s associate said that the operatives involved had been paid by both TRUMP’s team and the Kremlin, though their orders and ultimate loyalty lay with IVANOV.

This is the report that wraps up all the allegations in a neat little bow, setting up the impeachment of Trump, and it came unsolicited after the spooks were upping the pressure on McCain.

Right wing outlets are (rightly) making much of the fact that Steele claimed the intelligence “needed to be analysed and further investigated/verified.” But I’m just as struck by the rather neat claim that by far the most inflammatory intelligence in the dossier came in the days after Democrats and the IC started ratcheting up pressure on Trump, and that it came unsolicited.

Update: This post has been updated for clarity.

Update: David Corn’s account of interacting with Steele is inconsistent on the point of whether he got the dossier. At first he says he was able to “review” the memos.

I also was able to review the memos the former spy had written, and I quoted a few key portions in my article.

But by the end of the paragraph, he says the reason he didn’t publish the dossier is not because he didn’t have it, but because it would have revealed some of Steele’s sources (as it eventually did).

I also didn’t post the memos, as BuzzFeed did this week, because the documents contained information about the former spy’s sources that could place these people at risk.

And technically, Corn’s description of how Steele directed him to treat the information is not “off the record” (though I can still remember the moment during the Scooter Libby trial when, after one after another top journalist provided a different definition of the term on the stand, journalists in the media room — Corn was there — acknowledged that everyone has a different definition of the term). In his article, Corn says he was simply told not to ID Steele’s nationality or MI6 but suggests he was permitted to quote the dossier, which he did.

For my story in October, I spoke with the former spy who wrote these memos, under the condition that I not name him or reveal his nationality or the spy service where he had worked for nearly two decades, mostly on Russian matters.

Update: It’s worth comparing Steele’s claims with those made in this Vanity Fair feature on the dossier. Of particular note, VF makes no mention of Wood being an associate of Steele’s firm, and instead suggests he may have been sent to the conference in question to contact McCain.

It was at some point in this busy weekend that Senator John McCain and David J. Kramer, a former State Department official whose bailiwick was Russia and who now toils at Arizona State University’s Washington-based McCain Institute for International Leadership, found themselves huddling with Sir Andrew Wood, a former British ambassador to Russia.

Sir Andrew, 77, had served in Moscow for five years starting in 1995, a no-holds-barred time when Putin was aggressively consolidating power. And in London Station, the M.I.6 puppeteer pulling all the clandestine strings was Christopher Steele. Sir Andrew knew Steele well and liked what he knew. And the former diplomat, who always had a few tough words to say about Putin, had heard the rumors about Steele’s memo.

Had Sir Andrew arrived in Halifax on his own covert mission? Was it just an accident that his conversation with Senator McCain happened to meander its way to the findings in Steele’s memos? Or are there no accidents in international intrigue? Sir Andrew offered no comment to Vanity Fair. He did, however, tell the Independent newspaper, “The issue of Donald Trump and Russia was very much in the news and it was natural to talk about it.

Note, this account would put Kramer in Surrey meeting Steele around December 5, which would mean Steele’s most inflammatory intelligence came in (“unsolicited,” he claimed) during a period of 11 days. It also says that Kramer brought the dossier back with him, undermining Steele’s claims that Fusion had been in the loop. VF also suggests there may have been more to the dossier Steele handed Kramer; Steele goes so far out of his way in his defense to claim he did no reports in November that I suspect he did report in November (perhaps directly for FBI?).

BBC’s FISA Reporter Argues CIA Should Lead Trump Investigation

Paul Wood is the BBC reporter who, in a January story focusing largely on MI6 officer Christopher Steele’s dossier, repeated the Louise Mensch report that the government had obtained a FISA order targeting two Russian banks.

On 15 October, the US secret intelligence court issued a warrant to investigate two Russian banks. This news was given to me by several sources and corroborated by someone I will identify only as a senior member of the US intelligence community. He would never volunteer anything – giving up classified information would be illegal – but he would confirm or deny what I had heard from other sources.

Last night he posted another story, confirming that one of the figures described in Steele’s dossier as having been withdrawn from DC because of his close ties to the election operation, Mikhail Kalugin, was indeed a Russian spy operating under diplomatic cover.

[S]ources I know and trust have told me the US government identified Kalugin as a spy while he was still at the embassy.

[snip]

A retired member of a US intelligence agency told me that Kalugin was being kept under surveillance before he left the US.

But I’m more interested in the vague details Wood offers about Steele’s past cooperation — and how he pitches a claim that the FBI is screwing up the investigation.

Remember: the public story is that only the FBI had any contact with Steele. But the first time this article describes him sharing information he collected for other sources with US intelligence agencies, it doesn’t specify that.

I understand – from former officials – that from 2013-16, Steele gave the US government extensive information on Russia and Ukraine.

This was work done for private clients, but which Steele wanted the US authorities to see.

One former senior official who saw these reports told me: “It was found to be of value by the people whose job it was to look at Russia every day.

Indeed, the article distinguishes between what those agencies believed about Steele from what the FBI did.

In light of his earlier work, the US intelligence community saw him as “credible” (their highest praise).

The FBI thought the same; they had worked with Steele going back to his days in MI6.

The article goes on to complain that Steele never briefed the CIA on the dossier, which it explains by saying his Russian related contacts had moved on.

But the CIA never interviewed him, and never sought to.

This comes from several people who are in a position to know.

[snip]

I understand that Steele himself did not ask to brief the CIA because he had a long-standing relationship with the FBI.

The Russia people at the CIA had moved on and he felt he did not have the personal contacts he would need.

As a reminder, the Intelligence Community offered completely ridiculous explanations for when it first obtained the dossier, which were implausible, even ignoring the way they pretended FBI wasn’t part of the IC.

In any case, having laid out these distinctions, the article then voices the complaints of those who believe the FBI is screwing the investigation up, and that only CIA has the contacts to conduct it.

This comes from several people who are in a position to know.

They are alarmed at how the investigation is going, and worry it is being fumbled.

One said: “The FBI doesn’t know about Russia, the CIA knows about Russia.

“Any sources Steele has in Russia, the FBI doesn’t know how to evaluate.

“The Agency does… Who’s running this thing from Moscow? The FBI just aren’t capable on that side, of even understanding what Chris has.”

The article cites one reason this complaint is bogus — the CIA, along with other agencies, are part of the task force investigating this case. It doesn’t explain why the theory voiced by its sources — that the Russians would need to steal voter roll data from states (or even cooperate with Trump) to micro-target messages. Voter rolls are readily available. And while cooperating with Trump’s campaign would make micro-targeting more effective, it would not be necessary for a knowledgable person.

In any case, these complaints sound like the excuses given for why Steele did not, ultimately, take payment from FBI (which I discussed here), with one difference. It wasn’t just that Steele thought the FBI was paying too much attention on Hillary’s email campaign, but he thought publicizing his dossier would make the difference in the election.

“He really thought that what he had would sway the election,” said one.

That claim, with questions introduced by this article about which agencies he has worked with, is rather interesting.

One final point. After the article got posted, the Beeb took out a critical line (highlighted below) claiming that Steele didn’t share his dossier with reporters himself, but instead did so through his employer.

That doesn’t make sense for a lot of reasons — and is belied by David Corn’s account of what happened. But I find it particularly interesting given the fact that — after Chuck Grassley first asked the FBI to provide information on the dossier — Grassley has since asked the consulting firm questions that would provide a way to double check the FBI’s claims. Fusion’s answers, which are due by April 7, might present problems for this claim, which has since disappeared. Poof!

Among the things Richard Burr suggested yesterday is that the committee may not succeed in getting Steele to testify (suggesting that being outside the country put him beyond subpoena). Given the airing of complaints from Steele and his friends here, I really look forward to seeing whether he cooperates with SSCI.

The Temporal Feint in Adam Schiff’s Neat Narrative

I did four — count them! four! — interviews on the Russian hearing yesterday. And one thing I realized over the course of the interviews is that people were far more impressed with Adam Schiff’s opening speech than they should have been.

I want to look closely at this passage which — if it were accurate — would be a tight little presentation of quid pro quo tied to the change of platform at the July 18-21, 2016 RNC. But it’s not. I’ve bolded the two claims that are most problematic, though the presentation as a whole is misleading.

In early July, Carter Page, someone candidate Trump identified as one of his national security advisors, travels to Moscow on a trip approved by the Trump campaign. While in Moscow, he gives a speech critical of the United States and other western countries for what he believes is a hypocritical focus on democratization and efforts to fight corruption.

According to Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer who is reportedly held in high regard by U.S. Intelligence, Russian sources tell him that Page has also had a secret meeting with Igor Sechin (SEH-CHIN), CEO of Russian gas giant Rosneft. Sechin is reported to be a former KGB agent and close friend of Putin’s. According to Steele’s Russian sources, Page is offered brokerage fees by Sechin on a deal involving a 19 percent share of the company. According to Reuters, the sale of a 19.5 percent share in Rosneft later takes place, with unknown purchasers and unknown brokerage fees.

Also, according to Steele’s Russian sources, the Trump campaign is offered documents damaging to Hillary Clinton, which the Russians would publish through an outlet that gives them deniability, like Wikileaks. The hacked documents would be in exchange for a Trump Administration policy that de-emphasizes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and instead focuses on criticizing NATO countries for not paying their fare share – policies which, even as recently as the President’s meeting last week with Angela Merkel, have now presciently come to pass.

In the middle of July, Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign manager and someone who was long on the payroll of Pro-Russian Ukrainian interests, attends the Republican Party convention. Carter Page, back from Moscow, also attends the convention. According to Steele, it was Manafort who chose Page to serve as a go-between for the Trump campaign and Russian interests. Ambassador Kislyak, who presides over a Russian embassy in which diplomatic personnel would later be expelled as likely spies, also attends the Republican Party convention and meets with Carter Page and additional Trump Advisors JD Gordon and Walid Phares. It was JD Gordon who approved Page’s trip to Moscow. Ambassador Kislyak also meets with Trump campaign national security chair and now Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Sessions would later deny meeting with Russian officials during his Senate confirmation hearing.

Just prior to the convention, the Republican Party platform is changed, removing a section that supports the provision of “lethal defensive weapons” to Ukraine, an action that would be contrary to Russian interests. Manafort categorically denies involvement by the Trump campaign in altering the platform. But the Republican Party delegate who offered the language in support of providing defensive weapons to Ukraine states that it was removed at the insistence of the Trump campaign. Later, JD Gordon admits opposing the inclusion of the provision at the time it was being debated and prior to its being removed.

Later in July, and after the convention, the first stolen emails detrimental to Hillary Clinton appear on Wikileaks. A hacker who goes by the moniker Guccifer 2.0 claims responsibility for hacking the DNC and giving the documents to Wikileaks. But leading private cyber security firms including CrowdStrike, Mandiant, and ThreatConnect review the evidence of the hack and conclude with high certainty that it was the work of APT28 and APT29, who were known to be Russian intelligence services. The U.S. Intelligence community also later confirms that the documents were in fact stolen by Russian intelligence and Guccifer 2.0 acted as a front. [emphasis on most problematic claims mine]

What Schiff tries to do here is suggest that the Russians offered Trump kompromat on Hillary, Trump’s team changed the GOP platform, and then in response the Russians started releasing the DNC emails through Wikileaks.

Later in the hearing, several Republicans disputed the nature of the change in the platform. Both in and outside of the hearing, Republicans have noted that the changed platform matched the policy in place by the Obama Administration at the time: to help Ukraine, but stop short of arming them. All that said, the story on this has clearly changed. The change in the platform clearly shows the influence of Russophiles moving the party away from its hawkish stance, but it’s not enough, in my opinion, to sustain the claims of quid pro quo. [Update: One of the outside the hearing arguments that the platform was not weakened is this Byron York piece b linked, which argues the platform actually got more anti-Russian.]

The bigger problem with Schiff’s neat narrative is the way it obscures the timeline of events, putting the release of DNC emails after the change in platform. That is true with regards to the Wikileaks release, but not the Guccifer 2 release, which preceded the platform change.  Moreover, the references in Steele’s dossier Schiff invokes are not so clear cut — the dossier alleges Russia offered kompromat on Hillary unrelated to the stolen emails before any discussion of the Wikileaks emails. I’ve put what Schiff’s timeline would look like if it were not aiming to play up the quid pro quo of the RNC below (note this timeline doesn’t include all Steele reports, just those specifically on point; see also this site for a comprehensive Guccifer related timeline). It shows several things:

  • The changes to the platform preceded the meetings with Sergey Kislyak. Indeed, the first public report on the change in platform even preceded the Kislyak meetings by a day.
  • The stolen documents began to be released well before the platform got changed.
  • The early Steele report on discussions of sharing a dossier of kompromat on Hillary pertains to a dossier dating back decades (even though these reports all post-date the first Guccifer releases, so could have included a discussion of hacked materials). The first explicit reference to the DNC hack comes after Wikileaks started releasing documents (and earlier reports which ought to include such references don’t).
  • The later Steele report tying the Wikileaks release to a change in policy came after the policy had already changed and documents had already been released.
  • The alleged quid pro quo tied to the early July Carter Page meeting was for the lifting of sanctions, not the shift on NATO and Ukraine; the Steele dossier describes the latter as the quid pro quo in exchange for the Wikileaks release only after the emails start coming out from Wikileaks.

Also note: the report that first ties Wikileaks (but not Guccifer) to a quid pro quo is one of the reports that made me raise questions about the provenance of the report as we received it.

This is not lethal for the argument that the Trump campaign delivered on a quid pro quo. For example, if there was extensive coordination, Trump could have changed his policy in March after learning that the Russian military intelligence hack — the one allegedly designed to collect documents to leak — had started. Or perhaps the Guccifer leaks were a down-payment on the full batch. But there’s no evidence of either.

In any case, the narrative, as laid out by Adam Schiff, doesn’t hold together on several points. Trump’s team has not yet delivered on the quid pro quo allegedly tied to the Rosneft brokerage fees that were paid to someone (it’s not public whom) in December — that is, the lifting of sanctions. As laid out here, the descriptions of an offer of a dossier of information on Hillary prior to the Republican platform pertained to stuff going back decades, not explicitly to Wikileaks; the shift of discussion to Wikileaks only came after the emails had already appeared and any Ukraine related policy changes had already been made.

There’s plenty of smoke surrounding Trump and his associates. It doesn’t require fudging the timeline in order to make it appear like a full quid pro quo (and given Jim Comey’s reliance on “coordination” rather than “collusion” in Monday’s discussion, it’s not even clear such quid pro quo would be necessary for a conspiracy charge). Adam Schiff can and should be more careful about this evidence in future public hearings.

Update: Given how remarkably late the references to the stolen emails are in the dossier, I’m linking this post showing how later entries included a feedback loop.


March 19: John Podesta phished (DNC compromise generally understood to date to same time period).

March 31: Trump reportedly embraces pro-Russian stance in foreign policy meeting with advisors.

April 19th: DCLeaks.com registered.

June 8th: DCLeaks.com posts leaks (from post dates).

June 13th: First archived record of DCLeaks posts.

June 15: Crowdstrike report names Russia in DNC hack, first Guccifer 2.0 releases via TSG and Gawker.

June 18: Guccifer releases at WordPress site.

June 20: Steele report presents obviously conflicting information on exchanging intelligence with Trump. A senior Russian Foreign Ministry figure said “the Kremlin had been feeding TRUMP and his team valuable intelligence on his opponents, including … Hillary CLINTON, for several years.” A former top level intelligence officer still active in the Kremlin stated that the Kremlin had been collating a dossier on Hillary, “for many years, dating back to her husband Bill’s presidency, and comprised mainly eavesdropped conversations of various sorts. … Some of the conversations were from bugged comments CLINTON had made on her various trips to Russia and focused on things she had said which contradicted her current position on various issues.” A senior Kremlin official, however, said that the dossier “had not as yet been made available abroad, including to TRUMP or his campaign team.”

July 7-8: Carter Page in Moscow. Allegedly (per later Steele dossier reports) he is offered brokerage fees for the sale of a stake in Rosneft in exchange for ending sanctions on Russia.

July 11-12: Platform drafted.

July 18-21: RNC.

July 18: First report of changes to platform.

July 19: Sergey Kislyak meets numerous Trump associates after a Heritage sponsored Jeff Sessions talk.

July 19: Steele report provides first details of Carter Page meeting in Russia during which Divyekin raises “a dossier of ‘kompromat’ the Kremlin possessed on TRUMP’s Democratic presidential rival, Hillary CLINTON, and its possible release to the Republican’s campaign team.” In context (especially because the same report also warns Trump of kompromat Russia holds on him), this seems to be the dossier going back years also mentioned in the June 20 report, not Wikileaks emails. Certainly no explicit mention of Wikileaks or the hack appears in the report, even though the report is based off July reporting that post-date the first Guccifer 2.0 leaks.

July 22: Wikileaks starts releasing DNC emails.

July 26: Steele report describing conversations from June describes Russian hacking efforts in terms already publicly known to be false. For example, the report claims FSB had not yet had success penetrating American or other “first tier” targets. FSB had success hacking American targets the previous year, including the DNC. This report includes no discussion of the DNC hack or Wikileaks.

Undated July, probably because of report number between July 26 and 30: An “ethnic Russian close associate of Republican US presidential candidate Donald TRUMP” includes the first reference to the DNC hack and WikiLeaks:

[T]he Russian regime had been behind the recent leak of embarrassing e-mail messages, emanating from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to the Wikileaks platform. The reason for using WikiLeaks was “plausible deniability” and the operation had been conducted with the full knowledge and support of TRUMP and senior members of his campaign team. In return the TRUMP team had agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue and to raise US/NATO defence commitments in the Baltics and Eastern Europe to deflect attention away from Ukraine, a priority for PUTIN who needed to cauterise the subject.

July 30: A Russian emigre close to Trump describes concern in the campaign about the DNC email fallout. This report mentions that the Kremlin “had more intelligence on CLINTON and her campaign but he did not know the details or when or if it would be released.” In context, it is unclear whether this refers to stolen documents, though the reference to the campaign suggests that is likely.

August 5: Steele report describes Russian interference as a botched operation, discusses wishful thinking of Trump withdrawing.

August 10: Steele report discusses the “impact and results of Kremlin intervention in the US presidential election to date” claiming Russia’s role in the DNC hack was “technically deniable.” This report conflicts in some ways with the August 5 report, specifically with regards to the perceived success of the operation.

September 14: Steele report referencing kompromat on Hillary clearly in context of further emails.

October 18: More detailed Steele report account of Carter Page meeting, including date. It asserts that “although PAGE had not stated it explicitly to SECHIN, he had clearly implied that in terms of his comment on TRUMP’s intention to lift Russian sanctions if elected president, he was speaking with the Republican candidate’s authority.”

October 19: More Steele report accounting of Michael Cohen’s August attempts to clean up after Manafort and Page.

The Feedback Loop in Christopher Steele’s Dossier

Last week, at least three media outlets have provided new details about the relationship between former MI6 officer Christopher Steele — the author of the Trump dossier — and the FBI. First WaPo reported that Steele had reached a verbal agreement that the FBI would pay him to continue his investigation of Russia’s involvement with Trump after still unnamed Democrats stopped paying him after the election. CNN then reported that FBI actually had paid Steele for his expenses. Finally, NBC reported Steele backed out of the deal before it was finalized. Chuck Grassley just sent a letter to Jim Comey asking for more information about the proposed arrangement with Steele.

I’m with Grassley on this. According to WaPo and NBC, FBI would only have paid Steele after the election, presumably regardless of the outcome; by that point Steele’s research couldn’t affect the outcome of the investigation. Nevertheless, the possibility that FBI may have used information from a Democratically paid oppo researcher does raise questions of propriety. Add in the discrepancies in these three reports about whether FBI did pay for Steele’s work, and Grassley is right to raise questions.

I’m also interested in what the relationship says about the way in which political necessities may have impacted the content of Steele’s dossier. All three reports attribute the termination of any FBI-Steele relationship, at least in part, to Steele’s frustration with the FBI. WaPo goes on at some length, explaining that Steele got pissed when Jim Comey reopened the Hillary investigation on October 28, and then grew angrier after the NYT reported the FBI had not confirmed any link to Russia.

Ultimately, the FBI did not pay Steele. Communications between the bureau and the former spy were interrupted as Steele’s now-famous dossier became the subject of news stories, congressional inquiries and presidential denials, according to the people familiar with the arrangement, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

[snip]

In October, anticipating that funding supplied through the original client would dry up, Steele and the FBI reached a spoken understanding: He would continue his work looking at the Kremlin’s ties to Trump and receive compensation for his efforts.

But Steele’s frustration deepened when FBI Director James B. Comey, who had been silent on the Russia inquiry, announced publicly 11 days before the election that the bureau was investigating a newly discovered cache of emails Clinton had exchanged using her private server, according to people familiar with Steele’s thinking.

Those people say Steele’s frustration with the FBI peaked after an Oct. 31 New York Times story that cited law enforcement sources drawing conclusions that he considered premature. The article said that the FBI had not yet found any “conclusive or direct link” between Trump and the Russian government and that the Russian hacking was not intended to help Trump.

WaPo doesn’t lay this out in detail, however. Here’s what happened on those days in October:

October 28: Comey informs eight committee chairs he will reopen the investigation, which promptly (and predictably) leaks.

October 30: Having been officially briefed on the dossier, Harry Reid writes Comey accusing him of a Hatch Act violation for releasing the information on Clinton while withholding what we know to be information in the dossier.

October 31, 6:52PM: David Corn publishes story based on dossier.

October 31, 9:27PM: NYT publishes article describing multiple investigations into Russian interference, stating “no evidence has emerged that would link him or anyone else in his business or political circle directly to Russia’s election operations.”

October 31, 10:52PM: NYT edits article, adding “conclusive or direct” as a caveat in the sentence “Law enforcement officials say that none of the investigations so far have found any conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government.”

Notably, assuming the times in Newsdiffs (from which I got the NYT timing) are correct, Steele had already gone public before the NYT published its article. That suggests he (like Harry Reid) believed his research should be part of a competing public story. And by going public in what was obviously a Democratically-seeded article, Steele likely made it far more difficult for FBI to continue the relationship.

Already, these new timeline details raise questions about the degree to which Steele’s concerns that the Trump Russian investigation should have more prominence than the email investigation may have influenced his work. Even if Jim Comey did do something colossally stupid by announcing the reopening of the investigation, that shouldn’t affect Steele’s interest in providing the best intelligence to the US, regardless of the public impact, unless he was always motivated primarily by his role as campaign oppo researcher.

The pointless Alfa Bank report that nevertheless seems to reinforce the dodgy Alfa server story

But I also wonder whether it relates to the content. 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.

The discovery of direct collusion during the intelligence review of the Russian hack

More interesting still is what happens in the period that — according to public reporting, anyway — Steele was working for free.

Contrary to what Steele’s anger suggests, there was no real evidence of direct Russian ties to Trump outside of the famous PeeGate incident (and even if that happened, he was not a knowing participant). In the first report, there’s a claim that “the Kremlin has been feeding TRUMP and his team valuable intelligence … including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton,” but the part of the report that purportedly describes that sharing states that the Kremlin file on Hillary “had not yet been made available abroad, including to TRUMP or his campaign team,” seemingly contradicting the claim. A subsequent report describes a Presidential Administration official discussed the “possible release [of the dossier] to the Republican’s campaign team,” but without any confirmation that occurred (or even that Trump knew about it).

A subsequent report includes a claim of a “well-developed conspiracy of co-operation between [Trump’s team] and the Russian leadership managed through Paul Manafort and Carter Page. It continued to suggest a quid pro quo between the Russian hack and a shift on Ukraine and NATO policies. But in subsequent discussions of Manafort and Page’s corruption, it drops this claim entirely. Even when Michael Cohen enters the narrative, its about managing fallout over Manafort’s Ukrainian corruption.

There are claims that Trump was trying to set up business in Russia, followed by repeated descriptions of Russians not succeeding in getting him to do so.

In other words, in spite of the fact that there were some really damning allegations in the reports, the subsequent reporting didn’t necessarily back the most inflammatory aspects of them.

After the election, there’s just one report, dated December 13. That dates it to after the CIA’s leak fest reporting that Putin hacked the DNC not just to hurt Hillary and the US, but also to elect Trump. It dates to after Obama ordered an IC report on the hack. It dates to after John McCain delivered yet another copy of the dossier to FBI. It slightly precedes a Crowdstrike report (also done for free) bumping its formerly non-public “medium” confidence Russia’s GRU hacked the DNC to “high.”

And after previous reports describing Michael Cohen’s meetings as serving to cover up Manafort’s corruption and Page’s non-consummated Rosneft deal, this one alleges “the operatives involved [in the DNC hack] had been paid by both TRUMP’s team and the Kremlin,” the first such allegation. That is, over a month after the election but less than a month before its leak, the kind of detail backing direct collusion reappeared in this report.

Chuck Grassley’s questions

Which brings me back to Grassley’s letter. In addition to asking about payments, whether the agreement ever went into force, and whether and how Steele’s material served as a basis for FBI reports or even warrants, Grassley asks a question I’ve long wanted to know: Why we got this version of the memo, which is obviously just a partial selection of the complete dossier (rather like the Alfa story).

  1. How did the FBI first obtain Mr. Steele’s Trump investigation memos?  Has the FBI obtained additional memos from this same source that were not published by Buzzfeed?  If so, please provide copies.

We will actually learn a lot about the validity of the dossier if we see what other parts got dealt to the FBI, and if so whether the copy released to the public was cherry picked for the most damning information.

David Ignatius’ Curious Role in the Mike Flynn Story

I’m traveling again, so I’m running on delayed coverage of the Trump circus.

But I wanted to point out something that has been puzzling me: David Ignatius’ curious role in the events leading up to the forced resignation of Mike Flynn as President Trump’s National Security Adviser.

After all, Ignatius set off the events with this article. The article included two curious details. First, in an update to the story, Ignatius stated as fact that the Russian plane carrying a military choir to Syria had been shot down.

This official later added that Flynn’s initial call was to express condolences to Kislyak after the terrorist killing of the Russian ambassador to Ankara Dec. 19, and that Flynn made a second call Dec. 28 to express condolences for the shoot-down of a Russian plane carrying a choir to Syria.

Perhaps this was a mistake, but no cause for the crash has been reported (and it’d be even more curious if Trump’s people knew this was a shoot-down right away, given the lack of public accounting for it). There has been no follow-up about who shot down this plane (and little claim that it was terrorism).

More importantly for the Flynn story, Ignatius reported the December 29 calls between Sergey Kislyak and Flynn, the first public mention of them.

According to a senior U.S. government official, Flynn phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 Russian officials as well as other measures in retaliation for the hacking. What did Flynn say, and did it undercut the U.S. sanctions? The Logan Act (though never enforced) bars U.S. citizens from correspondence intending to influence a foreign government about “disputes” with the United States. Was its spirit violated? The Trump campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

If the Trump team’s contacts helped discourage the Russians from a counter-retaliation, maybe that’s a good thing. But we ought to know the facts.

Ignatius not only knew of the calls, but he knew enough to ask the question — which the FBI would later pose to Flynn in an interview — about whether Flynn had undercut US sanctions. In response to his mention of the calls, other journalists followed up with Mike Pence, which ultimately led to the excused reason for Flynn’s firing, that he had lied to Pence about the calls. Frankly, that questioning also clearly led to Flynn correcting his story between February 8 and 9, which suggests he may have reviewed the transcripts in the interim.

While Ignatius’ report is mentioned in a WaPo timeline of these events, he’s not bylined in either of the two big bombshells from WaPo on this, even though up to seven journalists are mentioned.

There are two obvious explanations. First, that Ignatius’ column, which serves as a mouthpiece for the IC (and especially CIA), is not generally treated in the same way other journalism at the WaPo is. And possibly, specifically in this case, if that reference were treated as reporting rather than speculation, it might lead Trump’s leak investigation back to the source that kicked off this leak fest. But by posing it as speculative questioning, it protects that original source.

Whatever the explanation is, I think the odd circumstances surrounding the story invite further attention to two of the other questions Ignatius poses in that column. He asked, for example, whether Obama delayed his response to the Russian out of fears Russia would do something worse to Hillary.

Did the administration worry that the Russians would take additional steps to hurt Clinton and help Trump, and might disrupt balloting itself?

According to public reports, Obama twice raised probes of registration databases directly with Putin; after the election the IC included them among Russia’s roles. What exactly was the Obama Administration worried about here?

And Ignatius also asked a question I’ve heard floated (which is one reason I focused so intently on the curious forensic details about the dossier): that the Russians themselves released the anti-Trump dossier compiled by Christopher Steele to sow further chaos (and, presumably, to hurt Trump).

Finally, what’s the chance that Russian intelligence has gamed its covert action more subtly than we realize? Applying a counter-intelligence lens, it’s worth asking whether the Russians hoped to be discovered, and whether Russian operatives fed the former MI6 officer’s controversial dossier deliberately, to sow further chaos.

Clearly, Ignatius’ source on the Flynn call with Kislyak advanced the story in a direction that led to Flynn’s firing. What else were Ignatius’ source or sources for the this story trying to lead reporting to?

Democrats Demand DOJ Release the Information that Has Christopher Steele Hiding for His Life

I have to say, the Democrats are beginning to convince me Russia’s involvement in the DNC hack is just one hoax.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe there is plenty of evidence — in public and stuff I’ve been told by people close to the hack — that the Russians did hack the DNC and John Podesta and share those documents with Wikileaks.

But given the bozo way the Democrats are trying to politicize it, I can only conclude the Democrats think this is less serious than I have believed and than Democrats claim. That’s because they’re now demanding that FBI give them the very same information that — we’ve been told by public reporting — led former MI6 officer Christopher Steele to hide for his life.

This morning, David Corn wrote a piece complaining about “the mysterious disappearance of the biggest scandal in Washington.”

After reviewing some of the facts in this case (and asserting without proof that Putin’s interference in the election “achieved its objectives,” which is only partly backed by declassified intelligence reports on the hack) and giving an incomplete list of the congressional committees that have announced investigations into the hack, Corn gave this inventory of what he claims to be the lack of outcry over the hack.

Yet these behind-closed-doors inquiries have generated minimum media notice, and, overall, there has not been much outcry.

Certainly, every once in a while, a Democratic legislator or one of the few Republican officials who have bothered to express any disgust at the Moscow meddling (namely Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Marco Rubio) will pipe up. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi days ago called on the FBI to investigate Trump’s “financial, personal and political connections to Russia” to determine “the relationship between Putin, whom he admires, and Donald Trump.” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), responding to Trump’s comparison of the United States to Putin’s repressive regime, said on CNN, “What is this strange relationship between Putin and Trump? And is there something that the Russians have on him that is causing him to say these really bizarre things on an almost daily basis?” A few weeks ago, Graham told me he wanted an investigation of how the FBI has handled intelligence it supposedly has gathered on ties between Trump insiders and Russia. And last month, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) pushed FBI Director James Comey at a public hearing to release this information. Yet there has been no drumbeat of sound bites, tweets, or headlines. In recent days, the story has gone mostly dark.

The funniest detail in this is how Corn describes Chris Murphy’s response to the exchange that took up the entire weekend of news — Trump’s nonplussed response when Bill O’Reilly called Putin a killer.

O’Reilly: Do you respect Putin?

Trump: I do respect him but —

O’Reilly: Do you? Why?

Trump: Well, I respect a lot of people but that doesn’t mean I’m going to get along with him. He’s a leader of his country. I say it’s better to get along with Russia than not. And if Russia helps us in the fight against ISIS, which is a major fight, and Islamic terrorism all over the world — that’s a good thing. Will I get along with him? I have no idea.

O’Reilly: But he’s a killer though. Putin’s a killer.

Trump: There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think — our country’s so innocent. You think our country’s so innocent?

O’Reilly: I don’t know of any government leaders that are killers.

Trump: Well — take a look at what we’ve done too. We made a lot of mistakes. I’ve been against the war in Iraq from the beginning.

O’Reilly: But mistakes are different than —

Trump: A lot of mistakes, but a lot of people were killed. A lot of killers around, believe me.

This was a Super Bowl interview, for fuck’s sake, and both before and after the interview, political pundits on both sides of the aisle were up in arms about Trump’s affinity for Putin’s murderous ways! Google counts more than 70,000 articles on the exchange.

But to Corn, that translated into only one comment from Murphy.

From there, Corn goes onto complain that the White House press briefings — which have been a noted shitshow inhabited by people like Infowars — has only featured direct questions about the investigation twice, and that the questions about Trump’s call to Putin weren’t about the investigation (as opposed to, say, Trump’s ignorant comments about the START treaty, which could get us all killed).

The crazier thing is that, best as I can tell, Mother Jones — the media outlet that David Corn has a bit of influence over — seems to have ignored the indictment of Hal Martin yesterday, the arrest on treason charges of two FSB officers, allegedly for sharing information with the US intelligence community, or even today’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on our relations with Russia. Among other things, today’s hearing discussed the hack, Trump’s comments about Putin the killer, weaponization of information, sanctions, Trump’s lukewarm support for NATO. It also included multiple Democratic calls for a bipartisan investigation and assurances from Chairman Corker and Ranking Member Cardin that that would happen.

So effectively, David Corn should be complaining about his own outlet, which isn’t covering the things relating to the hack others of us are covering.

No matter. Corn made his sort of ridiculous call, that call got liked or RTed over 3,000 times, and as if magically in response, Jerry Nadler introduced a resolution of inquiry, calling on the Administration to (in part) release any document that relates or refers to “any criminal or counterintelligence investigation targeting President Donald J. Trump, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Roger Stone, or any employee of the Executive Office of the President.”

As I’ve already noted, two FSB officers recently got arrested on treason charges, an event many people fear came in response to details revealed about this investigation and if so would badly undermine any investigation. People equally wonder whether the curious death of former FSB General Oleg Erovinkin relates to the leaked Steele dossier that Corn himself played a central role in magnifying, which would represent another lost intelligence source. And, of course, there are the reports that the former MI6 officer that compiled the dossier, Christopher Steele, on which these allegations rest fled from his home out of fear for his life because of the way it got publicized.

Either Putin is a ruthless thug or he’s not. Either Steele had reason to flee because the dossier is true or he didn’t. Either this thuggery is serious or it’s just a political stunt.

I really do believe it is the former (though I have real questions about the provenance of the dossier, questions which Corn could but has not helped to provide clarity on). Which is why I’m absolutely mystified that Democrats are demanding every document pertaining to any counterintelligence investigation into it, the kind of exposure which —  recent history may already show — is totally counterproductive to actually pursuing that investigation.

As I’ll write shortly, I do deeply suspect the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation (especially) is designed to be counterproductive. The Hal Martin indictment yesterday seems to suggest FBI doesn’t have the evidence to figure out who Shadow Brokers is, if even it has ties to the DNC hack (as much evidence suggests it does). But I also think political stunts like this don’t help things.

But maybe that’s not the point?

The Trump Dossier Alleges DNC Insiders Were Involved in Anti-Clinton Operation

I still have questions about the provenance of the Trump dossier, particularly with respect to how we’ve received it. While this article has been touted as answering a lot of questions, it actually creates new ones (plus, it would seem to violate the D Notice that formally prohibits talking about Christopher Steele and his role).

But I did want to point to a passage in the dossier that seems critically important, if it can be deemed true. (Note, Cannonfire has an OCRed version of the dossier here.) According to a July report from Steele, there were DNC insiders involved in the operation.

Agreed exchange of information established in both directions. team using moles within DNC and hackers in the US as well as outside in Russia. PUTIN motivated by fear and hatred of Hillary CLINTON. Russians receiving intel from team on Russian oligarchs and their families in US

[snip]

2. Inter alia, Source E, acknowledged that the Russian regime had been behind the recent leak of embarrassing e-mail messages, emanating from the Democratic National Committee (DNC), to the WikiLeaks platform. The reason for using WikiLeaks was “plausible deniability” and the operation had been conducted with the full knowledge and support of TRUMP and senior members of his campaign team. In return the TRUMP team had agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue and to raise defence commitments in the Baltics and Eastern Europe to deflect attention away from Ukraine, a priority for PUTIN who needed to cauterise the subject.

3. In the wider context campaign/Kremlin co-operation, Source E claimed that the intelligence network being used against CLINTON comprised three elements. Firstly there were agents/facilitators within the Democratic Party structure itself; secondly Russian emigre and associated offensive cyber operators based in the US [note: corrected OCE error] and thirdly, state-sponsored cyber operatives working in Russia. All three elements had played an important role to date. On the mechanism for rewarding relevant assets based in the US, and effecting a two-way flow of intelligence and other useful information, Source E claimed that Russian diplomatic staff in key cities such as New York, Washington DC and Miami were using the emigre ‘pension’ distribution system as cover. The operation therefore depended on key people in the US Russian emigre community for its success. Tens of thousands of dollars were involved. [my emphasis]

The claim there were “moles” within the DNC would be perfectly consistent with something Julian Assange has long claimed: that he got the documents from a disgruntled DNC insider.