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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.

“Oversight:” Mike Flynn Lied to Protect Barbara Ledeen, Who Then Fed Disinformation to Sara Carter

In a footnote to an October 2019 filing, prosecutors in the Mike Flynn case suggested that Sidney Powell was misrepresenting Flynn’s “cooperation and candor” in his first interviews with Robert Mueller’s team, a claim that is consistent with Flynn’s own description of his lawyers’ unhappy review of it. The 302s liberated by BuzzFeed earlier this year show just how ridiculous some of the lies Flynn told in his November 16, 2017 meeting with Mueller’s prosecutors.

For example, in addition to repeating his lies about his conversations with Sergey Kislyak and claiming that he “did not specifically recall conversations regarding Wikileaks” during the campaign, Flynn also claimed that he never had conversations about how to get Hillary’s missing emails.

FLYNN did not recall discussions about a concerted effort to locate [Hillary’s] missing emails.

[snip]

FLYNN never had any conversations about how to get CLINTON’s missing emails. FLYNN did not remember hearing anyone else on the campaign discuss this either. The consensus was that they hoped the emails would be found all of a sudden.

Flynn would go on to unforget all three topics in the weeks and months ahead.

On the topic of searching for Hillary’s emails, however, Flynn was still shading the truth in his final interview before pleading guilty on November 29, 2017. Flynn described that he had met Peter Smith regarding business development in 2015, and described that Smith had emailed during the campaign. But, “FLYNN lost interest in what SMITH sent him because he ‘did not see any there, there’,” per the interview report. As to others who might be involved in the effort, Flynn described that “possibly Barbara LEDEEN” had been a recipient of some of the emails from Smith, though suggested Sam Clovis was a more important player.

It would be six months later, in an interview on May 4, 2018, before prosecutors returned to Flynn’s role in hunting down Hillary’s emails in depth. It appears that, at first, they asked Flynn generally about the Peter Smith effort, and this time, he remembered that “LEDEEN’s role” in the effort “was as a conduit.” Flynn explained that he gave “time and attention” to the effort “out of respect for his friendship with LEDEEN.” It was in that context that Flynn remembered that someone “sent files to FLYNN on one or two occasions,” though even then, he couldn’t remember whether the files were about Benghazi or the missing emails.

The prosecutors started asking Flynn about the actual emails — many of which were liberated in the documents liberated by BuzzFeed.

Prosecutors first asked about an email that the FBI Agent who wrote up the 302 described as a May 24, 2016 email from Ledeen to Flynn. But it’s actually an email Ledeen sent one of the chief purveyors of disinformation about the Flynn case, Catherine Herridge, promising “evidence” (though there are notations on it that may reflect Flynn got a hard copy).

Prosecutors then showed an email Flynn sent to Ledeen on June 16, 2016, in response to Ledeen’s question, “You got the Signal email.”

Flynn’s response reflects him having downloaded and read the report on the effort to obtain the emails. “amazing!” Flynn responded. “I’ll speak more off line with you about it this evening or tomorrow.”

On September 10, 2016, Ledeen wrote Flynn a “TIME SENSITIVE” email, explaining that “we are at the point of rubber hitting the road re the project you know I have been working on.”

In response to Ledeen’s request, the interview suggests, Flynn spoke with someone who had been an early campaign advisor, but he told Mueller’s team that “he did not really remember the details of the conversation.”

He claimed to remember nothing of the October 29, 2016 Hushmail promising a Phase II of the report, however.

“You’ve got me on this one,” Mike Flynn claimed, then described asking Barbara Ledeen, “Can’t you just tell me?” and imagining that, “he became frustrated trying to open the message.”

There was another HushMail on November 3, which Flynn suggested might pertain to Sidney Blumenthal.

But he suggested that “The servers may have been a second set of email messages to FLYNN,” and explained it was all “secret squirrel stuff.”

Flynn’s interview then proceeded to talk about an in-person meeting that Ledeen had set up, apparently with this same person, to discuss microtargeting; the pitch appeared to combine Sidney Blumenthal, servers in Eastern Europe, and microtargeting. It was in this context that, six months after claiming that he never spoke to anyone about getting Hillary’s missing emails, he admitted he actually talked about pursuing the Hillary emails “to anyone he was with on the Trump plane,” including Trump.

FLYNN conveyed to people that people were looking for the missing emails and were confident they would eventually find them. FLYNN would have said this to anyone he was with on the TRUMP plane. FLYNN does not know if specifically said he knew people but he could have. People on the plane include TRUMP. FLYNN did not believe he conveyed to the team information about the servers in the Ukraine or Eastern Europe. FLYNN was not ruling it out but does not recall exactly what he said.

Barbara Ledeen, still a key Senate Judiciary Committee staffer to Senators who have led the effort to undermine the Russian investigation, was right in the thick of all this during the 2016 election: Secret servers in Ukraine, missing emails, and microtargeting. That’s the woman overseeing the investigation into the investigation.

Which makes the other emails liberated in the BuzzFeed release implicating Ledeen all the more important.

It turns out that, before prosecutors asked about all this, they may have been alerted to a text Ledeen sent on May 1, 2018, inquiring about the status of Flynn’s case. Mueller’s team raised the text two weeks after the Peter Smith and microtargeting discussion, on May 17, 2018, when prosecutors focused on Ledeen’s extensive effort to monitor the Russian investigation (starting well before Mueller was appointed).

The backup liberated by Buzzfeed shows that Michael Ledeen inquired about whether he “and Sara” could say that Flynn was getting an immunity for testimony deal on March 31, 2017 (the same way Ledeen’s co-conspirators in Iran-Contra escaped accountability), establishing that the Ledeens funneled stories to Sara Carter.  A year later, Flynn conceded, he may have still been a source for Sara Carter stories via the Ledeens, in this case for a story about Flynn getting discovery.

BARBARA reached out FLYNN but he did not respond to her with anything specific. FLYNN may have told her they received discovery and were reviewing the documents.

FLYNN had many conversations around the time of this article but was never asked if the information could be shared with CARTER, nor did he direct anyone to share it with her.

Prosecutors asked about several other Carter stories, and Flynn’s long-suffering attorney, Rob Kelner, admitted that Carter had reached out several times before the plea deal and that he (Kelner) may have been the source for the detail that Andrew McCabe reached out to Flynn about an interview on short notice.

More interesting, however, are the emails between those Carter stories, which show Michael Ledeen (who, remember, was one of the first people Flynn called before secretly undermining sanctions with Sergey Kislyak in December 2016) reached out on April 17, 2017, telling Flynn, “it’s time…”

Then Michael Ledeen reached out the next day (apparently to a different Flynn email address) to arrange a pastrami dinner with extra pickles, Dr. Brown’s diet soda, and “a message for you.”

The meeting would have been on Monday April 24, 2017. Some of Carter’s scoops have been solid, albeit hyped. Others have been garbage. Her regurgitation of Sidney Powell’s false claims was pure propaganda. But she was also responsible, with John Solomon, for one of the most important unsubstantiated stories of the entire investigation, one that claimed Andrew McCabe had said they were going to “fuck Flynn” in a meeting after Flynn’s interview, an allegation that came up in Flynn’s last interview with Mueller (at a time when Mueller would replicate the two investigations that had been done on this allegation in the past).

The same interview reveals that Barbara Ledeen was responsible for another false claim that never died, that there was some original 302 that said something different from the one that recorded Flynn’s lies.

“Barbara tends to have a ‘big mouth,'” Flynn complained on May 17, 2018, as part of these discussions. But he still did what, according to the same interview report, she kept nagging him to do: withdraw his guilt plea. For a long time, it looked like she was simply protecting her husband Michael’s close friend. But with the backup materials, it seems just as likely that Ledeen’s efforts to undermine the Russian investigation are as much about her own complicity as Flynn’s himself.

A person who had a key role Senate Judiciary Committee oversight of the Russian investigation was sending Hushmail and Signal communications looking for secret servers in Ukraine during the events in question.

Update: Here’s my summary of what each of the 302s included from when they were released in January).

Update: In January, Flynn thought that the April message that Ledeen was passing on may have been from Trump.

Arrest First, Learn about Right Wing Terrorism Later

In his Senate testimony the other day, FBI Director Chris Wray was not particularly cognizant of the granular details of the investigation into January 6. But he said something else, repeatedly, that bears consideration.

In response to a Dick Durbin question about whether he agrees that the Capitol attack involved white supremacists and other violent extremists, Wray responded by explaining that as the FBI arrests more and more people, it is developing a better understanding of the motivations behind those involved in the attack.

We’re seeing quite a number, as we’re building out the cases on the individuals we’ve arrested for the violence, quite a number of what we would call militia violent extremists, so we have a number who self-identify with, you know, the Proud Boys or the Oath Keepers, things like that. We also have a couple of instances where we’ve already identified individuals involved in the criminal behavior who we would put in the racially motivated extremists who advocate for what you would call sort of white supremacy. Some of those individuals, as well — one of the things that is happening is part of this is that as we build out the cases on the individuals when we arrest them for the violence we’re getting a richer and richer understanding of different people’s motivations.

Then, in response to a Chuck Grassley question about how the FBI will learn more about alleged left wing extremists (which Wray answered for anarchists), Wray said that by arresting these people, the FBI is learning about their tactics and tradecraft.

I think as with any domestic terrorism threat or, frankly, any counterterrorism threat more broadly, we’re also looking to develop more and better sources so we get more visibility and insight into the plans and intentions, tactic, tactics, procedures of any group of violent extremists. Another is to get better at how to navigate around some of the operational trade craft that they use. So, the more times, the more arrests we see and this is relevant both for the anarchist violent extremists and the racially motivated violent extremists, for example, the more arrests you see, that’s obviously good news that we’re arresting people that need to be arrested. There’s a whole ‘nother part of that is really important. The more arrests we make, the more from those cases we learn about who else their contacts are, what their tactics are, what their strategies are, et cetera. And that makes us smarter, better able to get in front of the threat going forward.

Finally, when Amy Klobuchar asked if the attack was planned and coordinated, Wray first responded that there were aspects that had been planned. Then, in response to a specific question about the Proud Boys’ coordination, Wray explained that the FBI is escalating charges after initial arrests based on what they learn subsequent to the initial arrest.

There have been a growing number of charges as we continue to build out the investigation, either individuals who are now starting to get arrested involving charges that involve more things like planning and coordination or in some instances individuals who were charged with more simple offenses, but now we’re superseding as we build out more of an understanding of what people were involved in. And there were clearly some individuals involved, which I would consider the most dangerous, the most serious cases among the group, who did have plans and intentions and some level of coordination.

None of this is surprising. It has been apparent from the court filings in the investigation.

But the significance of it is worth considering. The FBI blew it in advance of the attack for reasons that have yet to be confirmed but at least seem to arise from an unwillingness to see right wing terrorism being planned in plain sight. But, as I’ve repeatedly said, the nature of the attack is such that every single person who entered the Capitol and many of those who remained outside, physically fighting cops, committed a crime. And so, based on those trespass crimes, the FBI is arresting a lot of people. Because that’s the way the investigation has rolled out — and because, for every single trespass defendant, the record of what they said about their actions in advance make the difference between getting charged for obstructing the vote count or not — it means the FBI arrests people before they’ve done a lot of investigation they otherwise might do before an arrest. For better and worse, that means that the FBI is arresting people and then conducting intrusive collection on them, starting with their cell phone, even for people who seem to be just trespass defendants. That further means that the FBI will get access to communications that will support conspiracy charges when they otherwise would have a difficult time making such charges without a domestic terrorism statute.

There are real problems with this approach — Oath Keeper affiliate Jon Ryan Schaffer moved to dismiss the charges against him because DOJ has left him in an Indiana jail for 48 days without obtaining an indictment. For existing networks that aren’t recognizably a militia, I’m fairly certain the FBI is not seeing associations until after initial detention bids have been lost. Prosecutors have had to backtrack on claims with some notable defendants (such as Ethan Nordean, who got sent released to home confinement as a result).

But it means the FBI will obtain a far more detailed understanding of some of these people than they otherwise would have been able to get. And as it does so, it is seeing the networks of conspiracy that they otherwise might not have.

Congress versus the Constitution: Merrick Garland’s Second Reconstruction

Early morning Eastern Time on January 6, I wrote a post arguing that Merrick Garland was a better Attorney General pick than a lot of people assumed. By the end of the day, the January 6 insurrection made him look like an even better pick, based on his successful prosecution of right wing terrorist Timothy McVeigh. When he testified on Monday, Garland surpassed even those expectations, in large part because he described as his mission the same one DOJ had when originally founded 151 years ago: protecting the rights of people of color in the face of right wing terrorism.

Celebrating DOJ’s 150th year reminds us of the origins of the Department, which was founded during Reconstruction, in the aftermath of the Civil War, to secure the civil rights promised by the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. The first Attorney General appointed by President Grant to head the new Department led it in a concerted battle to protect black voting rights from the violence of white supremacists, successfully prosecuting hundreds of cases against members of the Ku Klux Klan.

Almost a century later, the Civil Rights Act of 1957 created the Department’s Civil Rights Division, with the mission “to uphold the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans, particularly some of the most vulnerable members of our society.”

That mission remains urgent because we do not yet have equal justice. Communities of color and other minorities still face discrimination in housing, education, employment, and the criminal justice system; and bear the brunt of the harm caused by pandemic, pollution, and climate change.

150 years after the Department’s founding, battling extremist attacks on our democratic institutions also remains central to its mission. From 1995 to 1997, I supervised the prosecution of the perpetrators of the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, who sought to spark a revolution that would topple the federal government. If confirmed, I will supervise the prosecution of white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol on January 6 — a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government.

This mission is all the more important — and optimistic — given the strains on Congress in the wake of January 6.

Given the delay caused by the former President’s attempted coup, impeachment, the delayed Senate organizing resolution, and a recess, this week, kicked off by Garland’s hearing, has been the first week where the 117th Congress has moved to account for the events of January 6. How Congress responds — and its effect on mid-term elections in 2022 — will have a key role in deciding whether the Republic survives Trump’s efforts to steal an election, or whether those events just harbor a decline into white supremacist authoritarianism.

How Congress responds to the events of January 6 is especially critical given disputes about the form of a 9/11 style commission to assess the event. Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell disagree on key details: whether Democrats should have more representatives on the commission, and how broad the scope will be.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell slammed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s draft proposal for a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, calling it “partisan by design.”

The Kentucky Republican said he agrees the siege on the Capitol warrants a “serious and thorough review,” but said he thinks Pelosi’s proposal falls short of the standard set by the commission established after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, upon which Pelosi said she would model this new panel.

“The 9/11 Commission was intentionally built to be bipartisan, 50-50 bipartisan split of the commissioners was a key feature,” McConnell said Wednesday on the Senate floor. “It both helped the effectiveness of the investigation itself, and help give the whole country confidence in its work, and its recommendations.”

It’s unclear whether the two sides can come up with a plan for a 9/11 type commission, both because there’s virtually no comity between the two parties and because Republicans have prioritized protecting Trump, their party, and the members of Congress who played a role (with another member implicated yesterday by her spouse’s Three Percenter truck decal). I suspect such a commission may have to wait until other events change the GOP’s current commitment to Donald Trump.

One thing that might change the GOP’s current capture by Trump is the DOJ investigation.

While there are some DOJ decisions that raise questions for me and while it is not yet clear how the courts will finally decide to treat January 6, Merrick Garland’s confirmation will presumably only raise confidence in DOJ’s actions. Virtually all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, for example, praised his role in the prosecution of Timothy McVeigh during his confirmation hearing (see my live tweet here). Unless DOJ really bolloxes key cases — or unless they shy away from witnesses like James Sullivan, Ali Alexander, and Enrique Tarrio, who can tie the insurrection directly to Trump’s close associates — I expect the investigation and eventually prosecution of those responsible will make the GOP’s continued support of Trump far more toxic (as a few of the GOPers who’ve been censured for their vote to convict Trump have suggested will happen).

The prosecution of January 6 will be the easy part.

The real question, I think, is how Garland weathers GOP attempts to demand prosecutions that Billy Barr primed them to expect.

For example, numerous members (especially Lindsey Graham and Chuck Grassley, whose shared staffer Barbara Ledeen and her spouse were implicated in the Russian investigation) demanded that Garland promise to keep John Durham on, citing Barr’s promise to keep Mueller on during his confirmation hearing, at a point when Barr had already made public statements about the investigation while admitted he knew fuckall about the actual facts.

Garland repeated, over and over, that he can’t make such a commitment until he speaks with Durham. No one knows what Durham continues to pursue that has made his investigation last as long as the Mueller investigation. What is known is that Durham hasn’t interviewed key witnesses and his public filings exhibit fundamental misconceptions about the Russian investigation and precisely the kind of bias he purports to be investigating. Garland repeatedly answered that he didn’t know of any reason to remove Durham early. But he also noted that precisely what Graham and others are demanding about Page — some kind of investigation — happened with the Horowitz report. Notably, Garland knew a detail Republicans refuse to acknowledge: that Horowitz’s ongoing investigation into FISA reveals that the problems in the Carter Page Woods file were no different than other FISA applications, and the more general problems may be a pattern as well.

Given Garland’s emphasis on civil rights, I was at least as interested in Republican attempts to undermine such an effort. Most pathetically, John Kennedy engaged in a colloquy about whether systematic racism exists, whether he, himself, can be racist if he doesn’t think he is, “who wins,” as if equality is a zero sum game. Tom Cotton tried to play games about the difference between racial equality and racial equity.

Finally, there will be GOP pressure to either both-sides political violence, equating actions they claim without evidence were perpetuated by Antifa with January 6, or to limit the extent of the prosecution. With regards to the latter, Garland argued that this investigation will proceed like all investigations, working their way up if the evidence dictates it. That is a position utterly consistent with support for prosecuting Trump’s associates, or maybe even Trump.

With regards to efforts to both-sides political violence — which was Trump’s defense to impeachment and has already played a key role in Republican efforts to dodge accountability for their role in January 6 — Garland gave the kind of judicious answer to Josh Hawley that every Democrat should be prepared to offer. The violence in Portland was criminal (and to the extent it was, it was prosecuted). But it was not an attempt to interrupt the processes of government, such as by interrupting trials.

The Republicans have for years successfully pressured DOJ to try to criminalize their political opponents. As DOJ continues its massive investigation into the insurrection, these efforts will grow more urgent.

Merrick Garland will be confirmed without cowing to Republican efforts to equate their own assault on the Constitution with Democratic politics. But such efforts will intensify after he assumes office, particularly if Durham fails to find the crimes that really don’t exist and as DOJ gets closer to Trump or members of Congress. DOJ has about 18 months to right itself after Bill Barr’s damage, and we shall see how long Garland continues to retain the goodwill of Republicans.

Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson Produce a 285-Page Confession They’re Unfamiliar with the Public Record

Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson recently released a 285-page report relitigating a story made public in 2017 about how Mueller’s team obtained records from General Services Administration. The report adopts an entirely opposite stance as the SSCI Russia Report did. The latter discussed how unheard of it was for an Administration to claim an expansive Transition privilege. Chuck and Ron are outraged that a criminal investigation have access to such files, and similarly outraged that the subjects of an investigation did not get notice that their files had been obtained.

The report also makes clear that, at first, Mueller relied on SSCI’s request for its records request, and only later in the summer made their own. In other words, Chuck and Ron have a complaint, in part, with SSCI (though they don’t say that).

The report is most useful for revealing which Transition officials Mueller’s team was interested in. On August 23, Mueller’s team sent a records request for these nine officials closely interacting with Flynn while he was secretly undermining sanctions and other Obama policies in “collusion” with Russia.

The nine Trump for America officials identified by the FBI were Daniel Gelbinovich, Sarah Flaherty, Michael G. Flynn, Michael T. Flynn, Keith Kellogg, Jared Kushner, K.T. McFarland, Jason Miller, and Michael Pompeo.114

Then Mueller’s team asked for the records of four more people — which appears to be the people who were at Mar-a-Lago when Flynn was secretly undermining sanctions with Russia.

The four Trump for America officials identified by the FBI were Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, Stephen Bannon, and Marshall Billingslea.125 In the cover email, the FBI explained:

We have an additional four individuals we are currently interested it [sic]. … If possible, can you at least have their emails downloaded by tomorrow when I pick up the other information? . . . [W]e want to have it available when they swear out a warrant before then.126

Note, there’s a reference to the DC US Attorney’s office, too, so it’s possible they also needed these records as part of their investigation into the suspected bribe from Egypt that kept Trump afloat in August 2016.

But the craziest thing is how the report confesses that they are unaware of any legal process for these files.

Although the FBI’s August 30, 2017 cover email referenced applying for a search warrant, the Committees are aware of only one court-ordered disclosure of records, specifically, information related to the transition records of Lt. Gen. Flynn, K.T. McFarland, Michael Flynn’s son, and Daniel Gelbinovich.128

128 Order, In re Application of the U.S. for an Order Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2703(d) Directed at Google Related to [the transition email accounts for those four individuals], 1:17-mc-2005 (D.D.C. Aug. 18, 2017) [GSA004400- 4404] (ordering the disclosure of customer/subscriber information but not content).

At one level, they’re being coy in that they claim to be interested in court-ordered disclosure. A document recently released via the Jeffrey Jensen review reveals that in February 2017, star witness and pro-Trump FBI Agent was obtaining some of this information using NSLs. Another document explains why, too: because one of the first things FBI had to do to understand why Flynn had lied to them was to determine if he was coordinating his story with those at Mar-a-Lago.

The lie that he didn’t even know Obama had imposed sanctions was not one of Flynn’s charged lies, but it was his most damning. He lied to hide that he had consulted with Mar-a-Lago before picking up a phone and secretly undermining sanctions in “collusion” with Russia.

Crazier still, Chuck and Ron didn’t go to the first place one should go to understand how legal process worked, the publicly released Mueller warrants. The warrant to access the devices and email of at least the original nine (plus one other person) is right there in the docket.

GSA transferred the requested records to the FBI, but FBI didn’t access them until it had a warrant.

In other words, this 285-page report is effectively a confession from Chuck and Ron that two Committee Chairs and a whole slew of staffers can’t figure out how to read the public record.

Maybe that’s a hazard of conducting investigations with no Democrats? It makes it harder to read accurately?

Andrew McCabe Delays Testimony to SJC, Calling In-Person Testimony a “Grave Safety Risk”

Virtually every book about the FBI or the Mueller investigation that has come out in recent years has described that Andrew McCabe is a superb briefer — meaning, in part, he can present complex issues to a hostile audience clearly. That’s why the reason his attorney, Michael Bromwich, gave for delaying testimony that was scheduled makes a lot of sense.

As a letter Bromwich sent to Lindsey Graham laid out, McCabe agreed to a voluntary interview in September, provided a series of conditions were met. One — that McCabe have access to his unclassified calendars and notes — has already been thwarted by DOJ, which refused to turn them over (as Bromwich laid out in a letter to Michael Horowitz last week, after inventing reasons not to share the materials that might make McCabe’s testimony more useful, FBI admitted they wouldn’t turn them over because of McCabe’s lawsuit against the Bureau).

But another of the conditions was that the testimony be in person. Bromwich noted that Republicans spoke over both Sally Yates and Jim Comey when they earlier testified remotely. “[A] witness answering questions remotely via videoconference is at a distinct disadvantage in answering those questions,” Bromwich wrote. “A fair and appropriate hearing of this kind – which is complex and contentious – simply cannot be conducted other than in person.”

But the COVID outbreak among those who attended the Federalist Society super-spreader event last weekend has made such in-person testimony too dangerous.

Mr. McCabe was still prepared to testify voluntarily and in person on October 6 as recently as the latter part of this past week. However, since that time, it has been reported that at least two members of your Committee – Senators Mike Lee and Thom Tillis – have tested positive for Covid-19, and it may well be that other members of the Committee and staff who plan to attend the hearing will test positive between now and then, or may have been exposed to the virus and may be a carrier. Under these circumstances, an in-person hearing carries grave safety risks to Mr. McCabe, me, and senators and staff who would attend.

McCabe is not wrong. There’s abundant reason to distrust Lindsey Graham’s claimed negative test. Mike Lee was haranguing publicly at several public events last week before he was diagnosed. And Chuck Grassley (who has far more mask discipline than his colleagues, but who was unmasked for part of the Comey hearing last week) refuses to be tested.

Still, it’s crazy that SJC has become too dangerous for a regular oversight hearing, but Lindsey still plans to push on with the Supreme Court confirmation process that caused that COVID outbreak.

Over 72 Hours, Trump and Chuck Grassley Provide Emmet Sullivan Proof that Peter Strzok’s Notes Were Altered for Political Reasons

Over the past 72 hours, the following events have proven not just that Peter Strzok’s notes were altered, but that that was done for political purpose.

It started on Monday, when Strzok lawyer Aitan Goelman sent Judge Emmet Sullivan a letter confirming that the handwritten dates on two sets of his notes were, “not written by Mr. Strzok.”

That the notes memorializing what Jim Comey briefed others about a January 5, 2017 meeting were altered is not in doubt. Sidney Powell and DOJ have already provided the original notes (which I’ve annotated to show that the notes did not originally have a date) and the altered ones (which I’ve annotated to note where a date has been added).

The second set of notes were provided to Flynn’s lawyers on September 23 and submitted to the docket on September 24. It’s not clear whether they were altered before or after they got sent from DOJ. I hope Judge Sullivan gets to the bottom of that question.

Then, in Tuesday’s hearing, Sidney Powell admitted not just that she has spoken with the President about this case (insanely asking him not to pardon her client), but also that she speaks — apparently regularly — with President Trump’s campaign lawyer, Jenna Ellis, betraying that Flynn’s efforts to blow up his prosecution are a matter of interest to Trump’s campaign.

Then, hours later, on Tuesday night, the President made this prepared attack on Joe Biden during the first debate.

President Donald J. Trump: (01:02:22)
We’ve caught them all. We’ve got it all on tape. We’ve caught them all. And by the way, you gave the idea for the Logan Act against General Flynn. You better take a look at that, because we caught you in a sense, and President Obama was sitting in the office.

As I noted when Jeffrey Jensen handed over the first set of notes pretending to be uncertain about what date they were from, by altering the date about a meeting that has been publicly dated as January 5, 2017 for over two years, it presented a false chronology whereby Joe Biden suggested the FBI investigate Flynn for the Logan Act (which is what DOJ is falsely claiming was the only basis for investigating Flynn, even though every single witness and every single contemporaneous record has said Flynn was interviewed under an 18 USC 951 predication to see if he would tell the truth about his calls with Sergey Kislyak), and then Jim Comey returned to the FBI and ordered his minions to do just that.  That is, it would create the (false) possibility that the meeting at the White House happened, and then a discussion between Strzok and Page discussing the Logan Act started. The reality is that Strzok and Page were talking about it the day before the meeting.

From that false appearance, Powell asserted in a representation to Emmet Sullivan that the meeting was believed to have happened on January 4 and Biden apparently had been the one to suggest Logan Act, thereby suggesting (falsely) that Biden was the one who raised the Logan Act.

Strzok’s notes believed to be of January 4, 2017, reveal that former President Obama, James Comey, Sally Yates, Joe Biden, and apparently Susan Rice discussed the transcripts of Flynn’s calls and how to proceed against him. Mr. Obama himself directed that “the right people” investigate General Flynn. This caused former FBI Director Comey to acknowledge the obvious: General Flynn’s phone calls with Ambassador Kislyak “appear legit.” According to Strzok’s notes, it appears that Vice President Biden personally raised the idea of the Logan Act. That became an admitted pretext to investigate General Flynn.

That transparently false accusation that Sidney Powell (who has been speaking with Trump’s campaign lawyer) made on June 24 then showed up as a prepared attack in President Trump’s very first campaign debate on September 29. The altered notes appeared in the docket on September 24, and then five days later the President of the United States made a false claim that depends on the alteration.

Sidney Powell is using her purported defense of Mike Flynn as a campaign prop.

Yesterday, Chuck Grassley — who has been chasing all matter of conspiracy in the service of President Trump and is staffed by diehard Republicans — gave up the game. At the Jim Comey hearing, this exchange occurred.

Grassley: Did you ever speak with President Obama or Vice President Biden about any aspect of the Flynn case. If so, what did you discuss?

Comey: I remember the Flynn investigation coming up once. I think it was January the Fifth, when President Obama held me back to urge me to do the case in the normal way, and to let him know if there was any reason that he should not be sharing sensitive information about Russia with the Trump transition. I assured him that I would keep him informed and that I would conduct the investigation in that way.

Grassley [reading a prepared question]: During the January 5, 2017 meeting between you, President Obama, Vice President Biden, Sally Yates, and Susan Rice, did you mention that Flynn’s calls with the Russian Ambassador appear, quote unquote, “appear legit”?

Comey: I don’t remember using that word. If I used it I would have meant “authentic” and “not fabricated.” I wouldn’t have meant appropriate. But I don’t remember using that word.

It’s clear, from the way Grassley is reading a prepared question and the way he provides details about that January 5 meeting that he already knew of the meeting, and that that’s why he asked Comey the initial question in the first place.

Critically, an 87-year old Senator reading from notes his staffers — whose portfolios include many other tasks in addition to writing imagined gotcha questions based off Peter Strzok’s notes — stated as unquestionable fact that the meeting occurred on January 5. Unlike Jeffrey Jensen, they have no doubt about the date.

That’s not at all surprising. After all, Chuck Grassley first started pursuing this question around August 2017, when he obtained Susan Rice’s notes to the file recording the meeting (from unknown sources, but I find it interesting that Barbara Ledeen obtained it as if receiving it directly in discovery even as Robert Mueller got it).

But the question Grassley read came straight from Strzok’s notes, the ones that got altered. And even he knows — with access to far less evidence than Jeffrey Jensen — that the meeting happened on January 5.

Again, it’s not clear who altered the notes — DOJ or Flynn’s lawyers. But in a sense, it doesn’t matter. The first fraud on the court came when Jeffrey Jensen claimed there was any doubt about what date the meeting occurred. Yesterday, Chuck Grassley just made it clear that no credible person could believe that.

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.

“Was Wiped:” A Grammar Lesson for the Frothers

The frothy right is in a tizzy again.

Judicial Watch got a FOIA response that the frothers are reading out of context — without even reading the existing public record much less asking the question they now claim to want to answer — and claiming that Mueller’s attorneys kept wiping their phones.

The FOIA was for records pertaining to Lisa Page and Peter Strzok’s use of DOJ-issued mobile phones while assigned to Mueller’s team. The FOIA was not for a description of the record-keeping in the Mueller office. The FOIA was not for a final accounting of every text that every Mueller team member sent while working for Mueller. If a document mentions Page or Strzok’s phones, it is included here; if it does not, it was withheld.

That said, the frothy right is largely ignoring what the documents show, and instead referring to a single tracking sheet in isolation from the rest, to conclude that multiple Mueller officials wiped their own phones.

To understand what the documents show, it’s best to separate it into what the documents show about Page and Strzok, and then what they show about everyone else.

Mueller’s Office discovered too late that Page and Strzok’s phones had been reset according to standard procedure

The documents show, first of all, that the available paper trail backs the explanations around what happened to Page and Strzok’s Mueller iPhones, which both used for less than 3 months in 2017 while they also used (and sent damning texts on) their FBI issue Samsung phones.

The documents show that Lisa Page was among the first people assigned a Mueller iPhone. Justice Management Department’s Christopher Greer asked for iPhones specifically to deploy a standard mobile technology (though a later document reflects Adam Jed appears to have gotten an Android). Then, after a 45-day assignment, Page left. As the first person to leave the team, she left before processes were put into place to document all that; Page is actually the one who initiated the bureaucratic process of leaving. “Since we have our first detail employee leaving us, it is time to roll out our first form/policy,” Mueller’s administrative officer explained. Mueller’s Records Officer noted she didn’t have to be at the meeting, but provided an Exit Checklist to use on Page’s out-processing. The Records Officer further directed, weeks before anyone discovered Page’s damning texts with Strzok,

Please make sure [Page] doesn’t delete any text messages off her DOJ iPhone, if any.

Everything else should be saved on her H drive on JCON and in her email. This will be good for me as the RSO to go behind and see how that function works.

Mueller’s Administrative Officer also couldn’t make the meeting. But he noted that Page had a laptop “which may already been in [redacted] area, a DOJ cell phone & charger” and noted that “All equipment that I need will be covered as you go through the form.”

The FOIAed documents don’t reveal this, but a DOJ IG Report released in December 2018 reveal that Page left her devices on a shelf in the office she was using.

The SCO Executive Officer completed Page’s Exit Clearance Certification, but said that she did not physically receive Page’s issued iPhone and laptop. During a phone call, Page indicated to SCO that she had left her assigned cell phone and laptop on a bookshelf at the office on her final day there.

On July 17, two days after she left, that Administrative Officer confirmed that, “I have her phone and laptop.”

That is, everyone involved was trying to do it right, but Page was the first person put through this process so everyone admitted they were instituting procedures as they went.

Out-processing of Peter Strzok in August, in the wake of the discovery of Strzok’s texts with Page, was a good deal more terse. That said, the Records Officer did review his phone for anything that had to be saved on September 6, 2017, and found nothing of interest.

Still, their Exit Forms show both returned their iPhone. (Strzok; Page)

It’s only in January 2018, as DOJ IG started to look into their texts, that Mueller’s office discovered they couldn’t account for Page’s iPhone. JMD ultimately found it, but not until September 2018. The phone showed that it had been reset to factory settings, which was standard DOJ policy, on July 31, 2017, two weeks after Page turned it over and left SCO.

In fall 2018 and again in January 2019, numerous people at DOJ tried to find alternative ways to reconstruct any texts Page and Strzok sent on their Mueller iPhones. Because the effort started over a year after they had stopped using the phones, neither DOJ nor Verizon had even log files from the texts anymore. So a DOJ official reviewed Strzok’s phone and found nothing, may not have reviewed Page’s phone, but nevertheless found no evidence Page tried to evade review.

That is, for the subject Judicial Watch was pursuing, the FOIA was a bust.

In response to the Page-Strzok scandal, Mueller appears to have adopted a standard higher than DOJ generally

The Page-Strzok files also suggest certain things about what Mueller did as his investigation was roiled by claims focusing on the two former FBIers.

  • It appears that, after the shit started hitting the fan, Mueller engaged in record-keeping above-and-beyond that required by DOJ guidelines (that’s what the frothers are complaining about)
  • When things started hitting the fan, Mueller’s Chief of Staff Aaron Zebley seems to have started taking a very active role in the response
  • FBI continued to issue Page and Strzok updated phones even while they had Mueller iPhones, which is probably the case for at least the FBI employees on Mueller’s team, making confusion about phones more likely
  • Both DOJ and Verizon would have some ability to reconstruct any texts for phones with problems identified in real time, as opposed to the year it took with Page and Strzok

Here’s the standard DOJ adopts with regards to the use of texts on DOJ-issued phones. DOJ guidelines for retaining texts all stem from discovery obligations — and DOJ, unlike FBI, puts the onus on the user to retain texts.

The OIG reviewed DOJ Policy Statement 0801.04, approved September 21, 2016, which establishes DOJ retention policy for email and other types of electronic messaging, to include text messages. Policy 0801.04 states that electronic messages related to criminal or civil investigations sent or received by DOJ employees engaged in those investigations must be retained in accordance with the retention requirements applicable to the investigation and component specific policies on retention of those messages.

OIG also reviewed DOJ Instruction 0801.04.02, approved November 22, 2016, which provides guidance and best practices on component use of electronic messaging tools and applications for component business purposes.

Section C of 0801.04.02 (Recordkeeping Guidance for Electronic Messaging Tools in Use in the DOJ) subsection 9 (Text Messaging), states that text messaging may be used by staff only if it has been approved by the Head of the Component and in the manner specifically permitted by written component policies. Additional guidance was provided in a memo from the Deputy Attorney General dated March 30, 20 I I, titled ‘Guidance on the Use, Preservation, and Disclosure of Electronic Communications in Federal Criminal Cases.’ The memo states that electronic communications should be preserved if they are deemed substantive. Substantive communications include:

    • Factual information about investigative activity
    • Factual information obtained during interviews or interactions with witnesses (including victims), potential witnesses, experts, informants, or cooperators
    • Factual discussions related to the merits of evidence
    • Factual information or opinions relating to the credibility or bias of witnesses, informants and potential witnesses; and
    • Other factual information that is potentially discoverable under Brady, Giglio, Rule 16 or Rule 26.2 (Jencks Act).

So people using DOJ phones are only required to keep stuff that is case related. DOJ IG had, in 2015, complained about DOJ’s retention of texts, but the standard remained unchanged in 2018.

In January 2018, after someone had leaked news of the Page-Strzok texts to the NYT and after DOJ released their texts to the press (possibly constituting a privacy violation and definitely deviating from the norm of not releasing anything still under investigation by DOJ IG) and after Senator Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson started making unsubstantiated claims about the texts, Mueller’s Chief of Staff, Aaron Zebley appears to have taken a very active role in the response. That’s when Mueller Executive Officer Beth McGarry Mueller’s Chief of Staff sent Page and Strzok’s Exit Paperwork to Zebley. And that’s when Mueller and DOJ IG discovered no one could find Page’s phone.

Not said in any of these documents, but revealed in the DOJ IG Report, is that Page and Strzok continued to use their FBI Samsung phones, and indeed were issued updated Samsungs after being assigned to Mueller’s team.

Based on OIG’s examination of their FBI mobile devices, Page and Strzok also retained and continued to use their FBI mobile devices. Specifically, on or about May 18, 2017, Page received an FBI-issued Samsung Galaxy S7 mobile device to replace her previously-issued FBI Samsung Galaxy SS. On or about July 5, 2017, Strzok received an FBl-issued Samsung Galaxy S7 mobile device to replace his previously-issued FBI Samsung Galaxy S5.

This was already known, because that’s where all their compromising texts were. But among other things, it makes it clear that some Mueller team members (especially the FBI employees, virtually all of whose names are redacted), may also have continued to use their existing FBI issue phone even while using the Mueller iPhone. With the exception of the 70-something year old James Quarles, whose phone “wiped itself without intervention from him” in April 2018 and who did not use text or have any photos on it when it was wiped, the suspicious events Republicans are complaining about came from DOJ employees, who might be most likely to juggle multiple phones and passwords.

Finally, one more detail of note in the Page and Strzok documents pertains to the other revelations. As noted, as part of the effort to find any texts they might have sent, DOJ reached out to Verizon, to try to figure out what kind of text traffic had been on their phones. Verizon responded that it only keeps texting metadata for 365 days, with rolling age-off, so it couldn’t help (in fall 2018 and January 2019) to access what Page and Strzok had done with their phones in summer 2017. As part of that discussion, however, JMD’s Greer noted that “our airwatch logs may only go back 1 year.” Airwatch is the portal via which corporate users of iPhones track the usage of their employees. It means that so long as something happens with a phone within a year, some data should be available on Airwatch. That is to say, DOJ had two means by which to reconstruct the content of a phone with a problem discovered in real time, means not available given the delay in looking for Page and Strzok’s phones.

The log of phone reviews covering all Mueller personnel

Ultimately, Judicial Watch’s FOIA showed that the documents they were after — the paper trail on the Page and Strzok phones — backs up what has always been claimed about the phones. They were treated via routine process, but as a result there were no texts to review when DOJ IG got around to review them.

So they instead made a stink about just four pages in the release, what appears to be a log — probably started in January 2018, as the Page and Strzok issues continued to roil — of every instance where a Mueller staff phone got reviewed.

The log starts with Page, Strzok, and two other people whose identities are redacted. It has an additional number of entries interspersed with ones from January 2018 which may be those out-processed under DOJ’s normal terms, prior to the initiation of this log. After that, though, the log seems to show meticulous record-keeping both as people were out-processed and any time something went haywire with a phone.

Here, for example, is the entry showing that Kevin Clinesmith’s phone was reviewed on March 5, 2018, and two texts and three photos that were not required to be kept as a DOJ record were emailed to him.

Here, for example, is a record showing that the phone of Uzo Asonye, a local prosecutor added to Manafort’s tax cheat trial in EDVA, got cleared of ten voice mails that pre-dated his involvement with the Mueller team when he was out-processed from the Mueller team.

In other words, Mueller’s team made sure phones were clean, even if they hadn’t been when the came into the team.

Some of what the frothers are pointing to as suspicious is someone wiping their phone when they get it — good security practice and, since the phone is new to them, nothing that will endanger records.

In others of the instances the frothers are complaining about, the log shows that someone immediately alerted record-keepers when they wiped their phone, which (if there were a concern) would provide DOJ an opportunity to check Airwatch.

One thing Republicans are focusing most closely on is that Andrew Weissmann twice “accidentally” wiped his phone, having done so on March 8 and September 27, 2018.

Note, both these instances involve the same phone, and also the same phone he had in what appears to be the final inventory. So while this is not entirely above suspicion, it’s not the case that Weissmann kept wiping phones before DOJ had a chance to check what he had on there before he got a new one. Rather, it appears he wiped the same phone twice and told the record-keepers about it in real time. Moreover, the wipes do not correlate to one possible damning explanation of them, that Weissmann was trying to cover up leaks to the press that Manafort would later accuse him and the Mueller team generally of.

There appears to have been nothing unusual about Weissmann’s out-processing review in March 2019.

So when DOJ had a chance to look at how Weissmann had used his phone for the last six months he used a Mueller phone, it found nothing.

Another of the things Republicans find particularly suspicious is that the phones of Kyle Freeny and Rush Atkinson were both wiped within days of each other (Freeny is a woman, which some of the self-described experts on the Mueller investigation got wrong in their stories on this). For Freeny and one other person (likely an FBI agent), this appears to have been an out-processing review.

Note that here and in many other cases, the description uses the passive voice. “Was [accidentally] wiped,” with no subject identified. There’s good reason to believe — based on the Records Officer retroactive descriptions about Strzok’s phone, the occasional use of the first person, and multiple references to the Administrative Officer — that these are written from the voice of the Records Officer, not the lawyer or agent in question. That is, many of the incidences of descriptions that a phone “was wiped” in no way suggest the person used the phone wiped it. Rather, it seems to be the Records Officer or someone else in the review process. And for a number of those instances there’s a clear explanation why the phone was wiped, which would be normal process for most DOJ transitions in any case.

It does appear Atkinson’s phone was wiped just days after Freeny’s phone, though it was identified in plenty of time to obtain the metadata, if needed.

But like Weissmann, Atkinson’s out-processing review (curiously, the very last one from the entire Mueller team) showed nothing unusual.

In short, what the frothy right appears to have worked themselves up about is that after the conduct of Page and Strzok raised concerns, Mueller imposed record-keeping that DOJ would not otherwise have done, record-keeping that attempted (even though it is not required by DOJ policy) to track every single personal text sent on those phones. And for many of the instances that frothers look at with suspicion, they’re actually seeing, instead, a normal DOJ treatment of a phone.

Timeline

May 20, 2017: Add four accounts, give them iPhones, including Lisa Page and Brandon Van Grack.

May 31, 2017: Page and Strzok first logged into SCO laptops.

June 15, 2017: What kind of tracking do we need for phones? Answer: IMEI. [Includes non-exempt team through that date.]

July 13, 2017: Out-processing of Lisa Page, for whom the process was invented. [Includes list of admin personnel.]

July 17, 2017: Page had handed over her devices, SCO still working with JMD to figure out how to back up common drive.

July 27, 2017: Michael Horowitz tells Mueller of Page-Strzok texts he discovered.

July 31, 2017: Page phone reset to factory settings.

August 9, 2017: Strzok sends exit checklists.

August 10, 2017: Strzok separates from office.

September 6, 2017: Records Officer reviews Strzok’s phone.

November 30, 2017: Mike Flynn informed of Strzok’s texts.

December 2, 2017: NYT reports on Strzok’s texts.

December 13, 2017: DOJ releases first batch of Page-Strzok texts, while trying to hide they were the source.

January 19, 2018: Stephen Boyd informs Chuck Grassley of archiving problems.

January 22, 2018: Strzok’s Mueller iPhone located.

January 23, 2018: Attempt to get texts from Verizon, but both content and metadata no longer stored.

January 25, 2018: Beth McGarry sends Aaron Zebley exit forms from Strzok and Page.

January 26, 2018: LFW notes that they’ve lost Page’s phone, but hands the search off to JMD. Greer notes, specifically, however, that “SCO policy was to reuse them and not hold.”

Late January 2018: FBI Inspection Division finds FBI Samsung phones, provide to DOJ IG.

February 8, 2018: Trump supporter Cesar Sayoc starts plotting attack on Strzok and others.

March 5, 2018: Kevin Clinesmith’s out-processing shows nothing unusual.

March 8, 2018: Andrew Weissmann wipes his phone.

May 4, 2018: Page resigns from FBI.

June 2018: DOJ IG discovers more texts, changes conclusion of Midyear Exam report.

June 14, 2018: Release of Midyear Exam report.

August 10, 2018: Strzok fired from FBI.

Early September 2018: Justice Management Division finds Page’s Mueller iPhone, provides to DOJ IG.

September 13, 2018: SCO Records Officer contacts DOJ IG about what status they got Page’s phone in.

September 21, 2018: Draft language between records officer and Aaron Zebley for DOJ IG Report. Also an attempt to check Airwatch for backups to the phones, but they only go back one year.

September 27, 2018: Andrew Weissmann wipes his phone.

October 17, 2018: DOJ IG informs SCO Records Officer that they have the phone, but that it had been reset to factory settings.

October 22, 2018: DOJ IG Cyber Agent follows up about DOJ IG Report language.

November 15, 2018: FBI Data Collection tool not archiving texts reliably.

November 27, 2018: Kyle Freeny’s phone wiped as part of out-processing.

November 29, 2018: Rush Atkinson’s phone accidentally wiped.

Late December 2018: DOJ IG releases report on archiving of DOJ phones.

December 27, 2018: Zebley responds to Rudy Giuliani claim about destruction of evidence.

January 18, 2019: JMD asks Verizon for texting data for Page and Strzok’s phones, but Verizon’s metadata records only go back 365 days.

January 30-31, 2019: LFW asks to cancel Strzok’s phone.

March 28, 2019: Andrew Weissmann’s out-processing review shows nothing unusual.

June 11, 2019: Rush Atkinson’s out-processing review shows nothing unusual.

December 9, 2019: DOJ IG releases Carter Page IG Report.

Unclear date: Inventory of all phones.

If the Steele Dossier Is Disinformation, Republicans Have Become Willful Participants in the Operation

I was among the first people to argue that the Steele dossier had been planted either partially or predominantly with Russian disinformation.

Republicans never consider the implications if the Steele dossier is disinformation

I first suggested the dossier reflected a feedback loop — magnifying both the Alfa Bank and the Michael Cohen allegations — in March 2017 (there’s increasing evidence the Alfa Bank story was disinformation, too, which I’ve also argued). In November 2017, I showed evidence suggesting the Democrats were complacent in response to their discovery of the hack in May and June 2016, in part because the dossier falsely led them to believe that the Russians hadn’t accomplished such hacks and that the kompromat Russians had on Hillary consisted of old FSB intercepts of her, not newly stolen emails. In January 2018, I showed how the dossier would be useful to Russia, partly to thwart and partly to discredit the investigation into their operation. In August 2018, I laid out six specific false claims made in the dossier that would have led Democrats or the FBI to take action counter to their own interests:

  • Russians hadn’t had success hacking targets like Hillary
  • Russians were planning to leak dated FSB intercepts rather than recent stolen emails
  • Misattribution of both what the social media campaign included and who did it, blaming Webzilla rather than Internet Research Agency
  • Carter Page, not George Papadopoulos or Roger Stone, was one key focus of Russian outreach
  • Russia had grown to regret the operation in August, when instead they were planning the next phase
  • Michael Cohen was covering up Trump’s funding of the hackers rather than Trump’s sexual scandals and an improbably lucrative business deal

Also in August 2018, I laid out the specific risk that Oleg Deripaska, who had influence over both Christopher Steele and Paul Manafort at the time, could have been manipulating both sides. In January, I wrote a much more detailed post that, in part, showed that that’s what Deripaska seems to have done. The post also showed how any disinformation in the dossier succeeded in confusing and discrediting the most experienced investigators into Russian organized crime (both Steele and at both DOJ and FBI), as well as harming Democrats.

Long after I started laying out the implications of the possibility that the dossier was disinformation, Republicans came to believe that was the case. Unsurprisingly, however, that’s all they’ve done, point to Russia’s success at feeding the FBI and Democrats disinformation (just as Russia got Don Jr, Roger Stone, and Mike Flynn to embrace and magnify other disinformation), as if that in some way uniquely damns Democrats. When, earlier this year, Chuck Grassley got footnotes declassified providing further evidence that the dossier was disinformation, Republicans just kept squawking that it was, without thinking through the implications of it.

Because Grassley and others raised the issue in the Rod Rosenstein hearing yesterday (and because I’m preparing a post on that hearing), I’m going back to look closely at three footnotes reflecting Russian knowledge of the dossier project. As with all my other posts criticizing the dossier, nothing here is meant to excuse the Democrats’ refusal to come clean on it, or the ham-handed way the project was managed in the first place. But the footnotes don’t actually say what the Republicans think they do, and in some ways they increase the import of Paul Manafort’s interactions with Deripaska during the campaign.

The three references to June 2017 reporting on mid-2016 knowledge of the dossier

There were actually three mentions of June 2017 reporting related to the Steele dossier. I’ve included the context from the IG Report and footnotes below, but summarized, they are:

  • Footnote 211: An intelligence report from June 2017 said someone associated with Oleg Deripaska was or may have been aware of Steele’s work by early July 2016.
  • Footnote 342: An early June 2017 USIC report said two people affiliated with Russian intelligence were aware of Steele’s work in “early 2016” (this is either a typo or inaccurate, as the earliest anyone could have known would have been May 2016, and more likely June 2016).
  • Footnote 347: The FBI received reporting in early June 2017 that must come from 702 coverage revealing a bunch of details about a sub-source, including that the person had contact with the Presidential Administration in June/July 2016 and that he or she was strongly pro-Hillary.

I’ve highlighted the temporal references in the longer passages below, to make this more clear, but it’s worth noting that all three of these references are to intelligence reports dated June 2017. Once you account for the error in footnote 342 (since Steele’s election reporting didn’t start until May 2016, awareness of it most post-date that), all three of the reports reflect some time to Steele’s project in roughly the same time frame: May to early July 2016.

So it’s possible that some if not all three of these reports are the same report. All the more so given that two key Deripaska deputies, Konstantin Kilimnik and Victor Boyarkin, have been publicly identified as having links to Russian intelligence.

The Mueller Report describes evidence–including but not limited to witness interviews–that Kilimnik has ties to GRU.

Manafort told the Office that he did not believe Kilimnik was working as a Russian “spy.”859 The FBI, however, assesses that Kilimnik has ties to Russian intelligence.860 Several pieces of the Office’s evidence-including witness interviews and emails obtained through court-authorized search warrants-support that assessment.

It makes no such claims about Boyarkin, though it does note that he served as defense attaché in the past, the kind of job often used for official cover. But when Treasury sanctioned Boyarkin in December 2018 along with all the people who implemented the Russian interference campaign in 2016, it identified Boyarkin as a former GRU officer.

Victor Alekseyevich Boyarkin (Boyarkin) is a former GRU officer who reports directly to Deripaska and has led business negotiations on Deripaska’s behalf.  Deripaska and Boyarkin were involved in providing Russian financial support to a Montenegrin political party ahead of Montenegro’s 2016 elections.  Boyarkin was designated pursuant to Executive Orders (E.O.) 13661 and 13662 for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, Oleg Deripaska, who was previously designated pursuant to E.O. 13661 for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of a senior Russian government official, as well as pursuant to E.O. 13662 for operating in the energy sector of the Russian Federation economy, as well as with entities 50 percent or more owned by designated persons.

The government refers to both of these guys as GRU-linked publicly. So if either showed up in a classified intelligence report, that affiliation would likely be more explicit. Both Kilimnik and Boyarkin were the target of retroactive surveillance as part of the investigation in Paul Manafort. And because they were interacting with Manafort, it would be likely one or both of them would learn of any issues involving Manafort, like the dossier, if such information came to Deripaska. To be clear, it is speculation that one of these men was the person associated with Deripaska who got wind of the dossier, but the description would fit both, both were under surveillance, and both would have a reason to be informed of the dossier if feeding disinformation to it was part of a larger project.

If either of them were one of the people named in the intelligence reports, it would mean Deripaska’s actions towards Manafort during the election would have been conducted by someone who knew of the Steele dossier. It would also mean that Boyarkin’s outreach (via Kilimnik) to Manafort in July 2016 would have come just after (this intelligence report reflects) learning of the dossier.

For example, in response to a July 7, 2016, email from a Ukrainian reporter about Manafort’ s failed Deripaska-backed 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

It would also mean that when Manafort traveled to Madrid in early January 2017 he may have learned whatever the Deripaska people knew of the disinformation effort.

Manafort’ s activities in early 2017 included meetings relating to Ukraine and Russia. The first meeting, which took place in Madrid, Spain in January 2017, was with Georgiy Oganov. Oganov, who had previously worked at the Russian Embassy in the United States, was a senior executive at a Deripaska company and was believed to report directly to Deripaska.940 Manafort initially denied attending the meeting. When he later acknowledged it, he claimed that the meeting had been arranged by his lawyers and concerned only the Pericles lawsuit.941 Other evidence, however, provides reason to doubt Manafort’s statement that the sole topic of the meeting was the Pericles lawsuit. In particular, text messages to Manafort from a number associated with Kilimnik suggest that Kilimnik and Boyarkin-not Manafort’s counsel-had arranged the meeting between Manafort and Oganov.942 Kilimnik’s message states that the meeting was supposed to be “not about money or Pericles” but instead “about recreating [the] old friendship”-ostensibly between Manafort and Deripaska-“and talking about global politics.”943

According to an old Ken Vogel story, Manafort called Reince Priebus the day the dossier came out — at a time when he’d still be in Madrid with Oganov (he returned on January 12) and suggested he discredit the Russian investigation by focusing on the Steele dossier.

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 personclose 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.

This would have been one of the few communications Manafort had with anyone in the Trump Administration (per court records, he had no direct communication after the inauguration, though he did use Sean Hannity as a back channel after that).

From that Manafort call to the present, the push to discredit the Russian investigation by treating the dossier as the Russian investigation and discrediting the former by unpacking the (admitted, egregious) problems in the latter has been the primary response to the Russian investigation. If Manafort was tipped to the fact that the dossier was full of baseless allegations because the Russians had put them there, it would mean the entire GOP effort since has been one of the intended goals of the disinformation.

Again, this rests on speculation, but if, in fact, Manafort’s interlocutors were the people identified as those who learned of the dossier, then everything the Republicans have been doing since would be part of that disinformation campaign.

210 and 211: Deripaska’s contemporaneous knowledge of the Steele dossier

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.

342: On top of disinformation, FBI believed both Steele and his sources may have been boasting

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 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.

347: FBI used 702 collection to test Steele’s sub-sources

FBI documents reflect that another of Steele’s sub-sources who reviewed the election reporting told the FBI in August 2017 that whatever information in the Steele reports that was attributable to him/her had been “exaggerated” and that he/she did not recognize anything as originating specifically from him/her. 347

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