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The Dossier as Disinformation: Why It Would Matter

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

When I wrote this post suggesting that Oleg Deripaska may have been in a position to make sure Christopher Steele’s Trump oppo research was filled with disinformation, a lot of people not only doubted that the dossier includes disinformation, but scoffed that even if it did it would matter. (See this post for more expert people talking about the possibility the dossier was seeded with disinformation.)

In his testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, Fusion GPS’ founder Glenn Simpson said that the Democrats used the Steele dossier in an effort, “to help [] manage a, you know, exceptional situation and understand what the heck was going on.” The same, we know from an endless series of Devin Nunes-led stunts to conflate the dossier with the FBI investigation, was true of the FBI.

The Democrats and the FBI used the dossier to figure out what was going on.

So to the extent information in the dossier was deliberately inaccurate — particularly in cases where it conflicted with publicly known or (given geographic location and known Steele network) knowable, more accurate information — it would lead the Democrats and the FBI to make incorrect decisions about how to prepare against or investigate the Russian attack.

And while I can’t tell whether the following examples arose from disinformation or some lack of due diligence or plain old hazards of human intelligence, all are examples where using the dossier to make decisions would have led the Democrats or the FBI to waste resources or act with less urgency than they should have.


How accomplished were the Russians at hacking

Steele claim, July 26, 2016:

In terms of the success of Russian offensive cyber operations to date, a senior government figure reported that there had been only limited success in penetrating the “first tier” foreign targets. The comprised western (especially G7 and NATO) governments, security and intelligence services and central banks, and the IFIs. To compensate for this shortfall, massive effort had been invested, with much greater success, in attacking the “secondary targets”, particularly western private banks and the governments of smaller states allied to the West. S/he mentioned Latvia in this regard.


Kaspersky Labs claim, April 21, 2015 (including links to older reporting attributing the attacks to Russia):

CozyDuke (aka CozyBear, CozyCar or “Office Monkeys”) is a precise attacker. Kaspersky Lab has observed signs of attacks against government organizations and commercial entities in the US, Germany, South Korea and Uzbekistan. In 2014, targets included the White House and the US Department of State, as believed.

The operation presents several interesting aspects

  • extremely sensitive high profile victims and targets
  • evolving crypto and anti-detection capabilities

[snip]

Recent CozyDuke APT activity attracted significant attention in the news:

Sources: State Dept. hack the ‘worst ever’, CNN News, March 2015
White House computer network ‘hacked’, BBC News, October 2014
Three Months Later, State Department Hasn’t Rooted Out Hackers, Wall Street Journal, February 2015
State Department shuts down its e-mail system amid concerns about hacking, Washington Post, November 2014

Note: FBI probably intended the DNC to consult to this report, describing “7 years of Russian cyberespionage,” when they first warned the DNC they were being hacked in September 2015, which would have also alerted the Democrats to the sophistication of Russian hacking.

Actions Democrats might have taken

The incorrect information, neglecting to mention known attacks on Germany’s parliament and US national security agencies, might have led Democrats to dismiss the persistence of the hackers targeting them.


What were Russians doing with social media and how social media was driving polarization

Steele claim, December 13, 2016:

[redacted] reported that over the period March-September 2016 a company called [Webzilla] and its affiliates had been using botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data and conduct “altering operations” against the Democratic Party leadership.


Adrian Chen, The Agency, June 2, 2015,:

It has gone by a few names, but I will refer to it by its best known: the Internet Research Agency. The agency had become known for employing hundreds of Russians to post pro-Kremlin propaganda online under fake identities, including on Twitter, in order to create the illusion of a massive army of supporters; it has often been called a “troll farm.” The more I investigated this group, the more links I discovered between it and the hoaxes. In April, I went to St. Petersburg to learn more about the agency and its brand of information warfare, which it has aggressively deployed against political opponents at home, Russia’s perceived enemies abroad and, more recently, me.

Update: at 35:00 in this December 9, 2015 podcast, Chen describes the Russian trolls “only tweeting about Donald Trump and stuff … maybe it’s some kind of opaque strategy of like electing Donald Trump to undermine the US or something, you know like false flag kind of thing.” (h/t JL)

BuzzFeed, Hyperpartisan Facebook Pages Are Publishing False And Misleading Information At An Alarming Rate, October 20, 2016 (and virtually everything else Craig Silverman wrote in the months leading up to it):

Hyperpartisan political Facebook pages and websites are consistently feeding their millions of followers false or misleading information, according to an analysis by BuzzFeed News. The review of more than 1,000 posts from six large hyperpartisan Facebook pages selected from the right and from the left also found that the least accurate pages generated some of the highest numbers of shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook — far more than the three large mainstream political news pages analyzed for comparison.

[snip]

The rapid growth of these pages combines with BuzzFeed News’ findings to suggest a troubling conclusion: The best way to attract and grow an audience for political content on the world’s biggest social network is to eschew factual reporting and instead play to partisan biases using false or misleading information that simply tells people what they want to hear. This approach has precursors in partisan print and television media, but has gained a new scale of distribution on Facebook. And while it isn’t a solely American phenomenon — the British Labour party found powerful support from a similar voice — these pages are central to understanding a profoundly polarized moment in American life.

Actions Democrats might have taken

It’s hard to believe this December report is anything but pure disinformation. And, particularly given that it came just weeks before Manafort counseled Trump to discredit the investigation by discrediting the dossier, it’s easy to imagine that the point of this was to provide easily falsifiable information, seed politically and financially expensive lawfare, and protect Putin crony Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s contribution to the election operation.

In any case, intelligence about the publicly known trolling efforts earlier in campaign season might have led Hillary to pressure her close ally, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, to take the threat more seriously — or at least to pay more attention to Facebook’s optimization program, both in her own and her opponent’s campaign. But a late report blaming a completely different company has only helped to discredit efforts to collect information on Trump’s ties to Russia.


What kompromat did Russia plan to leak on Hillary

Steele claim, June 20, 2016:

Asked about the Kremlin’s reported intelligence feed to TRUMP over recent years and rumours about a Russian dossier of “kompromat” on Hillary CLINTON (being circulated), Source B confirmed the file’s existence. S/he confided in a trusted compatriot that it had been collated by Department K of the FSB for many years, dating back to her husband Bill’s presidency, and compromised mainly eavesdropped conversations of various sorts rather than details/evidence of unorthodox or embarrassing behavior. Some of the conversations were from bugged comments CLINTON had made on her various trips to Russia and focused on things she had said which contradicted her current position on various issues. Others were probably from phone intercepts.


Josef Mifsud to George Papadopoulos, April 26, 2016, over breakfast in a London hotel: the Russians “had emails of Clinton … they have dirt on her … they have thousands of emails.”

Papadopoulos, May 10, 2016, over a drink to Australia’s Ambassador to the UK, in Kensington’s Wine Room, 2.5 miles from Orbis’ office:

During that conversation he (Papadopoulos) mentioned the Russians might use material that they have on Hillary Clinton in the lead-up to the election, which may be damaging.

[snip]

He didn’t say dirt, he said material that could be damaging to her. No, he said it would be damaging. He didn’t say what it was.

Actions Democrats might have taken

At least some of the very first documents Guccifer 2.0 released starting in June were obtained via the Podesta hack. Had the Democrats been worried about “thousands of emails” as kompromat rather than “bugged comments [and] phone intercepts … collated by Department K of the FSB for many years, dating back to her husband Bill’s presidency,” the Democrats might have prepared for an assault more directly targeting Hillary. At the very least, the Guccifer 2.0 releases would have alerted the Democrats that Crowdstrike’s advice — that usually such emails weren’t publicly released — didn’t apply in this case.


Who managed outreach to Russia

Steele claim, undated (after July 22, 2016):

This was managed on the TRUMP side by the Republican candidate’s campaign manager, Paul MANAFORT, who was using foreign policy advisor, Carter PAGE, and others as intermediaries.


Fusion GPS client Natalia Veselnitskaya, before June 9, 2016 Prevezon hearing attended by Simpson:

Around the end of May 2016, during a conversation with a good acquaintance of mine, being my client, Aras Agalarov on a topic that was not related to the United States, I shared the story faced when defending another client, Denis Katsyv, about how terribly misled the US Congress had been by the tax defrauder William Browder, convicted in Russia, who, through his lobbyists and his close-minded rank-and-file Congress staffers, succeeded in adopting the Act in the name of a person whom Browder practically hardly ever knew. I considered it my duty to inform the Congress people about it and asked Mr. Agalarov if there was any possibility of helping me or my colleagues to do this. I do not remember who of us was struck by the idea that maybe his son could talk about this with Donald Trump, Jr., who, although a businessman, was sure to have some acquaintances among Congress people.

[snip]

But upon arrival in New York in the evening of June 8, 2016, in my e-mail box I found a letter from a certain Goldstone, who notified me of the time and place of the meeting with Donald Trump, Jr. In this correspondance Aras Agalarov’s colleague, Irakli Kaveladze, who had been living in the United States for a long time and to whom I left my mail for contacts, was mentioned in the copy.

Veselnitskaya to Rob Goldstone, June 9, 9:24AM, requesting the inclusion of another Fusion client:

I am writing to ask you to pass by Mt. Trump my request to include our trusted associate and lobbyist Mr. Rinat Akhmetshin, who is working to advance these issues with several congressmen.

Paul Manafort to deputy of likely Steele contact Oleg Deripaska, Konstantin Kilimnik, July 7, 2016, of Deripaska:

If he needs private briefings we can accommodate.

Actions Democrats might have taken

On this point, the dossier proved absolutely correct. Manafort was managing the conspiracy with the Russians, at least until he was fired and his hand-picked replacement Steve Bannon took over. But the dossier’s focus on Carter Page — who was part of Russia’s outreach but a marginal figure — served to distract from the far more central figures that Fusion and its contractor Steele had no business missing: Fusion’s clients Natalia Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin, and through them the President’s son and son-in-law, along with Manafort. And Steele contact Oleg Deripaska’s deputy, Konstantin Kilimnik.

Whether intentionally or not, the Page focus in the dossier distracted from the more central players, the ones who interacted directly with the candidate, the ones being run by Steele contact Deripaska.


Whether both sides were comfortable with ongoing operations

Steele claim, July 30, 2016, based off “late July” reporting:

The émigré said there was a high level of anxiety within the TRUMP team as a result of various accusations levelled agains them and indications from the Kremlin that President PUTIN and others in the leadership thought things had gone too far and risked spiralling out of control.

Continuing on this theme, the émigré associate of TRUMP opined that the Kremlin wanted the situation to calm but for “plausible deniability” to be maintained concerning its (extensive) pro-TRUMP and anti-CLINTON operations. S/he therefore judged that it was unlikely these would be ratcheted up, at least for the time being.


July 27, 2016, Donald Trump:

Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.

July 27, 2016:

For example, on or about July 27, 2016, the Conspirators attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton Campaign.

[Note: I’ve spoken with someone involved in the effort to repel this attack, and he described it as a new “wave” of attacks launched seemingly in response to Trump’s comments.]

Actions Democrats might have taken

Because the targeting here was Hillary herself and not the feckless DNC, the Democrats weren’t going to be lulled by this claim that Trump and Russia were laying low. But if the report were disinformation, it may have been intended to disavow the seemingly clear tie between Trump’s requests and GRU’s response.


Who covered up Manafort’s scandals/What Cohen really was doing with Russia

Steele claim, October 19, 2016:

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


Starting on August 15, Rick Gates helps Paul Manafort hide their Ukranian consulting by lying to the press and DOJ’s FARA Unit; Deripaska deputy Konstantin Kilimnik would remain closely involved through the next year:

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

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

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

Oleg Deripaska deputy Konstantin Kilimnik asks Alex van der Zwaan to call Rick Gates to cover up Yulia Tymoshenko cover-up, September 12, 2016

When confronted with an email dated September 12, 2016, sent by Person A to van der Zwaan, the defendant again lied. The email was sent to the defendant’s email address at his law firm, though the Special Counsel’s Office had obtained the email from another source. The email said, in Russian, that Person A “would like to exchange a few words via WhatsApp or Telegram.” van der Zwaan lied and said he had no idea why that email had not been produced to the government, and further lied when he stated that he had not communicated with Person A in response to the email.

[snip]

Further, van der Zwaan in fact had a series of calls with Gates and Person A—as well as the lead partner on the matter—in September and October 2016. The conversations concerned potential criminal charges in Ukraine about the Tymoshenko report and how the firm was compensated for its work.

Actions Democrats might have taken

I’m particularly interested in how Deripaska contact Christopher Steele told a story that put Michael Cohen at the center of Russia pushback rather than Manafort himself, Rick Gates, and Deripaska deputy Konstantin Kilimnik, because if this is disinformation, it served multiple purposes (not all of which I include here):

  • Distracted from Gates’ actions (and his ongoing ties with Kilimnik) while he remained a central figure on the Trump campaign and transition (effectively, ensuring that a high ranking campaign official with close ties to Deripaska’s deputy remained in place)
  • Distracted from Manafort’s reported ongoing back channel involvement in the campaign
  • Focused attention on Cohen in August, rather than his actions from January to June 2016 to negotiate a Trump Tower deal, something that probably had a more central role in the quid pro quo behind the election operation
  • Shifted focus on ongoing discussions about a Trump Tower deal between reported Steele source Sergei Millian and Russian go-between George Papadopoulos
  • Focused fall attention on Cohen on a Russian cover-up rather than on the sex worker hush payments he facilitated

Again, I don’t know that this line of Steele’s reporting is disinformation (though no evidence Cohen went to Prague has been substantiated). But if it was, it would have been a masterful distraction from a number of key threads that might have been lethal to Trump in the general election if they had become a focus.

In each of these cases, the disinformation would not so much disavow the existence of the election campaign. Indeed, in key respects — the centrality of Paul Manafort and Russia’s desire to end sanctions (though even there, the Steele dossier focused on the Ukrainian sanctions rather than the Magnitsky ones) — the dossier reported what actually happened, though both items were obvious. Rather, the disinformation would include grains of truth but incorrect details that would distract investigators and misinform Democratic decision-makers.

And all that’s before you get into how perfectly the dossier has served to discredit a very real, well-founded counterintelligence investigation and entangled Democrats and the press in expensive lawfare.

Did GRU Learn that Democrats Had Hired Christopher Steele When They Hacked DNC’s Email Server?

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

According to Glenn Simpson’s SJC testimony, he hired Christopher Steele in May or June of 2016 to investigate Trump’s ties to Russia.

Q. And when did you engage Mr. Steele to conduct opposition research on Candidate Trump?

A. I don’t specifically recall, but it would 10 have been in the — it would have been May or June  of 2016.

Q. And why did you engage Mr. Steele in May or June of 2016?

Simpson is maddeningly vague (undoubtedly deliberately) on this point. In one place he suggests he hired Steele after DCLeaks was registered and amid a bunch of chatter about Democrats being hacked, which would put it after June 8 and probably after June 15.

Q. So at the time you first hired him had it been publicly reported that there had been a cyber intrusion into the Democratic National Convention computer system?

A. I don’t specifically remember. What I know was that there was chatter around Washington about hacking of the Democrats and Democratic think tanks and other things like that and there was a site that had sprung up called D.C. Leaks that seemed to suggest that somebody was up to something. I don’t think at the time at least that we were particularly focused on — well, I don’t specifically remember.

But in his more informative HPSCI testimony, he suggests he may have started talking to Steele about collecting intelligence on Trump in May.

MR. QUIGLEY: When exactly did he start working under contract?

MR. SIMPSON: My recollection is that, you know, we began talking about the — I don’t remember when we started talking about the engagement, but the work started in June, I believe.

MR. QUIGLEY: Okay.

MR. SIMPSON: Possibly late May, but –

Given one detail in Mueller’s GRU Indictment, that difference may be critical.

Recall that the DNC figured out they had been hacked in April, and brought in Perkins Coie (the same firm that would engage Fusion GPS) for help. The attorney helping them respond to the hack, Michael Sussmann, warned them not to use DNC email to discuss the hack, because it might alert hackers they were onto them.

The day before the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in April, Ms. Dacey, the D.N.C.’s chief executive, was preparing for a night of parties when she got an urgent phone call.

With the new monitoring system in place, Mr. Tamene had examined administrative logs of the D.N.C.’s computer system and found something very suspicious: An unauthorized person, with administrator-level security status, had gained access to the D.N.C.’s computers.

“Not sure it is related to what the F.B.I. has been noticing,” said one internal D.N.C. email sent on April 29. “The D.N.C. may have been hacked in a serious way this week, with password theft, etc.”

No one knew just how bad the breach was — but it was clear that a lot more than a single filing cabinet worth of materials might have been taken. A secret committee was immediately created, including Ms. Dacey, Ms. Wasserman Schultz, Mr. Brown and Michael Sussmann, a former cybercrimes prosecutor at the Department of Justice who now works at Perkins Coie, the Washington law firm that handles D.N.C. political matters.

“Three most important questions,” Mr. Sussmann wrote to his clients the night the break-in was confirmed. “1) What data was accessed? 2) How was it done? 3) How do we stop it?”

Mr. Sussmann instructed his clients not to use D.N.C. email because they had just one opportunity to lock the hackers out — an effort that could be foiled if the hackers knew that the D.N.C. was on to them.

“You only get one chance to raise the drawbridge,” Mr. Sussmann said. “If the adversaries know you are aware of their presence, they will take steps to burrow in, or erase the logs that show they were present.”

The D.N.C. immediately hired CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity firm, to scan its computers, identify the intruders and build a new computer and telephone system from scratch. Within a day, CrowdStrike confirmed that the intrusion had originated in Russia, Mr. Sussmann said.

But it’s not clear whether Sussmann warned this small team of people against using DNC emails at all, or just those emails discussing the hack.

Previously, I had always guesstimated how long after DNC brought Crowdstrike in the emails ultimately shared with WikiLeaks got exfiltrated from this analysis, based of the last dates of stolen emails and DNC’s email deletion policies in place at the time. It was a damned good estimate — May 19 to May 25.

But according to the indictment, the theft of the DNC emails happened later: starting on May 25, not ending on it.

Between on or about May 25, 2016 and June 1, 2016, the Conspirators hacked the DNC Microsoft Exchange Server and stole thousands of emails from the work accounts of DNC employees. During that time, YERMAKOV researched PowerShell commands related to accessing and managing the Microsoft Exchange Server.

The indictment doesn’t describe the entire universe of emails stolen — whether GRU stole just the 9 email boxes shared with WikiLeaks, or whether they obtained far more.

But the later date — possibly reaching as late as June 1 — means it’s possible GRU stole emails involving top DNC officials, officials involved in opposition research activities (as both Guccifer 2.0 and the DNC itself said had been a focus), including the activity of hiring a former MI6 officer to chase down Trump’s illicit ties to Russians.

Don’t get me wrong. If the Russians did, in fact, learn about the Steele effort and manage to inject his known reporting chain with disinformation, there were plenty of other possible ways they might have learned of the project: the several people overlapping between Fusion GPS’ Prevezon team and its Trump team, Rinat Akhmetshin who learned of the dossier from a chatty NYT editor, or maybe a close Trump ally like Sergei Millian. The sad thing about this disinformation project is it was so widely disseminated, any HUMINT integrity could have easily been compromised early in the process.

But the timeline laid out in the GRU indictment adds one more, even earlier possible way: that Russia learned the Democrats were seeking HUMINT from Russians about Russia’s efforts to help Trump from the Democrats’ own emails.

10 Years Out: What’s with the Bear in the Middle?

[NB: Check the byline — it’s me, Rayne. I am not a registered financial representative or a lawyer; this post is based on my own observations and opinions. As always, your mileage may vary.]

On a chilly March evening ten years ago tonight, I was yelling at loved ones: Sell. For gods’ sake, SELL.

My own household had moved its investments from a number of mutual funds to guaranteed income. Every fund in the portfolio to that point contained a chunk of an investment bank and was therefore exposed to what I felt was sure to come.

It was obvious to anyone who was really paying attention that something was really off. Trying to buy a house in 2004 was almost impossible where I live, in spite of the ongoing migration of manufacturing jobs offshore. In the target price range for a 2000-square foot house, there were only a handful of homes listed and they all needed more than $50K in improvements. The nearby farmers’ fields were full of a new crop: single-family homes, mostly 3-bedroom and up, had eaten acres and acres in less than a year. It was insanity — there was no way this pace could be maintained, not with my state’s problematic over-reliance on the automobile industry.

Instead of buying an existing home, I built a new one. It didn’t make sense to spend $50K on improvements requiring a lot of construction if I couldn’t guarantee I could hire a contractor when new construction was so hot. I didn’t build in the top end neighborhood, either. I left myself some room in case I had to leave the area quickly for a new job; I also left room for the market to improve.

Except it didn’t. The last landscaping contractor must have pulled away from my new home in 2005 just as the bubble began to deflate. There were signs it was going to get worse, too, what with fuel prices skyrocketing. Banks increasingly offered crazy terms on mortgages just so they could something, anything, not taking the hint the market was saturated. Given the number of people relying too heavily on adjustable rate mortgages with ridiculously low entry rates, the increased gasoline price costing the average family more than $1000 a year was certain to cause credit card defaults and foreclosures.

Something ugly was coming.

~ ~ ~

In March 2008 — almost exactly a month after the Washington Post published an op-ed by New York’s then-Governor Eliot Spitzer exhorting action on subprime mortgages — 85-year-old  American investment bank Bear Stearns crashed and burned.

After urgent, fancy foot work by the Federal Reserve Bank, J.P. Morgan and other key investors, settlements were made with bail out money and remnants of the firm were ultimately snapped up by J.P. Morgan for what amounted to the cost of Bear Stearn’s headquarters building, about $2 per share. By St. Patrick’s Day, Bear Stearns was no more, completely subsumed.

It would be another six months before the next large investment bank crashed — Lehman Brothers — taking the global economy with it.

~ ~ ~

At the time the crash was blamed on lax controls on lending to home buyers, encouraging an excess of subprime mortgages, combined with investment banks’ more recent taste for collateralized debt obligations bundling mortgages into tranches for slicing up and trading.

But not all of the trash loans were residential mortgages stuffed into tranches. Some of the loans were to developers and contractors who were building commercial facilities and multi-family buildings. Some of these loans were packaged into funds which were more like offshore corporations.

The two funds triggering Bear Stearns’ meltdown were just that: offshore funds incorporated in the Cayman Islands in 2003, holding various assets including tranches of poorly-collateralized mortgages, managed by Bear Stearns Asset Management (BSAM). What mortgages were in these two funds the public doesn’t really know; were they single-family residential mortgages or commercial facilities mortgages, or some combination? The information is out there somewhere but it’s not at the public’s fingertips.

The financial media still paints a messy picture even a decade later, blaming Bear Stearns management but not its own persistent failure to provide a more comprehensive and accessible picture of the financial industry’s health.

These two funds collapsed because too many mortgages within their CDOs failed; the effect on the bank was like pulling out two critical load-bearing pieces in a game of Jenga. The cascading demand for cash to resolve the failures may have pushed other investment banks’ equally sketchy funds to fail as well, crashing the entire heap nearly a decade ago.

~ ~ ~

It was a surprise blast from the unpleasant past to see Bear Stearns’ name pop up in the middle of recent testimony before the House Permanent Subcommittee on Intelligence. Fusion GPS’ Glenn Simpson cited the investment bank as a source of financing for Donald Trump and some sketchy condominium development.

[SIMPSON]… There’s the Trump vodka business that was earlier. And then ultimately, you know, what we came to realize was that the money was actually coming out of Russia and going into his properties in Florida and New York and Panama and Toronto and these other places.

And what we, you know, gradually begun to understand, which, you know, I suppose I should kick myself for not figuring out earlier, but I don’t know that much about the real estate business, which is I alluded to this earlier, so, you know, by 2003, 2004, Donald Trump was not able to get bank credit for — and if you’re a real estate developer and you can’t get bank loans, you know, you’ve got a problem.

And all these guys, they used leverage like, you know, — so there’s alternative systems of financing, and sometimes it’s — well, there’s a variety of alternative systems of financing. But in any case, you need alternative financing.

One of the things that we now know about how the condo projects were financed is that you have to — you can get credit if you can show that you’ve sold a certain number of units.

So it turns out that, you know, one of the most important things to look at is — this is especially true of the early overseas developments, like Toronto and Panama — you can get credit if you can show that you sold a certain percentage of your units.

And so the real trick is to get people who say they’ve bought those units, and that’s where the Russians are to be found, is in some of those pre-sales, is what they’re called. And that’s how, for instance, in Panama they got the credit of — they got a — Bear Stearns to issue a bond by telling Bear Stearns that they’d sold a bunch of units to a bunch of Russian gangsters.

And, of course, they didn’t put that in the underwriting information, they just said, we’ve sold a bunch of units and here’s who bought them, and that’s how they got the credit. So that’s sort of an example of the alternative financing. … [bold mine, excerpt pages 95-96]

The timing mentioned, 2003-2004, is very close to the time that Bear Stearns launched the two Cayman-based funds which failed first. Is it possible Trump’s financing provided by Bear Stearns ended up in the funds’ CDOs? Probably not — Simpson refers to bonds. But let’s look at a financial statement from one of the subject funds:

It’s difficult to tell what’s in any of the CDOs listed in this summary. Who knows what mortgages are in them or from where they originated without access to more details?

Note the bonds at the bottom — again, what’s in them? What percentage of these bonds consisted of dicey or outright fraudulent financing for construction related to money laundering? Again, we can’t tell without access to more granular details. We don’t know whether bond(s) offered to Trump developments were in Bear Stearns’ first two failed funds or if they helped cause the eventual financial pyroclastic flow toward Bear Stearns’ end.

~ ~ ~

Another thing sticks in my craw — a bit from Michael Lewis’ The Big Short:

The bond market, because it consisted mainly of big institutional investors, experienced no similarly populist political pressure. Even as it came to dwarf the stock market, the bond market eluded serious regulation. Bond salesmen could say and do anything without fear that they’d be reported to some authority. Bond traders could explore inside information without worrying that they would be caught. Bond technicians could dream up ever more complicated securities without worrying too much about government regulation — one reason why so many derivatives had been derived, one way or another, from bonds. … [bold mine]

In other words, nobody would look askance at all at bonds sold to finance a condominium development with rather thin commitment to payment. Nobody looked askance at the ratio of CDOs to bonds, either, though Bear Stearns would try to offset the CDOs’ losses by liquidating bonds. This fund as an example couldn’t manage this offset based on the ratio alone; it would have been catastrophically worse if the collateral beneath the bonds was as fraudulent as many subprime adjustable rate mortgages in CDOs were at the time.

The root cause of the 2008 crash remains the collapse of poorly collateralized as well as fraudulent mortgages. But I have to wonder:

— With so much attention on CDOs and mortgage defaults combined with a lack of bond market adequate monitoring, how much did crappy bonds, based on fraudulent representations of collateral, contribute to the crash?

— If there was so little regulation and oversight of the bond market, how much sketchy or fraudulent project financing was in bonds on the banks’ books — including projects like Trump’s, based on promises to pay made by offshore vehicles or non-U.S. citizens?

— With so little regulation and oversight, would it have been possible for one or more nation-states using offshore finance vehicles to “weaponize” banks’ books? How many of the crappy bonds contributing to the 2008 crash were based on poorly collateralized pre-sales to Russian oligarchs and gangsters?

— What assurances do we have today — especially with Mick Mulvaney defunding the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau and knocking off an opportunity to look more deeply into credit reporting by killing off the Equifax investigation — that investment banks have changed their practices and ensured legitimate projects are financed?

—What assurances do we have that our legislators see the slippery slip when they approve legislation like S. 2155 just this week, weakening Dodd-Frank reforms?

~ ~ ~

Recall the state of the economy between Bear Stearns’ and Lehman Brothers’ crashes. Oil prices rose to over $150/barrel, resulting in $4/gallon gasoline. Other commodity prices rose in tandem with fuel prices. The home buyers who could least afford any change in their household expenses were the same ones targeted for subprime mortgages with shady terms; it came down to paying for gas to get to work and feeding the family, or making the mortgage payment.

The price of oil at the time had been driven up by excess speculation. Legislation passed in June 2008 requiring all commodity futures trading to require a minimum of 30% margin upfront rather than 10%. Oil prices dropped drastically and reduced in volatility almost overnight, but it was already too late. Too many home buyers could no longer afford their payments and mortgage defaults began to snowball.

Which brings me to yet another question: if the bond market could have been “weaponized” at that time, could a volatile commodities market likewise have been used as a trigger?

Are there any other weak points in our market which could be “weaponized,” for that matter?

~ ~ ~

On this tenth anniversary after the crash began with Bear Stearns’ collapse, I feel more secure about my retirement portfolio. There were no frantic phone calls to family members exhorting moves to safety this evening. My exposure to the remaining weaknesses of investment banking have been minimized as much as possible, though I remain vulnerable because I have a mortgage. Real estate isn’t the sure return it once was. Only uber-wealthy investors buying into certain urban markets come out on top. But wealthy real estate investors can still cause self-inflicted damage.

Atlanta, Georgia’s market has turned around since the crash — but it was home to another failed Trump real estate project, a 363-unit Trump Tower which went into foreclosure with pre-sales of only 100 units. (In January 2017, Trump ranted about Atlanta as Rep. John Lewis’ district, calling it “falling apart” and “crime infested.” One wonders what crime he meant…)

Hollywood, Florida had a brush with a failed Trump project:

In 2006, he and billionaire condo king Jorge Perez began selling a 23-story apartment building near Mar-a-Lago, but the project was abandoned a year later because of slow sales. Another Perez-Trump deal, the 200-unit Hollywood oceanfront tower, was foreclosed in 2010 after selling less than 15% of its units. (The building eventually opened, still Trump-branded, but without Perez.)

So did the Miami, Florida area:

Trump Sunny Isles, a three-tower residential complex outside Miami, has also struggled. Trump partnered with Perez again and another developer named Gil Dezer to build the project, which targeted wealthy Latin Americans. . . .

Unfortunately, the last two towers of the development opened in the middle of the financial crisis, and Perez bailed on them. . . .

And Puerto Rico, too, was home to a Trump-branded golf course which failed in 2015.

Though with so many failures followed by continued attempts, it’s worth asking if this is a business model. How does Trump continue to benefit from so much failure? How do the backers he has benefit from staking Trump money or title?

Trump’s business alone wasn’t the cause of the 2008 crash. There were far more players involved — millions, if we want to blame residential homeowners who were misled by banks to believe they could safely contract a mortgage in spite of either inadequate collateral or income and ultimately forced into foreclosure. But at least one of Trump’s business projects was in the mix if Fusion’s Simpson’s testimony is truthful; what would keep Trump or real estate investors like Trump from contributing to (if not causing) another crash today?

We must ask when we see that Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his former son-in-law Jeffrey Yohai were engaged in sketchy real estate development projects the community/regional Banc of California may have deterred by forcibly shutting their accounts.

And ask again when we see a community bank like The Federal Savings Bank of Chicago involved in another of Manafort’s bank frauds.

The damage could be even worse, in the case of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is over his head in debt on 666 Fifth Avenue and whose family business is distressed, possibly causing geopolitical turmoil to shakedown new financing.

How many of these flimsy real estate deals and junky mortgages, loans, and bonds are there in the system when we can now see these affiliated with the president and his campaign advisers? How many of them will it take to cause another crash if legislators continue to pick away at safeguards?

Let’s hope I’m not writing another financial postmortem like this one in March 2028.

Three Things: This Matin, Think Latin

I have three things cluttering up my notes — just big enough to give pause but not big enough for a full post. I’ll toss them out here for an open thread.

~ 3 ~
Aluminum -> Aeronautics -> Stock Market and Spies
I’ve spent quite a while researching the aeronautics industry over the couple of years, trying to make sense out of a snippet in the Buryakov spy case indictment. The three spies were at one point digging into an aeronautics company, but the limited amount of information in the indictment suggested they were looking at a non-U.S. company.

You can imagine my surprise on December 6, 2016, when then-president-elect tweeted about Boeing’s contract for the next Air Force One, complaining it was too expensive. Was it Boeing the spies were discussing? But the company didn’t fit what I could see in the indictment, though Boeing’s business is exposed to Russia, in terms of competition and in terms of components (titanium, in particular).

It didn’t help that Trump tweeted before the stock market opened and Boeing’s stock plummeted after the opening bell. There was plenty of time for dark pool operators to go in and take positions between Trump’s tweet and the market’s open. What an incredible bonanza for those who might be on their toes — or who knew in advance this was going to happen.

And, of course, the media explained this all away as Trump’s “Art of the Deal” tactics, ignoring the fact he wasn’t yet president and he was renegotiating the terms of a signed government contract before he took office. (Ignoring also this is not much different than renegotiating sanctions before taking office…)

I was surprised again only a couple weeks later about Boeing and Lockheed; this time I wasn’t the only person who saw the opportunity, though the timing of the tweet and market opening were different.

Again, the media took note of the change in stock prices before rolling over and playing dead before the holidays.

There have been a few other opportunities like this to “take advantage of the market,” though they are a bit more obscure. Look back at the NYSE and S&P trends whenever Trump has tweeted about North Korea; if one knew it was coming, they could make a fortune.

A human would only need the gap as long as that between a Fox and Friends’ mention of bad, bad North Korea and a corresponding Trump tweet to make the play (although one might have to watch that vomit-inducing program to do this). An algorithm monitoring FaF program and Trump tweets would need even less time.

Yesterday was somebody’s platinum opportunity even if Trump was dicking around with U.S. manufacturers (including aeronautics companies) and global aluminum and steel producers. His flip-flop on tariffs surely made somebody beaucoup bucks — maybe even an oligarch with a lot of money and a stake in one of the metals, assuming he knew in advance where Trump was going to end up by the close of the market day. The market this morning is still trying to make sense of his ridiculous premise that trade wars are good and winnable; too bad the market still believes this incredibly crappy businessman is fighting a war for U.S. trade.

Just for the heck of it, go to Google News, search for [trump tariffs -solar], look for Full Coverage, sort by date and not relevance. Note how many times you see Russia mentioned in the chronologically ordered feed — mine shows exactly zero while China, Korea, Germany are all over the feed. I sure hope somebody at the SEC is paying as much attention to this as cryptocurrency.

I suppose I have to spell this out: airplanes are made of aluminum and steel, capisce?

~ 2 ~
Italian Son
One niggling bit from Glenn Simpson’s testimony for Fusion GPS before the Senate Intelligence Committee has stuck with me. I wish I could time travel and leave Simpson a note before testimony and tell him, “TELL US WHAT YOU SEE, GLENN!” when he is presented with Paul Manafort’s handwritten notes. The recorder only types what was actually said and Glenn says only the sketchiest bit about what he sees. Reading this transcript, we have only the thinnest amount of context to piece together what he sees.

Q. Do any of the other entries in here mean anything to you in light of the research you’ve conducted or what you otherwise know about Mr. Browder?

A. I’m going to — I can only speculate about some of these things. I mean, sometimes —

MR. LEVY: Don’t speculate.

A. Just would be guesses.

Q. Okay.

A. I can skip down a couple. So “Value in Cyprus as inter,” I don’t know what that means.”Illici,” I don’t know what that means. “Active sponsors of RNC,” I don’t know what that means. “Browder hired Joanna Glover” is a mistaken reference to Juliana Glover, who was Dick Cheney’s press secretary during the Iraq war and associated with another foreign policy controversy. “Russian adoptions by American families” I assume is a reference to the adoption issue.

Q. And by “adoption issue” do you mean Russia prohibiting U.S. families from adopting Russian babies as a measure in response to the Magnitsky act?

A. I assume so.

Bold mine, to emphasis the bit which has been chewing away at me. “Illici” could be an interrupted “illicit”; the committee and Simpson use the word or a modifier, illicitly, eight times during the course of their closed door session. It’s not a word we use every day; the average American Joe/Josie is more likely to use “illegitimate” or the even more popular “illegal” to describe an unlawful or undesirable action or outcome.

(I’m skeptical Manafort was stupid enough to begin scratching out “illicit” and catch himself in time, but then I can’t believe how stupid much of this criminality has been.)

But the average American Joe/Josie doesn’t travel abroad, speak with Europeans often, or speak second languages. The average white Joe/Josie may be three or more generations from their immigrant antecedents.

Not so Mr. Manafort, who is second generation Italian on both sides of his family. He may speak some Italian since his grandfather was an immigrant — and quite likely Catholic, too. Hello, Latin masses in Italian American communities.

Did Manafort mean “illici,” a derivative of Latin “illicio,” which means to entice or seduce? Or was it a corrupted variant of Latin “illico,” which means immediately?

Or is Manafort a bad speller who really meant either “elici”, “elicio,” or “elicit,” meaning to draw out or entice?

Like Simpson, these are just guesses. Only Manafort really knows and I seriously doubt he’ll ever tell what he meant.

~ 1 ~
If you haven’t checked your personal online privacy and cybersecurity recently, give Privacy Haus’s checklist a look. Nearly all of the items I’ve already addressed but I tried one of the items suggested as a fix to an ongoing challenge. Good stuff!

~ 0 ~
That’s it, have at it in this open thread! One last thing: if you didn’t read Marcy’s op-ed, Has Jared Kushner Conspired to Defraud America? in Wednesday’s NYT, you should. You’re going to need it as part of a primer going forward.

What Journalist(s) Told Rinat Akhmetshin about the Steele Dossier?

I’ll eventually do a post on the substance of the Grassley-Graham referral of Christopher Steele to the FBI for (as I predicted) lying about his contacts with journalists. It will surprise none of you to know that I think the commentary so far, from both right and left, is garbage.

But I do want to look at one footnote from the letter that is news for other reasons. The disclosure that, in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Rinat Akhmetshin said

Unsurprisingly, during the summer of 2016, reports of at least some of the dossier allegations began circulating among reporters and people involved in Russian issues.19

19 (U) Akhmetshin Transcript, On File with the Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary (Mr. Akhmetshin informed the Committee that he began hearing from journalists about the dossier before it was published, and thought it was the summer of 2016).

They raise this for the same reasons I’ve worried about the briefings to journalists, the likelihood that as journalists started chasing the story, they might alert people who could, in turn, alert the Russians, making it easier to insert disinformation into Steele’s reporting channels.

As always with these partisan releases, precisely what Akhmetshin said matters. Did he really say he knew about the dossier, or only the allegations about a pee tape and (this is critical) that Russians were preparing to deal kompromat on Hillary? If he knew about the dossier, did he know the folks at Fusion — with whom he enjoyed booze lubricated dinners — were involved?

It’s always possible, of course, that Akhmetshin (who almost certainly has spoken with Mueller’s team at least twice) is lying, admitting he knew of the dossier but attributing it to a reporting channel that shifts blame.

But if it’s true, then there are journalists in DC who, enjoying the same kind of chatty relationships with Akhmetshin I understand a lot of journalists have long enjoyed, know that they told him about the dossier or the underlying intelligence. I think the precise date of such conversations probably needs to remain secret — particularly given the discrepancy between when Akhmetshin says he first heard about the dossier and when Steele and Glenn Simpson say they first started briefing it.

But that a journalist or journalists shared the information might be worth admitting, for the clarity it would give to the story. Two of the journalists at the center of this — David Corn and Michael Isikoff — have been all over the news. Mother Jones is even fundraising off of it.

Surely confirming Akhmetshin’s story, if possible, would be newsworthy?

On Disinformation and the Dossier

By all accounts, the House will vote to release the Nunes memo tonight, even while Adam Schiff pushes to release his countering memo at the same time. Perhaps in advance of that, Andrew McCabe either chose to or was told to take leave today until such time as his pension kicks in in mid-March, ending his FBI career.

Since we’re going to be obsessing about the dossier for the next while again, I want to return to a question I’ve repeatedly raised: the possibility that some or even much of the Christopher Steele dossier could be the product of Russian disinformation. Certainly, at least by the time Fusion and Steele were pitching the dossier to the press in September 2016, the Russians might have gotten wind of the project and started to feed Steele’s sources disinformation. But there’s at least some reason to believe it could have happened much sooner.

Former CIA officer Daniel Hoffman argues the near misses are a mark of Russian disinformation

A number of spooks had advanced this idea in brief comments in the past. Today, former CIA officer Daniel Hoffman makes the arguement at more length at WSJ.

There is a third possibility, namely that the dossier was part of a Russian espionage disinformation plot targeting both parties and America’s political process. This is what seems most likely to me, having spent much of my 30-year government career, including with the CIA, observing Soviet and then Russian intelligence operations. If there is one thing I have learned, it’s that Vladimir Putin continues in the Soviet tradition of using disinformation and espionage as foreign-policy tools.

Hoffman points to what I consider the dossier’s abundance of near-misses (such as events involving the correct person in the wrong place or time) on correct information to back his case.

The pattern of such Russian operations is to sprinkle false information, designed to degrade the enemy’s social and political infrastructure, among true statements that enhance the veracity of the overall report. In 2009 the FSB wanted to soil the reputation of a U.S. diplomat responsible for reporting on human rights. So it fabricated a video, in part using real surveillance footage of the diplomat, that purported to show him with a prostitute in Moscow.

Similarly, some of the information in the Steele dossier is true. Carter Page, a Trump campaign adviser, did travel to Moscow in the summer of 2016. But he insists that the secret meetings the dossier alleges never happened. This is exactly what you’d expect if the Kremlin followed its usual playbook: accurate basic facts provided as bait to convince Americans that the fake info is real.

John Sipher, in our joint interview with Jeremy Scahill admitted such a thing was possible, though that the dossier still tied the hack to “collusion.”

The Russians are the best in the world at this disinformation and deception. I don’t think, based on what we saw in the June, the first of his reports, that the Russians would have controlled all of those sources and controlled that whole narrative. It just doesn’t seem to make sense to me. And if in fact they did control the information that was given to Mr. Steele at that time, you have to wonder what was the point. If they were trying to send a message that they had compromising information on Mr. Trump, that might be that they wanted Mr. Trump to know what they had so he would act accordingly. In terms of using kompromat you don’t have to go to the person and make the quid pro quo, you just have to let them know that you have the information and they’ll do the right thing. So, I do agree, as time went by, and as she mentioned, for example, that what GPS Fusion information had in the connections they had there’s, it’s certainly possible that the Russians could have come across some of these sources and provided disinformation especially as time went by. I don’t think that that’s out of the realm of possibility.

Nevertheless Sipher argued in response to Hoffman that the content of the dossier would rule against it being disinformation.

[Hoffman] did not address the content. If was disinformation, it was designed to hurt Trump.

The content of the dossier would have led Democrats to be complacent about the hacking

But I can think of several ways the information in the dossier, if it was disinformation, would help Trump. I have already noted how, if Democrats had used the intelligence provided by Steele in the very earliest reports in the dossier to gauge the risk posed by the hack, they would have been lulled into complacency, because Steele’s first reports clearly said any kompromat the Russians wanted to dump was old intercepts from Hillary’s trips to Russia, and even Steele’s first report after the WikiLeaks dump would not only not confirm Russia was behind the release, but would also contradict a year of public reporting on APT29 to claim that Russia had not had success breaching targets like the State Department and Hillary.

On June 20, Perkins Coie would have learned from a Steele report that the dirt Russia had on Hillary consisted of “bugged conversations she had on various visits to Russia and intercepted phone calls rather than any embarrassing conduct.” It would also have learned that “the dossier however had not yet been made available abroad, including to TRUMP or his campaign team.”

On July 19, Perkins Coie would have learned from a Steele report that at a meeting with a Kremlin official named Diyevkin which Carter Page insists didn’t take place, Diyevkin “rais[ed] a dossier of ‘kompromat’ the Kremlin possessed on TRUMP’s Democratic presidential rival, Hillary CLINTON, and its possible release to the Republican’s campaign team.” At that point in time, the reference to kompromat would still be to intercepted messages, not email.

On July 22, Wikileaks released the first trove of DNC emails.

On July 26 — days after Russian-supplied emails were being released to the press — Perkins Coie would receive a Steele report (based on June reporting) that claimed FSB had the lead on hacking in Russia. And the report would claim — counter to a great deal of publicly known evidence — that “there had been only limited success in penetrating the ‘first tier’ foreign targets.” That is, even after the Russian hacked emails got released to the public, Steele would still be providing information to the Democrats suggesting there was no risk of emails getting released because Russians just weren’t that good at hacking.

In fact, in his testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, in one of the few instances in either congressional appearance where he admitted that Steele was hired at almost precisely the same moment the Democrats were trying to get the FBI to make a public statement attributing the hack to Russia, Glenn Simpson explained that the Democrats did use Steele’s intelligence to “manage” the aftermath of the hack.

MR. SIMPSON: Well, this was a very unusual situation, because right around the time that the work started, it became public that the FBI suspected the Russians of hacking the DNC. And so there was sort of an extraordinary coincidence. It wasn’t really a coincidence but, you know, our own interest in Russia coincided with a lot of public disclosures that there was something going on with Russia.

And so what was originally envisioned as an original — as just a sort of a survey, a first cut of what might be — whether there might be something interesting about Donald Trump and Russia quickly became more of an effort to help my client manage a, you know, exceptional situation and understand what the heck was going on.

I also think it’s creepy that Guccifer 2.0 promised what he called a dossier on Hillary on the same day Steele delivered his first report, June 20, and delivered documents he claimed to be that dossier the next day.

There are multiple ways the Russians may have learned of the Steele dossier

Hoffman lays out a number of the reasons I believe Steele’s production process might have been uniquely susceptible to discovery.

There are three reasons the Kremlin would have detected Mr. Steele’s information gathering and seen an opportunity to intervene. First, Mr. Steele did not travel to Russia to acquire his information and instead relied on intermediaries. That is a weak link, since Russia’s internal police service, the FSB, devotes significant technical and human resources to blanket surveillance of Western private citizens and government officials, with a particular focus on uncovering their Russian contacts.

Second, Mr. Steele was an especially likely target for such surveillance given that he had retired from MI-6, the British spy agency, after serving in Moscow. Russians are fond of saying that there is no such thing as a “former” intelligence officer. The FSB would have had its eye on him.

Third, the Kremlin successfully hacked into the Democratic National Committee. Emails there could have tipped it off that the Clinton campaign was collecting information on Mr. Trump’s dealings in Russia.

I’d flesh out another, one the Republicans have been dancing close to for the last year. Because Fusion GPS did business with both the Democrats and, via Baker Hostetler, anti-Magnitsky lobbyists Natalia Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin at the same time, it created a second source via which the Russians might learn that Hillary had a dossier. In addition to Simpson himself,  Fusion researcher Edward Baumgartner also worked with both Baker Hostetler and the Democrats at the same time. Simpson tried to minimize the overlap and the possibility for revealing the dossier, especially in his Senate testimony.

Q. We had talked about work for multiple clients. What steps were taken, if any, to make sure that the work that Mr. Baumgartner was doing for Prevezon was not shared across to the clients you were working for with regard to the presidential election?

A. He didn’t deal with them. He didn’t deal with the clients.

But the publicly released financial data shows a clear overlap in those projects and Baumgartner’s comments to BI show he worked quite closely with Veselnitskaya.

Baumgartner, a fluent Russian speaker, said he was hired by Fusion to serve as “an interface” with Veselnitskaya, who does not speak much English. They worked “very closely” together in Washington and Moscow, Baumgartner said, reviewing documents and finding witnesses who could bolster Prevezon’s case.

Simpson attended a dinner in DC on June 10, attended by both Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin, in the aftermath of the Trump Tower meeting at which (per Simpson) “we had drinks before;” Baumgartner’s vague memory suggests he did too. When asked if Baumgartner knew Akhmetshin, which is virtually certain, Simpson said, “I don’t know.” So there were at least opportunities where people working on both campaigns might have disclosed details about the project for the Democrats (though both Simpson and Baumgartner said Baumgartner didn’t know about the Steele part of the project).

One other detail makes it more likely that Russians succeeded in planting at least some disinformation: both Luke Harding (who worked closely with Steele on his book) and Simpson describe Steele’s sources drying up as the focus on Trump’s ties to Russia grew. Simpson’s statement on this grossly understates (as he often does) how much focus there already publicly was on the Russian hack by the time he hired Steele.

So, you know, when Chris started asking around in Moscow about this the information was sitting there. It wasn’t a giant secret. People were talking about it freely. It was only, you know, later that it became a subject of great controversy and people clammed up, and at that time the whole issue of the hacking was also, you know, not really focused on Russia. So these things eventually converged into, you know, a major issue, but at the time it wasn’t one.

So if Steele’s regular sources were drying up, it makes it far more likely any new ones would be easy to compromised.

Russians seem to have planned to use the dossier to discredit the investigation — just as they are using it

Finally, I want to turn to another reason why I think parts of this may be disinformation. At least two of the reports — the Alfa Bank report (which was pretty clearly a feedback loop on another dodgy story) and the depiction of what should have been the Internet Research Association but was instead targeted at Webzilla, seem custom made to prepare the kind of lawfare that has discredited the dossier. Indeed, Alfa Bank and Webzilla’s owners both sued, suggesting they feel like they can survive discovery.

Look, now, at this detail from the letters Chuck Grassley sent out to the DNC, its top officials, and the Hillary campaign, and its top officials, trying to find out how much they knew about and used the dossier. Grassley also asks for any communications to, from, or relating to the following (I’ve rearranged and classified them).

Fusion and its formal employees: Fusion GPS; Bean LLC; Glenn Simpson; Mary Jacoby; Peter Fritsch; Tom Catan; Jason Felch; Neil King; David Michaels; Taylor Sears; Patrick Corcoran; Laura Sego; Jay Bagwell; Erica Castro; Nellie Ohr;

Fusion researcher who worked on both the Prevezon and Democratic projects: Edward Baumgartner;

Anti-Magnitsky lobbyists: Rinat Akhmetshin; Ed Lieberman;

Christopher Steele’s business and colleagues: Orbis Business Intelligence Limited; Orbis Business International Limited.; Walsingham Training Limited; Walsingham Partners Limited; Christopher Steele; Christopher Burrows; Sir Andrew Wood,

Hillary-related intelligence and policy types: Cody Shearer; Sidney Blumenthal; Jon Winer; Kathleen Kavalec; Victoria Nuland; Daniel Jones;

DOJ and FBI: Bruce Ohr; Peter Strzok; Andrew McCabe; James Baker; Sally Yates; Loretta Lynch;

Grassley, like me, doesn’t believe Brennan was out of the loop either: John Brennan

Oleg Deripaska and his lawyer: Oleg Deripaska; Paul Hauser;

It’s the last reference I’m particularly interested in.

When Simpson talked about how the dossier got leaked to BuzzFeed, he complains that, “I was very upset. I thought it was a very dangerous thing and that someone had violated my confidences, in any event.” The presumed story is that John McCain and his aide David Kramer were briefed by Andrew Wood at an event that Rinat Akhmetshin also attended, later obtained the memo (I’m still not convinced this was the full memo yet), McCain shared it, again, with the FBI, and Kramer leaked it to Buzzfeed.

But Grassley seems to think Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska was in on the loop of this. Deripaska is important to this story not just for because he owns Paul Manafort (he figures heavily in this worthwhile profile of Manafort). But also because he’s got ties, through Rick Davis, to John McCain. This was just rehashed last year by Circa, which has been running interference on this story.

There is a report that Manafort laid out precisely the strategy focusing on the dossier that is still the main focus of GOP pushback on the charges against Trump and his campaign (and Manafort).

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.

If Deripaska learned of the dossier — and obtained a copy from McCain or someone close to him — it would make it very easy to lay out the strategy we’re currently seeing.

Update: Welp, here’s why Grassley wants to know who among the Democrats spoke with Cody Shearer.

The FBI inquiry into alleged Russian collusion in the 2016 US presidential election has been given a second memo that independently set out many of the same allegations made in a dossier by Christopher Steele, the British former spy.

The second memo was written by Cody Shearer, a controversial political activist and former journalist who was close to the Clinton White House in the 1990s.

[snip]

The Shearer memo was provided to the FBI in October 2016.

It was handed to them by Steele – who had been given it by an American contact – after the FBI requested the former MI6 agent provide any documents or evidence that could be useful in its investigation, according to multiple sources.

The Guardian was told Steele warned the FBI he could not vouch for the veracity of the Shearer memo, but that he was providing a copy because it corresponded with what he had separately heard from his own independent sources.

Among other things, both documents allege Donald Trump was compromised during a 2013 trip to Moscow that involved lewd acts in a five-star hotel.

Carter Page Did Not Need to be a Spy to be Targeted Under FISA

The NYT has a story that explains something I was wondering about over the weekend: how the Nunes memo could be used — as it reportedly is being used — to justify a Trump bid to fire Rod Rosenstein. Shortly after he was confirmed, NYT reveals, Rosenstein approved the renewal application for the FISA order targeting Carter Page.

A secret, highly contentious Republican memo reveals that Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein approved an application to extend surveillance of a former Trump campaign associate shortly after taking office last spring, according to three people familiar with it.

[snip]

[I]n their efforts to discredit the inquiry, Republicans could potentially use Mr. Rosenstein’s decision to approve the renewal to suggest that he failed to properly vet a highly sensitive application for a warrant to spy on Mr. Page, who served as a Trump foreign policy adviser until September 2016.

The news is interesting for several reasons. First, it provides more granularity for the timing of the surveillance targeted at Page.

American law enforcement officials began conducting surveillance on him in the fall of 2016, shortly after he left the campaign. It is unclear what they learned about Mr. Page between then and when they sought the order’s renewal roughly six months later. It is also unknown whether the surveillance court granted the extension.

The renewal effort came in the late spring, sometime after the Senate confirmed Mr. Rosenstein as the Justice Department’s No. 2 official in late April. Around that time, following Mr. Trump’s firing of James B. Comey as F.B.I. director in May, Mr. Rosenstein appointed Mr. Mueller, a former head of the bureau, to take over the department’s Russia investigation.

Rosenstein was sworn in on April 26. He appointed Mueller on May 17. If we take that window as the timeframe for the reapplication date, it would date the prior authorization (orders targeting US persons last 90 days) to roughly January 26 through February 17, and the fall one to October 26 to November 17 time frame. The later you get in that initial time period, the closer you get to the time when Page would have been planning a follow-up visit to Russia in December.

Glenn Simpson describes Christopher Steele’s second meeting with the FBI, in Rome, about his dossier as occurring sometime in September. So there was perhaps a month between the time Steele provided information on Page and the time the FBI obtained the new order targeting Page.

On top of what the NYT says about Democratic complaints about this memo, there are other reasons to believe this is bogus. Even on 702 — but especially on FISA — the retasking process requires the government to show it obtained new information during the prior surveillance period, meaning the application Rosenstein signed would have been the second to do so.

Plus, there’s one more point.

To be targeted FBI had to provide proof that Page was an agent of a foreign power.

The renewal shows that the Justice Department under President Trump saw reason to believe that the associate, Carter Page, was acting as a Russian agent.

[snip]

To obtain the warrant involving Mr. Page, the government needed to show probable cause that he was acting as an agent of Russia.

But that does not actually entail proving that he, himself, is spying on the US. An American may be targeted as an agent of a foreign power if he knowingly aids or abets someone involved in clandestine intelligence gathering that may involve a violation of criminal statutes.

(A) knowingly engages in clandestine intelligence gathering activities for or on behalf of a foreign power, which activities involve or may involve a violation of the criminal statutes of the United States;

(B) pursuant to the direction of an intelligence service or network of a foreign power, knowingly engages in any other clandestine intelligence activities for or on behalf of such foreign power, which activities involve or are about to involve a violation of the criminal statutes of the United States;

[snip]

(E) knowingly aids or abets any person in the conduct of activities described in subparagraph (A), (B), or (C) or knowingly conspires with any person to engage in activities described in subparagraph (A), (B), or (C).

That’s the standard that — given that Page had been warned by FBI in 2013 that he was being recruited — might be fairly easily within reach for Page. I suspect we’ll eventually learn (after whatever brouhaha ensues) that FBI claimed Page was either aiding or abetting Russian spies, or conspiring with them, not that he was a spy himself. But that’s a distinction that may be lost on Republicans trying to politicize this.

There’s one more thing (one I don’t expect applies here but is worth pointing out in any case). The government can target any facility an agent of a foreign power uses, whether or not the agent owns it.

(B) each of the facilities or places at which the electronic surveillance is directed is being used, or is about to be used, by a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power

This is how the government got to do a scan of all Yahoo’s users, because the targeted foreign power was using Yahoo mail, generally, and the specific signature searched on identified the people as targets.

Two more points. Trey Gowdy reviewed the underlying intelligence to the memo  that is now being used to target Rosenstein, he’s telling colleagues to stop pressuring Mueller in part because Mueller is pursuing a counterintelligence component (precisely the kind of thing targeted with FISA!) that will explain what really happened in 2016.

Gowdy said there are “two components” to the purview of Mueller’s investigation.

“There is a criminal component. But there’s also a counterintelligence component that no one ever talks about because it’s not sexy and interesting. But he’s also going to tell us definitively what Russia tried to do in 2016,” Gowdy said. “So the last time you and I were together, I told my Republican colleagues, leave him the hell alone, and that’s still my advice.”

Gowdy is one of about six members of Congress who has seen the most sensitive materials in Mueller’s case. It’s really bizarre that he’s saying the GOP needs to back off Mueller because of his CI focus when they’re likely misunderstanding how FISA is used in CI.

Finally, remember that nothing that Mueller is known to have done is identifiably fruit from this Carter Page order. Even with Manafort — who was also reportedly targeted in a FISA order — Mueller has not given FISA notice to suggest he’s relying on anything derived from FISA (though such notice is always suspect).

So even if he dossier is dodgy, it may be that Mueller is pursuing his case such that he avoids any taint from it.

Update: I keep forgetting, but something that happened with Carter Page may well have been abusive, but it’s not what the Republicans are (as far as the public reporting goes) focusing on. It’s a sign that they’re dummies who don’t understand what they purportedly oversee that they haven’t figured this out. I’m not going to lay it out here — because those leading this hoax just reauthorized the practice in any case — but I have written it up elsewhere.

Sergei Millian and the Simpson Testimony

Glenn Simpson’s testimony to the House Intelligence Committee was actually far more informative than that he gave to the Senate Judiciary Committee. I get the feeling we all might have been better served had Simpson released Fusion’s own research on Trump rather than the Steele dossier (and it might have avoided all the drama over the dossier).

I was particularly interested in Simpson’s extended comments about Sergei Millian, who ran a sketchy Russian-American chamber of commerce organization (here’s a David Corn profile that surely is influenced by Fusion), who has been alleged by many outlets (WSJ, ABC, WaPo) to be one (D) or another (E) source for the Steele dossier (note, Steele’s labels for sources in the dossier were not consistent, and other figures must be one or another of those letters in some reports).

Simpson described that his own, unpublished research showed that Millian had ties to the Trump camp going back years, first in conjunction with an effort to help Trump brand vodka under his own name in Russia.

And there was, prior to the 2013 Miss Universe fair, there.was an earlier Trump vodka marketing project in Russia that later became something that we were very interested in.

[snip]

MR. SIMPSON: Well, one of the guys who organized this trip was a guy who’s currently known as Sergi Millian. And he’s been in the press a good bit, I think, although not recently. And, you know, he came up in connection with that, and then he came up in connection with Chris’ work as one of the people around Trump who had a Russian background, and unexplained, you know, a lot of unexplained things. So when we looked at him, we found that he ran a sort of shadowy kind of trade group called the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce, which is — Russians are known to use chambers of commerce and trade groups as fronts for intelligence operations.

And this guy, his name – his real name or his original n_ame that he came to the United States wasn’t Sergi Millian. It was Siarhei Kukuts, and that’s a pretty different name.

And he changed his name when he got to Atlanta. And when we looked at him some more, we found two different resumes for him. In one resume he said he was from Belarus and he went to Minsk State; and then in another he was from Moscow and went to Moscow State. In one he said he worked for the Belarussian Foreign Ministry; in the other, he said he worked for the Russian Foreign Ministry.

He was a linguist, also an interesting thing about his background. And as time went on, yeah, we found other things about him.

Simpson also described Millian dealing Trump condos to Russians.

We found a picture of him with Donald Trump. He boasted to people that he had sold hundreds of millions of dollars in Trump condos, Trump real estate to Russians, that he was some kind of exclusive agent for Trump in Russia and that he organized this trade fair.

That may refer to Millian’s involvement in the Trump Hollywood project. Simpson describes him playing a role that has been alleged of others in Trump’s Soho project — falsely claiming there were more buyers for the project than there really were.

MR. SCHIFF: And tell me about the Trump Hollywood project. That was an example of the latter or the former? Did they get the financing from what you could tell because they got a bunch of Russians to pre-sale, or did they go to a bank and say these are our investors, or how did they go about that?

MR. SIMPSON: Well, eventually, I mean, they lost the project. It went under. I, can’t – I’m not – I’m sure we did look at who the creditors were, who the lenders were. This is the project that Sergi Millian appears to have been involved in, and there’s a picture of Jorge Perez, Donald Trump, and Sergi Millian.

And he tells a story about meeting Donald Trump at the golf — at a racetrack, drinking a bottle of Crystal with him, seems — he gave him some Crystal. And that was in the early phases of the project. So it was clear that Donald Trump — so the equity partner was the related group. It was clear that this Russian had been brought into this with Trump, and what you can surmise from that is that he’s there to say there are buyers. We can bring you buyers for this property. And that’s what a developer needs to know is that he’s got buyer interest.

MR. SCHIFF: And how does it work? Let’s say Sergi Millian or someone else lines up the Russian buyers. The Russian buyers sign pre-sale agreements. Trump can then get financing for the res! of the project. Do the buyers go through and buy the properties, or is that no longer necessary, once you’ve obtained the bank financing you can actually sell them to real people?

Simpson describes Millian’s role in an NGO that — public reporting had revealed years earlier — had been investigated by the FBI as a recruiting organization.

And then, I guess, last but not least, he, you know – as we became more and more interested in his background and the press started to write stories about him, it came out that he was associated with this Russian friendship entity called Rossotrudnichestvo, and that he was involved in organizing a junket to Moscow for some American businessmen that was the subject of an FBI investigation, because it was a suspected recruiting operation. And the FBI had questioned people who were involved in this trip about whether they were recruited by the Russians when they went to Moscow.

So it was that kind of thing.

Finally, Simpson claims his research established ties between Millian and Trump lawyer Michael Cohen (though it’s not clear whether this involved anything beyond Twitter exchanges) that Cohen subsequently tried to downplay.

And then, you know, as further time went on, we found he was connected to Michael Cohen, the President’s lawyer. And eventually, after boasting about a lot of this stuff on camera, on tape, to the TV network, he backed away from all of it suddenly when the Russia controversy began to get hot.

And Michael Cohen was very adamant that he didn’t actually have a connection to Sergi, even though he was one of only like 100 people who followed Sergi on Twitter. And they — we had Twitter messages back and forth between the two of them just – we just pulled them off of Twitter.

There are two reasons this is interesting.

First, as the NYT noted, in the wake of Trump’s victory, Millian proposed a business deal with George Papadopoulos, with whom he had gotten close in the previous six months.

Mr. Trump’s improbable victory raised Mr. Papadopoulos’s hopes that he might ascend to a top White House job. The election win also prompted a business proposal from Sergei Millian, a naturalized American citizen born in Belarus. After he had contacted Mr. Papadopoulos out of the blue over LinkedIn during the summer of 2016, the two met repeatedly in Manhattan.

[snip]

Mr. Millian proposed that he and Mr. Papadopoulos form an energy-related business that would be financed by Russian billionaires “who are not under sanctions” and would “open all doors for us” at “any level all the way to the top.”

One billionaire, he said, wanted to explore the idea of opening a Trump-branded hotel in Moscow. “I know the president will distance himself from business, but his children might be interested,” he wrote.

I think Millian’s cultivation of Papadopoulos likely explains this reference in the affidavit supporting Papadopoulos’ arrest, showing Papadopoulos asking Ivan Timofeev over Facebook on July 22, 2016 for any information he had on someone he was about to meet for the first time (see my timeline here).

“If you know any background of him that is noteworthy before I see him, kindly send my way.”

That would say that, on the same day WikiLeaks released the DNC emails — which itself took place a day after Papadopoulos signaled something about Trump’s RNC speech to Timofeev — Millian started cultivating Papadopoulos, who apparently had started spending more time in NYC.

And, according to the NYT, that cultivation ended up right where Michael Cohen had started in November 2015, discussing a deal for a Trump Tower in Moscow which inexplicably related to Trump winning election, with oligarchs who could evade US sanctions.

Cohen to Millian to Papadopoulos full circle, in the course of one year.

And if I’m right that that Facebook message that Papadopoulos tried to delete indicates a Timofeev role in Millian’s cultivation of Papadopoulos, it suggests a good deal of  orchestration on that front.

Which brings me to Simpson’s comments about Millian and the dossier.

In the first exchange about Millian, Simpson dodges on whether — as had been publicly reported, perhaps even based on sources close to Simpson — Millian was one of the sources for the dossier.

MR. SCHIFF: To your knowledge, was Mr. Millian one of the sources for Christopher Steele in the dossier?

MR. SIMPSON: I’m not in a position to get into the identity of the sources for the dossier for security reasons, primarily.

But there’s a more interesting exchange later, where, in response to a Mike Quigley question about Simpson’s non-public production, Simpson first offers up the non-sequitur that Fusion didn’t leak the dossier to BuzzFeed, then offers a seemingly different non-sequitur about the import of Sergei Millian.

MR. QUIGLEY: The dossier was published. Other elements were published. What wasn’t published? Are there still documents? Is there still information that was garnered by either Mr. Steele or others that the public isn’t aware of at this point, on this point?

MR. SIMPSON: Well, to just put it on the record, we were not the ones that gave this document to Buzzfeed, and I was not happy when this was published. I was very upset. I thought it was a very dangerous thing and that someone had violated my confidences, in any event. I think the story is largely known and that there’s very little that was left on the cutting room table from that time. I think, you know, there’s a little bit of, you know, color, I would say. You know, this guy that we were talking about earlier, Sergi Millian, isn’t named in the dossier, but is someone who was important.

In this bizarre series of non-sequiturs, Simpson appears to connect Millian with the leak of the dossier, which led to the lawfare that in turn led to the campaign to discredit the entire Mueller investigation by focusing on the dossier.

He almost certainly wasn’t the leaker; John McCain associate David Kramer almost certainly was.

But I wonder if, as part of the plan (in which former McCain campaign manager Paul Manafort may have been involved) to use the dossier to undercut the investigation, someone in Millian’s orbit encouraged its leak?

The June 9 Trump Tower Limited Hangout

I did two podcasts this week where I elaborated on my theory that the current story we have about the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting is just a limited hangout, a partial story that I suspect serves to hide a later, more damning part of the meeting:

I first started suspecting that the current story — that Natalia Veselnitskaya pitched a request for Magnitsky sanctions relief in exchange for … almost no dirt on Hillary — was a limited hangout as I tracked Scott Balber’s repeated heavy-handed attempts to craft a story that could explain the known emails and documents.

I want to lay out my evolving, more developed theory here.

For weeks, Russians had been offering emails in exchange for meetings

The Trump campaign first learned about “dirt” on Hillary in the form of thousands of emails on April 26. The day after learning of those emails, George Papadopoulos sent two emails to Trump campaign staffers, that may have reflected a discussion of an early quid pro quo: some meetings — meant to lead to one between Trump and Putin — in exchange for emails.

To Stephen Miller, Papadopoulos wrote, “Have some interesting messages coming in from Moscow about a trip when the time is right.” To Corey Lewandowski, it appears he asked for a phone call “to discuss Russia’s interest in hosting Mr. Trump. Have been receiving a lot of calls over the last month about Putin wanting to host him and the  team  when the time is right.”

That same day, he sent his Russian handler, Ivan Timofeev, an email saying that the first major Trump foreign policy speech he helped author was a “signal to meet.” The speech spoke, in part, about making a great deal with Russia.

I believe an easing of tensions, and improved relations with Russia from a position of strength only is possible, absolutely possible. Common sense says this cycle, this horrible cycle of hostility must end and ideally will end soon. Good for both countries.

Some say the Russians won’t be reasonable. I intend to find out. If we can’t make a deal under my administration, a deal that’s great — not good, great — for America, but also good for Russia, then we will quickly walk from the table. It’s as simple as that. We’re going to find out.

Over the course of the next month, Papadopoulos sent a Timofeev invitation for a meeting  to move towards setting up a Putin-Trump meeting via email to Lewandowski (on May 4), to Sam Clovis (on May 5, after which they spoke by phone), and to Paul Manafort (on May 21), with additional back and forth in between.

Who is the Crown Prosecutor?

Around that time in late May, Natalia Veselnitskaya met with long-time Trump associate Aras Agalarov and mentioned her efforts to help Denis Katsyv in his legal fight with Bill Browder (note, elsewhere Veselnitskaya claimed she normally keeps her clients’ business compartmented, but claims not to have done so in this case) and to lobby against the Magnitsky sanctions. That’s where, according to Veselnitskaya, the idea of connecting her with Don Jr first came about, though she doesn’t remember who came up with the idea.

Around the end of May 2016, during a conversation with a good acquaintance of mine, being my client, Aras Agalarov on a topic that was not related to the United States, I shared the story faced when defending another client, Denis Katsyv, about how terribly misled the US Congress had been by the tax defrauder William Browder, convicted in Russia, who, through his lobbyists and his close-minded rank-and-file Congress staffers, succeeded in adopting the Act in the name of a person whom Browder practically hardly ever knew.

I considered it my duty to inform the Congress people about it and asked Mr. Agalarov if there was any possibility of helping me or my colleagues to do this. I do not remember who of us was struck by the idea that maybe his son could talk about this with Donald Trump, Jr., who, although a businessman, was sure to have some acquaintances among Congress people. After my conversation with Mr. Agalarov, I prepared a reference in case it would be necessary to hand over the request – to support the hearings in the Subcommittee in the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs as to the Magnitsky’s and Browder’s story, scheduled for mid-June.

The timing of this meeting is important. We know that the date on the document alleged to be the “dirt” handed to Don Jr — one that she claims she prepared “in case it would be necessary to hand over” is May 31. Either this meeting happened before May 31 (which is when Veselnitskaya described it to have taken place), or the document was instead drawn up exclusively for lobbying purposes (which would be unsurprising, but would be inconsistent with the testimony that uses the talking points to prove the meeting was only about Magnitsky sanctions). Elsewhere she gets sketchy about the date of the document, and produced as it was by Agalarov lawyer Scott Balber, we can’t be sure about the forensics of the document.

The reason the date is important, however, is that, in pitching the Trump Tower meeting on June 3, Rob Goldstone told Don Jr that Emin Agalarov’s father met with “the Crown Prosecutor” that morning.

Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting.

The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.

This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump – helped along by Aras and Emin. [my emphasis]

Admittedly, any discrepancy on dates might be due to the game of telephone going on — Aras to Emin to Goldstone. But if the meeting in question really did happen on June 3, then it significantly increases the likelihood that “Crown Prosecutor” is not at all a reference to Veselnitskaya (who claims to have met with Agalarov earlier), as has been claimed, but is to someone else, dealing a different kind of dirt.

Spoiler alert: I suspect it is not a reference to her.

In his version of this story, Goldstone says he only played this broker role reluctantly.

“I remember specifically saying to Emin, you know, we probably shouldn’t get involved in this. It’s politics, it’s Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Neither of us have any experience in this world. It’s not our forte. I deal with music. You’re a singer and a businessman.”

Don Jr seems to have shown no such reluctance. He emailed back 17 minutes later saying, “if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.” He says that, in spite of the claim he made in his testimony that, “I had no additional information to validate what Rob was saying, I did not quite know what to make of his email.” Whatever Don Jr expected it to include on June 3, he may have gotten a clearer sense of what it was on June 6, when he spoke to Emin in a phone call set up in about an hour’s time, just as Emin got off the stage.

In fact, Don Jr had three “very short” phone calls in this period, but he’s getting forgetful in his old age and so doesn’t remember what transpired on them.

My phone records show three very short phone calls between Emin and me between June 6th and 7th. I do not recall speaking to Emin. It is possible that we left each other voice mail messages. I simply do not remember.

Veselnitskaya did not get her visa to come to the US until June 6. That’s the day when Goldstone, referencing Don Jr’s earlier instructions on timing, followed-up about a meeting.

Let me know when you are free to talk with Emin by phone about this Hillary info.

Ike Kaveladze’s still unexplained late inclusion in the meeting

Goldstone was still finalizing the meeting time on June 8 at 10:34 AM. But sometime, presumably after the time on June 7 at 6:14PM, when Don Jr told Goldstone that Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner would also attend, fellow Agalarov employee Ike Kaveladze got invited, though without Veselnitskaya ever learning why. At some unidentified time, Kaveladze called an associate of Goldstone’s and learned that the meeting would be about discussing “dirt” on Hillary Clinton — the same word Papadopoulos’ handlers had used.

Scott Balber, Kaveladze’s attorney, told The Daily Beast that before Kaveladze headed from Los Angeles to New York for the meeting, he saw an email noting that Kushner, Manafort, and Trump Jr. would all be involved. He thought it would be odd for them to attend the meeting, so he called Beniaminov before heading to New York. Both Beniaminov and Kaveladze have worked with the Agalarov’s real estate development company, the Crocus Group.

Balber said that Beniaminov told Kaveladze that he heard Rob Goldstone— Emin Agalarov’s music manager—discuss “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. It’s never become completely clear what kind of “dirt” the Russians were talking about.

Having learned of a meeting dealing dirt that included Don Jr, Kushner, and Manafort, Kaveladze got on a plane and flew to NYC.

According to Veselnitskaya’s very sketchy account, she got an email finalizing the meeting when she arrived in NYC on June 8 — an email that was also CC’ed to Kaveladze. She and Kaveladze spoke by phone sometime that day, and met sometime before the meeting.

With those present at the meeting, Samochernov, Kaveladze, and Akhmetshin, I spoke about the meeting on the day it was to be held, possibly, I mentioned it the day I arrived in New York when speaking with Kaveladze by phone, but I do not have exact information about it.

[snip]

We got acquainted first by phone when I was in Moscow. I met him personally first on June 9 shortly before the meeting.

[snip]

We had a phone call and met at a café, I do not remember where and at what café. I told him briefly what I knew about the Browder case, about the Ziffs and their possible support when lobbying his interests in the United States.

Like Don Jr’s memory of his phone calls with Emin, Veselnitskaya claims to have forgotten what got said in that phone call with Kaveladze.

Competing versions of the meeting

Which brings us to June 9.

We don’t know what Kaveladze’s schedule was. We do know that on the morning of June 9 — before lunch, which is when Veselnitskaya said Akhmetshin first got involved — Veselnitskaya asked Goldstone if she could bring Akhmetshin, whom she claimed had just “arrived that day in New York for an evening performance of Russian theatre stars.” Goldstone responded a half hour later, “Please bring them with you and meet Ike for your meeting at 4PM today.” (The copy of the email publicly released does not include the CC to Kaveladze that Veselnitskaya said was included.)

As I laid out in this post, Veselnitskaya says she arrived at the meeting with her translator, Kaveladze, and Akhmetshin, was met by Goldstone there, and brought to a board room where Don Jr and Manafort were already present.

I came to the meeting with Anatoly Samochornov, a translator, Irakly Kaveladze, a lawyer of my client who helped to arrange for the meeting, Rinat Akhmetshin, my colleague who was working with me on the Prevezon case. We were met by a big, stout man who introduced himself as Rob and escorted us on the elevator to the boardroom. I saw two men in the boardroom – one of them introduced himself as Donald Trump Jr., while the other did not introduce himself. Another young man entered the boardroom a little later and left it shortly afterwards. I found out much later that the two unidentified gentlemen were P. Manafort and J. Kushner.

According to Veselnitskaya, Kaveladze was introduced — to the extent he was — as “Ike.” Remember that he attended the 2013 dinner celebrating the Agalarov-brokered deal to bring Miss Universe to Moscow, meaning at least some in the Trump camp should know him.

Veselnitskaya’s account seems to line up with Jared Kushner’s, which basically has him arriving late, staying for about 10 minutes of Veselnitskaya’s discussion of adoptions (though he seems to be claiming not to be present for any discussion of Magnitsky sanctions), then asked his assistant to give him an excuse to leave.

I arrived at the meeting a little late. When I got there, the person who has since been identified as a Russian attorney was talking about the issue of a ban on U.S. adoptions of Russian children. I had no idea why that topic was being raised and quickly determined that my time was not well-spent at this meeting. Reviewing emails recently confirmed my memory that the meeting was a waste of our time and that, in looking for a polite way to leave and get back to my work, I actually emailed an assistant from the meeting after I had been there for ten or so minutes and wrote “Can u pls call me on my cell? Need excuse to get out of meeting.” I had not met the attorney before the meeting nor spoken with her since. I thought nothing more of this short meeting until it came to my attention recently. I did not read or recall this email exchange before it was shown to me by my lawyers when reviewing documents for submission to the committees. No part of the meeting I attended included anything about the campaign, there was no follow up to the meeting that I am aware of, I do not recall how many people were there (or their names), and I have no knowledge of any documents being offered or accepted.

Jared claims not to know who was at the meeting, which is somewhat credible given that he arrived after introductions.

For some reason, Goldstone holds out the claim this meeting started by talking about Democratic campaign donations then moved to sanctions.

Goldstone tells me that he only half-listened to the presentation from Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer, as he checked emails on his phone. But he insists, as Trump Jr has done, that the meeting ended awkwardly after she switched tack from discussing Democratic funding to US sanctions legislation and Moscow’s retaliatory policy that restricts Americans from adopting Russian children. “It was vague, generic nonsense,” Goldstone says.

[snip]

“Within minutes of starting, Jared said to her, ‘Could you just get to the point? I’m not sure I’m following what you’re saying,’ ” Goldstone says.

It was then that she started talking in detail about the provisions of the Magnitsky legislation and adoptions, he says. “I believe that she practised a classic bait-and-switch. She got in there on one pretext and really wanted to discuss something else.”

Don Jr’s memory of the meeting is somewhat different. Not only doesn’t he remember Akhmetshin’s presence at all, but he remembers Manafort arriving after the visitors were already in the conference room (mind you, I don’t consider this a significant discrepancy). And he definitely remembers adoptions being discussed at the same time as the sanctions.

As I recall, at or around 4 pm, Rob Goldstone came up to our offices and entered our conference room with a lawyer who I now know to be Natalia Veselnitskaya. Joining them was a translator and a man who was introduced to me as Irakli Kaveladze. After a few minutes, Jared and Paul joined. While numerous press outlets have reported that there were a total of eight people present at the meeting, I only recall seven. Because Rob was able to bring the entire group up by only giving his name to the security guard in the lobby, I had no advance warning regarding who or how many people would be attending. There is no attendance log to refer back to and I did not take notes.

After perfunctory greetings, the lawyer began telling the group very generally something about individuals connected to Russia supporting or funding Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton or the Democratic National Committee. It was quite difficult for me to understand what she was saying or why. Given our busy schedules, we politely asked if she could be more specific and provide more clarity about her objective for the meeting. At that point, Ms. Veselnitskaya pivoted and began talking about the adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens and something called the Magnitsky Act.

Until that day, I had never heard of the Magnitsky Act and had no familiarity with this issue. It was clear to me that her real purpose in asking for the meeting all along was to discuss Russian adoptions and the Magnitsky Act. At this point, Jared excused himself from the meeting to take a phone call.

Despite some minor differences in choreography, thus far the differences in the stories are not that substantial.

That changes, though, in the descriptions of how the meeting ended.

Don Jr claims he said that Trump was a private citizen so could do nothing to help.

I proceeded to quickly and politely end the meeting by telling Ms. Veselnitskaya that because my father was a private citizen there did not seem to be any point to having this discussion.

Goldstone claims something similar — that Don Jr told Veselnitskaya she should talk to Obama’s Administration, not the future Trump one.

“Don Jr ended it by telling her that she should be addressing her concerns to the Obama administration, because they were the ones in power.”

But in an an interview with Bloomberg that Veselnitskaya disavowed in her statement to SJC, she said that Don Jr suggested he would reconsider the sanctions “if we came to power.”

“Looking ahead, if we come to power, we can return to this issue and think what to do about it,’’ Trump Jr. said of the 2012 law, she recalled. “I understand our side may have messed up, but it’ll take a long time to get to the bottom of it,” he added, according to her.

The extra details in the contemporaneous record as interpreted by Glenn Simpson

As far as we know, there’s only one contemporaneous record of this meeting: the notes that Manafort — whom Veselnitskaya claimed “closed his eyes and fell asleep” during the 20 minute meeting — took on his phone. Glenn Simpson was asked to comment on Manafort’s notes in his Senate testimony. Some of what he describes confirms these public accounts: the early reference to Browder, the other reference to Juliana Glover, the reference to adoptions.

MR. DAVIS: These are the meeting notes from 3 the June 9th meeting at Trump Tower. These are Mr. Manafort’s notes or they’re contemporaneous.

BY THE WITNESS:

A. I could tell — obviously you know who Bill Browder is. Cyprus Offshore, Bill Browder’s structure, you know, investment — Hermitage Capital, his hedge fund, set up numerous companies in Cyprus to engage in inward investment into Russia, which is a common structure, both partially for tax reasons but also to have entities outside of Russia, you know, managing specific investments. I can only tell you I assume that’s what that references. I don’t know what the 133 million —

[snip]

A. I can skip down a couple. So “Value in Cyprus as inter,” I don’t know what that means. “Illici,” I don’t know what that means. “Active sponsors of RNC,” I don’t know what that means. “Browder hired Joanna Glover” is a mistaken reference to Juliana Glover, who was Dick Cheney’s press secretary during the Iraq war and associated with another foreign policy controversy. “Russian adoptions by American families” I assume is a reference to the adoption issue.

While Simpson doesn’t recognize the reference, in addition to the passing reference to Cyprus shell companies, the notes allegedly used for the meeting explain the 133 million reference.

In the period of late 1999 to 2004, two companies – Speedwagon Investments 1 and 2, registered in New York, and owned by the said U.S. investors, acting through three Cypriot companies, Giggs Enterprises Limited, Zhoda Limited, Peninsular Heights Limited illegally acquired more than 133 million Gazprom shares in the amount exceeding $80 million in the name of the Russian companies Kameya, Lor, Excalibur, Sterling Investments.

But there seems to be more extensive reference to Cyprus (the laundering of money through which, of course, Manafort is himself an expert; it features centrally in his indictment).

And none of the accounts of the meeting seem to explain Manafort’s half-written “illicit,” nor does “Active sponsors of RNC” appear anywhere.

So there appear to be two things in Manafort’s notes that aren’t explained by the several accounts of the meeting: RNC support (elsewhere attributed to the reference to Ziff brothers’ political donations, something which Manafort might independently know) and, most intriguingly, “illicit” (as well, as perhaps, the more central focus on Cyprus than reflected in the talking points).

Who left the conference room when?

This brings me to the question of who left the conference room when.

According to the LAT, Mueller’s team seems newly interested in an exchange between Ivanka, Veselnitskaya, and Akhmetshin, which attests to Ivanka’s awareness — whatever her spouse’s and brother’s ignorance — of Akhmetshin’s presence.

Investigators also are exploring the involvement of the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, who did not attend the half-hour sit-down on June 9, 2016, but briefly spoke with two of the participants, a Russian lawyer and a Russian-born Washington lobbyist. Details of the encounter were not previously known.

It occurred at the Trump Tower elevator as the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, and the lobbyist, Rinat Akhmetshin, were leaving the building and consisted of pleasantries, a person familiar with the episode said. But Mueller’s investigators want to know every contact the two visitors had with Trump’s family members and inner circle.

But it also may suggest that, after arriving with the two Russians, Ike Kaveladze may have stayed on for a bit afterwards.

Which may be backed by another detail in the various accounts of the meeting. Both Don Jr …

She thanked us for our time and everyone left the conference room. As we walked out, I recall Rob coming over to me to apologize.

And Goldstone claim that the music promoter apologized for the meeting at the end.

As he emerged from the meeting, Goldstone says that he told Trump Jr he was “deeply embarrassed” that it had been an apparent waste of time.

If Goldstone “apologized” for the meeting, as he and Don Jr claim, it suggests Goldstone, at least, stayed behind long enough to say something that would otherwise be rude to say in front of Veselnitskaya. Don Jr’s claim of an apology might provide convenient excuse.

Perhaps most curious among the first-hand accounts is Goldstone’s claim that he thought the 20-30 minute meeting was “dragging on.”

He had not even planned to attend, but was encouraged to stay by Trump Jr. His biggest concern, he says, was that if the meeting dragged on, he would be caught in the notorious Lincoln Tunnel traffic on his journey home.

But her emails

At 4:40 PM, 40 minutes after the meeting started, Trump tweeted what would become one of the most famous exchanges of the campaign, his retort to Hillary Clinton’s taunt that he should delete his Twitter account with this response,

Did you say “dirt” in the form of Hillary emails?

Six days after that meeting, Guccifer 2.0 released the first of the documents stolen by hacking Democratic targets (though note, none of these are known to have come from the DNC, which is the only hack the WaPo reported on the day before; while some have been traced to Podesta’s emails, the others remain unaccounted for).

While I have argued that the specific content in that dump can be explained, in significant part, as an effort to respond to and rebut the claims CrowdStrike and the Democrats made to the WaPo, some of the documents would be particularly valuable in selling the Trump team on the value of any “dirt” on offer. That includes the oppo research on Trump himself (though that was definitely also a response to the WaPo), but also what purports to be a secret policy document stolen from Hillary’s Secretary of State computer, and a document on Hillary’s election plans. Significantly, all three of these documents were among the ones with the altered metadata, in part bearing the signature of Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky.

In short, that first post from Guccifer 2.0 would not only refute the confident claims the Democrats made to the WaPo, but it would provide the Trump camp with a sense of the scope of documents on offer. Within that first week, Guccifer 2.0 would even offer what claimed to be a (heh) “dossier” on Hillary Clinton. (Given my concerns that Russians learned of the Steele dossier and filled it with disinformation, I find it rather interesting that Guccifer 2.0 first advertised this dossier on the same day, June 20, that Steele submitted the first report in his dossier.)

Eerie

If, in fact, there was a second part of this meeting, it seems to be the high level meeting that George Papadopoulos had been working on setting up for weeks, meetings discussed in the context of offering dirt in the form of emails. The Russians laid out a quo — relief of the Magnitsky sanctions — and a week later, provided the first installments of the quid — oppo research from Hillary Clinton.

That would more readily explain why, on June 14, Goldstone would forward this account of the DNC hack to Emin and Ike (but not the other attendees) declaring the DNC hack to be eerie in the wake of what transpired at the meeting.

In one email dated June 14, 2016, Goldstone forwarded a CNN story on Russia’s hacking of DNC emails to his client, Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, and Ike Kaveladze, a Russian who attended the meeting along with Trump Jr., Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Manafort, describing the news as “eerily weird” given what they had discussed at Trump Tower five days earlier.

And that, I suspect, is the real story that Scott Balber has been working so hard to obscure.

How Did the “Publication” of the Dossier Lead to a Murder before It was Published?

In the furor surrounding the publication of the Simpson transcript last week, a number of people pointed to this line to talk about how credible the dossier is.

MR. FOSTER: Earlier you talked about evaluating the credibility of the information in the memoranda that you were being provided by Mr. Steele and, by way of summary, you talked about your belief that he was credible and that you had worked with him before and the information he had provided you had been reliable in the past. Did you take any steps to try to assess the credibility of his sources, his unnamed sources in the material that he was providing to you?

MR. SIMPSON: Yes, but I’m not going to get into sourcing information.

MR. FOSTER: So without getting into naming the sources or anything like that, what steps did you take to try to verify their credibility?

MR. SIMPSON: I’m going to decline to answer that.

MR. FOSTER: Why?

MR. LEVY: It’s a voluntary interview, and in addition to that he wants to be very careful to protect his sources. Somebody’s already been killed as a result of the publication of this dossier and no harm should come to anybody related to this honest work.

That has been taken as a reference to Oleg Erovinkin, the former FSB General who died under mysterious circumstances on December 26, 2016. I myself have pointed to that death, repeatedly, as the one that could very credibly be seen as someone who could be one of the sources described in the dossier being assassinated in retaliation for sharing information with Christopher Steele. I absolutely agree that sharing the dossier with journalists, as Fusion did, could pose a real threat to Steele’s sources.

That said, Luke Harding, who had input from Steele on his book, reported that Erovinkin was not a Steele source.

Steele was adamant that Erovinkin wasn’t his source and “not one of ours.”

As a person close to Steele put it to me: “Sometimes people just die.” (101)

Frankly, if Erovinkin was one of Steele’s sources, I can understand why he’d lie about it. Though it’s also worth remembering that four Russians who allegedly have ties with the US were arrested on treason charges in December, so maybe Erovinkin was our source? So I won’t take Harding’s report as dispositive.

Bet let’s accept the premise that the Erovinkin death might be tied to the Steele dossier.

Let’s look at what Joshua Levy actually said. “Somebody’s already been killed as a result of the publication of this dossier.”

Erovinkin died on December 26, 2016. The dossier wasn’t published by BuzzFeed until January 11, 2017.

If Erovinkin was, in fact, “killed as a result of the publication of this dossier,” then what Levy means is that he was killed as a result of reports from the dossier being reported by the press in September and October and November. He obviously couldn’t be killed in December for the only publication we know of that Fusion had no firsthand role in, the January BuzzFeed publication.