Posts

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Simpson described that his own, unpublished research showed that Millian had ties to the Trump camp going back years, first in conjunction with an effort to help Trump brand vodka under his own name in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

What Glenn Simpson Said about the Relationship with the FBI

I keep promising a big post or series of posts on the Glenn Simpson transcript. And I keep doing quick posts to summarize what the transcript says about controversial topics. In this one, I’ll look at what it says about whether FBI paid Christopher Steele and how the relationship went south. All told, these passages support some points I made in this post and this one — that because of the way Fusion pushed to publicize an ongoing counterintelligence investigation, the FBI got as pissed with Steele and Fusion as vice versa.

First, as I suggested, Simpson suggests (though does not confirm) FBI did reimburse Steele for his September 2016 trip to Rome to report on his findings thus far.

Q. Do you know who paid for Mr. Steele’s trip to Rome to meet with the FBI?

A. I have read recently that — I think in a letter from Senator Grassley that the FBI reimbursed the expense, but to be clear, I mean, that’s it. He was, to my knowledge, not been compensated for that work or any other work during this time.

MR. FOSTER: I’m sorry. You’re saying that Fusion did not pay for the trip?

MR. LEVY: Go ahead and answer the question.

MR. SIMPSON: I don’t think we did.

But later, when asked specifically if Steele obtained payment for the work he did, rather than the travel to share his work, Simpson emphasizes that he only knows what Steele has claimed, which is that FBI didn’t pay for the work.

Q. And I think you’ve already answered this question, but to the best of your knowledge, did Mr. Steele ever obtain payment from the FBI for actual research that he was doing on Russian interference or on possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia?

A. He told me he did not, and I have no independent information other than what he told me. I don’t believe he ever received compensation for working on anything related to Trump and Russia.

Simpson is unable to say whether Steele was providing the FBI rolling production of his memos.

Q. Do you know if he provided any other memoranda to the FBI on a rolling basis at all at any point?

MR. LEVY: He’s answered that question too.

BY THE WITNESS:

A. I don’t know.

In spite of Simpson saying, elsewhere, that Fusion clients get to decide what happens with their end product, Simpson claims that just he and Steele decided to go to the FBI. But his memory on this point is less than perfect.

Q. So after Mr. Steele had found out the information that he put in the very first of these memos, the one dated June 20, 2016, he approached you about taking this information to specifically the FBI, the Federal Bureau of Investigation?

A. That’s my recollection.

Q. So to the best of your recollection, that request or idea came directly from Mr. Steele, not anyone else?

A. That’s right.

Q. And who was involved in discussions about whether it was appropriate to take either the memo or the information in the memo to the FBI?

A. It was Chris and me. I mean, that’s the only ones I remember, the two of us. The only ones I know of.

Later, Simpson’s lawyer claims privilege over the question of whether Perkins Coie played a part in this decision.

Once the decision was made, did you share that decision with anyone, that he was going to go to the FBI with this information?

A. I think we’re not able to answer that.

MR. LEVY: He’s going to decline to answer that question.

Simpson twice describes how Steele “broke off” his relationship with the FBI (which sure makes it sound like an ongoing relationship) in terms of the frustration with the reopening of the Hillary email investigation and the NYT report that the FBI had not confirmed any ties with Russia.

A. There was some sort of interaction, I think it was probably telephonic that occurred after Director Comey sent his letter to Congress reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails. That episode, you know, obviously created some concern that the FBI was intervening in a political campaign in contravention of long-standing Justice Department regulation. So it made a lot of people, including us, concerned about what the heck was going on at the FBI. So, you know, we began getting questions from the press about, you know, whether they were also investigating Trump and, you know, we encouraged them to ask the FBI that question. You know, I think — I’m not sure we’ve covered this fully, but, you know, we just encouraged them to ask the FBI that question. On October 31st the New York Times posed a story saying that the FBI is investigating Trump and found no connections to Russia and, you know, it was a real Halloween special.

Sometime thereafter the FBI — I understand Chris severed his relationship with the FBI out of concern that he didn’t know what was happening inside the FBI and there was a concern that the FBI was being manipulated for political ends by the Trump people and that we didn’t really understand what was going on. So he stopped dealing with them.

[snip]

A. I think I was just recounting that he vaguely said that he had broken off with them over this concern that we didn’t really know what was going on. I’m sorry to be vague, but we just didn’t understand what was going on and he said he had broken off with them.

Q. When you say “we” did not understand what 3 was going on, who are you referring to as the “we”?

A. Chris and I, mostly just the two of us. There was a lot of public controversy over the conduct of the FBI. I remember discussing it with many people, but this conversation was between the two of us.

Q. And what was the time frame of when Steele said he had broken off with the FBI?

A. I can — I don’t know exactly, but it would have been between October 31st and election day.

MS. QUINT: October 31st was when you said there was an article —

MR. SIMPSON: In the New York Times. There was an article in the New York Times on October 31st that created concern about what was going on at the FBI.

MS. QUINT: Because it wasn’t consistent with your understanding of the investigation?

MR. SIMPSON: Exactly.

BY MS. SAWYER:

Q. And I think, just to be clear, this was an article you had talked about that both revealed that Director Comey had alerted Congress to something about the Clinton e-mail investigation?

A. No. That happened a few days previous. I don’t know the exact date that he sent the letter to Congress, but this was an article specifically about — it was disclosing the existence of an FBI investigation of Trump’s ties to Russia, which, to my recollection, was the first time that anyone reported that the FBI was looking at whether the Trump campaign had ties to the Kremlin but at the same time saying that they had investigated this and not found anything, which threw cold water on the whole question through the election.

But Simpson also admits that the FBI was pissed about seeing Steele’s public reporting in the press, something I had surmised but none of Fusion’s media outlets had reported.

A. I remember Chris saying at some point that they were upset with media coverage of some of the 6 issues that he had discussed with him.

Which is interesting because Simpson gets forgetful about whether the September briefings with the press — it’s not clear whether they happened before or after Simpson met for the second time with the FBI — mentioned that Simpson had gone to the FBI.

MR. DAVIS: So in your meetings with journalists in September you didn’t reference Mr. Steele’s interactions with the FBI or passing on of information to them?

BY THE WITNESS:

A. I don’t recall.

But as the citations above show, Simpson makes it clear the discussions with the press after Jim Comey’s email letter did raise the investigation.

A. I’m not going to get into specific news organizations or reporters or stories, but I would restate that this was during the period when we were encouraging the media to ask questions about whether the FBI was, in fact, investigating these 24 matters.

Finally, Simpson readily admits they reshared the dossier with John McCain’s associate David Kramer to make sure Jim Comey himself would get it (this would have happened at the moment President Obama asked for the intelligence report on the Russian tampering).

That was essentially — all we sort of wanted was for the government to do its job and we were concerned about whether the information that we provided previously had ever, you know, risen to the leadership level of the FBI. We simply just didn’t know. It was our belief that Director Comey if he was aware — if he was made aware of this information would treat it seriously.

 

The Simpson Transcript: The Dossier as Predicate

I’m working towards a big post (or a series of small ones) on the Glenn Simpson transcript. I address some of my impressions in this Real News Network video with Aaron Maté from the other day.

Before I do that larger post, however, I want to address something Maté asked me about: whether the Simpson transcript — in which he says that Christopher Steele learned from the FBI about (what independent reporting confirms) the Papadopoulos tip from the Australians — supports or refutes the sharply contested arguments about whether the Steele dossier started the counterintelligence investigation or served as a key source for a FISA warrant against either Carter Page or Paul Manafort. Skeptics of the report that the investigation actually arose from the George Papadopoulos tip have argued that the latest PR effort around the dossier is an attempt to paper over the dossier as the true source of either the investigation or the FISA orders.

As I noted on RNN, the dossier doesn’t actually help the anti-Trump narrative as much as people have made out. Simpson testified that Steele decided to reach out to the FBI towards the end of June or beginning of July (after only the first dossier report had been done), and the conversation actually happened the first week of July (a questioner later refers to it as occurring July 5).

Q. And do you recall when you — when you and Mr. Steele decided kind of that he could or should take this to the FBI, approximately the time frame of that?

A. I believe it was sometime around the turn of the month. It would have been in late June or at latest early July. That’s my recollection.

[snip]

Q. Do you have any knowledge of when that first conversation actually then took place?

A. Over the last several months that this has become a public controversy I’ve learned the general date and I believe it was if first week of July, but I don’t believe he told me — if he told me the time, I don’t remember when he told me.

Simpson later admits his certainty about these dates comes from Fusion’s response to speculation and other reporting.

Q. And that information about that time, that first week of July, where does that come from?

A. It comes from news accounts of these events and conversations between Chris and I and some of my — presumably my business partners too. Generally speaking, we have, as you know, not been eager to discuss any of this in public and there’s been a lot of speculation and guessing and stories, many of which are wrong. So when an incorrect story comes out we would, you know, talk about it. So, you know, in the course of those kinds of things I generally obtained a sense of when things occurred that I might otherwise not be able to provide you.

Regardless of how accurate or not this report, it means that Steele spoke with the FBI weeks before the Australian tip is supposed to have come in, which was after Wikileaks started dumping the emails on July 22 (though as I noted with Maté, there are aspects of that story that are sketchy as well). The reference to Steele learning about what he now believes was the Papadopoulos tip reflects feedback from mid to late September, when the FBI told him his story had been corroborated by a human source, not from that first FBI meeting.

Essentially what he told me was they had other intelligence about this matter from an internal Trump campaign source and that — that they — my understanding was that they believed Chris at this point — that they believed Chris’s information might be credible because they had other intelligence that indicated the same thing and one of those pieces of intelligence was a human source from inside the Trump organization.

Later in the transcript Simpson responds in a way that suggests Steele was reading the FBI response rather than learning actual details of the tip; certainly he might have been able to corroborate it back in London.

Q. And did Mr. Steele tell you that the FBI had relayed this information to him?

A. He didn’t specifically say that.

Q. I’m going to have you take a look at one of the filings —

MR. FOSTER: I thought you said earlier that he did say the FBI told him.

MR. SIMPSON: I think I was saying we did not have the detailed conversations where he would debrief me on his discussions with the FBI. He would say very generic things like I saw them, they asked me a lot of questions, sounds like they have another source or they have another source. He wouldn’t put words in their mouth.

In other words, the record shows that (unless the public story about the Australian tip is really inaccurate) the pee tape report came in first, and then the Oz tip did.

That said, both of these tips came in before late July, which is when Jim Comey testified the CI investigation started.

Which is where this predicate debate has always gone wrong. It imagines that the FBI opened an investigation into one and only one thing. In addition to those two things, there were the actual hack and the Guccifer 2.0 persona — already perceived to be a Russian operation before the first Steele report came in — along with clear indications Wikileaks was involved with it. There was Carter Page’s publicly reported trip and speech in Russia, and the beginnings of the reawakening Paul Manafort scandal. And there were the concerns raised about the change in the GOP platform (though I think that got more press than the evidence justified).

So there were a whole bunch of things leading up to the opening of the investigation. And there’s no reason to believe just one predicated the investigation.

Similarly, the case on the FISA orders is mixed (though this is an area, in particular, where the FBI would have an incentive to release partial stories). One of the first reports on Carter Page’s FISA order dates it to late summer, when the Trump campaign was distancing itself from him. But later reporting said he had been tapped even before he joined the campaign, in conjunction with his earlier recruitment by Russian spies.

Manafort, too, was reportedly targeted under FISA because of his earlier dalliances with Russia. In his case, the wiretap had lapsed, but was restarted after new details of his corruption forced him off the campaign in August.

As I’ll write in my larger post on the Simpson transcript, I don’t think all this means the tie between the dossier and the FBI investigation is above reproach. But it does seem clear that, even if the dossier is one thing that justified the investigation, it was neither the earliest thing nor the only thing.

The Misrepresentations of the Simpson-Veselnitskaya Meetings

Whew. I’ve finally finished doing an initial pass on the transcript of Glenn Simpson’s interview with the Senate Judiciary Committee. I did three threads on Twitter on it:

I guess I’ll have a series of posts on what’s in the dossier, hopefully with a ton more nuance than coming from those who claim it totally justifies the dossier project. It doesn’t.

But before I get into questions that Simpson’s testimony should raise about the dossier, I want to focus on a narrow issue arising out of one the prior leaks of Simpson’s testimony. Back in November, Fox News reported that Simpson had met with Natalia Veselnitskaya at a court hearing before and “after” the Trump Tower meeting; the report appeared based on the

But hours before the Trump Tower meeting on June 9, 2016, Fusion co-founder and ex-Wall Street Journal reporter Glenn Simpson was with Veselnitskaya in a Manhattan federal courtroom, a confidential source told Fox News. Court records reviewed by Fox News, email correspondence and published reports corroborate the pair’s presence together. The source told Fox News they also were together after the Trump Tower meeting.

Simpson’s presence with Veselnitskaya during this critical week in June — together with revelations about Fusion’s simultaneous financial ties to the DNC, Clinton campaign and Russian interests — raise new questions about the company’s role in the 2016 election.

Veselnitskaya rejected the report in her answers to SJC.

Last week Fox News 38 referring to a confidential source reported that I met with Glenn Simpson before and after the meeting with Trump’s son, and that “but hours before the Trump Tower meeting on June 9, 2016, Fusion co-founder and ex-Wall Street Journal reporter Glenn Simpson was with Veselnitskaya in a Manhattan federal courtroom, in a hearing on the DOJ’s claim against Prevezon Holdings, a Cyprus company owned by a Russian businessman Denis Katsyv.” This statement does not reflect the reality.

Given the questions I raised about whether Veselnitskaya left the June 9 meeting with Ike Kaveladze — with whom she had arrived — I found the question of what Veselnitskaya had done before and after of interest.

Here’s what the transcript actually shows about those meetings.

Q. Were any [meetings with Veselnitskaya] in June 2016?

A. Yes. Two.

Q. Were those in New York or in D.C.?

A. I believe that one was in New York and one was in D.C.

Q. Do you recall the specific date of either?

A. I didn’t until we tried to piece these things together, but June 8th I think was the dinner in New York and I think the 10th was the dinner in D.C., something like that.

Q. And what were the purposes of these dinners?

A. Well, the first one was just an obligatory client dinner which, you know, when you work on a legal case you get invited to dinner with the clients. The one in D.C. was more of a social thing. It wasn’t — she was at it, but it wasn’t really about the case. It was just a bunch of Mark Cymrot’s friends. You know, the editor of the Washington Post book section was there and his wife who’s a well-known author were also there.

Q. You mentioned you had dinner with Ms. Veselnitskaya on June 8th and 10th of 2016. Were you generally aware of her trip to the United States in June?

[snip]

Simpson: I can tell you what I knew. I knew she was coming in I guess on the 8th. I don’t have a clear recollection of the dinner, but I know — I believe we had a dinner. The problem is I had more than one. So I don’t have a clear recollection of it. Anyway, I saw her the next day in court at this hearing and I’m sure we exchanged greetings, but, as I say, she speaks Russian and I speak English. I think she was with Anatoli and she left afterwards. I know she didn’t tell me any other plans she had.

Q. So you had dinner the 8th, saw her in court on the 9th; is that correct?

A. Yes.

Q. And dinner again on the 10th?

A. In D.C.

[snip]

Q. It has widely been reported Ms. Veselnitskaya and Mr. Akhmetshin and others met with Donald Trump, Junior, Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner on June 9th, 2016. Were you aware of this meeting beforehand?

A. No.

Q. It didn’t come up at the dinner the night before?

A. No.

Q. When did you first become aware of the meeting?

A. Around the time it broke in the New York Times. I was stunned.

Q. Is it correct that that means it wasn’t discussed at the dinner on the 10th?

A. No, but, again, you know, the dinner on the 10th was I was at one end of the table talking to a woman about her biography on Simon Bolivar and she was at the other end with Rinat and she doesn’t really speak much English.

Basically, while it supports that Simpson saw Veselnitskaya at the court hearing (meaning Veselnitskaya is wrong on that point), it doesn’t support that she came from or returned to a meeting with Simpson directly before and after the Trump Tower meeting. Instead, it seems to support the case that Veselnitskaya and Simpson saw each other three days in succession because the Prevezon hearing was the stated purpose of her visit to the US. And Simpson’s claim that linguistic barriers prevented them from chatting that much seems credible.

Which raises questions about why the claim that Veselnitskaya had met with Simpson got leaked to Fox.

Most likely, it was leaked as part of GOP efforts to suggest that Fusion is suspect and the dossier as a whole might be Russian disinformation. But given my new questions about when and with whom Veselnitskaya left the meeting, I wonder whether the discussion of a meeting afterwards wasn’t meant to distract from details about Kaveladze’s departure.

In any case, these three reports all conflict. My guess is Simpson’s is most accurate (because this is probably what the Fox report is based off, because he’s fluent in English, and because his report has so much more detail, not at all because I find his testimony above question).

Why Did Ivanka Run into Just Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin at the Trump Tower Elevator?

In this post, I argued that Natalia Veselnitskaya’s story about her June 9 Trump Tower meeting with Don Jr, Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner seemed designed (with help from one time Trump and current Agalarov lawyer Scott Balber) to downplay the role of Agalarov employee Ike Kaveladze.

It’s that even with all of Scott Balber’s efforts, there’s still no explanation for why Kaveladze attended this meeting. Given Balber’s significant efforts to minimize Agalarov’s role in the meeting — and his denials that Agalarov might have ties directly to Putin — I find the failure to explain that notable.

The LAT story convinces me I’m right. The basic story is that Mueller has called at least one of the attendees at that meeting back for a second interview; for a number of reasons, it is highly likely that person is Rinat Akhmetshin. The self-interested defense lawyers who are the source of the story suggest that this must be because Mueller is pursuing an obstruction case, not a collusion case.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has recalled for questioning at least one participant in a controversial meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in June 2016, and is looking into President Trump’s misleading claim that the discussion focused on adoption, rather than an offer to provide damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

Some defense lawyers involved in the case view Mueller’s latest push as a sign that investigators are focusing on possible obstruction of justice by Trump and several of his closest advisors for their statements about the politically sensitive meeting, rather than for collusion with the Russians.

But the far more interesting part of the story is that Mueller wants details about Ivanka’s actions that day, because, the story explains, she ran into Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin by the Trump Tower elevator.

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.

From that, Twitter conspiracists and Newsweek (which lately has been close to the same thing) are suggesting that Ivanka might be in trouble.

That’s not the point of this line of questioning, in my opinion.

LAT makes it clear (presumably based on Akhmetshin’s story) that the Ivanka exchange happened on their way out of the meeting with Jr and the others.

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.

According to Veselnitskaya, she arrived with Akhmetshin, Kaveladze, and her translator; Jr and Manafort were in the board room when she arrived.

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.

She says she met with Kaveladze before the meeting.

I met him personally first on June 9 shortly before the meeting.

We had a phone call and met at a café, I do not remember where and at what café.

Though, admittedly, every single thing she says about Kaveladze is sketchy.

Finally, Veselnitskaya denies that she met with Glenn Simpson before and after the meeting, a story Fox News reported that “a confidential source” told it.

Last week Fox News 38 referring to a confidential source reported that I met with Glenn Simpson before and after the meeting with Trump’s son, and that “but hours before the Trump Tower meeting on June 9, 2016, Fusion co-founder and ex-Wall Street Journal reporter Glenn Simpson was with Veselnitskaya in a Manhattan federal courtroom, in a hearing on the DOJ’s claim against Prevezon Holdings, a Cyprus company owned by a Russian businessman Denis Katsyv.” This statement does not reflect the reality.

Nowhere in Veselnitskaya’s story addresses how or in whose company she left the meeting.

But the LAT report suggests she left with Akhmetshin. The report mentions nothing about the presence of Goldstone or Kaveladze, waiting at the elevator, chatting up Ivanka.

So did the two Agalarov employees stay later, which would leave them in a room alone with Don Jr and Paul Manafort?

Update: I’ve corrected this to reflect that Veselnitskaya said she did arrive with Kaveladze.

The Many Gaps and Inconsistencies in Natalia Veselnitskaya’s Story, Starting with Ike

In this post, I laid out the latest attempt from one-time Trump and current Aras Agalarov lawyer Scott Balber to craft an unincriminating story for the June 9 Trump Tower meeting. In general, Balber has gone to great lengths to provide innocent explanations for digital tracks suggesting the meeting was incriminating, and especially to deny that Agalarov — who orchestrated the meeting — had any direction from Putin.

In this post, I’m going to look at what Natalia Veselnitskaya (who, as I’ve noted, met with Balber sometime before October, which is where the documents she admits to first got introduced to the public) wrote in her statement to Chuck Grassley back in November, because she makes some really interesting dodges.

To start with, Veselnitskaya defines certain things so as to be able to deny certain relationships.

First, she distinguishes between Glenn Simpson and Fusion, admitting to a relationship with the former but not the latter.

I did not work with Fusion GPS, I know Glenn R. Simpson, whom since 2014 I have viewed as an individual investigator-analyst, a former investigative journalist with a long record of service and experience gained by a team of lawyers for point tasks that arose in connection with the preparation for trials, interrogations under case 13-civ-06326 the United States of America v. Prevezon Holdings Ltd. et al., initiated by Browder through the US Attorney’s Office with reference to my client. In my perception, it was Glenn R. Simpson who worked on the Prevezon Case, as to in what capacity – either as an individual or as a company – it was of no interest to me. I do not have any documents as to Fusion GPS.

[snip]

Glenn Simpson was hired by lawyers from Baker Hostetler, as well as other people who worked on the case. Some of them I have never even met. I used to receive reports from Glenn Simpson – CC-ed on all the lawyers working on the case.

[snip]

I didn’t work with Fusion GPS. In my study, analysis and documents I partly used the information obtained in December 2014 from Glenn Simpson within the scope of his services on legal research of Browder’s corporate relations, and his links to the United States, to serve a subpoena on him.

Importantly, she denies a claim made by Fox to have met with Simpson before and after the June 9 meeting.

So, on June 8, in the evening, I arrived in New York. On June 9, I attended the second district court hearing on Browder’s complaint and worked on some other issues. On June 10, I went to Washington to coordinate our position with our key lawyer in Washington.

[snip]

No, there had been no contacts with him on specified dates. Last week Fox News 38 referring to a confidential source reported that I met with Glenn Simpson before and after the meeting with Trump’s son, and that “but hours before the Trump Tower meeting on June 9, 2016, Fusion co-founder and ex-Wall Street Journal reporter Glenn Simpson was with Veselnitskaya in a Manhattan federal courtroom, in a hearing on the DOJ’s claim against Prevezon Holdings, a Cyprus company owned by a Russian businessman Denis Katsyv.” This statement does not reflect the reality.

[snip]

I met Glenn Simpson on the as-needed basis, as well as whenever he came to the office to see the lawyers.

The distinction may have the primary function of divorcing her relationship with (and the presence at the meeting of) Rinat Akhmetshin from Fusion and the Christopher Steele dossier. She claims that Akhmetshin’s presence at the meeting was tied to his role in an anti-Magnitsky NGO, with no involvement of Prevezon attorneys Baker Hostetler.

If the question is how he was introduced at the meeting on June 9, then as a consultant of the Human Rights Fund for relations with Congress.

This seems inconsistent with her reference to his having an NDA with her — who is the NDA with?

Most incredibly, Veselnitskaya distinguishes between meeting with Don Jr — a friend of a friend, she explains it as — and the Trump campaign.

Meeting on June 9, 2016, was not a “meeting with the Trump campaign”. My understanding is, this was to have been a private meeting with Donald Trump, Jr., – a friend of my good acquaintance’s son on the matter of assisting me or my colleagues in informing the Congress members as to the criminal nature of manipulation and interference with the legislative activities of the US Congress.

[snip]

No [she did not have advance knowledge of the other attendees], except for those people who had come with me and the person I was going to (Trump, Jr.), I did not have the slightest idea that someone else would be present at the meeting.

[snip]

No. I did not meet with the “Trump campaign”. At the meeting with Donald Trump, Jr. I had a reference in my own handwriting (see Exhibit 1.1), which I was ready to leave to Mr. Trump, Jr., should he need it. But to offer or provide this information was pointless, because as I understood during the meeting, Mr. Trump, Jr. was not at all aware of my request and could not help me at all.

Having done that, Veselnitskaya is in a position to deny knowing certain things: any involvement in tampering with the election and any tie to the Fusion dossier.

The additions she makes to three responses reinforce this focus. First, when asked whether she has any information on the Russian influence operation, to which she says, “Nor do I know anyone who would be in possession of such documents or knew about something like that.” She also doesn’t know who in the Russian government would know of her involvement. “Not that I know about. If so, who? Why were they briefed? What was their role?” And whether she knows Christopher Steele, to which she responds, “I do not know Christopher Steele. I first heard of him from US media.”

With that frame, here’s how Veselnitskaya explains the genesis of her meeting.

I had never asked anyone for a meeting with the Trump team.

Nor did I ask to organize namely a meeting with Donald Trump, Jr., it was enough for me to hand over a reference outlining the request (see Exhibit 1.1). 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. I was ready to hand over the reference, talk on the phone, or meet personally.

Note, later in her answers, she claims to guard client confidentiality closely, even beyond things covered by privilege. But here, she claims to have discussed Katsyv’s plight with Agalarov.

And even though Aras Agalarov was crucial to organizing this meeting, Veselnitskaya claims to have no knowledge of any other involvement he had (which is something Balber has been trying to reinforce throughout).

All I know is that Aras Agalarov asked his son Emin Agalarov to enquire if Donald Trump, Jr. could help with my request. I am not aware of any further actions of Emin.

In the passage above, note how she obscures whether the Magnitsky/Ziff document released publicly (a report Putin parroted on October 19) got written in advance for the meeting or to lobby Congress with. Curiously, in this day of digital creation, she claims she doesn’t know precisely what day she drafted it (even thought the publicly released copy is dated May 31 on the Russian version).

A note about the meeting that I prepared in Moscow on or about May 31, 2016 for its possible handover to any interested party

That claim is critical given that — in a previous Scott Balber installment — the preexistence of this document involved an exchange between Veselnitskaya and the Prosecutor General, Yuri Chaika, offered up to explain why Rob Goldstone told Don Jr she had a tie to the Crown Prosecutor. She denies he had any involvement in the meeting and in he descriptions of involvement with him doesn’t describe the report.

I have no relationship with Mr. Chaika, his representatives, and institutions, other than those related to my professional functions of a lawyer. As a lawyer of Denis Katsyv, since 2013 I have sent several appeals to the Russian Federation General Prosecutor’s Office requesting documents within my legal powers, and also filed applications to verify the information about Mr. Browder’s activities in Russia that resulted in the wrongful seizure of my client’s assets in the USA and Switzerland, received answers, analyzed them and addressed them anew, should I be refused answers or provision of documents – I appealed to the court.

That’s important because she can offer no explanation for the reference, in Rob Goldstone’s email to Don Jr, to the Crown Prosecutor.

I do not know what Mr. Goldstone was talking about. Given what I know, I can assume that Mr. Agalarov might tell him a little about me, mentioning that I had previously worked in the prosecutor’s office, and the information I wanted to tell in the US Congress had also been reported by me before to the General Prosecutor’s Office of Russia and it was confirmed there. Having compiled this, the musical producer (as I learnt more than a year later) could either confuse everything, or intentionally make everything look intriguing so that the meeting could take place.

Another timing detail, Veselnitskaya denies remembering when she learned the meeting for which she claims to have made handouts would be a meeting, though she claims it was after she arrived in the US.

I do not remember from whom and at what time I first heard that I could personally express my request (see Exhibit 1.1) during at the meeting.

[snip]

I do not remember the moment when I first heard that I could personally make my request during a meeting. Nor do I exactly remember who told me about it. 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 correspondence 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.

[snip]

I do not remember discussing it with anyone before I found out that there would be a meeting. This was an alternative way of communicating the request and I did not insist on a meeting. The day I was told that I would be met by Trump, Jr. (everything that I was able to restore in my memory, confirmed by mail from Goldstone – this could take place when I was already in New York), I informed Denis Katsyv about this.

This description raises real questions about Ike Kaveladze. Here’s the email Veselnitskaya said she received when she landed; note that, as publicly released, the reference to Kaveladze has been hidden, though it may be what the reference to “both” is. Note, the shift of the meeting from 3 to 4 is also not included in the email chain; Goldstone learned the change needed to be made by 10:34AM on June 8.

The apparently obscured reference to Kaveladze is particularly interesting given how she describes inviting Samochernov to attend as her translator on the morning of the meeting.

On the day of the meeting – June 9, I asked my interpreter – Anatoly Samochernov, and my colleague who had previously worked on the Prevezon Case – Rinat Akhmetshin, who was also a registered lobbyist for the Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative Foundation (HRAGI), and dealt with issues on behalf of the Foundation in the US Congress, which I planned to talk about at the meeting with Donald Trump, Jr. Both are US citizens. I informed Goldstone about them on June 9, which is confirmed by my correspondence.

Akhmetshin was reportedly in NYC for a theater production, but she apparently learned he’d be in town by 9:24.

Rinat Akhmetshin, who arrived that day in New York for an evening performance of Russian theatre stars.

Her description of Kaveladze’s role (remember, he’s represented by Balber) is particularly curious, in that she admits he was ostensibly there to serve as translator, which was unneeded since she had brought her own.

[She and Kaveladze] 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.

[snip]

I can suppose, he attended the meeting as a translator, however, as I was with a translator he was just sitting and listening.

The curious silences about Kaveladze are all the more interesting given that, unlike Veselnitskaya, he knew that Manafort and Kushner would be there and that dirt on Hillary would be dealt. And based on that description, he flew to NYC from LA.

Curiously, Veselnitskaya says neither Paul Manafort nor Jared Kushner were introduced at the meeting.

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.

Laying all this out, it’s not so much that it doesn’t make sense (though there are clear gaps).

It’s that even with all of Scott Balber’s efforts, there’s still no explanation for why Kaveladze attended this meeting. Given Balber’s significant efforts to minimize Agalarov’s role in the meeting — and his denials that Agalarov might have ties directly to Putin — I find the failure to explain that notable.

The Ohrs’ Activities Raise New Questions about the December 13 Dossier Report

In recent days, Republicans have leaked details about the actions of Bruce and Nellie Ohr with respect to the Fusion GPS dossier on Trump. Yesterday, Glenn Simpson confirmed those details in a filing in Fusion’s efforts to prevent the House Intelligence Committee from obtaining more details about Fusion’s finances.

The bank records reflect that Fusion contracted with Nellie Ohr, a former government official expert in Russian matters, to help our company with its research and analysis of Mr. Trump[.]

[snip]

I disclosed that I met with Bruce Ohr, at his request, after the November 2016 election to discuss our findings regarding Russia and the election[.]

In short, this revelation means that Fusion employed the wife of then Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr to conduct research on Trump’s Russian ties. Ohr met with Christopher Steele before the election, and met with Simpson after the election.

This probably means that this reference, in HPSCI’s request for documents, is to Nellie Ohr.

Which in turn would man that Fusion paid Ohr on March 22, April 6, May 25, July 13, August 2, September 1, October 5, November 1.

That would mean the payments to Steele are either item 2 or 4 in this analysis. That’s significant because both of those entities received payments in January.

I’m interested in all that for two reasons. First, the record conflicts on whether DOJ ever paid Steele.

WaPo reported that Steele had reached a verbal agreement that the FBI would pay him to continue his investigation of Russia’s involvement with Trump after still unnamed Democrats stopped paying him after the election. CNN then reported that FBI actually had paid Steele for his expenses. Finally, NBC reported Steele backed out of the deal before it was finalized.

If Ohr met with Steele after the election (and after Perkins Coie reportedly stopped paying for Steele’s work), it means it’s possible DOJ paid him, contrary to some reports. Steele has claimed (in otherwise dubious court filings) that he was neither pair nor affirmatively solicited information for the last report, dated December 13.

The December 13 report was by far the most inflammatory one, alleging that Trump’s campaign paid for the hack of the DNC. It’s also at the center of some of the lawfare surrounding the dossier, Webzilla’s multiple lawsuits.

This is by no means definitive. But the circumstances of the December 13 report will come out one way or another. Thus far, the story about it is bad. And it could get far worse.

How Did Christopher Steele Collect Information after Sources (Allegedly) Dried Up?

Sorry to those who think I’m overly focused on the Christopher Steele dossier, but I’m reading Luke Harding’s book on the Russian investigation, which uses the dossier as a centerpiece. I may do a longer post about what his overall narrative does, but for now there’s a weird paragraph that conveniently is in this long excerpt I want to focus on.

After introducing the first report of the dossier (the one that features the pee tape and dated, non-email kompromat), Harding writes,

The memo was sensational. There would be others, 16 in all, sent to Fusion between June and early November 2016. At first, obtaining intelligence from Moscow went well. For around six months – during the first half of the year – Steele was able to make inquiries in Russia with relative ease. It got harder from late July, as Trump’s ties to Russia came under scrutiny. Finally, the lights went out. Amid a Kremlin cover-up, the sources went silent and information channels shut down.

There are several details that conflict with known facts and/or claimed (in some cases, sworn) ones.

First, Harding suggests there were 16 reports in all. I’m not sure whether he’s suggesting the final total of reports written between June and early November was 16 or whether he’s suggesting there were 16 additional reports in all, for a total of 17. Either way the number works out (there were 17 total reports, one of which was written after November). But that makes the November reference weird. There was no report written in early November. The last known report before the election was dated October 20, and then there wasn’t another one until that December 13 one.

  • 080: June 20, 2016
  • 086: July 26, 2015 (citing events in 2016)
  • 095: not dated
  • 94: July 19, 2016
  • 097: July 30, 2016
  • 100: August 5, 2016
  • 101: August 10, 2016
  • 102: August 10, 2016
  • 136: October 20, 2016
  • 105: August 22, 2016
  • 111: September 14, 2016
  • 112: September 14, 2016
  • 113: September 14, 2016
  • 130: October 12, 2016
  • 134: October 18, 2016
  • 135: October 19, 2016
  • 166: December 13, 2016

In any case, Harding gets the December date sort of correct later in the passage. Except he describes Glenn Simpson giving John McCain the report, dated December 13, before McCain called Jim Comey about it on December 8.

Less than 24 hours later, Kramer returned to Washington. Glenn Simpson then shared a copy of the dossier confidentially with McCain, along with a final Steele memo on the Russian hacking operation, written in December.

McCain believed it was impossible to verify Steele’s claims without a proper investigation. He made a call and arranged a meeting with Comey. Their encounter on 8 December 2016 lasted five minutes. Not much was said. McCain gave Comey the dossier.

I explain the significance of these December dates in this post.

Things are even weirder with the third sentence in this passage.

For around six months – during the first half of the year – Steele was able to make inquiries in Russia with relative ease.

According to the public narrative, Steele wasn’t working for Fusion until the Democrats asked for a Russian focus in June. And the first of his released reports relies on reporting from June. But Harding here suggests Steele was working on it for the six months before that! I pointed to circumstantial evidence that Fusion paid Steele on March 22, April 6, and May 25, in payments they don’t associate with Perkins Coie, in addition to the payments that were probably to him on July 13, August 2, September 1, October 5, and November 1.

Now check out the following sentences. Starting in “late July … the lights went out and … the sources went silent and information channels shut down.”

As the timeline above makes clear, the numbering in the dossier gets funky almost immediately, but the most likely reading suggests after that first, June 20 report, there are 4 reports from late July, and the remaining 12 reports all postdate late July. Report 100, the first post-July one, is sourced to “early August 2016” (and dated August 5).

Now, maybe the paragraph is just totally screwy. But if there’s any basis in fact to it, it suggests the public timeline is wrong (something which may be backed by the payments). More importantly, it suggests Steele’s extensive (albeit very indirect) network of sources stopped providing intelligence not long after he allegedly started his inquiry.