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

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

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

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

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

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

Subsource 1: Sergey Vladimirovich Abyshev

Subsource 2: Ivan Mikhailovich Vorontsov

Subsource 3: Olga Aleksandrovna Galkina

Subsource 4: Alexey Sergeyevich Dundich

Subsource 4: Ivan Ivanovich Kurilla

Subsource 5: Lyudmila Nikolayevna Podobedova

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Photo: National Security Agency, Ft. Meade, MD via Wikimedia]

The Frothy Right Proves Trump Buried 7 Details of Russian Outreach by Wailing about Carter Page

The other day, the government released a spreadsheet that the FBI used to validate the Steele dossier.

The spreadsheet shows that, if the Steele dossier included disinformation, the disinformation was really well crafted, because the disinformation was close enough to the truth to make known events — like Paul Manafort’s expanding corruption scandal — appear to confirm the dossier.

It also shows that when John Solomon claimed, in 2019, that the spreadsheet “was a sea of blanks,” he was wrong.

Multiple sources familiar with the FBI spreadsheet tell me the vast majority of Steele’s claims were deemed to be wrong, or could not be corroborated even with the most awesome tools available to the U.S. intelligence community. One source estimated the spreadsheet found upward of 90 percent of the dossier’s claims to be either wrong, nonverifiable or open-source intelligence found with a Google search.

In other words, it was mostly useless.

“The spreadsheet was a sea of blanks, meaning most claims couldn’t be corroborated, and those things that were found in classified intelligence suggested Steele’s intelligence was partly or totally inaccurate on several claims,” one source told me.

Given the redactions, it is unclear whether the redacted material affirmatively disproves claims from the dossier or provides partial corroboration. Since I’ve argued the dossier was problematic for longer than even the frothers, I don’t have a stake in that. But the spreadsheet in no way was full of blanks. There are relatively few blank entries in the spreadsheet.

Which means, if it was disinformation, it succeeded in wasting a lot of the FBI’s time.

But a potentially more important detail from the spreadsheet is that it shows the Carter Page FISA collection was useful in testing the dossier’s claims. Probably, given other soft corroboration and Igor Danchenko’s claims to have two independent sources backing the claim, the FISA collection produced evidence that made it harder to rule out a meeting between Igor Sechin and Page (which is what the Mueller Report ultimately concluded, that they couldn’t rule it out; 302s show there was time in Page’s schedule he didn’t account for).

And Trump has succeeded in burying that useful intelligence, even the intelligence collected during a period when — the bipartisan SSCI Report concluded — the FISA application targeting Page was appropriate.

In September, the FISA Court unsealed an opinion explaining its decision to sequester the intelligence collected under the Carter Page orders. The order reveals that, when the Court asked whether it should treat the first two applications targeting Page the same way it would treat the two for which DOJ had withdrawn probable cause determination, DOJ declined to do so.

In fact, in response to the Conrt’s directive to explain why retaining the Page FISA information “in the manner intended by the government, and any contemplated use or disclosure of it,” comport with§§ 1809(a)(2) and 1827(a)(2), Jan. 7, 2020, Order at 2, the government declined to argue, even alternatively, that those provisions do not apply ( or apply differently) to information obtained under the first two dockets. See Feb. 5, 2020, Resp. at 28-29. Under the circumstances, the Court will assume that§§ l 809(a)(2) and l 827(a)(2) apply to information acquired under color of the first and second dockets just as, per the government’s admission, they apply to information acquired under color of the third and fourth.

This had the result that, even though DOJ itself did not withdraw its probable cause determination, and even though a bipartisan committee at SSCI believed the initial applications were merited, all four applications targeting Page would be treated as if the applications were improper.

DOJ did not tell the FISC that it was (and probably still is) criminally investigating several people involved in these applications, meaning the FISC opinion sequestering case file information would be make necessary source information unavailable for anyone targeted in that investigation to show that the applications were reasonable.

That may have been part of the point.

And the Steele dossier spreadsheet shows in tangible form that useful information — whether it corroborated suspicions against Page or disproved them — has been sealed permanently as a result. The spreadsheet redacts information on the following topics because of FISC’s decision to sequester everything collected under the Page applications:

I get why the FISC would want to rule aggressively to protect Carter Page’s privacy, and I’m fine with the decision.

But this intelligence seems like it would be really useful to understanding the Russian operation, even if Page was targeted by Russian disinformation. Indeed, this intelligence would be really important to understand the nature of the disinformation Russia fed the US.

The decision by Trump’s DOJ not to stand by its earlier decision that the first two applications were appropriate had the effect, then, of burying intelligence on Trump and the Russian operation.

Which was likely part of the point.

The Desperation of the Jeffrey Jensen Investigation Already Made Clear that John Durham Won’t Indict

Yesterday, a sick man called into Maria Bartiromo’s show and wailed that his opponents had not been indicted.

Bartiromo: Mr. President. We now know from these documents that John Ratcliffe unveiled that it was Hilary Clinton’s idea to tie you to Russia in some way. It was successful. The whole country was talking about it for two and a half years. But what comes next, Mr. President? We can have all of these documents, we can see exactly what happened but unless John [Durham] comes out with a report or indictments unless Bill Barr comes out with a — a — some kind of a ruling here, do you think this is resonating on the American people?

Trump: Unless Bill Barr indicts these people for crimes, the greatest political crime in the history of our country, then we’re going to get little satisfaction unless I win and we’ll just have to go, because I won’t forget it. But these people should be indicted, this was the greatest political crime in the history of our country and that includes Obama and it includes Biden. These are people that spied on my campaign and we have everything. Now they say they have much more, OK? And I say, Bill, we’ve got plenty, you don’t need any more. We’ve got so much, Maria, even — just take a look at the Comey report, 78 pages of kill, done by Horowitz, and I have a lot of respect for Horowitz, and he said prosecute. He recommended prosecute and they didn’t prosecute. I was — I couldn’t believe it, but they didn’t do it, because they said we have much bigger fish to fry. Well, that’s OK, they indicted Flynn for lying and he didn’t lie. They destroyed many lives, Roger Stone, over nothing. They destroyed lives. Look at Manafort, they sent in a black book, it was a phony black book, phony, they made up a black book of cash that he got from Ukraine or someplace and he didn’t get any cash.

In the comment, he described speaking directly to Billy Barr about the urgency of prosecuting his political opponents.

In response to this attack, Billy Barr has started telling Republican members of Congress that John Durham isn’t going to indict before the election.

Attorney General Bill Barr has begun telling top Republicans that the Justice Department’s sweeping review into the origins of the Russia investigation will not be released before the election, a senior White House official and a congressional aide briefed on the conversations tell Axios.

Why it matters: Republicans had long hoped the report, led by U.S. Attorney John Durham, would be a bombshell containing revelations about what they allege were serious abuses by the Obama administration and intelligence community probing for connections between President Trump and Russia.

  • “This is the nightmare scenario. Essentially, the year and a half of arguably the number one issue for the Republican base is virtually meaningless if this doesn’t happen before the election,” a GOP congressional aide told Axios.
  • Barr has made clear that they should not expect any further indictments or a comprehensive report before Nov. 3, our sources say.

Barr is excusing the delay by saying that Durham is only going to prosecute stuff he can win.

What we’re hearing: Barr is communicating that Durham is taking his investigation extremely seriously and is focused on winning prosecutions.

  • According to one of the sources briefed on the conversations Barr said Durham is working in a deliberate and calculated fashion, and they need to be patient.
  • The general sense of the talks, the source says, is that Durham is not preoccupied with completing his probe by a certain deadline for political purposes.

This back and forth represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what must be going on.

The Durham investigation should not, at this point, be considered separately from the Jeffrey Jensen investigation attempting to invent a reason to blow up the Flynn prosecution. That’s been true since Barr appointed Jensen because Durham hadn’t yet discovered anything to dig Sidney Powell out of the hole she had dug Flynn. But it’s especially true now that documents that would be central to the Durham inquiry are being leaked left and right — whether it’s the report that the FBI knew that Igor Danchenko had been investigated (like Carter Page and Mike Flynn) as a possible Russian agent, or specific details about when the FBI obtained NSLs on Mike Flynn.

The investigative integrity of the Durham investigation has been shot beyond recovery.

Plus, the sheer desperation of the Jensen investigation raises real questions about whether a credible investigation could ever find anything that could sustain a prosecution, in any case. That’s because:

  • Jensen has repeatedly provided evidence that proves the opposite of what DOJ claims. For example, the Bill Priestap notes that DOJ claimed were a smoking gun actually show contemporaneous proof for the explanation that every single witness has offered for Mike Flynn’s interview — that they needed to see whether Flynn would tell the truth about his calls with Sergey Kisklyak. Plus, now there’s a Priestap 302, one DOJ is hiding, that further corroborates that point. That evidence blows all the claims about the centrality of the Logan Act to interviewing Flynn out of the water, and it’s already public.
  • Jensen’s investigators submitted altered exhibits to sustain easily disprovable claims. DOJ has claimed that this tampering with evidence was inadvertent — they simply forgot to take sticky notes off their files. That doesn’t explain all the added dates, however, undermining their excuse. Moreover, if they didn’t intentionally tamper with evidence, they’re left claiming either that they haven’t read the exhibits they’ve relied on thus far in this litigation, or that they’re so fucking stupid that they don’t realize they’ve already disproven their own assumptions about dates. Add in the way their “errors” got mainlined to the President via a lawyer meeting with Trump’s campaign lawyer, and the whole explanation gets so wobbly no prosecutor would want to proceed toward prosecution with problems that could so easily be discoverable (or already public).
  • Jensen’s investigators got star witness William Barnett to expose himself as a partisan willing to forget details to help Trump. Along with an analyst that was skeptical of the Flynn case (but who was moved off before the most damning evidence came in), Barnett would need to be the star witness in any case alleging impropriety in the investigation. But rather than hiding Barnett’s testimony and protecting his credibility, Jensen made a desperate bid to get his claims on the record and make it public. And what the 302 actually shows — even without a subpoena of Barnett’s personal ties and texts sent on FBI phones — is that in his interview, Barnett claimed not to understand the case (even though documents he filed show that he did, contemporaneously), and either did not remember or deliberately suppressed key evidence (not least that Flynn told Kislyak that Trump had been informed of his calls).  The 302 further showed Barnett presenting as “truth” of bias claims that instead show his willingness to make accusations about people he didn’t work with, even going so far as to repackage his own dickish behavior as an attempt to discredit Jeannie Rhee. Finally, by hiding how many good things Barnett had to say about Brandon Van Grack, DOJ has made it clear that the only thing Barnett can be used for is to admit that he, too, believes Flynn lied, didn’t have a problem with one of the key investigators in the case, and that his views held sway on the final Mueller Report. Had Durham managed this witness, Barnett might have been dynamite. Now, he would be, at best, an easily discredited partisan.

Jensen is working from the same evidence that Durham is. And what the Jensen investigation has shown is that it takes either willful ignorance or deliberate manipulation to spin this stuff as damning. And in the process, Jensen has destroyed the viability of a witness and possibly other pieces of evidence that any credible prosecution would use.

DOJ might make one last bid in giving Trump what he wants, allegations against his adversaries, by using the initial response in the McCabe and Strzok lawsuits as a platform to make unsubstantiated attacks on them (DOJ got an extension in both cases, but one that is still before the election). But those attacks will crumble just like the Jeffrey Jensen case has, and do so in a way that may make it easier for McCabe and Strzok to get expansive discovery at the underlying actions of people like Barnett.

Billy Barr has largely shot his wad in drumming up accusations against Trump’s critics. And along the way, he has proven how flimsy any such claims were in the first place.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BREAKING, Catherine Herridge blared in High Gaslight tone.

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

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

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