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Duty of Candor: The Timing of the Sessions News

Since Jeff Sessions fired Andy McCabe Friday night and Trump started ratcheting up his attacks on Robert Mueller, few Republicans have vocally supported Mueller (Jeff Flake, Trey Gowdy, and John McCain are exceptions; all are retiring).

There was, however, this story, reporting that three sources say Jeff Sessions was not as dismissive of George Papadopoulos’ plan to reach out to Russians as JD Gordon has claimed.

Three people who attended the March campaign meeting told Reuters they gave their version of events to FBI agents or congressional investigators probing Russian interference in the 2016 election. Although the accounts they provided to Reuters differed in certain respects, all three, who declined to be identified, said Sessions had expressed no objections to Papadopoulos’ idea.

One person said Sessions was courteous to Papadopoulos and said something to the effect of “okay, interesting.”

The other two recalled a similar response.

“It was almost like, ‘Well, thank you and let’s move on to the next person,’” one said.

As the story notes, this conflicts with Jeff Sessions’ November 14 sworn testimony to the House Judiciary Committee.

So in the wake of the Attorney General firing McCabe for violating his duty of candor, three current or former Trump associates leaked that he lied to the House.

The thing is, there can’t be that many people who these sources could be. I’m not sure the annotations from Seth Abramson (above) are all correct, but here’s what it looks like.

Sessions and Gordon are on the record stating Sessions pushed back. Trump hasn’t testified yet.

One may well be Papadopoulos.

That leaves, starting with Abramson’s guesses (here’s a later list of Trump’s national security advisors, which should round out Abramson’s):

  • Joseph Schmitz, who left his job as DOD IG amid some scandal
  • Bert Mizusawa, who is running for VA Senate and presumably wants some national help, but he is himself a lawyer
  • Jim Hoskins, who’s career military (including a lot of time working in intelligence)
  • Walid Phares, appears to still be pitching Trump’s foreign policy adventurism
  • Gary Harrell, who is career special operations
  • Charles Kubic, who even contemporaneously was raising legal concerns about such outreach (and who would be a likely candidate to have been interviewed by Mueller since he showed up in email chains raising such concerns)
  • James Carafano may be the balding man in the foreground (though he’s not in Trump’s list of advisors) — he’s still running interference for Trump’s crazy foreign policy
  • Sam Clovis, who is not identifiable in the picture, raised concerns about legal issues and NATO concerns, but elsewhere was clearly involved in the effort to reach out to Russia, even per Carter Page; he’s in the news because of the potential conflict Joe Di Genova’s reported representation of Trump poses
  • Keith Kellogg is another possible candidate; he remains part of Trump’s foreign policy team and has been interviewed
  • James Woolsey is another candidate — we know he has spoken with Mueller and has been critical of the tension between the White House, Congress, and FBI of late
  • Stephen Miller was at the meeting and interviewed with Mueller last year; I would think he would be a Sessions loyalist, though

I raise all this because, while Republicans in Congress are largely dodging the issue of protecting Mueller from Trump, some people closer to the investigation are calling Sessions on his hypocrisy. That might be far more dangerous to the Trump administration in the near term.

15 Months and 15,000 Words Later, Boosters Still Obscure the Timeline on the Steele Dossier

Jane Mayer is a great journalist. But in a 15,000 word profile on Christopher Steele and his dossier, she adds just two new bits of news, and along the way muddles the timeline as badly as all the Steele boosters who have gone before her.

The Singer feint

Mayer emphasizes something that Democrats have: that the Fusion project on Trump was initiated by right wing billionaire Paul Singer, not the Democrats.

[I]n the spring of 2016, Steele got a call from Glenn Simpson, a former investigative reporter for the Wall Street Journal who, in 2011, had left journalism to co-found Fusion GPS. Simpson was hoping that Steele could help Fusion follow some difficult leads on Trump’s ties to Russia. Simpson said that he was working for a law firm, but didn’t name the ultimate client.

The funding for the project originally came from an organization financed by the New York investor Paul Singer, a Republican who disliked Trump. But, after it became clear that Trump would win the Republican nomination, Singer dropped out. At that point, Fusion persuaded Marc Elias, the general counsel for the Clinton campaign, to subsidize the unfinished research. This bipartisan funding history belies the argument that the research was corrupted by its sponsorship. [my emphasis]

This is misleading, of course, as is Mayer’s use of the term “spring.” That’s because, as least according to the public record, Steele wasn’t brought on to the project until after Democrats started funding the dossier. Yes, Singer started funding the oppo research on Trump, but not the paid HUMINT that got leaked in early 2017.

The continued silence about Guccifer 2.0

One reason all this matters is because of the way Mayer ignores the same thing every other Steele booster did: the release of Democratic documents by Guccifer 2.0 on June 15. Mayer, like all the other boosters, jumps immediately from the (erroneous) WaPo reporting on the DNC hack to the WikiLeaks release.

On June 14, 2016, five days after the Trump Tower meeting, the Washington Post broke the news that the Russians were believed to have hacked into the Democratic National Committee’s e-mail system. The first reports were remarkably blasé. D.N.C. officials admitted that they had learned about the hack months earlier. (It later surfaced that in November of 2014 Dutch intelligence officials had provided U.S. authorities with evidence that the Russians had broken into the Democratic Party’s computer system. U.S. officials reportedly thanked the Dutch for the tip, sending cake and flowers, but took little action.) When the infiltration of the D.N.C. finally became public, various officials were quoted as saying that the Russians were always trying to penetrate U.S. government systems, and were likely just trying to understand American politics better.

The attitudes of Democratic officials changed drastically when, three days before the start of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, WikiLeaks dumped twenty thousand stolen D.N.C. e-mails onto the Internet. The e-mails had been weaponized: what had seemed a passive form of spying was now “an active measure,” in the parlance of espionage.

As I’ve noted, repeatedly, the first Steele report, dated June 20 and so completed on the same day Guccifer 2.0 promised to release a “dossier” of his own on Clinton, describes the dirt Russians were peddling as old FSB intercepts, not recent hacked emails. The Steele report remained way behind public contemporaneous reporting on the hack-and-leak, and by jumping right to Wikileaks, boosters avoid dealing with several more reports that conflicted with known public facts.

So Guccifer 2.0 not only proves Steele’s sources were at best misinformed about the operation against Clinton and possibly even peddling disinformation, but — particularly given Simpson’s assertion that the Democrats were using the dossier to “understand what the heck was going on” it might have led Democrats to be complacent as they considered how to respond to the DNC hack.

The continued silence about precisely when Simpson hired Steele

The timing about when in “spring” Simpson hired Steele matters for one more reason. As I laid out here, Perkins Coie’s hiring of Simpson closely coincides with the time Perkins Coie and their clients, the Democrats, met with the FBI on the hack and asked for, but did not get, a public announcement about Russia being the culprit. But we don’t know which came first and what relationship there was between them (though Simpson seems to suggest there was one).

Given how many pieces relying on Simpson and the Democrats as sources we’ve seen, the continued inability to nail down which came first, the FBI refusal to attribute the hack or the hiring of Steele, is notable.

When a misleading “spring” turns into a misleading “late summer”

Perhaps the most remarkable move in this piece comes with Mayer’s claim (after admitting that she was among the reporters who got briefed by Steele in “late summer”) that no news outlet reported based off Steele’s allegations.

In late summer, Fusion set up a series of meetings, at the Tabard Inn, in Washington, between Steele and a handful of national-security reporters. These encounters were surely sanctioned in some way by Fusion’s client, the Clinton campaign. The sessions were off the record, but because Steele has since disclosed having participated in them I can confirm that I attended one of them. Despite Steele’s generally cool manner, he seemed distraught about the Russians’ role in the election. He did not distribute his dossier, provided no documentary evidence, and was so careful about guarding his sources that there was virtually no way to follow up. At the time, neither The New Yorker nor any other news organization ran a story about the allegations.

Unless she is playing word games here (perhaps meaning “allegations” to refer exclusively to the pee tape), it’s mindboggling she made this claim. A key part of the debate over the Nunes memo in the last month (she makes reference to the Schiff memo, so she has to be aware of this) is about what Michael Isikoff’s September 23 article — which itself relied on Steele’s reporting — is doing in the FBI’s application for a FISA order on Carter Page. Isikoff first admitted his reporting relied on Steele days after the dossier was leaked. In the wake of the Nunes memo release, Isikoff admitted that in even more detail.

Mayer’s quasi bombshell

Which brings us to one of the two new pieces of news. Mayer reports on an additional report Steele did in late November that reports a MFA claim that Russia vetoed Mitt Romney as Secretary of State.

One subject that Steele is believed to have discussed with Mueller’s investigators is a memo that he wrote in late November, 2016, after his contract with Fusion had ended. This memo, which did not surface publicly with the others, is shorter than the rest, and is based on one source, described as “a senior Russian official.” The official said that he was merely relaying talk circulating in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but what he’d heard was astonishing: people were saying that the Kremlin had intervened to block Trump’s initial choice for Secretary of State, Mitt Romney. (During Romney’s run for the White House in 2012, he was notably hawkish on Russia, calling it the single greatest threat to the U.S.) The memo said that the Kremlin, through unspecified channels, had asked Trump to appoint someone who would be prepared to lift Ukraine-related sanctions, and who would coöperate on security issues of interest to Russia, such as the conflict in Syria. If what the source heard was true, then a foreign power was exercising pivotal influence over U.S. foreign policy—and an incoming President.

Mayer goes on to raise reasons to doubt the credibility of this report — not least, that Trump never liked Romney (and especially had it in for Mormons in the wake of the election, when Mormons were among the most vocal opponents to Trump) — but she presents them as details that might corroborate the report.

As fantastical as the memo sounds, subsequent events could be said to support it. In a humiliating public spectacle, Trump dangled the post before Romney until early December, then rejected him. There are plenty of domestic political reasons that Trump may have turned against Romney. Trump loyalists, for instance, noted Romney’s public opposition to Trump during the campaign. Roger Stone, the longtime Trump aide, has suggested that Trump was vengefully tormenting Romney, and had never seriously considered him. (Romney declined to comment. The White House said that he was never a first choice for the role and declined to comment about any communications that the Trump team may have had with Russia on the subject.) In any case, on December 13, 2016, Trump gave Rex Tillerson, the C.E.O. of ExxonMobil, the job. The choice was a surprise to most, and a happy one in Moscow, because Tillerson’s business ties with the Kremlin were long-standing and warm. (In 2011, he brokered a historic partnership between ExxonMobil and Rosneft.) After the election, Congress imposed additional sanctions on Russia, in retaliation for its interference, but Trump and Tillerson have resisted enacting them.

I’m curious, however, by a bigger question, which first leads me to the other consistent timing issue in Steele booster narratives.

The continued virgin birth of the December 13 report

Mayer tells the standard narrative of how Steele had Sir Andrew Wood brief John McCain on the dossier, which led to David Kramer obtaining it.

The week before Thanksgiving, Wood briefed McCain at the Halifax International Security Forum. McCain was deeply concerned. He asked a former aide, David Kramer, to go to England to meet Steele. Kramer, a Russia expert who had served at the State Department, went over the dossier with Steele for hours. After Kramer promised to share the document only with McCain, Steele arranged for Kramer to receive a copy in Washington. But a former national-security official who spoke with Kramer at the time told me that one of Kramer’s ideas was to have McCain confront Trump with the evidence, in the hope that Trump would resign. “He would tell Trump, ‘The Russians have got you,’ ” the former official told me. (A lawyer for Kramer maintains that Kramer never considered getting Trump to resign and never promised to show the dossier only to McCain.) Ultimately, though, McCain and Kramer agreed that McCain should take the dossier to the head of the F.B.I. On December 9th, McCain handed Comey a copy of the dossier. The meeting lasted less than ten minutes, because, to McCain’s surprise, the F.B.I. had possessed a copy since the summer. According to the former national-security official, when Kramer learned about the meeting his reaction was “Shit, if they’ve had it all this time, why didn’t they do something?” Kramer then heard that the dossier was an open secret among journalists, too. He asked, “Is there anyone in Washington who doesn’t know about this?” [my emphasis]

After including the denial that Kramer promised exclusivity to McCain (bolded above), Mayer lays out what has become the presumptive story on how BuzzFeed got the dossier, from Kramer.

By a process of elimination, speculation has centered on McCain’s aide, Kramer, who has not responded to inquiries about it, and whose congressional testimony is sealed.

Except all that would support Kramer leaking a dossier in its December 9 form, not a dosser in its December 13 form, which is what we got.

The question is all the more pressing, because we now know that there’s another version of the dossier, one that might include the late November report but not (yet) the December 13 report, which may be how the FBI obtained it.

The other scoop: a different murder?

So there are two scoops: the report that Russian chatter took credit for Trump humiliating Mitt Romney, which might be true (in spite of all the reasons to believe it’s not), or might instead be more disinformation, in this case disinformation that served Russian bureaucrats’ self-interest in looking good for Putin.

The other scoop is that, while Mayer notes there is no evidence that Oleg Erovinkin was a Steele source, there may be another death that Mueller is investigating in relation to the dossier.

No evidence has emerged that Erovinkin was a Steele source, and in fact Special Counsel Mueller is believed to be investigating a different death that is possibly related to the dossier.

None of the two known potentially suspicious American deaths, that of Seth Rich or Peter Smith, would seem to match the dossier timeline. There are, however, a few other Russians that might be potentially related deaths.

I’d love to see a 15,000 word piece that finally answers some of these questions about the dossier. But for now we’ve just got my neverending pieces asking the questions.

On Disinformation and the Dossier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anti-Magnitsky lobbyists: Rinat Akhmetshin; Ed Lieberman;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was about a week before Trump’s inauguration, and Manafort wanted to brief Trump’s team on alleged inaccuracies in a recently released dossier of memos written by a former British spy for Trump’s opponents that alleged compromising ties among Russia, Trump and Trump’s associates, including Manafort.

“On the day that the dossier came out in the press, Paul called Reince, as a responsible ally of the president would do, and said this story about me is garbage, and a bunch of the other stuff in there seems implausible,” said a personclose to Manafort.

[snip]

According to a GOP operative familiar with Manafort’s conversation with Priebus, Manafort suggested the errors in the dossier discredited it, as well as the FBI investigation, since the bureau had reached a tentative (but later aborted) agreement to pay the former British spy to continue his research and had briefed both Trump and then-President Barack Obama on the dossier.

Manafort told Priebus that the dossier was tainted by inaccuracies and by the motivations of the people who initiated it, whom he alleged were Democratic activists and donors working in cahoots with Ukrainian government officials, according to the operative.

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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?

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.

 

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.

Three *More* Things: Tarsmacked, Shuffled and Screwed?

I resent all to hell that we are forking over a metric crap ton of tax dollars every weekend for his Golden Golf Hackness to hang out at one of his courses. This weekend, though, I’d make an exception — and of course, he drags his feet getting out of town, making trouble on the way.

~ 3 ~

You’ve no doubt heard that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus resigned or quit, depending on which source you read and when. Scuttlebutt says Trump was pissed that Priebus didn’t push back at Scaramucci after the profanity-laced interview with Ryan Lizza. Other scuttlebutt says Scaramucci is actually Jared and Ivanka’s minion; he’s so vulgar and cold he fits in anywhere in Team Trump. So bloody hard to keep the players straight; where’s self-sucking Bannon in all this?

Anyhow, apparently His Imminently Golf Hackness tweeted his pink slip from the door of Air Force One.

And Priebusly-of-West-Wing was left on the tarmac without a ride.

Jesus Christ, how mother freaking cold and rude, the only guy who really kept Trump looking like a legitimate member of the GOP, tossed like an empty KFC bag.

Priebus, who is rumored to be the only staffer who didn’t sign one of Team Trump’s non-disclosure agreements, hasn’t figured out he doesn’t have to suck up any longer.

I hate that these sloppy mean girls occupying the White House make me feel sorry for that schmuck Priebus.

~ 2 ~

And His Imminently Golf Hackness nominated current DHS director John Kelly as the new White House chief of staff.

Kelly has peeved off some senators; I supposed taking on role of chief fly swatter will be nothing in comparison to his failure to disclose his relationship to military contractors.

Rumor: Kelly is being moved to CoS to make way for Sessions as DHS director, which in turn leaves the AG’s position open for a new nominee willing to fire Mueller.

Oh hell, no.

~ 1 ~

Latest buzz is that McCain’s vote YES on the Motion to Proceed earlier in week set up the actual failure of H.R. 1628 Health Care Freedom Act vote last night.

The analysis was posted at Reddit, of all places.

… The thing is, the Senate can only consider one budget reconciliation bill per topic per year. Of course, if the bill dies in committee and never comes to an official vote, it doesn’t count- which is why they’ve been able to keep hammering away at the issue.

This bill, though, was allowed to come to the Senate floor, because the Republicans thought they’d secured the votes. Collins, Murkowski and the Democrats would vote no, everyone else would vote yes, and Pence would break the tie. And then McCain completely fucked them. And it was almost certainly a calculated move; he voted to allow the bill to come to the floor. Had McCain allowed it to die in committee, McConnell could have come back with yet another repeal bill; but he let it come to a vote, and now they can’t consider another budget reconciliation bill for the rest of the fiscal year. The Senate needs 60 votes to pass any kind of healthcare reform now. …

Which opens up a whole mess of questions if this is really what happened…

Did John McCain plan to screw Trumpcare by himself, or was this staged to save the Senate GOP caucus face as I speculated earlier today?

If he had help staging this, who else was in on it? “Yertle” McConnell, who is acting pouty and butt-hurt? If McConnell was in on it, then he deserved a nomination for an acting award.

And was this a final Fuck You to Heel-Spurs-in-Chief, who disrespected McCain’s service and time as a POW?

I can’t help it; I hope it was payback. And I hope this buys more time to build real fixes for ACA until a Democratic majority can take back Congress.

UPDATE — 12:11 P.M. EDT —
Yep, too good to be true. @Celeste_P says nope. Maverick wasn’t super-maverick after all. It was fun to imagine while the illusion lasted.

~ 0 ~

It’s the weekend, finally. Hope somebody is lost longer than usual in the rough. Open bar, open thread. Behave and drive safely.

Three Things: In the Debris Field After Health Care ‘Freedom’ Act

I still don’t have enough caffeine in my system and it’s nearly noon here. An entire pot of java may do the trick. As I rouse and read the hot takes after the failure of H.R. 1628 last night, a few thoughts stick with me.

~ 3 ~

All the think pieces — most written by white men lauding John McCain’s maverick move by departing from the party line — are evidence ‘the show’ worked.
McCain called it that when asked before the vote last night which way he was going. “Watch the show,” he said.

Meanwhile, the two women senators who have been firm all along they couldn’t vote for a bill causing damage to their constituents receive far fewer plaudits from the same mostly-white-male pundit class. Murkowski had been threatened by the Interior Secretary at Trump’s request. I haven’t heard for certain, but I’ll bet Collins received threats as well, probably from Trump-supporting constituents.

McCain won’t get those kinds of threats. He made his point last night about the power he wields within GOP Senate caucus as the final A/B switch on legislation. But the GOP Senate already knew this.

What McCain did was give the GOP a face-saving way to vote for a piece of shit they didn’t want to pass, without the repercussions Collins and Murkowski (and at varying times, Heller and Capito) have faced for rejecting a POS bill.

This is why they waited until the last goddamned minute to draft a meager eight-pages, slapping in some egregious stuff to ensure Collins and Murkowski couldn’t vote, adding the 20% annual premium increase as a coup de grace.

Because McCain would do the maverick kabuki for them, slap on his mask and robes, make big gestures and kill the bill for them.

And it worked not only because all the white male pundit class got suckered by their usual privileged blindness, but the white male Tweeter-in-Chief bought it, hook, line, sinker. He blamed all the Democrats and three GOP senators. All the other senators are off the hook.

Bonus: McCain’s legacy is salvaged with the patriarchal punditry.

Great ‘show’, maverick.

~ 2 ~

Scaramucci is nothing more than a highly-animated automaton on a stage; nothing he says is real. Why? Because the real communications are being run out of house by Steve Bannon, and likely in violation of federal law.

What is it and to whom is Bannon really communicating for the White House?
This operation may be in violation of the Antideficiency Act, but is it also in violation of the Presidential Records Act? What about any other regulations regarding FOIA?

Don’t believe me about Scaramucci’s role? Take a look at your news feed and point to any announcement about his firing or resignation. You know damned well had a communications director acted like he has under any other previous administration he’d have been walked out the White House’s fence.

p.s. Some say Scaramucci’s lowering discourse. Come the fuck on. He talks the way all of Wall Street’s white males do. The misogynist crack about Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ appearance? Par for the course.

~ 1 ~

Recommended lunch hour read for you: a book review by Andrew Bacevich in London Review of Books on The General v. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War by H.W. Brands. Bacevich’s background here.

Putting this book on my shopping list after this review, given how much power Trump has given and is likely to give to the military, breaking with civilian control.

~ 0 ~

That’s it for now. I’m stewing on something else but it’ll be dedicated and not an open thread like this one. Hasta pasta.

McCain’s Brain Versus American Lives and Healthcare

There is no joy here in the Mudville that is Arizona. John McCain may have been somebody that natives like me disfavored from the start because of his hubristic usurpation of a true legend and son of Arizona, John Rhodes, but no one here wanted this.

Not now. Not ever.

So the “press” such as they may be, can run all their blathering hagiographies. Go run with that. It’s what you do, isn’t it?

But, for now, thankfully, McCain is alive and well. I am thankful for that.

And, I hope, at this critical juncture in life, John McCain finds it within himself to realize that the healthcare that has kept him alive, and diagnosed his problems, should NOT be limited to Congresspeople and those that married into money. We all deserve the benefit of what McCain has realized.

John McCain has an opportunity to stand up now for those that have none of his storied display of heroism, nor the benefit of his position. His story, because Mr. McCain was born into military care and then segued into other money and entitlement that does not transfer to most of us. For the common citizens he has always talked about, yet curiously abandoned, when it counted in close measures on the Senate floor, where has John McCain been? Absent, that is where.

The man who lived under the press moniker “Maverick” can ride into the famous sunset of his adopted state by helping real people instead of going out with the McConnell Republicans determined to screw the populous. Who will John McCain be?

Who will John McCain be? The elusive and etherial “Maverick” he has always painted himself as being? Or the reliable vote for craven Republican policies that devastate real citizens? Arizona, indeed America itself, deserves the McCain always portrayed and lionized in his numerous campaigns. Not the guy who always defaulted to the GOP sick and craven core.

Will John McCain have the guts and glory he is famous for, and go out fighting for the common American and their human rights to healthcare and financial and educational stability? The exact things McCain has fatuously blabbered about and never really supported in Congress? Or will he do better?

Who are you truly John McCain? A dying country, in the age of Trump, wants to know.

You have a chance to now be the man you always painted yourself to be. For the sake of this country, please be that man.

The Virgin Birth of the Most Inflammatory Trump Dossier Claims

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

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

Steele denies he shared the dossier with journalists

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

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

[snip]

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

I find the claim rather suspicious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steele’s free report based off unsolicited intelligence

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

Here’s what Steele claims about that last report.

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did they get paid, either?

The virgin birth of the most inflammatory claims

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update: This post has been updated for clarity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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