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Rinat Ahkmetshin: “Nothing Is Secret.”

The Financial Times, which had the scoop that Rinat Ahkmetshin — the naturalized Russian lobbyist who attended the June 9, 2016 meeting in Trump Tower — appeared before Robert Mueller’s grand jury several weeks ago, has a long interview with him. The key, buried details are that he’s not all that interested in whether Russia tampered with the election.

I ask whether he thinks Russia intervened in the US elections. “They might have done,” he says, but doesn’t seem particularly fussed if they did. “It’s like someone steals your toothpaste from you because you couldn’t hide it well enough — I think there’s something honest about that.” He goes on to expound a curious theory of “personal responsibility” — the value he says he likes best about America.

Followed by the kicker line:

“Nothing is secret,” he had said. “If you’re not stupid, you should operate on that assumption.”

Along the way, though, the interview doesn’t answer two worthy questions. The piece reveals that Akhmetshin bumped his rates up from $450 to $600 an hour this year, but it doesn’t explain whether and if so who paid for his time at Trump Tower last year. Sure, it’s only about $450, but who paid it?

More importantly, it doesn’t address the question I asked here: given Akhmetshin’s ties and past work for Fusion GPS, why did the intelligence company ask Christopher Steele to work on an anti-Trump dossier rather than Akhmetshin himself? Given his ties, did he know about it?

The interview describes Akhmetshin’s claim that he doesn’t work for Russia, but would never do anything to hurt it.

I will never f**k with Russian state,” he says in idiosyncratic English spoken with a light Russian accent. “I will never do things against Russian government. It’s stupid,” he tells me. “Simply, the stakes are too high.”

It describes his claim to be close with people at the CIA (which is why, he explains, Russia no longer trusts him). Akhmetshin also claims to have ties to French, British, and German intelligence. But he does go out drinking with Russian spooks when he’s in Moscow.

The most remarkable passage in the interview (especially given the revelation that Paul Manafort’s notes from the meeting suggest donations to Republicans were raised as well) however, is Akhmetshin’s admission that, while he hadn’t read the English language documents Natalia Veselnitskaya brought to the Trump Tower meeting, he had read the Russian versions.

Akhmetshin said he did not read the papers about Hillary Clinton’s campaign funding that Veselnitskaya took to the meeting, but he had seen the Russian version of it before. He says the lawyer developed it with the help of private corporate intelligence and that it was about “how bad money ended up in Manhattan and that money was put into supporting political campaigns”.

I find this revealing for several reasons. Remember that the early reports in the Steele dossier discuss pre-hacked email kompromat on Hillary Clinton. But why would a private intelligence company do a report in Russian, unless it was in Russia? Moreover, again, it seems Akhmetshin was already swimming in some of this Russian-based kompromat. So why didn’t Fusion have him collect on Trump? Did he work on the earlier, pre-June research paid by a Republican?

In short, the questions for Akhmetshin should go beyond the Trump Tower meeting, because there are obvious questions about his relationship with Fusion GPS.

Three Things: Shocker, Badger, Vapor

Summer doldrums are hitting hard here; it’s too steamy today to do much but watch the garden grow and the ‘hot takes’ bloom. Let’s breeze through these.

~ 1 ~

Shocker: The White House had its ass handed to it last night, alongside a serving of vanilla ice cream and peach cobbler. While it was kissing up to some über conservative Senators, Utah’s Mike Lee and Kansas’ Jerry Moran announced they would not support the Motion to Proceed on the latest POS edition of AHCA.

Excellent work on the dual tweets dispatched simultaneously at 8:30 p.m., by the way (see this one and this one). Live by the tweets, die by the tweets, Littlehands.

What I find particularly interesting is the secrecy this announcement revealed. Not just the discreet collaboration between two senators from very red states, taking advantage of the additional time afforded them by John McCain’s personal health care challenge. Apparently Senate Majority Leader Mitch “Yertle” McConnell has had such a tight grip on the legislative process that even his wingman, John Cornyn, doesn’t know what’s going on until McConnell’s office emails his deputies.

Not exactly a way to win friends and influence enemies, that.

(For some reason McConnell’s super-secret hyper control makes me think of the compartments Washington Post wrote about with regard to the Russian election hacks and the subsequent investigation. Why is that?)

~ 2 ~

Badger: Russia is pissed off about its dachas-away-from-home, threatening retaliation if they’re not returned. Uh, right. Like the U.S. suddenly decided to boot Russian occupants out of the Long Island and Maryland digs for no good reason last year. Russian Foreign Ministry “reserves the right to retaliate based on the principle of reciprocity,” forgetting that Obama took a too-measured response to repeated incursions by Russia into U.S. information systems — including hacks of the White House and Defense Department in 2015 — not to mention the ‘Illegals Program‘ spy who worked at Microsoft circa 2010. (Let’s also not forget an ‘Illegals Program’ spy worked their way close to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign co-chair.) The U.S. could and should have been far more aggressive in its response; Russia isn’t entitled to reciprocity.

This is a test for Congressional Republicans. Either cement sanctions against Russia including the ‘foreclosure’ on these two compounds, or admit complicity in the undermining of democratic process last year. The GOP needs to revisit a CRS report on U.S.-Russia relations and Executive Orders 13660, 13661, and 13662 before they give any ground. [EDIT: See also EO 13964, issued April 1, 2016 in response to “malicious cyberactivity” — this EO the GOP will probably ignore just as it has all signs of Team Trump collusion as well as Russian interference in the 2016 general election.]

If there are truly compelling reasons in the nation’s interest for conceding these compounds, give them back — but only after the buildings have been razed and permits for reconstruction are denied under sanctions. The Russian government can work out of trailers on the property, or on boats from the dock. They do not need to be any more comfortable than they have been.

~ 3 ~

Vapor: No longer a ghost — we  now know who the eighth attendee was at Donnie Junior’s June 9th meeting at Trump Tower last year. Lucky number seven is believed to be a translator — and wow, so is number eight!

Which seems kind of odd — in the information Junior dumped online, there was no mention that Veselnitskaya didn’t speak English and needed a translator, or who would be the translator. Doesn’t it seem strange that there would be no concerns about security clearance into Trump Tower or a meeting with a presidential candidate’s son and/or campaign team given the meeting requester was a foreign national?

Perhaps because there was little concern, Body Number Eight, Ike Kaveladze, purportedly showed up as Veselnitskaya’s translator only to learn she had brought her own, Body Number Seven, Anatoli Samochornov. It’s not clear from USA Today’s reporting who asked Kaveladze to attend; did Junior just let any Russian in the neighborhood attend the meeting? Aras Agalarov sent Kaveladze “just to make sure it happened and to serve as an interpreter if necessary,” Kaveladze’s lawyer told NYT. Why so many witnesses?

The room must have been a little crowded with Junior, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, Rob Goldstone, Veselnitskaya and two translators as well as Rinat Akhmetshin.

Given the two translators, Akhmetshin’s presence seems even more curious. Why was he there if there were two translators?

~ ~ ~

That’s that. I could go on but it’s too damned hot here. Refresh your iced tea and settle yourself in front of the fan. This is an open thread — behave.

Akhmetshin’s Involvement and the Trump Dossier

Over the course of the slow reveal of details about the meeting Don Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort had on June 9, 2016 with Natalia Veselnitskaya, the focus has rightly been on the changing stories of the initially identified players.

It was about adoption, maybe she made some vague statements, oh yeah, those vague statements were oppo research, yes, yes, here are the emails showing that oppo research came from an affirmative effort in Russia to elect Dad, how can a ‘good boy‘ be expected to remember all the Russians involved in a meeting? Don Jr. blathered until, perhaps, his newly-hired lawyer shut him up.

I have no ties to the Russian government, I had no damaging information and if I did I had no intention of leaving it, well, maybe I did get information directly from a top Russian prosecutor, explained Veselnitskaya over the course of the week.

I accidentally hit send, I met with no foreigners, maybe there were Russians, but not Veselnitskaya, oh yeah, maybe her too, my lawyers told Pop’s lawyers, well maybe I never got around to mentioning it to him personally, the tale of Kushner’s difficulties identifying all the Russians he met with evolved over the week, at which point Jamie Gorelick removed herself from any responsibility criminally defending the guy.

All of which climaxed in the news that former Russian intelligence officer Rinat Akhmetshin and accused (before the accusation was withdrawn) hacker also attended the meeting.

Akhmetshin has boasted to associates that he had served in the military with a group known as the Osoby Otdel, or Special Section, which in the Soviet period was a division of the K.G.B. The group was distinct from the G.R.U., or Main Intelligence Directorate of the defense ministry, an organization with which he has denied any affiliation.

[snip]

The Justice Department contacted Mr. Akhmetshin in March and asked him why he did not register his work for the nonprofit group under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, which requires anyone who lobbies in the United States on behalf of foreign interests to disclose their work to the Justice Department. Mr. Akhmetshin responded to the Justice Department in April, saying he had properly registered under congressional lobbying rules.

In 2015, International Mineral Resources, a mining company based in the Netherlands, accused Mr. Akhmetshin of hacking into its computer systems, stealing confidential information and unlawfully disseminating it as part of a smear campaign orchestrated by a rival Russian mining firm.

All of which, given that the meeting took place a week before hacked emails started coming out, sure makes it look like the principals were deliberately hiding Akhmetshin’s participation in the meeting, though Akhmetshin claims he got pulled into the meeting that day, still wearing his jeans and t-shirt.

He said he had learned about the meeting only that day when Veselnitskaya asked him to attend. He said he showed up in jeans and a T-shirt.

Given all these changing stories and what they might hide I’d like to return to Don Sr.’s initial response. Way back on Sunday, the spox for Trump’s lawyers (who reportedly had known of these emails for three weeks) claimed the meeting had been a set-up by the same intelligence firm, Fusion GPS, that put together the Trump dossier.

“We have learned from both our own investigation and public reports that the participants in the meeting misrepresented who they were and who they worked for,” Mark Corallo, spokesperson for Trump’s outside counsel, said in a statement released a few hours after the original New York Times story published.

“Specifically, we have learned that the person who sought the meeting is associated with Fusion GPS, a firm which according to public reports, was retained by Democratic operatives to develop opposition research on the president and which commissioned the phony Steele dossier,” Corallo continued, referring to the strategic intelligence firm hired by anti-Trump Republicans, then by Democrats, to do opposition research on the candidate.

(Fusion GPS eventually retained former MI-6 agent Christopher Steele to research potential connections between Trump and Russia, an investigation that resulted in a dossier that alleged financial, political, and personal connections between the then-president-elect and the Kremlin—a dossier that Trump’s communications team might have preferred to go unmentioned.)

“These developments raise serious issues as to exactly who authorized and participated in any effort by Russian nationals to influence our election in any manner,” Corallo concluded.

Even as all this was happening, Chuck Grassley released a testimony list suggesting the head of Fusion GPS, Glenn Simpson, would testify aside the key player accusing Akhmetshin of unlawfully lobbying for Russia, William Browder. But Simpson continues, as he started in June, to refuse to testify willingly.

The insinuation this meeting was all a set-up by a Clinton-surrogate was absolutely a cheap attempt, worthy of Corallo, to flip this story. But as I said earlier in this week, it’s more clever than first assumed. As I noted, a full eleven days after the meeting (and five days after the first stolen documents appeared), Fusion was still presenting conflicting details about whether Russian-derived Clinton dirt had been shared with Trump’s campaign, ultimately claiming, however, that it hadn’t.

The report, dated 11 days after the Veselnitskaya meeting, states that the Kremlin has a dossier on Clinton, but that it has not as yet been distributed abroad.

That claim is seemingly contradicted by the claims of Source A (a senior Russian Foreign Ministry figure) and Source D. Indeed, Source D appears to have claimed, in June, that dirt from Russia was helpful.

Ultimately, though, the memo seems to credit Source B, “a former top level Russian intelligence officer” and Source G, a senior Kremlin official, who said the dossier, attributed here to the FSB, had not yet been shared with Trump or anyone else in America.

Consider: First, Akhmetshin himself qualifies as a former intelligence officer (though it’s not clear how senior he was). He might have reason to deny that intelligence he tried to pass was the intelligence in question. And he’d likely be right, given that the Clinton dossier was purportedly a FSB, not a GRU, product. But it’s even possible that he didn’t want Hillary to know that he or a colleague was dealing dirt, however bad.

Nevertheless, the senior-most Russian quoted in the dossier compiled for Hillary Clinton claimed — and Steele appears to have believed — that Russia’s dirt on Hillary Clinton had not yet been released.

As I noted (and others have expanded elsewhere) some of these sources could be people who attended the meeting, particularly once we learn which Agalarov was involved and how closely.

It is definitely cheap to suggest that having three principals from Trump’s campaign meet with Russians claiming to represent the wishes of the Russian government is just an opposition plot invented by a Hillary surrogate. But the feedback loop within Fusion and the narrow circle of key Russian sources on Trump’s campaign is definitely worth considering.

And Now Akmetshin, or Why the Hell *Didn’t* Obama ‘Tapp’ Team Trump?

A couple days ago Marcy pointed out that Donnie Trump Jr.’s meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya on June 9, 2016, offered proof the Obama administration didn’t ‘wiretapp’ the Trump campaign.

Which is all fine and dandy until today’s revelation that a former-GRU-agent-cum-campaign-hacker-now-lobbyist present at the same meeting.

What. The. Actual. Fuck?

It’s bad enough contacts with foreign nationals have to be teased out one by one from Team Trump, but to appear to hide multiple Russian contacts attending one meeting, particularly those with background in military and/or intelligence, is utterly ridiculous.

If this meeting was completely on the up-and-up, wouldn’t Junior have included the names of ALL the attendees in his online spill-fest?

It’s almost as if Junior and the rest of Team Trump knew that the presence of more than one Russian, particularly Rinat Akhmetshin, wasn’t a good thing.

It’s almost as if Natalia Veselnitskaya knew Akhmetshin’s presence wasn’t a good thing, either, since the communications Junior dumped online don’t indicate her intention to bring Akhmetshin with her to the June 9th meeting.

Read the AP’s reporting and see if you don’t come away with a bunch of new questions about Junior’s meeting. I sure did…

— Did Veselnitskaya leave documents with Junior and the rest of Team Trump? Akhmetsin is very sketchy on this point.

— Did any U.S. law enforcement or intelligence agency have any indication that Akhmetshin as well as Veselnitskaya were in NYC let alone at Trump Tower? Keep in mind the Evgeny Buryakov case and the “others known and unknown” who had been supporting Buryakov and two other Russian spies in 2013.

— Were members of the Gang of Eight, including Mitch McConnell and Devin Nunes, told last summer before the election of the multiple Russians meeting with Junior and Team Trump, even without any ‘wiretapp’ used on foreign national attendees? Is this one of the issues which riled up former Sen. Harry Reid, encouraging him to send a letter to former FBI Director Jim Comey to ask for an investigation?

— Are U.S. intelligence agencies not following Akhmetsin because he was believed to be a registered lobbyist, in spite of the fact he’s accused of being a hacker AND the U.S. government had been repeatedly hacked by Russia in 2015-2016?

— Has Team Trump been in contact with DHS’ Mike Kelly at all about Akhmetsin, especially since Sen. Chuck Grassley sent a letter to Kelly [pdf] in April this year asking for more information about Akhmetsin?

If I think about this much longer, I’m sure I’ll come up with a few more questions. I don’t know how there wasn’t some form of ‘tapp’ following so many Russians in one spot, considering the Prevezon money laundering case was still open in the background. I get it — wiretapping defense lawyers is a no-no. But a meeting at which Rinat Akhmetsin was present, in a building where Russian money laundering had been conducted?

The whole situation stinks like a week-old kulebyáka left in the sun.

Yet More Proof Obama Didn’t “Tapp” Trump

CNN is reporting that Robert Mueller’s investigation only recently learned of the June 9, 2016 meeting between Don Jr, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and Natalia Veselnitskaya, but will now include it in the scope of the investigation.

The details of the interactions between Trump Jr., Goldstone and Veselnitskaya weren’t fully known to federal investigators until recently, according to three US officials familiar with the probe. The FBI, as part of its counter intelligence probe and the investigation into Russian meddling, has scrutinized some of Donald Trump Jr.’s business dealings and meetings even before the latest meeting was disclosed, one of the US officials said.

Now, Mueller’s probe will look at the meeting and email exchanges that Trump Jr. disclosed as part of its investigation, according to the US official briefed on the matter.

A different CNN report strongly suggests the government learned it as a result of Kushner’s revisions to his SF86 forms — which it sounds like he has revised almost as many times as Karl Rove revised his grand jury testimony in the CIA leak case.

The emails with Donald Trump Jr. about the Russian meeting were discovered as Kushner and his legal team prepared for his testimony before Congress as they were doing a document review, a source familiar with the process told CNN.

As soon as the document was discovered, Kushner’s disclosure form was amended to include the meeting, the source said.

This means that Kushner’s SF-86 changed a number of times: First, the inaccurate form, which left blank the foreign contacts section. Next (and the next day), the form was amended to say that he had multiple contacts and would disclose those. The process of gathering information progressed throughout the winter and spring. Then the form was amended yet again to include the Trump Jr. meeting as soon as it was discovered, a source with knowledge of the process told CNN.

In other words, until Kushner himself revealed these emails, the FBI didn’t have them, or even know about this meeting.

Which further confirms what I noted here: in addition to all the other things this email indicates, it confirms the Obama NSA did not “tapp” the Trump campaign.

That may not be a surprise: as a British citizen and someone who spends some or most of his time in the US, Rob Goldstone would not be easily targetable in NSA spying, and the Russian names included in the email would not be targetable under “about” collection.

But this also means that the FBI found nothing to justify collecting the email accounts of these recipients themselves, including Don Jr, Kushner, and even Manafort, the latter of whom has been under investigation for money laundering (though it’s not clear what emails these are).

So either this means the FBI only recent started collecting the emails of these men (and in so doing discovered the meeting), or still hasn’t.

Once again, whatever else the dumbass son did by releasing this email, he has helped to prove, once and for all, that Obama did not “tapp” Trump’s campaign.

Don Jr Provides Proof Obama Didn’t “Tapp” Trump

As you’ve no doubt heard, the NYT reported out the details of the meeting between Don Jr, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and Natalia Veselnitskaya. It not only makes clear that Veselnitskaya was introduced as an agent of the Russian government, but that Rob Goldstone, who set up the meeting, presented it as part of Russia’s efforts to help Trump. (And yes, for those asking in this thread, I do consider this the kind of evidence that rises to the level of collusion which was not present in the first round of this story.)

The documents “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” read the email, written by a trusted intermediary, who added, “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

If the future president’s elder son was surprised or disturbed by the provenance of the promised material — or the notion that it was part of a continuing effort by the Russian government to aid his father’s campaign — he gave no indication.

He replied within minutes: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

Four days later, after a flurry of emails, the intermediary wrote back, proposing a meeting in New York on Thursday with a “Russian government attorney.”

In an attempt to beat the NYT’s reporting (and because he is painfully stupid), Don Jr posted the emails in question. The email metadata makes it clear that the meeting involved Russia and Hillary — and included Jared and Manafort. (I’m stealing Matt Tait’s screencaps, which are here.)

Matt Tait annotated the most damning line, making it clear this was an effort on the part of Russia — which Don Jr presumably already knew about — to help Trump.

This one line, once and for all, proves that the NSA under President Obama did not “tapp” Trump and his associates. That’s because in the the IC report on the Russia hack (and as recently as Admiral Mike Rogers’ most recent appearance before Congress), NSA only had moderate confidence in the conclusion that Putin affirmatively supported Trump.

Had the NSA collected this email, they would have had high confidence Putin was affirmatively helping Trump. (This is a point Tait also made not long after I made it.) But Rogers has said there was something about the source of the prior intelligence supporting this point that led NSA to adopt a more conservative stance than FBI and CIA.

So, yeah, the dumbass son not only incriminated himself, but he did away with one of the few talking points the GOP had left.