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Oleg Deripaska Indicted for His Anchor Baby and Flowers for a TV Host

SDNY just unsealed an indictment against Oleg Deripaska and three others for sanctions violations. Just one person — naturalized US Citizen Olga Shikri — was in the US to be arrested. The other main consequences from this indictment will be the forfeiture of property related to the sanctions violations. The indictment lists the three properties that were searched last year.

The central allegations in the indictment pertain to efforts — successful with a first child, and unsuccessful with a second — to set up Deripaska’s girlfriend to give birth in the US and via that process, obtain US citizenship for the child.

Then, in or about 2020, SHRIKI and BARDAKOVA helped DERIPASKA’s girlfriend, VORONINA, travel from Russia to the United States so she could give birth to DERIPASKA’s and VORONINA’s child in the United States.  Despite DERIPASKA’s ongoing support for the Russian regime, he funded hundreds of thousands of dollars of transactions so that his child could take advantage of the U.S. healthcare system and U.S. birthright.  SHRIKI orchestrated the payment of approximately $300,000 worth of U.S. medical care, housing, childcare, and other logistics to aid VORONINA and DERIPASKA’s efforts to help VORONINA give birth in the United States, which resulted in the child receiving U.S. citizenship.  DERIPASKA counseled VORONINA on obtaining a visa to travel to the United States, including by telling her to be “careful” ahead of an interview by U.S. immigration authorities.  VORONINA thereafter applied for and obtained a U.S. visa for a purported ten-day tourism visit without disclosing her intent to travel and stay in the United States for approximately six months to give birth to DERIPASKA’s child.  Following the birth, SHRIKI, BARDAKOVA, and VORONINA conspired to conceal the name of the child’s true father, DERIPASKA, going so far as to change, slightly, the spelling of the child’s last name.

Later, in or about 2022, at DERIPASKA’s further behest and for his further benefit, SHRIKI and BARDAKOVA attempted to facilitate VORONINA’s return to the United States to give birth to DERIPASKA’s and VORONINA’s second child.  This second attempt included BARDAKOVA and VORONINA’s attempt to use false statements to conceal DERIPASKA’s funding and secure VORONINA’s entry into the United States – an attempt that was thwarted, and VORONINA was denied entry and returned immediately to Istanbul, through which she had flown from Russia to the United States.

In addition to a music studio sold in 2019, the indictment refers to other purchases in the US, including Easter flowers for a US TV host.

BARDAKOVA – largely based in Russia – directed SHRIKI to engage in particular illegal transactions on DERIPASKA’s behalf.  These instructions included directing SHRIKI to obtain U.S. goods and technology for DERIPASKA.  Moreover, between in or about May 2018 and in or about 2020, BARDAKOVA instructed SHRIKI to purchase and send flower and gift deliveries on behalf of DERIPASKA to DERIPASKA’s social contacts in the United States and Canada.  The deliveries included, among others, Easter gift deliveries to a U.S. television host, two flower deliveries to a then-former Canadian Parliament member, and two flower deliveries in 2020 to VORONINA while she was in the United States in 2020 to give birth to DERIPASKA’s child.

Perhaps most interesting to me is that the investigation was active in 2020, in the wake of Geoffrey Berman’s firing. Shriki is accused of destroying records in advance of a September 23 grand jury appearance. This was the period when Barr was furiously cleaning up all remaining traces of the Russian investigation (and it was the same month when Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s Interpol red notice was withdrawn, even though the indictment against him in the US remains).

In Berman’s book (which I’ll write about one of these days), he makes it quite clear Barr was protecting Rudy in this period. Was he also protecting Deripaska?

Update: Interesting timing! Andy Beshear announced he has recouped the $15 Million Matt Bevin dumped in Deripaska’s aluminum venture in KY.

Durham Admits He Has No Real Evidence on Four Millian Counts against Igor Danchenko

In the middle of a motion in limine arguing, in part, that the Durham prosecutors should be able to introduce two sets of emails from Sergei Millian to one of the journalists who gave Igor Danchenko Millian’s contact information, John Durham admits that those emails are the most probative evidence he’s got that Millian never met or spoke with Danchenko.

Fourth, whether the statements are the most probative evidence on the point. Millian’s emails written contemporaneous to the events at issue are undoubtedly the most probative evidence to support the fact that Millian had never met or spoken with the defendant.

Mind you, whether Millian ever spoke to Danchenko or not is irrelevant to whether Danchenko believed that he had.

But Durham appears not to understand that.

If you don’t mind, I think I’ll punctuate this post with stupid Millian Tweets — like some Greek chorus — while I take breaks to wrap my brain around how Durham got his ass so badly handed to him by Sergei Millian.

Durham appears not to understand that if Danchenko got a phone call from someone else in July 2016, but believed at the time that the call was from Millian, then his four charged statements that he believed the call was from Millian would still be entirely true — an argument I made last year and one Danchenko made in his Motion to Dismiss (Danchenko’s MTD was filed after the government motion, but submitted unsealed from the start).

[T]he indictment does not allege that Mr. Danchenko did not receive an anonymous phone call in or about late July 2016. Instead, the indictment alleges only that Mr. Danchenko “never received such a phone call or information from any person he believed to be Chamber President-1[.]” The alleged false statement is that Danchenko did not truly believe that the anonymous caller was Chamber President-1. The indictment also alleges that Mr. Danchenko “never made any arrangements to meet Chamber President-1.” However, Mr. Danchenko never stated that he made such arrangements. Rather, he told the FBI that he arranged to meet the anonymous caller, but the anonymous caller never showed up for the meeting.

But Durham believes his job is to prove that Millian never spoke with Danchenko, and so spent a third of his filing making humiliating admissions about how weak his case is.

One of the dire problems Durham has with his Millian case is that … as I predicted … he has no witness.

As I noted last year, when he originally charged Danchenko, he relied on Millian’s Twitter feed, not an interview with Millian, to substantiate Millian’s claim that he never spoke with Danchenko. Here’s how Sergei responded last year when I pointed out that his testimony, under oath, would be necessary to convict Danchenko.

 

 

Turns out I wasn’t nuts. All of the sources against Danchenko were willing to testify under oath, it appears, but Millian. Well, and Christopher Steele, too, but that’s for another post.

To Durham’s … um … credit, he did at some point (he tellingly hides the date) get Millian to participate in a “virtual interview” (which may or may not be the same as a “video interview”?). In that interview, Millian claimed that rather than fleeing the US because of the criminal investigation into him and Mueller’s interest in interviewing him, he fled the country because of the Steele dossier.

The Government has conducted a virtual interview of Millian. Based on representations from counsel, the Government believes that Millian was located in Dubai at the time of the interview. During the interview, Millian stated, in sum and substance, that he has never met with or spoken with the defendant, Millian informed investigators that he left the United States in March 2017 and he has not returned. Millian stated, in sum, that he left the United States due to threats on his and his family’s personal safety because of his alleged role in the Steele Reports. On multiple occasions, the Government has inquired about Millian’s availability to testify at the defendant’s trial. Millian has repeatedly informed the Government that he has concerns for his and his family’s safety (who reside abroad) should he testify. Millian also informed the Government that he does not trust the FBI and fears being arrested if he returns to the United States. The Government has repeatedly informed Millian that it will work to ensure his security during his time in the United States, as it does with all witnesses. The Government has also been in contact with Millian’s counsel about the possibility of his testimony at trial. Nonetheless, despite its best efforts, the Government’s attempts to secure Millian’s voluntary testimony have been unsuccessful. Moreover, counsel for Millian would not accept service of a trial subpoena and advised that he does not know Millian’s address in order to effect service abroad.

Durham was unable to subpoena Millian to require him to testify under oath to his claim that he never spoke with Danchenko, because Sergei’s lawyer doesn’t know where he lives, not even to bill him. I guess he bills him “virtually,” just like the interviews.

But don’t worry. Durham promises he has other evidence that Sergei could not have called Danchenko in July 2016.

That evidence is that Millian was traveling in Asia during the period between July 21 and July 26, 2016, when such a call to Danchenko would have taken place.

Millian was traveling in Asia at the time the defendant sent this email and did not return to New York until late on the night of July 27, 2016. Notably, Millian had suspended his cellular phone service effective July 14, 2016 (prior to his travel) and his service was reconnected effective August 8, 2016. The defendant did travel to New York from July 26, 2016 through July 28, 2016 with his young daughter and spent much of his time sight-seeing, including a trip to the Bronx Zoo on July 28, 2016. The defendant would later claim to the FBI that it was during this trip to New York that the defendant attempted to meet Sergei Millian (after having received the alleged anonymous phone call from a person he purportedly believed to be Millian). [my emphasis]

The implication, says the Special Counsel who flew to Italy to get the multiple phones of Joseph Mifsud but who never walked across DOJ to get the multiple phones of his key witness Jim Baker, is that Millian could not have called Danchenko because the only possible SIM card he would have used while traveling in Asia, which generally used the GSM standard, would be the phone he used in the US, where CDMA was still widely used.

Millian couldn’t have called Danchenko during the period, Durham says, because his US-based phone was shut down while he was traveling in Asia.

That would be a shocking claim to make about any fairly sophisticated traveler in 2016, much less one who made the effort to shut off his location tracker cell coverage while he traveled overseas and for twelve days after he returned.

It’s an especially remarkable claim to make about someone that — DOJ has proof! — was arranging in-person meetings in NYC in precisely the same period, via text messages sent during the period when Millian’s US phone service was shut down.

Papadopoulos first connected with Millian via Linkedln on July 15, 2016, shortly after Papadopoulos had attended the TAG Summit with Clovis.500 Millian, an American citizen who is a native of Belarus, introduced himself “as president of [the] New York-based Russian American Chamber of Commerce,” and claimed that through that position he had ” insider knowledge and direct access to the top hierarchy in Russian politics.”501 Papadopoulos asked Timofeev whether he had heard of Millian.502 Although Timofeev said no,503 Papadopoulos met Millian in New York City.504 The meetings took place on July 30 and August 1, 2016.505 Afterwards, Millian invited Papadopoulos to attend-and potentially speak at-two international energy conferences, including one that was to be held in Moscow in September 2016.506 Papadopoulos ultimately did not attend either conference.

500 7/15/16 Linkedln Message, Millian to Papadopoulos.

501 7 /15/16 Linkedln Message, Millian to Papadopoulos.

502 7/22/16 Facebook Message, Papadopoulos to Timofeev (7:40:23 p.m.); 7/26/16 Facebook Message, Papadopoulos to Timofeev (3:08:57 p.m.).

503 7/23/16 Facebook Message, Timofeev to Papadopoulos (4:31:37 a.m.); 7/26/16 Facebook Message, Timofeev to Papadopoulos (3:37: 16 p.m.).

504 7/16/16 Text Messages, Papadopoulos & Millian (7:55:43 p.m.).

505 7/30/16 Text Messages, Papadopoulos & Millian (5:38 & 6:05 p.m.); 7/31/16 Text Messages, Millian & Papadopoulos (3:48 & 4:18 p.m.); 8/ 1/16 Text Message, Millian to Papadopoulos (8:19 p.m.).

506 8/2/16 Text Messages, Millian & Papadopoulos (3 :04 & 3 :05 p.m.); 8/3/16 Facebook Messages, Papadopoulos & Millian (4:07:37 a.m. & 1:11:58 p.m.).

Anyway, that’s the background to why, Durham says, the best evidence he’s got that Millian never called Danchenko are some emails.

One of those emails is inconsistent with Durham’s story, which says that Millian returned late on July 27, which was a Wednesday. On July 26, Millian sent this to one of the RIA Novosti journalists, Dimitry Zlodorev:

Dimitry, on Friday I’m returning from Asia. An email came from Igor. Who is that? What sort of person?

Durham says one of his best pieces of evidence that Millian didn’t call Danchenko is an email that had him returning two days later than he actually returned. Something led Millian to come back early, at least according to Durham’s record.

Early enough to be in NYC when Danchenko was there.

Durham also wants to introduce some emails Millian sent Zlodorev in 2020, three years after Danchenko’s alleged lie and four years into a manufactured outrage over the Steele dossier. One of those emails suggests that Millian believed Steele blamed Danchenko for problems with the dossier, which is probably true, but Durham thinks it helps him anyway.

I’ve been informed that Bogdanovsky travelled to New York with Danchenko at the end of July 2016; Danchenko, supposedly to meet with me (but the meeting didn’t take place). Can you inquire with Bogdanovsky whether he remembers something from that trip and whether they touched upon my name in conversation, as well as for what reason Danchenko was travelling to NY? Steele, it seems, made Danchenko the fall guy, but Danchenko himself made several statements that were difficult to understand, for example, about the call with me. Did he tell Bogdanovsky that he communicated with me by phone and on what topic? Thank you! This will clarify a lot for me personally. It’s a convoluted story! [my emphasis]

That’s how desperate he is for evidence to prove his four Millian charges.

Now, as Durham did when he tried to introduce totally unrelated emails in the Michael Sussmann case, Durham says he’s not introducing these (as what he calls “the most probative evidence” that Millian didn’t call Danchenko) for the truth.

He’s just asking questions — but not, apparently, why Millian said he was coming back Friday when he ended up coming back on Wednesday instead, early enough to be in NY when Danchenko was there.

As an initial matter, all three emails to Zlodorev are admissible non-hearsay because each email consists of a series of questions, i.e., (1) “Who is that? What sort of person?” (July 26, 2016), (2) “Do you remember such a person? Igor Danchenko?” (July 19, 2020), and (3) (a) “Can you inquire with Bogdanovsky whether he remembers something from that trip and whether they touched upon my name in conversation, as well as for what reason Danchenko was travelling to NY? (b) “Did he tell Bogdanovsky that he communicated with me by phone and on what topic?” (July 20, 2020). See Sinclair, F. App’x at 253. To the extent the remaining sentences in those emails are statements, they are not being offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted. Indeed, with respect to the July 26, 2016 email, the Government is not seeking to prove that (1) Millian was returning from Asia on Friday or (2) that an email came from the defendant.

And if his just asking questions ploy doesn’t work, then he’ll raise the point that he charged this indictment without ever talking to Sergei Millian first!!!

First, the unavailability of the declarant. A declarant is “unavailable” at a hearing or trial when he “is absent from the hearing and the proponent of a statement has not been able, by process or other reasonable means, to procure the declarant’s attendance or testimony. Fed. R. Evid. 804(a)(5)(B). “Courts have consistently held that hearsay exceptions premised on the unavailability of a witness require the proponent of a statement to show a good faith, genuine, and bona fide effort to procure a witness’s attendance.” United States v. Wrenn, 170 F. Supp. 2d 604, 607 (E.D. Va. 2001) (citing Barber v. Page., 390 U.S. 719,724 (1968)). Courts considering whether a prosecutor, as the proponent of a statement, “has made such a good faith effort have focused on the reasonableness of the prosecutor’s efforts.” Id. \ Ohio v. Roberts, 448 U.S. 56, 74 (1980) (“The lengths to which the prosecutor must go to produce a witness … is a question of reasonableness. The ultimate question is whether the witness is unavailable despite good-faith efforts undertaken prior to trial to locate and present the witness.”). In the case of a U.S. national residing in a foreign country, 28 U.S.C. § 1783 allows for the service of a subpoena on a U.S. national residing abroad. Here, the Government has made substantial and repeated efforts to secure Millian’s voluntary testimony. When those efforts failed, the Government attempted to serve a subpoena on Millian’s counsel who advised that he was not authorized to accept service on behalf of Mr. Millian. The Government, not being aware of Millian’s exact location or address, asked counsel to provide Millian’s address so that service of a subpoena could be effectuated pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1783. Counsel stated that he does not know Millian’s address. In any event, even if the Government had been able to locate Millian, it appears unlikely that Millian would comply with the subpoena and travel to the United States to testify. Indeed, as discussed above, Millian has shown a reluctance to travel to the United States for fear of his personal safety and his family’s safety. Accordingly, the Government has demonstrated good faith efforts to secure Millian’s appearance at trial.

What’s interesting is that Durham not only claims that Millian had no motive to lie to Zlodorev in 2016, but he asserts that “the existence of the Steele Reports were not public.”

The Government is not aware of any evidence that Millian was aware of who the defendant was in July of 2016. Millian also had no motive to lie about his knowledge of the defendant in July 2016. Indeed, at that time of the July 2016 email the existence of the Steele Reports were not public. Further, Millian had no apparent motive to lie to Zlodorev, an individual he appears to consider a friend.

They were to this guy.

According to the IG Report that Durham had never read before charging Sussmann, an Oleg Deripaska associate likely knew of the dossier by early July 2016, weeks after Millian met with one of the key architects of the 2016 operation in St. Petersburg and weeks before Danchenko emailed Millian and then Millian grilled Zlodorev about who Danchenko was.

Oleg Deripaska had a motive to lie about the dossier — and he appears to have been lying, to both sides.

Similarly, Durham claims that Millian had no motive to lie in 2020 when he grilled Zlodorev again about the circumstances of his meeting with Danchenko.

The July 2020 emails between Millian and Zlodorev also bear circumstantial guarantees of trustworthiness. Again, in July 2020, Millian had no motive to lie to Zlodorev.

Which is really nutty, because the Twitter account that Durham relied on to charge this thing claimed that — years earlier and therefore presumably well before 2020 — he had personally called the White House and told them the identities of the people behind the dossier.

He would have called from Asia or some other undisclosed location, though, so in Durham’s mind such a call would not exist.

And that’s how it came about that we’re a month away from trial, and John Durham is begging Anthony Trenga to admit emails from 2020 as his best evidence in four charges against Danchenko because he decided to rely on a Twitter account rather than securing witnesses in his case first.

 

For months and years, John Durham has treated Sergei Millian — a man who fled the country to avoid a counterintelligence investigation and questions from Mueller, but whom Durham claims fled the country because of the dossier — as an aggrieved victim. And in the same filing admitting that he has no solid evidence to prove that he is a victim, Durham also talked about how important it is to consider whether you’re getting played by Russian disinformation.

Such evidence is admissible because in any investigation of potential collusion between the Russian Government and a political campaign, it is appropriate and necessary for the FBI to consider whether information it receives via foreign nationals may be a product of Russian intelligence efforts or disinformation.

“SCO Durham, think of your legacy please❗❗”

Update: Replaced “in real time” based on Just Some Guy’s observations.

Earlier emptywheel coverage of the Danchenko case

The Igor Danchenko Indictment: Structure

John Durham May Have Made Igor Danchenko “Aggrieved” Under FISA

“Yes and No:” John Durham Confuses Networking with Intelligence Collection

Daisy-Chain: The FBI Appears to Have Asked Danchenko Whether Dolan Was a Source for Steele, Not Danchenko

Source 6A: John Durham’s Twitter Charges

John Durham: Destroying the Purported Victims to Save Them

John Durham’s Cut-and-Paste Failures — and Other Indices of Unreliability

Aleksej Gubarev Drops Lawsuit after DOJ Confirms Steele Dossier Report Naming Gubarev’s Company Came from His Employee

In Story Purporting to “Reckon” with Steele’s Baseless Insinuations, CNN Spreads Durham’s Unsubstantiated Insinuations

On CIPA and Sequestration: Durham’s Discovery Deadends

The Disinformation that Got Told: Michael Cohen Was, in Fact, Hiding Secret Communications with the Kremlin

John Durham’s Igor Danchenko Case May Be More Problematic than His Michael Sussmann Case

“Desperate at Best:” Igor Danchenko Starts Dismantling John Durham’s Case against Him

John Durham’s Igor Danchenko Case May Be More Problematic than His Michael Sussmann Case

Legal commentators who ignored the run-up to the Michael Sussmann trial and still have not reported on the evidence of abuse and incompetence are writing posts claiming it was always clear that the jury in that case would return an acquittal. The same people, however, are suggesting there might be more to the Igor Danchenko charges.

I wrote a whole series of posts laying out why that’s wrong — the last one, with links to the others, is here. In addition, I’ve been tracking Durham’s difficulties obtaining classified discovery from other parts of DOJ here. This post pulls together the problems Durham faces in his second trial, which is currently scheduled to start on October 11.

As a reminder, the Danchenko indictment charges the former Christopher Steele source with telling five lies to the FBI in interviews in which they tried to vet the Steele dossier:

  • One alleged lie on June 15, 2017  about whether he had spoken with Chuck Dolan “about any material contained in the” dossier.
  • Four alleged lies, told in interviews on March 16, May 18, October 24, and November 16, 2017, that he spoke to Sergei Millian in late July 2016 when Danchenko knew (variably in 2016 or in the interviews in 2017) that he had never spoken with him; one charged lie accuses Danchenko of wittingly lying about speaking to Millian more than once.

Durham will have to prove that these five statements were intentional lies and that they were material to the FBI’s operations.

Danchenko could get his former lawyer to testify

Before looking at the problems with each of those claimed lies and their materiality, consider that shortly after being charged, Danchenko replaced Mark Schamel, who represented Danchenko in his 2017 interviews with the FBI, with a team led by Lowenstein Sandler’s Stuart Sears. This makes it possible for Danchenko to do something risky but in this case potentially warranted: have his former attorney testify.

The interview report from his initial series of interviews in January 2017 shows that Danchenko was uncertain about the answer to some questions, but over the course of three days, checked his own records and corrected himself when he realized he had made an error in answering an affirmative question from the FBI. In at least one case, Danchenko also provided proof to back one of his claims. Schamel could explain how diligently he and Danchenko prepared for these interviews, how Danchenko corrected himself when he realized he was wrong, and the perceived focus — by all appearances, on Danchenko’s Russian sources — of the FBI interviews.

In short, Schamel’s testimony could go a long way to demonstrating that where Danchenko made an error, it was not willful.

The FBI didn’t ask the question about Chuck Dolan that Durham claims they did

Then there are the charges themselves. There are two potentially fatal problems with the single charge built around Chuck Dolan, which Durham has used to insinuate, with no evidence, that the minor Hillary supporter was the source of the pee tape allegation. The alleged lie Durham has accused Danchenko of, though, pertains to a more general question: whether Danchenko had “denied … that he had spoken to [Dolan] about any material” in the dossier.

Except, as happened repeatedly in his indictment of Danchenko, that’s neither what Danchenko was asked nor what he answered.

As I laid out in this post, it appears that Danchenko was asked whether Dolan was a source for Steele, not whether he was a source for Danchenko.

FBI AGENT-1: Um, because obviously I don’t think you’re the only …

DANCHENKO: Mm-hmm.

FBI AGENT-1: Person that has been contributing. You may have said one – and this is the other thing we are trying to figure out.

[ … ]

FBI AGENT-1: Do you know a [PR Executive-1]?

DANCHENKO: Do I know [PR Executive-1]? Yeah.

FBI AGENT-1: How long have you known him? [laughing] [pause]

DANCHENKO: I’ve known [PR-Executive-1] for [pause] I don’t know, a couple years maybe.

FBI AGENT-1: Couple years?

DANCHENKO: But but but but but but but I’ve known of him for like 12 years.

[ … ]

DANCHENKO: Yeah. Yeah he likes Russia. I don’t think he is, uh, – would be any way be involved. But-but-uh-b-but he’s uh [UI] what I would think would be easily played. Maybe. Uh, he’s a bit naive in his, um liking of Russia. [emphasis Durham’s]

The question was premised on Steele having other primary subsources other than Danchenko and his response was a denial of the possibility that Dolan was one of them. All of Danchenko’s responses could be framed with that understanding of the question.

Durham’s alleged false statement appears to stem from a follow-up question. But there, Durham has completely misrepresented Danchenko’s answer.

FBI AGENT-1: Okay, so you’ve had … was there any … but you had never talked to [PR Executive-1] about anything that showed up in the dossier [Company Reports] right?

DANCHENKO: No.

FBI AGENT-1: You don’t think so?

DANCHENKO: No. We talked about, you know, related issues perhaps but no, no, no, nothing specific. [emphasis Durham’s]

Danchenko explicitly told the FBI that he talked to Dolan about “related issues.” Particularly as regards the pee tape, Danchenko might consider using information from Dolan for further investigation a “related issue” but not the core issue that the FBI was interested in.

As to the report for which Durham presents compelling evidence that Dolan was the source, Durham presents no evidence of specific questioning about it, and there’s abundant evidence that Danchenko was never sure which reports came from him and which (he assumed) came from others.

Durham did not present any evidence that Danchenko denied, in response to specific questions about whether Dolan was involved in identified reports, that Dolan played a role in the dossier. He has evidence that Danchenko answered a question about something else, and then, in a follow-up, gave a much more equivocal response than Durham claims he gave.

Another Durham materiality claim fizzles after he actually investigates

Plus, it is virtually certain that Danchenko will be able to prove that his equivocal response could not have been material.

That’s because — as a declassified footnote of the DOJ IG Report makes clear — the reason the FBI asked these questions about Dolan on June 15, 2017 was because FBI had recently obtained Section 702 material showing conversations between Danchenko’s source, Olga Galkina, and Dolan.

The FBI [received information in early June 2017 which revealed that, among other things, there were [redacted]] personal and business ties between the sub-source and Steele’s Primary Sub-source; contacts between the sub-source and an individual in the Russian Presidential Administration in June/July 2016; [redacted] and the sub‐source voicing strong support for candidate Clinton in the 2016 U.S. elections. The Supervisory Intel Analyst told us that the FBI did not have Section 702 coverage on any other Steele sub‐source. [my emphasis]

That is, the reason the FBI was asking these questions in the first place is because they were trying to understand the communications they had just discovered between Dolan and Danchenko.

As the indictment lays out, Danchenko didn’t hide the key details about Dolan — that he was doing business in Russia, had ties with Dmitry Peskov, and had developed a business relationship with Galkina.

In a later part of the conversation, DANCHENKO stated, in substance and in part, that PR Executive-1 had traveled on the October “delegation” to Moscow; that PR Executive-1 conducted business with Business-1 and Russian Sub-source-1; and that PR Executive-1 had a professional relationship with Russian Press Secretary-1.

Durham claimed that Danchenko’s imagined lie was material because it deprived the FBI from obtaining information on Dolan.

DANCHENKO’s lies denying PR Executive-1 ‘s role in specific information referenced in the Company Reports were material to the FBI because, among other reasons, they deprived FBI agents and analysts of probative information concerning PR Executive-1 that would have, among other things, assisted them in evaluating the credibility, reliability, and veracity of the Company Reports, including DANCHENKO’s sub-sources.

We now know that, at the time Durham made this claim, he had barely begun the process of obtaining relevant evidence from DOJ IG. Even in the Michael Sussmann case, Durham first made a formal discovery request of Michael Horowitz’s office on October 13, 2021, almost a month after charging Sussmann (and just three weeks before indicting Danchenko). Durham didn’t receive materials that completely undermined his case against Sussmann until March.

From that, it’s fairly safe to assume that Durham (again) didn’t bother to test whether there was any basis for his materiality claims before building a long speaking indictment around them.

The FBI didn’t need Danchenko to tell them about Dolan’s Russian ties. They had discovered that already from 702 collection targeting Galkina. That’s precisely why they asked Danchenko whether Dolan could be another Steele source. And when asked for more details, Dahchenko offered up the details that FBI would have been looking for.

Durham’s due diligence problems on the Sergei Millian charges

There are several kinds of problems with the remaining four counts. As noted, four of the charges against Danchenko accuse him of hiding what Durham claims is affirmative knowledge (arguably in real time) that Sergei Millian never called him in late July 2016.

As a threshold matter, there’s no language in the Danchenko indictment suggesting Durham has affirmative proof that such a call didn’t happen — whether from Millian or anyone else. In his FBI interview, Danchenko suggested the call may have happened on a secure app and he said he had replaced the phone he used at the time. So it’s not clear that Durham can rule out a call on Signal or similar encrypted app. When Durham first rolled out this indictment, I thought such a claim would be reckless, but we now know Durham built his entire Sussmann indictment around billing records even though Durham had affirmative proof (in his taxi reimbursement) that Sussmann did not bill Hillary for his meeting with the FBI.

Worse still, even in the transcripts that Durham miscites in the indictment, Danchenko included a bunch of caveats that Durham does not include in his charging language: “I don’t know,” “at the time I was under the impression it was him,” “at least someone I thought was him.”

That creates a temporal problem with the way Durham has charged this. Even if Danchenko came to believe later in 2016 or in 2017 that he never spoke with Millian, in his interviews, Danchenko was answering about what he believed to be the case in July 2016, when he shared this report with Christopher Steele. All Danchenko was claiming was that he talked to some journalists at a Russian outlet, someone called Danchenko shortly thereafter (at a time, it should be said, when Oleg Deripaska likely already knew of the dossier project), and Danchenko assumed it was Millian because it was the most logical explanation. From the start, Danchenko always admitted his uncertainty about that call.

Durham is relying on a Twitter feed he has already said makes false claims about the Durham investigation

Then there’s the fact that Durham is relying on Sergei Millian as a witness against Danchenko.

As I noted last year, in his indictment, Durham claimed to prove that such a call had not happened based on Millian’s say-so. But not actual testimony. Rather, at that point, Durham was relying on Sergei Millian’s Twitter feed.

Chamber President-1 has claimed in public statements and on social media that he never responded to DANCHEKNO’s [sic] emails, and that he and DANCHENKO never met or communicated.

That was batshit insane then, not least because over the years journalists and others have raised real questions about the authenticity of Millian’s Twitter account. And since charging Danchenko, Millian has repeatedly made claims on Twitter that utterly demolishes the credibility of Millian’s Twitter feed.

Millian has played a key role in the “sleuths corner” that has ginned up all sorts of false claims about Durham’s investigation.

This explicit affiliation will entitle Danchenko to subpoena the activity of the group, and even if Millian were entirely credible, there are a number of people associated with the corner who are not.

Then, as part of his role in generating froth about the Durham investigation, Millian played a central role in misrepresenting a claim Durham had made in a filing in the Sussmann case, suggesting that Durham had proven that researchers had spied on the Trump White House.

This led Durham to formally state that those who made such claims were “misrepresent[ing] facts contained in the Government’s Motion.” So Durham has publicly accused his star witness — Sergei Millian’s Twitter feed — of making false claims about matters pertaining to Durham’s investigation.

Worse still, in the same time period, Millian claimed that he had called the White House and told them “who was working against them.”

That reflects the kind of knowledge that could only come from a concerted effort, in real time (seemingly in 2016), to fuck with the Fusion investigation, followed by a subsequent effort (at such time when Trump was in the White House), to exact a cost for the investigation. Effectively, with this tweet, Millian confessed to being part of the effort to undermine the Russian investigation. That makes Millian’s contact with Deripaska in 2016 all the more problematic, since Deripaska has seemingly carried out a sustained campaign to attack the Russian investigation. But it also suggests that Millian’s claims to have entirely blown off Danchenko’s quetions were false.

Millian has since claimed that Durham’s office was trying to keep him off Twitter, but that he refused because he wants to attack his enemies.

This is all just stuff that Millian has done since the indictment, and to the extent earlier Millian tweets are preserved showing professed knowledge of the 2016 Russian operation (as some are), Danchenko would be able to use those at trial as well.

Which may be why — at least according to Millian’s unreliable Twitter feed — Durham is now trying to get Millian to come testify at trial. But Millian suggests that testifying under oath to the claims he has been making on Twitter for years would amount to “using him.”

Durham’s star witness refuses to return to the US without some kind of “gentleman’s agreement” regarding his “safe return.” That’s not going to be a very credible witness on the stand, if he even shows up to testify.

The counterintelligence investigation against Millian was real in 2016 and may be realer now

Which leads us, again, to Durham’s failures to do basic investigation before charging these indictments.

We know Durham didn’t reach out to Michael Horowitz until weeks before charging Danchenko. The Sussmann case made it clear Durham had not received centrally relevant evidence in the Sussmann case until March.

That means Durham may not have been aware of the public evidence — in both the DOJ IG Report and declassified footnotes — describing the counterintelligence investigation opened on Millian in October 2016, which was opened in NY (where Millian lived at the time), not DC (where Fusion and others were also raising concerns).

In addition, we learned that [Millian] was at the time the subject of an open FBI counterintelligence investigation. 302 We also were concerned that the FISA application did not disclose to the court the FBI’s belief that this sub-source was, at the time of the application, the subject of such an investigation. We were told that the Department will usually share with the FISC the fact that a source is a subject in an open case. The OI Attorney told us he did not recall knowing this information at the time of the first application, even though NYFO opened the case after consulting with and notifying Case Agent 1 and SSA 1 prior to October 12, 2016, nine days before the FISA application was filed. Case Agent 1 said that he may have mentioned the case to the OI Attorney “in passing,” but he did not specifically recall doing so. 303

301 As discussed in Chapter Four, [Millian] [redacted]

302 According to a document circulated among Crossfire Hurricane team members and supervisors in early October 2016, [Millian] had historical contact with persons and entities suspected of being linked to RIS. The document described reporting [redacted] that [Millian] “was rumored to be a former KGB/SVR officer.” In addition, in late December 2016, Department Attorney Bruce Ohr told SSA 1 that he had met with Glenn Simpson and that Simpson had assessed that [Millian] was a RIS officer who was central in connecting Trump to Russia.

We know Durham has little familiarity with the Mueller Report, much less the underlying investigation. Which means he similarly may not have considered the evidence that Millian was cultivating George Papadopoulos during precisely the same weeks when Danchenko was contacting Millian for information on Trump.

Papadopoulos first connected with Millian via LinkedIn on July 15, 2016, shortly after Papadopoulos had attended the TAG Summit with Clovis.500 Millian, an American citizen who is a native of Belarus, introduced himself “as president of [the] New York-based Russian American Chamber of Commerce,” and claimed that through that position he had “insider knowledge and direct access to the top hierarchy in Russian politics.”501 Papadopoulos asked Timofeev whether he had heard of Millian.502 Although Timofeev said no,503 Papadopoulos met Millian in New York City.504 The meetings took place on July 30 and August 1, 2016.505 Afterwards, Millian invited Papadopoulos to attend-and potentially speak at-two international energy conferences, including one that was to be held in Moscow in September 2016.506 Papadopoulos ultimately did not attend either conference.

On July 31 , 2016, following his first in-person meeting with Millian, Papadopoulos emailed Trump Campaign official Bo Denysyk to say that he had been contacted “by some leaders of Russian-American voters here in the US about their interest in voting for Mr. Trump,” and to ask whether he should “put you in touch with their group (US-Russia chamber of commerce).”507 Denysyk thanked Papadopoulos “for taking the initiative,” but asked him to “hold off with outreach to Russian-Americans” because “too many articles” had already portrayed the Campaign, then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and candidate Trump as “being pro-Russian.”508

On August 23, 2016, Millian sent a Facebook message to Papadopoulos promising that he would ” share with you a disruptive technology that might be instrumental in your political work for the campaign.”509 Papadopoulos claimed to have no recollection of this matter.510

On November 9, 2016, shortly after the election, Papadopoulos arranged to meet Millian in Chicago to discuss business opportunities, including potential work with Russian “billionaires who are not under sanctions.”511 The meeting took place on November 14, 2016, at the Trump Hotel and Tower in Chicago.512 According to Papadopoulos, the two men discussed partnering on business deals, but Papadopoulos perceived that Millian’s attitude toward him changed when Papadopoulos stated that he was only pursuing private-sector opportunities and was not interested in a job in the Administration.5 13 The two remained in contact, however, and had extended online discussions about possible business opportunities in Russia. 514 The two also arranged to meet at a Washington, D.C. bar when both attended Trump’s inauguration in late January 2017.515

More recently, as part of charges against a different Russian-American who fled because of a counterintelligence investigation, DOJ made clear that Millian’s organization knew at least by 2013 they should have registered as agents of Russia.

a. On or about January 30, 2013, BRANSON received an email from an individual using an email address ending in “mail.ru.” Based on my review of publicly available information, I have learned that this individual was a Senior Vice President of the Russian American Chamber of Commerce in the USA. This email had the subject line “Problem.” and the text of the email included, among other things, a portion of the FARA Unit’s website with background on FARA. In response, BRANSON wrote, in part, “I am interested in the number of the law, its text in English[.]” The sender then responded with “Lena, read …” and copied into the email background on FARA and portions of the statute.

All of which to say that Durham likely cannot make any “gentleman’s agreement” on DOJ’s behalf with Millian about coming to the US to testify against Danchenko, because other parts of DOJ have equities that significantly precede Durham’s, equities that pertain more directly to harm to the United States and current national security priorities.

Plus, even if Durham did succeed in bringing his star witness against Danchenko to EDVA to testify against him, even if Millian weren’t arrested on sealed charges when he landed, the trial would end up being a circus in which the evidence against Millian and the false claims Millian has made about the Durham investigation playing a more central role than the evidence against Danchenko.

There are few things Durham could do that would make it more clear how his witch hunt has served Russia’s interests, and not those of the US.

I mean, I’m all for it. But at some point Durham may come to recognize that’s not a winning case.

There is affirmative evidence that any alleged lies Danchenko told were not material

It’s not clear whether Sussmann jurors ever got as far as considering the materiality problems in the case against Sussmann. But, even on top of the specific problem arising from the Section 702 directive targeting Galkina, described above, Durham may have bigger materiality problems with Danchenko.

That’s because — as explained in the DOJ IG Report Durham didn’t read closely — FBI repeatedly made decisions that affirmatively reflect finding claims in the dossier and Danchenko’s interviews were not material to their decision to keep surveilling Carter Page.

That’s true, first of all, because the initial FISA targeting Page obtained useful information. Notes from Tashina Gaushar that Durham belatedly discovered in the Sussmann case described the FISAs against Page this way:

So before the FBI ever spoke to Danchenko, they had independent reason (on top of the counterintelligence concerns NYFO had used in March 2016 to open an investigation on Page) to target Page.

Moreover, the FBI started identifying problems with the Millian allegations before the first FISA, but never integrated those or Danchenko’s own interviews into their FISA applications.

Regarding the information in the first bullet above, in early October 2016, the FBI learned the true name of Person 1 (described in Report 95 as “Source E”). As described in Chapter Six, the Primary Sub-source told the FBI that he/she had one 10- to 15-minute telephone call with someone he/she believed to be Person 1, but who did not identify him/herself on the call. We found that, during his/her interview with the FBI, the Primary Sub-source did not describe a “conspiracy” between Russia and individuals associated with the Trump campaign or state that Carter Page served as an “intermediary” between Manafort and the Russian government. In addition, the FBl’s summary of the Primary Sub-source’s interview did not describe any discussions between the parties concerning the disclosure of DNC emails to Wikileaks in exchange for a campaign platform change on the Ukrainian issue. To the contrary, according to the interview summary, the Primary Sub-source told the FBI that Person 1 told him/her that there was “nothing bad” about the communications between the Kremlin and Trump, and that he/she did not recall any mention of Wikileaks. Further, although Steele informed the FBI that he had received all of the information in Report 95 from the Primary Sub-source, and Steele told the OIG the same thing when we interviewed him, the Primary Subsource told the FBI that he/she did not know where some of the information attributed to Source E in Report 95 came from. 388 Despite the inconsistencies between Steele’s reporting and the information his Primary Sub-source provided to the FBI, the subsequent FISA renewal applications continued to rely on the Steele information, without any revisions or notice to the court that the Primary Sub-source had contradicted the Steele reporting on key issues described in the renewal applications. Instead, as described previously, FISA Renewal Application Nos. 2 and 3 advised the court:

In an effort to further corroborate [Steele’s] reporting, the FBI has met with [Steele’s] [redacted] sub-source [Primary Sub-source] described immediately above. During these interviews, the FBI found the [redacted] subsource to be truthful and cooperative [redacted]. The FBI is undertaking additional investigative steps to further corroborate the information provide [sic] by [Steele] and [redacted]

It cannot be the case that FBI at once ignored everything Danchenko said that should have raised concerns, but also that Danchenko’s repetition of the things he said in his first interview would be material to later parts of the investigation. There’s a 478-page report laying out why that’s not the case.

As to the Dolan tie, the FBI obtained intelligence that the reports that most mattered to the ongoing Russian investigation — the sketchy Cohen-in-Prague stories sourced to Olga Galkina, stories that may well have arisen because Dolan vouched for Galkina with Peskov — were disinformation a week before first speaking to Danchenko.

A January 12, 2017, report relayed information from [redacted] outlining an inaccuracy in a limited subset of Steele’s reporting about the activities of Michael Cohen. The [redacted] stated that it did not have high confidence in this subset of Steele’s reporting and assessed that the referenced subset was part of a Russian disinformation campaign to denigrate U.S. foreign relations. A second report from the same [redacted] five days later stated that a person named in the limited subset of Steele’s reporting had denied representations in the reporting and the [redacted] assessed that the person’s denials were truthful.

As I have shown, Mueller did not use the Cohen reports at all in predicating the investigation against Trump’s lawyer.

Finally, the DOJ IG Report strongly suggests that the FBI was not going to get a fourth FISA targeting Page until they discovered two new facilities — probably one or more encrypted app and some financial accounts — they thought might answer some of their outstanding questions about Page.

[A]vailable documents indicate that one of the focuses of the Carter Page investigation at this time was obtaining his financial records. NYFO sought compulsory legal process in April 2017 for banking and financial records for Carter Page and his company, Global Energy Capital, as well as information relating to two encrypted online applications, one of which Page utilized on his cell phone. Documents reflect that agents also conducted multiple interviews of individuals associated with Carter Page.

Case Agent 6 told us, and documents reflect, that despite the ongoing investigation, the team did not expect to renew the Carter Page FISA before Renewal Application No. 2’s authority expired on June 30. Case Agent 6 said that the FISA collection the FBI had received during the second renewal period was not yielding any new information. The OGC Attorney told us that when the FBI was considering whether to seek further FISA authority following Renewal Application No. 2, the FISA was “starting to go dark.” During one of the March 2017 interviews, Page told Case Agent 1 and Case Agent 6 that he believed he was under surveillance and the agents did not believe continued surveillance would provide any relevant information. Cast Agent 6 said [redacted]

SSA 5 and SSA 2 said that further investigation yielded previously unknown locations that they believed could provide information of investigative value, and they decided to seek another renewal. Specifically, SSA 5 and Case Agent 6 told us, and documents reflect, that [redacted] they decided to seek a third renewal. [redacted]

This is yet another reason why nothing Danchenko could have said in his interviews would have changed the FBI’s actions.

That leaves the purported lies — the same alleged lies about Millian — told in October and November 2017 that Durham claims Danchenko had been telling all along. By that point, though, Mueller already had George Papadopoulos refusing to provide details pertaining to Millian that would have raised further questions about Millian’s activities in 2016.

Honestly, this post barely scratches the surface of problems with Durham’s Igor Danchenko case. Things get worse when you consider Oleg Deripaska’s role in the dossier and the very active investigation into him and more recent sanctions into Dmitry Peskov.

And, this time, Durham may realize that. Just weeks before the Sussmann trial, Durham made a frenzied effort to include details about the dossier and Millian in Sussmann’s case. For example, he got approved as exhibits and “accidentally” released Fusion GPS files entirely unrelated to the Sussmann case. He attempted, but failed, to make Christopher Steele a central issue at the Sussmann trial. And during the testimony of Jared Novick, he attempted to introduce the names of dossier subjects that were unrelated to the core Sussmann charge. That is, Durham expanded the scope of his already unhinged conspiracy theory to incorporate topics — most notably, the dossier — that he might otherwise present at the Danchenko trial.

In the next two weeks, Durham will — after over ten weeks of delay — have to face the challenges of obtaining the classified discovery that Danchenko can demand to prove this is the case. In light of those challenges, we’ll see whether Durham wants to barrel forward towards yet another humiliating loss at trial.

The Ongoing Investigation into Paul Manafort’s Handlers

In this post, I noted that 22 months after Andrew Weissmann’s team wrote a 37-page report, plus a classified supplement, describing what they had learned about Paul Manafort’s role in the 2016 election operation, SSCI dedicated 142 pages of their 966 page report on the counterintelligence threat posed by Trump’s former campaign manager. The latter report, which had fewer investigative tools and relied heavily on the earlier effort, just stuck classified information right into the text and then redacted great swaths of it.

Among the things known to but redacted by SSCI in 2020 but not included in the unclassified parts of the Team M Report in 2018 are:

In other words, by 2020, investigators working with derivative investigative tools found a great deal of evidence to suggest that Deripaska and Kilimnik were not only centrally involved in Russia’s intelligence operation targeting the US in 2016, but also a concerted plan to undermine in the investigation into it after the fact.

Around about the time SSCI finished their report, the FBI offered a $250,000 reward leading to Kilimnik’s arrest.

All that is why I’m interested that the Team M Report, released in 2022, after the statute of limitations has expired on most crimes tied to the 2016 election (though not a conspiracy that continued after it), was released with so many b7A redactions reflecting an ongoing investigation.

I’ve put a list of them all below.

There are three redactions I find particularly remarkable.

Pericles

The treatment of Pericles, the investment fund that Manafort set up and Deripaska funded in 2007, is uneven among the four stories that tell Manafort’s story (it is mentioned in passing in the breach litigation). A paragraph introducing it in the Mueller Report serves to set up Rick Gates’ explanation that Manafort’s outreach to Deripaska during the campaign was an effort to settle Deripaska’s lawsuit relating to the fund. There’s a bit more in the SSCI Report, including the detail that while Kilimnik initially served as Manafort’s point of contact for the deal, Manafort later tried to hide aspects of it from him so as to hide it from the other Oligarchs. There’s a redacted paragraph as well, perhaps tied to the funding.

Pericles may be the one topic which the Team M Report dedicates more space to than the SSCI Report. After introducing the fund, a heavily-redacted paragraph, including a b7A exemption, describes the dispute that arose between Manafort and Deripaska. Then two of the lettered footnotes the Team M Report used to describe context are also redacted under a b7A redaction. There’s also a paragraph redacted using only a b5 (deliberative process) exemption describing the dispute.

Remember: That dispute was a key part of Deripaska’s double game in 2016, a way to make Manafort more insecure even as squeezing him to get cooperation on the campaign. Christopher Steele played a (as far as is known, unwitting) role in that double game, so if Deripaska injected the dossier with disinformation, that’s likely how he did so. But it’s the 13-year old business arrangement itself, and not the 6-year old exploitation of it, that remains redacted in the Team M Report as part of an ongoing investigation.

The August 2 Meeting

Then consider how the passage on the August 2, 2016 meeting between Manafort and Kilimnik appears in the Team M Report (as released under FOIA).

The story of the Havana Bar meeting is one that got told in depth by the Breach Litigation, the Mueller Report, and the SSCI Report — indeed, it was a central focus of the Breach Litigation, one that particularly impressed Judge Amy Berman Jackson. The Mueller Report provided a 3-page description that is, with just two exceptions, redacted only with grand jury redactions. The Mueller Report version describes the three topics discussed at the meeting this way:

As to the contents of the meeting itself, the accounts of Manafort and Gates–who arrived late to the dinner–differ in certain respects. But their version of events, when assessed alongside available documentary evidence and what Kilimnik told business associate Sam Patten, indicate that at least three principal topics were discussed.

In addition to redacting, under a b7A redaction, what else, besides campaign headquarters, was across the street from the Havana Club (possibly in Trump Tower), the Team M Report redacts much of the discussion about the differences between the three stories. Even the description of the three versions are structured differently.

The bulk of Manafort’s story — four and a half pages — focuses on the plan to carve up Ukraine, including the follow-up efforts made over the following two years. There’s an explicit reference — the only unredacted such reference within the body of the report — to more of the story appearing in the classified appendix. And just a short paragraph, partially redacted under a b7A exemption, discusses Manafort explaining to Kilimnik how he planned to win swing states.

Gates’ version focuses more on Manafort’s attempts to get paid (which may not appear in Manafort’s version at all). Whatever discussion Gates provided of the Ukraine plan is redacted under b7A; the most recent release of Gates’ 302s also redacts a lot about the August 2 meeting, including the cover story he told before he started cooperating.

Patten’s version of the meeting — which reflects what Kilimnik told Patten after the fact — is even more redacted than the Gates version in the Team M report. Those redacted passages may redact discussions that appear redacted in the most recent release of Patten’s 302s but which were cited in unredacted form in the SSCI Report. According to that, Manafort told Kilimnik that the way to win was to focus on increasing Hillary’s negatives.

Patten’s debriefing with the SCO provides the most granular account of what information Kilimnik obtained at the August 2, 2016 meeting:

Kilimnik told Patten that at the New York cigar bar meeting, Manafort stated that they have a plan to beat Hillary Clinton which included Manafort bringing discipline and an organized strategy to the campaign. Moreover, because Clinton’s negatives were so low [sic]-if they could focus on her negatives they could win the election. Manafort discussed the Fabrizio internal Trump polling data with Kilimnik, and explained that Fabrizio ‘s polling numbers showed that the Clinton negatives, referred to as a ‘therm poll, ‘ were high. Thus, based on this polling there was a chance Trump could win. 458

If that’s what does appear in the Team M Report, it remains redacted, in part under an ongoing investigation exemption. It focuses on the election, not the effort to carve up Ukraine.

Incidentally, the SSCI Report reveals one detail no other source I know did: Manafort met with Rudy and Trump before he went to meet Kilimnik. As the SSCI Report notes, this also happens to be the day before Stone started pitching Manafort on a way to save the candidate.

March, April, and May 2016

As noted above, the SSCI Report has heavily redacted passages discussing activities involving Kilimnik and Deripaska in March and April 2016. They don’t show up in the unclassified part of the Team M Report or the Mueller Report at all.

The May 2016 meeting between Manafort and Kilimnik does appear in the Mueller Report, though.

Manafort twice met with Kilimnik in person during the campaign period—once in May and again in August 2016. The first meeting took place on May 7, 2016, in New York City.905 In the days leading to the meeting, Kilimnik had been working to gather information about the political situation in Ukraine. That included information gleaned from a trip that former Party of Regions official Yuriy Boyko had recently taken to Moscow—a trip that likely included meetings between Boyko and high-ranking Russian officials.906 Kilimnik then traveled to Washington, D.C. on or about May 5, 2016; while in Washington, Kilimnik had pre-arranged meetings with State Department employees.907

Late on the evening of May 6, Gates arranged for Kilimnik to take a 3:00 a.m. train to meet Manafort in New York for breakfast on May 7.908 According to Manafort, during the meeting, he and Kilimnik talked about events in Ukraine, and Manafort briefed Kilimnik on the Trump Campaign, expecting Kilimnik to pass the information back to individuals in Ukraine and elsewhere.909 Manafort stated that Opposition Bloc members recognized Manafort’s position on the Campaign was an opportunity, but Kilimnik did not ask for anything.910 Kilimnik spoke about a plan of Boyko to boost election participation in the eastern zone of Ukraine, which was the base for the Opposition Bloc.911 Kilimnik returned to Washington, D.C. right after the meeting with Manafort.

There are two passages that reference the May meeting in the Team M Report, albeit in less detail than appears in the Mueller Report (notably leaving out Yuriy Boyko’s trip to Moscow, as well as Gates’ arrangements for the trip).

During the late spring of 2016, Kilimnik continued to collect information on the political situation in Ukraine.

[4 line b5 redaction]

Kilimnik further explained that he planned to be in Washington, D.C., between May 5 and May 8, 2016.8

[snip]

On May 7, 2016, Kilimnik met with Manafort in New York City.97 Gates arranged the meeting and purchased Kilimnik’s Amtrak tickets from Washington, D.C. to New York.98 According to Manafort, he briefed Kilimnik on the Trump campaign, expecting Kilimnik to pass the information back to individuals in Ukraine and elsewhere.99 Manafort stated that Kilimnik did not ask for anything based upon Manafort’s position with the campaign.100 Kilimnik spoke about Boyko’s plan for election participation in the occupied zone of Ukraine.

But this discussion has some big b7A redactions, including some redacting personal information and others redacting law enforcement techniques. In other words, whereas Mueller was able to include at least some discussion of the May meeting in the report, parts of it remain sensitive, three years later, even as Russia attempts to implement a plan to carve up Ukraine, now using force, pitched to Manafort at that Havana Bar meeting.

There seems to be increased investigative interest in those spring 2016 events as time has passed, so much so that DOJ may be sharing less than Mueller did in his initial release.

To be clear: none of these redactions mean that Manafort is at legal risk from these ongoing investigations. As noted, the statutes of limitation have expired for most criminal exposure (unless as part of a continuing conspiracy). More likely, all these b7A redactions indicate counterintelligence investigations, not criminal ones.

But what’s interesting about the release of this report, 40 months after it was written, is that it hasn’t gotten any less sensitive over time.

b7A redactions

  • Possible reference to Rick Gates’ role on the Inauguration Committee
  • Manafort’s consulting work for Deripaska
  • Pericles fund
  • Kilimnik’s ties to Russian intelligence services and IRI
  • Jonathan Hawker and Alex Van der Zwaan on Kilimnik’s ties to RIS
  • Kilimnik’s ties to Viktor Boyarkin
  • Kilimnik’s May 2016 trip to the US
  • The August 2 meeting with Kilimnik in the Havana Club
  • A reference to Kilimnik’s reference to black caviar
  • The plan to carve up Ukraine
  • Manafort’s plan to win the election
  • Gates’ version of the August 2 meeting
  • Sam Patten’s version of the August 2 meeting
  • Manafort’s sharing of polling data
  • The purpose behind Manafort’s trip to Spain
  • The second meeting in Spain

Four Stories about Paul Manafort from Andrew Weissmann’s Team M

The NYT recently liberated via FOIA the alternative report written by Andrew Weissmann’s Team M, focused on Manafort, as part of the Mueller investigation. As Josh Gerstein described when he wrote up the report, it is heavily redacted and as such includes virtually no new factual details from what has already been made public. But that doesn’t mean the report is uninteresting.

After all, even presenting exactly the same allegations that we’ve seen elsewhere as it does, the report tells us certain things about the investigation.

Before I lay out what the report shows, I want to review the four times this story has been told:

As I laid out in my Rat-Fucker Rashomon series on Roger Stone, by comparing the various stories and understanding how each meets the particular genre and purpose of the document, we can better identify the gaps and inclusions of each.

(Another place to find more of the investigation into Manafort is in interview 302s; I’ve pulled together all the 302s for Sam Patten and Rick Gates; many of the most recent versions of the Manafort 302s appear in this FOIA release.)

The four stories, read together, reveal that there was a great deal of evidence that Oleg Deripaska and Konstantin Kilimnik leveraged Manafort as part of their very active role in the 2016 operation, as well as follow-up efforts to undermine the investigation into the 2016 operation. The SSCI Report even suggests Kilimnik had a role in the hack-and-leak campaign. Yet none of that showed up in unclassified parts of the Mueller Report and related documents. That’s partly true because all three of those documents — the unclassified part of the Team M Report, the Breach Determination, and the Mueller Report itself — played specific legal functions.

As with the ongoing investigation into Roger Stone that continued past the conclusion of the Mueller Report, those specific legal roles do not entail laying out where an ongoing investigation is headed. That’s why one of the most informative parts of the Team M Report, as released 40 months after it was written, are the number of sections that remain redacted under a b7A ongoing investigation redaction.

N0vember 18, 2018: Team M Report

In the days after the mid-term election in 2018, Trump fired Jeff Sessions, foreboding a different approach to Mueller’s supervision. Whether or not Mueller might otherwise have continued the investigation, with Sessions’ firing, investigators moved to conclude their work and write up a report of prosecutions and declinations. Team M wrote this report with an eye to documenting all their work. As Weissmann explained in his book, this report arose out of frustration with the decisions that Mueller’s Chief of Staff, Aaron Zebley had made, both in limiting the scope of the investigation (which significantly excluded a review of Trump’s finances), and by obscuring gaps in the conclusions.

Teams M and R had many back-and-forths with Aaron with respect to this problem while drafting the report. Aaron was adamant that our report be conclusive, making only definitive conclusions, while the teams on the ground pushed back, noting the many gray areas and gaps in our evidence and the realms we decided not to examine, including the president’s financial ties to Russia; our failure to obtain the truthful cooperation of witnesses who’d been influenced by the president’s conduct in dangling the prospect of a pardon; what questions remained outstanding; what evidence we could not obtain; and our inability to interview certain other witnesses at all, up to and including the president. Only some of these limitations made it into the final report, as Team M and Team R did not have the pen—that is, the final say. To remedy this, at least for posterity, I had all the members of Team M write up an internal report memorializing everything we found, our conclusions, and the limitations on the investigation, and provided it to the other team leaders as well as had it maintained in our files.

We should have been more transparent. We knew our report would be made public and, while our superiors at the Justice Department understood the ultimate parameters of our investigation, the American people did not and cannot be expected to glean them all from our report.

In the end, the wrongdoing we found in the areas in which we chose to look, particularly in the one Russian financial deal we examined as a result of Cohen’s cooperation, left me with a deeply unsatisfying feeling about what else was out there that we did not examine. One of my strengths—and simultaneously one of my flaws—as an investigator is the desire to turn over every rock, go down every rabbit hole, try to master every detail. In this investigation, that tenacity was as much an asset as a curse: The inability to chase down all financial leads, or to examine all crimes, gnawed at me, and still does.

This report, then, was an attempt to capture significant findings that would not make it into the ultimate report.

The Team M Report is structured this way:

The Manafort Investigation — Overview

  • Manafort’s Background
  • Manafort, Gates, and Kilimnik’s Criminal Prosecutions
  • Manafort’s Ties to Russia and Ukraine
    • Deripaska Consulting Work
      • The Pericles Fund
    • Ukraine Political Consulting Work
    • Kilimnik
    • Manafort’s Work on the Trump Campaign (March–August 2016)
    • Russia & Ukraine Communications 2016-2018
      • Communications in March 2016
      • Communications in Spring/Summer 2016
      • The August 2, 2016 Meeting
        • [Manafort’s Account]
        • Gates’ Account
        • Patten’s Account
      • Manafort’s Sharing Trump Campaign Polling Data with Kilimnik
      • Post-Election Meetings and Contacts

In addition to that overview, the report includes three things:

  • Lettered footnotes: These seem to explain the context and gaps that Weissmann complained were not making it into the final report.
  • Numbered footnotes: These provide the sources and map directly onto the publicly identified sources in the Mueller Report itself.
  • “A supplemental submission which is classified:” We can identify some of what might appear in this supplemental submission from the SSCI Report.

December 7, 2018 through March 2, 2019: Breach Litigation

The Team M Report is dated just three days after a joint request to delay a status report in Manafort’s case and eight days before the delayed joint status report reported that Manafort had breached his plea agreement. So it was written at a time when the Weissmann team understood that Manafort had strung them out through the election and had presumably decided to hold him in breach of his plea agreement. But the Team M Report does not correlate, in structure or content, to the list of topics that Weissmann’s team asserted (successfully in three of five areas) that Manafort had been lying about.

The primary representations from Weissmann’s team in the breach litigation were:

In those documents and the hearing, Weissmann’s team laid out their case that Manafort had lied about:

Payment to Wilmer Hale: Manafort engaged in some kind of dodgy accounting — perhaps some kind of kickback involving two of Manafort’s firms — to get money to pay his lawyers at Wilmer Hale, who represented Manafort until August 2017.

Manafort’s efforts to protect Konstantin Kilimnik in the witness tampering conspiracy: In 2018, Kilimnik and Manafort were charged for conspiring to hide aspects of their Hapsburg Project, a front NGO used to hide lobbying for Ukraine behind high ranking former European officials. ABJ ruled that the government had not proven that Manafort lied about this topic, because Manafort quickly flip-flopped on his efforts to deny that Kilimnik had conspired with him to hide details of the front.

Interactions with Kilimnik: ABJ did rule that Manafort had lied to cover up details of his interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, starting during the election and continuing through 2018. This accused lie covers much of the material presented in the Team M Report, but covers (at least in unclassified form, though the classified supplement to the Team M Report must include later communications) a broader time period.

Another DOJ investigation: ABJ judged that Weissmann’s team proved that Manafort lied to cover up details pertinent to another investigation. Given the timing of the allegations and a footnote that must modify the overview section links to Michael Cohen’s Criminal Information, the other investigation is likely the investigation into hush payments to Karen McDougal. The government’s initial submission describes that the information implicated Senior Administration Officials, which must implicate Trump himself and, likely, Kushner. In addition to Cohen and Don Jr., some parts of this lie also appear to implicate Roger Stone.

Manafort’s Contact with the Administration: The government tried, but failed, to prove that Manafort was hiding his ongoing contacts with the Trump Administration, including lobbying others were doing targeting the Department of Labor pertaining to ERISA. Significantly, prosecutors did not include ongoing communication conducted via lawyers.

March 22, 2019: Mueller Report

While Manafort shows up throughout the Mueller Report, the discussion of his case appears in four key areas:

All these prosecution, declination, and referral decisions — save the obstruction discussion pertaining to Trump himself — appear in a series of footnotes in Team M (curiously, Alex Van der Zwaan only appears in the Mueller Report in the “Referenced Persons” section, even though he is not referenced in the report itself). That reflects the stated difference in the documents. The legal purpose of the Mueller Report, as I’ve repeatedly reminded, was to lay out such prosecutorial decisions. Everything in the report should serve to explain those prosecutorial decisions and — at least in the Stone case — prosecutorial decisions that had not yet been reached don’t show up in the body of the Report.

The Manafort section is similar to, but does not quite map to, the structure of the Team M Report:

Overview

  • Paul Manafort’s Ties to Russia and Ukraine
    • Oleg Deripaska Consulting Work
    • Political Consulting Work
    • Konstantin Kilimnik
  • Contacts during Paul Manafort’s Time with the Trump Campaign
    • Paul Manafort Joins the Campaign
    • Paul Manafort’s Campaign-Period Contacts
    • Paul Manafort’s Two Campaign-Period Meetings with Konstantin Kilimnik in the United States
    • Post-Resignation Activities

For reasons I’ll lay out below, I’m most interested that the Team M Report — which has a classified supplement — has a heading for “Communications in Spring/Summer 2016” and “The August 2, 2016 Meeting,” whereas the Mueller Report splits this into “Campaign-Period Contacts” and “Two Campaign-Period Meetings with Konstantin Kilimnik in the United States.”

August 18, 2000: SSCI Report

Finally, there is the substantial section — 142 pages of the 966 page report — of the SSCI Report dedicated to explaining why Paul Manafort was a counterintelligence threat to Donald Trump. This section treats Manafort as a threat because of his close ties to Deripaska and Kilimnik, and as such, SSCI’s discussions of those men’s roles in the 2016 operation appear in the Manafort section.

As I observed when conducting a similar comparison for Stone, both because the SSCI Report came later and because it is the only report that attempted to be comprehensive, it included things that weren’t included in the earlier reports.

Importantly, for our purpose, the SSCI Report’s approach to secrets was different. Whereas the Team M Report included a classified supplement, the SSCI Report included such material in the body of the report. Large swaths of this section were deemed classified when the SSCI Report was released in 2020 and, in spite of the fact that Avril Haines promised a review of these classification decisions, nothing new has been released since.

Here’s how the Manafort section of the SSCI Report is organized:

  • Introduction and Findings (included three entirely classified bullets on Kilimnik’s role in the hack-and-leak)
  • Limitations on the Committee’s Investigation
  • Background on Manafort’s Foreign Activities
    • Manafort’s Work with Oleg Deripaska
      • Manafort’s Influence Operations in Ukraine
      • Manafort’s Global Influence Operations for Deripaska
      • Konstantin Kilimnik
      • Pericles
    • Manafort’s Work in Ukraine for the Party of Regions (PoR)
  • Manafort’s Activities from 2014 until Joining the Trump Campaign
    • Former-PoR Associates in Ukraine
    • Deripaska and Pericles Lawsuit
  • Manafort’s Activities While Serving on the Trump Campaign
    • Manafort’s Entry into the Trump Campaign
    • Kilimnik’s Awareness of Manafort’s Hiring Before the Public Announcement [including redacted section that, by context, must describe a March 2016 Kilimnik trip to the US]
    • Manafort Announces His Position on the Trump Campaign; Extends Private Offers to Russian and Ukrainian Oligarchs
    • [Heavily redacted section on] Kilimnik and Deripaska’s Activities in April
    • Manafort and Kilimnik Meet in New York City; Discuss Ukraine, Trump Campaign Strategy; Sharing of Internal Trump Campaign Polling Data with Kilimnik Begins
    • Manafort Offers to Brief Deripaska Through Kilimnik and Boyarkin; Kilimnik Appears to Have Insider Knowledge of Trump Campaign; [redacted] and Kilimnik Coordinate on [redacted] [includes redacted sections addressing Steele Report]
    • Manafort Meets with Kilimnik at the Grand Havana Room in New York City; They Discuss Polling Data, Ukraine Plan, and Debts
      • Internal Polling Information and Trump Campaign Strategy
      • Ukraine Peace Plan
    • [Heavily redacted section on] Possible Connections to GRU Hack-and-Leak Operation
    • The “Ledger” and Manafort’s Resignation
  • Manafort’s Activities For the Remainder of the Campaign
    • Manafort’s Continued Contact with the Trump Campaign; Kilimnik’s awareness of these contacts
    • Manafort’s Involvement in Ukrainian Government Outreach to the Campaign
  • Manafort’s Activities After the Election
    • [Redacted] Kilimnik Seeks to Leverage His Relationship with Manafort; Coordinates [redacted]
    • Manafort and Kilimnik Communicate with Yanukovych in Russia Related to Ukraine Plan; Attempt Communications Countermeasures
    • [Redacted] Kilimnik and Boyarkin Arrange Meeting for Manafort in Madrid; Manafort [redacted]
    • Kilimnik and Lyovochkin Travel to Washington D.C. for Inauguration, Meet with Manafort and Discuss Ukraine
    • Kilimnik and Manafort Meet in Madrid; Discuss Counter-Narratives and Ukraine
    • [Significantly Redacted] Russian Influence Operations to Undermine Investigations into Russian Interference [includes developments through late 2019, including Rudy Giuliani-related activities of John Solomon]
    • Manafort’s Continued Efforts with Kilimnik on Ukraine; Kilimnik’s Own Continued Activities [includes 8 mostly-redacted pages going through 2020]
    • Manafort and Gates Communications Regarding Investigations
  • Manafort’s Associates Ties to Russian Intelligence Services [Heavily redacted]
    • Oleg Deripaska and His Aides
      • Deripaska’s Kremlin Ties
      • Deripaska’s “Chief of Staff”: Viktor Boyarkin
      • Deripaska’s Strategic Advisor: Georgy Oganov
      • Deripaska’s Role in Russian Active Measures in Montenegro
      • Deripaska’s Involvement in Other Russian Active Measures
      • Deripaska’s Connections to Hacking Operations
    • Konstantin Kilimnik

The section of the Manafort materials dedicated to limitations on SSCI’s investigation makes it clear that it relies, in significant part, on the Mueller Report, with all the limitations on that given Manafort’s obstruction. That said, the SSCI Report scope goes through 2019, so obviously also includes later intelligence reporting for many of the mostly redacted later passages. Yet the SSCI Report includes great swaths of material that appear nowhere in the public Mueller materials — save, perhaps, in the classified supplement referenced in the Team M Report. That includes March 2016 visits — seemingly by both Kilimnik and Deripaska — to the US, as well as something that happened in April 2016 more closely linked to Trump’s campaign.

These vast redactions — going to core issues of the Mueller investigation, such as whether Trump’s own campaign manager and the campaign manager’s life-long rat-fucker friend had a direct role in the hack-and-leak campaign and disinformation injected through the Steele dossier — likely reflect both the redacted sections in the earlier reporting and, more importantly, the classified supplement of the Team M Report.

That all means it was likely that, when Trump fired Jeff Sessions in November 2018, the Mueller team had evidence directly linking Manafort, through Kilimnik and through him to Deripaska, to the hack-and-leak operation.

That may explain why Weissmann wanted to ensure his team captured their findings in the Team M Report.

Will KleptoCapture Catch John Durham, Along with the Russian Spies and Oligarchs?

I’ve been right about a lot of things regarding John Durham’s investigation (though not, apparently, that he would supersede the indictment against Michael Sussmann — maybe he was afraid of getting no-billed if he corrected the things in the indictment he has since discovered to be false?).

Perhaps the most prescient observation I’ve made, though, was that Durham had no fucking clue where to look for evidence related to his already-charged allegations.

I’ve seen reason to believe Durham doesn’t understand the full scope of where he needs to look to find evidence relevant to that case.

I said that in November. Since that time in the Sussmann case, Durham has had to publicly confess he had not:

Effectively, Durham spent most of three years speaking to those who would confirm his conspiracy theories, and not consulting the actual evidence. It took until six months after Durham charged Sussmann before Durham tested Sussmann’s sworn explanation for his Baker meeting — and when he checked, he found the evidence backed Sussmann’s explanation.

Six months after indicting Igor Danchenko, Durham asked to extend discovery another month

It’s that record that makes me so interested in Durham’s second bid to extend deadlines for classified discovery in the Igor Danchenko case.

After Danchenko argued he couldn’t be ready for an April 18 trial date, Durham proposed a March 29 deadline for prosecutors to meet classified discovery; that means Durham originally imagined he’d be done with classified discovery over six weeks ago. A week before that deadline, Durham asked for a six week delay — to what would have been Friday. Danchenko consented to the change and Judge Anthony Trenga granted it. Then on Monday, Durham asked for another extension, this time for another month.

When Durham asked for the first delay, he boasted they had provided Danchenko 60,000 unclassified documents and promised “a large volume” of classified discovery that week (that is, before the original deadline).

To date, the government has produced over 60,000 documents in unclassified discovery. A portion of these documents were originally marked “classified” and the government has worked with the appropriate declassification authorities to produce the documents in an unclassified format.

[snip]

Nevertheless, the government will produce a large volume of classified discovery this week

This more recent filing boasts of having provided just one thousand more unclassified documents and a mere 5,000 classified documents — for a case implicating two known FISA orders and several past and current counterintelligence investigations.

To date, the Government has produced to the defense over 5,000 documents in classified discovery and nearly 61,000 documents in unclassified discovery. The Government believes that the 5,000 classified documents produced to date represent the bulk of the classified discovery in this matter.

Danchenko waited six weeks and got almost nothing new.

See this post for an explanation of all the classified information that Danchenko should be able to demand and the onerous process that using it requires, called Classified Information Procedures Act. Even in November, I showed that Danchenko could likely make a case that he should get discovery from the FBI and NSA, and probably CIA and Treasury. There is no way Durham is getting through this case with just 5,000 classified documents.

As he noted in his opposition to this latest request for an extension, with each request, Durham’s proposed schedule was shrinking the time afforded Danchenko to review classified discovery before providing a list of the classified information he wanted to use at trial (called a CIPA 5 notice), first from 60 days to 40, and then from 40 days to 22.

On March 22, 2022, the Special Counsel filed a Consent Motion to Adjourn the Classified Discovery and CIPA Schedule. Dkt. 44. In his Motion, the Special Counsel sought to extend the deadline to produce classified discovery from March 29, 2022, to May 13, 2022. Id. at 2. The Special Counsel’s motion also sought to extend the dates for various CIPA filings and hearings. Id. Importantly, the Special Counsel’s proposed schedule reduced the amount of time within which Mr. Danchenko had to file his Section 5(a) written notice from approximately 60 days after the close of classified discovery to approximately 40 days.

[snip]

On May 9, 2022, the Special Counsel filed his Second Motion to Adjourn the Classified Discovery and CIPA Schedule. Dkt. 48. In his motion, the Special Counsel now tells the Court that he can provide the outstanding classified discovery by “no later than” June 13, 2022. See id. at 2. He also proposes a June 29, 2022, deadline for Defendant’s Section 5(a) written notice. Id. Therefore, the Special Counsel has essentially asked this Court to enter an Order that will now decrease Mr. Danchenko’s time within which to file his Section 5(a) written notice from approximately 40 days after the close of classified discovery to approximately 22 days.

[snip]

Mr. Danchenko would be substantially prejudiced by the Special Counsel’s proposed schedule because it significantly shortens the time period within which Mr. Danchenko can review any final classified productions and file his CIPA Section 5(a) notice. That is of particular concern to Mr. Danchenko because the Special Counsel has not provided sufficient notice of how much additional classified discovery may be forthcoming other than his “belie[f]” that the “bulk” of the classified discovery has already been produced.

Shrinking Danchenko’s deadlines would make the additional discovery that is still outstanding far less useful. In the Sussmann case, for example, it took over a month for Sussmann’s team to find the documents that disprove Durham’s case buried among 22,000 other documents provided on his extended deadline. So while Durham might be trying to comply with discovery obligations, arguing that the proper solution to his struggles fulfilling discovery is to shrink Danchenko’s own time to review the evidence suggests he’s not doing so in good faith.

Judge Trenga must have agreed. While he granted the government’s request for an extension, he gave Danchenko 42 days to submit his CIPA 5 notice.

A Russian dog named Putin ate Durham’s classified homework

I’ve noted how the post-invasion sanctions on Alfa Bank deprived John Durham of a second investigative team, Alfa Bank’s Skadden Arps lawyers, whose filings a judge observed seemed to be “written by the same people” as Durham’s.

But the aftermath of Putin’s attempt to overthrow Ukraine may be causing Durham even bigger problems in the Danchenko case.

When Durham asked for an extension of his CIPA deadline in the Sussmann case days after Russia extended its invasion of Ukraine, he explained that the people who had to write declarations in support of CIPA (usually agency heads like CIA Director William Burns or NSA Director Paul Nakasone) were busy dealing with the response to Ukraine.

However, the Government’s submission includes not only the Government’s memorandum but also one or more supporting declarations from officials of the U.S. intelligence community. The Government’s review of potentially discoverable material is ongoing, and these officials cannot finalize their declarations until that review is complete.

Moreover, recent world events in Ukraine have further delayed the Government’s review and the officials’ preparation of the supporting declaration(s). As a result, the Government respectfully submits that a modest two-week adjournment request to its CIPA Section 4 filing deadline is appropriate and would not impact any other deadlines, to include the currently scheduled trial date

Effectively, this request moved the CIPA deadline from a week before Durham’s classified discovery deadline to a week after; yet Durham just committed, once again, to finalizing his CIPA 4 submission almost a week before his classified discovery deadline in the Danchenko case.

That’s important because Durham overpromised when he said he could finish a CIPA filing before the discovery deadline. Durham filed a supplement to his CIPA 4 notice on May 7 (nine days before trial) that, unless Judge Cooper ruled orally at a closed hearing last week, remains outstanding. That’s not entirely unusual in a case that relies on classified information, but if Cooper were to rule this classified information was necessary for Sussmann’s defense, it would give Sussmann no time to actually prepare to use it.

Durham cited the Ukraine response again on March 22, a month after Russia launched its failed attempt to take Kyiv, when he asked for an extension on his classified discovery deadline.

However, recent world events in Ukraine have contributed to delays in the production of classified discovery. The officials preparing and reviewing the documents at the FBI and intelligence agencies are heavily engaged in matters related to Ukraine.

Importantly, these people focusing on keeping us safe from Russian aggression rather than, as Durham is, making us safe for Russian aggression, are different than the people cited in the Sussmann case. These aren’t senior officials, but instead those “preparing and reviewing the documents at the FBI and intelligence agencies.” That’s not William Burns, that’s FBI counterintelligence agents, among others.

In last week’s request for an extension, Durham didn’t mention Ukraine, but his reference to “overseas activities” suggests the response to Ukraine remains the problem.

However, recent world events continue to contribute to delays in the processing and production of classified discovery. In particular, some of the officials preparing and reviewing the documents at the FBI and intelligence agencies continue to be heavily engaged in matters related to overseas activities.

Unsurprisingly, Danchenko asked Trenga to require Durham to provide some kind of explanation for why “overseas activities,” probably Ukraine, continue to delay classified discovery in a case criminalizing an attempt to fight Russia’s attack on democracy in 2016.

Moreover, the Special Counsel has failed to adequately explain how “recent world events” (Dkt. 48 at 2) have specifically made it impossible for him to meet his discovery obligations. While it seems unlikely that the same government officials charged with declassifying discovery are also responding to events overseas, it certainly is possible. But, even if that is the case, the Special Counsel must offer more explanation than he has, especially in light of the fact that his prior motion to extend the discovery deadline was based on the events in Ukraine, and the ongoing nature of that conflict must or should have been considered when he requested the May 13 deadline.

Sadly, Trenga didn’t order up an explanation for why this delay, probably Ukraine-related, is causing so many difficulties for Durham’s prosecution of Danchenko.

KleptoCapture threatens at least one and possibly up to three key Durham figures

One reason I would have liked Trenga to force Durham to explain how a dog named Putin ate his classified homework is because the public response to Russia’s attempt to conquer Ukraine has already implicated three figures who are key to Durham’s case. While I need to update it, this post attempts to capture everything that the US government and some partners have done since the expanded invasion.

Dmitry Peskov

Perhaps the response least damaging to Durham’s case — but one that will affect discovery — involves Dmitry Peskov. As I explained in this post, Durham made Peskov’s relationship with Chuck Dolan and Olga Galkina a key part of his indictment against Danchenko.

In his role as a public relations professional, [Dolan] spent much of his career interacting with Eurasian clients with a particular focus on Russia. For example, from in or about 2006 through in or about 2014, the Russian Federation retained [Dolan] and his then-employer to handle global public relations for the Russian government and a state-owned energy company. [Dolan] served as a lead consultant during that project and frequently interacted with senior Russian Federation leadership whose names would later appear in the Company Reports, including the Press Secretary of the Russian Presidential Administration (“Russian Press Secretary-I”), the Deputy Press Secretary (“Russian Deputy Press Secretary-I”), and others in the Russian Presidential Press Department.

[snip]

In anticipation of the June 2016 Planning Trip to Moscow, [Dolan] also communicated with [Peskov] and Russian Deputy Press Secretary-I, both of whom worked in the Kremlin and, as noted above, also appeared in the Company Reports.

[snip]

Additionally, on or about July 13, 2016, [Galkina] sent a message to a Russia-based associate and stated that [Dolan] had written a letter to Russian Press Secretary-1 in support of [Galkina]’s candidacy for a position in the Russian Presidential Administration.

On March 3, the State Department added Peskov to the sanctions list under a 2021 Executive Order President Biden signed, in part, to target those who (among other things), “undermine the conduct of free and fair democratic elections and democratic institutions in the United States and its allies and partners.” On March 11, Treasury added Peskov’s family members to the sanctions list. The package used to sanction Peskov would have been the product of intelligence reports circulated within the US government.

While the legal reason Peskov was sanctioned pertained to his official role in the Russian government (and the lavish lifestyles his family enjoys even with his civil service salary), State also described Peskov as “the chief propagandist of the Russian Federation.” That, by itself, would be unremarkable. But if — as even Durham alludes — Peskov had a role in feeding Galkina disinformation for the Steele dossier, particularly if he crafted disinformation to maximally exploit Michael Cohen’s secret call with Peskov’s office in January 2016, that could be a part of the sanctions package against Peskov. If it were, then it would be centrally important discovery for Danchenko.

Oleg Deripaska

Then there’s Oleg Deripaska. This post lays out in depth the reasons why Danchenko would have reason to demand information on Deripaska’s role in the dossier, including:

  • Evidence about whether Oleg Deripaska was Christopher Steele’s client for a project targeting Paul Manafort before the DNC one
  • All known details of Deripaska’s role in injecting disinformation into the dossier, up through current day
  • Details of all communications between Deripaska and Millian

Given his blissful ignorance of the actual results of the Mueller investigation and the DOJ IG Carter Page investigation, Durham was always going to have a nasty discovery surprise in complying with such requests. Plus, a search last October of two Deripaska-related properties made clear that the most likely source of disinformation in the dossier was under aggressive criminal investigation for sanctions violations.

A recent Bloomberg story reported that that criminal investigation has now been moved under and given the prioritization of the KleptoCapture initiative started in response to the Ukraine war.

Deripaska has been sanctioned since 2018 for his ties to Vladimir Putin, and the seizures at a Washington mansion and New York townhouse linked to him predate the invasion of Ukraine. But the investigation of Deripaska’s assets is now part of an escalating U.S. crackdown on ultra-rich Russians suspected of laundering money and hiding assets to help finance Putin’s regime.

The raids were key steps to unearth information that may determine whether — and how — Deripaska moved money around. Among the mishmash of items taken from the New York and Washington properties were half a dozen works of fine art, sunglasses, hiking boots, housewares, financial records, telephone bills and other documents, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the investigation hasn’t been made public.

The Deripaska inquiry is now part of a special U.S. Department of Justice task force dubbed “KleptoCapture,” according to New York federal prosecutor Andrew Adams, who is heading up the group.

“As Russia and its aggression continues, we have our eyes on every piece of art and real estate purchased with dirty money,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said at a recent news conference.

If DOJ plans on indicting Deripaska — for sanctions violations and anything else on which the statute of limitations has not expired — they might delay discovery cooperation with Durham until they do so. And if such a hypothetical indictment mentioned Deripaska’s role in facilitating the 2016 election interference and/or successful efforts to exploit the dossier to undermine the Russian investigation, it might make Durham’s charges against Danchenko unsustainable, even if he is able to otherwise fulfill his discovery requirements. Durham’s theory of prosecution is that Danchenko is the big villain that led to FBI confusion over the dossier, but Deripaska seems to have had a far bigger role in that.

Sergei Millian

Finally, there’s Sergei Millian, who happened to meet with Deripaska in 2016 at an event, the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, that played a key role in the election operation.

In the same week Millian met Deripaska, a bunch of cybersecurity experts first started looking for evidence of Russian hacking in DNS data and Igor Danchenko was in Moscow meeting with Chuck Dolan and his other named Steele dossier sources.

As the DOJ IG Report and declassified footnotes make clear, FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into Millian in October 2016. All the evidence indicates that the investigation did not arise from Crossfire Hurricane and, given that Millian’s ID was hidden in the dossier reports shared with NYFO on their way to HQ, and given that other information on Millian was fed into DC, not NY, was probably predicated completely independent of Crossfire Hurricane.

In addition, we learned that [Millian] was at the time the subject of an open FBI counterintelligence investigation. 302 We also were concerned that the FISA application did not disclose to the court the FBI’s belief that this sub-source was, at the time of the application, the subject of such an investigation. We were told that the Department will usually share with the FISC the fact that a source is a subject in an open case. The OI Attorney told us he did not recall knowing this information at the time of the first application, even though NYFO opened the case after consulting with and notifying Case Agent 1 and SSA 1 prior to October 12, 2016, nine days before the FISA application was filed. Case Agent 1 said that he may have mentioned the case to the OI Attorney “in passing,” but he did not specifically recall doing so. 303

301 As discussed in Chapter Four, [Millian] [redacted]

302 According to a document circulated among Crossfire Hurricane team members and supervisors in early October 2016, [Millian] had historical contact with persons and entities suspected of being linked to RIS. The document described reporting [redacted] that [Millian] “was rumored to be a former KGB/SVR officer.” In addition, in late December 2016, Department Attorney Bruce Ohr told SSA 1 that he had met with Glenn Simpson and that Simpson had assessed that [Millian] was a RIS officer who was central in connecting Trump to Russia.

303 Although an email indicates that the OI Attorney learned in March 2017 that the FBI had an open case on [Millian], the subsequent renewal applications did not include this fact. According to the OI Attorney, and as reflected in Renewal Application Nos. 2 and 3, the FBI expressed uncertainty about whether this sub‐source was Person 1. However, other FBI documents in the same time period reflect that the ongoing assumption by the Crossfire Hurricane team was that this sub‐source was [Millian].

Plus, Mueller found plenty on Millian to raise separate issues of concern.

Given several other counterintelligence cases developed in NYFO, the predication likely had more to do with Russia’s effort to use cultural and other diaspora groups as a way to covertly extend Russian influence.

And in fact, Millian’s group — the Russian American Chamber of Commerce — has already made a cameo appearance in one such prosecution, that against Elena Branson, a complaint that was rolled out in the same week as the sanctions against Peskov.

a. On or about January 30, 2013, BRANSON received an email from an individual using an email address ending in “mail.ru.” Based on my review of publicly available information, I have learned that this individual was a Senior Vice President of the Russian American Chamber of Commerce in the USA. This email had the subject line “Problem.” and the text of the email included, among other things, a portion of the FARA Unit’s website with background on FARA. In response, BRANSON wrote, in part, “I am interested in the number of the law, its text in English[.]” The sender then responded with “Lena, read …” and copied into the email background on FARA and portions of the statute.

This awareness and flouting of registration requirements is the kind of thing that often features in prosecutions for 18 USC 951 violations. And, at least in the case of Branson, the statute of limitations can extend so long as the person in question continues to play a role in US politics, though in Branson’s case, she only fled the country 18 months ago.

If the FBI believed Millian was an unregistered foreign agent who fled to avoid an investigation in 2017, his ongoing involvement in efforts to gin up an investigation into the investigation — particularly claims that, even according to Durham, misinterpreted facts his own prosecutors filed and thereby contributed to death threats against witnesses in the investigation — then it wouldn’t rule out an investigation into Millian himself, an investigation that would have preceded Durham’s reckless reliance on him (or rather, Millian’s unvetted Twitter feed) as a star witness against Danchenko.

Even Millian’s public claim (albeit one offered by someone the FBI considers an embellisher) that he called the White House directly to elicit this investigation could be of interest.

We can now say with great certainty that Durham didn’t check the most obvious sources of evidence against key players involved in the Steele dossier, such as DOJ IG’s backup files in the Carter Page investigation that is the primary focus of Durham’s Danchenko indictment. That makes it highly likely he never bothered to see whether other parts of DOJ considered key players in the Steele dossier to be actual threats to democracy.

One of those key players is undoubtedly Oleg Deripaska. And the renewed focus on Russian influence operations may expand beyond that.

John Durham Unveils His Post-Putin Puppet Strategy

I first complained publicly about the Alfa Bank allegations on November 1, 2016. I raised questions about the provenance of the Steele dossier the day after it was released, on January 11, 2017. I started raising concerns that Russia had succeeded in injecting the dossier with disinformation just a year later — literally years before the Republicans investigating it full-time did. When Democrats revealed that they had paid for the dossier in October 2017, I wrote a very long post labeling the entire project “fucking stupid.” Part of that was about the Democrats’ delayed admission they were behind the dossier. But part of that was because of the way the dossier distracted from Trump’s very real very concerning ties to Russia.

It has been clear for some time that Steele’s reports had some kind of feedback loop, responding to information the Democrats got. That was most obvious with respect to the September 14 Alfa Bank report, which was obviously written after first news of the Alfa Bank/Trump Tower story, which was pushed by Democratic partisans. Particularly given that we know the released report is a selective release of just some reports from the dossier, the inclusion of Alfa Bank in that release makes no sense. Even if reports about old corrupt ties between Alfa and Putin are true (as if Democratic politicians and corrupt American banks never have old ties), the inclusion of the Alfa report in the dossier on Trump made zero sense.

Which is why Alfa Bank decided — after consulting with big Republican lawyers like Viet Dinh and soon-to-be DOJ Criminal Division Chief Brian Benczkowski — to sue for defamation. Now I understand why (particularly given that Republicans seem to have known who paid for the dossier for some time). I’m not sure Alfa Bank executives pass the bar for defamation here (though the publication of a report that misspelled Alfa’s name is pretty damning), but the fact that Elias paid for this dossier on behalf of the Democrats is going to make that defamation case far more explosive (and I’ll be surprised if Elias doesn’t get added into the mix).

As I said when I began this: I have no doubt Russia tampered with the election, and if the full truth comes out I think it will be more damning than people now imagine.

But the Democrats have really really really fucked things up with their failures to maintain better ethical distance between the candidate and the dossier, and between the party and the FBI sharing. They’ve made things worse by waiting so long to reveal this, rather that pitching it as normal sleazy political oppo research a year ago.

The case of Russian preference for Trump is solid. The evidence his top aides were happy to serve as Russian agents is strong.

But rather than let FBI make the case for that, Democrats instead tried to make their own case, and they did in such a way as to make the very solid case against Trump dependent on their defense of the dosser, rather than on better backed claims released since then.

Boy it seems sadly familiar, Democrats committing own goals like this. And all that’s before where the lawfare on this dossier is going to go.

I may be the earliest and most prescient critic of all this, in either party. Sit down, Kash Patel! Sit down, Chuck Ross!

Sit down, John Durham!

And boy was I right, way back in October 2017, about where this was going to go.

But I have also shown that people close to Oleg Deripaska succeeded in exploiting this project as part of a vicious double game, victimizing both Hillary Clinton and Paul Manafort, making it more likely Manafort would cooperate in the Russian operation against Hillary, which he did. I have shown that the most obvious disinformation in the dossier, probably sourced to Dmitri Peskov — claiming that Michael Cohen had secret communications with the Kremlin on election interference — served to hide Michael Cohen’s very real secret communications with Peskov on a Trump Tower deal involving sanctioned banks and a former GRU official. I have more recently confirmed that someone who claimed to work for an FSB front was pushing the Alfa Bank allegations more aggressively than Michael Sussmann in October 2016; that same person was using Internet routing records to support a false story in May 2016, the same month the DNS anomalies started. I showed that large numbers of Republicans rationalize their attack on democracy on January 6 based on the dossier, even while they accept the dossier was Russian disinformation, thereby literally claiming that Russian disinformation convinced them to attack American democracy.

And Russia’s wild success at using this to sow division continues, even as Russia massacres children in an assault on Ukrainian democracy. Just Monday, after all, John Durham suggested that because private citizen April Lorenzen investigated the actions of the people married to Alfa Bank Oligarch children, she was part of a criminal conspiracy, even though it is a provable fact that the man married to the daughter of an Alfa Bank founder, Alex Van der Zwaan, was — in those very same weeks!!! — acting on orders from Russian spy Konstantin Kilimnik to cover up Manafort’s ties to the Oligarchs behind the 2016 election interference. Durham is so far down his conspiratorial rabbit hole, he doesn’t even realize he’s trying to criminalize being right about a real threat to democracy.

Which brings us to Durham’s motion to compel submitted last night, predictably asking Judge Christopher Cooper to review the privilege claims behind the Democrats and Fusion GPS’ privilege claims. I’m pretty sympathetic that some of the privilege claims the parties involved have made are bullshit, just as the claims Trump’s supporters have made to hide the events that led up to January 6 or any number of other things that go well beyond election-year rat-fucking are obviously bullshit. But it now seems clear that Durham is making the same error Alfa Bank did, not only assuming that everyone pushing the Alfa Bank allegations was being directed by the Democrats (when Lorenzen played a more important role), but also assuming people working for Hillary were behind all new push on the story; I’ve proven that was false.

Worse still, the specific form of Durham’s demand and its timing not only prove Durham’s bad faith, but strongly suggest that Durham viewed his own investigation to form part of a symbiotic whole with the Alfa Bank lawfare (the lawfare I rightly identified in 2017) still exploiting the dissension sowed by Russia in 2016. In the month of March, Durham did three things that were, as Sussmann’s lawyers described, “wildly untimely” for a trial scheduled to start in May. After getting an approved extension to their CIPA deadline, Durham filed a 404(b) notice on March 23; those notices were due on March 18. Durham told Sussmann of a new expert witness in the last days in March; that notice was also due by March 18. And then, on March 30, Durham told Sussmann he was going to attempt to pierce privilege claims that had been under discussion for a year.

All these belated steps look like a desperate, last minute attempt to change strategy. And it seems likely that the strategy change was necessitated, at least in part, by the stay and then dismissal of Alfa Bank’s lawfare, necessitated by the sanctions imposed by Putin’s aggression in Ukraine.

Consider the following timeline:

  • February 9: DC Superior Judge Shana Frost Matini observes that Durham case and Alfa Bank lawsuit appear reading from the same script and stays Alfa’s motions until after the Sussmann trial
  • February 11: In the wake of the expiration of the statute of limitation on a February 9, 2017 Sussmann meeting at the CIA, Durham files an inflammatory and belated conflict filing, raising new allegations and setting off death threats
  • Mid-February 2022: Alfa Bank continues its efforts to breach the privilege and Fifth Amendment claims of John Durham’s subjects
  • February 22: Russia invades Ukraine in an attempt to rid it of its democracy and sovereignty
  • February 24: A first set of sanctions on Alfa Bank
  • March 3: Durham asks for an extension on filing his CIPA filing from March 18 to March 25
  • March 4: Alfa dismisses John Doe lawsuits
  • March 18: Alfa dismisses Fusion GPS lawsuit
  • March 23: Durham files a Supplement to his 404(b) notice making wild new claims about the scope of the material pertinent to Sussmann’s alleged lie
  • March 25: Durham submits his CIPA notice, probably asking to use an intelligence product viewed as possible Russian disinformation in real time (and, given what we’ve learned about Roger Stone’s activities before that, likely designed as cover for him)
  • March 30: Durham informs Sussmann they want to call an FBI expert, in part to explain DNS data, but in part to attack the credibility of the data and also want to use a motion in limine to breach privilege claims made by the Democrats
  • March 31: Andrew DeFilippis tells attorney for Rodney Joffe that Joffe remains under investigation
  • April 4: Competing motions in limine present two different versions of the conspiracy that happened in 2016
  • April 6: Second set of sanctions on Alfa Bank; Durham moves to compel privilege review

Since Alfa’s lawsuit was stayed, Durham has taken at least four untimely steps, apparently in an effort to turn a single sketchy false statement charge into the conspiracy Durham has not yet been able to substantiate, the conspiracy without which his single false statement claim is far weaker.

With all that in mind, consider the basis on which Durham argues he should be able to breach privilege claims, no matter how flimsy.

Durham admits that he only asked for redacted copies of those documents Fusion and the Democrats have claimed privilege over on September 16, the day Durham indicted Sussmann.

On September 16, 2021, the Government issued grand jury subpoenas to Law Firm1 and the U.S. Investigative Firm, requiring them to produce – in redacted form – the documents previously listed on privilege logs prepared by counsel for those entities so that such documents would be available for admission into evidence at any trial in this matter. Those entities subsequently produced the requested documents with redactions.

In other words, Durham didn’t even begin the process of trying to pierce this privilege claim until over 850 days into his investigation, and days before the statutes of limitation started to expire. And in the ensuing six months, Durham has done nothing. So he’s making this request less than six weeks before the start of the trial (as I noted, litigating the much more specious John Eastman privilege claims has been pending since January 20), claiming the information is necessary for his case.

But some of the arguments Durham makes rely on the belated filings he has submitted in the last month. For example, he invokes Christopher Steele, whose first appearance in this case was in that untimely 404(b) notice.

Perhaps most notably, the U.S. Investigative Firm retained a United Kingdom-based investigator (“U.K. Person-1”) who compiled information and reports that became a widely-known “dossier” containing allegations of purported coordination between Trump and the Russian government.

Durham intertwines discussion of the Alfa Bank allegations with those of the dossier, even though — as Sussmann noted,

the Special Counsel has not identified, nor could he, any evidence showing that Mr. Sussmann … had any awareness Mr. Steele was separately providing information to the FBI.

That is, Steele’s activities might matter to the Sussmann case if this were a charged conspiracy, but not only didn’t Durham charge it, he only asserted the theory of conspiratorial relationship that involves Steele by relying on his delayed 404(b) notice.

Durham’s bid to pierce privilege claims with Rodney Joffe and Marc Elias similarly tie to events in which Sussmann was not involved. False statements cases are, as Sussmann noted the other day, about the state of mind of the defendant, not about events that took place weeks after his alleged lie.

But even if this were a conspiracy, Durham reserves for himself the right to determine what is necessary for a law firm to determine how to respond when a campaign opponent invites crimes from a hostile nation-state while making false claims about his ties to that state, and what is, instead, just political dirt.

To the extent these entities continue to assert privilege over the cited documents, they cannot plausibly rely on the “intermediary” exception. To be sure, the record available to the Government does not reflect that employees of the U.S. Investigative Firm were necessary in any way to facilitate Law Firm-1’s provision of legal advice to HFA and DNC, much less to Tech Executive-1. As noted above, many of the actions taken by the U.S. Investigative Firm pursuant to its retention agreement fell outside the purpose outlined in Law Firm-1’s engagement letter – that is, to provide expertise related to Law Firm-1’s legal advice to the DNC and Clinton Campaign regarding defamation and libel. When U.S. Investigative Firm employees communicated with Tech Executive-1, they were doing so in furtherance of collaborating and promoting the Russian Bank1 allegations, not facilitating legal advice from [Law Firm-1] to Tech Executive-1. Simply put, these were communications related to political opposition research and were not made “in confidence for the purpose of obtaining legal advice from the lawyer.” In re Lindsey, 158 F.3d at 1280. Any confidentiality that Tech Executive-1 might have otherwise maintained over these communications was waived when he and the defendant chose to disclose such information to a third party that did not have any formal or informal contract or retention agreement with Tech Executive-1 (i.e., the U.S. Investigative Firm).

These claims, absent evidence of the sort Robert Mueller showed Beryl Howell to breach Paul Manafort’s privilege claims, would be controversial even if they were timely (and if they were timely, they should have been presented to Howell before charging Sussmann instead of presenting them to Cooper six weeks before the trial date).

But they’re not timely, and they rely on other claims that are not timely. And all those untimely claims came in the wake of altered circumstances created by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

This series of late game curveballs would be abusive in any case, even if they were caused by long-planned deliberate malice or even incompetence. But the way they coincide with the collapse of the symbiotic lawfare project probably ordered — as was Petr Aven’s post-election outreach to Trump — by Putin really makes this look like a mere continuation of a six year plan to use Russia’s assault on democracy in 2016 to continue to sow discord in the US.


Claims made in untimely March 23 404(b) notice:

In a supplement to his Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b) notice provided to the defense on March 23 (the “Supplemental Notice”), the Special Counsel argues that such data gathering “constitute[s] direct evidence of the charged offense” as “factual context for the defendant’s conduct” and “to prove the existence of the defendant’s attorney-client relationships with [Mr. Joffe] and the Clinton Campaign.” Suppl. Notice at 2.

[snip

In his Supplemental Notice, the Special Counsel suggests that data was gathered “in a manner that may be considered objectionable—whether through invasions of privacy, breaches of contract, or other [unspecified] unlawful or unethical means.” Suppl. Notice at 2. But the Supplemental Notice does not identify—nor could it—any evidence that Mr. Sussmann had any awareness of or involvement in the alleged “objectionable” conduct of others related to gathering data, to the extent there even was any such “objectionable” conduct.

[snip]

The Special Counsel has also provided notice of his intention to adduce evidence regarding the accuracy of both “the purported data and [the] allegations” that Mr. Sussmann provided to the FBI and Agency 2. See Suppl. Notice at 2 (emphasis added).

[snip]

Elsewhere, the Special Counsel has suggested that data provided to Agency-2 was “misstated, overstated, and/or cherry-picked facts,” Suppl. Notice at 2,

[snip]

The Special Counsel has asserted he will offer evidence regarding the “origin” of the technical data gathered by Mr. Joffe and Others as “direct evidence” of “factual context for the defendant’s conduct” and “the existence of the defendant’s attorney-client relationships with [Mr. Joffe] and the Clinton Campaign” as to both the data provided to the FBI in September 2016 and the data provided to Agency-2 in 2017.1 Suppl. Notice at 2.

[snip]

The Special Counsel has also indicated an intention to offer evidence that (1) the data Mr. Sussmann provided was inaccurate; and (2) the analysis and conclusions drawn from that data were inaccurate. Suppl. Notice at 2 (seeking to introduce evidence regarding the “strength and reliability” of the data and allegations provided to the FBI and Agency-2, including that the white papers “may have misstated, overstated, and/or cherry-picked facts” or that certain FBI or Agency2 personnel determined that “data was potentially incomplete, fabricated, and/or exaggerated”).

[snip]

Second, the Special Counsel has utterly failed to provide an explanation for how such evidence is admissible against Mr. Sussmann. Instead, the Special Counsel simply asserts that evidence regarding the strength and reliability of the information provided to the FBI and Agency 2 is “direct evidence” of the false statements charge against Mr. Sussmann. Suppl. Notice at 2.

 

Putin’s Playmates Trump and Tucker Remind Trumpsters They’ve Been Trained to Love Putin

As I’ve been watching Putin expand his war in Ukraine, I’ve been thinking a lot about his timing. Why launch it now rather than two years ago, when Trump would have facilitated it, or another year from now, when Republicans are expected to control at least one house of Congress?

I suspect there are a lot of things that dictate the timing. Any invasion was going to come in winter. It’s easier for heavy tanks to move, but more importantly, winter temperatures make it easier to use gas prices to impose a cost on Europe.

I think it happened this year, under Biden’s first full winter rather than 2021 or even 2020 because, up until Biden’s inauguration, Putin’s investment in Trump might still have paid off by allowing Putin to achieve his objectives without launching a war. He almost did, in the insurrection, which was undoubtedly led by MAGAts but which included the participation of some key Russian projects (such as Patrick Byrne).

To be sure, there are European reasons, even beyond the gas squeeze. Boris Johnson is fighting to keep power. Angela Merkel’s retirement surely led Putin to hope that the EU would be left without a strong leader (or that he could more easily manipulate Emmanuel Macron, especially in an election year).

But I believe this invasion represents the culmination of a plan not just to reassert what he imagines is Russian greatness, but also to end US hegemony, which Putin has pursued for a decade.

Ukraine has been a part of that and starting in 2010, Paul Manafort was useful to giving his puppets the patina of legitimacy. After Viktor Yanukovych’s ouster, Ukraine was useful as a testing ground for various kinds of hybrid warfare, most spectacularly with the NotPetya attack in 2018.

Ukraine — the partnership of Konstantin Kilimnik and Oleg Deripaska, along with their leverage over Paul Manafort — was also whence Russian launched its 2016 attack (I need to find the reference, but they knew they could place Manafort as campaign manager before the end of 2015). As I have written (in a piece on my understanding of the role of using the Steele dossier as a vehicle for disinformation), Russia’s interference in 2016 is best understood as a win-win. If Hillary won, Roger Stone would have rolled out the same Stop the Steal plan that was used in 2020 back in 2016 to destabilize the US in 2017 rather than 2021, as happened.

Trump’s win was an unexpected bonus.

As part of the 2016 operation, Russia also did unprecedented damage to the NSA (through the Shadow Brokers operation) and the CIA (in the way that WikiLeaks rolled out the Vault 7 release).

The failure of Russia’s attempt to blame its 2016 interference on a false flag thwarted Russia’s best laid plans — which would have involved Kilimnik calling in the quid pro quo made with Manafort on August 2, 2016 and getting Trump to help carve up Ukraine in the same way Russia is currently doing with tanks.

Even still, the Russian investigation paid huge dividends and, given Putin’s long game, to date has surely been more than worth it. That’s because the FBI-led investigation into Trump’s cooperation with Russia, over time, came to train Republicans to trust Putin more than they trust Democrats.

Republicans genuinely believe, falsely, that the FBI deliberately attempted to take Trump out (entirely memory holing Jim Comey’s role in getting Trump elected, much less that the FBI Agents running informants on the Clinton Foundation during the election were explicitly anti-Hillary). The dossier disinformation project proved so wildly successful that most Republicans genuinely believe, falsely, that there wasn’t abundant proof of cooperation between Trump and Russia, including communications directly with the Kremlin during the election that Michael Cohen lied to hide. Republican members of Congress genuinely came to believe — because they had to! — that criticism of Trump’s refusal to spend the money in support of Ukraine they had appropriated was just another Democratic attack on Trump and not an attempt to save the integrity of American democracy. All this culminated in Stop the Steal 2.0, a literal attack on American democracy; Republican fealty to Trump forced them — more reluctantly at first and driven in large part by real terror — to defend an assault on Congress.

By February 13, 2021, the date the Senate voted to acquit Donald Trump of inciting an attack on Congress, Republicans had put loyalty to Donald Trump over defense of the country and the Capitol in which they worked.

Sure, Putin didn’t get Trump to carve up Ukraine as President. But he got so much more from Trump’s presidency.

Putin did get Trump to do real damage to NATO. He got Trump to largely abandon Syria. Trump made a humiliating deal with the Taliban that would result in the US withdrawing its military from Russia’s back door. After years of Russia having to work hard to highlight American hypocrisy on human rights, Trump did things like pardon war criminals, forever tainting America’s claim to be exceptional.

And through it all, Trump created his own authoritarian-supporting militias, heavily armed troops inspired by resentment who have the ability to make the United States ungovernable. Trumpist Republicans are making localized efforts to dismantle democracy. Trump’s Supreme Court nominees have abandoned legal precedent.

Which brings us to this moment.

I think Putin faced a moment of diminishing returns. Republicans are finally beginning to wake up from their Trump cult. If COVID subsides and the US economy takes off, Democrats might surprise at midterms. I wouldn’t be surprised, either, if Russia expected some details of what it has done over the last decade — involving Julian Assange, involving 2016 (with the prosecution of Vladislav Klyushin), possibly even involving Trump — to become public in the near future. And so Putin chose this moment to launch a war to try to solidify the efforts he has made over the last decade.

Thus far, however, things haven’t gone Putin’s way.

I believe that Putin thought he could demonstrate Five Eyes fragility by conducting war games off the Irish coast without inciting the nationalism of a bunch of Irish fisherman. I believe Putin expected the US and/or Europe would fail to fully incorporate Ukraine in its planning, thereby discrediting Volodymyr Zelenskyy. I believe that Putin expected he would be able to peel away France and Germany (after Olaf Scholz’s initial announcement that it is halting Nord Stream 2, there seems to be some hesitation). I believe Putin expected his false flags would work. I believe Putin believed he’d be able to blame someone else for this invasion. I agree with Dan Drezner, thus far Biden has done just about everything right.

I believe that Putin believed his invasion would split NATO, the EU, and the US. Thus far it has had the opposite effect.

Which brings us to the weird pivot that Trump and his top Fox associates: white nationalist Tucker Carlson, Chief of Staff Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham.

Yesterday, Trump hailed Putin’s actions as genius.

“I went in yesterday and there was a television screen, and I said, ‘This is genius.’ Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine — of Ukraine — Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful,” Trump told conservative podcaster Buck Sexton.

I said, ‘How smart is that?’ And he’s gonna go in and be a peacekeeper. That’s strongest peace force… We could use that on our southern border. That’s the strongest peace force I’ve ever seen. There were more army tanks than I’ve ever seen. They’re gonna keep peace all right,” Trump continued. “Here’s a guy who’s very savvy… I know him very well. Very, very well.”

Last night, Tucker did a chilling monologue, suggesting that Americans have been trained to hate Vladimir Putin.

Tucker suggested that Putin’s invasion is just a border dispute. He’s suggesting that Biden is doing this to pay off imagined debts to Ukrainian Oligarchs. Tucker laid out Putin’s plan for costs to impose on Americans, in terms of energy costs. Tucker included every single false claim about Ukraine that Russia has been planting since 2016. Every single one.

This is the monologue you’d expect of a man who believes there are two years of records showing Russian and Hungarian sources trying to set up one meeting between him and Putin.

To win this war, Putin needs to achieve both goals at once: splitting the US so that he can take Ukraine. One goal serves the other.

And in days ahead, Putin undoubtedly plans to take great risks to impose some costs on European and American voters. In gas prices, sure, but probably also with some ambitious cyberattacks and efforts to support another insurrection. Those costs, I imagine Putin plans, will lead American and European voters to lose patience with support for Ukraine, to forget that this is about the ability to enjoy real democracy.

But to get away with that, Putin has to ensure that it won’t backfire by overcoming the polarization he has invested great effort to encourage in the last five years.

Via whatever means last night, Putin’s two biggest assets in the US (speaking in terms of advantages, not recruited assets, but I don’t rule it out) went out and reminded Trump supporters that they’ve been trained to like Putin more than they like their own country.

Update: Philip Bump notes that Republicans like Putin more than Biden.

The Paulie Plot in Ukraine

Last weekend, the UK formally released an intelligence assessment that part of Russia’s plans in Ukraine involve a plot to replace Volodymyr Zelenskyy with a pro-Kremlin functionary.

The NYT version of the story noted that the four people named in the alleged plot all have ties to Paul Manafort.

All four of the other Ukrainians named in the communiqué once held senior positions in the Ukrainian government and worked in proximity to Paul Manafort, former President Donald J. Trump’s campaign manager, when he worked as a political adviser to Ukraine’s former Russian-backed president, Viktor F. Yanukovych. After Mr. Yanukovych’s government fell in 2014, they fled to Russia.

It also claimed that, because of a division of labor within the Five Eyes, this intelligence came from the UK.

In Washington, officials said they believe the British intelligence is correct. Two officials said it had been collected by British intelligence services. Within the informal intelligence alliance known as “Five Eyes,” Britain has primary responsibility for intercepting Russian communications, which is why it played a major role in exposing Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

I noted that you might make such a claim if the collection point (reflected in the Manafort tie) were not a legal NSA target to the US.

Indeed, NBC’s Ken Dilanian explained (but did not include in his story) that this was US intelligence announced by the UK.

It would make sense that this kind of intelligence came from the US — though if it did, it might well come from the FBI, not NSA.

When Manafort traded campaign strategy to Russia for relief from his debt to Oleg Deripaska on August 2, 2016, his cooperation in a series of similar efforts to install a Russian functionary to head Ukraine was part of the deal. Citing numerous documents obtained from Manafort’s devices, Mueller made public Manafort’s participation in the effort through the time he went to jail in 2018.

We can be certain that FBI has continued its investigation of such issues. We can be sure of that because we know (in part from Treasury’s increasing focus on Kilimnik) that FBI has developed a better understanding of Konstantin Kilimnik’s role in both 2016 and his ongoing efforts to undermine US democracy in 2020. We know that because DOJ continues to protect large swaths of  Mueller’s files on Kilimnik’s other American partner, Sam Patten, which significantly focused on who was who in Ukraine and the various tools Russia used to manage the country via client politicians. The same is true of Rick Gates’ interviews. But we also know that, thanks in part to Trump’s continued ties to anti-democratic efforts in Ukraine, the FBI has continued to investigate what has been going on in Ukraine. Not only has EDNY conducted an investigation into Andrii Derkach, but Special Master Barbara Jones just handed over a bunch of Rudy Giuliani’s communications involving such issues to the FBI.

One thing we learned from all those investigations was that Paul Manafort was the guy Oleg Deripaska had employed, for years, to use the tools of modern campaigning, leavened by a great deal of corruption, to install puppet governments who would cater to Deripaska’s business interests. In 2016, Russia deployed Manafort to the United States to do the same thing in the US.

With the distance of almost six years, it may be safe to say that Russia succeeded in their 2016 attempt to interfere in the US election not so much from a failure of US intelligence collection in Russia (after all, the FBI warned the DNC it was being hacked in real time). It was — in addition to a misunderstanding of the WikiLeaks operation — a failure of US intelligence collection in Ukraine, whence the human side of the operation was significantly launched. The US has dedicated a good deal of energy to addressing that failure in recent years, though Russia continued to use Ukraine as a platform from which to undermine US democracy through the 2020 election.

Ukraine was then, as now, the test ground for Russia’s larger efforts to either subject “democracy” to the whims of kleptocracy or discredit democracy beyond the ability to govern. Among the things Russia tested on that ground was the 2017 NotPetya attack, which did devastating damage to a slew of companies who did nothing more than do business with Ukraine; I would be surprised if Putin hadn’t at least entertained similar efforts in the months ahead.

Before 2016, the US had the hubris to believe its own democracy was immune from such efforts (and that its tolerance for money laundering would not, in fact, foster kleptocracies on the other side of the world that could damage the US in turn).

Amid debates about how (or whether) the US should respond to Russia’s aggression, some have raised real questions whether, in the wake of January 6, the US has any place lecturing Ukraine about its democracy and whether the US wouldn’t be better, instead, putting its own house in order. It’s a fair question. But it misunderstands how 2016 led directly to January 6. It also misunderstands Russia’s project in Ukraine and beyond, which is of a piece with its earlier attack on  American democracy.

We may not have a NATO commitment to defend Ukraine from Russia’s assault (though we do have a NATO commitment to defend NATO allies that Russia has likewise threatened). But we’ve recently seen that attacks on Ukraine are just the prototype for larger attacks elsewhere.

Update: Both Jonathan Swan and Jonathan Weisman have pieces out today attempting to explain why Tucker Carlson and Marjorie Greene Taylor are rooting for Putin in his aggression against Ukraine that don’t mention that Putin helped get Trump elected.

The backstory: Two observable shifts have happened in the GOP electorate over the past 15 years. The first is a growing skepticism about foreign intervention in general — frustration and anger still fueled by the disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • The second is a more recent warming towards Russia — initiated by the party’s most powerful figure, Donald Trump.
  • Trump’s rhetoric about Putin was a far cry from 2012 when the GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney warned that Russia was America’s “number one geopolitical foe.” (Prominent Democrats mocked Romney at the time but in the age of Trump endorsed his view and apologized).

The Disinformation that Got Told: Michael Cohen Was, in Fact, Hiding Secret Communications with the Kremlin

CJR was kind enough to invite me on to discuss media accountability and the Steele dossier with Erik Wemple last week.

On the show, I made the argument that it’s not enough to identify the things that didn’t, but should have, shown up in the dossier: like George Papadopoulos getting advance warning of the Russian operation not far from Christopher Steele’s office, or a dirt-for-sanctions-relief meeting in Trump Tower attended by a client of Fusion GPS, or a deputy for Steele client Oleg Deripaska, Konstantin Kilimnik, trading Trump’s campaign manager $19 million in debt relief to obtain the campaign’s strategy.

Given the way that, on July 30, 2016, Deripaska used Steele (via his lawyers) to make Manafort more vulnerable just days before, on August 2, 2016, Deripaska used that vulnerability to carry out a key step in the election operation, it is reasonable to consider whether any disinformation in the dossier became a key part of the Russian operation. That makes it important to look at the stories that did get told in it, to understand how they related to other aspects of the operation.

In the CJR podcast, Erik Wemple was — as he has been in the past — skeptical.

Wheeler: If, in fact, the dossier is full of disinformation, which is what every Republican in Congress believes and what I think is largely the case, then the question is not, what was the access. The question was, why did Oleg Deripaska learn about it, as the DOJ IG Report suggests happened, why did he learn about it before the second report? Why did two Russian intelligence people learn about it before the second report, and why did the stories that get told get told? So, yes, there’s the absence of, you know, Papadopoulos in London, but the stories of Michael Cohen in Prague which are the, the, the most easily debunked, do, are near misses on things that were really happening in the Russian operation. Michael Cohen was in fact covering up stuff about Russia at the time — he was covering up the Trump Tower deal. Michael Cohen was also covering stuff having to do with sex at the time. You put those two together and you’ve got the Prague thing. That’s a pretty near miss.

Wemple: Is it though? The allegation in the dossier was that he was meeting with Kremlin representatives — as I recall — to —

Wheeler: And he called up the Kremlin and got Putin’s involvement in the Trump Tower deal.

Wemple: But he met in Prague to cover up or figure out how to pay hackers, if I recall the allegation.

Wheeler: Yeah yeah yeah. Yup.

Wemple: I don’t know. I don’t see it as being that close to what Michael Cohen actually did but we can —

Wheeler: Right, but do you deny that Michael Cohen was covering up stuff about Russia that involved, actually, the Kremlin?

Wemple: Well, it’s clear that he was involved in keeping quiet the Trump Tower —

Wheeler: Okay. Which involved the Kremlin. And involved a GRU officer.

Wemple: Unquestionably, no question.

Wheeler: Okay. So that’s my point. Russia knew that. Russia knew that when Trump made a statement in July of 2016 that he had no business in Russia — which by the way, Durham is reacting against; he’s trying to claim it was unreasonable for cybersecurity researchers to respond to that and say, that’s very alarming, which was very alarming. As soon as Trump made that comment, in July of 2016 (and he had made it a bunch of times before that), Russia knew that Michael Cohen and Donald Trump and a number of other people were lying, publicly, about this ridiculously lucrative deal that involved the Kremlin and involved a GRU officer. And so the Prague story is absolutely garbage. And that came from Olga Galkina, right?

Wemple: It did. Who’s a middle school friend of Danchenko

Wheeler: Right. She’s central to the Danchenko indictment. One of the things that Durham charges Danchenko with is trying to hide how obvious, how much Galkina knew about that. And he didn’t hide it at all. I think that allegation is completely, is completely easily debunked if you actually read the interview. But my point is that, in fact, Michael Cohen was covering up communications with the Kremlin and with a GRU officer. And Russia knew that. And if those Michael Cohen reports which, by January 2017, the FBI believed to be disinformation, so if those were disinformation, why did we get that form of disinformation, when in fact Michael Cohen — and if you read Danchenko, Galkina knew, right away, Michael Cohen’s name. She was ready for it, so those questions. If you want to talk about media accountability, those questions have to be asked as well.

The details of any disinformation in the dossier — the possibility that Russian intelligence deliberately planted false stories about secret communications Michael Cohen had with the Kremlin — are important because they may have served the overall Russian operation. In some cases, such as the claim that Carter Page was Paul Manafort’s purported go-between with Russia rather than Konstantin Kilimnik, might have provided cover. The claims that Russia had years old FSB intercepts of Hillary they planned to release as kompromat, rather than recently stolen emails from John Podesta, would similarly provide cover. In others, disinformation might have worked in the same way Oleg Deripaska’s double game did, increasing the vulnerability of Trump’s people even while making it more likely they’d do what Russia wanted.

I have argued in the past that the Trump Tower deal wasn’t important because it showed that Trump was pursuing a real estate deal while running for President. Rather, it was important to the success of the Russian operation because it gave Russia proof, before any hint of the Russian operation became public, that Donald Trump would be willing to work, in secret, with sanctioned banks and a GRU officer to make an impossibly lucrative real estate deal happen.

[T]here is a piece of the Cohen statement of the offense the significance of which hasn’t gotten sufficient attention. That’s the detail that Dmitry Peskov’s personal assistant took detailed notes from a 20-minute January 20, 2016 phone call with Cohen, which led to Putin’s office contacting Felix Sater the next day.

On or about January 16, 2016, COHEN emailed [Peskov]’s office again, said he was trying to reach another high-level Russian official, and asked for someone who spoke English to contact him.

On or about January 20, 2016 , COHEN received an email from the personal assistant to [Peskov] (“Assistant 1 “), stating that she had been trying to reach COHEN and requesting that he call her using a Moscow-based phone number she provided.

Shortly after receiving the email, COHEN called Assistant 1 and spoke to her for approximately 20 minutes. On that call, COHEN described his position at the Company and outlined the proposed Moscow Project, including the Russian development company with which the Company had partnered. COHEN requested assistance in moving the project forward, both in securing land to build the proposed tower and financing the construction. Assistant 1 asked detailed questions and took notes, stating that she would follow up with others in Russia.

The day after COHEN’s call with Assistant 1, [Sater] contacted him, asking for a call. Individual 2 wrote to COHEN, “It’s about [the President of Russia] they called today.”

Cohen had lied about this, claiming that he had emailed Peskov’s public comment line just once, but gotten no response.

This language is important not just because it shows that Cohen lied.  It’s important because of what Cohen would have said to Peskov’s assistant. And it’s important because a written record of what Cohen said got handed on to Putin’s office, if not Putin himself.

[snip]

[W]hen Cohen called Peskov’s assistant, he would have told her that he was speaking on behalf of Donald Trump, that Trump remained interested in a Trump Tower in Moscow (as he had been in 2013, the last time Putin had dangled a personal meeting with Trump), and that on Trump’s behalf Cohen was willing to discuss making a deal involving both a sanctioned bank (whichever one it was) and a former GRU officer.

The impossibly lucrative real estate deal was useful to the Russian operation because it ensured that, even before GRU hacked the DNC, Putin had collected receipts showing that Trump’s personal lawyer had secretly been in discussions about a deal brokered by a GRU officer and sanctioned banks for Trump’s benefit. Trump would want to (and in fact did) keep this fact from voters because it would have proven he was lying about having business interests in Russia. The attribution of the DNC hack to the GRU made Trump’s secret more inflammatory, because it meant Trump stood to benefit personally from the same people who hacked his opponent. Trump and Cohen couldn’t have known all that when Cohen called Peskov in January. But Russia did. Indeed, that may well have been the entire point.

The Cohen-in-Prague story includes outlines of Trump’s real secret: contact by Trump’s personal lawyer with the Kremlin and those who conducted the DNC hack. But the Cohen-in-Prague story displaced the key details of that secret, providing a place and personal details that would be even more damning, but also easier to debunk.

In fact, when Michael Cohen broke the law (by lying to Congress) to cover up this secret, when the Trump Organization withheld from Congress the most damning documents about it, when Trump told his most provable lie to Mueller about it, they (along with Felix Sater and others) used the Cohen-in-Prague story as an easy way to issue true denials while limiting admissions (and lying) about the extent of the Trump Tower deal. Here’s what I described, in August 2017, about the way Cohen used Prague denials to pre-empt his limited (and therefore false) admissions of his pursuit of the Trump Tower deal.

There are real, unanswered questions about the provenance of the document as leaked by BuzzFeed. Some of the circumstances surrounding its production — most notably its funders and their claimed goals, and Steele’s production of a final report, based off voluntarily provided information, for free — raise real questions about parts of the dossier. I think it quite likely some parts of the dossier, especially the last, most inflammatory report (which accuses Cohen of attending a meeting where payments from Trump to the hackers that targeted the Democrats were discussed), were disinformation fed by the Russians. I believe the Intelligence Community is almost certainly lying about what they knew about the dossier. I believe the Russians know precisely how the dossier got constructed (remember, a suspected source for it died in mysterious circumstances in December), and they expect the exposure of those details will discredit it.

So while I think there are truths in the dossier, I do think its current form includes rumor and even affirmative disinformation meant to discredit it.

With that said — and remembering all the time that shortly after this letter got written, documents were disclosed showing Cohen was involved in brokering a deal that Sater thought might get Trump elected — here’s my analysis of the document.

[Cohen’s letter to Congress] is pitched around the claim that HPSCI “included Mr. Cohen in its inquiry based solely upon certain sensational allegations contained” in the Steele dossier. “Absent those allegations,” the letter continues, “Mr. Cohen would not be involved in your investigation.” The idea — presented two weeks before disclosure of emails showing Cohen brokering a deal with Russians in early 2016 — is if Cohen can discredit the dossier, then he will have shown that there is no reason to investigate him or his role brokering deals with the Russians. Even the denial of any documents of interest is limited to the dossier: “We have not uncovered a single document that would in any way corroborate the Dossier’s allegations regarding Mr. Cohen, nor do we believe that any such document exists.”

With that, Cohen’s lawyers address the allegations in the dossier, one by one. As a result, the rebuttal reads kind of like this:

I Did Not Go to Prague I Did Not Go to Prague I Did Not Go to Prague I Did Not Go to Prague

Cohen literally denies that he ever traveled to Prague six times, as well as denying carefully worded, often quoted, versions of meeting with Russians in a European capital in 2016. Of course that formulation — He did not participate in meetings of any kind with Kremlin officials in Prague in August 2016 — stops well short of other potential ties to Russians. And two of his denials look very different given the emails disclosed two weeks later showing an attempt to broker a deal that Felix Sater thought might get Trump elected, including an email from him to one of the most trusted agents of the Kremlin.

Mr. Cohen is not aware of any “secret TRUMP campaign/Kremlin relationship.”

Mr. Cohen is not aware of any indirect communications between the “TRUMP team” and “trusted agents” of the Kremlin.

The Cohen-in-Prague story provided an easy way for Cohen to issue true denials. But it also magnified the risk of the secret — a secret Russia knew — they were keeping, because they committed crimes to keep the secret.

There can be little doubt that, if the Cohen-in-Prague story was deliberate disinformation, it was wildly successful. Indeed, most Trump supporters — including many of the people debunking the dossier full time — seemed to believe that if they could prove that Cohen never went to Prague, that by itself would amount to proof that Trump had no ties with Russia in 2016, a claim every bit as outlandish as the pee tape.

If the Cohen-in-Prague story was deliberate disinformation, it was spectacularly successful, both for obscuring the Trump Tower discussions and for creating an easily debunked stand-in for Trump’s real cooperation, distracting from Manafort’s role.

Years later, we now know there were reasons to think the Cohen-in-Prague story was deliberate disinformation from the start. A declassified DOJ IG footnote describes that, even before the Igor Danchenko interviews in January 2017, FBI had received intelligence suggesting that was the case.

In addition to the information in Steele’s Delta file documenting Steele’s frequent contacts with representatives for multiple Russian oligarchs, we identified reporting the Crossfire Hurricane team received from [redacted] indicating the potential for Russian disinformation influencing Steele’s election reporting. A January 12, 2017, report relayed information from [redacted] outlining an inaccuracy in a limited subset of Steele’s reporting about the activities of Michael Cohen. The [redacted] stated that it did not have high confidence in this subset of Steele’s reporting and assessed that the referenced subset was part of a Russian disinformation campaign to denigrate U.S. foreign relations. [italicized language declassified]

If it was disinformation, Danchenko’s source for it, his childhood friend Olga Galkina, seems to have been prepared. When Danchenko described the sourcing of the report, he explained that that Galkina was “almost immediately” familiar with Cohen when he asked.

[Danchenko] began his explanation of the Prague and Michael Cohen-related reports by stating that Christopher Steele had given him 4-5 names to research for the election-related tasking. He could only remember three of the names: Carter Page, Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen. When he talked to [Galkina] in the fall of 2016 — he believes it was a phone call — he rattled off these names and, out of them, he was surprised to hear that [Galkina] immediately [later [Danchenko] softened this to  “almost immediately”] recognized Cohen’s name.

[snip]

Danchenko believes he had 2, maybe even 3, conversations with [Galkina] on this topic later in October. Nothing on Prague and Cohen was collected during the [redacted] trip in [redacted]. The first conversation is the one during which he believes [Galkina] noted her recognition of Cohen’s name. The second conversation is the one in which she discussed Prague, the visit of Cohen plus three other individuals, and the meeting with the Russia side. There may have been a third conversation on the topic, but [Danchenko] could not recall exactly and said that they had also talked about “a private subject.”

Several details in the Danchenko indictment explain why Galkina might be prepared.

Charles Dolan, the PR Executive whom Danchenko introduced to Galkina that spring, had worked directly with Dmitry Peskov for years and remained in touch with Putin’s Press Secretary in conjunction with an event he was helping plan in October 2016. During the summer, Dolan recommended Galkina to Peskov for a job in the Presidential Administration.

[F]rom in or about 2006 through in or about 2014, the Russian Federation retained PR Executive-I and his then-employer to handle global public relations for the Russian government and a state-owned energy company. PR Executive-I served as a lead consultant during that project and frequently interacted with senior Russian Federation leadership whose names would later appear in the Company Reports, including the Press Secretary of the Russian Presidential Administration (“Russian Press Secretary-I”), the Deputy Press Secretary (“Russian Deputy Press Secretary-I”), and others in the Russian Presidential Press Department.

[snip]

In anticipation of the June 2016 Planning Trip to Moscow, PR Executive-I also communicated with Russian Press Secretary-I and Russian Deputy Press Secretary-I, both of whom worked in the Kremlin and, as noted above, also appeared in the Company Reports.

[snip]

Additionally, on or about July 13, 2016, Russian Sub-Source-I sent a message to a Russia-based associate and stated that PR Executive-I had written a letter to Russian Press Secretary-I in support of Russian-Sub-Source-I’s candidacy for a position in the Russian Presidential Administration.

As it was, Danchenko attributed of any mention of Peskov in the dossier to Galkina. But Galkina’s real ties to Peskov, the person who knew more about Michael Cohen and Trump’s secret than anyone else in Russia — who knew they were pursuing an impossibly lucrative real estate deal involving sanctioned banks and a retired GRU officer with Peskov’s help — had been enhanced in months leading up to that reporting. Galkina’s ties to Peskov would had been enhanced in a way that may have made her source relationship with Danchenko even more evident to Russian spooks (though it would always have been easy to discover).

That is, Dolan’s business relationships with the Russian government may not be important because Galkina appeared to share his enthusiasm for Hillary — the reason Durham included garden variety business networking in the midst of the Danchenko indictment. Rather, it may be important because it made her a much more lucrative target for disinformation.

Olga Galkina was in a position where, if Russia had wanted to tell the secret they knew Trump was keeping from voters, she might have learned the truth behind Cohen’s real, hidden communications with the Kremlin, a truth that voters had a right to know. Instead, she told a false story that mirrored certain aspects of the story that Cohen would do prison time in a failed attempt to hide, but which instead became an easily debunked stand-in for the real story of Trump’s enthusiasm for Russia’s efforts to tamper in America’s democracy.

If the dossier was significantly disinformation, then all Americans were victims of it. It turned a legitimate concern about real Russian interference into American elections into one of the biggest sources of political polarization in recent history. Like the social media trolling from Internet Research Agency, it stoked divisions, with the added benefit that it led significant numbers of Trump voters to trust the Russians who were feeding that disinformation more than they trust the current President. One viral Twitter thread earlier this year even claimed that the dossier (and therefore any Russian disinformation in it) led directly to and justified the attack on the Capitol on January 6. As such, disinformation injected into the dossier should increasingly be treated as a potential central part of the 2016 Russian influence operation — perhaps its most successful and lasting part.

Erik Wemple has spent a lot of time pushing CNN into committing the same reporting failures with the Danchenko indictment as they did on the dossier itself. But that has left largely unexamined the question of why the stories that did get told got told, which may be far more important to understanding how Russia was willing to screw both Paul Manafort and Hillary Clinton.


Danchenko posts

The Igor Danchenko Indictment: Structure

John Durham May Have Made Igor Danchenko “Aggrieved” Under FISA

“Yes and No:” John Durham Confuses Networking with Intelligence Collection

Daisy-Chain: The FBI Appears to Have Asked Danchenko Whether Dolan Was a Source for Steele, Not Danchenko

Source 6A: John Durham’s Twitter Charges

John Durham: Destroying the Purported Victims to Save Them

John Durham’s Cut-and-Paste Failures — and Other Indices of Unreliability

Aleksej Gubarev Drops Lawsuit after DOJ Confirms Steele Dossier Report Naming Gubarev’s Company Came from His Employee

In Story Purporting to “Reckon” with Steele’s Baseless Insinuations, CNN Spreads Durham’s Unsubstantiated Insinuations

On CIPA and Sequestration: Durham’s Discovery Deadends

The Disinformation that Got Told: Michael Cohen Was, in Fact, Hiding Secret Communications with the Kremlin