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The Guardian “Scoop” Would Shift the Timeline and Bureaucracy of the Known 2016 Russian Operation

Luke Harding has a story based on alleged Russian documents that show that Vladimir Putin personally approved of the 2016 Russian operation on January 22, 2016.

In advance of a known meeting — which Russia claimed at the time was convened to talk about Moldova — the Guardian claims Putin was presented with a plan on how an influence operation might work. Putin purportedly approved the operation at the publicly announced meeting. And then all three intelligence agencies implemented it.

The author appears to be Vladimir Symonenko, the senior official in charge of the Kremlin’s expert department – which provides Putin with analytical material and reports, some of them based on foreign intelligence.

The papers indicate that on 14 January 2016 Symonenko circulated a three-page executive summary of his team’s conclusions and recommendations.

In a signed order two days later, Putin instructed the then chief of his foreign policy directorate, Alexander Manzhosin, to convene a closed briefing of the national security council.

Its purpose was to further study the document, the order says. Manzhosin was given a deadline of five days to make arrangements.

What was said inside the second-floor Kremlin senate building room is unknown. But the president and his intelligence officials appear to have signed off on a multi-agency plan to interfere in US democracy, framed in terms of justified self-defence.

[snip]

After the meeting, according to a separate leaked document, Putin issued a decree setting up a new and secret interdepartmental commission. Its urgent task was to realise the goals set out in the “special part” of document No 32-04 \ vd.

Members of the new working body were stated to include Shoigu, Fradkov and Bortnikov. Shoigu was named commission chair. The decree – ukaz in Russian – said the group should take practical steps against the US as soon as possible. These were justified on national security grounds and in accordance with a 2010 federal law, 390-FZ, which allows the council to formulate state policy on security matters.

According to the document, each spy agency was given a role. The defence minister was instructed to coordinate the work of subdivisions and services. Shoigu was also responsible for collecting and systematising necessary information and for “preparing measures to act on the information environment of the object” – a command, it seems, to hack sensitive American cyber-targets identified by the SVR.

The SVR was told to gather additional information to support the commission’s activities. The FSB was assigned counter-intelligence. Putin approved the apparent document, dated 22 January 2016, which his chancellery stamped.

Because the analysis presented in this story says things that many people now believe — that Trump was unstable, that he harmed the US, that Russia’s operation sowed division in the US — it had been uncritically embraced by many.

But experts are raising some cautions. Thomas Rid raises cautions here (not all of which I agree with). Matt Tait raises more cautions here (not all of which I agree with). Craig Unger quotes more experts raising questions about the document.

What few are doing, however, is comparing the claims in the Guardian document to what we (think we) know about the 2016 operation, which not only is a good way to test their accuracy but also might answer the question Douglas London raised with Unger: “‘Coincidence and convenience are red flags in espionage,’ he told SpyTalk. ‘So why now?'”

If these documents are disinformation, they would change the known story in at least two ways. The resulting story would sustain a claim that both key events and key players in the 2016 Russian operation weren’t really part of that operation. That is, if this is disinformation, it likely was told to try to obscure who were the most important players in the 2016 operation and what events were part of it.

A January 22 approval would suggest presumed parts of the 2016 operation weren’t actually part of it

If the Russian operation weren’t approved until January 22, then events believed to be part of the operation that happened before that might be dissociated from it.

Perhaps the most important temporal conflict these documents would introduce would be the Trump Tower Moscow dangle. That effort — floated by Felix Sater and relying on a former GRU officer as a broker — started in fall 2015 and ratcheted up in December 2015. Importantly, a key call Michael Cohen had with Dmitri Peskov’s assistant took place before Putin allegedly approved the operation, on January 20.

On January 20, 2016, Cohen received an email from Elena Poliakova, Peskov’s personal assistant. Writing from her personal email account, Poliakova stated that she had been trying to reach Cohen and asked that he call her on the personal number that she provided.350 Shortly after receiving Poliakova’s email, Cohen called and spoke to her for 20 minutes.351 Cohen described to Poliakova his position at the Trump Organization and outlined the proposed Trump Moscow project, including information about the Russian counterparty with which the Trump Organization had partnered. Cohen requested assistance in moving the project forward, both in securing land to build the project and with financing. According to Cohen, Poliakova asked detailed questions and took notes, stating that she would need to follow up with others in Russia.352

The next day — so still one day before, according to the Guardian document, Putin approved the 2016 operation — Sater responded to Cohen claiming that Putin’s office had called.

However, the day after Cohen’s call with Poliakova, Sater texted Cohen, asking him to “[c]all me when you have a few minutes to chat .. . It’s about Putin they called today.”353 Sater then sent a draft invitation for Cohen to visit Moscow to discuss the Trump Moscow project, 354

If Putin didn’t approve the 2016 operation until January 22, Russia and Trump might claim, this effort wasn’t really an attempt to offer Trump financial salvation in exchange for policy considerations and other quid pro quo that became part of the operation, but instead was a viable (albeit ridiculously lucrative) real estate offer. Indeed, if Russia wanted to bail Trump out of the financial difficulties created by the prosecution of Trump Organization now, they might want to launder this earlier real estate dangle so as to dissociate it with any attempt to buy a president, or else any deals from this point forward might be deemed a continuation of an earlier conspiracy or even an effort to keep Trump afloat long enough to run again in 2024.

Similarly, also before the purported January 22 approval date, Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko started a several month outreach to Trump, one that would be sustained through March.

Trump received and turned down an invitation to the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. In late December 2015, Mira Duma-a contact oflvanka Trump’s from the fashion industry-first passed along invitations for Ivanka Trump and candidate Trump from Sergei Prikhodko, a Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation.377 On January 14, 2016, Rhona Graff sent an email to Duma stating that Trump was “honored to be asked to participate in the highly prestigious” Forum event, but that he would “have to decline” the invitation given his “very grueling and full travel schedule” as a presidential candidate.378 Graff asked Duma whether she recommended that Graff “send a formal note to the Deputy Prime Minister” declining his invitation; Duma replied that a formal note would be “great.”379

It does not appear that Graff prepared that note immediately. According to written answers from President Trump,380 Graff received an email from Deputy Prime Minister Prikhodko on March 17, 2016, again inviting Trump to participate in the 2016 Forum in St. Petersburg.381 Two weeks later, on March 31, 2016, Graff prepared for Trump’s signature a two-paragraph letter declining the invitation.382 The letter stated that Trump’s “schedule has become extremely demanding” because of the presidential campaign, that he “already ha[ d] several commitments in the United States” for the time of the Forum, but that he otherwise “would have gladly given every consideration to attending such an important event.”383 Graff forwarded the letter to another executive assistant at the Trump Organization with instructions to print the document on letterhead for Trump to sign.384

We don’t know what this outreach might have entailed, but like the Trump Tower deal, Trump Organization appears to have withheld evidence about this outreach from one or another investigator, in this case any evidence that Trump declined Prikhodko’s invitation.

Finally there’s the weird way this fits Mike Flynn’s known timeline. To be clear, Flynn was not a full-time part of the Trump campaign when he and his son went to Moscow for the RT Gala in December 2015 and, before he went, he met with Sergei Kislyak in the US. While Flynn was sharing some advice with Trump (as well as some of the other Republican candidates), he would only join Trump’s campaign full time months later. But when Flynn visited Russia, he had prior ties with the GRU. He would later tell the FBI he believed then-GRU head Igor Sergun could work with the US. Days after Flynn’s visit, Sergun died unexpectedly in Syria, and Flynn called Kislyak on January 5 to offer his condolences, the first of Flynn’s 2016 calls with Kislyak picked up on FISA intercepts. Sergun’s death was only widely made public weeks later, after this purported meeting, and there were questions about the circumstances of the death. Those things are probably unrelated, but days after the head of GRU died seems curious timing to put GRU in charge of a risky operation.

The described organization shifts the existing understanding of the 2016 operation

The timing of this meeting, just days after the death of Sergun, is important to explain a claim made in it: that Sergei Shoigu was purportedly put in charge of the GRU part of the operation, its most important part. A January 22 meeting would take place before Sergun’s replacement, Igor Korobov, was appointed (and the suggestion of the story is that Shoigu remained in charge after the later appointment).

And under Shoigu, everything was all tidy and bureaucratic.

According to the document, each spy agency was given a role. The defence minister was instructed to coordinate the work of subdivisions and services. Shoigu was also responsible for collecting and systematising necessary information and for “preparing measures to act on the information environment of the object” – a command, it seems, to hack sensitive American cyber-targets identified by the SVR.

The SVR was told to gather additional information to support the commission’s activities. The FSB was assigned counter-intelligence.

For a lot of reasons I find the designation of FSB for counterintelligence weird, because that’s what they would always be doing and that effort would necessarily (and presumed aspects of which did) long precede any individual operation. Plus, by the end of the year, Putin had taken out two top FSB officers for treason, a prosecution that was later used to offer counter-narratives to the 2016 operation.

But it’s the rest of this narrative that would be intriguing, if true. It would seem to offer an explanation that has never publicly been answered by the US: what the relationship was between the DNC hack by the SVR that started in 2015 to the DNC hack by the GRU that started in 2016. That said, SVR is not known to have hacked several other targets of the 2016 operation: John Podesta individually, state election infrastructure, election vendors, and Hillary’s analytics hosted on an AWS server.

The narrative would be particularly interesting, if true, in the wake of the Solar Winds hack, because it might suggest there will be a GRU sabotage operation following on the entities targeted by SVR. Or maybe Russia wants the west to think that to be true.

That said, there’s a huge part of this neat bureaucratic description not mentioned: The central role of Oligarchs in the 2016 operation.

One might discount the need to include specific instructions for Yevgeniy Prigozhin, as his Internet Research Agency was already engaged in sowing division. But you’d think a description of the bureaucratic structure of the 2016 operation would at least note that a big part of the operation would be accomplished by a known private entity. Furthermore, there are redacted hints in public filings both that Prigozhin’s team interacted with GRU, and that he and Putin had specific conversations about the operation. None of that is accounted for (or arguably, even consistent with) this story.

And that’s the thing: if testimony that Alfa Bank’s Petr Aven gave to the Mueller team is accurate, his role in the 2016 operation got tasked both individually and more generally in quarterly Oligarch meetings with Putin, not through intelligence agencies.

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

According to Aven, at his Q4 2016 one-on-one meeting with Putin,98 1 Putin raised the prospect that the United States would impose additional sanctions on Russian interests, including sanctions against Aven and/or Alfa-Bank.982 Putin suggested that Aven needed to take steps to protect himself and Alfa-Bank.983 Aven also testified that Putin spoke of the difficulty faced by the Russian government in getting in touch with the incoming Trump Administration.984 According to Aven, Putin indicated that he did not know with whom formally to speak and generally did not know the people around the President-Elect.985

Aras Agalarov played a partly successful role in the 2016 operation (in fact, Rob Goldstone offered Trump help from Vkontakte before the January 22 meeting, on January 18). Oleg Deripaska played a wildly successful role (a role that included manipulating Harding’s known source, Christopher Steele). A credible story that their roles got tasked through intelligence agencies and not via meetings directly with Putin might insulate them from responsibility, particularly as the US focuses more explicitly on Konstantin Kilimnik’s role, and particularly for things like sanctions adjudications. But it’s far more credible that something similar to what happened with Aven happened, and happened before the January 22 meeting in question.

Russian kompromat on Trump was never going to be a pee tape

In addition to shifting the timing and presumed bureaucratic structure of the 2016 operation, this story seems to reinflate the expectation of a goddamned pee tape.

There is also apparent confirmation that the Kremlin possesses kompromat, or potentially compromising material, on the future president, collected – the document says – from Trump’s earlier “non-official visits to Russian Federation territory”.

The paper refers to “certain events” that happened during Trump’s trips to Moscow. Security council members are invited to find details in appendix five, at paragraph five, the document states. It is unclear what the appendix contains.

The SSCI Report laid out three different rumors about sexual kompromat, on top of the Steele dossier. But every time someone focuses on a goddamn pee tape, they ignore several details. First, Per his own testimony, Cohen learned of such alleged kompromat shortly after 2013. Even if it existed, it would have far less impact than the many other allegations of sexual abuse that actually did come out in 2016, or the allegations that Trump was cheating on Melania shortly after she gave birth with high profile sex workers. Plus, such stories would have been easily accessible for anyone who wanted to outbid Trump for them.

A pee tape was never going to be the most effective kompromat on Trump, no matter how much people still wish to see humiliating pictures of Trump with sex workers. Financial ties would be.

Importantly, given the way this story would shift the operative start date after much of the discussion about the Trump Tower, Trump hid the Trump Tower Moscow dangle the way he would a pee tape, lying both in real time and to Mueller about it. That is, Trump treated the Trump Tower Moscow dangle as kompromat, which likely was part of the point.

Sure, it’s possible that these documents that magically appear are authentic. It’s also possible that Russia has reasons they want to tell a new story about the timing and key players in the known 2016 operation. Why they would want to do that may be the most interesting aspect of this story.

The Viral Twitter Thread in Which Darrell Cooper Confesses Republicans Were Pawns of Russian Disinformation

For some reason, this Twitter thread by a guy named Darrell Cooper, purporting to explain why Trumpsters came to attack the US Capitol, went viral.

I resisted several requests to fact check it. Now, after it has gone even more viral (including on Tucker Carlson’s show), Phil Bump has done a good fact check. As Bump notes, while Cooper accurately lays out that Trump supporters have lost confidence in institutions, Cooper offers an explanation that relies on a series of false claims so as to put the blame on Democrats.

It is indisputably the case that Trump supporters accept claims about election fraud in part because of their diminished confidence in institutions such as government and the media. What is subject to dispute, though, is the cause of that lack of confidence. While Cooper suggests that it’s emergent, it isn’t. While Cooper argues that it’s a function of investigations into Trump, it’s actually a function of partisan responses — largely but not entirely on the right — driven by Trump himself. And, most important, what Cooper presents as the indisputable facts undergirding his argument are often misleading or false and a function of partisan defenses of Trump that are common in conservative media.

Bump then debunks Cooper’s claims that:

  • The FBI spied on the Trump campaign using evidence manufactured by the Clinton campaign
  • We now know that all involved knew it was fake from Day 1 (see: Brennan’s July 2016 memo, etc)
  • The Steele dossier was the sole evidence used to justify spying on the Trump campaign
  • The entire Russian investigation stemmed from the Page investigation and not George Papadopoulos and Paul Manafort
  • Protests planned in case Trump overturned the election were a plan for violence
  • There were legitimate concerns about the election

Bump is absolutely right that Cooper makes false claims to be able to blame Democrats and Bump’s fact checks are sound (and really exhausting that they’re still required). Bump is likewise correct that a false claim about the Steele dossier is central to Cooper’s story.

I’d add that Cooper doesn’t mention that his claims about the problems with the Steele dossier matter primarily to the third and fourth FISA orders against Carter Page, and so happened under the Trump Administration and in three cases, were signed by people Trump either kept (in the case of Jim Comey) or put in place (in the case of Dana Boente and Rod Rosenstein).

But according to Cooper’s logic, if the dossier hadn’t existed, a series of events that followed wouldn’t have happened, and so Republicans wouldn’t have attacked their own government. Thus far it’s a typical right wing attempt to disclaim responsibility for their own actions.

What Bump doesn’t mention, though, is that it is now almost universally agreed upon on among Trumpsters that the dossier was the product of Russian disinformation. Lindsey Graham — who conducted an investigation into the circumstances of the Carter Page FISA — thinks it is. Chuck Grassley — who led the investigation into the dossier — thinks it is. Ron Johnson — who also made a show of investigating these things — thinks it is. Chuck Ross — the chief scribe of the dossier on the right — thinks it is. The high gaslighter Catherine Herridge thinks it is. Fox News and all their favorite sources think it is. WSJ’s editorial page thinks it is. None of these people have thought through the implications of that, but they do all appear to believe that the Russians fed disinformation through the Democratic-funded dossier to the FBI.

So, even setting aside the implications of the possibility that the dossier was Russian disinformation, according to Cooper’s narrative, Trump’s supporters wouldn’t have attacked their own government if it weren’t for Russian disinformation that set off a chain of events that led them to lose confidence in American institutions.

But consider the implications of the dossier as disinformation, implications that are evident largely thanks to sources that right wing figures have made great effort to liberate.

In response to a Trey Gowdy question at an interview by a GOP-led investigation into the dossier, Bruce Ohr explained that on July 30, 2016, Christopher Steele shared three pieces of information with him (later in his interview he would add a fourth, Russian doping): Two details from what we now know to be the dossier, as well as a third — that Oleg Deripaska’s attorney had information about Paul Manafort stealing money from Deripaska.

And then the third item he mentioned was that Paul Hauser, who was an attorney working for Oleg Deripaska, had information about Paul Manafort, that Paul Manafort had entered into some kind of business deal with Oleg Deripaska, had stolen a large amount of money from Oleg Deripaska, and that Paul Hauser was trying to gather information that would show that, you know, or give more detail about what Paul Manafort had done with respect to Deripaska.

Byron York provided more background on Steele’s efforts to share information from Deripaska with Bruce Ohr. The IG Report done in response to GOP requests provided still more. For example, the IG Report revealed that Steele had set up a meeting between Ohr and Oligarch 1, whom we know to be Deripaska, in September 2015 (these claims are consistent with the heavily redacted Ohr 302s liberated by Judicial Watch).

Handling Agent 1 told the OIG that Steele facilitated meetings in a European city that included Handling Agent 1, Ohr, an attorney of Russian Oligarch 1, and a representative of another Russian oligarch. 209 Russian Oligarch 1 subsequently met with Ohr as well as other representatives of the U.S. government at a different location.

[snip]

Ohr and Steele also communicated frequently over the years regarding Russian Oligarch 1, including in 2016 during the time period before and after Steele was closed as an FBI CHS.409 Steele told us his communications with Ohr concerning Russian Oligarch 1 were the result of an outreach effort started in 2014 with Ohr and Handling Agent 1, to approach oligarchs about cooperating with the U.S. government. Ohr confirmed that he and Handling Agent 1 asked Steele to contact Russian oligarchs for this purpose. This effort resulted in Ohr meeting with Russian Oligarch 1 and an FBI agent in September 2015.

The IG Report also revealed that in September 23 (around the same time Deripaska was interviewed by the FBI), Steele passed on a claim that Deripaska wanted to share information about Manafort.

On September 23, 2016, at Steele’s request, Steele met with Ohr in Washington, D.C. Ohr told us they spoke about various topics related to Russia, including information regarding Russian Oligarch 1 ‘s willingness to talk with the U.S. government about Manafort.

Far more consistently than using Ohr as a channel for dossier reports (and for a longer period of time), Steele used his ties with Ohr to advance Oleg Deripaska’s interests. And for the entirety of the time that Steele was feeding the FBI dossier reports, that meant Steele was feeding Ohr claims that not only presented Deripaska as a trustworthy actor, but did so in part by promising Deripaska’s cooperation in a criminal investigation of Paul Manafort. The FBI (and Mueller after that) didn’t investigate Manafort primarily for the stuff Deripaska was trying to feed the FBI, but Deripaska was making great efforts to ensure that the FBI would investigate Manafort. In the aftermath of all this, Trump and Manafort blamed Democrats for all this, but in fact, Deripaska was at least as responsible.

According to footnotes that Graham, Grassley, and Johnson had declassified, before Deripaska first started offering to help DOJ criminally investigate Manafort — before that July 30, 2016 meeting between Steele and Ohr — a Deripaska associate likely learned about the dossier project (the same declassification revealed that two Russian intelligence officers had learned of the project before that meeting which, given the belief that several of Deripaska’s associates were Russian intelligence officers, may be the same report).

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

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

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

In fact, the IG Report completed in response to Republicans’ requests makes it clear: if the dossier was disinformation, that disinformation most likely involved Oleg Deripaska, with whom Manafort was using his position on the Trump campaign in an attempt to patch up financial and legal relations.

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

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

Of course, for months before Deripaska first started offering (through Steele) to cooperate with the FBI against Manafort, Manafort had been trying to exploit his position on Trump’s campaign to ingratiate himself with (among others) Deripaska, in part in hopes to paper over precisely the financial dispute that Deripaska was, through Steele, trying to use to increase Manafort’s legal exposure. Weeks before the July 30 Steele-Ohr meeting, for example, Manafort had offered to brief Deripaska on the Trump campaign.

Immediately upon joining the Campaign, Manafort directed Gates to prepare for his review separate memoranda addressed to Deripaska, Akhmetov, Serhiy Lyovochkin, and Boris Kolesnikov,879 the last three being Ukrainian oligarchs who were senior Opposition Bloc officials. 880 The memoranda described Manafort’ s appointment to the Trump Campaign and indicated his willingness to consult on Ukrainian politics in the future. On March 30, 2016, Gates emailed the memoranda and a press release announcing Manafort’ s appointment to Kilimnik for translation and dissemination.881 Manafort later followed up with Kilimnik to ensure his messages had been delivered, emailing on April 11, 2016 to ask whether Kilimnik had shown “our friends” the media coverage of his new role. 882 Kilimnik replied, “Absolutely. Every article.” Manafort further asked: “How do we use to get whole. Has Ovd [Oleg Vladimirovich Deripaska] operation seen?” Kilimnik wrote back the same day, “Yes, I have been sending everything to Victor [Boyarkin, Deripaska’s deputy], who has been forwarding the coverage directly to OVD.”883

[snip]

The Office also obtained contemporaneous emails that shed light on the purpose of the communications with Deripaska and that are consistent with Gates’s account. For example, in response to a July 7, 20 I 6, email from a Ukrainian reporter about Manafort’ s failed Deripaskabacked investment, Manafort asked Kilimnik whether there had been any movement on “this issue with our friend.”897 Gates stated that “our friend” likely referred to Deripaska,898 and Manafort told the Office that the “issue” (and “our biggest interest,” as stated below) was a solution to the Deripaska-Pericles issue.899 Kilimnik replied:

I am carefully optimistic on the question of our biggest interest. Our friend [Boyarkin] said there is lately significantly more attention to the campaign in his boss’ [Deripaska’s] mind, and he will be most likely looking for ways to reach out to you pretty soon, understanding all the time sensitivity. I am more than sure that it will be resolved and we will get back to the original relationship with V. ‘s boss [Deripaska].900

Eight minutes later, Manafort replied that Kilimnik should tell Boyarkin’s “boss,” a reference to Deripaska, “that if he needs private briefings we can accommodate.”901

That is, per both Rick Gates and Manafort himself, how Manafort came to meet with Deripaska aide Konstantin Kilimnik on August 2, just three days after Deripaska tried to increase Manafort’s legal exposure via Steele. That’s how — and why! — he provided a briefing on campaign strategy amid a discussion of resolving the debt to Deripaska (as well as a plan to carve up Ukraine), as described by the SSCI Report completed under Chairs Richard Burr and Marco Rubio.

(U) At the meeting, Manafort walked Kilimnik through the internal polling data from Fabrizio in detail.453 According to Gates, Kilimnik wanted to know how Trump could win.454 Manafort explained his strategy in the battleground states and told Kilimnik about polls that identified voter bases in blue-collar, democratic-leaning states which Trump could swing.455 Manafort said these voters could be reached by Trump on issues like economics, but the Campaign needed to implement a ground game.456 Gates recalled that Manafort further discussed the “battleground” states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota.457 (U) The Committee sought to determine with specificity what information Kilimnik actually gleaned from Manafort on August 2, 2016. Information suggests Kilimnik understood that some of the polling data showed that Clinton’s negatives were particularly high; that Manafort’s plan for victory called for focusing on Clinton’s negatives as much as possible; and that given Clinton’s high negatives, there was a chance that Trump could win. (U) 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

(U) Patten relayed similar information to the Committee. In particular, he told the Committee that Kilimnik mentioned Manafort’s belief that “because or Clinton’s high negatives, there was a chance, only because her negatives were so astronomically high, that it was possible . to win.”459

[snip]

(U) In addition to Campaign strategy involving polling data and the Ukraine plan, Manafort and Kilimnik also discussed two financial disputes and debts at the meeting. (U) The first dispute involved Deripaska and Pericles.477 Gates recalled that Kilimnik relayed at the meeting that Deripaska’s lawsuit ha’d been dismissed.478 Gates also recalled that Kilimnik was trying to obtain documentation showing the dismissal.479

In short, even without confirmation the dossier was disinformation, it’s clear that Deripaska was playing a vicious double game, using Steele as a channel to increase Manafort’s legal exposure even while using that legal exposure as a way to get an inside track to Trump’s campaign. But if the dossier is disinformation (as Trumpsters seem to universally agree now), it might help explain the dodgy content of the dossier in ways that aren’t important to this post (for example, it might explain why Steele’s sources falsely claimed that Carter Page was Manafort’s liaison with Russia in the same days when Kilimnik flew to the US to offer a pitch to Manafort on Ukraine involving senior Russians).

Now consider one more detail, given that Trumpsters seem to universally agree the dossier was disinformation and the IG Report’s suggestion that the most likely architect of that disinformation was Oleg Deripaska.

On January 8, 2017, Manafort flew to Madrid to meet with a different Deripaska deputy, Georgiy Oganov. As the SSCI Report explained, while Manafort told investigators they discussed the Pericles lawsuit — the same lawsuit Deripaska was using to make Manafort legally insecure — they also discussed stuff that remains almost entirely redacted, but stuff that includes recreating their “old friendship” which (also per the SSCI Report) involved Manafort conducting influence campaigns for Deripaska.

On January 8, 2017, hours after returning to the United States from a trip to ~ to Madrid, Spain.598 Manafort met with Oganov in Madrid during what he claimed was a one-hour breakfast meeting.599 Manafort told the FBI that, at the meeting, Oganov told him that he needed to meet with Deripaska in person to resolve the Pericles matter.600 Manafort agreed but said he would not travel to Ukraine or Russia for the meeting.601

(U) Manafort provided false and misleading information about the purpose, content, and follow-up to the meeting with Oganov to both the Committee and the SCO. In particular, Manafort told the Committee in a written response through counsel that he attended a meeting on or around January 17, 2017, in Madrid with “Georgy Organov.”602 The written response claimed that the meeting was “regarding a private litigation matter involving Oleg Deripaska.”603 Despite admitting his attendance at the meeting to the Committee in May 2017, Manafort initially denied attending the meeting in his interviews with the SCO in the fall of 2018.604 He eventually admitted to attending the meeting with Oganov, and then repeated what he described in his letter to the Committee-that the meeting had been arranged by his lawyers and concerned only the Pericles lawsuit.605

Manafort’s claims about the meeting were false. As the above messages show, the meeting was not designed to be about Pericles, but was also about recreating the “old friendship” and “global politics.”

Manafort returned to the US on January 12 and, three days later, tried to set up an in-person meeting with KT McFarland.

She checked with Mike Flynn, who told her that the “perception” of meeting with Manafort, “especially now” (this was after Flynn’s own back channels with Russia were beginning to become public) would not be good, so to hold off until they were in the hot seats.

Manafort didn’t meet with Trump’s national security team, but around the same time, per reporting from Ken Vogel, he reached out to Reince Priebus and suggested the errors in the dossier not only discredited it, but also the FBI investigation.

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

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

[snip]

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

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

According to Rick Gates, at some point Manafort asked Kilimnik to obtain more information from his sources about it, including from Deripaska.

Since that suggestion to Priebus — which he made days after his return from a meeting with Deripaska’s associate — Trump has pursued precisely the strategy laid out by Manafort, using the errors in the dossier — the dossier that all Trumpsters now seem to believe was filled with errors by Russian intelligence and possibly by Deripaska associates — to discredit it and with it, the Russian investigation.

That’s the strategy that led Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller to report on the dossier full time — including forcing the opinion editor at the time to publish a Deripaska column attacking the dossier.

Fusion GPS’s Simpson, in a New York Times op-ed describing his own Judiciary Committee testimony, claimed a neoconservative website “and the Clinton campaign” were “the Republican and Democratic funders of our Trump research.” The Judiciary Committee’s Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) then unilaterally released, over the objection of committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Simpson’s testimony to “set the record straight.” Fusion GPS “commended Senator Feinstein for her courage.”

Yet on March 16, 2017, Daniel Jones — himself a team member of Fusion GPS, self-described former FBI agent and, as we now know from the media, an ex-Feinstein staffer — met with my lawyer, Adam Waldman, and described Fusion as a “shadow media organization helping the government,” funded by a “group of Silicon Valley billionaires and George Soros.” My lawyer testified these facts to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Nov. 3. Mr. Soros is, not coincidentally, also the funder of two “ethics watchdog” NGOs (Democracy 21 and CREW) attacking Rep. Nunes’ committee memo.

A former Obama State Department official, Nuland, has been recently outed as another shadow player, reviewing and disseminating Fusion’s dossier, and reportedly, hundreds of other dossiers over a period of years. “Deep State-proud loyalists” apparently was a Freudian slip, not a joke.

Invented narratives — not “of the people, by the people, for the people,” but rather just from a couple of people, cloaked in the very same hypocritical rhetoric of “freedom” and “democracy” that those are actively undermining — impede internationally shared efforts on the world’s most pressing, real issues, like global health, climate change and the future of energy. My own “Mother Russia” has many problems and challenges, and my country is still in transition from the Soviet regime — a transition some clearly wish us to remain in indefinitely.

And that’s the strategy that led Chuck Grassley, Lindsey Graham, and Ron Johnson to spend their time discrediting the dossier rather than conducting oversight of Donald Trump.

That’s the strategy that led Darrell Cooper to believe (or claim to believe) several false claims about the dossier and then use those false claims to excuse the way Trumpsters lost faith in institutions and so attacked the Capitol. In short, the likelihood that the dossier is disinformation — indeed, the likelihood that the guy twisting the nuts of Trump’s campaign manager fed the dossier full of disinformation even while using that pressure to obtain his cooperation — means that (at least if you believe Cooper’s narrative) that disinformation led, through a series of steps, Americans to attack the American Capitol.

Trumpsters appear to love Cooper’s narrative, I guess because it doesn’t hold them responsible for their own gullibility or betrayal of the country. There are other problems with it (including the replication of other claims that Republicans have agreed is Russian disinformation). But ultimately, even with Cooper’s errors, what his narrative amounts to (at least for all the Trumpsters who believe the dossier was disinformation) is a claim that Russia’s 2016 disinformation campaign led Trump supporters to attack the US Capitol.

Update: After I posted some folks in the thread questioned what the point of the disinformation would be. This post lays out a possible logic to it all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When No Means Yes: The Flynn and McFarland Response to Information to Paul Manafort

Jason Leopold liberated a bunch of the A1 back-up files (meaning the documents about which witnesses get asked) to Mueller 302s last night.

In virtually every way — from Mike Flynn bragging about sitting with Putin at the RT gala, to Erik Prince pretending not to remember obvious references to Russia in dealings with George Nader, to the response to George Papadopoulos’ offer to set up a meeting with Russia — the files make Trump’s flunkies look worse than was already known.

I want to show one specific example of how that’s true.

The Mueller Report told the story of how, after a secret meeting in Madrid with Oleg Deripaska deputy Georgiy Oganov where the two discussed “recreating old friendship” that Manafort had with Deripaska, Manafort returned and reached out to incoming Deputy National Security Advisor KT McFarland.

He would have told her, among other things, to undermine the Russian investigation by pointing to problems with the Steele dossier that Deripaska had been feeding both sides of.

As the Mueller Report tells it, McFarland asked if she should respond to Manafort, Flynn advised her not to, and she did not.

On January 15, 2017, three days after his return from Madrid, Manafort emailed K.T. McFarland, who was at that time designated to be Deputy National Security Advisor and was formally appointed to that position on January 20, 2017.945 Manafort’s January 15 email to McFarland stated: “I have some important information I want to share that I picked up on my travels over the last month.”946 Manafort told the Office that the email referred to an issue regarding Cuba, not Russia or Ukraine, and Manafort had traveled to Cuba in the past month.947 Either way, McFarland- who was advised by Flynn not to respond to the Manafort inquiry appears not to have responded to Manafort. 948

The Senate Intelligence Report tells it slightly differently. It describes that Flynn told her they shouldn’t respond until they were “in the hot seats.”

(U) Manafort returned to the United States from Madrid on January 12, 2017.615 Three days later, Manafort sent an email to K.T. McFarland, who at the time was designated to become the number two official in Trump’s National Security Council and was serving as Flynn’s deputy on the Transition.616 In the email, Manafort asked McFarland if she was in Washington D.C. that week and, if so, if she was willing to meet informally.617 Manafort said he had “some important· information I want to share that I picked up on my travels over the last month.”618

(U) Before responding to Manafort, McFarland forwarded Manafort’s request to Flynn and inquired whether she should. agree to meet with Manafort.619 Flynn responded by recommending that McFarland not meet with Manafort “until we’re in the hot seats,” presumably a reference to their taking official roles in the U.S. Government. 620 It is unclear what Manafort hoped to speak with McFarland about, but he claimed to the SCO it involved matters related to Cuba, not Russia or Ukraine.621

That is, rather than telling McFarland not to take the meeting, Flynn told her to hold off until Trump was inaugurated.

The email itself provides more details.

First, Manafort was specifically suggesting they only meet if she was in DC.

That is, Manafort wanted to meet in person. He didn’t want to tell her his “important information” if they were in different cities.

And Flynn was not only aware that Manafort might be “working for” someone, but he was specifically concerned about the perception of meeting with Manafort, “especially now.”

Unmentioned in this exchange, but important background, is that the press was already focused on Flynn’s secret phone calls with Russia, and he had already committed himself to several public lies about when he spoke with Sergey Kislyak and when.

And curiously, even though it took less than an hour for McFarland to forward this to Flynn and him to respond, the government does not, apparently, have any response McFarland sent to Manafort.

That doesn’t mean McFarland was implicated in Manafort’s coziness with Russian intelligence. But it does demonstrate how Mueller put the email in a remarkably favorable light.

Avril Haines Committed to Reviewing Past Redactions of Intelligence on Russia’s Support for Trump

In the wake of the confirmation that Konstantin Kilimnik did, in fact, share campaign data with Russian Intelligence, some people are asking whether Trump withheld information confirming that fact from Mueller or SSCI.

There are other possible explanations. After all, DOJ stated publicly in 2019 they were still working on decrypting communications involving Manafort and Kilimnik. There are likely new sources of information that have become available to the government.

It’s also certain that the government did share some information with SSCI that was not publicly released in its report last year. Indeed, we’re still waiting on information in the SSCI Report that probably will be made public.

Ron Wyden complained about the overclassification of the report when it came out, and — in his typical fashion — provided bread crumbs of what we might learn with further declassification.

(U) The report includes new revelations directly related to the Trump campaign’s cooperation with Russian efforts to get Donald Trump elected. Yet significant information remains redacted. One example among many is the report’s findings with regard to the relationship between Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and Russian intelligence officer Konstantin Kilimnik.

(U) The report includes significant information demonstrating that Paul Manafort’s support for Russia and pro-Russian factions in Ukraine was deeper than previously known. The report also details extremely troubling information about the extent and nature of Manafort’s connection with Kilimnik and Manafort’s passage of campaign polling data to Kilimnik. Most troubling of all are indications that Kilimnik, and Manafort himself, were connected to Russia’s hack-and-leak operations.

(U) Unfortunately, significant aspects of this story remain hidden from the American public. Information related to Manafort’s interactions with Kilimnik, particularly in April 2016, are the subject of extensive redactions. Evidence connecting Kilimnik to the GRU’s hack-and-leak operations are likewise redacted, as are indications of Manafort’s own connections to those operations. There are redactions to important new information with regard to Manafort’s meeting in Madrid with a representative of Oleg Deripaska. The report also includes extensive information on Deripaska, a proxy for Russian intelligence and an associate of Manafort. Unfortunately, much of that information is redacted as well.

(U) The report is of urgent concern to the American people, in part due to its relevance to the 2020 election and Russia’s ongoing influence activities. The public version of the report details how Kilimnik disseminated propaganda claiming Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election, beginning even before that election and continuing into late 2019. [one sentence redacted] And the report includes information on the role of other Russian government proxies and personas in spreading false narratives about Ukrainian interference in the U.S. election. This propaganda, pushed by a Russian intelligence officer and other Russian proxies, was the basis on which Donald Trump sought to extort the current government of Ukraine into providing assistance to his reelection efforts and was at the center of Trump’s impeachment and Senate trial. That is one of the reasons why the extensive redactions in this section of the report are so deeply problematic. Only when the American people are informed about the role of an adversary in concocting and disseminating disinformation can they make democratic choices free of foreign interference.

Redactions suggest there was more to an April exchange of information between Kilimnik and Manafort involving Oleg Deripaska than has been made public, describing something else that happened almost simultaneously with that exchange. SSCI learned about that even without obtaining information from Manafort’s email server, which Kilimnik was using long after he stopped working for Manafort and which they subpoenaed unsuccessfully, but Mueller did obtain it.

There’s also a very long redacted passage in the more general Additional Views from Democrats on the committee that laid out the significance of the SSCI findings for the 2020 election (ostensibly what yesterday’s sanctions addressed).

Also in typical Wyden fashion, he already took steps to liberate such information as could be released. In his Questions for the Record for both Avril Haines and William Burns, Wyden asked that this information be declassified. He also asked that more information behind Treasury’s sanctions imposed on Andrii Derkach last September be declassified. Haines committed to ordering a new declassification review of both.

QUESTION 150: If confirmed, will you review the Committee’s Report on Russian Active Measures Campaigns and Interference in the 2016 U.S. Election, in particular Volume 5, for additional declassification?

Yes, if confirmed, I will order a review of the Committee’s report to determine whether additional declassification is possible consistent with the need to protect national security.

QUESTION 151: If confirmed, will you review intelligence related to foreign interference in the 2020 U.S. election, including with regard to Russian agents referenced in the Treasury Department’s September 10, 2020, sanctions announcement, for additional declassification and public release?

Yes, if confirmed I will order a review of these materials to determine whether additional declassification is possible consistent with the need to protect national security.

So we should be getting a newly declassified version of the SSCI Report that will reveal what the Trump Administration did share, but buried under redactions.

Which will also reveal what Trump knew about Manafort’s affirmative ties to Russian intelligence when he pardoned Manafort to pay off Manafort’s silence about all that during the Mueller investigation.

News from the Election Front: Russia Attacked Joe Biden Through “Prominent US Individuals, Some of Whom Were Close to Former President Trump”

Back in 2018, President Trump signed an Executive Order 13848, designed to stave off a law mandating sanctions in the event of election interference. The order nevertheless required reporting on election interference and provided the White House discretion to impose sanctions in the event of interference. Yesterday, the Director of Homeland Security and Director of National Intelligence released the reports mandated by an Executive Order, describing the known efforts to interfere in last year’s election.

Trump’s Intelligence Community Debunks Trump

Though Trump failed to comply publicly in 2019, his own EO mandates deadlines for — first — the DNI report assessing a broader range of possible election interference and then, 45 days later, the DHS/DOJ report describing interference with election infrastructure or influence operations.

(a) Not later than 45 days after the conclusion of a United States election, the Director of National Intelligence, in consultation with the heads of any other appropriate executive departments and agencies (agencies), shall conduct an assessment of any information indicating that a foreign government, or any person acting as an agent of or on behalf of a foreign government, has acted with the intent or purpose of interfering in that election. The assessment shall identify, to the maximum extent ascertainable, the nature of any foreign interference and any methods employed to execute it, the persons involved, and the foreign government or governments that authorized, directed, sponsored, or supported it. The Director of National Intelligence shall deliver this assessment and appropriate supporting information to the President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of Homeland Security.

(b) Within 45 days of receiving the assessment and information described in section 1(a) of this order, the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the heads of any other appropriate agencies and, as appropriate, State and local officials, shall deliver to the President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, and the Secretary of Defense a report evaluating, with respect to the United States election that is the subject of the assessment described in section 1(a):

(i) the extent to which any foreign interference that targeted election infrastructure materially affected the security or integrity of that infrastructure, the tabulation of votes, or the timely transmission of election results; and

(ii) if any foreign interference involved activities targeting the infrastructure of, or pertaining to, a political organization, campaign, or candidate, the extent to which such activities materially affected the security or integrity of that infrastructure, including by unauthorized access to, disclosure or threatened disclosure of, or alteration or falsification of, information or data.

These deadlines should have been, for the DNI Report, December 18, and for the DHS/DOJ report, February 1.

The declassified DNI report released yesterday was finished and distributed, in classified form, on January 7.

The document is a declassified version of a classified report that the IC provided to the President, senior Executive Branch officials, and Congressional leadership and intelligence oversight committees on January 7, 2021.

It was based off intelligence available as of December 31.

The DHS report was completed in February.

Which is to say that these reports were done substantially under the Trump Administration.

DHS Debunks the Kraken

The DHS report, based off the classified report completed in February, finds that while Russian and Iran breached some election infrastructure, they did not manage to change any votes. It also finds that those two countries plus China managed to compromise party or campaign infrastructure, with unknown goals, but that none of the countries that accessed information that could have been used in influence operations used the information.

The most important result, however, was that after checking via multiple different measures, the government found no evidence that dead Hugo Chavez or anyone else that Sidney Powell invoked in service of the Big Lie succeeded in changing any votes.

We are aware of multiple public claims that one or more foreign governments—including Venezuela, Cuba, or China—owned, directed, or controlled election infrastructure used in the 2020 federal elections; implemented a scheme to manipulate election infrastructure; or tallied, changed, or otherwise manipulated vote counts. Following the election, the Department of Justice, including the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security, including CISA, investigated the public claims and determined that they are not credible.

We have no evidence—not through intelligence collection on the foreign actors themselves, not through physical security and cybersecurity monitoring of voting systems across the country, not through post-election audits, and not through any other means—that a foreign government or other actors compromised election infrastructure to manipulate election results.

DNI (Mostly) Debunks the DNI

Last summer, the Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe responded to Democratic concerns about Russia interfering in the election again by stating that China was too. This report largely debunks that claim.

We assess that China did not deploy interference efforts and considered but did not deploy influence efforts intended to change the outcome of the US presidential election. We have high confidence in this judgment. China sought stability in its relationship with the United States and did not view either election outcome as being advantageous enough for China to risk blowback if caught. Beijing probably believed that its traditional influence tools, primarily targeted economic measures and lobbying key individuals and interest groups, would be sufficient to achieve its goal of shaping US policy regardless of who won the election. We did not identify China attempting to interfere with election infrastructure or provide funding to any candidates or parties.

  • The IC assesses that Chinese state media criticism of the Trump administration’s policies related to China and its response to the COVID-19 pandemic remained consistent in the lead-up to the election and was aimed at shaping perceptions of US policies and bolstering China’s global position rather than to affect the 2020 US election. The coverage of the US election, in particular, was limited compared to other topics measured in total volume of content.
  • China has long sought to influence US politics by shaping political and social environments to press US officials to support China’s positions and perspectives. We did not, however, see these capabilities deployed for the purpose of shaping the electoral outcome. [Bold original]

The report describes that the National Intelligence Officer for Cyber had moderate confidence that China was trying to help Joe Biden win.

Minority View The National Intelligence Officer for Cyber assesses that China took at least some steps to undermine former President Trump’s reelection chances, primarily through social media and official public statements and media. The NIO agrees with the IC’s view that Beijing was primarily focused on countering anti-China policies, but assesses that some of Beijing’s influence efforts were intended to at least indirectly affect US candidates, political processes, and voter preferences, meeting the definition for election influence used in this report. The NIO agrees that we have no information suggesting China tried to interfere with election processes. The NIO has moderate confidence in these judgments.

This view differs from the IC assessment because it gives more weight to indications that Beijing preferred former President Trump’s defeat and the election of a more predictable member of the establishment instead, and that Beijing implemented some-and later increased-its election influence efforts, especially over the summer of 2020. The NIO assesses these indications are more persuasive than other information indicating that China decided not to intervene. The NIO further assesses that Beijing calibrated its influence efforts to avoid blowback.

That said, the day after this report was initially disseminated in classified form on January 7, Ratcliffe made clear that the Ombud believed this was a politicized view, and that more than just the Cyber NIO agreed (though didn’t mention that the Ombud believed Russian intelligence had been politicized even worse).

President Trump’s political appointees clashed with career intelligence analysts over the extent to which Russia and China interfered or sought to interfere in the 2020 election, with each side accusing the other of politicization, according to a report by an intelligence community ombudsman.

The findings by Barry A. Zulauf, the “analytic ombudsman” for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), describe an intelligence community afflicted by a “widespread perception in the workforce about politicization” of analysis on the topic of foreign election influence — one that he says threatens the legitimacy of the agencies’ work.

[snip]

Citing Zulauf’s report, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, chosen for the position by Trump last year, charged Thursday that career analysts in a recently completed classified assessment failed to capture the full scope of Chinese government influence on the election — a charge that some current and former officials say illustrates the issue of politicization, because it downplays the much larger role of Russia.

As late as October, then, another Intelligence Officer had some confidence that what this report deems China’s regular influence-peddling had an electoral component, but (as Ratcliffe complained in January) it did not show up in this report, which was entirely produced after the Ombud weighed in.

The IC Now Associates Konstantin Kilimnik with FSB, not GRU

The long section on Russia’s efforts to influence the election get pretty damned close to saying that the events surrounding Trump’s first impeachment and even the Hunter Biden laptop were Russian backed (which is consistent with intelligence warnings that were broadly shared). It might as well have named Rudy Giuliani (among others).

We assess that President Putin and the Russian state authorized and conducted influence operations against the 2020 US presidential election aimed at denigrating President Biden and the Democratic Party, supporting former President Trump, undermining public confidence in the electoral process, and exacerbating sociopolitical divisions in the US. Unlike in 2016, we did not see persistent Russian cyber efforts to gain access to election infrastructure. We have high confidence in these judgments because a range of Russian state and proxy actors who all serve the Kremlin’s interests worked to affect US public perceptions. We also have high confidence because of the consistency of themes in Russia’s influence efforts across the various influence actors and throughout the campaign, as well as in Russian leaders’ assessments of the candidates. A key element of Moscow’s strategy this election cycle was its use of people linked to Russian intelligence to launder influence narratives–including misleading or unsubstantiated allegations against President Biden–through US media organizations, US officials, and prominent US individuals, some of whom were close to former President Trump and his administration.

[snip]

Derkach, Kilimnik, and their associates sought to use prominent US persons and media conduits to launder their narratives to US officials and audiences. These Russian proxies met with and provided materials to Trump administration-linked US persons to advocate for formal investigations; hired a US firm to petition US officials; and attempted to make contact with several senior US officials. They also made contact with established US media figures and helped produce a documentary that aired on a US television network in late January 2020. [Bold original, italics added]

The report likens what Russian entities were doing post-election with what Russia had planned in 2016.

Even after the election, Russian online influence actors continued to promote narratives questioning the election results and disparaging President Biden and the Democratic Party. These efforts parallel plans Moscow had in place in 2016 to discredit a potential incoming Clinton administration, but which it scrapped after former President Trump’s victory.

Perhaps the most interesting detail — on top of revealing that Paul Manafort’s former employee remained involved in all this — is that this report suggests Kilimnik has ties to FSB, not GRU (though the report describes GRU’s efforts as well).

A network of Ukraine-linked individuals–including Russian influence agent Konstantin Kilimnik–who were also connected to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) took steps throughout the election cycle to damage US ties to Ukraine, denigrate President Biden and his candidacy, and benefit former President Trump’s prospects for reelection.

The most recent public reporting on Kilimnik was the SSCI Report. And that suggested that Kilimnik (along with at least one other Oleg Deripaska deputy) was linked to GRU. Indeed, Kilimnik has been described as a former GRU officer. This suggests he may have ties, as well or more recently, to FSB, which would have interesting implications for the 2016 operation.

 

Three Inconvenient Truths about a Hypothetical Trump Pardon for Julian Assange

For the last several weeks, there have been floated hints that Donald Trump might pardon Julian Assange. Assange’s supporters — from frothy MAGAts to esteemed journalistic outlets — are fooling themselves about a possible Trump pardon on several counts.

Before I lay out what those are, let me reiterate, again, that I believe the Espionage Act charges against Assange pose a serious risk to journalism (though as written, the CFAA charge does not). I agree that the Chelsea Manning disclosures, which make up most but not all of the charges currently pending against Assange, included a large number of important revelations, many I relied on with gratitude. I’d be perfectly fine if Vanessa Baraitser ruled on January 4 that US prisons were too inhumane for Assange. And I agree that EDVA would be a horrible venue for Assange (though unlike other defendants, DOJ is not simply inventing that jurisdiction for the onerous precedents it offers out of thin air; it is the most obvious venue for Assange because of the Pentagon).

So this is neither disagreement on the risks an Assange prosecution poses, nor is it an endorsement of the prosecution of Assange as it exists. But a pardon would necessarily involve other crimes, in addition to the ones for which he has been charged, and those crimes go well beyond journalism. They may even involve crimes that Assange backers want no part in supporting.

A Donald Trump pardon of Julian Assange will be a very good way of making sure Assange comes to symbolize those other crimes, not earlier laudable releases, and it might not even end his imprisonment.

It may not work

If Trump gives Assange a pardon, it’s not actually clear it will end his legal jeopardy. The existing Espionage Act charges, particularly the ones for publishing names of coalition informants (which would include the UK) are actually more obviously illegal in the UK than the US. Two UK defendants have already pled guilty to a CFAA conspiracy that makes up part of the CFAA charge against Assange. And because the Vault 7 damage assessment presented at the Joshua Schulte trial explicitly included damage to foreign partners, that publication may expose Assange to Official Secrets Act charges in the UK as well. Plus, there are other aspects of the Vault 7 publication, including Assange’s efforts — with the help of a lawyer he shared with Oleg Deripaska — to coerce immunity from the US with them, that may pose legal jeopardy in the UK if he is pardoned in the US.

I’ve likened the Assange extradition to that of AQAP graphic designer Minh Quang Pham, and this may be another similarity. In that case, as soon as it became clear that the legal disposition that Theresa May was attempting in the UK might not work, SDNY promptly indicted Pham, ensuring Pham would remain in custody no matter what happened in the UK. I wouldn’t be surprised if the reverse happened in the eventuality of an Assange pardon in the US. That is, DOJ may already have sent the UK the evidence to support prosecution of Assange in the UK for some of the things the US would otherwise like to try him on. Indeed, that is consistent with the way the US charged Assange within a day of when Ecuador applied for diplomatic credentials for Assange; the UK has already proven to be in almost immediate coordination with the US on this.

The UK would surely rather the US do the job, but particularly because of the damage the Vault 7 release caused the Five Eyes, I don’t rule out the UK prosecuting Assange if the US could not.

A Trump pardon would have to pardon everything through current day

Assange’s boosters appear to think a pardon would cover just the existing Espionage charges pertaining to the Chelsea Manning leaks (plus the CFAA charge, which is no longer limited to the password crack attempt, though virtually all his boosters ignore the substance of that charge).

That, of course, wouldn’t work. Unless Assange were immediately whisked away to a country that doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the US, he could quickly be charged in a virtually identical indictment covering Vault 7 (and the US could charge it in any case as a way to pressure whatever country he was in). Only, on every charge, the claims now being made to defend Assange — about newsworthiness, about intentionality of revealing protected identities, about the push to leak entire databases — would be far weaker arguments with respect to Vault 7 than with respect to the Manning leaks. Just as one example, WikiLeaks left the identities of the people Joshua Schulte was angry at unredacted in the Vault 7 release, which would make it easier for prosecutors to show forethought and malice for revealing those identities than is the case in (especially) the Cable leaks. And that, again, ignores how Assange repeatedly used the files in an attempt to coerce immunity from the US.

Several close WikiLeaks associates have told me after the initial indictment they were glad it didn’t include Vault 7, because that’s a lot harder to defend against. The US might prefer it for that reason.

So an Assange pardon would have to include some language like, “all offenses against the United States prior to the pardon” — a pardon akin to what Gerald Ford gave Richard Nixon.

Surely, if Trump is going to pardon Assange anyway, he would be willing to do that. Trump’s gonna make Oprah look stingy in the next few weeks, after all. But legally, for a pardon for Julian Assange to stick, it would have to cover all crimes he committed against the US through the present day.

That of course shouldn’t bother Assange supporters — it accords him even broader protection than Mike Flynn got. But it does mean that the pardon would be assessed on the entirety of Assange’s actions, the record of which remains significantly classified and the public record with which virtually no Assange booster — up to and including extradition hearing “expert” witnesses — exhibit familiarity. In other words, they’re arguing blind, without knowing what they’re asking to pardon.

Because an Assange pardon would need to extend through the present it would be tainted by Trump’s own corruption, possibly including litigation

If a Trump pardon for Assange were written broadly enough to stick, it would almost certainly include a conspiracy involving Trump himself, possibly including Russia’s GRU, granting a pardon for Assange in exchange for the optimization of the Podesta files. The pardon itself would likely be a crime for Trump. And that raises the stakes on it.

When WikiLeaks supporters hear “Assange pardon,” they seem to immediately think, “Dana Rohrbacher.” That’s significantly because Assange’s lawyers, in a deliberate use of Assange’s extradition hearing to sow propaganda (of which this is by no means the only example), had Jen Robinson submit testimony describing how Rohrabacher attempted to broker a pardon for Assange in August 2017, a pardon that was contingent on claiming Russia was not behind the 2016 theft of DNC documents.  The testimony was meant to support Assange’s claim that his prosecution is political, a claim that involved misrepresenting the public record in many ways.

When Assange’s team brought this up in his extradition hearing, the lawyer for the US emphasized that Trump didn’t sanction this offer. That’s credible (and backed by contemporaneous reporting), mostly because at the time John Kelly was assiduously gate-keeping offers like this. So WikiLeaks’ focus on the Rohrabacher pardon dangle, while accurate (Robinson is far too ethical to misrepresent things), also falsely suggests that that pardon dangle was the only, or even the most important, pardon discussion between Trump and Assange. It wasn’t. And WikiLeaks knows that, because key WikiLeaks supporters — Randy Credico and Margaret Kunstler — were involved with the one still under criminal investigation.

It is a fact that the Mueller Report stated that they had referred ongoing investigations into whether Roger Stone took part in Russia’s hacking conspiracy to the DC US Attorney’s Office for further investigation. It is a fact that, when the court unsealed warrants against Stone in April, they revealed an ongoing investigation into Stone for the hacking, for conspiracy, and for serving as a foreign agent of Russia, one that Mueller had hidden from Stone. It is a fact that Randy Credico testified under oath he had put Stone in touch with Margaret Kunstler to discuss a pardon for Assange. Credico is evasive about when this discussion began, including whether the discussion started before the election. Texts submitted at trial show Stone and Credico discussed asylum and Credico’s tie to Kunstler on October 3, 2016, in a period when Stone had multiple phone calls with Credico as well as some presumed to be with Trump. Stone appears to have had lunch with Trump on October 8, the day after the Podesta emails dropped. Mike Flynn testified that after the Podesta files dropped, Trump’s closest advisors discussed reaching out to WikiLeaks. Shortly after that, Stone did reach out to WikiLeaks, and WikiLeaks reached out to Don Jr. WikiLeaks reached out to both after Trump won. And according to affidavits obtained against Stone, he and Kunstler started communicating over Signal starting on November 15, seven days after the election. As of October 1 of this year, significant swaths of Kunstler’s two interview reports with Mueller prosecutors remained sealed with redactions protecting an ongoing investigation.

If Stone is to be believed, he pursued this effort to get Assange a pardon at least through 2018. Two things are clear, however. Days after Stone told Assange he was working with the “highest level of Government” to resolve Assange’s issues, Trump directed Corey Lewandowski to direct Jeff Sessions to shut down the entire retroactive Russian investigation. Trump already took an overt act to respond to Stone’s entreaties to help Assange, one documented in Twitter DMs and notes Trump demanded Lewandowski take down. And after Mueller asked Trump about an Assange pardon, Don Jr’s best buddy Arthur Schwartz told Cassanda Fairbanks, “a pardon isn’t going to fucking happen” (she ultimately flew to London to tell Assange what Schwartz told her in person). Nevertheless, Stone’s buddy Tucker Carlson had Glenn Greenwald on pitching one to Trump — as a great way to get back at The [American] Deep State — in September.

To be clear: If Trump pardons Assange for all crimes against the United States, the pardon will still work for Assange (again, unless the UK decides to file charges against Assange instead). And I expect a great deal of Assange’s most loyal boosters won’t give a shit about what all was included in the pardon. Indeed, WikiLeaks’ most loyal fans believe it was a good thing for Assange to partner with the GRU in 2016 to undermine a democratic election.

But if Trump pardons Assange, these details are virtually guaranteed to come under close scrutiny in the months ahead, all the more so if he tries a self-pardon, because this would be one thing that even the 6 Republican majority on SCOTUS might find unreasonable, and it would be the quickest way to prove that not just Stone, but Trump himself, conspired to optimize the files stolen by Russia.

If all that were to happen after he was safe in Oz, Assange probably wouldn’t care, nor would I if I were in Assange’s position. But those backing an Assange pardon are — because of details that virtually none of them understand — cheering Trump to do one of the most corrupt things he would have done over the course of the last five years.

Rudy the Dripper: The Vicious Cycle of Dead-Ender Propagandists Feeding Bullshit to Tribalist Republicans

Not long after the former US Attorney of the Southern District of New York headlined a press conference where he and other lawyers presented insane conspiracy theories to claim that Donald Trump had been robbed of his victory, CNN reported that the FBI continues to investigate Rudy Giuliani for his ties to Russian Agents.

Complicating matters is that Giuliani’s post-election swirl of activity comes as federal investigators renewed their investigative interest into his work that is already the subject of a New York-based investigation.

In recent weeks, FBI agents in New York contacted witnesses and asked new questions about Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine and possible connections to Russian intelligence, according to a person briefed on the matter. The FBI investigators, who have spoken to at least one witness previously months ago, came back to ask new questions recently about possible origins of emails and documents related to Hunter Biden that appear similar to those that the New York Post reported that Giuliani and others helped provide. CNN has previously reported that the ongoing probe is examining whether Giuliani is wittingly or unwittingly part of a Russian influence operation, according to people briefed on the matter.

But questions about that probe have been out of the spotlight as Giuliani stepped into focus as the campaign’s chief post-election lawyer. One source close to the Trump campaign countered that Giuliani is an overzealous defender of the president.

Meanwhile, the same propagandists who’ve helped Trump survive in recent years — on the left and the right — are claiming that because Democrats and others backed the investigation of Russian efforts to get Trump elected in 2016 (an investigation that attempted to understand why Trump fired Jim Comey, the person most Democrats chiefly blame for Hillary’s loss), it is precedent for Trump’s efforts to disclaim Joe Biden’s resounding win.

This exemplifies the vicious cycle we’ve been on since since August 2016, when Donald Trump authorized his rat-fucker to take desperate measures to find bullshit stories to tell to try to win an election.

After WikiLeaks released the first set of files Russia had stolen as part of its plot to help Trump get elected in July 2016 and someone — it’s not clear who — released damning information about Paul Manafort’s corrupt ties with Russian-backed Ukrainian oligarchs, Donald Trump doubled down. Rat-fucker Roger Stone, desperate to save Trump’s campaign and maybe even the job of his lifetime buddy, made a Faustian bargain for advance access to fairly innocuous John Podesta emails that Stone believed would provide the smoking gun for a conspiracy his allies had been chasing since March. The Faustian deal, by itself, exposed Stone as a co-conspirator in a hack-and-leak operation led by a hostile foreign agency. But the deal also brought ongoing exposure: at least as soon as he was elected, Trump’s rat-fucker (and maybe his eldest son!) started pursuing an effort to pay off Julian Assange with a pardon or some other way out of the Ecuadorian Embassy, thereby implicating Trump in a quid pro quo. After Trump assumed the Presidency, his own exposure through Stone gave him reason to want to shut down the investigation, even the investigation into the hack-and-leak itself. As a result, from very early in his presidency, Trump had obstructed justice to hide the quid pro quo and conspiracy his rat-fucker (and possibly he and his son) had joined to help him get there.

Meanwhile, early on in the investigation, acting on advice that Paul Manafort gave after returning from a meeting with one of Oleg Deripaska’s key deputies, the Republicans defended their President by attacking the credibility of the Steele dossier — one that Deripaska himself likely ensured was filled with disinformation — as a stand-in for the larger investigation itself. Deripaska even has apparent sway at one of the outlets that most relentlessly pursued that synecdoche, the dossier as the Russian investigation. Former hawks on Russia, like Trey Gowdy, were lured into fiercely defending Trump even in the face of overwhelming proof of his compromise by the able gate-keeping of Kash Patel and the discovery of how the use of informants can implicate members of your own tribe, as it did with Carter Page. By the time Billy Barr deceived the nation with his roll-out of a very damning Mueller Report, almost every single Republican member of Congress was susceptible to ignoring damning evidence that their President treated both the pursuit of the presidency and his office as a means for self-benefit, no matter what that did to US interests.

Key to the process of co-opting virtually all Republican members of Congress was the process of villainizing the people who had tried to keep the country safe from Russian compromise, starting with Peter Strzok but also including Andy McCabe. That process easily exploited the same apparatus of Congress’ “oversight” powers — and the same susceptibility to heated rants over logic — that had been used to turn a tragic incident in Libya into a multi-year investigation of Hillary Clinton. Also key to that process were certain propagandists on Fox News, including three of the lawyers that stood with Rudy yesterday: DiGenova and Toensing and Sidney Powell.

The day after Mueller closed up shop, those same propagandists joined with Rudy to pursue a revenge plot for the investigation — they started pursuing a way to frame Joe Biden in anticipation of the 2020 election. Most Democrats didn’t believe that Hillary lost because of Russia, but Trump and his conspiratorially-minded advisors believed they did. And so Rudy, relying on advice Manafort offered from prison, used the same networks of influence to try to frame Biden in a Ukrainian plot that, at the same time, might provide an alternative explanation for the Russian crimes Trump was personally implicated in.

Once again, Trump got personally involved, extorting the Ukrainian president over a series of months, “I’d like you to do us a favor, though.”

There’s no doubt that Trump’s abuse of Congress’ power of the purse in an effort to extort a campaign benefit from a foreign country merited impeachment. There’s also no doubt that it served to heighten the tribalism — and ranting illogic — of Republican members of Congress.

Things snowballed further.

That tribalism, by itself, might have gotten Trump re-elected. But it wasn’t enough for Trump. Instead, the President prepared an attack on the integrity of the vote by dissuading his own supporters from using mail-in ballots, setting up the Equal Protection hoaxes that Rudy has pushed in recent days. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger claims that, by itself, the effort to discredit mail-in voting cost Trump the state of Georgia. But partisan attacks are what got Trump where he is, and partisan attacks are what he knows.

Trump also doubled down on what had gotten him elected in 2016: overblown attacks sourced to stolen emails, Hunter Biden’s laptop, in this case rolled out by one guy at legal risk for his ties to Fraud Guarantee, and another under indictment for exploiting the tribalism of Trump’s supporters to commit fraud. According to CNN, the FBI believes these emails may have been packaged up by the Russian agents that have been buying access through Rudy and DiGenova and Toensing.

Trump’s DOJ, working with Sidney Powell, even tried to invent an attack on Joe Biden by altering exhibits in a court proceeding. In that case, the overblown attack was sourced to real notes, albeit notes that actual law enforcement officials had packaged in such a way as to tell a false story. Yet again, however, this was a false story that scapegoated those who’ve protected the interests of the country — adding Joe Biden to the targets along with McCabe and Strzok — to try to cover-up unbelievably damning evidence about Trump’s coziness with Russia. The effort to deny that Mike Flynn was secretly working for Turkey while claiming to work for Trump and to deny that Mike Flynn repeatedly called up the country that had just attacked us to try to obtain further benefits turned into an attack on those who tried to keep the country safe from sell-outs like Mike Flynn.

It’s a false story. But Republicans in Congress believe it with all their being. And so it has succeeded in convincing those Republicans they need to redouble their efforts to defend Trump.

So, yesterday, Rudy and the other propagandists gave a press conference that was, for the first time, broadly labeled as a coup attempt and roundly mocked, even by otherwise true believers. Trump, Rudy, Republicans, they’re all victims of an international plot launched by George Soros, Cuba, China, Venezuela, according to Rudy and the lawyers who spun the last several conspiracy theories on Fox News.

And this propaganda, an attempt to set aside the clear will of the voters, derives its strength not from any basis in fact. Rather, it derives its power from the fact that Republicans have gotten so tribally defensive of Trump, they will set aside the clear good of the country to back him.

Donald Trump, if he leaves office, may face legal consequences for what he did in 2016 to get elected. If Trump leaves office, Rudy may face consequences for the things he has done since to keep Trump in office.

To save themselves, they’re pursuing the same strategy they’ve pursued since 2016: telling bullshit stories by waving documents around and lying about what they say, relying on tribalism and raw power rather than reason to persuade their fellow Republicans. It just so happens that several of these stories got told with the help of Russian foreign agents (though some got told with the help of a corrupted law enforcement). It just so happens that Trump and Rudy (and Stone’s) willingness to rely on Russian help to tell these stories has greatly exacerbated their legal risk, and therefore made the spewing of bullshit stories more urgent.

But the Russian role mostly serves to magnify the desperation of this gambit.

Mostly, this is about weaponizing the tribalism of the Republican party that puts party loyalty over loyalty to the country or Constitution. And while there have been a few defectors from this dangerous tribalism in recent days, for the most part, Republicans in Congress don’t care that Trump is exploiting them like this or even — in some cases — don’t understand that this is all a shoddy set of lies.

Rat-Fucker Rashomon: Getting the “Highest Level of Government” to Free Julian Assange

On June 10, 2017, according to affidavits submitted as part of the Mueller investigation, Roger Stone DMed Julian Assange and told him he was doing everything he could to “address the issues at the highest level of Government.”

57. On or about June 10, 2017, Roger Stone wrote to Target Account 2, “I am doing everything possible to address the issues at the highest level of Government. Fed treatment of you and Wikileaks is an outrage. Must be circumspect in this forum as experience demonstrates it is monitored. Best regards R.” Target Account 2 wrote back, “Appreciated. Of course it is!”

On June 19, 2017, according to the Mueller Report, the President dictated a message for Corey Lewandowski to take to Jeff Sessions, telling the (recused) Attorney General to meet with Robert Mueller and order him to limit his investigation only to future election meddling, not the election meddling that had gotten Trump elected.

During the June 19 meeting, Lewandowski recalled that, after some small talk, the President brought up Sessions and criticized his recusal from the Russia investigation.605 The President told Lewandowski that Sessions was weak and that if the President had known about the likelihood of recusal in advance, he would not have appointed Sessions.606 The President then asked Lewandowski to deliver a message to Sessions and said “write this down.” 607 This was the first time the President had asked Lewandowski to take dictation, and Lewandowski wrote as fast as possible to make sure he captured the content correctly.608 The President directed that Sessions should give a speech publicly announcing:

I know that I recused myself from certain things having to do with specific areas. But our POTUS . .. is being treated very unfairly. He shouldn’t have a Special Prosecutor/Counsel b/c he hasn’t done anything wrong. I was on the campaign w/ him for nine months, there were no Russians involved with him. I know it for a fact b/c I was there. He didn’t do anything wrong except he ran the greatest campaign in American history.609

The dictated message went on to state that Sessions would meet with the Special Counsel to limit his jurisdiction to future election interference:

Now a group of people want to subvert the Constitution of the United States. T am going to meet with the Special Prosecutor to explain this is very unfair and let the Special Prosecutor move forward with investigating election meddling for future elections so that nothing can happen in future elections.610

Days after Roger Stone told Julian Assange that he was trying to resolve matters at the highest level of government, the President of the United States tried to issue a back channel order that would shut down the investigation into Assange — and by association, Stone.

According to Lewandowski, neither he nor Rick Dearborn (on whom he tried to pawn off the task) actually delivered the message. But according to Andrew Weissmann, when he and Jeannie Rhee first got briefed on the investigation into how Russia released the documents it had stolen around that time, they learned no one was investigating it.

This effort didn’t start in June 2017, though. It started at least seven months earlier.

The SSCI Report reveals that the day before the Podesta emails got released, Stone probably had a six minute phone call with the candidate via Keith Schiller’s phone.

On the afternoon of October 6, Stone received a call from Keith Schiller’s number. Stone returned the call about 20 minutes later, and spoke-almost certainly to Trump–for six minutes.1663 The substance of that conversation is not known to the Committee. However, at the time, Stone was focused on the potential for a WikiLeaks release, the Campaign was following WikiLeaks’s announcements, and Trump’s prior call with Stone on September 29, also using Schiller’s phone, related to a WikiLeaks release. Given these facts, it appears quite likely that Stone and Trump spoke about WikiLeaks.

The SSCI Report and the affidavits reveal that Stone postponed a lunch with Jerome Corsi on October 8 to go meet with Trump.

On or about October 8, 2016, STONE messaged CORSI at Target Account 2, “Lunch postponed- have to go see T.” CORSI responded to STONE, “Ok. I understand.”

According to Mike Flynn, in the wake of the Podesta release, senior campaign officials discussed reaching out to WikiLeaks.

Beginning on October 7, 2016, WikiLeaks released emails stolen from John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. The defendant relayed to the government statements made in 2016 by senior campaign officials about WikiLeaks to which only a select few people were privy. For example, the defendant recalled conversations with senior campaign officials after the release of the Podesta emails, during which the prospect of reaching out to WikiLeaks was discussed.

And then, days later, Roger Stone tried to reach out to WikiLeaks — seemingly in response to WikiLeaks’ public disavowal of any tie to Stone — only to be rebuffed.

On October 13, 2016, while WikiLeaks was in the midst of releasing the hacked Podesta emails, @RogerJStoneJr sent a private direct message to the Twitter account @wikileaks. This account is the official Twitter account of WikiLeaks and has been described as such by numerous news reports. The message read: “Since I was all over national TV, cable and print defending WikiLeaks and assange against the claim that you are Russian agents and debunking the false charges of sexual assault as trumped up bs you may want to rexamine the strategy of attacking me- cordially R.”

Less than an hour later, @Wikileaks responded by direct message: “We appreciate that. However, the false claims of association are being used by the democrats to undermine the impact of our publications. Don’t go there if you don’t want us to correct you.”

On October 16, 2016, @RogerJStoneJr sent a direct message to @Wikileaks: “Ha! The more you \”correct\” me the more people think you’re lying. Your operation leaks like a sieve. You need to figure out who your friends are.”

But after the election, it was WikiLeaks that reached out to Stone.

On November 9, 2016, one day after the presidential election, @Wikileaks sent a direct message to @RogerJStoneJr containing a single word: “Happy?” @Wikileaks immediately followed up with another message less than a minute later: “We are now more free to communicate.”

At Stone’s trial, Randy Credico testified that in that same period after the election, he put Roger Stone in touch with Margaret Kunstler, Credico’s tie to WikiLeaks and one of the 1,000 lawyers (per a snarky answer from Credico) who represented Assange, to discuss a pardon.

Q. Had you put Mr. Stone directly in touch with Ms. Kunstler after the election?

A. Yes, I did.

Q. And why had you done that?

A. Well, sometime after the election, he wanted me to contact Mrs. Kunstler. He called me up and said that he had spoken to Judge Napolitano about getting Julian Assange a pardon and needed to talk to Mrs. Kunstler about it. So I said, Okay. And I sat on it. And I told her–I told her–she didn’t act on it. And then, eventually, she did, and they had a conversation.

Credico is very evasive about the timing of all this. Texts between him and Stone, introduced as an exhibit at Stone’s trial, show that Credico raised asylum on October 3, three hours before he boasted that he was best friends with Assange’s lawyer, meaning Kunstler.

But when asked about the timing, Credico refused to answer, or even answer a yes or no question about whether discussions began before the election. Note, these texts were ones that neither Credico nor Stone provided at first, on Credico’s part because he no longer had them; the government ultimately subpoenaed them from Stone after Stone shared them with Chuck Ross. The texts Stone produced go through November 14, but the ones released at trial stop on October 3.

Later affidavits make clear, however, that on November 15, seven days after Trump won an election with Julian Assange’s help, Trump’s rat-fucker sent Kunstler a link to download Signal and asked her to call him, which she said she’d do. (This was the first day Stone was using the iPhone 7 on which he sent her these texts.)

Additionally, text messages recovered from Stone’s iCloud account revealed that on or about November 15, 2016, Stone sent an attorney with the ability to contact Julian Assange a link to download the Signal application. 15 Approximately fifteen minutes after sending the link, Stone texted the attorney, “I’m on signal just dial my number.” The attorney responded, “I’ll call you.”

15 This attorney was a close friend of Credico’s and was the same friend Credico emailed on or about September 20, 2016 to pass along Stone’s request to Assange for emails connected to the allegations against then-candidate Clinton related to her service as Secretary of State.

So the pardon discussions Credico testified about under oath began no later then a week after Assange helped Trump get elected and Credico refused to rule out that they started on November 9 or even earlier. The SSCI Report notes Credico had a 12 minute call with Stone on October 5 and five more calls on October 6.

After Trump was inaugurated in early 2017, via an attorney he shared with Oleg Deripaska, Assange tried to leverage CIA’s hacking tools believed to have been stolen the previous April to obtain an immunity deal. Even while those discussions were ongoing, on March 7, 2017, WikiLeaks released the first installment of CIA’s hacking tools, a release they called Vault 7. According to witnesses at the trial of the accused source, Joshua Schulte, the Vault 7 release brought CIA’s hacking-based spying virtually to a halt while the agency tried to figure out who would be compromised by the release.

But that didn’t stop the pardon discussions between WikiLeaks, including Assange personally, and Stone. After another spat about whether Stone had had a back channel to WikiLeaks which they aired on CNN, Stone returned to a discussion of a pardon on April 7.

On or about March 27, 2017, Target Account 1 wrote to Roger Stone, “FYI, while we continue to be unhappy about false \”back channel\” claims, today CNN deliberately broke our off the record comments.”

On March 27, 2017, CNN reported that a representative of WikiLeaks, writing from an email address associated with WikiLeaks, denied that there was any backchannel communication during the Campaign between Stone and WikiLeaks. The same article quoted Stone as stating: “Since I never communicated with WikiLeaks, I guess I must be innocent of charges I knew about the hacking of Podesta’s email (speculation and conjecture) and the timing or scope of their subsequent disclosures. So I am clairvoyant or just a good guesser because the limited things I did predict (Oct disclosures) all came true. ”

On or about April 7, 2017, Roger Stone wrote to Target Account 1, ” I am JA’s only hope for a pardon the chances of which are actually (weirdly) enhanced by the bombing in Syria (which I opposed) . You have no idea how much your operation leaks. Discrediting me only hurts you. Why not consider saying nothing? PS- Why would anyone listen to that asshole Daniel Ellsberg.”

On April 13, in the wake of the Vault 7 hack, Mike Pompeo declared WikiLeaks a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by Russia.

It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is – a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia. In January of this year, our Intelligence Community determined that Russian military intelligence—the GRU—had used WikiLeaks to release data of US victims that the GRU had obtained through cyber operations against the Democratic National Committee. And the report also found that Russia’s primary propaganda outlet, RT, has actively collaborated with WikiLeaks.

In response, Stone took to InfoWars on April 18, calling on Pompeo to either provide proof of those Russian ties or resign, defending the release of the Vault 7 tools along the way.

The Intelligence agencies continue to insist that Julian Assange is an active Russian Agent and that Wikileaks is a Russian controlled asset. The agencies have no hard proof of this claim whatsoever. Assange has said repeatedly that he is affiliated with no nation state but the Intelligence Agencies continue to insist that he is under Russian control because it fits the narrative in which they must produce some evidence of Russian interference in our election because they used this charge to legally justify and rationalize the surveillance of Trump aides, myself included.

[snip]

President Donald Trump said on Oct, 10, 2016 “I love Wikileaks” and Pompeo who previously had praised the whistleblowing operation now called Wikileaks “a non-state hostile Intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia”. Mr. Pompeo must be pressed to immediately release any evidence he has that proves these statements. If he cannot do so ,the President should discharge him.

[snip]

Julian Assange does not work for the Russians. Given the import of the information that he ultimately disclosed about the Clinton campaign, the Obama administration and the deep secrets in the CIA’s Vault 7, he has educated the American people about the tactics and technology the CIA has used to spy on ordinary Americans.

Assange personally DMed Stone to thank him for the article, while claiming that Pompeo had stopped short of claiming that WikiLeaks had gotten the stolen DNC emails directly, thereby making WikiLeaks like any other media outlet.

On or about April 19, 2017, Assange, using Target Account 2, wrote to Stone, “Ace article in infowars. Appreciated. But note that U.S. intel is engages in slight of hand maoevers [sic]. Listen closely and you see they only claim that we received U.S. election leaks \”not directly\” or via a \”third party\” and do not know \”when\” etc. This line is Pompeo appears to be getting at with his \”abbeted\”. This correspnds to the same as all media and they do not make any allegation that WL or I am a Russia asset.”

It’s in that context — in the wake of Trump’s trusted CIA Director (and a former WikiLeaks booster himself) asserting serial cooperation between Russia and WikiLeaks — that Stone and Assange had the exchange that directly preceded Trump’s attempt to shut down any investigation into the leaks to WikiLeaks.

On June 4, Stone threatened to “bring down the entire house of cards” if the government moved on Assange (Stone kept a notebook during the campaign detailing all the calls he had had with Trump), then raised a pardon again, suggesting Assange had done nothing he needed to be pardoned for.

56. On or about June 4, 2017, Roger Stone wrote back to Target Account 2, “Still nonsense. As a journalist it doesn’t matter where you get information only that it is accurate and authentic. The New York Times printed the Pentagon Papers which were indisputably stolen from the government and the courts ruled it was legal to do so and refused to issue an order restraining the paper from publishing additional articles. If the US government moves on you I will bring down the entire house of cards. With the trumped-up sexual assault charges dropped I don’t know of any crime you need to be pardoned for – best regards. R.” Target Account 2 responded, “Between CIA and DoJ they’re doing quite a lot. On the DoJ side that’s coming most strongly from those obsessed with taking down Trump trying to squeeze us into a deal.”

57. On or about June 10, 2017, Roger Stone wrote to Target Account 2, “I am doing everything possible to address the issues at the highest level of Government. Fed treatment of you and Wikileaks is an outrage. Must be circumspect in this forum as experience demonstrates it is monitored. Best regards R.” Target Account 2 wrote back, “Appreciated. Of course it is!”

According to texts between Stone and Credico, Stone at least claimed to be pursuing a pardon in early 2018 (though he may have been doing that to buy Credico’s silence).

And it wasn’t just Stone involved in the discussions to free Assange.

Manafort’s Ecuador trip

While it’s not clear to what end, Paul Manafort took steps relating to Assange as well.

There’s the weird story by Ken Vogel, explaining that between those two Stone-Assange exchanges in April and June, 2017, long-time Roger Stone friend Paul Manafort went to Ecuador to negotiate Assange’s expulsion.

In mid-May 2017, Paul Manafort, facing intensifying pressure to settle debts and pay mounting legal bills, flew to Ecuador to offer his services to a potentially lucrative new client — the country’s incoming president, Lenín Moreno.

Mr. Manafort made the trip mainly to see if he could broker a deal under which China would invest in Ecuador’s power system, possibly yielding a fat commission for Mr. Manafort.

But the talks turned to a diplomatic sticking point between the United States and Ecuador: the fate of the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

In at least two meetings with Mr. Manafort, Mr. Moreno and his aides discussed their desire to rid themselves of Mr. Assange, who has been holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since 2012, in exchange for concessions like debt relief from the United States, according to three people familiar with the talks, the details of which have not been previously reported.

They said Mr. Manafort suggested he could help negotiate a deal for the handover of Mr. Assange to the United States, which has long investigated Mr. Assange for the disclosure of secret documents and which later filed charges against him that have not yet been made public.

The story never explained whether Manafort wanted Assange handed over for trial, for a golf vacation, or for Russian exfiltration (as was reportedly planned for Assange later in 2017).

That Manafort went to Ecuador and negotiated for an Assange release accords, however, with the 302 of a witness who called in to Mueller’s team. The witness described that Manafort had told him or her, in real time, that he had gone to Ecuador, “to try to convince the incoming President to expel Assange from the Embassy in order to gain favor with the U.S.”

Neither of these stories should be considered reliable, as written. 302s that Bill Barr’s DOJ is willing to release in unredacted form, as this one is, tend to be false claims that make Trump look less suspect than he really is. And Manafort-adjacent sources were using Ken Vogel to plant less-damning cover stories during this period. Further, as we’ll see, the dates of them, November 28 and December 3, 2018, respectively, puts them in a period after Trump knew that Mueller was investigating efforts to pardon Assange.

Manafort went to Ecuador in May of 2017. At the time, his lifelong buddy Roger Stone was still pursuing some means to get Assange released. It’s unclear precisely what Manafort asked Lenín Moreno to do.

WikiLeaks cultivates Trump’s oldest son

A more interesting parallel timeline (one that becomes more interesting if you track the communications in tandem, as I do below) is the dalliance between Don Jr and WikiLeaks. The failson’s communications with WikiLeaks are one area where all of the Roger Stone stories withhold key details. The Mueller Report, for example, covers only three of the Don Jr-WikiLeaks exchanges, which it caveats by explaining that it addresses the ones “during the campaign period” (again, only the one where Don Jr accesses a non-public website using the private password WikiLeaks shared involved a prosecutorial decision and so needed to be included).

Like the Mueller Report, the SSCI Report describes in the body of the report Don Jr’s exchange with WikiLeaks in a period around the time that Trump and his closest advisors had discussed reaching out to WikILeaks.

(U) WikiLeaks also sought to coordinate its distribution of stolen documents with the Campaign. After Trump proclaimed at an October 10 rally, “I love WikiLeaks” and then posted about it on Twitter,1730 WikiLeaks resumed messaging with Trump Jr. On October 12, it said: “Strongly suggest your dad tweets this link if he mentions us … there’s many great stories the press are missing and we’re sure some of your follows [sic] will find it. btw we just released Podesta Emails Part 4.”1731 Shortly afterward, Trump tweeted: “Very little pick-up by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by WikiLeaks. So dishonest! Rigged System!”1732 Two days later, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted the link himself: “For those who have the time to read about all the corruption and hypocrisy all the @wikileaks emails are right here: wlsearch.tk.”1733 Trump Jr. admitted that this may have been in response to the request from WikiLeaks, but also suggested that it could have been part of a general practice of retweeting the. WikiLeaks releases when they came out. 1734

But it only presents one part of the exchange that Jr and WikiLeaks had on November 8 and 9, and it relegates that to a footnote.

1738 (U) Ibid., pp. 164-166. WikiLeaks continued to interact with Trump Jr. after the general election on November 8, 2016. On November 9, 2016, WikiLeaks wrote to Trump Jr.: “Wow. Obama people will surely try to delete records on the way out. Just a heads up.”

As to the affidavits, the warrant application for Julian Assange’s Twitter account described having earlier obtained Don Jr’s Twitter account, but didn’t refer to him by name. Instead, it referred to him as “a high level individual associated with the Campaign,” and described just the September exchange between the two of them.

After the Atlantic provided more of those DMs, Don Jr, as he had earlier with his June 9 emails, released them himself. The Election Day exchange of which SSCI made no mention pushes Don Jr to adopt a strategy Russia was also pushing — to refuse to concede (a strategy that Trump will undoubtedly adopt on November 4 if he loses).

Hi Don; if your father ‘loses’ we think it is much more interesting if he DOES NOT conceed [sic] and spends time CHALLENGING the media and other types of rigging that occurred–as he has implied that he might do. He is also much more likely to keep his base alive and energised this way and if he is going to start a new network, showing how corrupt the old ones are is helpful. The discussion about the rigging can be transformative as it exposes media corruption, primary corruption, PAC corruption etc. We don’t like corruption ither [sic] and our publications are effective at proving that this and other forms of corruption exists.

That doesn’t pertain to pardons (though it does demonstrate that WikiLeaks was not involved in a journalistic enterprise).

But a DM from December 16, 2016 the SSCI similarly excerpted in a footnote does discuss what amounts to a pardon:

Hi Don. Hope you’re doing well! In relation to Mr. Assange: Obama/Clinton placed pressure on Sweden, UK and Australia (his home country) to illicitly go after Mr. Assange. It would be real easy and helpful for your dad to suggest that Australia appoint Assange ambassador to DC “That’s a really smart tough guy and the most famous australian you have! ” or something similar. They won’t do it, but it will send the right signals to Australia, UK + Sweden to start following the law and stop bending it to ingratiate themselves with the Clintons. Background: justice4assange.com

When these DMs were released on November 14, 2017, Assange tweeted out a follow-up to the December 2016 one, adding a threat by hashtagging, Vault8, the source code to the CIA files, a single example of which WikiLeaks had just released on November 9, 2017.

Meanwhile, the one other example where WikiLeaks provided the President’s son advice — a pitch for him to release his own June 9 emails via WikiLeaks in July 2017 — WikiLeaks explicitly suggested that Don Jr contact Margaret Kunstler, the same lawyer who had been discussing pardons with Assange nine months earlier.

There appears to be more — far more — to Margaret Kunstler’s role. Two 302s identifiable as hers have been released in response to the BuzzFeed FOIA, an interview on October 29, 2018 involving Stone prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky and Obstruction prosecutor Andrew Goldstein, and a second interview, this one by phone, on November 20, 2018, this one adding Russian prosecutor Rush Atkinson along with Zelinsky and Goldstein. Both 302s were released on October 1, 2020, the most recent release. In the first interview, only Kunstler’s response stating that she did not pass on Stone’s September request for information about Libya to Julian Assange was partly unsealed; there are at least five more paragraphs that remain redacted as part of an ongoing investigation. The second is eight pages long and appears to have at least four sub-topics with separate headings. Aside from the introductory paragraph, it remains entirely redacted, with over half covered by a b7A ongoing investigation exemption.

The investigation into much of Stone’s activities appears to have been shut down. But the investigation into the pardon discussions appears to have been ongoing just three weeks ago.

The Mueller question

The discussion of efforts to free Julian Assange appears, primarily, in two versions of the Roger Stone story. Prosecutors at Stone’s trial used the discussions to explain which of Stone’s threats — those naming Kunstler directly — worked most effectively to delay Credico’s cooperation. It also appears in affidavits, though with Don Jr’s identity obscured.

The SSCI report relegates both the Don Jr and Stone pardon discussions with WikiLeaks to footnotes and doesn’t quote Stone using the word “pardon” in the excerpts it includes. It does so even though the SSCI Report describes Dana Rohrabacher’s attempt to broker an Assange pardon in August 2017 in the body of the text.

The Mueller Report doesn’t discuss pardon efforts for Assange where you might expect it, along with discussions of pardons for Manafort, Flynn, Stone himself, and Michael Cohen. Mention of the effort to free Assange appears in just one place: amid the questions asked of Trump in an appendix.

Did you have any discussions prior to January 20, 2017, regarding a potential pardon or other action to benefit Julian Assange? If yes, describe who you had the discussion(s) with, when, and the content of the discussion(s).

I do not recall having had any discussion during the campaign regarding a pardon or action to benefit Julian Assange.

That appendix explains that Mueller’s team submitted these questions on September 17, 2018 (before both of Kunstler’s interviews) and Trump returned them on November 20, 2018.

In the interim period, on October 30, 2018, Don Jr’s close buddy, Arthur Schwartz, for the first time in years of having listened to former Sputnik employee Cassandra Fairbanks’ lobbying for Julian Assange in the right wing chat room they both (along with Ric Grenell) participated in responded by telling her that he would be charged and expelled from the embassy, that a pardon was not going to fucking happen and — at some point, if Fairbanks can be believed — suggesting someone with whom Schwartz was lifelong friends might be affected.

Arthur Schwartz warned me that people would be able to overlook my previous support for WikiLeaks because I did not know some things which he claimed to know about, but that wouldn’t be so forgiving now that I was informed. He brought up my nine year old child during these comments, which I perceived as an intimidation tactic.

He repeatedly insisted that I stop advocating for WikiLeaks and Assange, telling me that “a pardon isn’t going to fucking happen.” He knew very specific details about a future prosecution against Assange that were later made public and that only those very close to the situation would have been aware of. He told me that it would be the “Manning” case that he would be charged with and that it would not involve Vault 7 publication or anything to do with the DNC. He also told me that they would be going after Chelsea Manning. I also recollect being told, I believe, that it would not be before Christmas.

[snip]

The other persons who Schwartz said might also be affected included individuals who he described as “lifelong friends.”

Shortly after Trump submitted his answers, two stories — one public, one via witness testimony to Mueller — claimed that Manafort’s visit to Moreno, at a time when his buddy Stone was seeking a pardon, was actually an attempt to expel him from the embassy.

In spite of what Schwartz told Cassandra, however, the pardon discussions aren’t over. Just before Julian Assange’s extradition hearing started, Roger Stone’s buddy Tucker Carlson invited Glenn Greenwald on to make a three minute pitch — one in which Glenn explained what a good way this would be for Trump to stick it to the Deep State — for both Assange and Ed Snowden.

Timeline

September 20, 2016: WikiLeaks DMs Don Jr a link to putintrump site, including a password.

October 3, 2016: Credico raises asylum for Assange and tells Stone he’s best friends with Assange’s lawyer. WikiLeaks DMs Don Jr asking him to push a story about Hillary drone-striking Assange; Don Jr notes he has already done so and asks what is coming on Wednesday.

October 5, 2016: Credico and Stone speak for 12 minutes.

October 6, 2016: Stone probably has a six minute call with Trump. Stone has five calls with Credico.

October 7, 2016: The release of the Podesta email swamps the DHS/ODNI release attributing the DNC hack and tying WikiLeaks to Russia

October 8, 2016: Stone and Trump probably meet.

Shortly after Podesta release: Senior campaign officials discuss reaching out to WikiLeaks.

October 10, 2016: Trump tweets “I love WikiLeaks.”

October 12, 2016: WikiLeaks disavows any back channel with Stone. WikiLeaks also DMs Don Jr suggesting he get his father to tweet a link. Don Jr tweets it that day.

October 13, 2016: Stone and WikiLeaks exchange DMs.

October 14, 2016: Trump tweets the link WikiLeaks sent to Don Jr.

October 16, 2016: Stone tells WikiLeaks “You need to figure out who your friends are.”

October 21, 2016: WikiLeaks suggests that Don Jr release Trump’s tax returns to WikiLeaks.

November 8, 2016: WikiLeaks DMs Don Jr to suggest Trump not concede if he loses.

November 9, 2016: WikiLeaks DMs Don Jr to claim Obama’s people will delete records on the way out. WikiLeaks DMs Stone to say, “We are now more free to communicate.”

November 14, 2016: Stone gets a new phone.

November 15, 2016: Stone texts Margaret Kunstler a link to Signal and tells her to call him on it, which she said she would do.

December 16, 2016: WikiLeaks suggests that he ask his dad to suggest Australia appoint Assange as Ambassador to the US.

January 6, 2017: WikiLeaks DMs Don Jr a John Harwood tweet asking, Who do you believe, America?

March 7, 2017: WikiLeaks starts releasing the Vault 7 files, effectively halting CIA’s hacking capability for a period.

March 27, 2017: Stone and WikiLeaks exchange more complaints about whether Stone had a back channel.

April 7, 2017: Stone writes WikiLeaks that he is “JA’s only hope for a pardon.”

April 13, 2017: Mike Pompeo calls WikiLeaks a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by Russia.

April 18, 2017: Stone calls on Pompeo to release proof of WikiLeaks’ Russian ties or resign.

April 19, 2017: Assange thanks Stone for the attack on Pompeo, but claims that Pompeo has stopped short of calling WikiLeaks a Russian asset.

April 26, 2017: Assange DMs Don Jr some video on “Fake News.”

May 2017: Manafort meets in Ecuador with Lenín Moreno to discuss Assange.

June 4, 2017: Stone DMs Assange, threatening to “bring down the entire house of cards” if the US government moves on Assange.

June 10, 2017: Roger Stone tells Assange he is “doing everything possible … at the highest level of Government” to help Assange.

June 19, 2017: Trump tries to give a back channel order to Jeff Sessions to limit the Mueller investigation to future election meddling, not the meddling that helped him get elected.

July 11, 2017: WikiLeaks DMs Don Jr to suggest he release his June 9 emails via WikiLeaks, providing him Margaret Kunstler’s contact information as if she would take the submission.

October 12, 2017: Mueller’s team obtains Don Jr’s Twitter content.

November 6, 2017: Mueller’s team obtains WikiLeaks and Assange’s Twitter content.

November 14, 2017: Don Jr releases his Twitter DMs with WikiLeaks. Julian Assange publicly references the December 16 DM, suggests he can open “luxury immunity suites for whistleblowers,” and includes a Vault8 hashtag (referencing CIA’s source code).

December 21, 2017: Reported attempt to exfiltrate Assange from the embassy; DOJ charges Assange with CFAA conspiracy.

January 6, 2018: Stone claims “I am working with others to get JA a blanket pardon.”

September 17, 2018: Mueller submits questions to Trump, including one about a pardon for Assange.

October 29, 2018: Mueller’s team interviews Kunstler.

October 30, 2018: Arthur Schwartz tells Cassandra Fairbanks there’s not going to be a fucking Assange pardon.

November 20, 2018: Trump returns his questions to Mueller. Mueller’s team interviews Kunstler.


The movie Rashomon demonstrated that any given narrative tells just one version of events, but that by listening to all available narratives, you might identify gaps and biases that get you closer to the truth.

I’m hoping that principle works even for squalid stories like the investigation into Roger Stone’s cheating in the 2016 election. This series will examine the differences between four stories about Roger Stone’s actions in 2016:

As I noted in the introductory post (which lays out how I generally understand the story each tells), each story has real gaps in one or more of these areas:

My hope is that by identifying these gaps and unpacking what they might say about the choices made in crafting each of these stories, we can get a better understanding of what actually happened — both in 2016 and in the investigations. The gaps will serve as a framework for this series.

Former Daily Caller Editor Reveals He Was Forced to Publish Oleg Deripaska

In the wake of the Senate Intelligence Report’s scathing description of Oleg Deripaska’s key role in Russia’s 2016 election interference, a former editor from the Daily Caller, Eric Owens, reveals that his bosses — Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel — forced him to publish an Oleg Deripaska column that he recognized as sloppy propaganda.

Back in 2018, I was the opinion editor for The Daily Caller. I had worked for the website for about five years as a journalist and editor. I really believed in what we were doing. I believed in what founders Tucker Carlson and Neil Patel said they were building. (More on that later.)

In early March 2018, Deripaska submitted an opinion piece to The Daily Caller. He didn’t submit it directly to me or through the Caller’s conventional submissions process. Presumably, villainous Russian billionaires are above such hoi polloi procedures. Instead, Daily Caller publisher Patel contacted me directly one day saying he had received Deripaska’s op-ed. He wanted to know how I felt about it.

I hated it. Anyone with a passing knowledge of European politics would know who Deripaska is and what he represents. I had been in the U.S. foreign service for a bit, so, of course, I knew.

More importantly, Deripaska’s op-ed itself was—and remains—an extraordinary exercise in audacious Russian propaganda.

[snip]

[I]n the case of the 2018 Deripaska op-ed, which I myself published and placed despite my own doubts and qualms, The Daily Caller was the plaything of a Russian billionaire working directly with Russian spies who used conservative media to spout completely false and fabulous conspiracy theories.

At the time, I suggested Deripaska’s column seemed to be an attempt to get ahead of disclosures like we saw in the DOJ IG and SSCI Reports, which make it clear that Deripaska was working both sides of the dossier, ratcheting up the legal pressure on Paul Manafort even while sending Konstantin Kilimnik on errands of “collusion” with him.

Then, after explaining on what authority he is sharing all this information — “My lawyer testified these facts to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Nov. 3,” — Deripaska claims third hand that Jones told his lawyer that Fusion is a “shadow media organization helping the government,” funded by a “group of Silicon Valley billionaires and George Soros.”

Among other things then, this is a very crafty attempt to get information submitted to the close-lipped SSCI, but probably not to SJC or HPSCI where everything leaks, into the public.

So Deripaska, presumably using one hell of a ghost writer, manages to spin a Paul Singer funded effort as a Soros cabal.

As noted above, there’s good reason to believe that Deripaska is the mastermind of the entire strategy of discrediting the dossier as a way to discredit the Mueller investigation. The last time he tried to discredit the investigation directly, prosecutors dinged Paul Manafort for violating the gag rule in the DC case; any bets they have the red line of this effort? Yet the name Manafort doesn’t appear here, so perhaps (especially as Manafort is officially on the clock in EDVA after his arraignment today as well as DC) Deripaska’s just getting around the gag.

As you read this work of art (really!), keep the following in mind: for all that Deripaska puts the focus on Jones and Nuland, he never gets around to explaining why Chuck Grassley thinks he had a role in the dissemination of the dossier, too. Or why he demanded immunity to testify to SSCI. At that level this may be an attempt to get ahead of disclosures about his role in the dossier.

Kudos to Owens for revealing the back story to this column and for disavowing the swamp of frothy right wing media.

The Daily Caller is no longer an alternative news organization. Breitbart is no way in hell any kind of alternative news organization.

These aren’t alternative news websites. Too many times, they are alternative realities, complete with alternate sets of facts. It’s an epistemological nightmare.

But the available evidence suggests Owens is wrong when he attributes the placement to clickbait.

I can’t speak for Patel or for Carlson, who had largely left The Daily Caller for cable-news stardom by then, but the general sentiment at the Caller always seemed to be that all publicity—and, of course, all those precious, precious page views—was wonderful. The throng of page views was certainly good for my little opinion section, which had been downright beleaguered before I took over.

As I noted at the time, Deripaska’s column was entirely coherent with one of the Daily Caller’s most assiduous journalistic efforts, Chuck Ross’ efforts to make everything about the Russia story into the dossier and the dossier into a discredited rag, with absolutely no reflection on the implications if it got filled with disinformation. Chuck Ross’ journalistic project has been, for years, to fulfill precisely the strategy that Paul Manafort pitched after returning from a meeting with one of Deripaska’s GRU-linked aides, to conflate the dossier with the Russian investigation and as it became increasingly clear that the dossier had been soaked in disinformation, thereby discredit the entire effort to protect America from people like Deripaska.

It’s important that Owens reveal that the people running the Daily Caller forced him to publish obvious propaganda.

It just raises questions about the continuity between that decision and the non-stop focus pretending the dossier equals the Russian investigation.