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The Trump-John Solomon Attempts to Blame Others for the Vault 7 Leak

As I noted some weeks ago, there was a detail revealed in the Roger Stone trial that cast Donald Trump’s answers to Robert Mueller in significant new light. It wasn’t the evidence that Trump lied when he said he could not recall talking to his rat-fucker about WikiLeaks; there was already far more compelling evidence that Trump lied under oath to Mueller. Rather, it was the evidence that Trump may have lied when he said he didn’t recall discussing pardoning Julian Assange.

The trial revealed discussions on a pardon involving Stone were more extensive than previously known. Even before the election, Randy Credico interspersed his responses to Stone’s demands for information about Assange’s plans with a push for Trump to give Assange asylum.

It was previously known that Credico and Stone continued to discuss their shared support for an Assange pardon into 2018. The new information on this topic revealed at trial was that Credico introduced Margaret Kunstler to Stone in late December 2016 in pursuit of a pardon.

Given how that makes any pardon for Assange look much more like payoff for help getting elected, I wanted to pull together evidence about how Trump and others responded to the Vault 7 leak in early 2017 and afterwards. What follows is speculative. But the significance of it is bolstered by the fact that Trump’s favorite propagandist, John Solomon, has a role.

Back in early January 2017, the lawyer that Assange shared with Oleg Deripaska and Christopher Steele, Adam Waldman, reached out to DOJ organized crime official Bruce Ohr to broker information from Assange about the CIA hacking files he was preparing to release; Assange never committed to holding the release, but he did offer to make redactions.  Waldman met in person with Ohr on February 3. That same day, Waldman reached out to David Laufman, the head of counterintelligence at the time, presumably off a referral from Ohr. The next day, Assange first pitched Vault 7, effectively giving Waldman more leverage to make a deal with DOJ.

At the same time, Waldman started reaching out to Mark Warner, ultimately discussing possible testimony to SSCI with all his clients — Steele, Deripaska, and Assange. In his discussions about Assange with Warner on February 16, Waldman claimed he was trying to protect Democrats, as if a damaging leak would hurt just one or the other party.

Just two days later, however, Warner broke off that part of discussions with Waldman on instructions from Jim Comey. Ultimately, the frothy right would slam Comey for making this call, complaining that he disrupted, “constructive, principled discussions with DOJ that occurred over nearly two months.” By the time of Comey’s call, however, CIA was already conducting their own internal investigation and  had a pretty good idea that Joshua Schulte had leaked the documents.

On March 7, WikiLeaks released the first of a long series of dumps pertaining to CIA’s hacking tools. While WikiLeaks claimed to have redacted damaging information, within days the FBI and CIA identified that WikiLeaks had actually left damaging information that would have required inside information to know to leave in the files (that is, communications with the source, possibly directly with Schulte).

On March 9, Donald Trump called Jim Comey — the single communication he had with Comey that (at least on the surface) did not relate to the Russian investigation — to ask about ” our, an ongoing intelligence investigation,” per later Comey testimony.

On March 9, 2017, Comey had a secure one-on-one telephone call with President Trump. Comey told the OIG that the secure telephone call was “only business,” and that there was “nothing untoward” about the call, other than it was “unusual for the President to call the Director directly.” Comey said he did not prepare a memo to document this call with the President, but said he had [Jim] Rybicki arrange a secure call to Attorney General Sessions immediately afterwards to inform the Attorney General about the telephone call from the President in an effort “to keep the Attorney General in the chain of command between [Comey] and the President.”

I haven’t confirmed that this pertained to Schulte, though the timing suggests it’s a high likelihood.

Even after the first release, David Laufman made some kind of counteroffer to Waldman in mid-March (these files come from Solomon, so can be assumed to be missing key parts).

But then, days later, the FBI obtained the first warrants targeting Joshua Schulte, obtaining a covert search warrant and a warrant for his Google account on March 13. When the FBI arrived at Schulte’s apartment to search it, however, they discovered so many devices they decided they could not conduct the search covertly (they were under a time crunch, because Schulte had a plane ticket for Mexico on March 16). So overnight on March 14, they obtained an overt search warrant.

Mid-day on what appears to be the same day FBI prepared to search Schulte’s apartment, Tucker Carlson accompanied Trump on a trip to Detroit. During the interview, Tucker challenges Trump, asking why he claimed — 11 days earlier — that Obama had “tapped” Trump Tower without offering proof, Trump blurted out that the CIA was hacked during the Obama Administration.

Tucker: On March 4, 6:35 in the morning, you’re down in Florida, and you tweet, the former Administration wiretapped me, surveilled me, at Trump Tower during the last election. Um, how did you find out? You said, I just found out. How did you learn that?

Trump: I’ve been reading about things. I read in, I think it was January 20th, a NYT article, they were talking about wiretapping. There was an article, I think they used that exact term. I read other things. I watched your friend Bret Baier, the day previous, where he was talking about certain very complex sets of things happening, and wiretapping. I said, wait a minute, there’s a lot of wiretapping being talked about. I’ve been seeing a lot of things. Now, for the most part I’m not going to discuss it because we have it before the committee, and we will be submitting things before the committee very soon, that hasn’t been submitted as of yet. But it’s potentially a very serious situation.

Tucker: So 51,000 people retweeted that, so a lot of people thought that was plausible, they believe you, you’re the president. You’re in charge of the agencies, every intelligence agency reports to you. Why not immediately go to them and gather evidence to support that?

Trump: Because I don’t want to do anything that’s going to violate any strength of an agency. You know we have enough problems. And by the way, with the CIA, I just want people to know, the CIA was hacked and a lot of things taken. That was during the Obama years. That was not during, us, that was during the Obama situation. Mike Pompeo is there now, doing a fantastic job. But we will be submitting certain things, and I will be perhaps speaking about this next week. But it’s right now before the Committee, and I think I want to leave it at that. I have a lot of confidence in the committee.

The search on Schulte did not end until hours after this interview was broadcast. After it was broadcast, but before FBI had confiscated Schulte’s passport, he had gone to his office at Bloomberg to access his computer there. That means, Trump provided non-public information that — because it would have made it clear to Schulte that FBI knew the hacking tools had been stolen under Obama — might have confirmed Schulte’s suspicions that he was the target.

WikiLeaks released a second dump two weeks after the first, on March 23. Then Waldman made a proffer on March 28, offering to discuss Russian infiltration of WikiLeaks and ways to mitigate the damage from Vault 7 for safe passage to the US (and possibly immunity, though that may have been only for that discussion). Laufman couldn’t make sense of the demand for “safe passage,” and asked for clarity, which he appears never to have gotten.

Then on April 7, with the third dump and Mike Pompeo’s subsequent naming of Vault 7 as a hostile non-state actor, the negotiations with Laufman may have ceased. Thus ended what appears to be Assange’s efforts to leverage the CIA’s hacking tools and a false show of reasonableness to obtain a way out of the embassy.

To be fair, Trump didn’t successfully undermine the entire Schulte investigation; he was probably just blabbing his mouth. Unsurprisingly, DOJ refused to grant the expansive concessions Assange was demanding.

But there are a few details of these events of particular interest.

First, Trump’s public comments seem to perfectly parrot what Waldman was saying back in February. Both asserted, ridiculously, that Democrats were uniquely to blame for the theft of CIA’s hacking tools and Trump used that fact almost gleefully, to absolve himself of any concern about the leak.

Similarly, because Jim Comey intervened (presumably to preserve the integrity of at least the investigation into Vault 7 but possibly more), someone teed up John Solomon to blame Comey for the leak the week after Schulte was eventually charged for it. Specifically, Solomon “blames” Comey for not agreeing to free Assange temporarily back in early 2017.

Some of the characters are household names, thanks to the Russia scandal: James Comey, fired FBI director. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Department of Justice (DOJ) official Bruce Ohr. Julian Assange, grand master of WikiLeaks. And American attorney Adam Waldman, who has a Forrest Gump-like penchant for showing up in major cases of intrigue.

Each played a role in the early days of the Trump administration to try to get Assange to agree to “risk mitigation” — essentially, limiting some classified CIA information he might release in the future.

The effort resulted in the drafting of a limited immunity deal that might have temporarily freed the WikiLeaks founder from a London embassy where he has been exiled for years, according to interviews and a trove of internal DOJ documents turned over to Senate investigators.

But an unexpected intervention by Comey — relayed through Warner — soured the negotiations, multiple sources tell me. Assange eventually unleashed a series of leaks that U.S. officials say damaged their cyber warfare capabilities for a long time to come.

John Solomon has been the go-to defense propagandist for Trump from the start. This article is an outlier for its topic. Nevertheless, someone loaded Solomon up with documents to selectively release to fit a particular narrative, which attests to the perceived import of it.

Again, some of this is speculative. But tied to the fact that pardon discussions with Trump may have gone further than previously known, it provides a curious pattern, where Trump responded to the most damaging breach in CIA’s history by instead looking for partisan advantage.

Update: According to a Jim Comey 302 newly liberated by BuzzFeed, he diverted into ODNI to call Trump regarding the March 9 call. (PDF 248)

Note that nothing was withheld for classification reasons, though the call was clearly Top Secret when it occurred. That limits the possible topic still further (though by no means confirms that it is Schulte).

Timeline (all dates 2017)

January 12: Bruce Ohr considers Waldman’s offer

February 3: Laufman reaches out to Waldman

February 4: Wikileaks first pitches Vault 7

February 6: Steele tells Ohr that Oleg Deripaska is upset at being treated like a criminal

February 14: Steele probably shares more information on his relationship with Deripaska

February 15: Waldman reaches out to Warner

February 16: Waldman issues extortion threat against Democrats

February 17: Warner says he’s got important call (with Comey), relays stand down order

March 7: Wikileaks releases first Vault 7 documents

March 9: Trump asks Jim Comey about an intelligence investigation

March 13: Covert search warrant on Schulte’s home and Google account

March 14: FBI obtains overt search warrant for Schulte’s home

Mid-March: Waldman contacts Laufman, suggests Assange is interested

March 15, mid-day: During Tucker Carlson interview, Trump reveals non-public information about Vault 7 leak

March 15: FBI interviews Schulte several times as part of first interview

March 15, 9PM: Probable first airing of Carlson interview

March 16: Adam Schiff warns against Trump leaking about Vault 7

March 20, 2017: Search on Schulte (including of cell phone, from which passwords to his desktop obtained)

March 23: Second Vault 7 release

March 28: Safe passage offer not including details about hack

March 31: Third Vault 7 release

April 5: Laufman asks whether Assange wants safe passage into London or to the US

April 7: Wikileaks posts third dump, which Solomon suggests was the precipitating leak for Mike Pompeo’s declaration of Wikileaks as non-state intelligence service (these are weekly dumps by this point)

Paul Manafort Is the Linchpin in Russia’s Effort to Recorrupt Ukraine

Yesterday, a vague NYT report described Senators and their staffers being briefed that Russia was behind the effort to blame the 2016 hack on Ukraine.

Russian intelligence officers aimed part of their operation at prompting the Ukrainian authorities to investigate the allegations that people in Ukraine tried to tamper with the 2016 American election and to shut down inquiries into corruption by pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine, according to a former official.

One target was the leak of a secret ledger disclosed by a Ukrainian law enforcement agency that appeared to show that Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s onetime campaign chairman, had taken illicit payments from Ukrainian politicians who were close to Moscow. He was forced to step down from the Trump campaign after the ledger became public in August 2016, and the Russians have since been eager to cast doubt on its authenticity, the former official said.

Intelligence officials believe that one of the people the Kremlin relied on to spread disinformation about Ukrainian interference was Oleg V. Deripaska, a Russian oligarch who had ties to Mr. Manafort. After his ouster from the campaign, Mr. Manafort told his former deputy later in 2016 that Ukrainians, not Russians, stole Democratic emails. Mr. Deripaska has broadly denied any role in election meddling.

The Deripaska role in this may partly explain the vagueness about the briefing. At least per FOIA redactions made in August, there was an ongoing investigation pertaining to Deripaska at the time.

The article is not vague about one thing: the purpose for the disinformation campaign, which (in addition to permitting Trump to deny the role Russia had in getting him elected) has to do with Ukrainian internal politics. Russia wants Ukraine to investigate people that, the conspiracy theories go, “tried to tamper in the 2016 American election and to shut down inquiries into corruption by pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine.”

This explains the nature of the campaign: Rudy’s disinformation packet (including the John Solomon articles that come from his efforts) target Sergii Leshchenko, NABU, and the Anti-Corruption Action Centre. None of those entities should be the focus of an American smear campaign, to say nothing of an impeachment defense. But painting Joe Biden’s efforts to combat Ukrainian corruption as the opposite and dropping the name of George Soros was sufficient to recruit Donald Trump into ordering his Administration to pursue the effort and enticing the fragile-minded Devin Nunes into chasing the conspiracy like a puppy. The US had been using the leverage it had over Ukraine to push it to address corruption. This disinformation campaign appealed to Trump’s weaknesses to get him to reverse that policy, creating conditions to expand corruption, even while tainting the newly elected President elected on an anti-corruption platform.

Still, Paul Manafort is a key part of that. That’s partly because Manafort continues to protect Trump and at least one of his associates — in part by lying about a meeting on August 2, 2016 where he discussed his ties with both Deripaska and pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs as well as carving up Ukraine to Russia’s liking. It’s also because legitimate concerns raised in 2016 about Manafort’s corruption one of the two main ways Ukrainians commented on the election (the other involves criticism of Trump’s comments on Crimea, comments he has since disavowed under oath). The claim — which is false on several levels — is that because Leshchenko publicized the Black Ledger, it led to Manafort’s resignation (Leshchenko has published a second piece making this clear). And, as I and Leschenko keep noting, Manafort knew he was in the Black Ledger months before it became public. If anyone should be held responsible for any taint the publication of his inclusion in the Black Ledger, it’s him; if it was a problem, he should have disclosed that problem to the candidate.

With all that said, then, I want to note something that happened with Rudy’s disinformation packet, which I unpacked in detail here. As I noted, there are two versions of three sets of notes from January 2016, one of a phone interview with Viktor Shokin conducted on January 23, 2019, and two of an in-person interview with Yuriy Lutsenko conducted in NY on January 25 and 26. The first set appears to be what Rudy gave Pompeo. The second may reflect Pompeo’s notes on them, which include some proofreading, stars for emphasis, remarks on timing.

But as I noted, the original version appears to have come with underlines already included.

The only annotation added to that section was to circle Leshchenko’s name (which is not transliterated as he does it, so this could either be emphasis or one of several really nitpicky notations of errors in the notes).

The reason I’m interested in this is because, while the passage has a bunch of errors (for example, the size of the Black Ledger is wrong, the allegation against Yovanovitch is invented, Leshchenko released something else, that’s not how US media got the story), it does make it clear that Manafort was in the Ledger. That is, even disinformation (which Lutsenko has since recanted) designed to help Trump includes the allegation that Manafort was in the Ledger. It also asserts that Manafort was laundering money through Kyrgyzstan, which is also true.

Furthermore, nothing here refutes the validity of the Ledger more generally.

That might not be clear to someone reading quickly, of course, because of the way the other details were underlined.

Which is why it is all the more inexcusable that Republicans — including but not limited to Rudy and Devin Nunes — continue to suggest that Manafort was unfairly tainted by the ledger, as happened in this exchange between Nunes and David Holmes last week.

Nunes: [Leshchenko] provided widely known as the black ledger, have you ever heard of the black ledger?

Holmes: I have.

Nunes: The black ledger, is that seen as credible information?

Holmes: Yes.

Nunes: The black ledger is credible?

Holmes: Yes.

Nunes: Bob Mueller did not find it credible, do you dispute what Bob Mueller’s findings were? They didn’t use it in the prosecution or in the Report?

Holmes: I’m not aware that Bob Mueller did not find it credible. It was evidence in other criminal proceedings. Its credibility was not questioned in those proceedings.

Even in Rudy’s own disinformation, which is full of easily identifiable lies, it states clearly that Manafort was in the ledger and was laundering money (the latter allegation of which he has pled guilty to). And yet Republicans are still running around ignoring even their own manufactured dirt to pretend the accusations against Manafort were simply made up.

Perhaps that’s because, without Manafort, Trump’s own stakes in this go down substantially.

Volker

Kurt Volker Makes the Case that Ukraine Tampered in 2016 Election — for Trump

Kurt Volker has spent the last two hours trying to back himself out of the corner he previously put himself in by pretending that Trump didn’t demand improper investigations before he’d meet with Volodymyr Zelensky at the White House or release security assistance.

Effectively, he said that his concern was that Ukrainians would spend money to try to influence US politics.

In fact, we know that occurred.

On August 2, 2016, Trump’s campaign manager had a clandestine meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik where they discussed how Trump planned to win Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, they discussed how Manafort might help Russia carve up Ukraine to his liking, and how he might get back in the employ of two of his former Ukrainian clients — Serhiy Lyovochkin and Rinat Akhmetov — a well as Oleg Deripaska.

Eight days after that meeting, he told his bookkeeper that he expected a $2.4 million payment, from those Ukrainians, after November.

This is precisely the kind of thing Volker said might justifiably be investigated. Only, it happened on the Trump campaign, not the Hillary campaign.

Effectively, Kurt Volker just made the case that the Mueller investigation was legitimate and justified.

Judicial Watch Sues DOJ and Obtains Proof that Mark Meadows and His Propagandists Are Conspiracist Idiots

Just over a year ago, on August 11, 2018, the President accused the “Fake News Media” of refusing to cover “Christopher Steele’s many meetings with Deputy A.G. [sic] Bruce Ohr and his beautiful wife, Nelly [sic].” It was the first of around 26 attacks Trump launched against the Ohrs on Twitter over the year.

Trump reported that the FBI received documents from Ohr, which was true; the FBI asked for them as part of vetting the Steele dossier and understanding how it related to Fusion GPS’ other work. Trump complained that Nellie Ohr investigated members of his family for pay (true) and then fed it to her husband who gave it to the FBI; Trump didn’t reveal that FBI asked for the documents and that Steele’s efforts and Nellie’s were separate.  The President claimed that Ohr “told the FBI it (the Fake Dossier) wasn’t true, it was a lie and the FBI was determined to use it anyway,” which was an exaggeration (Ohr said he believed that Steele believed his sources were telling him the truth, but Ohr described that all sorts of conspiracy theories could be spread from the Kremlin). Trump misquoted Ohr sharing with the FBI Steele’s concern that his sources would be exposed in the wake of the Jim Comey firing as a suggestion that Ohr was worried he, personally, would be exposed, which then got further misquoted by Fox propagandists. Trump accused the Ohrs of profiting off the dossier several times, “Bruce & Nelly Ohr’s bank account is getting fatter & fatter because of the Dossier that they are both peddling.”

Over the course of that year, Trump called for Bruce Ohr to be fired at least six times. “How the hell is Bruce Ohr still employed at the Justice Department? Disgraceful! Witch Hunt!”

And yet, documents obtained under FOIA released by Judicial Watch in recent days (Ohr’s 302s, Ohr’s comms) show that virtually all the allegations made to fuel this year long campaign targeting Bruce Ohr are false. It is true that Bruce Ohr had ties to Christopher Steele going back almost a decade and was part of a network of experts combatting organized crime who compared notes (as was his wife Nellie, if the organized crime in question pertained to Ukraine or Russia). It is true that Ohr met with Steele in July 2016 and learned four things, two from the dossier (some version of Russian kompromat on Trump and allegations about Carter Page)  and two not (Oleg Deripaska’s misleading claim to be prepping a legal attack on Paul Manafort and something related to Russian doping), which he passed on to the FBI. He also met and passed on information from Glenn Simpson later that fall, though given the team he met with at DOJ, the information may not have been sourced from the dossier and may have focused on the crimes Manafort has since pled guilty to. Neither of those meetings, however, are covered by the FOIAed documents. Moreover, Judicial Watch has not yet obtained documents from after May 2017, which (based on texts between the two that have been released) could show Steele trying to grill Ohr for details about ongoing investigations into his work. Maybe some day Judicial Watch will find a document that substantiates their attacks.

What the documents released so far don’t show is that Ohr served as some kind of “back channel” to the FBI via which Steele submitted new allegations. As I noted, Ohr’s 302s suggest there were three phases of communications covered by the 302s involving Steele (and Simpson) and Ohr. During the first — November 22 to December 20 — Ohr appeared to be helping the FBI understand Simpson’s project and Steele’s data collection process. He offered critical comments about Steele’s sourcing (noting that lots of fantastic stories come out of the Kremlin), appeared to prod Simpson for what he knew about Steele’s sourcing and then shared that information with the FBI, when he didn’t know answers to FBI questions (most notably, about whether Steele was involved in a key Michael Isikoff story), Ohr asked Simpson and reported the answer back to the FBI. Ohr offered up details about who else might have been briefed by Steele and why Steele was speaking to so many people.

Ohr would have done none of this if he were aiming to serve as a back channel to ensure Steele could continue to feed information to the FBI. The fact that members of the frothy right have, in recent days, focused on previously unknown details that Ohr shared with FBI’s Bill Priestap (such as when Victoria Nuland got briefed by Steele) is a testament to the fact that Ohr was not trying to hide a network of Steele contacts, but instead was helping FBI to understand them. Ohr cannot, simultaneously, be a source for unique knowledge for the FBI and at the same time be part of a Deep State plot aiming to feed the FBI new intelligence from Steele via as many different channels as possible.

Importantly, the main incidences where Ohr gave the FBI materials originating from Fusion — the materials include a timeline on Paul Manafort’s ties to oligarchs, a table showing Trump’s ties with suspect Russians, 137 pages of narrative backup for some of the table (part of which appears at PDF 216 to 299; Judicial Watch did not release this research as an independent link, presumably because it damages their narrative), and the latest version of the dossier from Simpson — came during that vetting period. Indeed, at the meeting where Ohr obtained a copy of the dossier from Fusion — according to his congressional testimony, at least, the only time he ever handled it — was the same meeting where he tried to get Simpson to tell him who Steele’s sources were (see PDF 33), information he passed onto the FBI. What the frothy right should do, if it had a single honest journalist left, would be to admit that Mark Meadows had them chasing a hoax for a year, but now that they can see the underlying evidence, it’s clear Meadows was wrong, lying, or perhaps opposed to the FBI doing the same kind of vetting that he imagines he himself to be doing.

Similarly, the frothy right is spinning what Nellie Ohr’s research shows in utterly deceitful ways. For much of the last year, the story was that Nellie’s work was an integral part of Steele’s dossier, a story that formed a critical part of any claim that Bruce Ohr would have some incentive to prop up the credibility of the dossier (which, as noted, the record shows he didn’t do). Her research shows that, in reality, there is little overlap between her research and Steele’s. There are over 75 names listed in her table of sketchy ties with Russia. The only identifiable overlap with the dossier are the Agalarovs, Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort, Sergei Millian (to the extent he really is one of the subsources for the dossier), and Carter Page. The Flynn and Manafort (and to some degree the Page) stuff goes beyond what is in the dossier.

In addition Nellie’s research includes others who should have been included in any solid HUMINT on what Trump was up to, starting with Felix Sater and Konstantin Kilimnik (but also including Michael Caputo and Giorgi Rtskhiladze). Chuck Ross notes these names in a piece on Nellie’s research, but doesn’t acknowledge the ways their inclusion undermines the conspiracy theories he has been peddling. I said in January 2018 that this open source research would probably have been more valuable for the election than the dossier, and I stand by that.

And look at the dates on Nellie Ohr’s research and the number of reports for each date (something else that Ross ignores the significance of):

  1. November 23, 2015 (12)
  2. December 14, 2015 (19)
  3. February 12, 2016 (8)
  4. February 13, 2016 (1)
  5. February 27, 2016 (1)
  6. March 4, 2016 (5)
  7. April 14, 2016 (2)
  8. April 22, 2016 (5)
  9. May 7, 2016 (1)
  10. May 13, 2016 (2)
  11. May 20, 2016 (1)
  12. May 27, 2016 (2)
  13. June 3, 2016 (1)
  14. June 10, 2016 (1)
  15. June 17, 2016 (4)
  16. June 24, 2016 (2)
  17. June 25, 2016 (3)
  18. July 1, 2016 (4)
  19. July 6, 2016 (3)
  20. July 9, 2016 (1)
  21. September 19, 2016 (2)
  22. September 22, 2016 (1)

Perhaps half of Nellie’s Ohr’s dated reports in this table date to before the Democrats started paying Fusion (that was sometime in April or May 2016, with Steele coming on around June 2016), and well more than half of the actual dated reports are from the primary period. That means that GOP billionaire Paul Singer, and not the Democrats, paid for much of the Nellie Ohr research in the table that the GOP is squawking about.

The GOP is squawking less about Nellie Ohr’s Manafort timeline (which is odd considering some of what Steele shared through Ohr consisted of Manafort details not reported in the dossier). But it’s worth mentioning that some of the same frothy right propagandists complaining here were instrumental in magnifying oppo research targeting John Podesta in 2016. The folks who made much of John Podesta’s stolen emails can’t complain about public source research focusing on Manafort’s corruption.

And for all the frothy right’s focus on Nellie Ohr’s interactions with Bruce’s colleague Lisa Holtyn (with whom Nellie clearly had a direct professional and personal relationship), they don’t mention this email to Holtyn, which suggests that Nellie has absolutely no clue about the connection that Fusion had with this anti-Magnitsky event that Natalia Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin were involved in.

That provides some support to Simpson’s claim to Congress that the people working on the Trump oppo research were compartmented from those working on the Baker-Hostetler project tied to the June 9 meeting (though Nellie was never the most likely overlap).

As to two smoking guns that Mark Meadows claimed to have found when he referred Nellie Ohr for criminal prosecution earlier this year, the first is that at Holtyn’s suggestion, Nellie met, informally, with two organized crime prosecutors,  Joe Wheatley and Ivana Nizich, presumably to give them background on certain aspects of Russian and Ukrainian organized crime. Judicial Watch has focused on the set-up of the meeting, in which Bruce noted it should not be a conflict since Nellie would not be paid. They haven’t noted that Holtyn describes (PDF 31) her colleagues’ interest in the topic to be “some things that they are working on currently” which, if it’s a specific case, she’s careful not to mention directly, but sounds more like enterprise investigation. That kind of meeting is utterly consistent with Nellie’s claim to have no knowledge of ongoing investigations, Russian or otherwise.

Moreover, the aftermath of the meeting (PDF 24) certainly reflects that informal nature.

Meadows claims that this exchange (Nizich and Wheatley continued to exchange information from Nellie afterwards, but this is the only written discussion of a meeting) proves Nellie Ohr lied in this exchange with Democratic staffers Arya Hariharan and Susanne Sachsman Grooms last October.

Q You’ve never worked for the Department of Justice, correct?

A Correct.

Q You don’t currently work for them?

A Correct.

Q So you would not have any knowledge of what is going on in an ongoing investigation?

A Correct.

Ms. Sachsman Grooms. Just to make that one crystal clear, did you, at the time, that you were working for Fusion GPS have any knowledge of the Department of Justice’s investigations on Russia?

Ms. Ohr. No.

As to Meadows’ second allegation, he says that by sharing research on Zakhariy Kalashov, a Russian mobster, with Wheatley and Nizich, Nellie proved knowledge of an ongoing investigation and (he insinuates though doesn’t say directly) shared her Fusion research with people outside of Fusion and her spouse. (Best as I can tell, Judicial Watch hasn’t released this yet, but they have a habit of sitting on documents so it’s unclear if DOJ has released it to them.) If that’s true, Meadows must know Kalashov has some tie to Trump, which is not alleged in any of Nellie’s work for Fusion.

If it were true, I’m pretty sure it would have become a campaign issue.

Meadows has, at several times in his efforts to delegitimize the information sharing by a small network of people who compare notes on Russian organized crime, gotten shockingly close to suggesting that daring to investigate Russian criminals — whether they have any tie to Donald Trump or not — should itself be criminalized. This is one such instance.

But that’s not the most remarkable piece of evidence included these latest releases Judicial Watch that demolishes the attacks on the Ohrs.

That majority of the documents involving Nellie Ohr turned over to Judicial Watch involve not — as you might expect if you read the frothy right — evidence of a Deep State plot. Rather, they are tedious discussions of Ohr’s travel plans, which he either forwarded to Nellie (perhaps because she scandalously likes to know what country her spouse is in or even likes to pick him up from the airport) or discussed the inclusion of Nellie on trips where spouses were invited. Bruce Ohr spends a lot of time figuring out what kind of per diem he’s permitted and seems to travel on a range of airlines (meaning he’s not maximizing frequent flier miles from his work travel, as most business travelers, myself included, like to do). But the most remarkable bit of tedium regarding travel — for a trip to Riga — shows that Bruce Ohr went to some effort to ensure he only claimed €105 a night reimbursement for hotel, rather than €120, because the additional €15 was a charge associated with Nellie’s inclusion (on the same trip, he also didn’t submit for reimbursement for parking at the airport).

This is a couple that has been accused, by the President of the United States — a guy who never met a grift he didn’t love — of sharing information on Russian criminals not because they want to keep the country safe, but to make their bank account “fatter & fatter.”

It turns out, instead, that they’re the kind of people who make sure taxpayers don’t pay an extra €30 for an overseas business trip.

Of course the frothy right hasn’t admitted how obscene it was for Donald Trump to accuse the Ohrs of self-dealing.

Who knows? Maybe Judicial Watch will one day discover the smoking gun that Meadows has been claiming to have found against the Ohrs. Maybe the details surrounding the 2016 communications or Steele’s efforts to undermine the investigation into his work will actually make the Ohrs into the villains they’ve been cast as for the last year.

And certainly, all that’s a different question than Simpson’s candor or the overall wisdom of Steele’s project.

But as far as the Ohrs go, what the evidence that Judicial Watch worked hard to liberate proves is that the President and Congressman Meadows owe this couple an apology — and the frothy right should stop prostrating themselves by parroting what Meadows tells them is there and begin describing all the ways these documents prove their past reporting to be a hoax.

The Ohr 302 Exemptions

As I noted yesterday, the FD-302s of FBI’s conversations with Bruce Ohr released to Judicial Watch the other day are unremarkable. The scope of Judicial Watch’s request left out the time periods — before Ohr was handed off to Bill Priestap after the election, and after Mueller was hired — that would be the most interesting. But what we do see shows that FBI first reached out to Ohr in an effort to assess the Steele dossier production, and Ohr was able and willing to chase down answers for the FBI that go to issues of credibility. Later, Steele reached out to Ohr in a panic about what would happen as Congress scrutinized his work more closely; in what we see, those conversations were not inappropriate (which is not to say I’m sympathetic to Steele’s concerns, given how he publicized his work). Though given Ohr’s notes, they may have been later in the year; at a minimum, they show how aggressively Steele was trying to prepare a public story that ended up being quite partial.

In my opinion, the FOIA exemptions are the most interesting aspect to the 302s. We can learn a bit from the things DOJ chose (or felt obligated) to protect. Here’s a short guide to FOIA exemptions and here’s DOJ’s more thorough one.

The less interesting redactions are for the following purposes:

  • b7C/b6: Protects privacy, used here to protect everything from Steele’s name to other sources
  • b7D: Protects confidential sources (both Steele and his sub-sources would get some protection)
  • b7E: Protects law enforcement techniques, including the bureaucracy of writing up 302s

The exemption, b3, protects information protected by statute, often the National Security Act. For example, that’s one of the exemptions (along with privacy and law enforcement technique exemptions) used to protect boring bureaucratic details about the case file. But it’s interesting in one instance.

The discussions, starting on PDF 14, of how Steele was panicking about one of his sources are protected for privacy, source, and b3, statute (as well as, sometimes, law enforcement technique).

That’s interesting, because FBI is not saying this person’s identity is classified. Nor is it saying that this person is credibly at risk of being killed, which would be a b7F (which is what they’d use to protect our own recruited agents). But they are according Steele’s source some kind of statutory protection.

The exemption, b1, protects classified information. It’s a measure, in these discussions about someone who used to work as an intelligence officer for an ally and who continues to collect HUMINT, of what the DOJ or other agencies considers genuinely classified (and doesn’t always line up with the initial or FOIA review classification marks on the paragraphs). For example, a paragraph describing how Ohr first met Steele — which appears in unredacted form in Ohr’s congressional testimony as follows — is protected by both a b3 and b1 exemption, presumably to protect references to MI6.

I believe I met Chris Steele for the first time around 2007. That was an official meeting. At that time, he was still employed by the British Government. I went to London to talk with British Government officials about Russian organized crime and what they were doing to look at the threat, and the FBI office at the U.S. Embassy in London set up a meeting. That was with Chris Steele. And there were other members of different British Government agencies there. And we met and had a discussion. And afterwards, I believe the agent and I spoke with Chris Steele further over lunch.

A more interesting redaction appears on PDF 8, in a series of paragraphs where Bill Priestap was asking Ohr whether about his personal knowledge of certain aspects of Steele’s work, such as whether he had witnessed Steele’s meetings with Jon Winer. One of those paragraphs is redacted, in part for b3 and b1 reasons, and classified Secret. Whatever that protects, it’s a reminder that Ohr and Steele had real discussions about organized crime in the past.

By far the most interesting exemptions, however, are what FBI has chosen to protect because of ongoing investigations, exemption b7A, starting with what they have not protected: these conversations, generally.

The frothy right believes that Bruce Ohr should go to prison because he shared information about suspected Russian crimes with other experts in the subject. Ohr’s role in the dossier has presumably been under scrutiny for some time as part of DOJ IG’s investigation into the basis for Carter Page’s FISA application. In addition, Christopher Steele and Glenn Simpson have both been referred to DOJ for suspected lies to Congress, the latter more credibly than the former. With one significant possible exception, there’s nothing in these 302s that has been protected for either of those reasons. Ohr’s earlier and later conversations with Steele would be more pertinent to those inquiries (and there’s reason to believe the later ones are being treated as such), but some of these 302s would clearly be too. But FBI has determined they can release these files. That’s interesting, especially, because of the history of this FOIA:

  • August 6, 2018: Initial Judicial Watch FOIA
  • September 10, 2018: JW sues
  • March 15, 2019: DOJ tells JW the files are being withheld in full
  • March 22, 2019: Conclusion of Mueller investigation
  • April 1, 2019: Status report states that FBI is evaluating impact of conclusion of that investigation on FOIA
  • May 8, 2019: DOJ still considering whether FBI can release the files
  • July 25, 2019: DOJ decides it can release the files in part

As recently as August 5, DOJ said it was “still engaged in internal discussions about the redactions necessary to release the requested records to the public.” In other words, a very recent review of these files has determined that files showing how FBI handled the mid-term discussions between Christopher Steele and Bruce Ohr may be released to the public.

The big possible exception pertains to details of the original conversation on Trump and Russia with Steele.

Steele’s initial conversation

The paragraph describing what Steele first told Ohr back on July 30, 2016 is redacted for b1, b3, and b7A reasons.

The redactions in this passage include the entirety of Steele’s explanation for the “over a barrel” comment, which is interesting because other agencies have released these details (which may name the people boasting they had kompromat on Trump). The paragraph also redacts part of the discussion of Deripaska preparing to bring details on Paul Manafort’s “theft” from him to US authorities. That may be for privacy reasons,  but — assuming the order is the same in the interview and the notes, but it seems Ohr was reading verbatim — both are redacted for ongoing investigation reasons in Ohr’s notes released in December.

If, as seems to be the case, Page was not redacted as part of an ongoing investigation in either of these suggests the early Ohr conversation is not one being scrutinized by DOJ IG on the FISA application (especially given the notes were released in December, well before the IG had come close to finishing, as has been reported).

Note, Ohr turned over notes from during and after the meeting with Steele to Priestap. Just these notes were released in December, meaning the notes he wrote after the meeting must be among the 6 pages of Ohr’s notes withheld in that December release, in part to protect an ongoing investigation (that could be consistent both with the known DOJ IG investigation into the origins of the investigation, and an investigation into those two allegations).

One other thing in that first interview pertains, per the redaction to an ongoing investigation: a discussion of a post-Ukrainian invasion meeting involving Ohr, Steele, and oligarchs (possibly, though not definitely, Russian).

 

The description seems to match a meeting Steele is known to have set up with Deripaska (though that meeting was in 2015).

Oleg Deripaska

The treatment of one known Deripaska reference and this reference to cultivating oligarchs as sources (earlier in 2016, Steele had been trying to get DOJ to use Deripaska as a source) is particularly interesting given that, what appear to be additional Deripaska references, are also redacted to protect an ongoing investigation.

A significant chunk of the 302 memorializing the February 6, 2017 interview protects an ongoing investigation.

There are good reasons to think this is a reference to Deripaska. Steele worked for Deripaska lawyer Paul Hauser, and Deripaska was interviewed in September 2016. Deripaska would be directly implicated in the election (two months after this interview, Deripaska was sanctioned).

This may reflect a conversation directly with Hauser though, as the Steele reference in this interview was covered in entirely in a WhatsApp chat. Given the redaction, it’s also possible that Ohr took notes, which would be among the 6 pages not turned over because of an ongoing investigation.

And while less definitive, this passage from the February 14 interview of Steele referring to which lawyers he was working for could also be the Hauser work.

Given the withholdings on Ohr’s note from the meeting, the ongoing investigation does pertain to Steele’s client.

If it is Deripaska, it would suggest that Steele was financially dependent on his Deripaska work, as the other client mentioned, Bilfinger, wasn’t paying him (which he complained about to Ohr).

[Note, this note also has what looks like a reference to “Snowden report,” which makes absolutely no sense to me, so I assume I’m misreading it.] Update: This is likely a reference to the report, from the day before, that Russia was offering Snowden to Trump.

It has long been troubling that Steele had an ongoing relationship with Deripaska during the time he worked on the dossier. It’s clear that Deripaska used Steele to misinform DOJ that he was upping the pressure on Manafort, hiding that Manafort was instead making a desperate — and somewhat successful bid — to get back on Deripaska’s payroll.

A good deal of the ongoing investigation redactions in these Ohr 302s suggest DOJ continues to be interested in all that, as well.

Alfa Bank

The other ongoing investigation redactions are far more surprising, as they suggest (though this is far less definitive than the Deripaska tie) that DOJ may continue to investigate … something pertaining to the Alfa Bank allegations.

The initial reference to Alfa Bank, from the November 22, 2016 interview and discussing his September 2016 meeting with Glenn Simpson, is not protected as part of an ongoing investigation — though what appears to be a continuation of a discussion of it is treated as classified.

But a follow-up reference to Alfa bank does seem to be redacted as part of an ongoing investigation. These two paragraphs from the December 12, 2016 interview of Ohr, at PDF 11, have just one exemption explanation, including the b7A ongoing investigation one.

It’s certainly possible that the second paragraph is unrelated, and that’s what pertains to the ongoing investigation. But treating them as the same FOIA exemptions suggests they’re related.

In the same interview, Ohr explained that when he asked Simpson if he was concerned about his personal safety, Simpson,

mentioned that someone called and asked him to find out where all of the Alfa Bank stories were coming from. Simpson did not state this was a threat from the Russians, but that was the impression made upon OHR based upon the timing of the comment and using that story as a response to OHR’s question.

This seems to suggest more than one Alfa Bank story.

Also note two things. First, when the NYT first got the story of Jared Kushner’s “back channel” meeting with Sergey Gorkov, they had it as a meeting with Alfa Bank (though they misspelled it in the same way that Steele’s dossier did). That meeting would take place four days after Simpson raised whatever crazy tip he got, on December 13.

Kushner agreed to meet with Gorkov. 1151 The one-on-one meeting took place the next day, December 13, 2016, at the Colony Capital building in Manhattan, where Kushner had previously scheduled meetings. 1152

Also, during this period, Petr Aven was trying to reach out to Trump’s people on direct orders from Putin.

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

After the December 2016 all-hands meeting, Aven tried to establish a connection to the Trump team. Aven instructed Richard Burt to make contact with the incoming Trump Administration

It’s highly unlikely that Simpson got wind of any of those things; we would have heard about it. I raise these other instances not because I think Simpson had them, but because it’s clear Mueller chased these Alfa leads much further than we otherwise knew, and the leads themselves still seem not to have amounted to anything (even while showing that Putin leveraged the threat of election-related sanctions on the one bank that was legally acceptable in the west at the time, Alfa, to get its oligarch to join his efforts to cultivate Trump).

These Alfa allegations all still seem to be fluff. But even so, the redactions in the second reference may suggest there’s something here of continued interest to the FBI.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

The Unremarkable Bruce Ohr 302s

Last night, Judicial Watch (and DOJ) released some of the FD-302s (FBI interview reports) between Bruce Ohr and the FBI. This post will lay out what they include.

As a reminder, Ohr is a top DOJ expert on Russian organized crime. He has known Christopher Steele since 2007 and Ohr’s wife — who is an expert on Russia — did some work for Fusion GPS during the election that was related to, but not part of, Steele’s work for Fusion. Ohr and Steele had conversations in 2016 about a range of things, including Oleg Deripaska (for whom Steele was doing work and who Steele trusted far more than he should have), Russian doping, and Trump’s ties to Russia.

Starting on July 30, 2016 and continuing through November 2017, Steele shared first his Trump-related information with Ohr, and then his concerns about how his dossier was all blowing up, including his concern for at least one of his sources. After Steele was cut off as a paid source in November 2016, FBI had Ohr communicate with Bill Priestap, who was a top counterintelligence person at FBI, whenever he spoke with Steele as a way to stay in touch with the former British intelligence officer, at first as part of vetting the dossier, and later to monitor where he was at.

This release of 302s is partial (though that’s based on Judicial Watch’s request, not FBI’s response). It doesn’t include any record of Ohr’s conversations with FBI and DOJ prior to November 22, 2016 (which include at least an early August meeting with Andrew McCabe and Lisa Page and a fall meeting with Page, Peter Strzok, Andrew Weissmann, Zainab Ahmad, and Bruce Swartz). It also doesn’t include Ohr’s communications after May 2017. Thus, it explicitly would exclude any information about how Mueller treated the dossier, details of what FBI and Steele did to try to limit Congress’ investigation into the role of the dossier, and whether and how FBI investigated possible false statements from Steele and (especially) Glenn Simpson.

In addition, while DOJ already released a lot of the backup to this (including Ohr’s communications with Steele and Simpson and some but not all of his notes), Judicial Watch has apparently not posted something DOJ already provided them, which is a file “Manafort Chronology” that JW received in an earlier lawsuit (I’ve asked JW for that file; they say they’re still processing it, even though they received it before these 302s). That document would presumably make it clear (as if the investigative team Ohr met with didn’t already) that more of what Ohr passed on to FBI from Steele before the election would pertain to Manafort, not Carter Page.

These meetings covered by the 302s seem to be broken into three groups:

  • November 22 to December 20: FBI’s review of Steele’s reporting process and collection of relevant materials
  • January 25 to February 14: Steele and Simpson express their panic in the aftermath of the dossier publication to Ohr
  • May 8 to 15: Steele’s panic about Congress increases, FBI offers to set up an FBI contact

November 22, 2016

This meeting was obviously an introductory meeting between Ohr and Priestap. He describes how he first met Steele (which partly redacted here but not redacted in his testimony to HJC/OGR). There’s a redacted comment that probably reflects Ohr’s view of Steele’s sources. That probably pertains to one or more oligarchs, because Ohr then explains his own opinion about the willingness of oligarchs to share information; this paragraph has been redacted because of an ongoing investigation, as has the paragraph describing Ohr’s summary of his meeting with Steele in July 2016 (which Ohr told McCabe about within days). There’s a reference to these notes from July (see PDF 31)

When these notes were released in December 2018, both the source for the “over a barrel” comment and Deripaska’s threats against Manafort were protected for ongoing investigation; at least in this paragraph, some of both are unsealed.

Ohr then explains what he knew about the Fusion GPS oppo research project, including that Simpson was passing the information on to “many individuals or entities.”

It’s clear that Ohr was asked about Michael Isikoff’s Yahoo article on Carter Page. Ohr described meeting with Simpson and Steele around that time, but his focus was instead on the Alfa Bank server allegation, which I’l return to.

Pristap also must have asked Ohr whether Steele made up his allegations, which Ohr said he did not believe Steele had done. Ohr explained that “there are always Russian conspiracy theories that come from the Kremlin.” He stated that he believed that Steele was just reporting what he heard, “but that doesn’t make that story true.”

Ohr was also asked about Jon Winer and whether he knew how Steele handled his sources, as well as for contact information for someone, probably Steele.

December 5

Several weeks after the initial meeting, Priestap interviewed Ohr again with follow-up questions about the dossier. He appears to reveal that he never was present when Steele interviewed a source (though there was a meeting he described). He says he was never present for meetings between Steele and Jon Winer. He described his wife Nellie’s research for Simpson. And he explained that Simpson directed Steele to “speak to the press as that was what Simpson was paying” him to do. Priestap apparently asked if Steele went to David Corn on his own or at the direction of Simpson, which Ohr did not know the answer to.

At that meeting, Ohr handed over the “Manafort Chronology” (which may or may not be Nellie’s work), which is the document JW may not have released yet.

December 12

Ohr met with Simpson on December 10 and obtained a copy of the dossier on thumb drive, so met with Priestap to share that and his notes from that meeting (see PDF 32).

At the meeting, Simpson told Ohr the Michael Cohen allegations (though these should and do appear to be the dated October allegations). Simpson shared gossip about some former Trump person (he thought it was Rick Wilson, but Wilson denied it yesterday) who was concerned about Trump’s ties to Russia. He raised Aleksandr Torshin’s outreach to the NRA and shared this article on it, even while noting there was disagreement on his staff about how much money Russia was funneling to the NRA. Simpson disputed NYT’s doubts about the Alfa Bank server (either Priestap or Simpson got the date of the article wrong); in response to an Ohr question about whether he thought he was safe, Simpson said someone had called and “asked him to find out where all of the Alfa Bank stories were coming from.” Simpson told Ohr he still had concerns about Sergei Millian and noted, “Looking at Millian led Simpson’s company to Cohen” (which Simpson would later share with Congress).

Simpson admitted that he asked Steele “to speak to the Mother Jones reporter as  it was Simpson’s Hail Mary attempt.” Note this means that after Priestap asked Ohr who decided to contact Corn, Ohr asked Simpson, and then passed on the answer. From this point forward, Ohr was basically providing FBI information on the Fusion effort.

Finally, Simpson appeared to suggest that much of Steele’s reporting comes from one source but “Simpson does not know his name.” This also seems to be a question Ohr posed after having been asked about it by Priestap. There are almost entirely redacted notes at PDF 33 listing “possible intermediaries” attributed to Simpson, but it’s unclear if Ohr took those notes at that meeting.

December 20

Several weeks after he said he would do so, Ohr met with Priestap and shared Nellie Ohr’s research for Fusion on a thumb drive.

January 23

On January 20, Simpson contacted Ohr in a panic about one of Steele’s sources. The following day, Ohr and Steele spoke about the concerns. The description of those concerns are treated, among other redactions, as legally classified information. The description of what appears to be the person in Ohr’s notes released last year is protected as part of an ongoing investigation (PDF 34-35). One thing Steele told Ohr, though, was that he knew the person was alive and well because he had posted on Facebook.

On the January 21 call, Steele also told Ohr he had spoken with someone in John McCain’s office sometime “prior to October 2016.” Either he’s only telling Ohr part of the story, or the date is wrong, because Steele’s known contacts related to McCain were in December.

January 25

Several days later, Ohr reached out to Priestap again to update him on what Steele had said in a followup. In that call either Steele or Ohr suggested the person might be exposed because of journalists. (PDF 36)

January 27

Several days later Ohr updated Pristap on his latest WhatsApp contact with Steele.

February 6

A few weeks later, Steele called about two things. First, the firing of Sally Yates led him to believe he needed another contact in case Ohr was fired; Priestap asked Ohr to ask Steele if he’d feel comfortable going through the FBI. He also seemed to be passing on information from someone, probably Deripaska, complaining that because of the 2016 election the FBI considered him a “criminal.” There’s a redacted section, and all this redacted information is protected as an ongoing investigation.

At the same meeting, Ohr offered up that Kathleen Kavalec, who was briefing allies on possible Russian tampering in their elections, had also met with Steele several times before the 2016 election. Ohr said that she said Steele’s reporting was generated mainly from [redacted]; which either pertains to a named source or from a reporting source.

February 14

This was mostly a follow-up reporting on a February 11 FaceTime chat with Steele, though Steele described working for two attorneys, one of whom appears to be redacted as part of an ongoing investigation in Ohr’s notes (PDF 37).

Ohr told the FBI he had not yet asked Steele if he’d be comfortable working through an FBI agent.

Note: There are March WhatsApp texts and written notes Ohr took with no corresponding 302. They pertain to Steele’s concerns about Congressional inquiries.

May 8

Ohr reported on a May 3 WhatsApp call with Steele, in which he expressed concerns about Congress’ scrutiny of his role. Steele also told Ohr that Simpson would be heading over to the UK soon and was lawyering up. But he still offered additional information to the FBI, if it was interested. Note, this is the first 302 where a normal listing of both interviewers is used, though there are indications elsewhere that Priestap was accompanied by someone else.

May 12

Ohr reports on a May 10 WhatsApp call in which Steele tells him the Senate Intelligence Committee is seeking information. The FBI asks Ohr to ask if Steele is willing to “have a conversation” with FBI agents in the UK, and Ohr agrees to pass it on.

May 15

After meeting with the FBI on May 12, Ohr contacted Steele to find out whether he’d be willing to talk to the FBI — “nothing more than a conversation with the FBI;” three days alter he said he would.

Steele also said he had information on a conversation between two people.

Federal Judge Destroys the Hopes of RICO Salvation in DNC Lawsuit

Yesterday, Clinton-appointed Judge John Koeltl dismissed with prejudice the DNC’s lawsuit against Russia, Trump’s flunkies, and WikiLeaks alleging they conspired against the party in 2016. He also ruled against a Republican demand to sanction the DNC for sustaining their claim in the wake of Robert Mueller finding that he “did not establish” a conspiracy between Trump and Russia. Koeltl’s decision is unsurprising. But his decision is interesting nevertheless for what it reveals about his legal assessment of the events of 2016, not least because of the ways it does and does not parallel Mueller’s own decisions.

The scope of the two analyses is different: The Democrats alleged RICO and some wiretapping charges, as well as the theft of trade secrets; Mueller considered campaign finance crimes and a quid pro quo. A short version of the difference and similarity in outcome is that:

  1. Mueller charged the GRU officers who hacked the DNC for the hack (which DOJ has been doing for five years, but which has never been contested by a state-hacker defendant); by contrast, Judge Koeltl ruled that Russia’s hackers could not be sued under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (which is what the Mystery Appellant tried to use to avoid responding to a subpoena); notably, Elliot Broidy’s attempt to blame Qatar for his hack serves as precedent here. For the DNC, this meant the key players in any claimed conspiracy could not be sued.
  2. While Democrats made a bid towards arguing that such a conspiracy went beyond getting Trump elected to getting Trump to enact policies that would benefit Russia, Koeltl treated any Trump role as just that, attempting to get Trump elected. This meant that (for example) Stone’s alleged criminal obstruction after Trump got elected was not deemed part of any conspiracy.
  3. As Mueller did with both the hack-and-leak itself but also with any campaign finance violation associated with getting hacked documents as assistance to a campaign, Koeltl ruled that the Supreme Court’s decision in Bartnicki meant the First Amendment protected everyone besides the Russians from liability for dissemination of the stolen documents.
  4. DNC’s RICO fails because, while the Trump campaign itself was an association, the DNC claim that there was an Association in Fact under RICO fails because the ties between individuals were too scattered and their goals were not the same. Moreover, the goal of the Trump associates — to get Trump elected — is in no way illegal.

The most important part of the decision — both for how it protects journalism, what it says about the EDVA charges against Julian Assange, and what it means for similar hack-and-leak dumps going forward — is Koeltl’s First Amendment analysis, in which he argued that even WikiLeaks could not be held liable for publishing documents, even if they knew they were stolen.

Like the defendant in Bartinicki, WikiLeaks did not play any role in the theft of the documents and it is undisputed that the stolen materials involve matters of public concern. However, the DNC argues that this case is distinguishable from Bartnicki because WikiLeaks solicited the documents from the GRU knowing that they were stolen and coordinated with the GRU and the Campaign to disseminate  the documents at times favorable to the Trump Campaign. The DNC argues that WikiLeaks should be considered an after-the-fact coconspirator for the theft based on its coordination to obtain and distribute the stolen materials.

As an initial matter, it is constitutionally insignificant that WikiLeaks knew the Russian Federation had stolen the documents when it published them. Indeed, in Bartnicki the Supreme Court noted that the radio host either did know, or at least had reason to know, that the communication at issue was unlawfully intercepted.

[snip]

And, contrary to the DNC’s argument, it is also irrelevant that WikiLeaks solicited the stolen documents from Russian agents. A person is entitled [sic] publish stolen documents that the publisher request from a source so long as the publisher did not participate in the theft. … Indeed, the DNC acknowledges that this is a common journalistic practice.

[snip]

WikiLeaks and its amici argue that holding WikiLeaks liable in this situation would also threaten freedom of the press. The DNC responds that this case does not threaten freedom of the press because WikiLeaks did not engage in normal journalistic practices by, for example, “asking foreign intelligence services to steal ‘new material’ from American targets.” … The DNC’s argument misconstrues its own allegations in the Second Amended Complaint. In the Second Amended Complaint, the DNC states that “WikiLeaks sent GRU operatives using the screenname Guccifer 2.0 a private message asking the operatives to ‘[s]end any new material (stolen from the DNC] her for us to review.'” … This was not a solicitation to steal documents but a request for material that had been stolen. [citations removed]

Koeltl analyzes whether the Democratic claim that GRU also stole trade secrets — such as their donors and voter engagement strategies — changes the calculus, but judges that because those things were newsworthy, “that would impermissibly elevate a purely private privacy interest to override the First Amendment interest in the publication of matters of the highest public concern.”

Koeltl goes on to note that the analysis would be the same for Trump’s associates, even though they make no claim (as WikiLeaks does) to being part of the media.

[E]ven if the documents had been provided directly to the Campaign, the Campaign defendants, the Agalarovs, Stone, and Mifsud, they could  have published the documents themselves without liability because they did not participate in the theft and the documents are of public concern. … Therefore, the DNC cannot hold these defendants liable for aiding and abetting publication when they would have been entitled to publish the stolen documents themselves without liability. [citations removed]

That analysis is absolutely right, and even while Democrats might hate this outcome and be dismayed by what this might portend about a repeat going forward, it is also how this country treats the First Amendment, both for those claiming to be journalists and those making no such claim.

All that said, there are several aspects of this analysis worth noting.

This is a DNC suit, not a suit by all harmed Democrats

First, this is a suit by the DNC. Neither Hillary nor John Podesta are parties. “Podesta’s emails had been stolen in a different cyberattack,” Koeltl said, “there is not allegation they were taken from the DNC’s servers.” Had they been, they would have had to have been prepared to submit to discovery by Trump and his associates.

Including Podesta might have changed the calculus somewhat, though Koeltl does not deal with them (though he does suggest they would not have changed his calculus).

They might change the calculus, however, because (as Emma Best has noted) WikiLeaks did solicit something — the transcripts of Hillary’s speeches — that was subsequently obtained in the Podesta hack. The DNC did not include that in their complaint and that might have changed Koeltl’s analysis or, at a minimum, tested one of the theories the government is currently using in the Assange prosecution.

Similarly, while there is now evidence in the record that suggests Stone may have had advanced knowledge even of the July 2016 DNC dump, the allegations that would show him having had an impact on the release of documents pertains to the release of the Podesta emails. Jerome Corsi (who was added in the DNC’s second complaint but not as a conspirator) claimed that he had helped Stone optimize the Podesta release in an attempt to drown out the Access Hollywood video, but Mueller was not able to corroborate that.

More tantalizingly, a filing in Stone’s case shows that in at least one warrant application, the government cited some conversation in which he and others — possibly Corsi and Ted Malloch — were discussing “phishing with John Podesta.” That’s not something that will be public for some time. But even if it suggested that Stone may have had more knowledge of the Podesta hack then let on, it would be meaningless in a suit brought by the DNC.

No one knows why Manafort shared polling data and his plans to win the Rust Belt (indirectly) with Oleg Deripaska

The second DNC complaint mentions, but does not explain, that Paul Manafort had Rick Gates send polling data to Konstantin Kilimnik intended to  be share with oligarchs including Oleg Deripaska.

At some point during the runup to the 2016 election, Manafort “shar[ed] polling data . . . related to the 2016 presidential campaign” with an individual connected to Russian military intelligence. This data could have helped Russia assess the most effective ways to interfere in the election, including how best to use stolen Democratic party materials to influence voters.

[snip]

In March 2016, the Trump Campaign also hired Manafort. As noted above, Manafort was millions of dollars in debt to Deripaska at the time. He was also broke.55 Yet he agreed to work for the Trump Campaign for free. A few days after he joined the Trump Campaign, Manafort emailed Kilimnik to discuss how they could use Manafort’s “media coverage” to settle his debt with Deripaska.56 Manafort had multiple discussions with Kilimnik in the runup to the 2016 election, including one in which Manafort “shar[ed] polling data . . . related to the 2016 presidential campaign.”57 This data could have helped Russia assess the most effective ways to interfere in the election, for instance, by helping it determine how best to utilize information stolen from the DNC .

[snip]

Manafort lied about sharing polling data with Kilimnik related to Trump’s 2016 campaign.226

The Mueller Report’s further details on the sharing, including Manafort’s review of his strategy to win the Rust Belt, came too late for the complaint. And as such, Koeltl doesn’t really deal with that allegation (which would likely require naming others as conspirators in any case), and instead treats any conspiracy as limited to the hack-and-leak.

Thus, he does not treat the hints of further coordination, nor is there currently enough public evidence for the DNC to get very far with that allegation. This is a ruling about an alleged hack-and-leak conspiracy, not a ruling about any wider cooperation to help Trump win the election.

No one knows what happened to the stolen DNC analytics

Finally, while the DNC complaint extensively described the September hack of its analytics hosted on AWS servers — a hack that took place after Stone scoffed at the analytics released to date by Guccifer 2.0 — Koeltl doesn’t treat that part of the hack in detail because it was never publicly shared with anyone.

The Second Amended Complaint does not allege that any materials from the September 2016 hack were disseminated to the public and counsel for the DNC acknowledged at the argument of the current motions that there is no such allegation.

The DNC included the analytics in their trade secret discussion, but given that Russia had FSIA immunity, and given that the GOP is not known to have received any of this, Koeltl did not consider the later theft (which is not known to have had the same public interest value as the claimed trade secrets that got leaked).

The SAC asserts: “The GRU could have derived significant economic value from the theft of the DNC’s data by, among other possibilities, selling the data to the highest bidder.” There is no allegation that the Russian Federation did in fact sell the DNC’s data, and any claims against the Russian Federation under the federal and state statutes prohibiting trade secret theft are barred by the FSIA.

Finally, given that it was not released publicly Koeltl does not consider how the GRU hack of analytics after Stone’s discussion of analytics with Guccifer 2.0 might change the analysis on whether Stone was involved prior to any hacks.

Similarly, Stone is alleged to have contacted WikiLeaks through Corsi for the first time on July 25, 2016 and spoke to GRU officers in August 2016 — months after the April 2016 hack. Stone is not alleged to have discussed stealing the DNC’s documents in any of these communications, or to have been aware of the hacks until after they took place.

[snip]

DNC does not raise a factual allegation that suggests that any of the defendants were even aware that the Russian Federation was planning to hack the DNC’s computers until after it had already done so.

Again, there’s too little know about the purpose of this part of the hack (which virtually no one is aware of, but which would have been particularly damaging for the Democrats), and as such the DNC would not be in a position to allege it in any case. But it is a key part of the hack that shifts the timeline Koeltl addressed.

Which ultimately leaves Koeltl’s final judgment about the DNC attempt to obtain some kind of remedy for having Trump welcome and capitalize on a foreign state’s actions to tamper in the election. “Relief from the alleged activities of the Russian Federation,” Koeltl said, “should be sought from the political branches of the Government and not from the courts.”

One of the few ways to do that is to impeach.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

Aspiring Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe Does Not Want DOJ’s Mob Experts Exchanging Information with Mob Experts

Last night, President Trump announced that Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats is resigning, effective August 15, and will be replaced by Congressman John Ratcliffe, who is totally unqualified for the job, but who said mean things to Robert Mueller the other day, which makes him the perfect Trump pick.

There will be many controversial steps in installing Ratcliffe (not least that Sue Gordon, currently the Principal Deputy, should take over as Acting DNI when Coats leaves, but Trump seems to have a plan to ignore the law that mandates that).

But I also think Ratcliffe’s confirmation process will be troubled, and not just because he’s totally unqualified for the job. Because he has been one of the key players into the Republican investigation into the Trump investigation, there are a bunch of transcripts of him acting really stupid in depositions, even more stupid than he acted in public in the Mueller hearing. As I noted in this post, in Michael Cohen’s second interview with HPSCI, for example, Ratcliffe got his ass handed to him by Cooley Law graduate Cohen.

The Republican conspiracy theory about Bruce Ohr depends on a series of misunderstandings

One of the most alarming examples involves the joint Oversight/Judiciary interview of Bruce Ohr.

The Republicans at the time (and still, I assume) believed that Bruce Ohr served as some secret back channel to keep feeding dossier tidbits to the FBI even after Christopher Steele had been fired as an informant for sharing details of his investigation with the press, part of a nefarious plot by Hillary to keep Steele’s intelligence reports flowing at the FBI. The evidence at least suggests that, instead, FBI was using Ohr as a way to monitor what Steele was doing while keeping the Brit completely firewalled from the actual investigation. In spite of being an expert on the topics implicated by the Russian investigation, Ohr was not read into the investigation or the Mueller probe, and had a relationship with Steele going back years. So he was a good way to get informed updates from Steele without risking Steele might learn more about the investigation.

Mr. Ohr. No. I think they just say thank you for the information, and then it disappears into the FBI.

Republicans also believe that Ohr should not have shared information with DOJ and FBI because his wife, Nellie, was doing contract work with Fusion GPS at the time. Virtually every time the Republicans talk about her role, however, they exhibit rank ignorance of the full scope of Fusion’s work for Democrats and Nellie’s role in that, as well as the way that Steele’s work was largely independent of those other efforts (though did respond to questions posed as part of it).

Mr. Ratcliffe. And if you did, then they would have known that your wife was being compensated in part for contributions to what we’ve referred to as the Steele dossier?

Mr. Ohr. Well, just to be careful about that, my wife was researching various entities who are some of the same people mentioned in the dossier.

My understanding of the dossier, and I didn’t look at it that carefully, but it seems to be reports from Chris Steele to Fusion GPS.

So I don’t think my wife’s information, as far as I knew, was reported in those specific reports. It was certainly provided to Fusion, which had both Chris Steele’s reports and my wife’s research.

Nellie did research that didn’t get published (though likely fed a few stories) that probably proved more accurate than Steele’s HUMINT and as such should have been the focus of the oppo campaign. But the public record (and Ohr’s impression knowing Steele’s past work) is that what is known as the dossier was entirely Steele’s work, not edited by Fusion or integrated with information otherwise obtained by them.

Some Republicans (though not Ratcliffe) also seemed to assume in the hearing that it is remarkable that a women qualified to do research on Russia would get hired to do research on Russia, and instead assume there’s some secret plot that got her hired. But as Bruce Ohr made clear several times in the hearing, he alerted the FBI of his wife’s tie to the contractor paying Steele from the very beginning.

Mr. Meadows. So you gave no commentary on the validity of what the source told you or what you thought? You gave no commentary?

Mr. Ohr. I —

Mr. Meadows. Your 302s don’t suggest that.

Mr. Ohr. No. I warned them that my wife work for Fusion GPS.

Mr. Meadows. When did you do that?

Mr. Ohr. When I first spoke with Mr. McCabe

But the core of the frothy Republican conspiracy about Ohr is an effort to shift the timeline of when Steele started feeding information to the FBI back before the investigation into Trump’s associates got opened, so as to be able to claim that Steele’s information predicated not just Carter Page’s FISA application, but the investigation as a whole.

The information Christopher Steele shared in the July 30 meeting is not the same information that appears in the dossier

An early attempt to do this was to point to communications between Steele and Ohr — who had been sharing information on Russian organized crime since 2007 — and claim a Steele reference to Oleg Deripaska was really proof of an early obsession between the two about Trump.

When that conspiracy was debunked, the frothy right then turned to a meeting Ohr and his wife had with Christopher Steele on July 30, 2016, at which Steele provided some information on Russia, including (but not limited to) some information that would eventually show up in the dossier. After the meeting, Ohr, of his own accord,  passed the information onto someone else he had worked organized crime matters with going back years, Andrew McCabe, whose counselor, Lisa Page, happened to be in the room when that meeting took place. That, in turn, led to a meeting with Peter Strzok. But both those meetings (and certainly the Strzok one) took place after the investigation into Trump’s associates had already gotten opened. Nevertheless, Republicans use that Ohr meeting to claim that Steele was trying to gin up an investigation into Trump even before he first formally shared his dossier with the FBI.

There are a few problems with this theory.

First, as noted, what Steele shared with Ohr on July 30, 2016 was not, precisely, what made it into the dossier. Over the course of his testimony, Ohr described four things that Steele shared with him that day.

Mr. Ohr. In the July 30th conversation, one of the items of information that Chris Steele gave to me was that he had information that a former head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, the SVR, had stated to someone — I didn’t know who — that they had Donald Trump over a barrel.

[snip]

Mr. Ohr. So Chris Steele provided me with basically three items of information. One of them I’ve described to you already, the comment that information supposedly stated and made by the head, former head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service.

He also mentioned that Carter Page had met with certain high-level Russian officials when he was in Moscow. My recollection is at that time, the name Carter Page had already been in the press, and there had been some kind of statement about who he had met with when he went to Moscow. And so the first item that I recall Chris Steele telling me was he had information that Carter Page met with higher-level Russian officials, not just whoever was mentioned in the press article. So that was one item.

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.

[snip]

Q Were there any other topics that were discussed during your July 30, 2016, meeting?

A Yes, there were. Based on my sketchy notes from the time, I think there was some information relating to the Russian doping scandal, but I don’t recall the substance of that.

Those four things are:

  1. A former head of SVR (other Steele dossier notes make it clear that this is Vyacheslav Trubnikov) told someone else who told a Steele source that Russia had Trump “over a barrel.” (Note, Ohr’s telling of this adds to the evidence that the frothy right misread Kathleen Kavalec’s notes about Steele’s intelligence to understand Trubnikov as a source for Steele rather than as someone his source was reporting on.)
  2. Carter Page met with some high ranking Russians when he was on his publicized trip to Moscow in July.
  3. Oleg Deripaska was trying to expose details of Paul Manafort’s “theft” from him.
  4. Something about the Russian doping scandal.

Just item 1 and 2 on this list appear in any form in the dossier. But item 1 — which Ohr repeatedly describes, based off his notes, as stating just that Russia had Trump “over a barrel,” doesn’t mention the pee tape at all. (Remember, the allegations that Russia had a compromising video from Trump’s 2013 trip had been out there since shortly after the trip, and both Hope Hicks and Michael Cohen were aware of and responding to those allegations during the campaign.) Moreover, the general allegation that Russia had some means of embarrassing Trump was already true by that point: he had shown a willingness to work with a former GRU officer, sanctioned banks, and the Russian government to chase an improbably lucrative real estate deal in Moscow, and he had lied about having ongoing business projects with Russia just days before Ohr’s July 30 meeting with Steele.

And while the reference to Page meeting with top Russian officials was used in his FISA application, what appears in the application goes well beyond what Steele appears to have shared in the meeting, to include the apparent promise of kompromat before the DNC emails got released. Notably, Page’s actions in Moscow were one of the things the Mueller Report concludes remain unexplained.

Item 3 — that Trump’s campaign manager was at risk of being hit with damning new accusations by a very powerful Russian oligarch — doesn’t show up in the dossier, but was actually true and serves as crucial background to Manafort’s ongoing efforts, just days later, to share campaign information with Deripaska not just to stave off such disclosures, but also to restore his old role installing leaders who would be favorable to Deripaska business interests.

And item 4 has nothing to do with Trump at all, but was a subject of real interest to the FBI, not least because the same GRU officers who conducted the hack of the DNC were — at precisely the time this meeting took place — beginning a similar campaign against international anti-doping agencies.

In other words, none of the things Steele shared with Ohr at that first meeting have proven untrue (though the allegations about Page probably are not true). And the two details that go beyond the dossier — that Manafort was under pressure from Deripaska and that Russian continued to engage with its doping scandal — are not just true, but were unequivocally issues of urgent interest to the FBI.

John Ratcliffe thinks the FBI should remain ignorant about Russian organized crime

And John Ratcliffe, the guy who wants to oversee the entire intelligence community, didn’t think that one of DOJ’s foremost experts in Russian organized crime, Ohr, should learn what he could from another recognized expert in Russian organized crime, Steele, and pass on what he learned to another government expert in Russian organized crime, McCabe.

He grilled Ohr at length, suggesting that it was improper for him to share information with another expert in Russian organized crime, and improper for him to pass on information he obtained to the agents who could vet and, if credible. use the information.

Mr. Ratcliffe. And one of those was shortly after you met with Christopher Steele. On July 30, you had a meeting with Andy McCabe and Lisa Page.

Mr. Ohr. Yes.

[snip]

Mr. Ratcliffe. And it was sometime, you believe, in August, because it was shortly after the meeting with Christopher Steele?

Mr. Ohr. Probably, yes.

Mr. Ratcliffe. And that was because, at that point in time, you wanted the FBI to have that information and be aware of your contact with Christopher Steele?

Mr. Ohr. Yes.

Mr. Ratcliffe. Did anyone prompt that call to Andy McCabe?

Mr. Ohr. No, I don’t think so. I think that was me. Just me.

Mr. Ratcliffe. You, out of just an idea that that was the appropriate thing to do?

Mr. Ohr. Yes.

Mr. Ratcliffe. Okay. But you also thought it was appropriate to be communicating with Christopher Steele.

Mr. Ohr. Yes.

Mr. Ratcliffe. Okay. Even though you don’t have any authority, apparently.

Mr. Ohr. He is just calling me or meeting with me, as we had done on and off for many years. So if he tells me something that is of interest or concern, I pass that to the FBI.

Mr. Ratcliffe. And you said something about you thought that was your job.

Mr. Ohr. Yes. Part of my job, as I saw it, as having been for a long time responsible for organized crime at the Department, was to try to gather as much information or introduce the FBI to possible sources of information, whatever ways to further the program’s goals.

In fact, as Ohr explained in his interview, he had been sharing information with Steele going back almost a decade.

A I believe I met Chris Steele for the first time around 2007. That was an official meeting. At that time, he was still employed by the British Government. I went to London to talk with British Government officials about Russian organized crime and what they were doing to look at the threat, and the FBI office at the U.S. Embassy in London set up a meeting. That was with Chris Steele. And there were other members of different British Government agencies there. And we met and had a discussion. And afterwards, I believe the agent and I spoke with Chris Steele further over lunch. That was, I think, the first time I met him.

Q And you said that Mr. Steele worked for the British Government at the time. Was that at MI-6?

A Yes.

Q And you said in this meeting that he was one of several British Government employees at the meeting?

A Yes.

Q So, based on that introduction, is it fair to say that your contacts with Christopher Steele began as a, you know, shared professional specialization?

A Yes.

Q And that specialization would be Russian organized crime?

A Yes.

In other words, John Ratcliffe wants to make a big deal out of the fact that DOJ’s top person on organized crime was trying to combat organized crime by collecting and sharing information on organized crime. This is the guy Trump wants to be be in charge of the entire intelligence community.

Ratcliffe objects that Ohr shared information with career employees and not his political appointee boss

Ratcliffe didn’t just object that Bruce Ohr compared notes with other experts on Russian organized crime, he also objected to the fact that Ohr passed that information along not to political appointees — who according to the conspiracy theories could then use the information as part of an ultimately unsuccessful Deep State plot to undermine Trump — but instead to career people who could actually decide what to do with the information.

Mr. Ratcliffe. Okay. But yet Sally Yates — she was your boss, right?

Mr. Ohr. Yes.

Mr. Ratcliffe. You said she didn’t know that you were talking to Steele or Simpson?

Mr. Ohr. Correct.

Mr. Ratcliffe. How do you know she didn’t know?

Mr. Ohr. Well, I didn’t tell her.

[snip]

Mr. Ratcliffe. Okay. So, again, going back to the Sally Yates issue, is it your testimony that at some point in time as you were sitting down with the FBI for the purpose of talking to them about information that you were helping to coordinate from Christopher Steele that you shouldn’t have advised or didn’t advise Sally Yates about the fact that you were being interviewed for that purpose?

Mr. Ohr. I did not inform Sally Yates that I was talking to the FBI and that I was receiving information from Chris Steele. That’s correct.

Mr. Ratcliffe. My question is, did you have the thought that it might be a good idea to let my boss know that I’m being interviewed by the FBI?

Mr. Ohr. It was — my thought at the time was I should get this to the career people who would work on it, but that was my thought.

This is ultimately something that Ohr got disciplined for — not revealing the extent of his contacts with Steele earlier. But it was also the opposite of what he would do if he wanted to politicize the information, and precisely what he would do if he considered it the course of normal information exchange. By keeping this information within career channels, Ohr took the most appropriate step to avoid politicizing it.

It’s also true that, absent some proof that Yates found out about some of the details of Steele’s conversations with Ohr (in particular, how concerned Steele was about the possibility of Trump being elected) before she approved the FISA order on Carter Page, this conspiracy theory doesn’t make any sense. Which may be the real reason Ratcliffe is so infuriated that Ohr claims he didn’t inform Yates about what, to Ohr, was ordinary information sharing.

The echo chamber Ratcliffe occupies would prevent him from keeping America safe

Again, Ratcliffe’s own questioning of one of DOJ’s top experts on organized crime makes it appear that he affirmatively objects to the fact that that expert received true and timely information from another recognized expert and passed it on to another expert.

I actually don’t believe John Ratcliffe really is affirmatively opposed to the FBI receiving as much information about Russian Oligarchs threatening to expose top campaign managers or ongoing Russian efforts to retaliate for having been caught cheating in sports, even though that’s what his questioning of Ohr necessarily presumes. I think, instead, he is stuck so deep inside a Republican echo chamber looking for conspiracy theories even in events that can be easily explained that he is incapable of seeing how dangerous his assumptions really are: including the assumption that the FBI should reject information from credible sources about ongoing threats.

That he is so deeply ensconced in the frothy right is why Trump picked him for the job — because, to those who are equally ensconced in the echo chamber, he could appear to have damaged Robert Mueller last week. And of course, Trump will be perfectly happy to have someone who sees not what is, but what needs to be true to feed Trump’s own false claims.

But having picked Ratcliffe, Trump has given Democrats the perfect opportunity to turn frothy conspiracies on their head, to demonstrate the danger of them. Both before Ratcliffe’s eventual confirmation hearing and during it, Democrats will have abundant evidence — from Ratcliffe’s own performance in interviews where he repeatedly gets exposed as a fool — to demonstrate the dangers of appointing someone so deep inside an echo chamber he doesn’t even realize the entire premise of his questioning is that the US should not pursue as much information about threats as possible.

Sure, he’s likely to be confirmed anyway. But Democrats have the opportunity to lay out the costs of Republicans casting such a vote, to install someone who affirmatively objects to FBI getting information on urgent threats to oversee the intelligence community. And when Ratcliffe’s echo chamber beliefs serve to blow up — whether by feeding Trump what he wants to hear about North Korea or Iran or Russia — Democrats will then have the record that Republicans chose to put someone with a clear record arguing that the FBI should have less information about credible threats and not more.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

“I Have Been Sending Everything to Victor:” On Paul Manafort’s Treasury-Sanctioned Meeting Planner, Viktor Boyarkin

Because the Mueller Report is a prosecutions and declinations report, it’s pretty circumspect in its suggestions that someone might be a spy. Admittedly, it makes an exception for Konstantin Kilimnik, about whom it provides five pieces of evidence and a comment redacted for sources and methods reasons — on top of repeating the FBI’s assessment — that he’s spooked up.

Manafort told the Office that he did not believe Kilimnik was working as a Russian “spy.”859 The FBI, however, assesses that Kilimnik has ties to Russian intelligence.860 Several pieces of the Office’s evidence-including witness interviews and emails obtained through court-authorized search warrants-support that assessment:

  • Kilimnik was born on April 27, 1970, in Dnipropetrovsk Ob last, then of the Soviet Union, and attended the Military Institute of the Ministry of Defense from 1987 until 1992.861 Sam Patten, a business partner to Kilimnik,862 stated that Kilimnik told him that he was a translator in the Russian army for seven years and that he later worked in the Russian armament industry selling arms and military equipment. 863
  • U.S. government visa records reveal that Kilimnik obtained a visa to travel to the United States with a Russian diplomatic passport in 1997. 864
  • Kilimnik worked for the International Republican Institute’ s (IRI) Moscow office, where he did translation work and general office management from 1998 to 2005.865 While another official recalled the incident differently,866 one former associate of Kilimnik’s at TRI told the FBI that Kilimnik was fired from his post because his links to Russian intelligence were too strong. The same individual stated that it was well known at IRI that Kilimnik had links to the Russian government.867
  • Jonathan Hawker, a British national who was a public relations consultant at FTI Consulting, worked with DMI on a public relations campaign for Yanukovych. After Hawker’s work for DMI ended, Kilimnik contacted Hawker about working for a Russian government entity on a public-relations project that would promote, in Western and Ukrainian media, Russia’s position on its 2014 invasion of Crimea. 868
  • Gates suspected that Kilimnik was a “spy,” a view that he shared with Manafort, Hawker, and Alexander van der Zwaan,869 an attorney who had worked with DMI on a report for the Ukrainian Ministry of ForeignAffairs.870

[Investigative Technique Redaction]

For others, they simply note — as they do here for Kilimnik — that a non-diplomat came to the US on a diplomatic or military visa. That’s what they do for Viktor Boyarkin, another close Deripaska aide: they just casually mention that he was in the US on a visa that doesn’t match the rest of his biography.

Kilimnik also maintained a relationship with Deripaska’s deputy, Viktor Boyarkin,857 a Russian national who previously served in the defense attache office of the Russian Embassy to the United States.858

For some reason, Mueller doesn’t invoke another description of Boyarkin in his report: That Trump’s own Treasury Department sanctioned him in December.

OLEG DERIPASKA RELATED DESIGNATION

Victor Alekseyevich Boyarkin (Boyarkin) is a former GRU officer who reports directly to Deripaska and has led business negotiations on Deripaska’s behalf.  Deripaska and Boyarkin were involved in providing Russian financial support to a Montenegrin political party ahead of Montenegro’s 2016 elections.  Boyarkin was designated pursuant to Executive Orders (E.O.) 13661 and 13662 for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, Oleg Deripaska, who was previously designated pursuant to E.O. 13661 for having acted or purported to act for or on behalf of a senior Russian government official, as well as pursuant to E.O. 13662 for operating in the energy sector of the Russian Federation economy, as well as with entities 50 percent or more owned by designated persons.

And while that sanction description is itself fairly coy, Boyarkin’s company in that batch of sanctions is telling: It includes several entities related to the Internet Research Agency’s trolling project, nine of the GRU officers indicted in the DNC hack, some of the related GRU officers who hacked the World Anti-Doping Federation, and the two GRU officers who tried to kill Sergei Skripal.

I guess noting that Kilimnik has ties to a guy who got sanctioned with all the other key players in the election year interference would be too obvious?

In an interview with Time last fall, Boyarkin boasted that Manafort spent his time running Trump’s campaign “offering ways to pay [the money he owed Oleg Deripaska] back.

Boyarkin told TIME this fall that he was in touch with Trump’s then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, in the heat of the presidential race on behalf of the Russian oligarch. “He owed us a lot of money,” Boyarkin says. “And he was offering ways to pay it back.”

That same Time article suggests that Manafort may have been involved, through Deripaska, in Montenegro’s 2016 election that resulted in a coup attempt, which is what Boyarkin got sanctioned for.

Boyarkin, you see, is the guy through whom Kilimnik was sending the stuff ultimately designated for Deripaska. The Mueller Report notes that explicitly with regards to the reporting Manafort did on his role in the campaign to his paymasters.

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

Manafort’s July offer for briefings for Deripaska also went through Boyarkin.

For example, in response to a July 7, 20 I 6, email from a Ukrainian reporter about Manafort’ s failed Deripaska-backed 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

Presumably, if Kilimnik sent everything designated for Deripaska to Boyarkin, that would include polling data and the campaign’s plans on how to win Michigan (indeed, there’s a redaction in the breach hearing that likely refers to Boyarkin) shared in that meeting on August 2, 2016 where Manafort and Kilimnik also discussed how to carve up Ukraine and how to get his debts forgiven by Deripaska.

That’s what makes a second meeting in Madrid (there’s a February one that Kilimnik also attended, which was included among the lies reviewed in Manafort’s breach determination) so interesting. In January, Manafort met with yet another Deripaska guy who once had an inexplicable diplomatic visa for the US, Georgiy Oganov.

Manafort’s activities in early 2017 included meetings relating to Ukraine and Russia. The first meeting, which took place in Madrid, Spain in January 2017, was with Georgiy Oganov. Oganov, who had previously worked at the Russian Embassy in the United States, was a senior executive at a Deripaska company and was believed to report directly to Deripaska.940 Manafort initially denied attending the meeting. When he later acknowledged it, he claimed that the meeting had been arranged by his lawyers and concerned only the Pericles lawsuit.941 Other evidence, however, provides reason to doubt Manafort’s statement that the sole topic of the meeting was the Pericles lawsuit. In particular, text messages to Manafort from a number associated with Kilimnik suggest that Kilimnik and Boyarkin-not Manafort’s counsel-had arranged the meeting between Manafort and Oganov.942 Kilimnik’s message states that the meeting was supposed to be “not about money or Pericles” but instead “about recreating [the] old friendship”-ostensibly between Manafort and Deripaska-“and talking about global politics.”943 Manafort also replied by text that he “need[s] this finished before Jan. 20,”944 which appears to be a reference to resolving Pericles before the inauguration.

While this wasn’t detailed in discernible way in Manafort’s breach determination, according to the report, he nevertheless lied about this meeting, too, in particular that it was not primarily about debt relief, but was instead about setting up his old relationship with Deripaska, which Rick Gates explained, “Deripaska used Manafort to install friendly political officials in countries where Deripaska had business interests.”

Boyarkin — the guy whom Treasury sanctioned along with a bunch of other key players in the election year operation — set up that meeting to “recreate the old friendship.”

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

William Barr Absolved Trump of Obstruction without Having the Faintest Clue What He Obstructed

Bill Barr just finished testifying to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

It was remarkable.

Among the opinions the Attorney General espoused are that:

  • You only need to call the FBI when being offered campaign assistance by a foreign intelligence service, not a foreigner
  • It’s okay to lie about the many dangles hostile foreign countries make to a political campaign, including if you accepted those dangles
  • Because Trump was being falsely accused (it’s not clear of what, because the report doesn’t address the most aggressive accusation, and many other accusations against Trump and his campaign are born out by the Mueller Report), it’s okay that he sought to undermine it through illegal means
  • It’s okay for the President to order the White House Counsel to lie, even about an ongoing investigation
  • It’s okay to fire the FBI Director for refusing to confirm or deny an ongoing investigation, which is DOJ policy not to do
  • It’s okay for the Attorney General to call lawfully predicated DOJ investigative techniques “spying” because Fox News does
  • Public statements — including threatening someone’s family — cannot be subornation of perjury
  • You can exhaust investigative options in a case having only obtained contemptuous responses covering just a third of the investigation from the key subject of it

The Attorney General also got himself in significant trouble with his answers to a question from Charlie Crist about whether he knew why Mueller’s team was concerned about press reports. His first answer was that he didn’t know about the team’s concerns because he only spoke with Mueller. But he later described, in the phone call he had with Mueller, that Mueller discussed his team’s concerns. Worse still, when called on the fact that the letter — as opposed to Barr’s potentially suspect representation of the call — didn’t mention the press response, he suggested Mueller’s letter was “snitty” and so probably written by a staffer, meaning he assumed that the letter itself was actually from a staffer.

But that’s not the most amazing thing.

The most amazing thing is that, when Cory Booker asked Barr if he thought it was right to share polling data with Russians — noting that had Trump done so with a Super PAC, rather than a hostile foreign country, it would be illegal — Barr appeared to have no clue that Paul Manafort had done so. He even asked whom Manafort shared the data with, apparently not knowing he shared it with a guy that Rick Gates said he believes is a Russian spy.

That’s remarkable, because he basically agreed with Ben Sasse that Deripaska — with whom Manafort was sharing this campaign data — was a “bottom-feeding scum-sucker.”

So the Attorney General absolved the President of obstruction without having the faintest clue what actions the investigation of which Trump successfully obstructed by floating a pardon to Manafort.

There may be an explanation for this fairly shocking admission on Barr’s part. He also admitted that he and Rod Rosenstein started making the decision on obstruction before they read the report. Indeed, several times during the hearing, it seemed he still has not read the report, as he was unfamiliar with allegations in it.

In short, the Attorney General said it was okay for Trump to obstruct this investigation because (he claims) Trump was falsely accused, without being aware that the report showed that several of the key allegations against Trump — including that his campaign manager coordinated with Russians, including one Barr agrees is a bottom-feeding scum-sucker” with ties to Russian intelligence — were actually true.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post.