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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. 

Paul Manafort Violated Campaign Policy in Risking a Meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik on August 2, 2016

When Don Jr testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he defended accepting a meeting from a bunch of Russians offering dirt, in part, by noting that he took the meeting before there was such a focus on “Russian activities.”

Nonetheless, at the time I thought I should listen to what Rob and his colleagues had to say. To the extent that they had information concerning the fitness, character, or qualifications of any presidential candidate, I believed that I should at least hear them out. Depending on what, if any, information that they had, I could then consult with counsel to make an informed decision as to whether to give it any further consideration. I also note at this time  there was no focus on Russian activities that there is today.

The guy who Mueller decided was too stupid to be charged with a campaign finance violation basically explained away doing so (as he has elsewhere): that because the public wasn’t yet aware of the efforts Russia was making to get his dad elected — and the suspicious ties between key campaign figures and Russians — it was reasonable for him to take dirt from Russians.

And the Mueller Report actually does show that the campaign passed up offers from Russians they otherwise seemed to find attractive later in the summer, after the release of the DNC emails made Russia’s intentions clear.

For example, after Sergei Millian reached out to George Papadopoulos promising to help him reach leaders of the Russian-American community, the “Coffee Boy” was instructed to decline the offer because too many stories were accurately telling voters how pro-Russian both the campaign and — especially — Paul Manafort was.

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

Similarly when, after JD Gordon twice emphasized with Sergei Kislyak at the Convention that he had meant what he said in his speech — that the US should have better relations with Russia (see pages 123-4) — Kislyak invited Gordon to breakfast at his residence. Gordon would have been happy to take the invite, according to an email he sent in response to the invitation. But he said he’d take a raincheck for when “things quiet down a bit.”

On August 3, 2016, an official from the Embassy of the Russian Federation in the United States wrote to Gordon ” [o]n behalf of’ Ambassador Kislyak inviting Gordon “to have breakfast/tea with the Ambassador at his residence” in Washington, D.C. the following week.818 Gordon responded five days later to decline the invitation. He wrote, “[t]hese days are not optimal for us, as we are busily knocking down a constant stream of false media stories while also preparing for the first debate with HRC. Hope to take a raincheck for another time when things quiet down a bit. Please pass along my regards to the Ambassador.” 819

While Gordon doesn’t say the “false media stories” were explicitly about Russia, that is where the focus was at the time (indeed, the defeat of the Ukraine amendment in the platform that Gordon himself had carried out was one focus of that media attention). Update: In the obstruction section, the report confirms this was about Russia:

For example, in August 2016, foreign policy advisor J.D. Gordon declined an invitation to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s residence because the timing was “not optimal” in view of media reports about Russian interference.46

46 DJTFP00004953 (8/8/16 Email, Gordon to Pchelyakov) (stating that “[t]hese days are not optimal for us, as we are busily knocking down a stream of false media stories”).

So it seems clear that in the wake of the DNC dump and revelations about the platform, Carter Page, and Manafort, the campaign did make a conscious effort to “take a raincheck” on any more approaches from Russia.

It’s against that background that the August 2 meeting between Manafort, Rick Gates, and someone Gates believed was a Russian spy, Konstantin Kilimnik, is all the more remarkable.

As the report describes, at the same time other campaign staffers were being told to turn down approaches from Russia, the campaign manager set up a late night meeting with the same Russian employee who was involved in so much of the scandal (and to whom he had been sending internal polling data since the spring). At the meeting, the campaign manager discussed at least three things: how Trump planned to win the three states that would ultimately make the difference in the election — Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan (along with Minnesota, which also was unexpectedly close), a plan that required Manafort and Trump’s buy-off to give Russia part of Ukraine, and a way for Manafort (who was working for Trump for “free”) to get paid by Ukrainian oligarchs and to get Oleg Deripaska to forgive a huge debt.

The events leading to the meeting are as follows. On July 28, 2016, Kilimnik flew from Kiev to Moscow.912 The next day, Kilimnik wrote to Manafort requesting that they meet, using coded language about a conversation he had that day.913 In an email with a subject line “Black Caviar,” Kilimnik wrote:

I met today with the guy who gave you your biggest black caviar jar several years ago. We spent about 5 hours talking about his story, and I have several important messages from him to you. He asked me to go and brief you on our conversation. I said I have to run it by you first, but in principle I am prepared to do it. … It has to do about the future of his country, and is quite interesting.914

Manafort identified “the guy who gave you your biggest black caviar jar” as Yanukovych. He explained that, in 2010, he and Y anukovych had lunch to celebrate the recent presidential election. Yanukovych gave Manafort a large jar of black caviar that was worth approximately $30,000 to $40,000.915 Manafort’s identification of Yanukovych as “the guy who gave you your biggest black caviar jar” is consistent with Kilimnik being in Moscow-where Yanukovych resided-when Kilimnik wrote “I met today with~ a December 2016 email in which Kilimnik referred to Yanukovych as “BG,”-916 Manafort replied to Kilimnik’s July 29 email, “Tuesday [August 2] is best . .. Tues or weds in NYC.”917

Three days later, on July 31, 2016, Kilimnik flew back to Kiev from Moscow, and on that same day, wrote to Manafort that he needed “about 2 hours” for their meeting “because it is a long caviar story to tell.”918 Kilimnik wrote that he would arrive at JFK on August 2 at 7:30 p.m., and he and Manafort agreed to a late dinner that night.919 Documentary evidence- including flight, phone, and hotel records, and the timing of text messages exchanged920-confirms the dinner took place as planned on August 2.921

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

First, Manafort and Kilimnik discussed a plan to resolve the ongoing political problems in Ukraine by creating an autonomous republic in its more industrialized eastern region of Donbas,922 and having Yanukovych, the Ukrainian President ousted in 2014, elected to head that republic.923 That plan, Manafort later acknowledged, constituted a “backdoor” means for Russia to control eastern Ukraine.924 Manafort initially said that, if he had not cut off the discussion, Kilimnik would have asked Manafort in the August 2 meeting to convince Trump to come out in favor of the peace plan, and Yanukovych would have expected Manafort to use his connections in Europe and Ukraine to support the plan.925 Manafort also initially told the Office that he had said to Kilimnik that the plan was crazy, that the discussion ended, and that he did not recall Kilimnik asking Manafort to reconsider the plan after their August 2 meeting.926 Manafort said [redacted] that he reacted negatively to Yanukovych sending — years later — an “urgent” request when Yanukovych needed him.927 When confronted with an email written by Kilimnik on or about December 8, 2016, however, Manafort acknowledged Kilimnik raised the peace plan again in that email.928 Manafort ultimately acknowled ed Kilimnik also raised the eace Ian in ~ary 2017 meetings with Manafort [grand jury redaction] 929

Second, Manafort briefed Kilimnik on the state of the Trump Campaign and Manafort’s plan to win the election.930 That briefing encompassed the Campaign’s messaging and its internal polling data. According to Gates, it also included discussion of “battleground” states, which Manafort identified as Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota.931 Manafort did not refer explicitly to “battleground” states in his telling of the August 2 discussion, [grand jury redaction]

Third, according to Gates and what Kilimnik told Patten, Manafort and Kilimnik discussed two sets of financial disputes related to Manafort’s previous work in the region. Those consisted of the unresolved Deripaska lawsuit and the funds that the Opposition Bloc owed to Manafort for his political consulting work and how Manafort might be able to obtain payment.933

Eight days after that meeting at which Manafort described how they might win Rust Belt swing states, where Kilimnik pitched a plan to break up Ukraine, and where Kilimnik also explained what Manafort would have to do to get paid by his Ukrainian paymasters, Manafort told his accountant to book that Ukrainian money, which he said would be paid in November.

Here’s the thing about this meeting, which Trump’s campaign manager and his deputy attended even while the campaign was telling other associates to “take a rain check” on outreach from Russia. They, too, recognized the problem of being caught accepting such outreach. They just tried to avoid getting caught.

After the meeting, Gates and Manafort both. stated that they left separately from Kilimnik because they knew the media was tracking Manafort and wanted to avoid media reporting on his connections to Kilimnik.934

This is a point Amy Berman Jackson made when she ruled that Manafort had lied about this meeting (and the sharing of polling data).

If he was, as he told me, so single-mindedly focused on the campaign, then the meeting he took time to attend and had [redacted] had a purpose [redacted]. Or, if it was just part of his effort to [redacted], well, in that case he’s not being straight with me about how single-minded he was. It’s not good either way.

Plus, his asserted inability to remember rings hollow when the event we are discussing involving [redacted] not only [redacted] but he’s [redacted] with a specific understanding and intent that [redacted] at a meeting in which the participants made it a point of leaving separate because of the media attention focused at that very time on Manafort’ relationships with Ukraine.

Manafort had claimed he was so busy trying to win a campaign that he forgot the meeting at which he discussed carving up Ukraine in the same two hour discussion where he talked about the import of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin in winning that campaign. And to attend the meeting, he risked public scrutiny on precisely the Russian ties that every other member of the campaign was being told to discourage.

Update: This Amy Berman Jackson order reveals a little more about how Rick Gates’ updated testimony changes the story. It sounds like when Gates heard that prosecutors used Manafort’s order to Gates to print out polling data on August 2 to prove that he had shared it with Kilimnik, he contacted prosecutors and told them that they had, in fact, used it at the staff meeting that morning, which is the explanation Manafort gave for the order. He says he arrived late so doesn’t know if Manafort shared that particular polling data with Kilimnik.

But ABJ refused Manafort’s request for reconsideration of her judgment that he lied about that for several reasons:

  • He still lied about sharing polling data to be passed on to Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs
  • He still lied about the Ukraine “peace” deals
  • She still gave him credit for his plea

Given those details, the Manafort bid for reconsideration must just be an attempt to discredit what is one of the most damning details in the Mueller Report.

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 Parallel Tracks of Disclosure on Why Manafort Shared Campaign Polling Data with His Russian Co-Conspirator

No one knows what the first half of this sentence says:

[redacted] the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.

But it almost certainly includes language acknowledging evidence that might support (but ultimately was not enough to indict on) a conspiracy charge.

I have twice before demonstrated that the Barr Memo — and so this full sentence — is nowhere near as conclusive with respect to exonerating Trump as a number of people have claimed (and Trump’s equivocations about releasing the report). This post showed how little Barr’s Memo actually incorporates from the Mueller Report. And this post shows that the memo ignores Stone’s coordination with WikiLeaks, presumably because he didn’t coordinate directly with the Russian government.

But (as I’ve said elsewhere), the public record on Paul Manafort’s conduct also makes it clear that the Mueller Report includes inconclusive information on whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russians. This came up extensively, in the discussion of Manafort’s sharing of polling data at his August 2, 2016 meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik, at the February 4 breach hearing.

At the beginning of that discussion, ABJ asked whether Manafort had lied to the grand jury about his motives for sharing polling data. [Throughout this, I’m bolding the redactions but including the content where it’s obvious.]

JUDGE AMY BERMAN JACKSON: I think we can go on to the question of the [redacted; sharing of polling data]. And I don’t have that many questions, mainly because I think it’s pretty straightforward what you’re saying.

So, I would want to ask you whether it’s part of your contention that he lied about the reason [redacted; he shared the data]. I know initially he didn’t even agree that that [redacted; he had shared private polling data], and he didn’t even really agree in the grand jury. He said it just was public information. But, I think there’s some suggestion, at least in the 302, as to what the point was of [redacted].

And so, I’m asking you whether that’s part of this, if he was lying about that?

Because Mueller’s team only needed ABJ to rule that Manafort lied, Andrew Weissmann explained they didn’t need her to reach the issue of motive. But they did discuss motive. Weissmann describes that it wasn’t just for whatever benefit sharing the polling data might provide the campaign, but it would also help Manafort line up his next gig and (probably) get out of debt to Deripaska.

MR. WEISSMANN: So, I don’t think the Court needs to reach that issue, and I don’t know that we’ve presented evidence on the — that issue.

THE COURT: You didn’t. So you just don’t want me to think about it, that’s okay.

MR. WEISSMANN: No. No. No. I’m going to answer your question.

THE COURT: All right.

MR. [WEISSMANN]: I’m just trying to, first, deal with what’s in the record. And I think that in the grand jury, Mr. Manafort said that from his perspective, [redacted], which he admitted at that point was with — he understood that it was going to be given by [redacted] to the [redacted; Ukrainian Oligarchs] and to Mr. [redacted; possibly Deripaska], both. That from his perspective, it was — there was no downside — I’m paraphrasing — it was sort of a win-win. That there was nothing — there was no negatives.

And I think the Government agrees with that, that that was — and, again, you’re just asking for our — if we are theorizing, based on what we presented to you, that we agree that that was a correct assessment.

But, again, for purposes of what’s before you on this issue, what his ultimate motive was on what he thought was going to be [redacted] I don’t think is before you as one of the lies that we’re saying that he told.

It’s more that what he specifically said was, he denied that he had told Mr. Gates [redacted; to bring the polling data to the meeting]. That he would not, in fact, have [redacted] and that he left it to [redacted].

Weissmann then goes on to allege that Manafort lied about sharing this polling data because if he didn’t, it would ruin his chance of getting a pardon.

And our view is, that is a lie. That that is really under — he knew what the Gates 302s were. It’s obviously an extremely sensitive issue. And the motive, I think, is plain from the [redacted], is we can see — we actually have — we can see what it is that he would be worried about, which is that the reaction to the idea that [long redaction] would have, I think, negative consequences in terms of the other motive that Mr. Manafort could have, which is to at least augment his chances for a pardon.

And the proof with respect to that is not just Mr. Gates. So that I will say there’s no contrary evidence to Mr. Gates, but you don’t have just Mr. Gates’s information. You have a series of emails where we know that Mr. Kilimnik, in fact, is reporting [redacted]

And probably the best piece of evidence is you have Mr. Manafort asking Mr. Gates to [redacted; print out polling data]. So, it’s — there’s — from three weeks ago, saying: [redacted].

In an effort to understand why this lie was important, ABJ returns to Manafort’s motive again, which leads Weissmann to point out that the question of why Manafort shared the polling data goes to the core of their inquiry.

THE COURT: I understand why it’s false. And I’m not sure I understand what you said at the beginning, that you — and I understand why you’ve posited that he might not want to be open about this, given the public scrutiny that foreign contacts were under at the time. But, I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying where you say you agree with him when he said it had no downside.

So, this is an important falsehood because it was false? Or is there some larger reason why this is important?

MR. WEISSMANN: So — so, first, in terms of the what it is that the special counsel is tasked with doing, as the Court knows from having that case litigated before you, is that there are different aspects to what we have to look at, and one is Russian efforts to interfere with the election, and the other is contacts, witting or unwitting, by Americans with Russia, and then whether there was — those contacts were more intentional or not. And for us, the issue of [redacted] is in the core of what it is that the special counsel is supposed to be investigating.

My answer, with respect to the Court’s question about what it is — what the defendant’s intent was in terms of what he thought [redacted] I was just trying to answer that question, even though that’s not one of the bases for saying there was a lie here. And so I was just trying to answer that question.

And what I meant by his statement that there’s no downside, is that can you imagine multiple reasons for redacted; sharing polling data]. And I think the only downside —

Weissmann ultimately explains that there was no downside to Manafort to sharing the polling data during the campaign, but there was a downside (angering Trump and therefore losing any hope of a pardon) to the information coming out now.

THE COURT: You meant no downside to him?

MR. WEISSMANN: Yes.

THE COURT: You weren’t suggesting that there was nothing — there’s no scenario under which this could be a bad thing?

MR. WEISSMANN: Oh, sorry. Yes. I meant there was no downside — Mr. Manafort had said there was no downside to Mr. Manafort doing it.

THE COURT: That was where I got confused.

MR. WEISSMANN: Sorry.

THE COURT: All right.

MR. WEISSMANN: And meaning all of this is a benefit. The negative, as I said, was it coming out that he did this.

In her breach ruling, ABJ agreed that Manafort’s sharing of polling data was a key question in Mueller’s inquiry, as it was an intentional link to Russia. She establishes this by noting that Manafort knew the polling data would be shared with someone in Russia (probably Deripaska; though note, this is where ABJ gets the nationality of the two Ukranian oligarchs wrong, which Mueller subsequently corrected her on).

Also, the evidence indicates that it was understood that [redacted] would be [redacted] from Kilimnik [redacted] including [redacted], and [redacted]. Whether Kilimnik is tied to Russian intelligence or he’s not, I think the specific representation by the Office of Special Counsel was that he had been, quote, assessed by the FBI, quote, to have a relationship with Russian intelligence, close quote. Whether that’s true, I have not been provided with the evidence that I would need to decide, nor do I have to decide because it’s outside the scope of this hearing. And whether it’s true or not, one cannot quibble about the materiality of this meeting.

In other words, I disagree with the defendant’s statement in docket 503, filed in connection with the dispute over the redactions, that, quote, the Office of Special Counsel’s explanation as to why Mr. Manafort’s alleged false statements are important and material turns on the claim that he is understood by the FBI to have a relationship with Russian intelligence.

I don’t think that’s a fair characterization of what was said. The intelligence reference was just one factor in a series of factors the prosecutor listed. And the language of the appointment order, “any links,” is sufficiently broad to get over the relatively low hurdle of materiality in this instance, and to make the [redacted] Kilimnik and [redacted] material to the FBI’s inquiry, no matter what his particular relationship was on that date.

Elsewhere, in discussing Manafort’s efforts to downplay Kilimnik’s role in his own witness tampering, ABJ refers to Kilimnik as Manafort’s “Russian conspirator.”

Earlier in the hearing ABJ notes that Manafort’s excuse for why he forgot details of the August 2 meeting only reinforce the likelihood that he shared the polling data to benefit the campaign.

You can’t say you didn’t remember that because your focus at the time was on the campaign. That relates to the campaign. And he wasn’t too busy to arrange and attend the meeting and to send Gates [redacted] that very day. It’s problematic no matter how you look at it.

If he was, as he told me, so single-mindedly focused on the campaign, then the meeting he took time to attend and had [redacted] had a purpose [redacted; to benefit the campaign]. Or, if it was just part of his effort to [redacted; line up the next job], well, in that case he’s not being straight with me about how single-minded he was. It’s not good either way.

She further notes that Manafort took this meeting with his Russian partner in Ukrainian influence peddling even though he was already under press scrutiny for those Ukrainian ties.

[T]he participants made it a point of leaving separate because of the media attention focused at that very time on Manafort’ relationships with Ukraine.

Her ruling also explains at length why sharing polling data would be useful to Kilimnik, citing from Rick Gates’ 302s at length.

In other words, these two filings — to say nothing of the backup provided in the January 15 submission, which includes all but one of Gates’ 302s describing the sharing of the polling data — lay out in some detail the evidence that Manafort clandestinely met with Konstantin Kilimnik on August 2, 2016, in part to share polling data he knew would be passed on to at least one other Russian, probably Deripaska.

And here’s why that’s interesting.

Back in early March, the WaPo moved to liberate all the documents about Manafort’s breach determination. On March 19, Mueller attorneys Adam Jed and Michael Dreeben asked for an extension to April 1, citing the “press of other work.”

The government respectfully requests an extension of time—through and including April 1, 2019—to respond to the motion. The counsel responsible for preparing the response face the press of other work and require additional time to consult within the government.

Three days later, Mueller announced he was done, and submitted his report to Barr. Then, on March 25, all of Mueller’s attorneys withdrew from Manafort’s case, which they haven’t done in other cases (the main pending cases are Mike Flynn, Concord Management, and Roger Stone). Then, on March 27, Mueller and Jonathan Kravis, the AUSA taking over a bunch of Mueller’s cases, asked for another extension, specifically citing the hand-off to Kravis and two others in the DC US Attorney’s Office.

The government respectfully requests a further two-week extension of time—to and including April 15, 2019—to respond to the motion. The Special Counsel’s Office has been primarily handling this matter. On March 22, the Special Counsel announced the end of his investigation and submitted a report to the Attorney General. This matter is being fully transitioned to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Because of this transition, additional time will be required to prepare a response.

On March 29, Barr wrote the Judiciary Leadership and told them he’d release his redacted version of the Mueller report — which he’ll be redacting with the Mueller’s team — by mid-April, so around April 15.

So there are currently two parallel efforts considering whether to liberate the details of Manafort’s sharing of polling data with Kilimnik and through him Russia:

  • The Barr-led effort to declassify a report that Mueller says does not exonerate Trump for obstruction, including the floating of a pardon to Manafort that (in Weissmann’s opinion) led Manafort to lie that and why he shared Trump campaign polling data to be passed on to Russians, which will be done around April 15
  • The DC USAO-led effort to unseal the materials on Manafort’s lies, for which there is a status report due on April 15

Kevin Downing — the Manafort lawyer whose primary focus has been on preserving Manafort’s bid for a pardon — already expressed some concern about how the breach documents would be unsealed, to which ABJ sort of punted (while suggesting that she’d entertain precise the press request now before her.

MR. DOWNING: Your Honor, just one other general question: How are we going to handle the process of unredacted down the road? I mean, there’s been a lot of redactions in this case, and the law enforcement basis for it or ongoing grand jury investigations. What is going to be the process to — is the Office of Special Counsel going to notify the Court that the reason stated for a particular redaction no longer exists, or still survives? Is it going to be some sort of process that we can put in place?

THE COURT: Well, in one case, I know with all the search warrants, it was an evolving process. There were things that were withheld from you and then you got them but they were still withheld from the press and then the press got them. But usually things have to be triggered by a motion or request by someone. There may be reasons related to the defense for everything to stay the way it is.

I, right now, without knowing with any particularity what it is that you’re concerned about, or if — and not having the press having filed anything today, asking for anything, I don’t know how to answer that question. But I think that is something that comes up in many cases, cases that were sealed get unsealed later. And if there’s something that you think should be a part of the public record that was sealed and there’s no longer any utility for it, obviously you could first find out if it’s a joint motion and, if not, then you file a motion.

But for now, the prosecutors in DC will be in charge of deciding how much of the information — information that Barr might be trying to suppress, not least because it’s the clearest known evidence how a floated pardon prevented Mueller from fully discovering whether Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia — will come out in more detail via other means.

Update: And now, over a month after Mueller’s correction, three weeks after sentencing, and a week after the entire Mueller team moved on, Manafort submitted his motion for reconsideration from Marc. They’re still fighting about redactions.

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. 

Oleg Deripaska’s Co-Columnist Admits Oleg Deripaska May Have Fed Christopher Steele Disinformation

As early as March 2017, I have been suggesting that first, the last report, and, as time went on, much of the Steele dossier was disinformation.

Chuck Ross is now reporting, giving Daniel Hoffman primary credit for the idea, that the dossier may all have been disinformation. In his piece, he cites several of the ways I have suggested that the Russians would have learned and been able to insert disinformation into Steele’s reporting chain.

Hoffman asserted Russians could easily have learned about Steele’s efforts to collect intelligence on Trump, especially if Russian intelligence had hacked into the computer systems of the DNC, as Mueller has alleged.

The DNC and Clinton campaign hired opposition research firm Fusion GPS during the spring of 2016. Fusion hired Steele in June 2016. During the run-up to the election, Steele and Fusion GPS executives briefed DNC lawyers, reporters and government officials on the Trump investigation. Any emails or documents referring to the Steele project in the DNC computer systems would have been vulnerable to Kremlin-backed hackers.

Steele was also likely on Russia’s radar because of his past work as MI6’s Moscow station chief. Though Steele left British intelligence in 2009 and has not visited Russia since, his private intelligence firm, Orbis Business Intelligence, has handled Russia-related issues. He also provided dozens of private intelligence reports to the State Department, and investigated Russian efforts to bribe FIFA officials to host the 2018 World Cup.

Steele also has a murky business relationship with Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Deripaska had long done business with Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman.

In this post I suggested the GRU (or FSB) may have learned about the dossier project from the hack itself.

I have reason to suspect that Russia obtained — and used — a list of recent FBI informants in developing their operation, which would likely have included Steele.

In this post, I suggested Deripaska may have been a likely Steele source.

But Chuck doesn’t consider the implications of it. I lay out here how the dossier’s contents would have led.

  • Democrats to misunderstand how accomplished the Russians were at hacking American targets
  • The FBI and Democrats to misunderstand how Internet trolling worked
  • Democrats to assume Russia planned to leak dated intercepts rather than recently stolen emails
  • The FBI and Democrats to look at Carter Page rather than Don Jr as a key player in outreach to Russia
  • The FBI to assume there was discomfort with the operation when there was ongoing aggressiveness

There’s one that deserves further attention (particularly for a guy whose outlet has given Deripaska a platform to spew propaganda): what the dossier says about Paul Manafort.

Sometime between July 22 and July 30, 2016, Steele would submit a report that claimed Paul Manafort was in

Speaking in confidence to a compatriot in late July 2016, Source E, an ethnic Russian close associate of Republican US presidential candidate Donald TRUMP, admitted that there was a well-developed conspiracy of co-operation between them and the Russian leadership. This was managed on the TRUMP side by the Republican candidate’s campaign manager, Paul MANAFORT, who was using foreign policy advisor, Carter PAGE, and others as intermediaries.

Weeks before this report, Manafort had been in contact with Konstantin Kilimnik about using briefings on the Trump campaign to get whole with Deripaska. Days after this report, Manafort met clandestinely with Kilimnik in New York to walk him through the campaign’s polling data (which Kilimnik passed on, almost certainly to Deripaska). At the same meeting, Manafort talked about a “peace” deal that would amount to giving Russia everything it wanted in Ukraine. The Ukraine discussions would go through 2018.

The allegation that Paul Manafort was conspiring on election interference is the closest thing in the entire dossier to being true (though probably not the Carter Page part), though it seems clear he was not in command of what the Russians were doing.

That’s important because as the frothy right has been obsessing about for a year, Steele had been pursuing a belief, dating back to February 2016, that Deripaska was ready to flip on Russia. And we know from the transcript of the interview Bruce Ohr did with OGR and HJC that by July 30, 2016, Deripaska’s lawyer had told Steele about Manafort’s debt to Deripaska and was pursuing efforts to recoup it, and Steele had raised the issue with Bruce Ohr on July 30.

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.

So we know at about the same time as Steele did this report, he was in touch with Deripaska’s lawyer, if not Deripaska himself, and believed that Deripaska could be trusted to undermine Putin’s interests.

Now consider the substance of one of the most discredited parts of the dossier: that Michael Cohen went to Prague to meet with Russia. The initial story — the one told in three versions in October, after details of the dossier had already started getting leaked to the press — was not that Cohen was coordinating on the hack-and-leak, but that he was trying to clean up after Manafort (and Page).

According to the Kremlin insider, [Michael] COHEN now was heavily engaged in a cover up and damage limitation operation in the attempt to prevent the full details of TRUMP’s relationship with Russian being exposed. In pursuit of this aim, COHEN had met secretly with several Russian Presidential Administration (PA) Legal Department officials in an EU country in August 2016. The immediate issues had been to contain further scandals involving MANNAFORT’s [sic] commercial and political role in Russia/Ukraine and to limit the damage arising from exposure of former TRUMP foreign policy advisor, Carter PAGE’s secret meetings with Russian leadership figures in Moscow the previous month.

In reality, at precisely that time, Deripaska aide Kilimnik was working with Rick Gates and Manafort to keep their ties with Ukraine buried.

For example, on August 15, 2016, a member of the press e-mailed Manafort and copied a spokesperson for the Trump campaign to solicit a comment for a forthcoming story describing his lobbying. Gates corresponded with Manafort about this outreach and explained that he “provided” the journalist “information on background and then agreed that we would provide these answers to his questions on record.” He then proposed a series of answers to the journalist’s questions and asked Manafort to “review the below and let me know if anything else is needed,” to which Manafort replied, in part, “These answers look fine.” Gates sent a materially identical message to one of the principals of Company B approximately an hour later and “per our conversation.” The proposed answers Gates conveyed to Manafort, the press, and Company B are those excerpted in the indictment in paragraph 26.

An article by this member of the press associating Manafort with undisclosed lobbying on behalf of Ukraine was published shortly after Gates circulated the Manafort-approved false narrative to Company B and the member of the press. Manafort, Gates, and an associate of Manafort’s corresponded about how to respond to this article, including the publication of an article to “punch back” that contended that Manafort had in fact pushed President Yanukovych to join the European Union. Gates responded to the punch-back article that “[w]e need to get this out to as many places as possible. I will see if I can get it to some people,” and Manafort thanked the author by writing “I love you! Thank you.” Manafort resigned his position as chairman of the Trump campaign within days of the press article disclosing his lobbying for Ukraine.

Manafort’s role with the Trump campaign is thus relevant to his motive for undertaking the charged scheme to conceal his lobbying activities on behalf of Ukraine. Here, it would be difficult for the jury to understand why Manafort and Gates began crafting and disseminating a false story regarding their Ukrainian lobbying work nearly two years after that work ceased—but before any inquiry by the FARA Unit—without being made aware of the reason why public scrutiny of Manafort’s work intensified in mid-2016. Nor would Manafort’s motives for continuing to convey that false information to the FARA Unit make sense: having disseminated a false narrative to the press while his position on the Trump campaign was in peril, Manafort either had to admit these falsehoods publicly or continue telling the lie.

That’s part of what Manafort’s crime wave in fall 2016 was about, hiding his ties with Ukraine. He continued to lie about that as recently as November, when he was supposed to be cooperating.

If Deripaska was a source for Steele — and it seems inconceivable that Steele would be pitching Deripaska to the FBI as a source if he himself wasn’t relying on Deripaska — then the dossier’s coverage of Manafort is particularly interesting. Because it would suggest that Deripaska exposed Manafort in real time, just days before he would engage in what remains the biggest smoking gun act of the campaign, giving polling data to be passed on to Russia. But then he invented a cover story that hid his own role in the ongoing coverup.

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.