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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump’s win was an unexpected bonus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which brings us to this moment.

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

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

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

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

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

Yesterday, Trump hailed Putin’s actions as genius.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Paulie Plot in Ukraine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wheeler: Yeah yeah yeah. Yup.

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

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

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

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

Wemple: Unquestionably, no question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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


Danchenko posts

The Igor Danchenko Indictment: Structure

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

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

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

Source 6A: John Durham’s Twitter Charges

John Durham: Destroying the Purported Victims to Save Them

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

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

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

On CIPA and Sequestration: Durham’s Discovery Deadends

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

On CIPA and Sequestration: Durham’s Discovery Deadends

In this post, I laid out the range of highly classified or other potentially unavailable information that Igor Danchenko will be able to make a credible claim to need to defend himself against charges he knowingly lied to the FBI.

That list includes:

  • Details about a Section 702 directive targeting Danchenko’s friend, Olga Galkina
  • Extensive details about Sergei Millian’s Twitter account, including proof that Millian was always the person running it
  • Details of the counterintelligence investigation into Millian
  • Materials relating to Millian’s cultivation, in the same weeks as a contested phone call between Danchenko and Millian, of George Papadopoulos
  • Evidence about whether Oleg Deripaska was Christopher Steele’s client for a project targeting Paul Manafort before the DNC one
  • All known details of Deripaska’s role in injecting disinformation into the dossier, up through current day
  • Details of all communications between Deripaska and Millian
  • Details of the counterintelligence investigation into Carter Page
  • Both the FISA applications targeting Page and the underlying discussions about them
  • FISA-obtained collection that is helpful and material to Danchenko’s defense, including all substantive collection incriminating Page obtained before Danchenko’s January interviews, and all intelligence relating to the specific alleged lies in the indictment
  • Materials relating to FBI’s attempt to corroborate the dossier, including materials from Page’s FISA collection that either corroborated or undermined it

As I noted, I know of no prior case where a defendant has had notice of two separate FISA orders as well as a sensitive ongoing counterintelligence investigation and a credible claim to need that information to mount a defense. Durham has committed to potentially impossible discovery obligations, all to prosecute five (or maybe two) lies that aren’t even alleged to have willingly obstructed an investigation. For reasons I lay out below, Durham may not, legally, be able to do that.

To be quite clear: that Danchenko can make a credible claim to need this stuff doesn’t mean he’ll get it, much less be permitted to present it at trial. But, particularly given that the two FISA orders and the counterintelligence investigations have all been acknowledged, DOJ can’t simply pretend they don’t have the evidence. For perhaps the first time ever, DOJ doesn’t get to decide whether to rely on FISA information at trial, because the indictment was written to give the defense good cause to demand it.

Still, much of this stuff will be dealt with via the Classified Information Proecdures Act, CIPA. CIPA is a process that purports to give the government a way to try prosecutions involving classified information, balancing discovery obligations to a defendant with the government’s need to protect classified information. (Here’s another description of how it works.)

Effectively, Danchenko will come up with a list similar to the one above of classified information he believes exists that he needs to have to mount a defense. The government will likewise identify classified information that it believes Danchenko is entitled to under discovery rules. And then the judge — Anthony Trenga, in this case — decides what is material and helpful to Danchenko’s defense. Then the government has the ability to “substitute” language for anything too classified to publicly release, some of it before ever sharing with the defendant, the rest after a hearing including the defense attorneys about what an adequate substitution is.

Here’s a fragment of an exhibit from the Joshua Schulte case that shows the end product of the CIPA process: The CIA was able to replace the name of a vendor the CIA used (presumably as a cover) with the generic word, “vendor,” thereby preventing others from definitively attributing the cover with the CIA. It replaced the description of those who would use the hacking tool with “operators.” Elsewhere, the same exhibit replaced the name of one of Schulte’s colleagues. It redacted several other words entirely.

Here are some more exhibits — CIA Reports submitted at the Jeffrey Sterling trial — that show the outcome of the CIPA process.

On top of the fact that CIPA adds a way for the government to impose new roadblocks on discovery (and discovery only begins after a defendants’ attorneys are cleared), it can end up postponing the time when the defendant actually gets the evidence he will use at trial. So it generally sucks for defendants.

But the process is also onerous for the prosecutor. Basically, the prosecutor has to work with classification authorities from the agency or agencies that own particular classified information and cajole them to release enough information to get past the CIPA review. In my earlier post, I described that Patrick Fitzgerald had to do this with the Presidential Daily Briefs, and it took him several attempts before he had declassified enough information to satisfy Judge Reggie Walton that it provided Scooter Libby with the means to make his defense. If the agency involved in the CIPA process hasn’t totally bought off on the importance of the prosecution, they’re going to make the process harder. Often, the incentive for agencies to cooperate stems from the fact that the defendant is accused of leaking secrets that the agency in question wants to avenge.

Because the process is so onerous, DOJ works especially hard to get defendants to plead before the CIPA process, and often because the defendant is facing the kind of stiff sentence that comes with Espionage charges, CIPA makes it more likely they’ll plead short of trial.

Those two details already make Danchenko’s trial different from most CIPA cases. That’s true, first of all, because Danchenko never had any agency secrets, and prosecutors will be forced to persuade multiple agencies (at least the FBI and NSA, and possibly CIA and Treasury) to give a Russian national secrets even though his prosecution will set no example against leaking for the agencies. Indeed, the example Danchenko will be setting, instead, is that the FBI doesn’t honor its commitments to keep informant identities safe. Additionally, there’s little reason for Danchenko to plead guilty, as the punishment on five 18 USC 1001 charges would not be much different than one charge (remember, Kevin Clinesmith got probation for his 18 USC 1001 conviction), and Danchenko would still face deportation after he served any sentence, where he’s likely to face far greater retaliation than anything US prisons would pose. That will influence the CIPA process, too, as a successful prosecution would likely result in the Russian government coercing access to whatever secrets that intelligence agencies disclose to Danchenko during the prosecution.

CIPA always skews incentives, but this case skews incentives differently than other CIPA cases.

Add in that Judge Trenga, the judge in this case, has been pondering CIPA issues of late in the case of Bijan Kian, Mike Flynn’s former partner, who was prosecuted on Foreign Agent charges. Trenga was long unhappy with the way DOJ charged Kian’s case, and grew increasingly perturbed with DOJ’s attempts to salvage the case after Flynn reneged on his cooperation agreement. Trenga overturned the jury’s guilty verdict, but was subsequently reversed on that decision by the Fourth Circuit. Since then, Kian has been demanding two things: more access to classified materials underlying evidence he was given pursuant to the CIPA process right before trial showing previously undisclosed contacts between Flynn and Ekim Alptekin not involving Kian, and a new trial, partly based on late and inadequate disclosure of that CIPA information.

Following a series of ex parte hearings regarding classified evidence pursuant to the Confidential Information Procedures Act (“CIPA”), the government, on the eve of trial, handed Rafiekian a one-sentence summary, later introduced as Defendant’s Exhibit 66 (“DX66”), informing Rafiekian that the government was aware of classified evidence relating to interactions between Flynn and Alptekin that did not “refer[] to” Rafiekian. DX66.1 Following receipt of DX66, Rafiekian immediately sought access to the underlying information pursuant to CIPA because “[i]t goes right to the question of what happened and what he knew and what statements were made and who was making them,” and “[i]f Mr. Rafiekian is convicted without his counsel having access to this exculpatory evidence, we believe it will go right to the heart of his due process and confrontation rights.” Hr’g Tr. 31 (Jul. 12, 2019), ECF No. 309. The Court took the request under advisement, noting that it “underst[ood] the defense’s concern and w[ould] continue to consider whether additional disclosure of information” would be necessary as the case developed. Id. at 32. At trial, the government used DX66 in its rebuttal argument in closing to show that Rafiekian participated in the alleged conspiracy—“even though the information in that exhibit related solely to Flynn and explicitly excluded Rafiekian.” Rafiekian, 2019 WL 4647254, at *17.

1 DX66 provides in full: The United States is in possession of multiple, independent pieces of information relating to the Turkish government’s efforts to influence United States policy on Turkey and Fethullah Gulen, including information relating to communications, interactions, and a relationship between Ekim Alptekin and Michael Flynn, and Ekim Alptekin’s engagement of Michael Flynn because of Michael Flynn’s relationship with an ongoing presidential campaign, without any reference to the defendant or FIG.

With regards to the first request, Trenga has ruled that Kian can’t have the underlying classified information, because (under CIPA’s guidelines) the judge determined that, “the summary set forth in DX Exhibit 66 provides the Defendant with substantially the same ability to make his defense as would disclosure of the specific classified information.” But his decision on the second issue is still pending and Trenga seems quite open to Kian’s request for a new trial. So Danchenko and Durham begin this CIPA process years into Trenga’s consideration about how CIPA affects due process in the Kian case. I don’t otherwise expect Trenga to be all that sympathetic to Danchenko, but if Trenga grants Kian a new trial because of the way prosecutors gained an unfair advantage with the CIPA process (by delaying disclosure of a key fact), it will be a precedent for and hang over the CIPA process in the Danchenko case.

Then there are unique challenges Durham will face even finding everything he has to provide Danchenko under Brady. In the Michael Sussmann case, I’ve seen reason to believe Durham doesn’t understand the full scope of where he needs to look to find evidence relevant to that case. But given the centrality of investigative decisions in the Danchenko case — and so the Mueller investigation — to Durham’s materiality claims, Durham will need to make sure he finds everything pertaining to Millian, Papadopoulos, and Kiliminik and Deripaska arising out of the Mueller case. In the case of Steve Calk, that turned out to be more difficult than prosecutors initially imagined.

But all of these things — the multiple sensitive investigations relevant to Danchenko’s defense, normal CIPA difficulties, unique CIPA difficulties, and the challenges of understanding the full scope of the Mueller investigation — exist on top of another potential problem: DOJ doesn’t control access to some of the most important evidence in this case.

As I noted in my earlier post, there are multiple things FBI obtained by targeting Carter Page that Danchenko will be able to demand to defend himself against Durham’s materiality claims. For example, FBI obtained information under FISA that seems to undercut Page’s claims that he didn’t meet with Igor Diveykin, a claim Danchenko sourced to Olga Galkina, who is central to Durham’s materiality claims.

If this information really does show that Page was lying about his activities in Russia, it would provide proof that after the initial FISA order, FBI had independent reason to target Page.

Similarly, FBI believed that Page’s explanation for how he destroyed the phone he was using in Fall 2016 was an excuse made up after he knew he was being investigated; that belief seems to be based, in part, on information obtained under FISA.

The FBI’s suspicions about that broken phone seem to be related to their interest in collecting on an encrypted messaging app Page used, one of the two reasons why FBI sought reauthorization to target Page in June 2017. Danchenko will need this information to prove that the June 2017 reauthorization was driven entirely by a desire to get certain financial and encrypted communication evidence, and so could not have been affected by Danchenko’s May and June 2017 interviews.

Information obtained from targeting Page under FISA will similarly be central to Danchenko’s defense against Durham’s claims that his alleged lies prevented FBI from vetting the dossier. That’s because the spreadsheet that FBI used to vet the dossier repeatedly relied on FISA-collected information to confirm or rebut the dossier. Some of that pertains to whether Page met with Igor Diveykin, an allegation Danchenko sourced to Olga Galkina, making it central to his defense in this case.

Other FISA-collected material was used to vet the Sergei Millian claim, which Durham charged in four of five counts.

Some of this may not be exculpatory (though some of it clearly would be). But it is still central to the case against Danchenko.

The thing is, Durham may not be legally able to use this information in Danchenko’s prosecution, and even if he is, it will further complicate the CIPA process.

Back on January 7, 2020, James Boasberg — acting in his role as the then-presiding FISA Judge — ordered that the FBI adopt limits on the use of any information obtained via the four Carter Page FISA orders. Such orders are one of the only tools that the FISA Court has to prohibit the use of information that the Executive collects but later determines did not comply with FISA (the government only retracted the probable cause claims for the third and fourth FISA orders targeting Page, but agreed to sequester all of it). A subsequent government filing belatedly obtaining permission to use material obtained via those FISA orders in conjunction with Carter Page’s lawsuit laid out the terms of that sequester. It revealed that, according to a June 25, 2020 FISA order, the government can only legally use material obtained under those FISA orders for the following purposes:

  1. Certain identified ongoing third-party litigation pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
  2. Ongoing and anticipated FOIA and civil litigation with Page
  3. FBI review of the conduct of its personnel involved in the Page investigation
  4. DOJ OIG monitoring of the implementation of one of the recommendations stemming from the OIG Report
  5. The review of the conduct of Government personnel in the Page and broader Crossfire Hurricane investigations [my emphasis]

On November 23, 2020, Boasberg issued a follow-up order in response to learning, on October 21, 2020, that DOJ had already shared sequestered FISA information with the US Attorney for Eastern Missouri (the Jeffrey Jensen review), the US Attorney for DC (possibly, though not certainly, the Durham case), and the Senate Judiciary Committee (FISC may have learned of the latter release when the vetting spreadsheet was publicly released days before DOJ informed FISC of that fact). Effectively, Bill Barr’s DOJ had confessed to the FISA Court that it had violated FISA by disseminating FISA-collected information later deemed to lack probable cause without first getting FISC approval. Boasberg ordered DOJ to “dispossess” the MOE USAO and DC USAO of the sequestered information and further ordered that those US Attorneys, “shall not access materials returned to the FBI … without the prior approval of the Court.”

There’s no evidence that Durham obtained approval to access this information (though DOJ applications to FISC often don’t get declassified, so it’s not clear it would show up in the docket). And when I asked DOJ whether Durham had obtained prior approval to access this sequestered information even for his own review, much less for use in a prosecution, I got no response. While accessing the sequestered material for review of the conduct of Government personnel is among those permitted by the original order (bolded above), using it to review the conduct of non-governmental sources like Danchenko was not, to say nothing of prosecuting such non-governmental sources. To get approval to use sequestered information in the Danchenko case, Durham would have to convince FISC to let Durham share such information with a foreign national whose prosecution would lead to his deportation to Russia. And if he shared the information without FISC approval, then Durham himself would be violating FISA.

To be sure, it would be the most unbelievable kind of malpractice to charge the Danchenko case without, first, ascertaining how Durham was going to get this sequestered information. I’d be shocked if Durham hadn’t gotten approval first. But then, I was shocked that when Durham charged Kevin Clinesmith, he didn’t know what crimes FBI investigated Page for. I am shocked that Durham used Sergei Millian’s Twitter feed to substantiate a factual claim that Millian didn’t speak with Danchenko. So who knows? Maybe Durham has not yet read this evidence, to say nothing of ensuring he can share it with a Russian national in discovery. It would shock me, but I’m growing used to being shocked by Durham’s recklessness.

In any case, depending on what the FISC has decided about disseminating — and making public — this sequestered information, it will, at the very least, create additional challenges for Durham. Durham couldn’t just assert that DOJ IG had determined that the this information was not incriminating to Page and therefore not helpful to Danchenko to avoid sharing the sequestered FISA information. Under CIPA, Judge Trenga would need to review the information himself and assess whether information obtained under Page’s FISA was material and helpful to Danchenko’s defense. If he decided that Danchenko was entitled to it in his defense, then Durham might have to fight not just with FBI and NSA to determine an adequate substitution for that information, but also FISC itself.

CIPA assumes that the Executive owns the classification decisions regarding any information to be presented at trial, and therefore the Executive gets to balance the value of the prosecution against the damage declassifying the information would do. Here, as with Fitzgerald, a Special Counsel will be making those decisions, setting up a potential conflict with all the agencies that may object. But here, FISC has far more interest in the FISA information than it would if (say) it were just approving the use of FISA-obtained material to prosecute the person targeted by that FISA.

Again, John Durham is going to have to declassify a whole bunch of sensitive information, including information sequestered to protect Carter Page, to give it to a foreign national who never had those secrets such that, if Durham succeeds at trial, it may lead inevitably to Russia obtaining that sensitive information. All that for five shoddily-charged false statements charges. This is the kind of challenge that a prosecutor exercising discretion would not take on.

But Durham doesn’t seem to care that he’s going to damage all the people he imagines are victims as well as national security by bringing this case to trial.

Danchenko posts

The Igor Danchenko Indictment: Structure

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

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

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

Source 6A: John Durham’s Twitter Charges

John Durham: Destroying the Purported Victims to Save Them

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

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

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

On CIPA and Sequestration: Durham’s Discovery Deadends

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

John Durham: Destroying the Purported Victims to Save Them

I’ve covered a great deal of prosecutions involving FISA materials. In just one — that of Reaz Qadir Khan — was the defendant able to use sensitivities around FISA to get a better plea deal (and in that case, there were extenuating circumstances, possibly including a dead FISA target and Stellar Wind collection). I also covered the Scooter Libby case, in which Libby attempted — and very nearly succeeded — in forcing prosecutors to dismiss the case by demanding the declassification of a slew of Presidential Daily Briefs. But even the Libby case may pale in comparison to the difficulties John Durham has signed up for in his prosecution of Igor Danchenko.

That’s true because Danchenko will credibly be able to demand materials from at least two FISA orders, as well as two other counterintelligence investigations, including a sensitive, multi-pronged, ongoing investigation, to defend himself.

Indeed, there’s even a chance DOJ cannot legally prosecute Danchenko in this case.

What follows is true regardless of whether Danchenko was indicted on shoddy evidence as part of a witch hunt or if Durham has Danchenko dead to rights defrauding the FBI to target Donald Trump. I remain agnostic which is the case (the truth is likely somewhere in-between). It is true regardless of whether Carter Page and Sergei Millian were truly victimized as a result of the Steele dossier, or whether they were reasonable counterintelligence targets whose investigations got blown up in a political firestorm.

This has everything to do with the prosecutorial discretion that Durham did not exercise in charging Danchenko (and because of some sloppiness in the way he did so) and nothing to do with Danchenko’s guilt or innocence or Page and Millian’s victimization.

Consider the following moves Durham made in his indictment:

  • He invoked Danchenko’s source, Olga Galkina, in his materiality claims and based his single charge pertaining to Charles Dolan on a June 15, 2017 FBI interview.
  • He relied on claims Sergei Millian made about interactions with Danchenko as part of his proof that Danchenko lied about his belief that he had spoken with Millian. Durham did so, apparently, based entirely on Millian’s currently public Twitter blatherings.
  • He made Carter Page’s FISA targeting — and its role in the investigation into Trump associates (which Durham recklessly called “the Trump campaign”) — central to his materiality claims.

Whether Igor Danchenko is a reckless smear agent or someone screwed by Christopher Steele’s own sloppiness, he is entitled to all the evidence pertaining to the full scope of the indictment, as well as any exculpatory evidence that could help him disprove Durham’s claims. One of the prosecutors in the case, Michael Keilty, already warned Judge Anthony Trenga, who is presiding over the case, that there will be “a vast amount of classified discovery” in this case. But if prosecutors haven’t vetted Millian any further than reading his Twitter feed, they may have no idea what discovery challenges they face.

There has never been a case like this one, relying on two already publicly identified FISA orders, so this is literally uncharted waters.

Durham’s Matryoshka Materiality Claims

Before I explain the challenges Durham faces, it’s worth explaining how Durham has used materiality in this indictment. Durham will have to prove not just that Danchenko lied, but that the lies were material.

The words “material” or “materiality” show up in the indictment 20 times, of which just one instance is used to mean “stuff” (in a misquotation of a Danchenko response to an FBI question stating, “related issues perhaps but … nothing specific”). Five are required in the charging language.

Maybe Durham focused so much making claims about materiality, in part, because he’s smarting about the way people made fun of him for his shoddy materiality claims in the Michael Sussmann indictment. But many of his discussions about the “materiality” of Danchenko’s alleged lies, both charged and uncharged, serve as a gratuitous way for Durham to include accusations in the indictment he didn’t charge. The tactic worked like a charm, as multiple journalists reported that things — particularly regarding the pee tape — were alleged or charged that were not. But now he’s on the hook for them in discovery.

Below, I’ve shown how these materiality claims form a nested set of allegations, such that even the materiality claims for uncharged conduct make up part of his overall materiality argument. I’m not, at all, contesting that Durham has a sound case that — if he can prove Danchenko lied — at least one of lies was material. While some of his materiality claims are provably false and some (such as the claims that Danchenko’s alleged lies about Millian in October and November 2017 mattered for FISA coverage that ended in September 2017) defy physics, the bar for materiality is low and he will clearly surpass it on some of his materiality claims.

The issue, however, is that Durham is now on the hook, with regards to discovery, for all of his materiality claims covering both the charged lies and the uncharged allegations. Danchenko may now demand evidence that undercuts these claims, even the ones that don’t relate directly to the charged lies.

The Section 702 directive targeting Olga Galkina

Durham makes two materiality claims pertaining to Danchenko’s friend, Olga Galkina, to whom he sourced all the discredited Michael Cohen reports and a claim about Carter Page’s meetings in July 2016:

  • That by lying about how indiscreet he was about his relationship with Christopher Steele, Danchenko prevented the FBI from learning that Russian spies might inject disinformation into the dossier through people like Galkina.
  • That by lying on June 15, 2017, Danchenko prevented the FBI from learning that Charles Dolan “maintained a pre-existing and ongoing relationship” with Galkina, which led Galkina to have access to senior Russian officials she wouldn’t otherwise have had. Dolan’s ties with Galkina also appear to have led to Galkina serving as a cut-out between Dolan and Danchenko for information for one of the reports (pertaining to the reassignment of a US Embassy staffer) in the dossier.

I’m unclear why Durham made these claims — possibly because it was one of the only ways to criminalize the way Dolan served as a source for reports that were unrelated to the Carter Page applications, possibly because he wanted to do so to dump HILLARY HILLARY HILLARY in the middle of his indictment. But both claims are false.

To prove the first is false, Danchenko will point to Durham’s miscitation of the question Danchenko was actually asked, his answer — “yes and no” — to a question Durham claims he answered “no” to, and to his descriptions, from his very first interview, of how Galkina knew he was collecting intelligence and had even, after the release of the dossier, tasked him with an intelligence collection request herself.

To prove the second is false, Danchenko will point to the declassified footnote in the DOJ IG Report showing that in “early June 2017” (and so, presumably before June 15), the FBI obtained 702 collection that (the indictment makes clear) reflects extensive communications between Dolan and Galkina.

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

It’s highly likely the FBI set up that June 15, 2017 interview with Danchenko precisely to ask him about things they learned via that Section 702 collection. Based on what Durham has said so far, Danchenko provided information about key details of the relationship between Galkina and Dolan in the interview, thereby validating that he was not hiding the relationship entirely.

Had Danchenko affirmatively lied about this in January or March 2017, rather than just not sharing this information, Durham might have a case. But by June 2017, the FBI was already sitting on that 702 collection (to say nothing of the contact tracing analysts would have used to justify the 702 directive). That’s almost certainly why they asked the question about Dolan.

So even if Durham could manage to avoid introducing, as evidence at trial, Danchenko’s communications with Galkina that the FBI would have first obtained under FISA 702, and thereby stave off the FISA notice process required for aggrieved persons under FISA, Danchenko is still going to have cause to make Durham admit a slew of things about that Section 702 directive targeting Galkina, including:

  • What kind of contact-tracing alerted the FBI and NSA that Galkina had US-cloud based communications that would be of investigative interest (because that contact-tracing, by itself, disproves Durham’s materiality claim)
  • What communications FBI obtained from that Section 702 order and when (because if they indeed had the Galkina-Dolan communications on June 15, then nothing Danchenko could have said impeded the FBI from discovering them)
  • The approval process behind the release of this Section 702 information to Inspector General Michael Horowitz, and then to Congress, which in turn presumably alerted Durham to it, and whether it complied with new requirements about unmasking imposed in 2018 in response to the Carter Page FISA and conspiracy theories about Mike Flynn (it surely did, because unmasking for FBI collections is not really a thing, but Danchenko will have reason to ask how Congress got the communications and from there, how Durham did)

None of this kind of information has been released to a defendant before, but all of it is squarely material to combatting the claim that the FBI didn’t know about Galkina’s communications with Dolan when they asked Danchenko a question precisely because they did know about those communications. And Danchenko has the right to ask for it because of that reference to Section 702 that Ron Johnson and Chuck Grassley insisted on declassifying.

The Sergei Millian counterintelligence investigation

The paragraph describing that Durham is relying on Sergei Millian’s Twitter rants as part of his evidence to prove that Danchenko lied five times about Millian (just four of which are charged) misspells Danchenko’s name, the single such misspelling in the indictment. [Update: Though see William Ockham’s comment below that notes there’s a different misspelling of Danchenko’s name elsewhere in the Millian part of the indictment.]

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

That makes me wonder whether it was added in at the last minute, after all the proof-reading, perhaps in response to a question from the grand jury or Durham’s supervisors. If it was, it might indicate that Durham didn’t really think through all the implications of invoking Millian as a fact witness against Danchenko.

But, unless Durham has rock-solid proof that Danchenko invented a call he claimed to believe had involved Millian altogether, then this reference now gives Danchenko cause to submit incredibly broad discovery requests about Millian to discredit Millian as a witness against him. Durham made no claim that he has such rock-solid proof in the indictment. As I’ve noted, Danchenko told the FBI he replaced his phone by the time the Bureau started vetting the Steele dossier, so to rule out that the call occurred, Durham probably would need to have obtained the phone and found sufficient evidence that survived a factory reset to rule out a Signal call.

Before I explain all the things Danchenko will have good reason to demand, let me review Durham’s explanation for why the alleged lies about Millian (Durham has charged separate lies on March 16, May 18, October 24, and November 16, 2017) were material:

Based on the foregoing, DANCHENKO’s lies to the FBI claiming to have received a late July 2016 anonymous phone call from an individual that DANCHENKO believed to be Chamber President-1 were highly material to the FBI because, among other reasons, the allegations sourced to Chamber President-1 by DANCHENKO formed the basis of a Company Report that, in turn, underpinned the aforementioned four FISA applications targeting a U.S. citizen (Advisor­ 1). Indeed, the allegations sourced to Chamber President-1 played a key role in the FBI’s investigative decisions and in sworn representations that the FBI made to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court throughout the relevant time period. Further, at all times relevant to this Indictment, the FBI continued its attempts to analyze, vet, and corroborate the information in the Company Reports. [my emphasis]

As I have noted above, it is temporally nonsensical to claim that lies Danchenko told in October and November 2017 “played a role in sworn representations that the FBI made to FISC” when the last such representation was made in June 2017. And Danchenko will be able to make a solid case that no matter what he said in March and May, it would have had no impact on the targeting of Carter Page, because as a 400-page report lays out in depth, really damning details about the Millian claim that Danchenko freely did share in January had no impact on the targeting of Carter Page. Even derogatory things Christopher Steele said about Millian in October 2016 never made any of the Page FISA applications. The DOJ IG has claimed and Judge Rosemary Collyer agreed that FBI was at fault for all this, because they weren’t integrating any of the new information learned from vetting the dossier. Danchenko might even be able to call a bunch of FBI witnesses who were fired as a result to prove they were held accountable for it and so he can’t be blamed.

So Durham will substantially have to rely on “investigative decisions” and FBI efforts to vet the dossier to prove that Danchenko’s claimed lies about Millian were material. And that will make the FBI investigations into Millian himself and George Papadopoulos relevant and helpful to Danchenko’s defense, because those are some of the investigative decisions at issue.

That’s not the only reason that Danchenko will be able to demand that DOJ share information on Millian. Durham has made Millian a fact witness against Danchenko, and — by relying on Millian’s Twitter feed — in the most ridiculous possible way. So Danchenko will be able to demand evidence that DOJ should possesses (but may not) that he can use to explain why Millian might lie about a call between the two.

Some things Danchenko will credibly be able to demand in discovery include:

  • Extensive details about Sergei Millian’s Twitter account. Durham presented Millian’s Twitter account to the grand jury as authoritative with regards to Millian’s denials of having any direct call with Danchenko. Danchenko has reason to ask Durham for an explanation why he did so, as well as a collection of all tweets that Millian has made going back to 2016 (most of which Millian has since deleted, some of which will raise questions about Millian’s sincerity and claimed knowledge of non-public information). In addition, because there have been questions (probably baseless, but nevertheless persistent) during this period about whether Millian was personally running his own Twitter campaign, Danchenko can present good cause to ask for the IP and log-in information for the entire period, either from the government or from Twitter. While it would be more of a stretch, Millian’s Twitter crowd includes some accounts that have been identified as inauthentic by Twitter and others that were involved in publicly exposing Danchenko’s identity; Danchenko might point to this as further evidence of Millian’s motives behind his Twitter rants. Finally, Danchenko will also have cause to ask how Millian got seeming advance notice of his own indictment if Durham’s investigators never bothered to put Millian before a grand jury.

  • Details of the counterintelligence investigation into Millian. After the first release of the DOJ IG Report, the FBI declassified parts of discussions of a counterintelligence investigation that the New York Field Office opened into Millian days before October 12, 2016. The IG Report describes that Millian was “previously known to the FBI,” and does not tie that CI investigation to any allegations that Fusion made against Millian (though I don’t rule it out). Danchenko will obviously be able to ask for access to the still-redacted parts of those IG Report references, because the same things (whatever they were) that led FBI to think Millian was a spy would be things that Danchenko could use to offer a motive for why Millian would lie about having spoken to Danchenko. Danchenko also has cause to ask for details from Millian’s own FBI file. The basis for that counterintelligence investigation, and any derogatory conclusions, would provide Danchenko means to raise questions about Millian’s credibility or at least alternative motives for Millian to claim no such call took place.
  • Details of how Millian cultivated George Papadopoulos. The IG Report also reveals that, even before the Carter Page application, the FBI was aware of the extensive ties between Millian and George Papadopoulos. Because Durham claims that Danchenko’s alleged lies — and not direct evidence pertaining to the relationship between Millian and Papadopoulos — drove the FBI’s investigative decisions from 2017 through the end of the Mueller investigation, Danchenko will have reason to ask for non-public details about some aspects of the Papadopoulos investigation, as well, not least because (as the Mueller Report makes clear) the initial contacts between Millian and Papadopoulos exactly parallel in time — and adopted the same proposed initial meeting approach — the initial contact and the call that Danchenko claimed to believe he had with Millian. If the July 2016 call he believes he had with Millian didn’t occur, Danchenko will be able to argue persuasively, then how did he know precisely where and how Millian would conduct such meetings a week in advance of the initial meeting, in New York, that Millian had with Papadopoulos?

The Office investigated another Russia-related contact with Papadopoulos. The Office was not fully able to explore the contact because the individual at issue-Sergei Millian-remained out of the country since the inception of our investigation and declined to meet with members of the Office despite our repeated efforts to obtain an interview. Papadopoulos first connected with Millian via Linked-In on July 15, 2016, shortly after Papadopoulos had attended the TAG Summit with Clovis.500 Millian, an American citizen who is a native of Belarus, introduced himself “as president of [the] New York-based Russian American Chamber of Commerce,” and claimed that through that position he had ” insider knowledge and direct access to the top hierarchy in Russian politics.”501 Papadopoulos asked Timofeev whether he had heard of Millian.502 Although Timofeev said no,503 Papadopoulos met Millian in New York City.504 The meetings took place on July 30 and August 1, 2016.505 Afterwards, Millian invited Papadopoulos to attend-and potentially speak at-two international energy conferences, including one that was to be held in Moscow in September 2016.506 Papadopoulos ultimately did not attend either conference.

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

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

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

John Durham claims that Sergei Millian is a victim. But by making Millian a fact witness against Danchenko, Durham has given Danchenko the opportunity to obtain and air a great many details about why a DOJ prosecutor should review more than Twitter rants before treating Millian as a credible fact witness.

The Oleg Deripaska counterintelligence and sanctions investigations

Durham has also provided Danchenko multiple reasons to request details of a counterintelligence investigation that is ongoing and remains far more sensitive than the Millian one: The investigation into Oleg Deripaska.

Oleg Deripaska was the most likely client for a tasking Steele gave Danchenko immediately before the DNC one, collecting on Paul Manafort. Danchenko credibly claimed to the FBI that he did not know what client had hired Steele. If Deripaska was that client, it would be relevant and helpful to Danchenko’s defense to understand why Deripaska hired Steele.

That’s true, in significant part, because Deripaska is also the most likely culprit behind any disinformation injected into the Steele dossier. Among other things, by asking Steele to collect on Manafort and then monitoring how Steele did that, Deripaska could have used it to identify Steele’s reporting network.

Durham blames Danchenko for hiding the possibility of disinformation with one of his (false) uncharged conduct claims, but the Deripaska angle, about which Danchenko claimed to have no visibility either in real time in 2016 or by 2017, when he is accused of lying, would be the more important angle. And we know they were aware of the possibility and trying to assess whether that was possible even as they were vetting the dossier. But, as Bill Priestap told DOJ IG, he couldn’t figure out how this would work.

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

Since Durham blamed Danchenko for hiding the possibility of disinformation when questions like these did more to impede such considerations, Danchenko has good reason to ask for anything assessing whether Deripaska did use the dossier as disinformation, not least because DOJ was getting ample information to pursue that angle before Danchenko’s first interview, via Bruce Ohr (for which DOJ fired Ohr).

There’s a Millian angle to Danchenko’s case he should get information on the counterintelligence investigation into Deripaska, too. At a time when Deripaska was already tasking both sides of his double game — using Christopher Steele to make Paul Manafort legally vulnerable and then using Manafort’s legal and financial vulnerability to entice his cooperation in the election operation — Deripaska and Millian met at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in June 2016, the same convention that Michael Cohen was invited to attend to pursue an impossibly lucrative Trump Tower deal and to which Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko repeatedly invited Trump (as this post makes clear, Mueller obtained only unsigned versions of Trump’s letter declining Prikhodko’s invitation).

Millian’s documented meeting with Deripaska during 2016 would provide Danchenko several reasons to want access to some of the investigative materials from the Deripaska investigations. First, if Millian and Deripaska had further contact, either in 2016, or since then, it would suggest that Millian’s denials that he called Danchenko may be part of the same disinformation strategy as any disinformation inserted via Deripaska-linked sources into the dossier itself.

If Millian had no ongoing relationship with Deripaska after they met up in June 2016, however, it suggests a possible alternate explanation for the call that, Danchenko consistently claimed in 2017, he believed to be Millian: That someone learned of Danchenko’s outreach (the Novosti journalists through whom Danchenko first got Millian’s contact information are one possible source of this information, but not the only one) and called Danchenko seemingly in response to Danchenko’s outreach to Millian as another way to inject disinformation into the dossier.

Finally, Danchenko may request information on Deripaska to unpack the provenance of the investigation against him altogether. After meeting with a Deripaska deputy in January 2017, Paul Manafort returned to the US and pushed a strategy to discredit the Russian investigation by discrediting the dossier, using Deripaska’s associate Konstantin Kilimnik to obtain information about its sources. That strategy adopted by Manafort is a strategy that has led, directly, to this Durham inquiry.

If Deripaska participated in any disinformation efforts involving the dossier and instructed Manafort to exploit the disinformation he knew had been planted — if this very investigation is the fruit of the same disinformation campaign that Durham blames Danchenko for hiding — then Danchenko would have good reason to make broad discovery requests about it.

DOJ has continued to redact Deripaska-related investigative detail under ongoing investigation exemptions. And Treasury refused Deripaska’s own attempt to learn why he was sanctioned. So it’s likely DOJ would want to guard these details closely.

But Deripaska’s key role in the Russian operation even as he was tasking Steele to harm Manafort, the tie between Millian and Deripaska, and the effort to use the dossier to discredit the Russian investigation make such requests directly relevant and helpful to Danchenko’s defense.

The Carter Page FISA Collection

This entire Durham investigation is, at least metonymically, an attempt to avenge Carter Page’s (and through him, Trump’s) purported victimization at the hands of the Steele dossier.

But even with Page, Durham’s materiality claims may expose Page to more scrutiny than he ever would have been without this case. Page may well have been victimized by the dossier itself, but Danchenko is not accused of any crime in conjunction with his collection related to the dossier. Instead, he is charged with lies to the FBI in March, May, October, and November 2017. There’s plenty of evidence in the 400-page DOJ IG Report that nothing Danchenko could have said in those earlier interviews could have altered FISA targeting decisions in April and June, and it would be impossible for lies told in October and November to have affected coverage that ended in September.

That means that Durham will have to provide Danchenko a great deal of information on the investigation into Page — including on Page’s willing sharing of non-public information with Russians in 2013, his seeming efforts to reestablish contact with the Russians in 2015, his enthusiastic pursuit of Russian funding to set up a think tank in 2016, and his ongoing connections in 2017 — to afford Danchenko the ability to argue that the dossier didn’t matter because, as a Republican Congressperson with access to all the intelligence told me in July 2018, the case for surveilling Page was a slam dunk even without it.

Providing Danchenko the Mueller materials will be the easy part. They would be helpful to Danchenko’s defense because they show that rumors about Page meeting Igor Sechin were circulating Moscow, not just among Steele’s sources; there was time during Page’s July 2016 trip to Moscow that was unaccounted for, even to those who organized his trip; and via the Page investigation, Mueller corroborated that Kirill Dimitriev (the guy who had a back channel meeting with Erik Prince) would be an important source on Russia’s tracking of Trump. Mueller materials will also show that the FBI came to suspect that one of the contacts involved in bringing Page to Russia in July 2016 was being recruited by Russian spies, providing independent reason to continue the investigation into Page. Mueller investigative materials will provide new details on Konstantin Kilimnik’s report to Paul Manafort that Page was claiming to speak on Trump’s behalf on his trip to Moscow in December 2016, something that may have exposed Trump as a victim of Page’s misrepresentations in Russia, which in turn, heightened the import of learning why Page was making such claims. Language from Mueller’s still-classified description of his decision not to charge Page as a Russian agent may also prove relevant and helpful to Danchenko’s defense.

But it’s not just the Mueller materials. To combat Durham’s claim that Danchenko’s claimed lies were material to the ongoing targeting of Carter Page in April and June 2017, the defendant obviously must be given access to substantial materials from Page’s FISA applications (October 2016, January 2017, April 2017, June 2017). Danchenko will be able to undercut Durham’s materiality arguments in at least two ways with these materials. First, as Andrew McCabe understood it, the first period of FISA collection was “very productive,” and others at FBI described that the collection showed Page’s, “access to individuals in Russia and [his communications] with people in the Trump campaign, which created a concern that Russia could use their influence with Carter Page to effect policy.” Danchenko can certainly ask for these discussions to argue that, even before he ever spoke to the FBI in January 2017, things the FBI learned by targeting Page under FISA created new reason to continue to task him, independent of the dossier.

Even more critically, redacted passages of the DOJ IG Report suggest that the decision to continue targeting Page in June 2017 stemmed almost entirely from a desire to get to financial and encrypted app information from Page that might not be otherwise available.

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

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

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

If declassified versions of this report (and the underlying back-up) confirm that, it means Danchenko’s alleged lies in May and June were virtually meaningless in ongoing decisions to target Page, because FBI would otherwise have detasked him if not for very specific accounts they wanted to target. Danchenko would need to be able to get declassified versions of that material to be able to make that argument.

Then there’s the FISA collection used to reauthorize FISA targeting on Page. There’s enough public about what FBI obtained for Danchenko to argue that he needs this collection to rebut the materiality claims Durham has made. For example, one redacted passage in reauthorization applications suggests that FBI learned information about whether Page’s break with the campaign was as significant as the campaign publicly claimed it was. Another redacted passage suggests FBI may have obtained intelligence that contradicted Page’s denials of certain meetings in Russia. A third redacted passage suggests that the FBI learned that Page was engaged in a limited hangout with his admissions of such meetings. Not only might some of this validate the dossier (and explain why Mueller treated the question of Page’s trips to Russia as inconclusive), but it provides specific reasons the FISA collection justified suspicions of Page, meaning FBI was no longer relying on the dossier.

Finally, since Durham claims that Danchenko’s lies impeded the FBI’s efforts to vet the dossier, Danchenko will need to be provided a great deal of information on those efforts.  This is another instance where files released as part of Trump’s efforts to undermine the investigation will help Danchenko prove there are discoverable materials he should get. This spreadsheet is what FBI used to vet the dossier. It shows that the FBI obtained information under the Carter Page FISA they used to vet a claim Danchenko sourced to his friend, Galkina, whom Durham made central to questions of materiality. Similarly, the FBI used information from the Page FISA to help vet the claim that Danchenko sourced (incorrectly or not) to Millian, which is utterly central to the case against him. Given Durham’s claims that Danchenko’s lies prevented FBI from doing this vetting, he can easily claim that obtaining this vetting information may be helpful and material to his defense (though it may in fact not be helpful).

This is a very long list and I’m not saying that Danchenko will succeed in getting this information, much less using it at trial.

What I’m saying is that it is quite literally unprecedented for a defendant to know specific details of two FISA orders — the 702 directive targeting Galkina and the Carter Page FISAs — that they can make credible arguments they need access to to mount a defense. Similarly, the ongoing, sensitive counterintelligence investigation into Oleg Deripaska (and Konstantin Kilimnik) is central to the background of the dossier. And Durham has made someone who — like Danchenko before him, was investigated as a potential Russian asset — a fact witness in this case.

Normally, prosecutors might look at the discovery challenges such legitimate defense demands would pose and decide not to try the case (it’s one likely reason, for example, why David Petraeus got away with a wrist-slap for sharing code-word information with his mistress, because the discovery to actually prosecute him would have done more damage than the conviction was worth; similarly, the secrecy of some evidence Mueller accessed likely drove some of his declination decisions). But Durham didn’t do so. He has committed himself to deal with some of the most sensitive discovery ever provided, and to do so with a foreign national defendant, all in pursuit of five not very well-argued false statements charges. That doesn’t mean Danchenko will get the evidence. But it means Durham is now stuck dealing with unprecedented discovery challenges.

In a follow-up, I’ll talk about how this will work and why it may be literally impossible for Durham to succeed.

Update: I’ve corrected the date of the month of the charged interview pertaining to Charles Dolan.

Update: In a story on an ongoing counterintellience investigation into a Russian expat group, Scott Stedman notes that the group was involved in Millian’s pitch to Papadopoulos in 2016.

Forensic News can reveal that Gladysh’s pro-Trump internet activity was much broader than previously known. In 2020, Gladysh’s Seattle-based Russian-American Cooperation Initiative founded a news website that nearly exclusively promoted Trump and disseminated Russian propaganda, according to internet archives.

The news website featured articles with the titles such as “Second Trump term is crucial to prospect of better U.S.-Russia relations, safer world,” and “Biden victory will spell disaster for U.S.-Russia relations, warns billionaire.” The billionaire referenced by the outlet is Oleg Deripaska, a key figure in the 2016 Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia.

[snip]

Morgulis attempted to rally Russian voters for Donald Trump in both the 2016 and 2020 U.S. Presidential Elections and allied himself with numerous associates connected to Russian intelligence and influence operations that have caught the attention of the FBI.

According to the Washington Post, Morgulis and Sergei Millian worked on a plan to rally Russian voters for Trump in 2016. Millian, who was in contact with Trump aide George Papadopoulos, later fled the country and was not able to be interviewed by investigators.

[snip]

Morgulis, Branson, and Millian all received Silver Archer Awards in 2015, a Russian public affairs accomplishment given to U.S. persons advancing Russian cultural and business interests. The founder of Silver Archer is Igor Pisarsky, a “Kremlin-linked public relations power player” who facilitated money transfers from a Russian oligarch to Maria Butina.

This will provide Danchenko cause to ask for details of that counterintelligence investigation.


Durham’s Materiality Claims

Durham’s general materiality argument makes three claims about the way that Danchenko’s alleged lies affected the FBI investigation. And then, nested underneath those claims, he made further claims (about half of which aren’t even charged), about the materiality of other things, a number of which have nothing to do with the Carter Page FISA. Of particular note, the bulk (in terms of pages) of this indictment discusses lies that Durham doesn’t tie back to Carter Page, even though he could have, had he treated Olga Galkina differently.

      • Danchenko’s lies were material because FBI relied on the dossier to obtain FISA warrants on Carter Page: “The FBI’ s investigation of the Trump Campaign relied in large part on the Company Reports to obtain FISA warrants on Advisor-1.”
        • Danchenko’s lie about believing Millian called him in July 2016 because it formed the basis of the FISA applications targeting Page: Danchenko’s alleged lies to the FBI about Millian, “claiming to have received a late July 2016 anonymous phone call from an individual that DANCHENKO believed to be Chamber President-I were highly material to the FBI because, among other reasons, the allegations sourced to Chamber President-I by DANCHENKO formed the basis of a Company Report that, in turn, underpinned the aforementioned four FISA applications targeting a U.S. citizen (Advisor­ 1).”
      • Danchenko’s lies were material because they made it harder for the FBI to vet the dossier: “The FBI ultimately devoted substantial resources attempting to investigate and corroborate the allegations contained in the Company Reports, including the reliability of DANCHENKO’s sub-sources.”
        • Danchenko’s lies about how indiscreet he was about collecting information for Steele prevented the FBI from understanding whether people, including Russia, could inject disinformation into the dossier: Accordingly, DANCHENKO’s January 24, 2017 statements (i) that he never mentioned U .K. Person-I or U .K. Investigative Firm-I to his friends or associates and (ii) that “you [the FBI] are the first people he’s told,” were knowingly and intentionally false. In truth and in fact, and as DANCHENKO well knew, DANCHENKO had informed a number of individuals about his relationship with U.K. Person-I and U.K. Investigative Firm-I. Such lies were material to the FBI’ s ongoing investigation because, among other reasons, it was important for the FBI to understand how discreet or open DANCHENKO had been with his friends and associates about his status as an employee of U .K. Investigative Firm-I, since his practices in this regard could, in tum, affect the likelihood that other individuals – including hostile foreign intelligence services – would learn of and attempt to influence DANCHENKO’s reporting for U.K. Investigative Firm1.
        • Dancheko’s lies about Charles Dolan prevented the FBI from learning that Dolan was well-connected in Russia, Dolan had ties to Hillary, and Danchenko gathered some of his information using access obtained through Dolan:  DANCHENKO’s lies denying PR Executive-1 ‘s role in specific information referenced in the Company Reports were material to the FBI because, among other reasons, they deprived FBI agents and analysts of probative information concerning PR Executive-I that would have, among other things, assisted them in evaluating the credibility, reliability, and veracity of the Company Reports, including DANCHENKO’s sub-sources. In particular, PR Executive-I maintained connections to numerous people and events described in several other reports, and DANCHENKO gathered information that appeared in the Company Reports during the June Planning Trip and the October Conference. In addition, and as alleged below, certain allegations that DANCHENKO provided to U.K. Person-I, and which appeared in other Company Reports, mirrored and/or reflected information that PR Executive-I himself also had received through his own interactions with Russian nationals. As alleged below, all of these facts rendered DANCHENKO’s lies regarding PR Executive-1 ‘s role as a source of information for the Company Reports highly material to the FBI’ s ongoing investigation. [snip] PR Executive-1 ‘s role as a contributor of information to the Company Reports was highly relevant and material to the FBI’s evaluation of those reports because (a) PR Executive-I maintained pre-existing and ongoing relationships with numerous persons named or described in the Company Reports, including one of DANCHENKO’s Russian sub-sources ( detailed below), (b) PR Executive-I maintained historical and ongoing involvement in Democratic politics, which bore upon PR Executive-I’s reliability, motivations, and potential bias as a source of information for the Company Reports, and (c) DANCHENKO gathered some of the information contained in the Company Reports at events in Moscow organized by PR Executive-I and others that DANCHENKO attended at PR Executive-1 ‘s invitation. Indeed, and as alleged below, certain allegations that DANCHENKO provided to U.K. Person-I, and which appeared in the Company Reports, mirrored and/or reflected information that PR Executive-I himself also had received through his own interactions with Russian nationals.
          • Danchenko’s lies about Dolan prevented the FBI from asking whether Dolan spoke to Danchenko about the Ritz Hotel: Based on the foregoing, DANCHENKO’s lies to the FBI denying that he had communicated with PR Executive-I regarding information in the Company Reports were highly material. Had DANCHENKO accurately disclosed to FBI agents that PR Executive-I was a source for specific information in the aforementioned Company Reports regarding Campaign Manager-1 ‘s departure from the Trump campaign, see Paragraphs 45-57, supra, the FBI might have taken further investigative steps to, among other things, interview PR Executive-I about (i) the June 2016 Planning Trip, (ii) whether PR Executive-I spoke with DANCHENKO about Trump’s stay and alleged activity in the Presidential Suite of the Moscow Hotel, and (iii) PR Executive-1 ‘s interactions with General Manager-I and other Moscow Hotel staff. In sum, given that PR Executive-I was present at places and events where DANCHENKO collected information for the Company Reports, DANCHENKO’s subsequent lie about PR Executive-1 ‘s connection to the Company Reports was highly material to the FBI’ s investigation of these matters.
          • Danchenko’s lies about Dolan prevented the FBI from asking Dolan whether he knew about a Russian Diplomat being reassigned from the US Embassy: Based on the foregoing, DANCHENKO’s lies to the FBI denying that he had communicated with PR Executive-I regarding information in the Company Reports were highly material. Had DANCHENKO accurately disclosed to FBI agents that PR Executive-I was a source for specific information in the Company Reports regarding Campaign Manager-I ‘s departure from the Trump campaign, see Paragraphs 45-57, supra, the FBI might also have taken further investigative steps to, among other things, interview PR Executive-I regarding his potential knowledge of Russian Diplomat-1 ‘s departure from the United States. Such investigative steps might have assisted the FBI in resolving the above-described discrepancy between DANCHENKO and U.K. Person-I regarding the sourcing of the allegation concerning Russian Diplomat-I.
          • Danchenko’s lies about Dolan prevented the FBI from asking whether Dolan was the source for the [true] report about reasons why Paul Manafort had left the Trump campaign: Based on the foregoing, DANCHENKO’s lie to the FBI about PR Executive-I not providing information contained in the Company Reports was highly material. Had DANCHENKO accurately disclosed to FBI agents that PR Executive-I was a source for specific information in the aforementioned Company Reports regarding Campaign Manager-I’s departure from the Trump campaign, see Paragraphs 45-57, supra, the FBI might have taken further investigative steps to, among other things, interview PR Executive-I regarding his potential knowledge of additional allegations in the Company Reports regarding Russian Chief of Staff-I. Such investigative steps might have, among other things, assisted the FBI in determining whether PR Executive-I was one of DANCHENKO’s “other friends” who provided the aforementioned information regarding Putin’s firing of Russian Chief of Staff-I.
        • Danchenko’s lies about a phone call made it harder for the FBI to vet the dossier: Danchenko’s alleged lies about Millian were material because, “at all times relevant to this Indictment, the FBI continued its attempts to analyze, vet, and corroborate the information in the Company Report.”
      • The FBI took and did not take certain actions because of Danchenko’s lies: “The Company Reports, as well as information collected for the Reports by DANCHENKO, played a role in the FBI’s investigative decisions and in sworn representations that the FBI made to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court throughout the relevant time period.”
        • Danchenko’s alleged lies about Millian affected both FBI’s investigative decisions and played a role in their FISA applications: They “played a key role in the FBI’s investigative decisions and in sworn representations that the FBI made to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court throughout the relevant time period.”

Sources

DOJ IG Report on Carter Page

Mueller Report

October 2016 Page FISA Application

January 2017 Page FISA Application

April 2017 Page FISA Application

June 2017 Page FISA Application

Dossier vetting spreadsheet

Danchenko posts

The Igor Danchenko Indictment: Structure

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

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

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

Source 6A: John Durham’s Twitter Charges

John Durham: Destroying the Purported Victims to Save Them

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

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

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

On CIPA and Sequestration: Durham’s Discovery Deadends

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The described organization shifts the existing understanding of the 2016 operation

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

And under Shoigu, everything was all tidy and bureaucratic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bump then debunks Cooper’s claims that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The email itself provides more details.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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