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The President’s Lawyer Had Better Review His Conspiracy Theory

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

There’s one more part of Rudy Giuliani’s hat trick yesterday that deserves closer attention. On both NBC and ABC and NBC, Rudy addressed the June 9 Trump Tower meeting. On NBC, Chuck Todd emphasized how often the story has changed about the meeting — both Trump’s own story, and the three versions of the story put out exactly a year ago. As such, Todd doesn’t talk about what crime the meeting might pertain to.

CHUCK TODD:

–Mr. Mayor, in the public record– and you and I have actually had a discussion about one of these, in the public record, we have the president admitting that he misled the New York Times on the Donald Trump Jr. statement when it came to his role in the infamous Trump Tower meeting of June of 2016. You said there’s nothing — this is a public record of the president contradicting, and I know it is not a crime for the president to lie to us in the media. However, how is that not itself probable cause for Mr. Mueller to want to question the president?

RUDY GIULIANI:

Well, because the fact is that also in the public record is the conclusion of that meeting. And that is that nothing was done about it. That the person came in under the guise of having information about, about Clinton but also to talk about adoptions. All she did was talk about adoptions —

CHUCK TODD:

Wait a minute.

RUDY GIULIANI:

— and sanctions.

CHUCK TODD:

First of all, we don’t know that. That has not been fully–

RUDY GIULIANI:

Well, we do know that because–

CHUCK TODD:

–established. The story changed three times, Mr. Mayor. So if the story changed, how are we–

RUDY GIULIANI:

No, no, no, no.

CHUCK TODD:

–so sure? Look, your own legal partner here in the president’s team, Jay Sekulow, misled me. Now, you had said he didn’t intentionally do that. I take your word.

RUDY GIULIANI:

He didn’t.

CHUCK TODD:

I take your word at that. But somebody misled him then. Your client may have misled him.

RUDY GIULIANI:

They already have all these facts. They can do with them what they want. They don’t need – I, I can tell them that the president’s testimony will be exactly the same as he said about this.

CHUCK TODD:

Which part? What he said in the public record or when he– we don’t know what he said–

RUDY GIULIANI:

What he has said–

CHUCK TODD:

–privately.

In the very last line of the exchange, however, Rudy gives away the game. He says “there was no discussion with [Trump] about this and there were no” and right here, he corrects himself and says, instead of whatever he almost said, “that nothing happened from it.”

RUDY GIULIANI:

He has had an opportunity to think about it, to refresh his recollection. He’s given a statement about it. And it’s clear that there was no discussion with him about this and there were no – that nothing happened from it.

That is, Rudy isn’t talking about what Todd might be — obstruction. Rather, he’s talking about whether anything came of the meeting, at which dirt was promised and sanctions relief was requested.

Rudy reveals even more to Stephanopoulos over on ABC. In addition to claiming that he, Rudy, doesn’t believe Trump knew about the meeting, he twice says the meeting amounts to different recollections (and attributes those recollections to the campaign that four of the participants weren’t contesting).

STEPHANOPOULOS: There was another question that came up in my interview with Michael Cohen and it had to do with the Trump Tower meeting, that famous (inaudible) Trump Tower meeting, Don Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort all met with these Russians who had indicated they had some dirt on Hillary Clinton.

When I asked Michael Cohen did the president know about that meeting ahead of time, again he refused to answer in advice of counsel. What is the answer to that question?

GIULIANI: Don’t believe he did know about it, don’t believe he knew about it afterwards, I think that you could have very, very different recollections on that because it was right — right in the heat of the campaign.

And I — I was probably there that day. I don’t — I don’t remember it. Did somebody say something to me? I don’t know, it goes off in your — you know what a campaign is like, it’s complete helter skelter.

Again, it doesn’t mean anything because it resulted in nothing. That went nowhere, she tried to get back in, she didn’t, they never did anything with it (ph).

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well what it could mean is that — that the president, as Tina (ph) said, he didn’t know about in advance. If it turns out that he did, then at least he hadn’t been telling the truth —

(CROSS TALK)

GIULIANI: Well I think — I think — I think you end up there with at most differing recollection. Since nothing happened with it, there’d be no reason to hide it. I mean he could have said yes, they did tell me about it, and what happened? Nothing.

Given the context, it’s pretty clear what recollections Rudy might have in mind: whether Don Jr said his father would revisit sanctions if he won the election. But on that front, among the six people who submitted testimony to SJC on the topic (Jared would have left before this), there’s not actually much disagreement.

Natalia Veselnitskaya said Don Jr said they’d revisit the topic.

Mr. Trump, Jr. politely wound up the meeting with meaningless phrases about somewhat as follows: can do nothing about it, “if’ or “when” we come to power, we may return to this strange and confusing story.

Ike Kaveladze said that Don Jr said they might revisit the issue if his father won.

There was no request, but as I said, it was a suggestion that if Trump campaign ins, they might get back to the Magnitsky Act topic in the future.

Rinat Akhmetshin said that Don Jr said they would revisit Magnitsky when they won.

A. I don’t remember exact words which were said, but I remember at the end, Donald, Jr., said, you know, “Come back see us again when we win.” Not “if we win,” but “when we win.” And I kind of thought to myself like, “Yeah, right.” But it happened, so — but that’s something, see, he’s very kind of positive about, “When we win, come back and see us again.” Something to that effect, I guess.

Anatoli Samochornov, Veselnitskaya’s translator, who is the most independent witness and the only one who didn’t compare his story with others, said that Don Jr said they would revisit the issue if Trump won.

A. Like I described, I remember, not verbatim, the closing that Mr. Donald Trump, Jr., provided, but that’s all that I recall being said from the other side.

MR. PRIVOR: That closing being that Donald Trump, Jr., suggested —

MR. SAMOCHORNOV: If or when yes, and I do not remember if or when, but if or when my father becomes President, we will revisit this issue.

Just two people remember it differently. In an answer that, in some respects, exactly tracks statements that were massaged elsewhere by Trump’s lawyers, Rob Goldstone said Don Jr told Veselnitskaya to raise it with Obama.

And he stopped this in its tracks and said, with respect, I suggest that you address your — what seemed very valid concerns but to the Obama administration because they actually are in power. My father is a private citizen and, as such, it has no validity, of what you’re saying. Thank you very much for coming. I appreciate all your time. You know, we have a very busy schedule, and thank you.

And Don Jr himself remembers he ended the meeting by saying his father, a private citizen, couldn’t do anything about this.

I proceeded to quickly and politely end the meeting by telling Ms. Veselnitskaya that because my father was a private citizen there did not seem to be any point for having this discussion.

Which is to say everyone whose statement wasn’t massaged by Don Jr’s lawyer says he did suggest Trump would revisit the issue after the election, which is surely why half of the people at the meeting worked on setting up such a meeting.

Now, Rudy suggests that’s all good because nothing actually came of it. There are several problems with that. 52 U.S.C. §§ 30121 makes it a crime to solicit or offer support from a foreign national, which is one of the crimes that NSD has already said might be charged in this case. Arguably, that’s what the meeting did. All the more so if the emails that got dumped a 6 days later were tied to Don Jr’s agreement to revisit sanctions.

But Rudy doesn’t consider whether Mueller could charge a conspiracy to do same. There, it doesn’t so much matter whether the conspiracy was successful (and there’s abundant evidence showing both sides continued to try to deliver on this detail). It matters whether two or more people made an agreement to conspire to violate US regulatory functions.

(1) two or more persons formed an agreement to defraud the United States;

(2) [each] defendant knowingly participated in the conspiracy with the intent to defraud the United States; and

(3) at least one overt act was committed in furtherance of the common scheme.

Rudy has already admitted to the substance of a ConFraudUs case.

The Quid Pro Quo: a Putin Meeting and Election Assistance, in Exchange for Sanctions Relief (Part Two in a Series)

As I explained in Part One of this series, I think the Mueller questions leaked by the Trump people actually give a far better understanding of a damning structure to the Mueller investigation — one mapping out cultivation, a quid pro quo, and a cover-up — than the coverage has laid out. This post will lay out how, over the course of the election, the Russians and Trump appear to have danced towards a quid pro quo, involving a Putin meeting and election assistance in exchange for sanctions relief if Trump won (as noted, the Russians dangled real estate deals to entice Trump based on the assumption he wouldn’t win).

April 27, 2016: During the campaign, what did you know about Russian hacking, use of social media, or other acts aimed at the campaign?

Given the structure of George Papadopoulos’ plea, it’s highly likely Mueller knows that Papadopoulos passed on news that the Russians had thousands of Hillary emails they planned to release to help Trump to people in the campaign. Papadopoulos could have passed on that news to Stephen Miller and Corey Lewandowski as early as April 27. On the same day, Papadopoulos helped draft Trump’s first foreign policy speech, which Papadopoulos reportedly told Ivan Timofeev signaled a willingness to meet.

Between the time the GRU first exfiltrated DNC emails in April and the election, Trump invoked “emails” 21 times on Twitter (usually to refer to emails from Hillary’s server). The first of those times came on June 9, less than an hour after the Trump Tower meeting. The most famous of those came on July 27, when Trump addressed Russia directly.

Earlier in the day, Trump had called on Russia to release the emails not to the FBI, but to the press.

Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.

The timing may reflect awareness among some in the campaign that the call to Russia was a step too far legally. (h/t TC for the addition)

That Trump’s email comments pertain mostly to Hillary’s home-based server doesn’t actually exonerate him. Right after the DNC release (and therefore the July 27 Trump tweet), GOP rat-fucker Peter Smith started reaching out to Russian hackers in hopes of finding hacked versions of those emails. His support documents named Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Sam Clovis, and Mike Flynn. If those people actually learned of the effort (there’s reason to believe Smith was just overselling the ties to the campaign), it’s possible that Trump learned about it as well.

As to social media, while it has gotten virtually no attention, the reference to three Florida-based Trump campaign officials in the Internet Research Agency indictment suggests further investigative interest in them.

[T]here are three (presumed) Americans who, both the indictment and subsequent reporting make clear, are treated differently in the indictment than all the other Americans cited as innocent people duped by Russians: Campaign Official 1, Campaign Official 2, and Campaign Official 3. We know, from CNN’s coverage of Harry Miller’s role in building a cage to be used in a fake “jailed Hillary” stunt, that at least some other people described in the indictment were interviewed — in his case, for six hours! — by the FBI. But no one else is named using the convention to indicate those not indicted but perhaps more involved in the operation. Furthermore, the indictment doesn’t actually describe what action (if any) these three Trump campaign officials took after being contacted by trolls emailing under false names.

So Mueller may be pursuing whether there was state-level coordination going on, and if so, how far up the campaign chain of command knowledge of that coordination extended.

May 31, 2016: What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding any meeting with Mr. Putin? Did you discuss it with others?

On June 16, 2015, the day Trump announced his campaign, the Agalarovs offered to serve as an intermediary between him and Putin.

Then, starting at least as early as March 31, 2016 (with Trump’s first foreign policy meeting), his aides started floating pitches for meetings with increasingly senior campaign officials that would hypothetically lead up to one between Trump and Putin.

Those include at least:

  • The George Papadopoulos thread, spanning from March 21 through August 15
  • The Carter Page thread, including his Moscow trip in July, and possibly continuing through his December Moscow trip
  • The NRA thread, focusing on the NRA meeting in Kentucky in May; NRA’s longer outreach includes Trump associates John Bolton and David Clarke

We know Trump was present and did not object when Papadopoulos pitched this in the May 31 meeting. Several of the other entrees went through Don Jr. Many of the offers got briefed at least as far as Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort. We don’t know how many of the other offers he learned about. We just know that years earlier he had joked about becoming Putin’s best friend, and over the course of the campaign, Russian intermediaries made repeated, persistent efforts to work towards a meeting between Trump and Putin, with a meeting between Agalarov representatives (who, again, had offered to serve as intermediaries with Putin when Trump kicked off the campaign) and the most senior people on the campaign happening just as Trump sealed up the nomination.

May 31, 2016: What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding Russian sanctions?

This is an open-ended question that might pose particular problems for Trump given the misleading statement claiming the June 9 meeting was about adoptions and not the Magnitsky sanctions. More interesting still are hints that Mueller sees a signaling going back and forth involving Papadopoulos; some of this may have involved signaling a willingness to provide sanctions relief.

Both Aras Agalarov and Natalia Veselnitskaya followed up after the election pushing for sanctions relief.

June 9, 2016: When did you become aware of the Trump Tower meeting?

Sam Nunberg has suggested Trump probably learned of the Trump Tower meeting before it happened. While he is unreliable on that point, the original June 3, 2016 email Rob Goldstone sent to Don Jr suggests reaching out to Trump’s assistant Rhona Graff.

I can also send this info to your father via Rhona, but it is ultra sensitive so wanted to send to you first.

Democrats suspect that between two calls Don Jr had with Emin Agalarov about the meeting on June 6, 2016, he called his dad.

Trump Jr.’s phone records show two calls to and from the same Russian number on June 6, 2016.62 The first call occurred at 4:04 pm on June 6, 2916 – just 21 minutes after Goldstone emailed Trump Jr. to say that Emin Agalarov was “on stage in Moscow but should be off within 20 minutes so I am sure can call. [emphasis added]” 63 At 4:38 pm, Trump Jr emailed Goldstone, “Rob, thanks for the help.”64

This documentary evidence indicates that a call likely took place between Trump Jr. and Emin Agalarov. During his interview, Trump Jr. confirmed that the Russian phone number belonged to Agalarov, though he claimed to not recall whether he actually spoke with him. Rather, despite one of the two calls reflecting a two-minute connection, Trump Jr. suggested that Agalarov may have left voice messages.65

The phone records also show a “blocked” number at 4:27 pm, between the two calls to and from Emin Agalarov. Trump Jr. claimed he did not know who was associated with the blocked number.66 While the Committee has not pursued leads to determine who called Trump Jr. at this crucial time from a blocked number, Corey Lewandowski told the Committee that Mr. Trump’s “primary residence has a blocked [phone] line.” 67

Mueller, of course, almost certainly has the phone records the Democrats weren’t able to obtain.

Finally, Steve Bannon has stated that he’s certain Don Jr “walk[ed] these jumos up to his father’s office on the twenty-sixth floor” on the day of the meeting. There’s reason to believe Ike Kaveladze and Goldstone could have done so, including the new piece of evidence that “Kaveladze left [a meeting with Rinat Akhmetshin and Natalia Veselnitskaya] after a few minutes to take a call from Agalarov to discuss the meeting.”

The day after the meeting — and four days before Trump’s birthday — Agalarov sent Trump an expensive painting as a present.

The June 9 meeting is, as far as is public, the most important cornerstone in a presumed quid pro quo. Russians offered unnamed dirt that Don Jr seemed to know what it entailed even before speaking to Emin Agalarov personally. Having offered dirt, four Russians — including two representatives of Trump’s long-time handler Aras Agalarov — laid out a pitch to end the Magnitsky sanctions. And less than a week later, a presumed Russian agent released the first dirt stolen from Hillary Clinton.

July 7, 2016: What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?

We don’t have many details on what Mueller knows about Manafort’s requests for help on the campaign. We do know he remained in close touch with Russians via someone the FBI believed was a Russian intelligence agent, Konstantin Kilimnik, through whom he remained in communications with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Deripaska is named in some court documents in a way that suggests his relationship with Manafort may be the still hidden third prong of investigation into Manafort approved by August 2, 2017.

Starting in April, Manafort and Kilimnik (whom Rick Gates and therefore presumably Manafort knew was a former GRU officer), exchanged a series of cryptic emails, suggesting that Manafort might be able to pay off the $20 million he owed Deripaska with certain actions on the campaign. In an email sent on July 7, Manafort offered to provide briefings on the campaign to Deripaska. On or around August 2, Manafort and Kilimnik met in person at the Grand Havana Club, in Kushner’s building at 666 5th Avenue. Both deny that anything about the campaign came up. Shortly after this meeting, one of Deripaska’s jets came to Newark, and Russian opposition figure Viktor Navalny has claimed to have proof the jet went from there to a meeting between Deripaska and Russian deputy prime minister Sergei Prikhodko.

An August 2017 report describes intercepts picking up “Russian operatives discussing their efforts to work with Manafort, … relay[ing] what they claimed were conversations with Manafort, encouraging help from the Russians.”

There’s one more area of potential assistance I find of interest. Since January, we’ve been getting hints that Oleg Deripaska has some tie to the Steele dossier, possibly through a lawyer he and Steele share. I’ve raised repeated concerns that the Russians learned about the dossier and found ways to feed Steele disinformation. If they did, the disinformation would have led Democrats to be complacent about the hacks that targeted them. And whether or not the dossier is disinformation (and whether or not Deripaska had a role in that, if true), Paul Manafort coached Reince Priebus on how to attack the dossier as a way to discredit the investigation into the campaign’s ties with Russia.

With regards to this Manafort question: remember that Rick Gates flipped on February 23, and the questions date to early March. So Gates may have proffered confirmation about these details. In any case, Mueller likely has learned far more about them two months after Gates flipped.

July 10-12, 2016: What involvement did you have concerning platform changes regarding arming Ukraine?

The Majority HPSCI Russia Report explains that the RNC platform was changed by staffers at the convention based off Trump’s public statements on sanctions.

[Rick] Dearborn generated a memorandum, dated August 1, 2016, outlining a detailed sequence of events that occurred between July 10 and 12, 2016. As part of that memo, J.D. Gordon created a timeline that noted candidate Trump’s policy statements–including at a March 31, 2016, national security meeting–served as the basis for the modification of [Diana] Denman’s amendments. Gordon’s timeline made it clear that the change was initiated by campaign staffers at the convention–not by Manafort or senior officials.

J.D. Gordon has not confirmed that he was asked about this, but he surely was. I would expect Mueller to have tested the timeline Gordon laid out in summer 2016 (when the platform change was a big political issue) against the testimony and communications records of everyone else involved.

Of course, by asking the question in this fashion, Mueller doesn’t reveal what he has already confirmed about the platform changes.

August 5, 2016: What did you know about communication between Roger Stone, his associates, Julian Assange or WikiLeaks?

After multiple public statements that the Russians were behind the hack-and-leak, on August 5, 2016 (after traveling from NY to LA to his home in FL), Roger Stone wrote a column claiming to believe that Guccifer 2.0 was a hacktivist with no ties to Russia. Stone’s purportedly changed beliefs about Guccifer 2.0 coincide with an August 4 claim he made in an email to Sam Nunberg that he had met with Julian Assange the night before. Stone’s claimed belief that Guccifer 2.0 is not Russian is key to his denials of any involvement or pre-knowledge of hack-and-leak events. It also kicked off an alternative story that others, up to and including Trump, have adopted to excuse their own embrace of the stolen emails. In other words, a key prong in the plausible deniability the Russians built into the hack-and-leak campaign came from long-time Trump associate Roger Stone, after a dramatic and unexplained change in beliefs (Lee Stranahan, who used to work for Breitbart and now works for Sputnik, has claimed some credit for the change, and given how lucid the August 5 column is, someone had to have helped Stone write it).

Ten days later, after Stone had called on Twitter to let him out of Twitter jail, Guccifer 2.0 and Stone started exchanging (fairly innocuous) DMs.

There are events both before and after that which suggest Stone — probably through more interesting go-betweens than Randy Credico — sought information on what dirt Assange and Wikileaks had, and what and when planned to do with it.

Much has been made, especially in the DNC lawsuit, about Stone’s seeming prediction that “it would soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel.” Perhaps that’s true (and Stone’s explanation for the tweet is garbage), but any explanation of Stone’s supposed prediction needs to acknowledge that he more often predicted Wikileaks would release Clinton Foundation emails, not Podesta ones, that he got the timing somewhat wrong, and that he didn’t dwell on the Podesta emails at all once Wikileaks started releasing them (preferring, instead, to talk about Bill Clinton’s lady problems). Still, that may reflect Stone involvement in the Peter Smith operation, and efforts to get WikiLeaks to release purported Clinton Foundation emails passed on via hackers.

That Mueller is even asking this suggests (if the several grand jury witnesses in recent months dedicated to it don’t already) that Mueller has a pretty good idea that Stone’s communications were more extensive than his denials let on. That he thinks Stone may have shared that information with Trump is all the more interesting.

All of which is to say that the known answers to Mueller’s questions map out a quid pro quo set up during the election, in which Russians offered a Putin meeting and dirt on Hillary, with the expectation that Trump would lift the Magnitsky sanctions if he won (and would get a Trump Tower in Moscow if he lost). I suspect there are other pieces to the quid pro quo, dealing with Ukraine and Syria. But certainly the June 9 meeting set up an understanding: dirt in exchange for Magnitsky relief. The release of the Guccifer 2.0 emails may indicate the Trump camp provided some signal they had formally accepted the offer.

Update: Fixed syntax in last paragraph, h/t LT.

RESOURCES

These are some of the most useful resources in mapping these events.

Mueller questions as imagined by Jay Sekulow

CNN’s timeline of investigative events

Majority HPSCI Report

Minority HPSCI Report

Trump Twitter Archive

Jim Comey March 20, 2017 HPSCI testimony

Comey May 3, 2017 SJC testimony

Jim Comey June 8, 2017 SSCI testimony

Jim Comey written statement, June 8, 2017

Jim Comey memos

Sally Yates and James Clapper Senate Judiciary Committee testimony, May 8, 2017

NPR Timeline on Trump’s ties to Aras Agalarov

George Papadopoulos complaint

George Papadopoulos statement of the offense

Mike Flynn statement of the offense

Internet Research Agency indictment

Text of the Don Jr Trump Tower Meeting emails

Jared Kushner’s statement to Congress

Erik Prince HPSCI transcript

THE SERIES

Part One: The Mueller Questions Map Out Cultivation, a Quid Pro Quo, and a Cover-Up

Part Two: The Quid Pro Quo: a Putin Meeting and Election Assistance, in Exchange for Sanctions Relief

Part Three: The Quo: Policy and Real Estate Payoffs to Russia

Part Four: The Quest: Trump Learns of the Investigation

Part Five: Attempting a Cover-Up by Firing Comey

Part Six: Trump Exacerbates His Woes

What Journalist(s) Told Rinat Akhmetshin about the Steele Dossier?

I’ll eventually do a post on the substance of the Grassley-Graham referral of Christopher Steele to the FBI for (as I predicted) lying about his contacts with journalists. It will surprise none of you to know that I think the commentary so far, from both right and left, is garbage.

But I do want to look at one footnote from the letter that is news for other reasons. The disclosure that, in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Rinat Akhmetshin said

Unsurprisingly, during the summer of 2016, reports of at least some of the dossier allegations began circulating among reporters and people involved in Russian issues.19

19 (U) Akhmetshin Transcript, On File with the Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary (Mr. Akhmetshin informed the Committee that he began hearing from journalists about the dossier before it was published, and thought it was the summer of 2016).

They raise this for the same reasons I’ve worried about the briefings to journalists, the likelihood that as journalists started chasing the story, they might alert people who could, in turn, alert the Russians, making it easier to insert disinformation into Steele’s reporting channels.

As always with these partisan releases, precisely what Akhmetshin said matters. Did he really say he knew about the dossier, or only the allegations about a pee tape and (this is critical) that Russians were preparing to deal kompromat on Hillary? If he knew about the dossier, did he know the folks at Fusion — with whom he enjoyed booze lubricated dinners — were involved?

It’s always possible, of course, that Akhmetshin (who almost certainly has spoken with Mueller’s team at least twice) is lying, admitting he knew of the dossier but attributing it to a reporting channel that shifts blame.

But if it’s true, then there are journalists in DC who, enjoying the same kind of chatty relationships with Akhmetshin I understand a lot of journalists have long enjoyed, know that they told him about the dossier or the underlying intelligence. I think the precise date of such conversations probably needs to remain secret — particularly given the discrepancy between when Akhmetshin says he first heard about the dossier and when Steele and Glenn Simpson say they first started briefing it.

But that a journalist or journalists shared the information might be worth admitting, for the clarity it would give to the story. Two of the journalists at the center of this — David Corn and Michael Isikoff — have been all over the news. Mother Jones is even fundraising off of it.

Surely confirming Akhmetshin’s story, if possible, would be newsworthy?

On Disinformation and the Dossier

By all accounts, the House will vote to release the Nunes memo tonight, even while Adam Schiff pushes to release his countering memo at the same time. Perhaps in advance of that, Andrew McCabe either chose to or was told to take leave today until such time as his pension kicks in in mid-March, ending his FBI career.

Since we’re going to be obsessing about the dossier for the next while again, I want to return to a question I’ve repeatedly raised: the possibility that some or even much of the Christopher Steele dossier could be the product of Russian disinformation. Certainly, at least by the time Fusion and Steele were pitching the dossier to the press in September 2016, the Russians might have gotten wind of the project and started to feed Steele’s sources disinformation. But there’s at least some reason to believe it could have happened much sooner.

Former CIA officer Daniel Hoffman argues the near misses are a mark of Russian disinformation

A number of spooks had advanced this idea in brief comments in the past. Today, former CIA officer Daniel Hoffman makes the arguement at more length at WSJ.

There is a third possibility, namely that the dossier was part of a Russian espionage disinformation plot targeting both parties and America’s political process. This is what seems most likely to me, having spent much of my 30-year government career, including with the CIA, observing Soviet and then Russian intelligence operations. If there is one thing I have learned, it’s that Vladimir Putin continues in the Soviet tradition of using disinformation and espionage as foreign-policy tools.

Hoffman points to what I consider the dossier’s abundance of near-misses (such as events involving the correct person in the wrong place or time) on correct information to back his case.

The pattern of such Russian operations is to sprinkle false information, designed to degrade the enemy’s social and political infrastructure, among true statements that enhance the veracity of the overall report. In 2009 the FSB wanted to soil the reputation of a U.S. diplomat responsible for reporting on human rights. So it fabricated a video, in part using real surveillance footage of the diplomat, that purported to show him with a prostitute in Moscow.

Similarly, some of the information in the Steele dossier is true. Carter Page, a Trump campaign adviser, did travel to Moscow in the summer of 2016. But he insists that the secret meetings the dossier alleges never happened. This is exactly what you’d expect if the Kremlin followed its usual playbook: accurate basic facts provided as bait to convince Americans that the fake info is real.

John Sipher, in our joint interview with Jeremy Scahill admitted such a thing was possible, though that the dossier still tied the hack to “collusion.”

The Russians are the best in the world at this disinformation and deception. I don’t think, based on what we saw in the June, the first of his reports, that the Russians would have controlled all of those sources and controlled that whole narrative. It just doesn’t seem to make sense to me. And if in fact they did control the information that was given to Mr. Steele at that time, you have to wonder what was the point. If they were trying to send a message that they had compromising information on Mr. Trump, that might be that they wanted Mr. Trump to know what they had so he would act accordingly. In terms of using kompromat you don’t have to go to the person and make the quid pro quo, you just have to let them know that you have the information and they’ll do the right thing. So, I do agree, as time went by, and as she mentioned, for example, that what GPS Fusion information had in the connections they had there’s, it’s certainly possible that the Russians could have come across some of these sources and provided disinformation especially as time went by. I don’t think that that’s out of the realm of possibility.

Nevertheless Sipher argued in response to Hoffman that the content of the dossier would rule against it being disinformation.

[Hoffman] did not address the content. If was disinformation, it was designed to hurt Trump.

The content of the dossier would have led Democrats to be complacent about the hacking

But I can think of several ways the information in the dossier, if it was disinformation, would help Trump. I have already noted how, if Democrats had used the intelligence provided by Steele in the very earliest reports in the dossier to gauge the risk posed by the hack, they would have been lulled into complacency, because Steele’s first reports clearly said any kompromat the Russians wanted to dump was old intercepts from Hillary’s trips to Russia, and even Steele’s first report after the WikiLeaks dump would not only not confirm Russia was behind the release, but would also contradict a year of public reporting on APT29 to claim that Russia had not had success breaching targets like the State Department and Hillary.

On June 20, Perkins Coie would have learned from a Steele report that the dirt Russia had on Hillary consisted of “bugged conversations she had on various visits to Russia and intercepted phone calls rather than any embarrassing conduct.” It would also have learned that “the dossier however had not yet been made available abroad, including to TRUMP or his campaign team.”

On July 19, Perkins Coie would have learned from a Steele report that at a meeting with a Kremlin official named Diyevkin which Carter Page insists didn’t take place, Diyevkin “rais[ed] a dossier of ‘kompromat’ the Kremlin possessed on TRUMP’s Democratic presidential rival, Hillary CLINTON, and its possible release to the Republican’s campaign team.” At that point in time, the reference to kompromat would still be to intercepted messages, not email.

On July 22, Wikileaks released the first trove of DNC emails.

On July 26 — days after Russian-supplied emails were being released to the press — Perkins Coie would receive a Steele report (based on June reporting) that claimed FSB had the lead on hacking in Russia. And the report would claim — counter to a great deal of publicly known evidence — that “there had been only limited success in penetrating the ‘first tier’ foreign targets.” That is, even after the Russian hacked emails got released to the public, Steele would still be providing information to the Democrats suggesting there was no risk of emails getting released because Russians just weren’t that good at hacking.

In fact, in his testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, in one of the few instances in either congressional appearance where he admitted that Steele was hired at almost precisely the same moment the Democrats were trying to get the FBI to make a public statement attributing the hack to Russia, Glenn Simpson explained that the Democrats did use Steele’s intelligence to “manage” the aftermath of the hack.

MR. SIMPSON: Well, this was a very unusual situation, because right around the time that the work started, it became public that the FBI suspected the Russians of hacking the DNC. And so there was sort of an extraordinary coincidence. It wasn’t really a coincidence but, you know, our own interest in Russia coincided with a lot of public disclosures that there was something going on with Russia.

And so what was originally envisioned as an original — as just a sort of a survey, a first cut of what might be — whether there might be something interesting about Donald Trump and Russia quickly became more of an effort to help my client manage a, you know, exceptional situation and understand what the heck was going on.

I also think it’s creepy that Guccifer 2.0 promised what he called a dossier on Hillary on the same day Steele delivered his first report, June 20, and delivered documents he claimed to be that dossier the next day.

There are multiple ways the Russians may have learned of the Steele dossier

Hoffman lays out a number of the reasons I believe Steele’s production process might have been uniquely susceptible to discovery.

There are three reasons the Kremlin would have detected Mr. Steele’s information gathering and seen an opportunity to intervene. First, Mr. Steele did not travel to Russia to acquire his information and instead relied on intermediaries. That is a weak link, since Russia’s internal police service, the FSB, devotes significant technical and human resources to blanket surveillance of Western private citizens and government officials, with a particular focus on uncovering their Russian contacts.

Second, Mr. Steele was an especially likely target for such surveillance given that he had retired from MI-6, the British spy agency, after serving in Moscow. Russians are fond of saying that there is no such thing as a “former” intelligence officer. The FSB would have had its eye on him.

Third, the Kremlin successfully hacked into the Democratic National Committee. Emails there could have tipped it off that the Clinton campaign was collecting information on Mr. Trump’s dealings in Russia.

I’d flesh out another, one the Republicans have been dancing close to for the last year. Because Fusion GPS did business with both the Democrats and, via Baker Hostetler, anti-Magnitsky lobbyists Natalia Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin at the same time, it created a second source via which the Russians might learn that Hillary had a dossier. In addition to Simpson himself,  Fusion researcher Edward Baumgartner also worked with both Baker Hostetler and the Democrats at the same time. Simpson tried to minimize the overlap and the possibility for revealing the dossier, especially in his Senate testimony.

Q. We had talked about work for multiple clients. What steps were taken, if any, to make sure that the work that Mr. Baumgartner was doing for Prevezon was not shared across to the clients you were working for with regard to the presidential election?

A. He didn’t deal with them. He didn’t deal with the clients.

But the publicly released financial data shows a clear overlap in those projects and Baumgartner’s comments to BI show he worked quite closely with Veselnitskaya.

Baumgartner, a fluent Russian speaker, said he was hired by Fusion to serve as “an interface” with Veselnitskaya, who does not speak much English. They worked “very closely” together in Washington and Moscow, Baumgartner said, reviewing documents and finding witnesses who could bolster Prevezon’s case.

Simpson attended a dinner in DC on June 10, attended by both Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin, in the aftermath of the Trump Tower meeting at which (per Simpson) “we had drinks before;” Baumgartner’s vague memory suggests he did too. When asked if Baumgartner knew Akhmetshin, which is virtually certain, Simpson said, “I don’t know.” So there were at least opportunities where people working on both campaigns might have disclosed details about the project for the Democrats (though both Simpson and Baumgartner said Baumgartner didn’t know about the Steele part of the project).

One other detail makes it more likely that Russians succeeded in planting at least some disinformation: both Luke Harding (who worked closely with Steele on his book) and Simpson describe Steele’s sources drying up as the focus on Trump’s ties to Russia grew. Simpson’s statement on this grossly understates (as he often does) how much focus there already publicly was on the Russian hack by the time he hired Steele.

So, you know, when Chris started asking around in Moscow about this the information was sitting there. It wasn’t a giant secret. People were talking about it freely. It was only, you know, later that it became a subject of great controversy and people clammed up, and at that time the whole issue of the hacking was also, you know, not really focused on Russia. So these things eventually converged into, you know, a major issue, but at the time it wasn’t one.

So if Steele’s regular sources were drying up, it makes it far more likely any new ones would be easy to compromised.

Russians seem to have planned to use the dossier to discredit the investigation — just as they are using it

Finally, I want to turn to another reason why I think parts of this may be disinformation. At least two of the reports — the Alfa Bank report (which was pretty clearly a feedback loop on another dodgy story) and the depiction of what should have been the Internet Research Association but was instead targeted at Webzilla, seem custom made to prepare the kind of lawfare that has discredited the dossier. Indeed, Alfa Bank and Webzilla’s owners both sued, suggesting they feel like they can survive discovery.

Look, now, at this detail from the letters Chuck Grassley sent out to the DNC, its top officials, and the Hillary campaign, and its top officials, trying to find out how much they knew about and used the dossier. Grassley also asks for any communications to, from, or relating to the following (I’ve rearranged and classified them).

Fusion and its formal employees: Fusion GPS; Bean LLC; Glenn Simpson; Mary Jacoby; Peter Fritsch; Tom Catan; Jason Felch; Neil King; David Michaels; Taylor Sears; Patrick Corcoran; Laura Sego; Jay Bagwell; Erica Castro; Nellie Ohr;

Fusion researcher who worked on both the Prevezon and Democratic projects: Edward Baumgartner;

Anti-Magnitsky lobbyists: Rinat Akhmetshin; Ed Lieberman;

Christopher Steele’s business and colleagues: Orbis Business Intelligence Limited; Orbis Business International Limited.; Walsingham Training Limited; Walsingham Partners Limited; Christopher Steele; Christopher Burrows; Sir Andrew Wood,

Hillary-related intelligence and policy types: Cody Shearer; Sidney Blumenthal; Jon Winer; Kathleen Kavalec; Victoria Nuland; Daniel Jones;

DOJ and FBI: Bruce Ohr; Peter Strzok; Andrew McCabe; James Baker; Sally Yates; Loretta Lynch;

Grassley, like me, doesn’t believe Brennan was out of the loop either: John Brennan

Oleg Deripaska and his lawyer: Oleg Deripaska; Paul Hauser;

It’s the last reference I’m particularly interested in.

When Simpson talked about how the dossier got leaked to BuzzFeed, he complains that, “I was very upset. I thought it was a very dangerous thing and that someone had violated my confidences, in any event.” The presumed story is that John McCain and his aide David Kramer were briefed by Andrew Wood at an event that Rinat Akhmetshin also attended, later obtained the memo (I’m still not convinced this was the full memo yet), McCain shared it, again, with the FBI, and Kramer leaked it to Buzzfeed.

But Grassley seems to think Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska was in on the loop of this. Deripaska is important to this story not just for because he owns Paul Manafort (he figures heavily in this worthwhile profile of Manafort). But also because he’s got ties, through Rick Davis, to John McCain. This was just rehashed last year by Circa, which has been running interference on this story.

There is a report that Manafort laid out precisely the strategy focusing on the dossier that is still the main focus of GOP pushback on the charges against Trump and his campaign (and Manafort).

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 personclose 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.

If Deripaska learned of the dossier — and obtained a copy from McCain or someone close to him — it would make it very easy to lay out the strategy we’re currently seeing.

Update: Welp, here’s why Grassley wants to know who among the Democrats spoke with Cody Shearer.

The FBI inquiry into alleged Russian collusion in the 2016 US presidential election has been given a second memo that independently set out many of the same allegations made in a dossier by Christopher Steele, the British former spy.

The second memo was written by Cody Shearer, a controversial political activist and former journalist who was close to the Clinton White House in the 1990s.

[snip]

The Shearer memo was provided to the FBI in October 2016.

It was handed to them by Steele – who had been given it by an American contact – after the FBI requested the former MI6 agent provide any documents or evidence that could be useful in its investigation, according to multiple sources.

The Guardian was told Steele warned the FBI he could not vouch for the veracity of the Shearer memo, but that he was providing a copy because it corresponded with what he had separately heard from his own independent sources.

Among other things, both documents allege Donald Trump was compromised during a 2013 trip to Moscow that involved lewd acts in a five-star hotel.

Why Did Trump Tweet an “In the Ball Park” Accurate Number for Hillary’s Total Staffers on June 9, 2016?

In this post, I showed how the George Papadopoulos filings suggest there was a signaling process that went on during 2016, as he and other staffers sent public signals to the Russians that may have suggested further commitment to a deal of some kind. In this post, I laid out a bunch of circumstantial evidence suggesting that the current, public story about the June 9, 2016 meeting is just a limited hangout, one that hides more damning details about what happened after Natalia Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin left the meeting. I also examined the first Guccifer 2.0 documents and noted that, in addition to responding to and debunking the June 14 WaPo story, they might serve well to lay out (arguably, to oversell) the breadth of what the Russians had stolen.

With those details in mind, I want to return to a detail many others have already noted, Donald Trump’s tweet, just 40 minutes after the Trump Tower meeting started, referencing Hillary emails (albeit the ones she deleted off her server, not the still secret stolen ones).

Given that George Papadopoulos seemed to treat other public statements from the campaign (most notably Trump’s April 27 foreign policy speech) as signals to the Russians the campaign was prepared to take the next step, could this tweet be the same? A response, seemingly from the candidate himself, accepting a deal presented in the meeting?

The tweet may have involved one or another of the campaign’s data guys

Mind you, as Pseudonymous in NC noted, the tweet was done on an iPhone — this is the period from before Trump had switched to iPhones — meaning someone else, perhaps either Brad Parscale or Dan Scavino, tweeted it. PINC lays out reasons either one of Trump’s data guys might be of particular interest:

Per the Bloomberg pre-election “bunker” story, Parscale was one of the few with credentials to the boss’s account. Pre-written tweets during events like the debates went through the web client, but my guess is that Scavino and Parscale represent most of the ‘Twitter for iPhone’ tweets in 2016 and early 2017. Some of them are RTing Scavino’s personal account, and Caddy Dan is that kinda guy. Parscale has consistently used an iPhone, including the June 8th photo from the Tower.

Remember that Feinstein is interested in Scavino’s contacts with, er, VKontakte, and that’s before considering Parscale’s data op. Pretty much everything tweeted out during 2016 that relates to the specifics of hacked emails is sent from an iPhone.

And the intermediary for the VK connection was Goldstone, going back to January 2016. It’s interesting that neither Scavino nor Parscale have apparently been called in for chats with investigators, or if they have, we haven’t heard about it.

[snip]

What I’m thinking is that if there was indeed an after-meeting about “dirt in the form of emails”, Scavino or Parscale may have been brought into the room. And Goldstone had been put in touch with Scavino earlier that year.

This story revealing Goldstone’s communications about his role in brokering the VK contact doesn’t support the possibility that one of the data guys was brought into the room. Rather, Goldstone’s emails suggest he discussed the idea with Don Jr and Paul Manafort, presumably on June 9, but that Scavino was not included in the meeting, even though he had been looped in during earlier discussions about it.

The newly disclosed emails show that Goldstone was in contact with the campaign about two weeks after visiting Trump Tower.

“I’m following up on an email [from] a while back of something I had mentioned to Don and Paul Manafort during a meeting recently,” Goldstone wrote to Scavino on June 29. Goldstone wrote that his client, Emin Agalarov, and a “contact” at VK wanted to create a “Vote Trump 2016” promotion.

“At the time, Paul had said he would welcome it, and so I had the VK folks mock up a basic sample page, which I am resending for your approval now,” Goldstone wrote. “It would merely require Mr. Trump to drop in a short message to Russian-American voters or a generic message, depending on your choice, and the page can be up and running very quickly.”

In any case, the discussion about VK is yet another detail that makes it pretty likely Goldstone, at least, arrived early or stayed after Natalia Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin left (in the WaPo story on this, Scott Balber denies VK came up at any meeting Ike Kaveladze attended).

One other possibility for who sent that Tweet, though: It would not be surprising if Don Jr had access to Pop’s account. At least recently, he has alternated between an iPhone and the web client to send his own tweets, so it’s possible any tweets he sent on Dad’s behalf would also be from an iPhone.

Where’s Trump get that number, 823? And why’d he use it?

But I’m at least as interested in why Trump (or rather, Scavino or Parscale or Don Jr) used the number “823” in the tweet. In the aftermath of the John Sipher interview Jeremy Scahill did, Sipher suggested to me might be some kind of signal, a code; he’s the pro–maybe he’s right.

But I was wondering whether it might, instead, reflect real-time knowledge of the Hillary campaign’s finances and resources. That is, I wondered whether that number might have, itself, reflected the sharing of some kind of data that could verify the Russians had compromised Hillary’s campaign (or at least researched it substantively enough to know more than the Trump camp did). The public use of the number, then, might serve as a signal that that message, and the inside data, had been received.

While the specific number is difficult to check, I’ve been told the 823 number would have been at least “in the ball park” of the real number of Hillary’s campaign staffers on June 9, 2016.

Politico’s analysis of the Hillary campaign’s May 20 FEC filing showed Hillary had 732 staffers at the time of the report. The day after the June 9 meeting, Philip Bump did a story comparing Hillary and Trump’s staffing (a slew of such stories in the weeks after the June 9 meeting was one reason Corey Lewandowski got replaced as campaign manager), referencing the tweet. But his analysis reflected the month’s long lag in FEC filings. Without doing cleanup (to figure out who got paid that frequently, whether anyone got paid monthly rather than bi-monthly), Clinton’s FEC filings seem to show 587 individual payroll disbursements at her headquarters on June 15, 2016.

I talked to a couple of people on the campaign who remember thinking about the tweet, and its use of the 823 number, in real time. Someone who was working on responding to such issues told me he thought, when the tweet came out, that it might have been just a guess (though now thinks it might come from misreading a report). But another Hillary staffer described taking note of the specific number in real time. That person did about 10 minutes of follow-up at the time, checking real-time FEC filings, and concluded that it might be an accurate number. Between headquarters staff, working (policy) teams, advance, and field staff, the person believes the 823 number could very well represent a close to real number of staffers Hillary had “working” on her campaign.

Of course, none of this would mean the number came from the Russians. Such estimates are done by (competent) political campaigns all the time. So it could have come from Trump’s data people — the same people who could have tweeted the tweet in Trump’s name — itself.

That said, in none of the other Trump tweets using the 30,000 or the 33,000 email number does he include a similarly specific detail — the closest comparison is one invocation of Chelsea’s wedding. Note, too, just one other of those tweets also came from an iPhone — the equally suspicious one on July 27, 2016 asking Russia to release those emails (though one of the others came from the web client).

One more point on the number: That night, at 8:22PM ET, someone on Reddit’s The_Donald thread posted, “Hillary has a staggering 823 staffers on her campaign; Donald Trump  has over 142,000.” Best as I understand it, the comment was almost immediately removed by moderators. I find that worth noting.

The June 9 Trump Tower Limited Hangout

I did two podcasts this week where I elaborated on my theory that the current story we have about the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting is just a limited hangout, a partial story that I suspect serves to hide a later, more damning part of the meeting:

I first started suspecting that the current story — that Natalia Veselnitskaya pitched a request for Magnitsky sanctions relief in exchange for … almost no dirt on Hillary — was a limited hangout as I tracked Scott Balber’s repeated heavy-handed attempts to craft a story that could explain the known emails and documents.

I want to lay out my evolving, more developed theory here.

For weeks, Russians had been offering emails in exchange for meetings

The Trump campaign first learned about “dirt” on Hillary in the form of thousands of emails on April 26. The day after learning of those emails, George Papadopoulos sent two emails to Trump campaign staffers, that may have reflected a discussion of an early quid pro quo: some meetings — meant to lead to one between Trump and Putin — in exchange for emails.

To Stephen Miller, Papadopoulos wrote, “Have some interesting messages coming in from Moscow about a trip when the time is right.” To Corey Lewandowski, it appears he asked for a phone call “to discuss Russia’s interest in hosting Mr. Trump. Have been receiving a lot of calls over the last month about Putin wanting to host him and the  team  when the time is right.”

That same day, he sent his Russian handler, Ivan Timofeev, an email saying that the first major Trump foreign policy speech he helped author was a “signal to meet.” The speech spoke, in part, about making a great deal with Russia.

I believe an easing of tensions, and improved relations with Russia from a position of strength only is possible, absolutely possible. Common sense says this cycle, this horrible cycle of hostility must end and ideally will end soon. Good for both countries.

Some say the Russians won’t be reasonable. I intend to find out. If we can’t make a deal under my administration, a deal that’s great — not good, great — for America, but also good for Russia, then we will quickly walk from the table. It’s as simple as that. We’re going to find out.

Over the course of the next month, Papadopoulos sent a Timofeev invitation for a meeting  to move towards setting up a Putin-Trump meeting via email to Lewandowski (on May 4), to Sam Clovis (on May 5, after which they spoke by phone), and to Paul Manafort (on May 21), with additional back and forth in between.

Who is the Crown Prosecutor?

Around that time in late May, Natalia Veselnitskaya met with long-time Trump associate Aras Agalarov and mentioned her efforts to help Denis Katsyv in his legal fight with Bill Browder (note, elsewhere Veselnitskaya claimed she normally keeps her clients’ business compartmented, but claims not to have done so in this case) and to lobby against the Magnitsky sanctions. That’s where, according to Veselnitskaya, the idea of connecting her with Don Jr first came about, though she doesn’t remember who came up with the idea.

Around the end of May 2016, during a conversation with a good acquaintance of mine, being my client, Aras Agalarov on a topic that was not related to the United States, I shared the story faced when defending another client, Denis Katsyv, about how terribly misled the US Congress had been by the tax defrauder William Browder, convicted in Russia, who, through his lobbyists and his close-minded rank-and-file Congress staffers, succeeded in adopting the Act in the name of a person whom Browder practically hardly ever knew.

I considered it my duty to inform the Congress people about it and asked Mr. Agalarov if there was any possibility of helping me or my colleagues to do this. I do not remember who of us was struck by the idea that maybe his son could talk about this with Donald Trump, Jr., who, although a businessman, was sure to have some acquaintances among Congress people. After my conversation with Mr. Agalarov, I prepared a reference in case it would be necessary to hand over the request – to support the hearings in the Subcommittee in the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs as to the Magnitsky’s and Browder’s story, scheduled for mid-June.

The timing of this meeting is important. We know that the date on the document alleged to be the “dirt” handed to Don Jr — one that she claims she prepared “in case it would be necessary to hand over” is May 31. Either this meeting happened before May 31 (which is when Veselnitskaya described it to have taken place), or the document was instead drawn up exclusively for lobbying purposes (which would be unsurprising, but would be inconsistent with the testimony that uses the talking points to prove the meeting was only about Magnitsky sanctions). Elsewhere she gets sketchy about the date of the document, and produced as it was by Agalarov lawyer Scott Balber, we can’t be sure about the forensics of the document.

The reason the date is important, however, is that, in pitching the Trump Tower meeting on June 3, Rob Goldstone told Don Jr that Emin Agalarov’s father met with “the Crown Prosecutor” that morning.

Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting.

The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.

This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump – helped along by Aras and Emin. [my emphasis]

Admittedly, any discrepancy on dates might be due to the game of telephone going on — Aras to Emin to Goldstone. But if the meeting in question really did happen on June 3, then it significantly increases the likelihood that “Crown Prosecutor” is not at all a reference to Veselnitskaya (who claims to have met with Agalarov earlier), as has been claimed, but is to someone else, dealing a different kind of dirt.

Spoiler alert: I suspect it is not a reference to her.

In his version of this story, Goldstone says he only played this broker role reluctantly.

“I remember specifically saying to Emin, you know, we probably shouldn’t get involved in this. It’s politics, it’s Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Neither of us have any experience in this world. It’s not our forte. I deal with music. You’re a singer and a businessman.”

Don Jr seems to have shown no such reluctance. He emailed back 17 minutes later saying, “if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.” He says that, in spite of the claim he made in his testimony that, “I had no additional information to validate what Rob was saying, I did not quite know what to make of his email.” Whatever Don Jr expected it to include on June 3, he may have gotten a clearer sense of what it was on June 6, when he spoke to Emin in a phone call set up in about an hour’s time, just as Emin got off the stage.

In fact, Don Jr had three “very short” phone calls in this period, but he’s getting forgetful in his old age and so doesn’t remember what transpired on them.

My phone records show three very short phone calls between Emin and me between June 6th and 7th. I do not recall speaking to Emin. It is possible that we left each other voice mail messages. I simply do not remember.

Veselnitskaya did not get her visa to come to the US until June 6. That’s the day when Goldstone, referencing Don Jr’s earlier instructions on timing, followed-up about a meeting.

Let me know when you are free to talk with Emin by phone about this Hillary info.

Ike Kaveladze’s still unexplained late inclusion in the meeting

Goldstone was still finalizing the meeting time on June 8 at 10:34 AM. But sometime, presumably after the time on June 7 at 6:14PM, when Don Jr told Goldstone that Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner would also attend, fellow Agalarov employee Ike Kaveladze got invited, though without Veselnitskaya ever learning why. At some unidentified time, Kaveladze called an associate of Goldstone’s and learned that the meeting would be about discussing “dirt” on Hillary Clinton — the same word Papadopoulos’ handlers had used.

Scott Balber, Kaveladze’s attorney, told The Daily Beast that before Kaveladze headed from Los Angeles to New York for the meeting, he saw an email noting that Kushner, Manafort, and Trump Jr. would all be involved. He thought it would be odd for them to attend the meeting, so he called Beniaminov before heading to New York. Both Beniaminov and Kaveladze have worked with the Agalarov’s real estate development company, the Crocus Group.

Balber said that Beniaminov told Kaveladze that he heard Rob Goldstone— Emin Agalarov’s music manager—discuss “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. It’s never become completely clear what kind of “dirt” the Russians were talking about.

Having learned of a meeting dealing dirt that included Don Jr, Kushner, and Manafort, Kaveladze got on a plane and flew to NYC.

According to Veselnitskaya’s very sketchy account, she got an email finalizing the meeting when she arrived in NYC on June 8 — an email that was also CC’ed to Kaveladze. She and Kaveladze spoke by phone sometime that day, and met sometime before the meeting.

With those present at the meeting, Samochernov, Kaveladze, and Akhmetshin, I spoke about the meeting on the day it was to be held, possibly, I mentioned it the day I arrived in New York when speaking with Kaveladze by phone, but I do not have exact information about it.

[snip]

We got acquainted first by phone when I was in Moscow. I met him personally first on June 9 shortly before the meeting.

[snip]

We had a phone call and met at a café, I do not remember where and at what café. I told him briefly what I knew about the Browder case, about the Ziffs and their possible support when lobbying his interests in the United States.

Like Don Jr’s memory of his phone calls with Emin, Veselnitskaya claims to have forgotten what got said in that phone call with Kaveladze.

Competing versions of the meeting

Which brings us to June 9.

We don’t know what Kaveladze’s schedule was. We do know that on the morning of June 9 — before lunch, which is when Veselnitskaya said Akhmetshin first got involved — Veselnitskaya asked Goldstone if she could bring Akhmetshin, whom she claimed had just “arrived that day in New York for an evening performance of Russian theatre stars.” Goldstone responded a half hour later, “Please bring them with you and meet Ike for your meeting at 4PM today.” (The copy of the email publicly released does not include the CC to Kaveladze that Veselnitskaya said was included.)

As I laid out in this post, Veselnitskaya says she arrived at the meeting with her translator, Kaveladze, and Akhmetshin, was met by Goldstone there, and brought to a board room where Don Jr and Manafort were already present.

I came to the meeting with Anatoly Samochornov, a translator, Irakly Kaveladze, a lawyer of my client who helped to arrange for the meeting, Rinat Akhmetshin, my colleague who was working with me on the Prevezon case. We were met by a big, stout man who introduced himself as Rob and escorted us on the elevator to the boardroom. I saw two men in the boardroom – one of them introduced himself as Donald Trump Jr., while the other did not introduce himself. Another young man entered the boardroom a little later and left it shortly afterwards. I found out much later that the two unidentified gentlemen were P. Manafort and J. Kushner.

According to Veselnitskaya, Kaveladze was introduced — to the extent he was — as “Ike.” Remember that he attended the 2013 dinner celebrating the Agalarov-brokered deal to bring Miss Universe to Moscow, meaning at least some in the Trump camp should know him.

Veselnitskaya’s account seems to line up with Jared Kushner’s, which basically has him arriving late, staying for about 10 minutes of Veselnitskaya’s discussion of adoptions (though he seems to be claiming not to be present for any discussion of Magnitsky sanctions), then asked his assistant to give him an excuse to leave.

I arrived at the meeting a little late. When I got there, the person who has since been identified as a Russian attorney was talking about the issue of a ban on U.S. adoptions of Russian children. I had no idea why that topic was being raised and quickly determined that my time was not well-spent at this meeting. Reviewing emails recently confirmed my memory that the meeting was a waste of our time and that, in looking for a polite way to leave and get back to my work, I actually emailed an assistant from the meeting after I had been there for ten or so minutes and wrote “Can u pls call me on my cell? Need excuse to get out of meeting.” I had not met the attorney before the meeting nor spoken with her since. I thought nothing more of this short meeting until it came to my attention recently. I did not read or recall this email exchange before it was shown to me by my lawyers when reviewing documents for submission to the committees. No part of the meeting I attended included anything about the campaign, there was no follow up to the meeting that I am aware of, I do not recall how many people were there (or their names), and I have no knowledge of any documents being offered or accepted.

Jared claims not to know who was at the meeting, which is somewhat credible given that he arrived after introductions.

For some reason, Goldstone holds out the claim this meeting started by talking about Democratic campaign donations then moved to sanctions.

Goldstone tells me that he only half-listened to the presentation from Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer, as he checked emails on his phone. But he insists, as Trump Jr has done, that the meeting ended awkwardly after she switched tack from discussing Democratic funding to US sanctions legislation and Moscow’s retaliatory policy that restricts Americans from adopting Russian children. “It was vague, generic nonsense,” Goldstone says.

[snip]

“Within minutes of starting, Jared said to her, ‘Could you just get to the point? I’m not sure I’m following what you’re saying,’ ” Goldstone says.

It was then that she started talking in detail about the provisions of the Magnitsky legislation and adoptions, he says. “I believe that she practised a classic bait-and-switch. She got in there on one pretext and really wanted to discuss something else.”

Don Jr’s memory of the meeting is somewhat different. Not only doesn’t he remember Akhmetshin’s presence at all, but he remembers Manafort arriving after the visitors were already in the conference room (mind you, I don’t consider this a significant discrepancy). And he definitely remembers adoptions being discussed at the same time as the sanctions.

As I recall, at or around 4 pm, Rob Goldstone came up to our offices and entered our conference room with a lawyer who I now know to be Natalia Veselnitskaya. Joining them was a translator and a man who was introduced to me as Irakli Kaveladze. After a few minutes, Jared and Paul joined. While numerous press outlets have reported that there were a total of eight people present at the meeting, I only recall seven. Because Rob was able to bring the entire group up by only giving his name to the security guard in the lobby, I had no advance warning regarding who or how many people would be attending. There is no attendance log to refer back to and I did not take notes.

After perfunctory greetings, the lawyer began telling the group very generally something about individuals connected to Russia supporting or funding Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton or the Democratic National Committee. It was quite difficult for me to understand what she was saying or why. Given our busy schedules, we politely asked if she could be more specific and provide more clarity about her objective for the meeting. At that point, Ms. Veselnitskaya pivoted and began talking about the adoption of Russian children by U.S. citizens and something called the Magnitsky Act.

Until that day, I had never heard of the Magnitsky Act and had no familiarity with this issue. It was clear to me that her real purpose in asking for the meeting all along was to discuss Russian adoptions and the Magnitsky Act. At this point, Jared excused himself from the meeting to take a phone call.

Despite some minor differences in choreography, thus far the differences in the stories are not that substantial.

That changes, though, in the descriptions of how the meeting ended.

Don Jr claims he said that Trump was a private citizen so could do nothing to help.

I proceeded to quickly and politely end the meeting by telling Ms. Veselnitskaya that because my father was a private citizen there did not seem to be any point to having this discussion.

Goldstone claims something similar — that Don Jr told Veselnitskaya she should talk to Obama’s Administration, not the future Trump one.

“Don Jr ended it by telling her that she should be addressing her concerns to the Obama administration, because they were the ones in power.”

But in an an interview with Bloomberg that Veselnitskaya disavowed in her statement to SJC, she said that Don Jr suggested he would reconsider the sanctions “if we came to power.”

“Looking ahead, if we come to power, we can return to this issue and think what to do about it,’’ Trump Jr. said of the 2012 law, she recalled. “I understand our side may have messed up, but it’ll take a long time to get to the bottom of it,” he added, according to her.

The extra details in the contemporaneous record as interpreted by Glenn Simpson

As far as we know, there’s only one contemporaneous record of this meeting: the notes that Manafort — whom Veselnitskaya claimed “closed his eyes and fell asleep” during the 20 minute meeting — took on his phone. Glenn Simpson was asked to comment on Manafort’s notes in his Senate testimony. Some of what he describes confirms these public accounts: the early reference to Browder, the other reference to Juliana Glover, the reference to adoptions.

MR. DAVIS: These are the meeting notes from 3 the June 9th meeting at Trump Tower. These are Mr. Manafort’s notes or they’re contemporaneous.

BY THE WITNESS:

A. I could tell — obviously you know who Bill Browder is. Cyprus Offshore, Bill Browder’s structure, you know, investment — Hermitage Capital, his hedge fund, set up numerous companies in Cyprus to engage in inward investment into Russia, which is a common structure, both partially for tax reasons but also to have entities outside of Russia, you know, managing specific investments. I can only tell you I assume that’s what that references. I don’t know what the 133 million —

[snip]

A. I can skip down a couple. So “Value in Cyprus as inter,” I don’t know what that means. “Illici,” I don’t know what that means. “Active sponsors of RNC,” I don’t know what that means. “Browder hired Joanna Glover” is a mistaken reference to Juliana Glover, who was Dick Cheney’s press secretary during the Iraq war and associated with another foreign policy controversy. “Russian adoptions by American families” I assume is a reference to the adoption issue.

While Simpson doesn’t recognize the reference, in addition to the passing reference to Cyprus shell companies, the notes allegedly used for the meeting explain the 133 million reference.

In the period of late 1999 to 2004, two companies – Speedwagon Investments 1 and 2, registered in New York, and owned by the said U.S. investors, acting through three Cypriot companies, Giggs Enterprises Limited, Zhoda Limited, Peninsular Heights Limited illegally acquired more than 133 million Gazprom shares in the amount exceeding $80 million in the name of the Russian companies Kameya, Lor, Excalibur, Sterling Investments.

But there seems to be more extensive reference to Cyprus (the laundering of money through which, of course, Manafort is himself an expert; it features centrally in his indictment).

And none of the accounts of the meeting seem to explain Manafort’s half-written “illicit,” nor does “Active sponsors of RNC” appear anywhere.

So there appear to be two things in Manafort’s notes that aren’t explained by the several accounts of the meeting: RNC support (elsewhere attributed to the reference to Ziff brothers’ political donations, something which Manafort might independently know) and, most intriguingly, “illicit” (as well, as perhaps, the more central focus on Cyprus than reflected in the talking points).

Who left the conference room when?

This brings me to the question of who left the conference room when.

According to the LAT, Mueller’s team seems newly interested in an exchange between Ivanka, Veselnitskaya, and Akhmetshin, which attests to Ivanka’s awareness — whatever her spouse’s and brother’s ignorance — of Akhmetshin’s presence.

Investigators also are exploring the involvement of the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, who did not attend the half-hour sit-down on June 9, 2016, but briefly spoke with two of the participants, a Russian lawyer and a Russian-born Washington lobbyist. Details of the encounter were not previously known.

It occurred at the Trump Tower elevator as the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, and the lobbyist, Rinat Akhmetshin, were leaving the building and consisted of pleasantries, a person familiar with the episode said. But Mueller’s investigators want to know every contact the two visitors had with Trump’s family members and inner circle.

But it also may suggest that, after arriving with the two Russians, Ike Kaveladze may have stayed on for a bit afterwards.

Which may be backed by another detail in the various accounts of the meeting. Both Don Jr …

She thanked us for our time and everyone left the conference room. As we walked out, I recall Rob coming over to me to apologize.

And Goldstone claim that the music promoter apologized for the meeting at the end.

As he emerged from the meeting, Goldstone says that he told Trump Jr he was “deeply embarrassed” that it had been an apparent waste of time.

If Goldstone “apologized” for the meeting, as he and Don Jr claim, it suggests Goldstone, at least, stayed behind long enough to say something that would otherwise be rude to say in front of Veselnitskaya. Don Jr’s claim of an apology might provide convenient excuse.

Perhaps most curious among the first-hand accounts is Goldstone’s claim that he thought the 20-30 minute meeting was “dragging on.”

He had not even planned to attend, but was encouraged to stay by Trump Jr. His biggest concern, he says, was that if the meeting dragged on, he would be caught in the notorious Lincoln Tunnel traffic on his journey home.

But her emails

At 4:40 PM, 40 minutes after the meeting started, Trump tweeted what would become one of the most famous exchanges of the campaign, his retort to Hillary Clinton’s taunt that he should delete his Twitter account with this response,

Did you say “dirt” in the form of Hillary emails?

Six days after that meeting, Guccifer 2.0 released the first of the documents stolen by hacking Democratic targets (though note, none of these are known to have come from the DNC, which is the only hack the WaPo reported on the day before; while some have been traced to Podesta’s emails, the others remain unaccounted for).

While I have argued that the specific content in that dump can be explained, in significant part, as an effort to respond to and rebut the claims CrowdStrike and the Democrats made to the WaPo, some of the documents would be particularly valuable in selling the Trump team on the value of any “dirt” on offer. That includes the oppo research on Trump himself (though that was definitely also a response to the WaPo), but also what purports to be a secret policy document stolen from Hillary’s Secretary of State computer, and a document on Hillary’s election plans. Significantly, all three of these documents were among the ones with the altered metadata, in part bearing the signature of Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky.

In short, that first post from Guccifer 2.0 would not only refute the confident claims the Democrats made to the WaPo, but it would provide the Trump camp with a sense of the scope of documents on offer. Within that first week, Guccifer 2.0 would even offer what claimed to be a (heh) “dossier” on Hillary Clinton. (Given my concerns that Russians learned of the Steele dossier and filled it with disinformation, I find it rather interesting that Guccifer 2.0 first advertised this dossier on the same day, June 20, that Steele submitted the first report in his dossier.)

Eerie

If, in fact, there was a second part of this meeting, it seems to be the high level meeting that George Papadopoulos had been working on setting up for weeks, meetings discussed in the context of offering dirt in the form of emails. The Russians laid out a quo — relief of the Magnitsky sanctions — and a week later, provided the first installments of the quid — oppo research from Hillary Clinton.

That would more readily explain why, on June 14, Goldstone would forward this account of the DNC hack to Emin and Ike (but not the other attendees) declaring the DNC hack to be eerie in the wake of what transpired at the meeting.

In one email dated June 14, 2016, Goldstone forwarded a CNN story on Russia’s hacking of DNC emails to his client, Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, and Ike Kaveladze, a Russian who attended the meeting along with Trump Jr., Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Manafort, describing the news as “eerily weird” given what they had discussed at Trump Tower five days earlier.

And that, I suspect, is the real story that Scott Balber has been working so hard to obscure.

Mark Corallo’s Obstruction Concerns: “The President…did not attend the meeting.”

Mark Corallo reportedly told Michael Wolff that he quit working for Donald Trump as Marc Kasowitz’ spokesperson because he believed the Air Force One response to the June  9 meeting to be a cover-up.

An aggrieved, unyielding, and threatening president dominated the discussion, pushing into line his daughter and her husband, Hicks, and Raffel. Kasowitz—the lawyer whose specific job was to keep Trump at arm’s length from Russian-related matters—was kept on hold on the phone for an hour and then not put through. The president insisted that the meeting in Trump Tower was purely and simply about Russian adoption policy. That’s what was discussed, period. Period. Even though it was likely, if not certain, that the Times had the incriminating email chain—in fact, it was quite possible that Jared and Ivanka and the lawyers knew the Times had this email chain—the president ordered that no one should let on to the more problematic discussion about Hillary Clinton.

[snip]

In Washington, Kasowitz and the legal team’s spokesperson, Mark Corallo, weren’t informed of either the Times article or the plan for how to respond to it until Don Jr.’s initial statement went out just before the story broke that Saturday.

[snip]

Mark Corallo was instructed not to speak to the press, indeed not to even answer his phone. Later that week, Corallo, seeing no good outcome—and privately confiding that he believed the meeting on Air Force One represented a likely obstruction of justice—quit.

Though as the book makes clear, Trump’s handling (which came just after spending an hour speaking with Vladimir Putin with no minders) of the June 9 meeting story is also what led Kasowitz to leave — both parts of a legal firewall that Steve Bannon had personally put in place.

Given my increasing suspicion that there was a second part of the meeting that has not yet been made public and Bannon’s claim — one Stephen Miller spent 12 minutes not denying over the weekend — that there was no chance that Trump wasn’t part of the meeting, I want to look more closely at the things Corallo said before he was silenced, before the former DOJ spox left out of concerns real obstruction of justice had just occurred.

Here’s some of what appeared in the first NYT story on the June 9 meeting, including a Mark Corallo statement that got repeated elsewhere.

In his statement, Donald Trump Jr. said: “It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up.”

He added: “I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand.”

Late Saturday, Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the president’s lawyer, issued a statement implying that the meeting was a setup. Ms. Veselnitskaya and the translator who accompanied her to the meeting “misrepresented who they were,” it said.

In an interview, Mr. Corallo explained that Ms. Veselnitskaya, in her anti-Magnitsky campaign, employs a private investigator whose firm, Fusion GPS, produced an intelligence dossier that contained unproven allegations against the president. In a statement, the firm said, “Fusion GPS learned about this meeting from news reports and had no prior knowledge of it. Any claim that Fusion GPS arranged or facilitated this meeting in any way is false.”

That’s interesting enough, because it piggy backs on the larger efforts to treat the dossier as the sole basis for the Russian investigation, and more importantly because it focuses on Natalia Veselitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin, and not Ike Kaveladze and Rob Goldstone — whom I increasingly suspect stuck around for a second part of the meeting.

If there were two parts to this meeting, then Corallo’s statement and NYT interview addressed just one part of it.

But that’s not the last thing Corallo did that week, before leaving.

He also released this statement to the AP and others.

Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Trump’s legal team, said only, “The President was not aware of and did not attend the meeting.”

The guy who left the White House out of concern about obstruction of justice that very same week, the guy whom Steve Bannon (he who was sure that Trump did meet the meeting attendees) as a firewall in the Russia investigation, denied that Trump had been at the meeting.

The last words Corallo said before leaving out of concerns about obstruction of justice were that Trump did not attend the meeting.

Why Did Ivanka Run into Just Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin at the Trump Tower Elevator?

In this post, I argued that Natalia Veselnitskaya’s story about her June 9 Trump Tower meeting with Don Jr, Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner seemed designed (with help from one time Trump and current Agalarov lawyer Scott Balber) to downplay the role of Agalarov employee Ike Kaveladze.

It’s that even with all of Scott Balber’s efforts, there’s still no explanation for why Kaveladze attended this meeting. Given Balber’s significant efforts to minimize Agalarov’s role in the meeting — and his denials that Agalarov might have ties directly to Putin — I find the failure to explain that notable.

The LAT story convinces me I’m right. The basic story is that Mueller has called at least one of the attendees at that meeting back for a second interview; for a number of reasons, it is highly likely that person is Rinat Akhmetshin. The self-interested defense lawyers who are the source of the story suggest that this must be because Mueller is pursuing an obstruction case, not a collusion case.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has recalled for questioning at least one participant in a controversial meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in June 2016, and is looking into President Trump’s misleading claim that the discussion focused on adoption, rather than an offer to provide damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

Some defense lawyers involved in the case view Mueller’s latest push as a sign that investigators are focusing on possible obstruction of justice by Trump and several of his closest advisors for their statements about the politically sensitive meeting, rather than for collusion with the Russians.

But the far more interesting part of the story is that Mueller wants details about Ivanka’s actions that day, because, the story explains, she ran into Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin by the Trump Tower elevator.

Investigators also are exploring the involvement of the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, who did not attend the half-hour sit-down on June 9, 2016, but briefly spoke with two of the participants, a Russian lawyer and a Russian-born Washington lobbyist. Details of the encounter were not previously known.

From that, Twitter conspiracists and Newsweek (which lately has been close to the same thing) are suggesting that Ivanka might be in trouble.

That’s not the point of this line of questioning, in my opinion.

LAT makes it clear (presumably based on Akhmetshin’s story) that the Ivanka exchange happened on their way out of the meeting with Jr and the others.

It occurred at the Trump Tower elevator as the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, and the lobbyist, Rinat Akhmetshin, were leaving the building and consisted of pleasantries, a person familiar with the episode said.

According to Veselnitskaya, she arrived with Akhmetshin, Kaveladze, and her translator; Jr and Manafort were in the board room when she arrived.

I came to the meeting with Anatoly Samochornov, a translator, Irakly Kaveladze, a lawyer of my client who helped to arrange for the meeting, Rinat Akhmetshin, my colleague who was working with me on the Prevezon case. We were met by a big, stout man who introduced himself as Rob and escorted us on the elevator to the boardroom. I saw two men in the boardroom – one of them introduced himself as Donald Trump Jr., while the other did not introduce himself.

She says she met with Kaveladze before the meeting.

I met him personally first on June 9 shortly before the meeting.

We had a phone call and met at a café, I do not remember where and at what café.

Though, admittedly, every single thing she says about Kaveladze is sketchy.

Finally, Veselnitskaya denies that she met with Glenn Simpson before and after the meeting, a story Fox News reported that “a confidential source” told it.

Last week Fox News 38 referring to a confidential source reported that I met with Glenn Simpson before and after the meeting with Trump’s son, and that “but hours before the Trump Tower meeting on June 9, 2016, Fusion co-founder and ex-Wall Street Journal reporter Glenn Simpson was with Veselnitskaya in a Manhattan federal courtroom, in a hearing on the DOJ’s claim against Prevezon Holdings, a Cyprus company owned by a Russian businessman Denis Katsyv.” This statement does not reflect the reality.

Nowhere in Veselnitskaya’s story addresses how or in whose company she left the meeting.

But the LAT report suggests she left with Akhmetshin. The report mentions nothing about the presence of Goldstone or Kaveladze, waiting at the elevator, chatting up Ivanka.

So did the two Agalarov employees stay later, which would leave them in a room alone with Don Jr and Paul Manafort?

Update: I’ve corrected this to reflect that Veselnitskaya said she did arrive with Kaveladze.

Why Call Alice Donovan a Troll?

The WaPo and CounterPunch have the story of Alice Donovan, a pseudonymous persona the FBI suspected (it’s not clear starting when) of being part of a Russian influence operation. The WaPo makes it clear sources told them about the investigation (though without clearly revealing when FBI identified Donovan or when they learned about the investigation) and leaked the report behind this story (or perhaps it is all one report).

The FBI was tracking Donovan as part of a months-long counterintelligence operation code-named “NorthernNight.” Internal bureau reports described her as a pseudonymous foot soldier in an army of Kremlin-led trolls seeking to undermine America’s democratic institutions.

[snip]

The events surrounding the FBI’s NorthernNight investigation follow a pattern that repeated for years as the Russian threat was building: U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies saw some warning signs of Russian meddling in Europe and later in the United States but never fully grasped the breadth of the Kremlin’s ambitions.

CP first learned about it when Adam Entous called about the leaked intelligence report on her.

We received a call on Thursday morning, November 30, from Adam Entous, a national security reporter at the Washington Post. Entous said that he had a weird question to ask about one of our contributors. What did we know about Alice Donovan? It was indeed an odd question. The name was only faintly familiar. Entous said that he was asking because he’d been leaked an FBI document alleging that “Alice Donovan” was a fictitious identity with some relationship to Russia. He described the FBI document as stating that “Donovan” began pitching stories to websites in early 2016. The document cites an article titled “Cyberwarfare: Challenge of Tomorrow.”

And CP reveals they first came to believe that Donovan was fake (and not just a serial plagiarist) when a NYT story listed Donovan’s account among those that Facebook had shut down as fake.

This long story focused on dozens of phony Facebook accounts which the Times claims pushed pro-Russian messages during the election. Buried in the 28th paragraph of the story was the name “Alice Donovan.” Donovan’s Facebook page, the Times said, “pointed to documents from Mr. Soros’s Open Society Foundations that she said showed its pro-American tilt and — in rather formal language for Facebook — describe eventual means and plans of supporting opposition movements, groups or individuals in various countries.’” According to the Times, Facebook had deactivated the Donovan account after it failed a verification protocol.

CP ends by noting that for the entirety of the period when FBI was investigating this pseudonymous persona, they never informed CP.

If the FBI was so worried about the risks posed by Alice Donovan’s false persona, they could have tipped off some of the media outlets she was corresponding with. But in this case they refrained for nearly two years. Perhaps they concluded that Donovan was the hapless and ineffectual persona she appears to be. More likely, they wanted to continue tracking her. But they couldn’t do that without also snooping on American journalists and that represents an icy intrusion on the First Amendment. For a free press to function, journalists need to be free to communicate with whomever they want, without fear that their exchanges are being monitored by federal agencies. A free press needs to be free to make mistakes and learn from them. We did.

It’s an interesting example — and given my prior focus on Facebook’s intelligence apparatus (one reiterated by the revelation that Facebook has been taking down NK infrastructure of its own accord) — one that raises questions about whether FBI identified this persona or FB did.

But I’m wondering why both WaPo and CP are calling the Donovan persona a troll. While it sounds like Donovan’s election related interventions were trollish about Hillary, some of what she published at CP and other outlets clearly supported Russian policy objectives (that CP might legitimately agree with) or — as CP notes — mirrored mainstream reporting on Clinton’s emails.

Donovan served not just to poison debate, as trolls do.

So I’m wondering why people are using that term. I’m wondering, in part, why we should distinguish Donovan’s authorship (or plagiarism) of articles from leaks from foreign intelligence services, which news articles have long relied on, whether Israeli, Saudi, or Russian sources (remember, for example, how presumed Yemeni or Saudi sources have repeatedly revealed details of US or UK double agents). A number of people in DC have laughed with me about the way that Rinat Akhmetshin — a central figure in the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting and as such suspected of doing Russian intelligence bidding — has long regaled mainstream journalists as a source. And I’ve suggested that Scott Balber — and American lawyer working for a Russian oligarch — may be fostering a cover story for the same meeting.

So why is one kind of intelligence disinformation called journalism and another called trolling?

In Which Former NatSec Prosecutor Andrew McCarthy Embraces Russian Disinformation

Andrew McCarthy is one of the few right wingers I think all Trump opponents need to read. That’s true, partly, because his experience as a top NatSec prosecutor grants him an important perspective from which to assess the Trump investigation. And also, he engages in his own assessment of the evidence, as he has received it, even if he brings a far right bias to it.

McCarthy decides the dossier was key in the Page FISA order

Which is why defenders of the Christopher Steele dossier should read — and prepare to respond to — this column concluding (after some prior good faith consideration) that Democrats do have a problem with the way the dossier was used to justify an investigation against Trump. In it, McCarthy divorces his discussion from the known timeline and concludes that dossier is the true referent to Peter Strzok’s “insurance policy” text.

Was it the Steele dossier that so frightened the FBI? I think so.

[snip]

In sum, the FBI and DOJ were predisposed to believe the allegations in Steele’s dossier. Because of their confidence in Steele, because they were predisposed to believe his scandalous claims about Donald Trump, they made grossly inadequate efforts to verify his claims. Contrary to what I hoped would be the case, I’ve come to believe Steele’s claims were used to obtain FISA surveillance authority for an investigation of Trump.

McCarthy then points to this report (as I have) of Andrew McCabe pointing only to Carter Page’s trip to Moscow as validation of the dossier.

But when pressed to identify what in the salacious document the bureau had actually corroborated, the sources said, McCabe cited only the fact that Trump campaign adviser Carter Page had traveled to Moscow. Beyond that, investigators said, McCabe could not even say that the bureau had verified the dossier’s allegations about the specific meetings Page supposedly held in Moscow.

From that, McCarthy departs from prior points he has made about FBI’s corroboration of intelligence on FISA applications and ignores reports that FBI had a FISA order on Carter Page before the campaign (those reports admittedly might be disinformation, but then so might every single report pertaining to FISA orders) to suggest that the Steele dossier was the primary thing FBI used to get a FISA order on him (and, even more inaccurately, to justify the entire investigation). Here’s where McCarthy ends his piece.

The FBI always has information we do not know about. But given that Page has not been accused of a crime, and that the DOJ and FBI would have to have alleged some potential criminal activity to justify a FISA warrant targeting the former U.S. naval intelligence officer, it certainly seems likely that the Steele dossier was the source of this allegation. In conclusion, while there is a dearth of evidence to date that the Trump campaign colluded in Russia’s cyberespionage attack on the 2016 election, there is abundant evidence that the Obama administration colluded with the Clinton campaign to use the Steele dossier as a vehicle for court-authorized monitoring of the Trump campaign — and to fuel a pre-election media narrative that U.S. intelligence agencies believed Trump was scheming with Russia to lift sanctions if he were elected president.

McCarthy may well have a point. That is, I think his argument that DOJ’s predisposition to believe Steele may have led them to treat the dossier more credibly than it warranted. But as I said, to conclude the dossier is the main thing, he has to ignore reporting that Page had already had a FISA order (meaning FBI had already established, to the standard that FISC measures it, that Page might be involved in clandestine activity). He also doesn’t mention Chuck Grassley’s concerns about parallel construction, which he’d only have if he knew that FBI had corroborated the dossier intelligence (as McCarthy had been confident would have happened before this column). Nor does he mention that Page’s visit to Moscow was reported contemporaneously, in both Russian and DC. Further, as I lay out in this post, treating the dossier as definitive on August 15 doesn’t get you very far. Nor does McCarthy acknowledge that the public record makes clear that other pieces of intelligence also established a basis to open an investigation, regardless of what role the dossier contributed.

Still, as far as it goes, McCarthy’s argument thus far should at least be engaged by Trump opponents, because as far as it goes, it is a legitimate complaint.

FBI in no way let the dossier affect its election tampering, which ultimately worked to hurt Hillary

The first area where McCarthy goes off the rails, however, is in his suggestion that DOJ’s credulity about the dossier led the FBI to oppose Trump’s election, rather than fast-track an investigation into his ties with Russia.

He does this, first of all, by speculating — based on zero evidence — that FBI found out early on that the dossier was oppo research.

At some point, though, perhaps early on, the FBI and DOJ learned that the dossier was actually a partisan opposition-research product. By then, they were dug in. No one, after all, would be any the wiser: Hillary would coast to victory, so Democrats would continue running the government; FISA materials are highly classified, so they’d be kept under wraps.

I believe Steele’s public statements (which I admit are suspect) suggest the opposite. That is, I believe he was sufficiently compartmented from whoever was paying for the dossier such that he might not know about it (though that admittedly raises the stakes of what Bruce Ohr knew from his wife Nelly, and to what degree she was upholding client confidentiality).

McCarthy then suggests that FBI’s goal and actions reflect efforts to ensure Trump would not be elected.

[T]he suspicion is that, motivated by partisanship and spurred by shoddy information that it failed to verify, the FBI exploited its counterintelligence powers in hopes of derailing Trump’s presidential run.

[snip]

DOJ and FBI, having dropped a criminal investigation that undeniably established Hillary Clinton’s national-security recklessness, managed simultaneously to convince themselves that Donald Trump was too much of a national-security risk to be president.

Having laid out his argument that FBI gave Hillary a pass on her email investigation (yes, that part of this is laughable), McCarthy completely ignores the events of late October to make this claim.

First, he ignores that Jim Comey publicly reopened the investigation into Hillary less than two weeks before the election in large part because significant swaths of the FBI didn’t want her to win and Comey worried it would otherwise leak. You simply cannot say an FBI that did so was actively working to ensure a Hillary win.

Just as importantly, it appears that after it became publicly clear, with David Corn’s Steele story, that the dossier was oppo research, the FBI not only backed out of a plan to pay for its continuation, but leaked to the NYT that FBI had found nothing to substantiate any ties with Russia.

Note, this detail also provides a much better explanation for why the FBI backed out of its planned relationship with Steele in October, one that matches my supposition. As soon as it became clear Elias was leaking the dossier all over as oppo research, the FBI realized how inappropriate it was to use the information themselves, no matter how credible Steele is. This also likely explains why FBI seeded a story with NYT, one Democrats have complained about incessantly since, reporting “none of the investigations so far have found any conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government.” Ham-handed? Sure. But in the wake of Harry Reid and David Corn’s attempts to force FBI to reveal what Democratic oppo research had handed to FBI, the FBI needed to distance themselves from the oppo research, and make sure they didn’t become part of it. Particularly if Steele was not fully forthcoming about who was paying him, the FBI was fucked.

Whatever the facts about when it discovered the Democrats were funding the dossier, ultimately FBI went way out of its way to ensure the allegations in the dossier didn’t influence the election.

Wherein a former NatSec prosecutor yawns about Russian disinformation

At this point, I’m somewhat agnostic about the best explanation for all the shortcomings of the Steele dossier. It’s possible that, being offered money to support a conclusion, Steele just told his client what they wanted to hear, regardless of the actual reality (though that doesn’t accord with the public record on Steele’s credibility, at all). But it’s also possible that Russia learned about the dossier early on (possibly from Fusion researcher Rinat Akhmetshin), and spent a lot of time feeding Steele’s known sources disinformation. I’m increasingly leaning to the latter explanation, but I still remain agnostic.

Not McCarthy. He comes down squarely on the side of disinformation.

The dossier appears to contain misinformation. Knowing he was a spy-for-hire trusted by Americans, Steele’s Russian-regime sources had reason to believe that misinformation could be passed into the stream of U.S. intelligence and that it would be acted on — and leaked — as if it were true, to America’s detriment. This would sow discord in our political system. If the FBI and DOJ relied on the dossier, it likely means they were played by the Putin regime.

But McCarthy doesn’t think this through. And he doesn’t think it through even while proclaiming, abundant evidence to the the contrary, “there is a dearth of evidence to date that the Trump campaign colluded in Russia’s cyberespionage attack.”

There’s not a dearth of evidence!

To claim that there is, McCarthy ignores that longtime Trump associate Felix Sater was brokering deals with Russian oligarchs that he believed would get Trump elected in 2015. McCarthy ignores the likelihood George Papadopoulos warned the campaign of stolen emails, referred to as “dirt on Hillary,” even before the Democrats knew about any stolen emails. He ignores that Don Jr took a meeting (with Fusion associate Rinat Akhmetshin) based on a promise of dirt. He ignores that the broker behind the meeting, Rob Goldstone, found it eerie that stolen emails were released right after the meeting. McCarthy ignores that the substance of the meeting — sanctions relief — is precisely what Flynn was ordered to broker even before Trump was inaugurated, which Flynn is now explaining in depth in part because Jared Kushner withheld information that might have exonerated Flynn’s actions.

That is, McCarthy ignores that there’s a great deal of evidence, even in the public record, that Trump welcomed the release of stolen Hillary emails in a meeting at which sanctions were discussed, and that Trump promised to give Russia sanctions relief even before he was inaugurated.

Had he considered all this evidence, though, he might have had to think about why none of this shows up in the dossier, not even — especially not — the meeting which a Fusion research associate attended. Had he considered all this evidence, he would have had to think about how much the dossier looks like a distraction from all the evidence of collusion that was literally lying right before Fusion’s face. He also might have to consider how the dossier, paid for in response to the DNC hack, was worse than the public record precisely as it pertained to Russian hack and leaks.

Sure, it’s possible the Russians decided to plant a story of Trump collusion where no evidence existed, and did so well before Hillary’s investment in such a narrative was public (it would be interesting to know whether emails Russia stole in April would support such a narrative). It’s possible that’s what the disinformation of the dossier accomplishes. All that would be inconsistent with what everyone believed at the time, which is that Hillary would win.

That’s possible, sure.

But that’s not what the existing evidence supports. That is, if the dossier is disinformation, then it appears most likely to be disinformation that served as a distraction from the real collusion happening in easily researchable form. That’d be especially likely given that Manafort seems to have encouraged Trump to carry out precisely the counter propaganda that, with this column, McCarthy has now joined.