When the Right Wing Lunatic Fringe isn’t so Crazy

When the Right Wing Lunatic Fringe isn’t so Crazy

When the Right Wing Lunatic Fringe isn’t so Crazy

Many of us have become numb to the nonsensical right wing “Deep State” conspiracy theories being used by Trump and his most rabid supporters to discredit and prematurely end the Mueller investigation: Robert Mueller is a criminal; it was actually Hillary Clinton who colluded with Russia; James Comey was a “Clinton fixer.” So when legitimately questionable information surfaces, many on the left shrug and write it off as more of the same. There are two issues, however, which, if we are being intellectually honest, we need to acknowledge, discuss and come to terms with.

One of those is the role of Bruce and Nellie Ohr in the Trump-Russia case.

In late 2015, the conservative publication Washington Free Beacon, whose owner was believed to be a supporter of Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio, hired research firm Fusion GPS to look into the background of then Presidential candidate Donald Trump. After Trump won the primary in mid 2016, the Beacon understandably stopped paying Fusion to research Trump. However, Perkins Coie, a law firm representing the Clinton Campaign, soon began paying Fusion GPS to continue the research.

By that point, according to Fusion founder Glenn Simpson’s testimonies to the House and Senate, Fusion had compiled enough information to see that the most curious aspects of Trump’s background were related to his potential organized crime connections and his activities in Russia.

To help perform further research into these matters, in mid 2016, Fusion contracted former-British-spy-turned-consultant Christopher Steele, with whom Simpson had worked on previous research projects, who was a top expert on Russia with a reputation for producing accurate information, and who had a number of longtime trusted sources within Russia for gathering his information. Over the next several months, Steele talked with his sources and produced 17 memos for Fusion GPS about Trump-Russia that came to be known as “the Steele dossier.”


 

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According to Simpson, Steele quickly became so alarmed by what he was uncovering – an active plot by Russia to put a Kremlin-compromised President in the Oval Office – that he told Simpson that he considered it his professional duty to contact U.S. law enforcement immediately. Simpson told Steele that he did not know anyone that he could contact. Steele said that he had connected in the past with law enforcement in the U.S. on other cases and would take care of the notification. Steele followed through on this in early July of 2016.

The part of the narrative that becomes questionable is that one person to whom Steele reached out – either in July or later on – appears to have been a longtime acquaintance, Department of Justice official Bruce Ohr. Allegedly without Steele’s awareness, Bruce Ohr’s wife Nellie coincidentally happened to be one of a tiny group of people (countable on one’s fingers) who was also being employed by Fusion GPS to investigate Donald Trump. And Bruce Ohr was allegedly unaware that his wife was doing this work. And Glenn Simpson was apparently unaware of who Nellie Ohr’s husband was. The coincidences and lack of awareness of others’ activities within this small group of people seems remarkable.

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Another issue that is grossly under-reported in the mainstream media is the connection between Fusion GPS and the Trump Tower meeting.

Around 2013, Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya retained U.S. law firm Baker Hostetler to assist her with a money laundering case that the U.S. government had brought against her client, Prevezon Holdings, a company based on the island of Cyprus. (Cyprus is notorious as a place where wealthy Russians launder illegally-obtained money). In Spring of 2014, Baker hired Fusion GPS to do research for the Prevezon case. Fusion’s Prevezon research led to questions about financial dealings of a hedge fund manager named William Browder.

William Browder has a long adversarial history with Vladimir Putin. In the mid 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, an atmosphere of lawlessness pervaded Russia. Wealthy oligarchs took advantage of the situation to dramatically increase their wealth by grabbing up former state-owned assets, and ethically unrestrained entrepreneurs found ways to get rich quickly as well. Browder allegedly made his own fortune by creating a hedge fund, Hermitage Capital, that assured investors that the Russian companies it invested in were uniquely law abiding and therefore less likely to be prone to unpredictable plunges in value.

To offer this assurance, Browder would investigate the companies. If he found wrongdoing, he reported it to the Russian government. This was looked upon favorably by a rising Vladimir Putin, who saw Browder’s investigations as a way to ensure that Russian businesses and oligarchs were not cheating the Russian government out of the tax money that it deserved.

As Putin’s power grew, Putin’s view of Browder’s activities changed sharply. According to Browder, Putin had begun directly taking a percentage of all illicit money “earned” by the Russian mafia and oligarchs, and Browder’s exposure of corruption was getting in the way.

In 2005, Browder was arrested and deported from Russia as a “threat to national security.” Eighteen months later, the Russian Interior Ministry raided the Moscow office of Browder’s company, Hermitage Capital Management, and seized “all the corporate documents connected to the investment holding companies of the funds that [Browder] advised.”

Browder hired attorney Sergei Magnitsky to investigate. Magnitsky determined that the documents were being used to re-register Browder’s holding companies to a convicted murderer named Viktor Markelov, and $230 million in taxes allegedly paid to the Russian government by Browder’s companies had been diverted elsewhere.

When Magnitsky notified the Russian authorities of this crime, he was jailed, where he remained for over a year under increasingly terrible conditions. He was regularly pressured, unsuccessfully, by the Russian government to sign a statement that he had stolen the $230 million from Browder. On November 16, 2009, Magnitsky was chained in an isolated prison cell and beaten to death by eight guards.

To avenge the man who had died on his behalf, Browder pushed the U.S. legislature to enact what eventually became known as the Magnitsky Act, which passed the House and Senate and was signed into law by then President Obama in November of 2012. The Act froze the U.S.-based assets of all Russian oligarchs (and Putin) who were believed to have been responsible for Magnitsky’s death. Russian oligarchs tend to invest their illicit wealth in law-governed countries like the U.S. where the wealth is safer than it would be in Russia.

As part of his retaliation against the U.S. for passing the Magnitsky Act, Putin banned the adoption of Russian orphans by Americans. That is what is being referred to when a Trump claims to have been merely talking with a Russian about “adoption.” Putin wants the Magnitsky Act repealed or weakened so that he can regain access to a large chunk of his wealth.

Natalia Veselnitskaya’s client, Prevezon Holdings was accused by the U.S. Department of Justice of laundering millions of dollars in New York real estate, using money from a $230 million Russian tax fraud scheme. If that number sounds familiar, it is because it is the amount that Browder alleges that he had paid in taxes to the Russian government but which had instead been misappropriated by the Kremlin. Browder was the one who had tipped off the U.S. Department of Justice that Prevezon had laundered the money.

The situation appears to be that Browder’s $230 million in taxes was received by the Russian government, who then denied that he had paid them. The Kremlin proceeded to launder the money to legitimize it/make it usable, and one of the parties through whom the money was laundered was Prevezon Holdings. Another interpretation is that Browder had never actually paid the taxes, but had instead used one of his many overseas tax shelters to hide the money.

In the New York case, Prevezon settled out of court for $5.9 million without admitting guilt, leading one to believe that the first interpretation above is closer to the truth.

During Fusion’s research for the Prevezon case, information about Browder’s financial dealings raised questions in the mind of Fusion founder Glenn Simpson, and Browder was notably difficult to obtain testimony from: he ran when attempts were made to serve him with a subpoena to testify. This bizarre response would seem to indicate guilt on the part of the man who had tipped off the DOJ about Prevezon, until one realizes that Browder had very good reason to believe that Putin had put a price on his head: under such circumstances, running in response to two strange men approaching him in a parking lot seems entirely appropriate and reasonable. Assassination attempts had been made on prominent Magnitsky Act advocates as well as on Browder’s own mother.

Russian lawyer Veselnitskaya apparently believed that some of Fusion’s information about Browder and his associates could be useful as a stepping stone to improving her own standing in Russia. The information on Browder could be used in the U.S. to raise questions about the legitimacy of the Magnitsky Act’s founder, and possibly result in the repeal of the Act, which would bring Veselnitskaya into high esteem with the Kremlin.

Seeing this opportunity, Veselnitskaya reported the information to Russia’s Prosecutor General, Yuri Chaika, in October of 2015. On February 18, 2016, Veselnitskaya registered what appears to be a fake NGO, the Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative Foundation (HRAGI), for the purpose of lobbying the U.S. Congress “on behalf of Russian orphans.”

On June 9, 2016, the  now infamous “Trump Tower meeting” took place. Veselnitskaya and an interpreter, along with a couple of other Russians, met with Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner at Trump Tower to provide dirt on Hillary Clinton and to discuss “Russian adoptions.” The “dirt” on Hillary Clinton that Veselnitskaya appears to have offered was that the New York billionaire Ziff brothers – who were major Democratic donors – had invested with Browder. If the Ziff brothers had donated to the Clinton Campaign, Veselnitskaya reasoned, their donations would be tainted and possibly illegal because Browder had cheated the Russian government out of $230 million in taxes.

The part of this whole narrative that again seems highly coincidental is the relationship between Veselnitskaya and Fusion GPS. Veselnitskaya appears to have had only a handful of direct interactions with Fusion’s Glenn Simpson: most of the communication seems to have been indirectly through Baker Hostetler. But on the morning of June 9, 2016 – right before the Trump Tower meeting – Veselnitskaya and Simpson were in court together for a hearing related to the Prevezon case.

Simpson testified that Veselnitskaya’s English is very limited, as is his Russian, so they did little more than exchange pleasantries.

Simpson also testified that on June 10, 2016 – the day after the Trump Tower meeting – he had attended a Washington DC dinner held by Baker Hostetler attorney Mark Cymrot for people working on the Prevezon case. Again, Veselnitskaya was in attendance, but according to Simpson, she was sitting at the other end of the table from him and his wife.

In his testimonies before the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Judicial Committee, Glenn Simpson comes across as straightforward, extremely forthcoming, and highly credible. Yet the fact that he – the man who was paid by the Clinton Campaign’s law firm to investigate Donald Trump – also happened to know Natalia Veselnitskaya , and was even physically in the same room with her hours before the Trump Tower meeting (where she presented information gathered by Fusion GPS for the Prevezon case) and was again in the same room with her the evening afterward seems staggeringly coincidental.

We on the left can be blindly partisan and simply accept all that we are being told about Trump-Russia. After all, a wealth of evidence points to the possibility that Trump knowingly or unknowingly helped Russian oligarchs and mafia figures launder money via his real estate empire for decades – a felony – and that Vladimir Putin is holding knowledge of this activity over Trump’s head. A U.S. President being blackmailed in such a manner by a hostile foreign power is a profound danger to the security of our nation.

However, when we come across inconsistencies and bizarre coincidences like the Bruce and Nellie Ohr issue or the Veselnitskaya/Fusion GPS issue, we also owe it to ourselves, if we have any genuine loyalty to the truth, to stop and take a serious look. What could explain these connections? Are we really just seeing shocking coincidences, or something more?

The most reasonable explanations that I can find are as follows:

Bruce and Nellie Ohr:

  • Nellie Ohr was hired by Fusion to comb through Russian newspapers and other public record Russian documents for information about Trump because she was fluent in Russian.
  • Nellie Ohr did not know of Christopher Steele’s involvement with Fusion, nor did Steele know of hers,  because it was Simpson’s practice not to let his employees know who Fusion’s contractors were (and vice versa) unless absolutely necessary. This was done to avoid tainting information gathered from different sources. If two sources found differing information on a particular point, that could be helpful to narrow in on that point as a place where more questions needed to be asked to get an accurate picture.
  • Nellie Ohr did not tell her husband Bruce what she was working on for Fusion because she was under a confidentiality agreement, and as a professional, she took that agreement seriously.
  • The information that Steele was uncovering was not shared with any Fusion employees other than Simpson. Nellie Ohr was unaware of the content (or possibly even the existence) of Steele’s memos. Therefore there was no reason for Nellie Ohr to feel the need to tell her husband about her work: the information that she was uncovering was far less dramatic.
  • Nellie Ohr never told Glenn Simpson that her husband was a Department of Justice official because it was not relevant to her job at Fusion, and because DOJ and other high level law enforcement officials generally do not like their identities to be widely known, for security reasons.
  • Still inexplicable:
    • The coincidence that Nellie Ohr’s husband happened to be Steele’s contact in the U.S. Department of Justice.
    • The coincidence that Bruce Ohr didn’t put two and two together to then ask his wife more about the research work that she was doing at Fusion.

 

Veselnitskaya/Fusion GPS:

  • Veselnitskaya probably had no idea that she would discover something about Putin’s public enemy #1, Wililiam Browder, when she was first hired by Prevezon Holdings: Prevezon was simply another legal case to her.
  • She engaged Baker Hostetler to help with the case because of her poor English, likely unfamiliarity with the intricacies of U.S. law, and the need for her client to have quality representation in a U.S. court.
  • Baker Hostetler hired Fusion to do investigative research for the Prevezon case, because money laundering cases are complicated and require a level of quality research that needed to be outsourced.
  • When Browder’s name turned up in Fusion’s research, Veselnitskaya recognized the name (Browder is famously vilified in Russia – there are even movies about him) and saw an opportunity for herself. From then on, for her the Prevezon case became partially a case for her client, but also a means to collect information that she could use to curry favor with the Kremlin.
  • Simpson was unaware of how Veselnitskaya was using his research.
  • Simpson was handling the case for Baker Hostetler in the same way that he would for any other client: doing research, analyzing it and passing it to his client, Baker Hostetler.
  • Veselnitskaya’s visa to enter the U.S. had been previously revoked, but she was able to get into the U.S. because she was the primary attorney for a case that was being tried in a U.S. court. That is why the Trump Tower meeting had to be scheduled for the same day that she was in court for the Prevezon case.
  • Simpson was in the same courtroom as her that day because, as a researcher for the Prevezon case, he had the greatest wealth of detailed knowledge to reinforce Prevezon’s position.
  • Veselnitskaya and Simpson were at the same Washington DC party the next evening because they had both been important parts of the Prevezon case.
  • While Fusion GPS has a central role in both the Trump Tower meeting and the Steele dossier, and there was even a brief overlap in the timeframes of the Prevezon project and the Trump project, there was no bleed-over between the two projects within Fusion GPS itself: Simpson kept all of Fusion’s projects separate to avoid information from one project contaminating another.
  • Still inexplicable:
    • The coincidence that the Trump Tower meeting involved people and information connected to the same tiny research firm that had later been hired by the Clinton Campaign’s law firm to investigate Donald Trump.

While it is sane and reasonable to dismiss the wild conspiracy theories coming out of the extreme right in their efforts to defend an indefensible President, it is also important to look at factual inconsistencies in the narrative that many Americans believe to be true. While the issue of Bruce and Nellie Ohr and the connection of Fusion GPS to Natalia Veselnitskaya can be explained, they require acceptance of an uncomfortable amount of coincidence.

– rob rünt

The Trump-Russia Web – Part 8: The Steele Dossier

The Trump-Russia Web – Part 8: The Steele Dossier

The Steele Dossier

(Full 32-Page Text of Steele Dossier)


Background

Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer, was hired by Fusion GPS to gather “human intelligence” on Trump’s business practices and connections in Russia. The ultimate purpose of this research was to help Hillary Clinton’s Presidential Campaign. Steele’s research took the form of 17 memos that came to be known as the “Steele dossier” or the “Trump dossier.”

Steele, who had been the MI6’s top “Russianist” but who had been outed by a former colleague as a British spy, chose to do his research from outside of Russia by hiring subcontractors whom he believed to be able to gather good intelligence for him by talking informally with key Russian government insiders. Steele would filter out what he believed to be disinformation and then pass the information on in his memos to Glenn Simpson at Fusion GPS.

The detailed summary below of the Steele dossier puts the memos in what is likely their proper chronological order based on the Bates numbers (the memos appear to be out of sequence in the Buzzfeed document). The date of memo #2 otherwise makes no sense.

A likely explanation for the gaps in the Bates numbers is that Steele or his company used the other numbers for other projects.


Disclaimer: The information below was compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele between June-December, 2016, as part of an investigation into Trump’s business practices and connections in Russia. The research involved Steele paying his trusted contacts in Russia to informally interview people likely to have relevant info. Steele and is not being represented here as either fact or as the opinion of the webmaster unless specifically stated. All statements and assertions should be read as if prefaced by “Steele states that his sources tell him …” Any content that I add will be surrounded by [brackets] and will likely include a link or reference to the source.


Steele_Christopher-CROP
Christopher Steele (Photo: New York Times)

The Memos

Memo #1
June 20, 2016
2016/080

  • At the direction of Putin, the Russian government has been “cultivating and supporting” Donald Trump for at least five years with the goal of sowing discord in the U.S. and in the Transatlantic Alliance in general.
  • The Kremlin has also provided Trump with intelligence on Hillary Clinton for several years.
  • The Kremlin has a dossier of decades of kompromat on Hillary Clinton, primarily in the form of private (bugged/intercepted) conversations in which she contradicts her public positions on issues.
  • The dossier on Clinton is managed by chief Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on instructions from Putin.
  • None of the Clinton dossier has been made available outside of Russia or to the Trump Campaign.
  • The Kremlin has tried to develop kompromat on Trump over the years by tempting him with highly profitable real estate and business deals in Russia, but Trump has never gone through with a deal there.
  • The Kremlin has nonetheless successfully developed kompromat on Trump in the form of a videotape of him engaged in an embarrassing sex act with multiple prostitutes in the Presidential Suite of the Moscow Ritz Carlton in 2013.
  • The Kremlin believes that over the years, it has developed sufficient kompromat to successfully blackmail Trump.

Memo #2
July 26, 2015
[based on Bates numbers, I believe that the date is supposed to be June 26, 2016]
2016/086

  • Russia has a well-developed cyber-offensive program run by the FSB, whose four main targets are, in order of priority:
    • Foreign governments, especially western
    • Foreign businesses, especially banks
    • Russia’s elite
    • Political opponents inside and outside of Russia
  • Russia has had limited success breaching foreign governments, but has found great success targeting western businesses and banks.
  • The FSB recruits individuals – particularly those with connections to Russia – using financial and business incentives.
  • The FSB often uses coercion and blackmail to recruit qualified IT (information technology) cyber operatives, including targeting Russian-born U.S. citizens on business trips to Russia.
  • Due to the large number of recruits, the Central Bank of Russia has had difficulty covering over the large amount of money that must be laundered to pay them.
  • FSB operatives have successfully penetrated the “Telegram” encrypted communications system used by some businesses.
  • There has also been a large amount of cyber crime by individuals in Russia operating outside of government control, including by 15 Russian organized crime groups.

Memo #3
July 19, 2016
2016/094

  • Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page had a secret meeting with Putin associate Igor Sechin, CEO of Russian oil company Rosneft.
  • Sechin offered Page future Russian cooperation on energy production in exchange for lifting of Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia. Page was positive but noncommittal toward the offer.
  • Igor Divyekin, a spy with the Internal Political Department of the Putin Administration, also met with Page during his Russia visit to make him aware of Russia’s dossier of kompromat on Hillary Clinton. Divyekin offered to make the information available to Trump’s team.
  • In order to encourage Page’s cooperation, Divyekin may also have suggested that Russia had kompromat on Trump.

Memo #4
Undated
2016/095

  • A source within the Trump Campaign admits that the Trump Campaign and the Kremlin are cooperating in a relationship managed by Paul Manafort, using Carter Page and others to transmit information.
  • Putin hates Hillary Clinton and wants to see her defeated.
  • Russia had leaked the DNC e-mails via WikiLeaks, rather than directly, to ensure “plausible deniability.” The leak was done with full knowledge of Trump and his top associates, and Trump reciprocated by aligning campaign priorities with Putin’s agenda for Ukraine.
  • Russian interference in the Clinton Campaign was being done using
    • Russian agents within the Democratic Party
    • Russian hackers in the U.S.
    • Russian hackers in Russia
  • Russian agents and hackers in the U.S. received money and communications through the Russian pension distribution system.
  • In exchange for intelligence on Clinton, Trump’s team provided information to the Kremlin on U.S.-based Russian oligarchs and their U.S. assets.
  • The Trump Campaign source said that Trump and his team didn’t mind negative media coverage related to Russia, which helped distract from more damaging issues like his dealings in China that have involved large bribes and kickbacks.
  • Trump had tried numerous times to get business in Russia but was unable to, and instead ended up using Russia’s prostitutes.

Memo #5
July 30, 2016
2016/097

  • A source within the Trump Campaign said that there was increasing concern within the campaign about the DNC hacking and the media exposure of it.
  • The Kremlin was similarly concerned and planned to pull back on their activities in order to maintain “plausible deniability.”
  • Intelligence had been exchanged between the Kremlin and the Trump team for at least eight years. In return, Trump and his associates supplied information about oligarchs in the U.S. and their families.
  • There is more kompromat yet to be released on Clinton.
  • The Kremlin will not use their ample kompromat against Trump because he and his team have been “helpful and co-operative.”

Memo #6
August 5, 2016
2016/100

  • Hacking of DNC e-mails was largely coordinated by Putin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov and his “black PR team.”
  • Peskov is worried that he will be blamed for blowback against Russia over the hacking.
  • Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov believes that the hack went too far, wants the operation to stop, and recommends that the Kremllin “sit tight and deny everything.”
  • Russian Prime Minister Dmitriy Medvedev is concerned about damage that the hack may do to U.S.-Russia relations, and is openly refusing to cover up for Peskov.
  • People in the Kremlin opposed to Peskov’s efforts have discussed forcing Trump to withdraw from the Presidential race “on grounds of his psychological state and unsuitability for high office.”

Memo #7
August 10, 2016
2016/101

  • Sergei Ivanov wishes the Kremlin to keep a low profile and not engage in further leaks for now.
  • Instead, the Kremlin will spread rumors and disinformation in the U.S. that exploit current DNC leaks.
  • Disinformation will target educated youth in the U.S., whom the Kremlin believes can be convinced to vote for Trump as a protest against the establishment, which Clinton embodies.
  • Even if Clinton wins, turning educated youth against her will weaken her ability to lead and her ability to hinder Russia.
  • Putin is pleased with the Kremlin’s U.S. Presidential operation, which he feels has successfully divided hawks and elites in the U.S.
  • The operation has three areas of focus:
    • Offer assistance to Americans sympathetic to Russia
    • Gather intelligence
    • Disseminate kompromat
  • The operation has included support and indirect funding of trips to Moscow for U.S. political figures, including Green Party Presidential candidate Jill Stein, Carter Page, and Michael Flynn.

Memo #8
August 10, 2016
2016/102

  • A Trump Campaign insider reports that the aim of the DNC hacks was to sway Sanders supporters (seen as anti-establishment and having a “visceral dislike of Hillary Clinton”) toward Trump and away from Clinton.
  • This targeting strategy was Carter Page’s idea.
  • The Trump Campaign underestimated the hacking’s potential backlash from U.S. media, political left, and right-wing elites, and a change in tactics is being considered.
  • The Trump Campaign will make more use of media to get alternate messaging out.
  • The operation’s current short-term goal is to neutralize Clinton’s efforts to make Putin a “bogeyman” – efforts which make her appear more patriotic than Trump.
  • There is anger within the Trump Campaign that Putin’s efforts seemed to go beyond merely helping Trump to actually undercutting the U.S. democratic system of government.

Memo #9
August 22, 2016
2016/105

  • Putin met with pro-Russian former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (now in exile in Russia) on August 15, 2016 in Volgograd, Russia.
  • At that meeting, Yanukovych told Putin that he had authorized large kickback payments to Manafort, but assured Putin that there was no paper trail.
  • Putin and others in the Kremlin were skeptical due to Yanukovych’s past clumsy efforts at covering his tracks. The Kremlin is concerned about potential exposure and embarrassment.
  • Manafort had been doing business in Ukraine until he joined the Trump Campaign in March 2016.
  • Manafort was ousted from the Trump Campaign in part because of the revelations in the press about his ties to Ukraine, but also because of internal campaign hostility toward him and his strategy and policy ideas.

Memo #10
September 14, 2016
2016/111

  • Putin has ordered that Kremlin and government officials not publicly or privately discuss Russia’s intervention efforts in the U.S. Presidential campaign.
  • A Kremlin insider confirmed that “the gist” of allegations of Russian meddling is true.
  • Putin has gotten conflicting advice on the operation from different factions:
    • Those who urged caution to prevent blowback: Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak; the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov.
    • Those who believed that the operation would be “effective and plausibly deniable with little blowback:” Sergei Ivanov and the SVR.
  • Ivanov’s advice had proven wrong, so Putin fired him on August [12th] 2016 [Wikipedia].
  • The Kremlin intends to release further kompromat on Clinton (still managed and controlled by Peskov under direction of Putin) after mid-September.
  • Some Putin advisers recommend not releasing further Clinton kompromat, but instead provoking Clinton to rail against Putin, which they think would make her look “weak and stupid.”
  • One goal of Russia’s election operation is believed by some in Moscow to be to shift the policies of both Clinton and Trump toward positions more beneficial to Russia, including:
    • Opposing TPP and TPIP which are not in Russia’s interests
    • Changes in positions on Syria and Ukraine
  • A Russian diplomat to the U.S., Mikhail Kulagin, was removed from the U.S. by Russia because of Kremlin concerns that his extensive involvement in the “veterans’ pensions ruse” would be exposed by the press.

Memo #11
September 14, 2016
2016/112

  • Relations are relatively good between Putin and the Alpha [Alfa] Group, which does political favors for Putin in exchange for business/legal favors for Alfa. [Alfa Bank’s server was detected by U.S. intelligence to be mysteriously “pinging” a Trump campaign server during the 2016 Presidential campaign.] [Fortune Magazine]
  • Putin is listening to advice from Alfa leaders Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven regarding how to deal with the U.S., because he does not trust the counsel of his own advisers.
  • Putin and Fridman recently conversed in person, but communication between them is generally handled by Oleg Govorun for “plausible deniability” due to Govorun’s low profile.
  • Govorun currently heads the Russian organization responsible for interactions with CIS, the other nations of the former Soviet Union.
  • In the 1990s, Govorun had worked for Alfa Bank delivering large amounts of illicit money to Putin, then Mayor of St. Petersburg.
  • Alfa had kompromat on Putin from his corrupt practices in the 1990s, but Putin nonetheless has leverage over them in the form of Kremlin officials’ disapproval of Alfa’s financial activities.

Memo #12
September 14, 2016
2016/113

  • Trump has a history of paying bribes in St. Petersburg, Russia to try to get real estate deals there.
  • The bribes were paid “discreetly and only through affiliated companies, making it very hard to prove.”
  • Trump also participated in sex parties in St. Petersburg, but all witnesses have recently been bribed or coerced to be silent.
  • Araz [Aras] Agalarov would likely have knowledge of Trump’s activities in St. Petersburg.

Memo #13
October 12, 2016
2016/130

  • Kremlin officials are having “buyer’s remorse” over their U.S. Presidential election operation.
  • Kremlin officials are surprised that leaks about Hillary Clinton have not been more damaging to her campaign.
  • More hacked Clinton material has been released through sources like WikiLeaks, and will continue to be released until the November election, but the most damaging material is already public.
  • Putin is angry at Kremlin officials who “overpromised” about Trump’s chances and reliability, and who minimized the risk of blowback.
  • The Trump operation was intended to destabilize the U.S. and the Western-oriented international community in general.
  • Putin sees Western destabilization as advantageous to Russia.
  • The Trump operation was initially run by the Russian Foreign Ministry, then was run by the FSB, and is now being managed by Putin’s administration.
  • Win or lose, Trump will be valuable to Russia because he will remain divisive.

Memo #14
October 18, 2016
2016/134

  • More details on July 2016 meeting in Moscow between Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin and Trump adviser Carter Page (Memo #3)
  • The meeting took place on July 7 or 8, 2016, while Page was in Moscow to speak at the Higher Economic School.
  • Sechin offered Page and Trump associates up to 19% privatized stake of Rosneft in exchange for getting economic sanctions lifted. Page said that the sanctions would be lifted if Trump won.
  • Until October 17, 2016, Sechin believed that Trump could win, but is now looking for other avenues to work with the U.S.
  • Trump lawyer Michael Cohen has been key in the Trump-Russia relationship.

Memo #15
October 19, 2016
2016/135

  • Paul Manafort had managed the Trump-Russia relationship until he was fired as Trump Campaign Manager in August: then Cohen began handling that relationship.
  • Cohen is now working to limit exposure of the Trump-Russia operation, and met secretly in August 2016 with Kremlin lawyers in an EU country.
  • Areas of concern to Cohen include how to deal with U.S. media revelations of Manafort’s relationship with pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and of Carter Page’s secret July meeting with Kremlin officials.
  • The goal is to ensure that nothing can be proven.
  • To further avoid detection, the Kremlin used trusted agents as intermediaries such as [the Institute of] Law and Comparative Jurisprudence [IZISP] to communicate. Cohen remained the main point of contact for Trump.
  • There is further confirmation of shakeups within the Kremlin related to the Trump operation and the desire to cover it up.

Memo #16
October 20, 2016
2016/136

  • Michael Cohen’s secret meeting with Kremlin representatives in August happened in Prague, Czech Republic.
  • The meeting was arranged by the NGO Russotrudnichestvo, possibly in their office, to create “plausible deniability.”
  • Russotrudnichestvo’s Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Russian Foreign Relations Committee, is an important figure in communications between the Trump Campaign and Kremlin. He arranged and possibly attended the meeting.
  • The meeting was originally scheduled for Moscow, but was moved to Prague to be less obvious.

Memo #17
December 13, 2016
2016/166

  • Cohen’s meeting in Prague happened in either in the last week of August or first week of September, and he had three other people with him.
  • One Russian involved was Oleg Solodukhin (via Russotrudnichestvo).
  • The agenda/discussion included:
    • Need to make sure that payments to hackers are deniable.
    • General need to cover tracks from interactions between Russia and the Trump Campaign.
    • Contingency plans if Hillary wins the election, including making payments to hackers quickly and discreetly and ensuring that they keep a low profile.
    • Limiting damage from revelations in U.S. press regarding Manafort and Page.
    • Romanian hackers should “stand down.”
    • Other operatives should go to Plovdiv, Bulgaria and “lay low.”
  • From March-September, 2016, [name redacted] company “and its affiliates used botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data, and conduct ‘altering operations’ against the Democratic Party leadership.
  • Operatives were paid by both the Kremlin and the Trump Campaign, but their loyalties are to Sergei Ivanov and the Russian government in general.

Analysis

Steele’s memos describe a covert Kremlin operation, consistent with known and documented events, to damage the Clinton Campaign and help Trump win the Presidency. If Steele’s findings are accurate, there was active cooperation between people in the Trump Campaign and the Kremlin. Worse, the memos depict the man who has become our President as potentially subject to blackmail by Vladimir Putin – a cunning leader whose interests are hostile to the U.S.

Some potentially relevant background:

During the Cold War, Putin was a high level officer in the KGB and later the FSB – somewhat equivalent to the CIA. He rightly blames the United States for the Soviet Union’s collapse, and would like to see Russia restored to the global power and glory that it enjoyed during the Cold War Era. Putin particularly despises Hillary Clinton, whom he sees as having actively worked to undermine his and Russia’s power.

Part of Putin’s rise to power is believed to have involved an incident similar to the videotaping of Trump in the Moscow Ritz Carlton. The KGB and FSB were known to have hidden cameras and other recording devices in many of the rooms of Russia’s top hotels. In 1997, six years after the fall of the Soviet Union, then-FSB head Putin publicly released video footage of Russia’s Prosecutor General, Yury Skuratov, having sex in a hotel bed with two women, resulting in Skuratov resigning in disgrace. The event was widely believed to have been an FSB operation. [New York Times]

Two years later, Russian President Yeltsin appointed Putin Prime Minister of Russia as a reward for exposing government corruption. Putin moved on to replace Yeltsin.

If Steele’s dossier is accurate, Putin may be using a method against the United States that has yielded positive results for him in the past.

– rob rünt


Read more of this special series:
The Trump-Russia Web


 

 

The Trump-Russia Web – Part 5: High-Level Summaries

The Trump-Russia Web – Part 5: High-Level Summaries

High Level Summaries


Disclaimer: All of these are summaries of the words of others. They are not being represented here as either fact or as the opinion of the webmaster unless specifically stated. All statements and assertions should be read as if prefaced by “(name of person being summarized) states that …” Any content that I add will be surrounded by [brackets] and will likely include a link or reference to the source.


William Browder’s Opening Statement

(Opening Statement to Senate Judiciary Committee – July 26, 2017)

U.S.-born William Browder was a highly successful investment manager in Russia for several years. He exposed corruption among Russia’s oligarchs, and these efforts were initially supported by Putin because it weakened Putin’s opposition. As Putin became more powerful, he started wanting a cut of any illicit money taken in by the oligarchs and the Russian mafia: Browder’s anti-corruption efforts were no longer welcome, and neither was Browder. He was falsely accused of tax evasion, and hired attorney Sergei Magnitsky to prove him innocent. When Magnitsky found evidence that supported Browder and took it to Russian authorities, he was jailed, treated harshly, and died in prison a year later. To avenge his death, Browder successfully advocated in the U.S. for the Magnitsky Act, which freezes the U.S. assets of all wealthy Russians responsible for Magnitsky’s death, including Putin. 


Natalia Veselnitskaya’s Notes

(Notes allegedly used by Russian lawyer at Trump Tower meeting)

Relations between the U.S. and Russia have become needlessly strained as a result of the Magnitsky Act. William Browder’s story that resulted in passage of the Magnitsky Act is a lie. Browder avoided paying an enormous amount of taxes in both Russia and the United States, and Sergei Magnitsky was an accomplice to his criminal activity. (As a side note, New York billionaires, the Ziff brothers – major Democratic donors – illegally invested with Browder for years, and if they donated to Hillary Clinton, that money would therefore be tainted.) The U.S. should repeal the Magnitsky Act so that relations between Russia and the U.S. can improve. Because Putin retaliated for the Magnitsky Act by banning adoption of Russian orphans by Americans, a removal of the Magnitsky Act will likely also benefit helpless orphans who have been unduly harmed by Putin’s response to the Magnitsky Act. 


Steele Dossier

(Memos developed by Christopher Steele while investigating Trump’s business ties in Russia as part of opposition research)

There appears to be a significant collaborative effort between the Kremlin and the Trump Campaign to help Donald Trump win the 2016 Presidential election. The Kremlin had extensive “kompromat” on both Trump and Clinton, and is actively engaging in cyber operations against the Clinton Campaign. Their kompromat on Trump is sufficient to blackmail him. Major Kremlin objectives appear to be to destabilize the west, achieve removal of U.S. sanctions against Russia, and weaken U.S. policies that negatively impact Russia.


Simpson Testimony #1 – Prevezon Case

(Testimony of Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson before Senate Judiciary Committee on August 17, 2017)

Law firm Baker Hostetler hired Simpson’s company, Fusion GPS, to research information that could vindicate their client, Cyprus-based investment company Prevezon Holdings. Prevezon had been accused of money laundering by the U.S. Department of Justice. Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya was Prevezon’s attorney, and she hired Baker to help with such a major case. During the research, Simpson discovered that William Browder – a major enemy of Vladimir Putin – was the source of the money laundering allegations against Prevezon. Browder was very evasive and reluctant to testify to his accusations against Prevezon under oath. Simpson compiled a large amount of public information on Browder that seemed to call into question Browder’s credibility. During the course of his involvement with the case, Simpson ended up at two group dinners with Veselnitskaya, both the evening before and after her Trump Tower meeting, and was also at a hearing for Prevezon with her on the day of the Trump Tower meeting. Simpson was unaware of Veselnitskaya’s Trump Tower meeting until it was reported in the news.


Simpson Testimony #2 – Prevezon Case

(Testimony of Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson before House Intelligence Committee on November 14, 2017)

More details that further fill out Simpson’s previous testimony, including an admission that the information from his research for Prevezon was likely used by Veselnitskaya at the Trump Tower meeting to help her argue against the Magnitsky Act and as her “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Simpson’s research had not been intended to be used in that way, and Simpson had been unaware that Veselnitskaya might have been acting on behalf of the Russian government.


Simpson Testimony #1 – Trump Investigation

(Testimony of Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson before Senate Judiciary Committee on August 17, 2017)

Fusion GPS was hired by a Republican client during the 2016 Presidential primaries – and then by a Democratic client after the Republican Convention – to research Donald Trump. The goal was to learn everything about Trump, good and bad, to provide an accurate picture to the client. Early indications in the research were that Trump had connections to organized crime, particularly Russian organized crime. After exhausting public records, Simpson hired former British intelligence officer/Russia specialist Christopher Steele to see what more he could learn from his contacts in Russia. Steele was alarmed when he uncovered an apparent operation by the Kremlin to help Trump win the U.S. Presidential election. Out of a sense of professional duty, Steele reported his findings to the FBI.


Simpson Testimony #2 – Trump Investigation

(Testimony of Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson before House Intelligence Committee on November 14, 2017)

More details that further fill out Simpson’s previous testimony, including his and Steele’s belief that Steele’s information was not being acted on by the FBI. This belief raised deep concern between them that there was something questionable happening at the FBI, and caused them to take their information to the press.


Nunes Memo

(Document compiled by the office of U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA))

The information used to obtain a FISA warrant to monitor communications of Trump Campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page was illegitimate, because it’s direct basis and indirect basis were the Steele dossier – a document funded by a partisan source and therefore not credible. Its use indicates a possible campaign within the FBI and intelligence community to undermine Trump.


Read more of this special series:
The Trump-Russia Web


 

 

The Trump-Russia Web – Part 1: Introduction

The Trump-Russia Web – Part 1: Introduction

Introduction

This series explores in depth the House and Senate testimonies (165 pages and 312 pages, respectively) of Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson, as well as a handful of related documents, in hopes of providing a clearer picture of the story behind the Trump dossier and the meeting at Trump Tower.

Additional documents covered in this series include:

  • The Trump dossier, compiled by Christopher Steele (June-December, 2016)
  • The notes of Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer at the Trump Tower meeting (June 9, 2016)
  • The introductory statement of William Browder to the Senate Judiciary Committee (July 26, 2017)
  • The Nunes memo (released February2, 2018)

Each Simpson testimony takes two tracks. Republicans mainly focused their questions on Fusion’s research work on a legal case against a company called Prevezon Holdings. Democrats mainly focused on opposition research that Fusion did for partisan clients into Donald Trump.


My Biases

I have strong (generally left-leaning) opinions about Trump/Russia, but my goal is to be as neutral as possible in this series: my ultimate objective is to understand the truth. I began writing this as much to help myself figure things out as to present it to others. As such, there is information in this series supporting both Democratic and Republican biases.

My general belief has been that Donald Trump may or may not have personally “colluded” with Russian efforts to help him win the 2016 Presidential campaign, but that some of his campaign staff were involved with the Russians and cooperated with Russian efforts. I also believe that over the course of his real estate career, Trump has been involved in money laundering, and that a fair amount of that has been for Russians.

I believe that the Kremlin may very possibly have “kompromat” on Trump, in the form described in the Steele dossier. More likely, however, I think that they also have kompromat on Trump related to money laundering for Russian organized crime figures and oligarchs. I believe that Trump knows that the Kremlin has this kompromat on him, which is why he is so uncharacteristically positive about Putin and Russia, and why his actions related to Putin have been so opaque.

I believe that because some of Putin’s kompromat on Trump relates to Trump’s finances, it is essential for Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation to include an in-depth examination of those finances in order to understand possible motives for “collusion.” Because money laundering is, by its nature, intentionally complex and its purpose is to conceal and obscure the truth within that complexity, Mueller’s investigation will likely need a very long time to reach completion.

I came away from Simpson’s testimonies with all of these beliefs intact. However, I also came away with an awareness that there is much more to the story than what I had heard – including a not-insignificant connection between Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, the attorney who met with Trump Jr., Manafort and Kushner at Trump Tower. Glossing over this connection would enable readers to avoid potentially coming to an understanding that is less cut and dry than the generally accepted Democratic narrative: this series will not ignore that connection.


Why were Glenn Simpson’s testimonies made public?

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, appointed by President Trump, named former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to conduct an independent investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, potential cooperation between the Kremlin and the Trump Campaign, and allegations that President Trump obstructed justice. The U.S. House and Senate have also been conducting their own investigations.

Of all of the investigations, Mueller’s is the one most likely to reveal the truth in depth, due to Mueller’s advantages of time, resources and staff, as well as a decreased likelihood of partisan influence in what he allows as evidence in his investigation.

Many Republicans and Democrats have (differing) objections to the way that some of these investigations are taking place. Many Democrats support the proper completion of all investigations, and believe that Republicans – including some on the investigating committees – are trying to sabotage the investigations and undermine the credibility of Mueller and the FBI, possibly as a pretext for cutting short Mueller’s investigation before anything damaging to Trump is discovered.

Many Republicans believe that people within the FBI are part of a “deep state” operation to sabotage the Trump Presidency. They believe that the work of Fusion GPS was either a part of that effort, was part of a misinformation campaign by the Russian government, or was part of a partisan effort to help Clinton win the election by creating a fake reason to investigate and discredit Trump as a candidate and as President.

On August 17, 2017, the Senate Judiciary Committee interviewed Glenn Simpson, founder of Fusion GPS, the organization whose contractor Christopher Steele produced the infamous Trump dossier. Simpson voluntarily made himself available for 10 hours of interviewing. On November 14, 2017, Simpson gave and additional 6 hours of testimony under oath to the House Intelligence Committee.

On January 5, 2018, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) called for an investigation into Christopher Steele’s distribution of information from his Trump investigation. Simpson said that Fusion stood by their research, and expressed a desire to make the transcript of his testimony public.

On January 9, 2018, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), concerned that Grassley’s and Graham’s demands were potentially part of Republican efforts to undermine the investigation, made public the entire transcript of Simpsons Senate Judiciary testimony without advance notice to the rest of the Judiciary Committee. The testimony provided an extremely revealing look into the information that is shaping opinions on both sides of the aisle.

On January 18, 2018, after Simpson also expressed a desire for his House testimony to be made public, the House Intelligence Committee made public the entire transcript of that testimony as well.

– rob rünt


Read more of this special series:
The Trump-Russia Web