Dissecting the Trump-Russia Dossier
President Trump calls it the “Fake Dirty Dossier.” We have been through every line of former MI6 agent Christopher Steele’s allegations to assess their accuracy
- Text and sketches dispatch
- Text by Michael Weiss
“The Dossier,” as everyone calls it, is talked about either as the key to what really happened in the 2016 presidential election, as likely ordered by Vladimir Putin; or it’s an artful but largely invented tapestry of libels and innuendo meant to discredit Donald Trump’s presidency. Most likely there is something in it of both. And in the shadowland of espionage it is even possible that parts of it were planted by Russian operatives to distract and discredit investigators trying to get to the bottom of the Kremlin’s skullduggery.
Every few weeks passages from The Dossier resurface like Delphic prophecies, full of promise, menace, and ambiguity. Most recently, federal investigators indicted twelve officers of Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU, for hacking U.S. computers associated with the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign, stealing documents and disseminating them with the intent of trying to sway the election. We’ve also heard former FBI director James Comey say it is “possible” Donald Trump paid prostitutes to urinate on the bed the Obamas had slept in at the Moscow Ritz Carlton, although Comey said he really didn’t know. And we heard from McClatchy that Trump’s consigliere, Michael Cohen, really did travel to the Czech Republic in 2016, despite his continued denials — but we don’t know whom he met there.
Meanwhile, what purports to be the full text of The Dossier is rarely scrutinized in its entirety, and even more rarely understood for what it is: a collection of raw and sometimes unreliable notes about intelligence gathered from secondary and tertiary sources and thrown together into one folder over the course of six months in 2016. The most commonly available version, published by Buzzfeed in January 2017, does not even present the memos in the order in which they were written.
Paid for by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic Party, The Dossier was compiled by a highly respected former British intelligence officer, Christopher Steele, who was subcontracted by a more dubious American research firm, Fusion GPS. When it was published it was at first a source of prurient titillation, but more recently became the focus of ferocious contention and competing classified/unclassified memos in Congress. It is relevant to the work of federal investigators headed by former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who have sought to confirm or discredit every last detail, but they are pursuing many other avenues of inquiry as well.
Skeptics looking at Steele’s memos argue that they read a lot like a Russian disinformation campaign. Daniel Hoffman, a former CIA station chief in Moscow, has given three reasons to be wary of the contents of the dossier: that Steele himself never went to Russia to conduct his own investigation but relied on intermediaries of unknown trustworthiness; that Steele would have been under surveillance by the Russians, given his well-known tenure in MI6; and that the Kremlin may have known about his fact-finding efforts through the hacked DNC emails, given that the party was Steele’s paymaster.
Other respected intelligence analysts, such as Steven Hall, the CIA’s former station chief in Moscow and John Sipher, the former head of the Agency’s Russia program, are more inclined to believe in the veracity of Steele’s spadework. According to British journalist Luke Harding, Steele himself has told his friends that the dossier is “70 to 90 percent accurate.”
All of which suggests that some of the material is true, some not. But which?
Our goal is to provide an annotated version of The Dossier, verifying its allegations where we can and offering context that might make unverified allegations more — or less — plausible.
One of the difficulties in reading the original document — at least as published by Buzzfeed — is that once the memos are put in order, there are evident gaps in the sequence. For example, the first report is labeled as “080,” with no indication given as to where the original 79 antecedents might have gone. The second report is then labeled “086,” creating yet another mystery as to 81 through 85, and what content they might contain that would otherwise bolster or contextualize what came before or what follows. Moreover, Report “095” (undated by Steele) appears immediately before “094” (dated July 19, 2016) in the dossier, which makes no sense. As with Nixon’s White House tapes, the elisions in the text become more tantalizing than the text itself.
The result is an often disorganized mishmash of snapshots; a raw intelligence dump, using anonymous Russian sources, occurring in real-time as the international media began to uncover Russia’s attempted sabotage of U.S. democracy as well as Trump’s questionable personal and professional ties to friends of the Kremlin.
So, we’ve made our notes on the reordered dossier reports according to their file numbers and attempted to fit them into the relevant narrative of what was going on as they were written. What emerges is a complex but comprehensible story of gossip, intrigue, and spycraft.
Company Intelligence Report 2016/080
Dated 20 June 2016
U.S. PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION: REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE DONALD TRUMP’S ACTIVITIES IN RUSSIA AND COMPROMISING RELATIONSHIP WITH THE KREMLIN
- Trump has been on the receiving end of Kremlin favors for “at least 5 years” and might be used as a battering ram to smash up Western alliances.
- While Trump is said to have “declined” real estate deals as part of the quid pro quo in this arrangement, he has happily accepted Russian dirt on his enemies, including Hillary Clinton.
- The Russian security services have also compromised Trump during his visit to Moscow in 2013, recording the notorious “golden showers” sex tape at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
The date of this document, June 20, 2016, is important. Christopher Steele had been hired by Fusion GPS only a few weeks earlier, in June. And six days before this memo is dated, the Washington Post headlined, “Russian government hackers penetrated DNC, stole opposition research on Trump.” The Russians had “gained access to the entire database of opposition research on GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump,” according to The Washington Post article by Ellen Nakashima. So it is possible Kremlin would have known who had been hired to gather such material, including Fusion GPS as an organization and possibly Christopher Steele as an individual, before Steele filed his first memo. If that were the case, then it’s likely that Russian operatives would have toyed with Steele — and Trump. “[T]hey feed him some stuff that’s true, and some stuff that isn’t true, and some stuff that is demonstrably wrong,” as Ben Macintyre, a historian of British espionage described what would have been a classic information operation. “Which means that Trump can then stand up and deny it, while knowing that the essence of it is true. And then he has a stone in his shoe for the rest of his administration.”
Nearly a week after the Post story, Steele filed what appears to be a relatively hasty collection of gossip with shocking headlines but nothing of substance that is as important as the earlier very specific newspaper article, to which he makes no reference. It is as if Steele called up a couple of his usual contacts in Russia and asked what they’d heard or might surmise. But there is one very racy item that, later, would dominate public discussion of the document: the “golden showers” tape.
Meanwhile, U.S. government reaction to the The Washington Post story, as noted by Jane Mayer in The New Yorker, was “remarkably blasé. … When the infiltration of the DNC became public, various officials were quoted as saying that the Russians were always trying to penetrate U.S. government systems, and were likely just trying to understand American politics better.”
The memo cites a “senior Russian Foreign Ministry official” and a “former top level Russian intelligence officer” as sources for the allegation that the Russians had been cultivating Trump for about five years. But as a general principle, any intelligence analyst might surmise that Trump was under observation, and possibly a target for “cultivation.”
We know that dating back well before the demise of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Soviet intelligence had been spying on Trump using the security service of Czechoslovakia as well as the Soviet KGB. The initial reason: Trump had married a Czech citizen, Ivana Zelnickova, in 1977.
Trump’s first trip to Moscow came a decade later, in 1987, a year after he met the Soviet Ambassador to the United Nations, Yury Dubinin, who had only just then touched down in New York to assume his new post. (It was short-lived; just weeks later, Dubinin was named Soviet ambassador to the U.S. and duly moved to Washington, D.C.) According to Dubinin’s daughter, who was already part of the Soviet U.N. delegation and who picked her father up at the airport and gave him a driven tour of a city he had never before visited, Dubinin instantly charmed Trump at Trump Tower by remarking that the building was the “first thing” he saw upon his arrival. Natalia Dubinina recalled to the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, “Trump melted at once. He is an emotional person, somewhat impulsive. He needs recognition. And, of course, when he gets it he likes it. My father’s visit worked on him like honey to a bee.” As Luke Harding observes in Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and how Russia Helped Donald Trump Win, Dubinin’s other daughter, Irina, later claimed that her father “was on a mission as ambassador. This was, she said, to make contact with America’s business elite.”
It is highly unlikely that as the KGB gave way to the post-Soviet FSB and SVR — the domestic and foreign arms of Russian intelligence, respectively — Moscow simply abandoned its file on the Trump family.
According to Steele’s timeline, “cultivating and supporting” began around 2011, a year before Barack Obama’s re-election as president and a time when Trump was not only promoting the “birther” conspiracy theory but actively seeking to run for Obama’s office himself.
The U.S. grand jury indictment of 13 Russians connected to the Internet Research Agency, or “Troll Factory,” which was made public by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in February 2018, substantiates the argument that the Russian campaign to undermine the U.S. elections dated back at least to early 2014, when two Troll Factory agents were sent on secret missions to the United States. It is not clear from the indictment that the objective at that point was to try to elect Donald Trump, although according to the FBI, CIA and NSA that became its purpose later on.
Now we come to the unforgettably salacious part of the memo: the question of Trump watching prostitutes urinate on the bed at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel where President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama had slept.
Trump was indeed in Moscow in November 2013 to attend the Miss Universe pageant that he had promoted, hoping also to meet Vladimir Putin. Also, according to journalists David Corn and Michael Isikoff in their new book, Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump, during the Miss USA Contest, held in Las Vegas months earlier — in June of that year — Trump and the Russian-Azeri pop singer Emin Agalarov had gone to The Act, a night club notorious for its on-stage simulations of bestiality, sadomasochism and other less-than-vanilla sex acts, one of which involved golden showers. The Act was deemed to have broken its lease provisions due to the raunchy nature of these performances; a Nevada judge ordered a stop to them and the eventual closure of the club.” And while it is unknown if Trump was in attendance for a urination pantomime, he is clearly not above putting himself in potentially prurient or kinky circumstances, whatever the legitimacy of his self-professed “germophobia.”
Later, during the campaign and his presidency, the world would learn that Trump appears to be quite literally shameless about his sexual behavior, and whenever called out about specific incidents follows a pattern that can be roughly described as “it wasn’t me” and then, “if it was, so what?” This was true with the “Access Hollywood” tape that surfaced in October 2016, on which he is recorded talking about grabbing women by the “pussy” and getting away with it because he’s famous, and it appears to be the case with the more recent allegations by porn star Stormy Daniels alleging that she and he had unprotected sex in 2006, soon after his wife Melania gave birth to their son Barron.
So if the Russians did think that cavorting with prostitutes would compromise Trump and open him to blackmail, they might well have been disappointed. But in the summer of 2016, for those few who knew about it, the allegation about the so-called “pee pee tape” must have seemed potentially damning and dangerous. Certainly Steele seems to have thought so.
The Russian opposition-leaning news site The Insider published an article January 17, 2017 — the same day Buzzfeed published The Dossier — titled, “The FSB’s Movie Studio: How Intelligence Services Film Compromising Video in Hotels.” It cites a former FSB “hotel manager” who described how this surveillance system works normally in hotels for foreigners. He said that while the foyer and corridors are under FSB surveillance cameras, surveillance within a room by the FSB of a visiting foreign head of state would run the risk of crossing wires, as it were, with the Federal Protection Service (FSO), which guards the Kremlin grounds and top Russian leaders — and the foreigners who meet with them.
“Putting a hidden video system in the presidential suite is not necessary,” The Insider cites the FSB “hotel manager” saying. “Especially as it is easily detected by specialists from the presidential security and could blow up into a big scandal. Most likely, the ‘hidden’ filming was a one-time matter, and the miniature video camera could have been inserted into a pen, a lighter, a watch, a teacup, a vase or in the worst case the bra of a prostitute,” he said. If this account is true, the Trump tape would be in the possession of the FSO, not the FSB. This may be relevant to another key claim made by The Dossier: that the election interference operation was orchestrated and overseen by Putin’s Presidential Administration, not the Russian security services. The FSO is, after all, Putin’s “praetorian guard.”
Steele writes that “a dossier of compromising material on Hillary Clinton” had been collated by the Russian intelligence services over many years and consisted mainly of “bugged conversations” Clinton had on visits to Russia and intercepted phone calls, “rather than any embarrassing conduct.” Steele claims his sources told him the dossier on Clinton was overseen and controlled exclusively by Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, “directly on Putin’s orders.” Steele says those files had not yet been distributed abroad and he was unsure what Russian intentions were regarding them.
We have no open source evidence that anything Russian intelligence has obtained from surveillance of Hillary Clinton has been used publicly, nor any idea of its content, although the Steele source’s admission that it does not contain any “unorthodox or embarrassing” behavior suggests that Moscow doesn’t have much.
It would be natural for Russia’s Presidential Administration to have a file on an American secretary of state and/or presidential candidate, as the White House would have on the Russian equivalents.
The Internet Research Agency indictments issued by Special Counsel Robert Mueller point to a private company with Clinton high on its list of targets at least as early as 2016.
Was Dmitry Peskov, the chief spokesman for the president, handling the U.S. election dossier? Peskov is a very visible figure, the go-to man for any journalist seeking a comment or quote from the president’s office.
In one memorable incident, journalists scrambled to get a glimpse of his six-figure timepiece — a Richard Mille RM 52-01, of which only 30 were ever produced — after opposition leader Alexei Navalny published an exposé of Peskov’s alleged illicit wealth.
While it may seem counterintuitive to hand responsibility for Russia’s most daring foreign intelligence operation since the end of the Cold War to a man whose job is public relations and communications, the fact that Peskov speaks good English might help explain his alleged centrality.
Peskov’s usual role is as much to keep people away from Putin as it is to grant access to him. He thus acts as a referee among rival factions in the Kremlin, as also implied by the Steele dossier. Thus, for such a sensitive task as interfering in a U.S. election, Putin may have felt more comfortable putting his factotum in charge rather than a less trustworthy actor from the rival intelligence services.
Company Intelligence Report 2016/086
RUSSIA/CYBER CRIME: A SYNOPSIS OF RUSSIAN STATE SPONSORED AND OTHER CYBER OFFENSIVE (CRIMINAL) OPERATIONS
- Russia has an “extensive” and fairly sophisticated state-sponsored hacking capability, which have relative success in targeting some foreign governments, corporations and banks.
- Hackers are often coerced or blackmailed into doing the bidding of the security services, including Russians living outside of the Russian Federation in neighboring countries, but also in the United States.
The date of this dispatch is obviously wrong, and the day as well as the year appear to be incorrect. If the memo number “086” at the top is right, it should come before the memo “094,” which is dated July 19, 2016.
In this period between the previous memo on June 20 and the following one on July 19, there was a lot going on that is relevant to the content of 086, but not addressed.
On June 23, reportedly to the consternation of Steele, and many others, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union — a harbinger of the kind of populist shocks to Western unity that the Russians actively supported. Prior to Steele’s focus on Trump, as reported in The New Yorker, he worked on research under the heading “Project Charlemagne,” looking at Russian interference in the politics of France, Italy, Germany — and the U.K.
On July 14, at the Republican National Convention, the Trump campaign deleted a plank in the party platform that advocated providing lethal weapons to Ukraine in its fight against pro-Russian separatists.
But what Steele submits is a basic overview of Russian government cyber activities. It is conceivable most of the text in this “synopsis” was cut and pasted from some earlier research, perhaps from Project Charlemagne, which would explain the date being a year off.
Russia’s cyber-espionage capability was making a lot of headlines in the summer of 2016, and Steele, to some extent, appears to be re-upping earlier research as it might pertain to the U.S. presidential race.
We have since learned from the Dutch press that in November 2014 “Cozy Bear,” a code-name for state-sponsored Russian hackers, penetrated the computers of the DNC, and was caught doing so by the AIVD, the Dutch security service, which duly warned its American counterparts. Dutch intelligence had earlier warned the FBI about Cozy Bear’s infiltration of the State Department and White House, including President Obama’s email correspondence. The Dutch reportedly managed to hack one of the security cameras near the Russian operation and were able to identify specific personnel associated with the Russian foreign intelligence service, the SVR.
This would have been parallel to, and possibly independent of, the Internet Research Agency operations detailed in the February 2018 indictment presented by Special Counsel Mueller. The indictment makes no mention of the Dutch allegations.
It also has been reported in the New York Times that Trump foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos, after several drinks, told an Australian diplomat in London in May 2016 that the Russians had gathered political dirt on Clinton, and by July — as the scandal of alleged Russian interference began to grow — the Australians passed on that information to U.S. officials.
Steele does not seem to have been aware of any of this. At least, he makes no allusion to it. Neither does he seem to have knowledge of any role played by the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, twelve officers of which have just been indicted by Mueller for hacking “into the computers of U.S. persons and entities involved in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, steal documents from those computers, and stage releases of the stolen documents to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.” The indictment specifically names two units of the agency — 26165 and 74455 — as having targeted various Clinton campaign email accounts and the computer networks belonging to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
The GRU, according to Mueller, created online personae and accounts – Guccifer 2.0 and DC Leaks – as platforms to disseminate the stolen digital information. In August 2016, the indictment specifies, the GRU officers posing as Guccifer 2.0 sent such information to a “candidate for the U.S. Congress” as well as a “person who was in regular contact” with senior members of the Trump campaign. The latter is onetime Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone, based on what Mueller quotes the aforementioned person saying to Guccifer 2.0 in the indictment being exactly what Stone himself told the persona, as evidenced by Stone’s publication of their direct messages on Twitter.
The GRU’s cyber units have also been implicated in sabotage operations in Ukraine and in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 with a Russian surface-to-air missile 2014, an act which killed 283 passengers and 15 crew members.
U.S. Treasury sanctions announced on March 15, 2018 against people connected to the Internet Research Agency “Troll Factory” also included the name of several officers in the GRU, including the chief and deputy of chief of the organization.
Steele suggests that Russian hackers did not have huge successes with Western NATO countries or rarely breached central command, but in fact they have attacked the computer networks of multiple smaller countries, not just because they are reluctant neighbors but because they are allied with the U.S.
The use of Russians and citizens of former Soviet Union countries to facilitate hacking operations is well established.
One intriguing example that made tabloid headlines is a beguiling young Uzbekistan native, Olga Komova, who was arrested in Thailand, where she worked (officially) as a hotel receptionist and guest liaison at the Emerald Cove Hotel. In fact, according to The Daily Beast, Komova was a helpmate for a Russian-based gang of hackers who had stolen and laundered $40 million from U.S. and U.K. banks. According to Britain’s Daily Telegraph, citing officials familiar with the case, “More than 50 people from Britain, the U.S., Australia, Italy, Germany and Japan had fallen prey to the hacking network which sent spam emails containing ‘malware’ (hostile computer software including viruses) in order to ascertain the usernames and passwords of their victims’ online bank accounts and siphon off cash.”
In 2014, the U.S. charged two Russian FSB operatives and two Russian hackers with compromising 500 million Yahoo email accounts. That operation marked the first instance members of Russia’s domestic intelligence service were added to the FBI’s Most Wanted List for cyber-crimes.
In October 2017, the New York Times reported that Israeli spies had uncovered a vast plot by “Russian government hackers” to search for codenames of U.S. intelligence programs. Their point of entry? Kaspersky Labs, a Moscow-based antivirus company whose software is used globally by hundreds of millions of people and by several U.S. government agencies — at least until the Israelis informed their American counterparts as to the software’s more sinister applications.
The Russians, the Times noted, are “known to have stolen classified documents from a National Security Agency employee who had improperly stored them on his home computer, on which Kaspersky’s antivirus software was installed.”
Steele does not name Kaspersky, and technically it is a private company, not a state owned enterprise (SOE), which is the specific reference he made.
While it is theoretically possible that Kaspersky Labs had no knowledge of its role in targeting classified information, senior American intelligence officials say they don’t buy that interpretation. Former CIA Moscow Station Chief Steven Hall told the Times, “I had the gravest concerns about Kaspersky, and anyone who worked on Russia or in counterintelligence shared those concerns.”
When Russian FSB hackers were arrested by their own agency in December 2016, Kaspersky corporate press releases reported unabashedly that the firm had indeed “cooperated with the FSB on cybercrime cases since 2013.” This routine statement was dutifully copied verbatim by both state and private pro-Kremlin media in Russia and remains accessible online from Kaspersky’s own website.
Not only was the company’s cofounder, Eugene Kaspersky, trained at a KGB cryptography school, but his firm has been shown, in court documents, to have allowed the FSB unusual access to its platform.
In December 2017, The Washington Post reported that Konstantin Kozlovskiy, a suspected Russian cyber-criminal involved in several high-profile digital capers targeting Russian banks, had his personal computer penetrated by a technician at Kaspersky who was given Kozlovskiy’s password by an FSB agent.
According to Andrei Soldatov, the Russian journalist who closely tracks the nation’s security services, Kaspersky Labs “actively and secretly participated in an ongoing FSB operation, which makes them look like assets rather than experts.”
Kaspersky denied that the now-former head of his investigation unit, Ruslan Stoyanov — who came from the same Department K of the Russian Interior Ministry to which Steele was likely referring to when he confused it with Directorate K of the FSB — was arrested on December 4, 2016 for his relationship to the antivirus firm. Kaspersky also said that the charges predated Stoyanov’s employment at the company and, in any event, Stoyanov had worked on Russian, not American projects.
Yet one of these Russians projects may have had direct bearing on a bold American one.
In August 2016, Stoyanov was credited with taking down Lurk, described by Internet business portal The Register as “history’s most advanced financially-driven malware” and “the progeny of some 50 jailed hackers known as the Lurk group.” Months later, in December 2017, a hacker belonging to the Lurk cybercrime gang admitted the creation of the WannaCry ransomware and the DNC hack at the request of Russian intelligence agencies.
Regardless of the extent of his international involvement, Stoyanov was the point-man at the firm with the FSB, in which capacity he worked closely with Colonel Sergei Mikhailov, the deputy head of the FSB’s Information Security Center. On December 5, 2016, a day after Stoyanov’s arrest, Mikhailov and his underling Major Dmitry Dokuchaev, were also arrested by the FSB on charges of “treason.” (The FBI would later identify Dokuchaev as having been involved in the 2014 Yahoo email hack.)
Stoyanov, Mikhailov and Dokuchaev were all thrown into Moscow’s Lefortovo prison, but, as Soldatov and Borogan write in The Red Web, Stoyanov managed to smuggle out a letter. It read: “Why me?… [I am] one of the people who fought cybercrime for the last 17 years…but the paradigm in cybercrime has changed. Now cybercrime is closely connected with geopolitics. That’s why [cybercriminals] could unleash the full power of the government against an expert like me. And that’s why I was prosecuted.”
Could Stoyanov and his FSB liaisons have been arrested because of a perception in the Kremlin that they had botched the hacking of American institutions, or that they had to be purged as people who simply knew too much of how the Trump operation was perpetrated and were thus counterintelligence liabilities? Or perhaps because they were suspected of being sources for Steele’s sources? Any of these theories is plausible.
Company Intelligence Report 2016/094
19 July 2016
RUSSIA: SECRET KREMLIN MEETINGS ATTENDED BY TRUMP ADVISOR, CARTER PAGE IN MOSCOW (JULY 2016)
- Steele names Carter Page as one of the Trump campaign officials allegedly complicit in the Russia operation, and the Kremlin officials who liaised with him in Moscow: Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin and senior Kremlin Internal Affairs official Igor Diveykin.
- The topic of their conversation was the relaxation of U.S. sanctions on Russia in exchange for greater U.S.-Russia energy cooperation.
This is the first of the known Steele memos that has highly specific bearing on the current investigations being conducted by congressional committees and Special Counsel Robert Mueller into complicity between the Trump campaign and Russia.
It was also the centerpiece of the Republican Party efforts to discredit that investigation by claiming, in a memo prepared at the behest of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, and declassified by President Trump, that the warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page were first obtained in October 2016 and subsequently renewed on the basis of the Steele Dossier.
That does not appear to be the case. The activities of George Papadopoulos and the reported results of Dutch surveillance of the Russian hackers were known to the FBI well before this Steele memo was written. The Nunes memo notes that “the Papadopoulos information triggered the opening of an FBI counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016.” By the time the warrant for surveilling Page was first obtained in October 2016 much more evidence had accumulated.
Furthermore, the FBI’s release on July 21, 2018 of more than 400 pages of documents in response to lawsuits by media organizations indicate that the Bureau believed Page was “an agent of a foreign power,” had “established relationships with Russian Government officials, including Russian intelligence officers” and that the “Russian Government’s efforts [were] being coordinated with Page and perhaps other individuals associated with” the Trump campaign. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court application, which was heavily redacted, clearly cites the information compiled on Page in The Dossier, although only refers to Steele as a compensated “Source #1,” deemed “reliable” owing to his prior work with the FBI. (The warrant application also describes Source #1’s role as a subcontractor for an unnamed American looking into an unnamed political candidate’s ties to Russia.)
But it is significant, certainly, that in “early July” of 2016, which is to say before this memo was filed to Fusion GPS, Steele was so concerned by the national security implications of what he had learned that “on his own initiative — without the permission of the U.S. company that hired him — [Steele] sent a report he had written for that firm to a contact at the FBI,” according to an October 2016 interview with an at-the-time unnamed Steele published by David Corn in Mother Jones.
The Nunes memo notes in boldface type that Steele “was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president.” The implication is that this was political bias rather than concern based on the evidence he had gathered that Trump was being instrumentalized and possibly blackmailed by a hostile foreign power.
The critical allegation in Steele’s COMPANY INTELLIGENCE REPORT 2016/094 is that Carter Page discussed a quid pro quo with senior Russian energy officials that would have traded “future bilateral energy cooperation” for “an associated move” to lift Ukraine-related western sanctions. In a separate meeting, another Russian official is said to have kompromat about Hillary Clinton, and also, darkly, kompromat about Trump that the candidate should “bear in mind in his dealings” with the Russians.
So, did Page meet with Igor Sechin? Page has said he didn’t.
From Sechin’s public schedule of appearances, we can establish that he met with the Venezuelan chargé d’affaires at the Venezuelan Embassy in Moscow on July 5, 2016, Venezuelan Independence Day. Sechin subsequently signed an oil deal in Caracas on July 29. We don’t know when he left for Venezuela.
The putative meeting between Sechin and Page could easily have taken place before Sechin traveled to Caracas, when Page was on a five-day trip to Moscow on or around July 6, 2016, but there is no evidence of it.
Company Intelligence Report 2016/095
RUSSIA/US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION: FURTHER INDICATIONS OF EXTENSIVE CONSPIRACY BETWEEN TRUMP’S CAMPAIGN TEAM AND THE KREMLIN
- This memo states that, according to one of Steele’s sources, an “ethnic Russian close associate” of the candidate, that there was active cooperation between the campaign and the Russian government to defeat Hillary Clinton, whom Vladimir Putin “hated and feared.”
- The Russians hacked the DNC email accounts and shared the contents with Wikileaks, with the “full knowledge and support” of Trump and senior members of his campaign.
- In return, the GOP promised to water down its party platform on Ukraine and to highlight the inequities in the NATO alliance.
- A clever scheme was inaugurated whereby Kremlin agents in the U.S. would be compensated through the Russian emigre pension scheme.
The allegations in this memo are damning, if true, and are no doubt subjects of interest to the Mueller and congressional investigations. But, again, Steele seems to be trying to keep up with breaking news events.
Although there is no date on this memo, it is apparent from the report number that it was written in late July 2016. On the 22nd of that month, in the lead-up to the Democratic Convention, Wikileaks started releasing damaging emails that had been received from the Russians. This came at a time when Republicans were hammering on the issue of Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, and the disappearance of thousands of emails requested by congressional investigators. A few days after the Wikileaks releases began, Trump half-joked in a speech, “By the way, if they [Russians] hacked, they probably have her 33,000 emails. I hope they do.”
We now know that WikiLeaks sent Donald Trump, Jr. direct messages on Twitter pointing to hacked and disseminated DNC email correspondence. However, those texts only show WikiLeaks alerting Trump Jr. to what was already in the public domain and showing him where to find it, with encouragement that he and his father make the most of it during the election.
Thus even now, while these certainly are an “indication of extensive conspiracy,” as Steele put it, there is no solid proof on the public record.
If there ever was one possible indirect line of communication between Manafort and Putin, then it may have been through Russian oligarch and former Manafort business partner Oleg Deripaska. Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny produced an investigative video in February 2018 that outlined the connection. We know that according to emails obtained by The Washington Post, Manafort offered to brief Deripaska on the U.S. presidential campaign just weeks before Trump accepted the Republican nomination as a possible way for Manafort to resolve a business debt to Deripaska. Manafort has always denied he had ties to Putin himself.
Based on Instagram posts put up by Nastya Rybka, the pseudonym of a self-styled seductress of billionaires who was deployed with a group of escorts to “attack” Navalny’s headquarters, Navalny and his team were able to establish a connection between Deripaska and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko. Rybka was with Deripaska and Prikhodko on Deripaska’s yacht off the coast of Norway in early August 2016 and recorded some of their conversations. It seems they were discussing business and Russia-U.S. relations as they ridiculed Victoria Nuland, former Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs.
Prikhodko is described as the éminence grise of the government’s foreign operations and is a longtime government official. He served in the administrations of Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Medvedev, and now Putin again.
So might he have been Deripaska’s Kremlin liaison for conveying information to and from Manafort and, by extension, the Trump campaign?
Navalny finds this theory much more persuasive than the assumption that Deripaska was Putin’s direct line to Trump. Rybka (Anastasia Vashukevich) and her business partner subsequently traveled to Thailand, where they were arrested in February 2018 on charges of sexual solicitation and are currently in prison awaiting trial. In a video posted on Instagram from a police car, Rybka said she had information about Russia’s interference in the U.S. elections and appealed for political asylum in America.
Source E also told Steele that Russia was indeed behind the hack of the DNC emails (as The Washington Post had reported in June) and passed the contents onto Wikileaks, a dissemination vehicle used for the purpose of “plausible deniability.” More important, Source E alleges that Trump and senior members of his campaign had “full knowledge” and gave “support” to this operation. To repay the Russians, Trump agreed to “sideline” Russia’s war against Ukraine as a campaign issue and instead focus on “US/NATO defence commitments in the Baltics and Eastern Europe.”
Then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo said in April 2017 that it was “time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is: a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.” The CIA also says Russia passed the leaked files to WikiLeaks through a “circuitous route from the GRU,” a route which was seemingly reconstructed by federal investigators in the indictment of those twelve GRU officers. Mueller mentions that in June 2016 the officers, using their Guccifer 2.0 persona, released stolen Democratic correspondence “through a website maintained by an organization (“Organization 1”), that had previously posted documents stolen from U.S. persons, entities, and the U.S. government.” That organization is almost certainly WikiLeaks.
Its founder Julian Assange had a brief talk show hosted on the Russian state propaganda channel RT, and Assange addressed a 10-year anniversary gala for the channel via satellite from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has holed up for over five years to escape a sex crimes investigation in Sweden, and U.K. charges related to his evasion of arrest. As Russian journalists Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan report in their book The Red Web: The Struggle Between Russia’s Digital Dictator’s and the Online Revolutionaries, in the fall of 2016, WikiLeaks moved its servers to Moscow.
WikiLeaks also has withheld information embarrassing to Russian interests, such as the confirmation of a €2 billion transfer from the Syrian Central Bank to Russia’s state-owned VTB Bank. This disclosure was originally contained in the 2012 WikiLeaks cache known as “The Syria Files” and only surfaced as part of a court proceeding.
Finally, for an organization purportedly devoted to exposing state secrets, WikiLeaks’ reaction to the offshore expose known as the “Panama Papers” — one of the more explosive findings of which showed that one of Putin’s closest friends, the cellist Sergei Roldugin, was worth billions of dollars — was less than a paean to transparency. “#PanamaPapers Putin attack was produced by OCCRP which targets Russia & former USSR and was funded by USAID & Soros” and “US govt funded #PanamaPapers attack story on Putin via USAID. Some good journalists but no model for integrity” were its tweeted responses.
As Soldatov and Borogan write in The Red Web:, Putin had scornfully dismissed this Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation as a “manufactured…information product” and deferred to WikiLeaks insinuation that “that officials and state agencies in the United States are behind all this!”
Paul Manafort, then the Trump campaign chairman, was widely suspected of having overseen the Republican National Convention’s platform change with respect to Ukraine by scrapping the GOP policy advocating the provision of “lethal defensive weapons” to Kiev. Moreover, the Mueller indictment against Manafort alleges that he acted as an “unregistered agent” of former Ukrainian president (and Putin ally) Viktor Yanukovych, Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, and the Ukrainian government generally over the course of a decade between 2006 and 2016. Manafort is also accused of laundering tens of millions of dollars — for which he did not pay U.S. taxes — through a series of U.S. and foreign corporations and bank accounts.
According to Diana Denman, a Republican delegate in favor of America’s arming Ukraine, Trump national security campaign aide J.D. Gordon told her at the convention that Trump personally had ordered the removal of the policy from the party platform. Gordon then denied this direct intervention by the candidate and said it was Gordon’s “job” to iron out the GOP platform, but in the process he also revealed the campaign’s rationale for doing so: “Trump said on the campaign trail that he didn’t want World War III over Ukraine. And he wanted better relations with Russia. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that arming Ukraine isn’t consistent with those two positions.” (On March 1, 2018, the Trump administration approved the $47 million sale of Javelin antitank missiles to Ukraine.)
As for emphasizing defense commitments in the Baltics and Eastern Europe, a mainstay of Trump’s foreign policy rhetoric as candidate was that NATO was “obsolete,” that its member-states were not paying their fair share and were guilty of “ripping off” the U.S. All very amenable to Putin, who seeks as a matter of geopolitical ambition to weaken and destroy NATO as an institution. However, Trump’s NATO bugbear goes back nearly two decades — well before even Steele credits his cultivation by the Russians — to at least 2000 when he published a (ghostwritten) book making many of these same criticisms. That fact would deflect from Steele’s allegation that Trump’s undermining of the alliance by referring to America’s outsize cost for its upkeep was somehow recompense for Russia’s help in the election.
Company Intelligence Report 2016/097
30 July 2016
RUSSIA-US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION: KREMLIN CONCERN THAT POLITICAL FALLOUT FROM DNC E-MAIL HACKING AFFAIR SPIRALLING OUT OF CONTROL
- The Kremlin worries that its operation has worked only too well and that the backlash against the DNC hacking is drawing too much attention to Russia.
- The Republican candidate has been in “regular exchange with [the] Kremlin” for eight years.
July was a seismic month in the U.S. presidential campaign, and for Steele personally, making this brief up-sum of a memo rather anticlimactic. Early in the month, as noted above, Steele had gone to the FBI with his findings about the Trump team’s ties to Russia.
Then, as noted, on July 22, three days before the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, WikiLeaks began releasing the first tranche of some 20,000 hacked emails belonging to the DNC. And while the Kremlin may have experienced, as per Steele, “extreme” nervousness about its interference in the U.S. election, it’s by no means certain that Donald Trump approached the attendant media fallout with the same level of earnestness. “The new joke in town,” he tweeted on July 25, “is that Russia leaked the disastrous DNC e-mails, which should never have been written (stupid), because Putin likes me.”
Two days later, July 27, at a press conference, kidding on the level, Trump suggested Russia carry on, this time targeting the missing 30,000 emails from Hillary Clinton’s personal email server: “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.” On the same day, at a rally in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Trump extended the hand of friendship to Putin yet again, telling an audience, “Wouldn’t it be a great thing if we could get along with Russia? Wouldn’t that be a good thing? That would be a good thing.”
July 27, 2016 was also notable for another reason, newly come to light thanks to the Mueller investigation. According to the latest indictment, this was the very same day that GRU officers first attempted to “spearphish” email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted sixty-seven email addresses at the domain for the Clinton Campaign.”
In “late July,” according to the New York Times, the FBI first started its investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government: this apparently after receiving intelligence from the British, Dutch and Australians that there was real fire behind the smoke.
A “Russian emigre” close to the Trump team, cited in this memo, could again be Sergei Millian, variously known as Source D or Source E throughout the dossier (as per The Washington Post) or perhaps Felix Sater, a sometime business partner of the Trump Organization — not to mention an ex-con and Russian-mafia-linked FBI informant — who claims to have visited Trump Tower in July 2016.
Note that this “emigre associate” of Trump says that intelligence has been shared between Trump’s organization and the Kremlin for “at least 8 years.” In Memo 080, however, two of Steele’s other sources — “a senior Russian Foreign Ministry figure and a former top level Russian intelligence officer still active inside the Kremlin”— mark the start of the cultivation and support of Trump at “5 years” before 2016, well after the Soviet KGB will have opened an intelligence file on Trump based on his activities in Moscow.
While the time discrepancy may seem negligible, an eight-year history of collusion would mean that Trump was “activated” in 2008, the year Barack Obama became the Democratic nominee and then president, whereas a five-year history would date the activation at around the time of Obama’s re-election campaign, in 2011.
Trump’s pathological obsession with Obama appears to have galvanized his own run for the White House after decades of flirting with such a foray into national politics. If the Steele emigre source in this memo is correct, then the Russians might have used Trump’s fixation on a rising political star to encourage him to become an agent with the promise that they would then help him replace the man he so hated and about whom he’d invented dark conspiracy theories. If the more authoritative Russian government and intelligence sources of Memo 080 have it right, then the prospect of seeing an incumbent Obama given another four years in office might have been just the psychological nudge Trump needed.
Company Intelligence Report 2016/100
5 August 2016
GROWING BACKLASH IN KREMLIN TO DNC HACKING AND TRUMP SUPPORT OPERATIONS
- Steele examines the Kreminology of the operation, reflecting on those who fear the whole thing may have backfired.
- Sergei Ivanov, the head of the Presidential Administration, thinks this interference campaign was a colossal mistake and evidently decides to stop it in its tracks.
- The mastermind of the entire operation, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, is worried that he’ll be blamed for everything, including any U.S. retaliation.
In late July or early August, the FBI warned the Trump and Clinton campaigns of the Kremlin’s efforts to interfere in the U.S. election, by which point, as NBC News reported, “at least seven Trump campaign officials had been in contact with Russians or people linked to Russia.” Trump had also by now denied having had anything to do with the GOP platform change on Ukraine, which we have already discussed in a previous memo.
Given that America’s foremost counterintelligence arm was investigating Russia’s intervention and briefing both main party candidates as to its seriousness, there is every reason to expect that Peskov, assuming he was in charge of the operation, would fear the blowback from its exposure in the U.S. government and media. Espionage and influence campaigns are not meant to be found out, after all, and the underlying premise of this memo — that Trump’s unmasking as a Manchurian Candidate would lead to U.S. retaliation against Russia — is logical so far as it goes.
So is Ivanov’s alleged unease over Peskov’s handling of this sensitive mission. Ivanov had enjoyed somewhat more amenable relations with the Americans. As Russia’s defense minister during 9/11, he had worked with Condoleezza Rice, a trained Sovietologist, during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan to allow U.S. supply routes through Russian overland space to prevent, at least in his telling of it, the Taliban’s request for safe passage into post-Soviet Central Asian republics, where Russia still maintained sizable military and intelligence footprints.
Even after he was dismissed from the Presidential Administration in August 2016, and made special representative on environment, Ivanov wasn’t quite purged from the Russian defense sector: he still retained his seat as a permanent member of Putin’s National Security Council. Ivanov subsequently gave an interview to the Financial Times in October 2016 in which he denied Russia’s support for Trump or its interference in the U.S. election and said Russia is ready for friendly relations.
If there were faction fights in the Kremlin — with one group saying that the interference in the U.S. elections should be continued even more aggressively, and another faction including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov feeling it had “gone too far”— then why would Ivanov, who was dismissed in August, be selected for the sensitive mission of giving an interview to FT in October just a couple of weeks before the American elections, claiming Russia in fact didn’t support Trump, and wanted to improve relations with the U.S.? Why would he be trusted to relay such a message?
There is a strange discrepancy in Steele’s Kremlinology. Ivanov is far more powerful than Peskov, and it seems odd that the latter — whose official job is spin doctoring — would have been put in charge of so sensitive an operation. In effect, this would be like John Kelly taking orders from Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Company Intelligence Report 2016/101
10 August 2016
RUSSIA/US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION: SENIOR KREMLIN FIGURE OUTLINES EVOLVING RUSSIAN TACTICS IN PRO-TRUMP, ANTI-CLINTON OPERATION 2016/101
- Steele suggests a tamping-down of the operation by the Kremlin, which has decided against leaking any more stolen communications which could impact the election and focusing instead on a more subtle influence campaign.
- The goal now was to push a younger voting demographic toward Trump, and also underwrite third party (or fringe) political actors’ trips to Moscow.
- These included Green Party candidate Jill Stein and cult leader Lyndon LaRouche and now-disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Memos 101 and 102 are both dated August 10, 2016 and should be viewed as a pair, the first about the attitudes inside Russia, the second about related skullduggery in the U.S. election campaign.
Specifically, according to Steele, Sergei Ivanov determined that rather than leak new material (presumably more hacked emails) designed to help Trump, the operation would now turn toward spreading “rumors and misinformation about the content of what already had been leaked” and to inventing false content to toss into the mix.
Guccifer 2.0, identified by the latest Mueller indictment as an online persona invented by GRU officers, began releasing hacked emails belonging to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) on August 12, 2016, two days after Memo 101 was drafted, which undercuts Ivanov’s apparent instruction. However, there is also the possibility that the DCCC hacks were considered part of the old tranche of compromised materials and had been passed along to Guccifer 2.0 before Ivanov’s putative about-face.
Easier to prove is that Russian operatives have resorted to amplifying “rumors and misinformation” related to hacked correspondence. The so-called “PizzaGate” conspiracy theory — that Hillary Clinton was running a pedophile ring out of a Washington, D.C. eatery — was a prominent staple of social media platforms administered by Russian agents, who seemed to form an infinite feedback loop with right-wing American outlets such as Fox News, Breitbart and InfoWars.
So, too, was the malicious fiction that the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich was organized by the DNC itself, an allegation that had one particularly zealous taker in WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who also intimated at various points during the election cycle that Rich was the actual leaker of the DNC’s emails and was therefore killed in retaliation.
The claim that Russians were sowing disinformation among the genuine articles of compromised communications has similarly been borne out by subsequent forensic analysis.
In May 2017, Citizen Lab of the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Public Affairs examined the hacking of American journalist and Russia expert David Satter, whose emails were infiltrated and stolen by a “pro-Russia hacktivist collective” called CyberBerkut: “The tainted leak was a report authored by Satter describing Radio Liberty’s Russian Investigative Reporting Project. The document was modified to make Satter appear to be paying Russian journalists and anti-corruption activists to write stories critical of the Russian Government.”
Former Trump adviser and national security chief Michael Flynn as well as American Green Party leader Jill Stein were indeed both guests of the Kremlin propaganda outlet RT’s 10th anniversary gala dinner in a luxury hotel in Moscow in December 2015, where they were seated at the same table as Vladimir Putin.
Russian payments to Flynn were later confirmed in documents released by the House Oversight Committee; he collected nearly $68,000 in fees and expenses from Russia-related entities in 2015, the bulk of them came from RT, related to Flynn’s gala attendance in December. He also earned speaking feeds in the amounts of $11,250, from the U.S. subsidiary of Kaspersky Lab, and $11,250, from a U.S. air cargo company affiliated with Volga-Dnepr Group, a Russian airline holding company.
The Senate intelligence committee is currently investigating Jill Stein’s campaign for possible collusion with the Russians.
Political cultist Lyndon LaRouche’s ties to Russia go back decades and feature an assortment of pro-Moscow tracts, frequent guest appearances on RT and other Russian state media outlets, as well as his trips to Moscow, which LaRouche has reported on himself. Anton Shekhovtsov, a Vienna-based researcher on extremist groups and author of Russia and the Western Far Right: Tango Noir wrote of the relationships LaRouche established in Russia with, among others, nationalist politician Sergei Glazyev, who was minister of external economic relations and later an MP and now a prominent megaphone for the Putinist justification of the annexation of Crimea. Like LaRouche, Glazyev believes in a global Jewish conspiracy to undermine Russian imperialism, if not exterminate ethnic Russians. Historian Timothy Synder has also pointed out that the state of Ukraine, according to this deranged theory, is not only an artificial Jewish construction to block Eurasia but its current government is “a Nazi junta installed by the United States,” a paradoxical conspiratorial malady Snyder has named “schizofascism.”
Company Intelligence Report 2016/102
10 August 2016
RUSSIA/US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION: REACTION IN TRUMP CAMP TO RECENT NEGATIVE PUBLICITY ABOUT RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE AND LIKELY RESULTING TACTICS GOING FORWARD
- This is the first suggestion that one of the goals of the operation was to turn Bernie Sanders supporters into Donald Trump supporters, preying upon populist and anti-establishment sentiments on the American left.
- Trump adviser Carter Page is named as a campaign official who introduced this idea to the Russians.
Steele here follows up on the central thesis of his last memo by explaining the goal of the Wikileaks release of DNC emails, as told to him by an “ethnic Russian associate” of Trump: to swing angry and disillusioned Bernie Sanders voters away from voting for Clinton in the general election and toward voting for Trump, again, premised on their shared anti-establishment sentiment and “visceral” dislike of Clinton. Carter Page, in fact, is named by Steele as the architect of such an electoral gambit.
The DNC hack detailed a series of embarrassing emails showing that staffers on the committee expressed a clear preference for Clinton over Sanders, a point which incensed Sanders supporters during the primaries and led to the resignation of then DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Schultz’s successor, Donna Brazile later wrote in her book Hacks, that the scales were heavily tilted within the party in Clinton’s favor, owing to a Joint Fund-Raising Agreement between the DNC, the Hillary Victory Fund, and Hillary for America, which effectively cast the party’s financial fortunes with that of a single primary candidate’s, while also giving that candidate the privileged status of anointed, if not inevitable, nominee. The Russians, of course, didn’t create this skullduggery within the DNC; they simply discovered and disseminated it, the better to divide and weaken Democrats riven between a socialist insurgent and an establishment liberal-centrist.
Sanders campaign officials, too, noticed the proliferation of trolls and operatives sharing anti-Clinton screeds on Sanders social media pages — many of them conspiracy theories about Clinton’s health, her supposed support for the so-called Islamic State or (again) the “Pizza-Gate” myth floated by websites whose domains originated in Eastern Europe and Macedonia, which was ground zero for paid “fake news” amplifiers on social media.
On Feb. 16, Mueller unveiled an indictment of 13 Russian individuals and three Russian entities, all associated with the Internet Research Agency, the notorious St. Petersburg-based “troll farm” run by Putin confidante and catering oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin.
At this facility Russians are employed in shifts to influence discourse on various social media platforms. The U.S. Department of Justice accused those indicted attempting to “defraud the United States by impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of the government through fraud and deceit for the purpose of interfering with the U.S. political and electoral processes.”
Company Intelligence Report 2016/105
22 August 2016
RUSSIA/UKRAINE: THE DEMISE OF TRUMP’S CAMPAIGN MANAGER PAUL MANAFORT
- Paul Manafort, now indicted on dozens of charges and facing over 300 years in prison, is here named as both a back-channel to Trump and a major liability in the operation, given the money Manafort made (illegally) in Ukraine in support of now-former president Viktor Yanukovych.
- Putin “suspected” that Manafort and Yanukovych hadn’t covered their tracks in this multi-million dollar kickback scheme, and he held a “secret” meeting with Yanukovych, who tried to reassure him, near the Russian city of Volgograd.
- That fear that must have grown only more pronounced after Manafort’s termination as campaign chairman.
The most conspicuous link between Trump and the Russians, from the beginning, was Paul Manafort. His relations with Putin clients like Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych, deposed in early 2014, and oligarchs in Putin’s circles like Oleg Deripaska, would have raised suspicions among anti-Russia hawks under almost any circumstances. Once Moscow’s meddling in the U.S. elections became the focus of national and international attention, his usefulness to Trump and, for that matter, to Moscow, was at an end.
Steele’s memo offers sidelights, but it was an investigation in Kiev reported in the New York Times more than a week before this memo that led to Manafort’s resignation from the Trump campaign on August 19.
Steele further claims that Corey Lewandowski, who “hated” Manafort, egged on Trump’s firing of the campaign chairman to “loosen his control on strategy and policy formulation.” Lewandowski is on the record telling the Washington Examiner, “I think if anybody … Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, or Rick Gates or Carter Page, or anybody else attempted to influence the outcome of the U.S. election through any means that’s inappropriate — through collusion, coordination or cooperation — I hope they go to jail for the rest of their lives.”
But he also believed that his boss, Donald Trump, showed no signs of any collusion with Russia. “And never ever ever did I hear him say, utter, insinuate anything to do with Russia. He never instructed me or anybody in my immediate presence to ever be involved with Russia, never mentioned Russia collusion, coordination, cooperation, or anything of that nature ever.”
His views on whether he wanted Manafort out of the campaign for strategy reasons — say, the changing of the GOP platform on Ukraine — are not on the public record.
But did the Putin-Yanukovych “secret” meeting near Volgograd actually take place? Putin did really travel to Volgograd on August 15 to inspect a new airport. And Yanukovych has been reported by the independent Russian publication Meduza as arriving in Volgograd on August 18 after Putin had left.
There is no independent confirmation in official channels of any meeting, and the one reference to it outside of The Dossier — in a November 4, 2016, Newsweek article by Kurt Eichenwald — appears to circle back to this Steele memo, which many national security correspondents knew about by then, and about which David Corn at Mother Jones had written extensively.
“According to information obtained from inside Russia by Western intelligence,” Eichenwald reported, “Putin later met with Yanukovych in secret near Volgograd, formerly known as Stalingrad. Yanukovych assured Putin there was no documentary trail showing payments to Manafort, although Putin told associates he did not believe the Ukrainian president, according to the information obtained by the Western intelligence source.”
The “information” here seems almost certainly to refer to The Dossier.
Company Intelligence Report 2016/111
14 September 2016
RUSSIA/US: KREMLIN FALLOUT FROM MEDIA EXPOSURE OF MOSCOW’S INTERFERENCE IN THE US PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN
- A code of silence is adopted by all Kremlin officials regarding the operation, although those responsible for it are now seemingly being punished. Sergey Ivanov is out as head of the Presidential Administration, replaced by someone with no knowledge of or role in it.
- There is further mention of compromising material on Clinton, and a Russian “diplomat” in Washington, D.C. is called back to Moscow as the U.S. media is said to be close to exposing his role in the election interference.
The Kremlinology here is interesting, but may be considerably overstated. While the reshuffling in the Kremlin may be related to the change in circumstances of the Trump operation, it is important to note that Russia’s own parliamentary elections in September 2016 or other internal factors also offer plausible reasons for some career changes.
Putin evidently suffered from too many advisors, writes Steele, all falling into two camps on the election interference operation. In the more cautious camp, warning Putin of the negative fallout, were Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak (now a figure of scrutiny by the Mueller investigation owing to his various meetings with senior Trump campaign officials), backed by the entirety of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and an “independent and informal network” run by Yuri Ushakov, a presidential foreign policy advisor. In the other, more full-steam-ahead camp were Sergei Ivanov and the SVR, Russian foreign intelligence, who told Putin that the operation would succeed with little blowback. Because Kislyak’s side had proved correct, Steele concludes, Putin sacked Ivanov as head of the Presidential Administration and replaced him with someone with absolutely no knowledge or involvement in the operation: Anton Vaino.
Vaino comes from an Estonian family that served Moscow and graduated from the prestigious Moscow State Institute for International Relations with his first posting at the Russian Embassy in Japan, then later served in other Foreign Ministry posts before going to the Presidential Administration.
He might be the very proof that the Trump operation “started in the foreign ministry,” as Steele maintained, before going to the presidential administration, but there’s no evidence that along the way he stopped at the FSB. There’s the additional problem of showing how an official with foreign policy experience in the Asia-Pacific region would be useful in a U.S. election, even if he spoke English. Then again, Vaino’s ascension may have been more about enabling Putin to have an independent loyalist free from entanglements with other Kremlin factions.
Company Intelligence Report 2016/112
14 September 2016
RUSSIA/US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION: KREMLIN-ALPHA GROUP CO-OPERATION
- Steele alleges that Alfa Group, a powerful banking company, maintains a good relationship with Vladimir Putin and that its three founders — Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven and German Khan have even got kompromat on the Russian president.
- Fridman, Aven and Khan give Putin crucial advice on the US political system, which presumably impacted the nature of the election interference.
The “Alpha” Group is actually spelled “Alfa.” This is yet another attempt to explore the relationships between Putin and his associates, but the links to election interference in the United States, if any, are not made explicit in the memo.
And yet, in October 2016, a month after it was drafted, Slate’s Franklin Foer published an article about a scientist who used the name “Tea Leaves” to air his concerns about evidence that Alfa Bank’s computer servers kept looking up the unique internet address of one Trump Organization server in the U.S. Between May and September 2016, Alfa’s servers pinged the Trump counterpart 2,820 times, far more than any other external machine had, as CNN reported. Foer laid out the case of various cybersecurity researchers who had become alarmed at this discovery in the context of the DNC hack.
Next, four authors from The Intercept, including Micah Lee, the computer security engineer who once helped Edward Snowden, refuted Foer’s experts’ findings, claiming that there was an innocent explanation for the servers pinging — spam in the form of Trump marketing materials.
The New York Times similarly refuted Foer, reporting that the FBI had looked into the matter and concluded “that there could be an innocuous explanation, like a marketing email or spam, for the computer contacts.”
However, CNN reported in March 2017 that the FBI hadn’t quite given up on its probe and that the Alfa-Trump server communication was “in the hands of the FBI’s counterintelligence team — the same one looking into Russia’s suspected interference in the 2016 election.”
Steele suggests that the Alfa executives — Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven and German Khan — were all on “very good terms” with Vladimir Putin and that Russian president delivers business and legal favors for the Alfa oligarchs, while they deliver political favors for Putin. Moreover, Fridman’s “mediator” with Putin is said to be Oleg Govorun, a senior Presidential Administration official and former head of government relations at Alfa Group, in the 1990s. Steele alleges that Govorun was the “driver” and “bag carrier” used by Fridman and Aven to send “large amounts of illicit cash” to Putin when he was deputy mayor of St. Petersburg. As such, Alfa Group has “kompromat” on Putin from this period.
Putin’s relationships with Fridman, Aven and Khan are all visible. Fridman, for example gained Putin’s blessing for a $6.15 billion deal to create the joint British-Russian venture TNK-BP.
Oleg Govorun has been far less conspicuous. His official biography online shows him as having once served as the director for government liaison for Alfa, a job description that could conceivably cover driving bags of cash to Putin. But not while Putin was based in St. Petersburg, as Steele implies because that period precedes Govorun’s employment. Putin moved to Moscow in 1997, at which point Govorun assumed his job as the bank’s government liaison director. From 1995 to 1997, Govorun worked for Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s Rosprom when Vladislav Surkov, now the Kremlin’s “grey cardinal,” was also there; Surkov also went to Alfa-Bank in 1997.
Khan’s London-based son-in-law, Alex van der Zwaan, was indicted by Mueller on Feb. 20 for lying to the FBI about his 2012 legal work for the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice, for which, as lawyer with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, he prepared a report about the trial of Yulia Tymoshenko, a rival to the then-Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. The charges relate to the FBI’s investigation of Paul Manafort and specifically what van der Zwaan told investigators about his communication with Manafort’s partner Rick Gates.
Tymoshenko, a prominent figure in Ukraine’s 2004 “Orange Revolution,” has long been seen as a thorn in the Kremlin’s side, and her conviction and imprisonment was judged to be politically motivated by the European Court of Human Rights. Yanukovych, who lost the presidency in 2004 but won it in 2010, was Putin’s stalking-horse in Ukraine. Might Steele here have been alluding, by “significant favors,” to Khan’s son-in-law’s work, via a white-shoe London law firm, to ensure that a major rival of Moscow’s man in Kiev remained behind bars? Skadden told the Washington Post that it terminated van der Zwaan’s employment in 2017, a year after the dossier was published.
Khan, Aven and Fridman are suing BuzzFeed for defamation.
Company Intelligence Report 2016/113
14 September 2016
RUSSIA/US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION- REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE PRIOR ACTIVITIES IN ST PETERSBURG
- Steele revisits the sexual kompromat on Trump, this time an episode that allegedly took place in St. Petersburg and for which Trump paid hush-money to keep from being exposed.
- Trump’s friend and escort around Russia, Araz Agalarov, is said to know all the details of this scandal.
More sexual innuendo in a memo with particularly flimsy sourcing: “two well-placed sources based in St. Petersburg” could be anybody, and it seems unlikely that either of them had government connections or else they would have been mentioned. However, Steele is correct in his description of Russian-Azeri construction magnate Aras Agalarov, who played a not-too-marginal role in the U.S. election.
Agalarov’s pop star son Emin, the ex-husband of Leyla Aliyeva, the daughter Azerbaijan’s dictator, is also chummy with the Trump family, and Emin’s British publicist, Rob Goldstone, helped arrange that infamous Trump Tower meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. Donald Trump even appeared in a 2013 music video for Emin’s song “In Another Life” to mouth his catchphrase from The Apprentice: “You’re fired!”
Trump has heaped praise on “Russia’s Ricky Martin”: “You’re a winner, you’re a champ, you’re great at real estate,” Trump once recorded in a birthday video for Emin, “and boy, can you entertain!”
Emin’s billionaire father is a recipient of the Order of the Honor of the Russian Federation and tried and failed to get a Trump Tower built in Moscow, evidently at his son’s encouraging. “I convinced my father it would be cool to have next to each other the Trump Tower and Agalarov Tower, and he was kind of into it at some point,” Emin told the Washington Post. Still, there was one major Trump-related project Agalarov’s company Crocus Group, a Russian real estate giant, did successfully come through on: hosting the Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow in November 2013 in one of its concert halls. Trump was not only in attendance at the pageant, at which he had badly wanted to meet Vladimir Putin (he didn’t), but it was on this trip that he stayed at the Ritz-Carlton and allegedly arranged that “golden showers” episode mentioned earlier, adding plausibility to Agalarov’s knowledge of it.
According to Bloomberg, Trump spent quite a lot of time with the Agalarovs in Moscow. On November 8, 2013, he was spotted at a dinner at the pricy sushi restaurant Nobu, which closed its doors to other customers that evening. In attendance were Aras, Emin and German Gref, the powerful chief of the Russian state-owned Sberbank, and the table talk consisted of “currency rates and the prospect of a breakup of the European Union, which Trump dismissed as unlikely,” Bloomberg reported, citing Aras’s recall of the evening. That same night, Trump then attended a 58th birthday party for Aras at the Crocus City complex, where the Miss Universe contest was being held. The following day, November 9, Trump filmed his bit for Emin’s music video
Given that we can place Trump and Agalarovs at the Ritz in Moscow, might it be that either Aras or Emin — or both — were also sources for the dossier , albeit not for this memo, which explicitly refers to Aras as someone with first-hand knowledge of Trump’s allegedly lascivious activities in St. Petersburg, as relayed to Steele by two (presumably separate) sources in that city?
As previously discussed, the Washington Post has identified Source D as Sergei Millian, a slightly jumped-up Belarusian emigre of questionable closeness to the Trump campaign. Yet Source D is elsewhere described in the dossier (see Memo 80) as “a close associate of Trump who had organized and managed his recent trips to Moscow.” This seems to hew much closer to the roles played by the elder and junior Agalarov than to that of Millian; indeed Trump tweeted to Agalarov on November 11, and to Emin on November 12, and on November 27, Emin sent a reply to Trump “Thank you Sir we look forward to receiving you back in Moscow soon for some new exciting projects,” which Trump re-tweeted.
Company Intelligence Report 2016/130
12 October 2016
RUSSIA: KREMLIN ASSESSMENT OF TRUMP AND RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE IN US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
- The Kremlin suffers from “buyer’s remorse” over supporting Trump and laments that leaked Clinton emails haven’t been as damaging to the campaign as it had hoped. Putin is angry at the officials who promised much but delivered little by way of this operation.
It was always Moscow’s strategy not merely to promote Trump, but to undermine Clinton, and for that matter, the whole American political process. As we know from reporting outside of the dossier, massive efforts were made on social media platforms to create divisive groups and incite them to hatred and confusion, even succeeding in staging real-world demonstrations on widely different causes.
Steele’s sources here are a “trusted compatriot,” “a senior Russian leadership figure” and a “Foreign Ministry official.” Putin is reported as “surprised and disappointed” that the Clinton email leaks did not take a greater toll on her candidacy and, contradicting the previous memo suggesting that no more leaks would be forthcoming, the senior leadership figure suggests that more hacked Clinton material “had been injected by the Kremlin into compliant western media outlets like Wikileaks.” Strangely, and despite his insistence on caution with respect to the election interference operation, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is said to be next on the chopping block.
As the dossier indicates, the foreign minister would be the “good cop” of an operation to turn a U.S. election, and so it would not make sense any sense for Lavrov to be dismissed as an official who got carried away with this work. It would only make sense if the more aggressive or “bad cop” group was winning and wanted to punish its softer rival.
Yet the only conspicuous fall in the Kremlin was that of Sergei Ivanov. As we explained above, he didn’t fall too far: he retained his permanent seat in the National Security Council and was entrusted with the delicate task of denying any Russian subversion of American sovereignty in the Financial Times. Other figures transferred from the presidential administration were not necessarily dismissed because of a botched intelligence or active measures operation, but rather repositioned to help with Putin’s election campaign or other domestic purposes or people whose time had come to disappear from the spotlight for the busier and less visible environs of the Russian parliament.
We have no way of proving the U.S. election sabotage started in the Foreign Ministry, which again, presents “good cop/bad cop” problems; it would be more logical that such an operation originated in the FSB. The real challenge in Steele’s work is to account for why the Presidential Administration was given any part of this assignment at all apart from the obvious explanation that Putin wanted to keep the whole business as closely held as possible. In our view, there is ample evidence of the involvement of Vyacheslav Volodin and his staff in the Presidential Administration in Internet influence operations that began inside Russia and were turned against the U.S.
The Kremlin at least purported to feign buyer’s remorse in media manipulation to distance itself from Trump as the election grew near, but then, its actual aim all along, as a careful study of Russian state media has demonstrated was to undermine Hillary Clinton and the democratic political process as a whole.
As Luke Harding noted in The Guardian in November, in an excerpt from his book Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and how Russia Helped Donald Trump Win, one of KGB’s “specialties” in Soviet times, when Putin got his training as a spy and secret policeman, was breaking into the apartments of suspected foreign intelligence operatives or others state security wanted intimidate: “The owners are always away, of course. The KGB leave a series of clues – stolen shoes, women’s tights knotted together, cigarette butts stomped out and left demonstratively on the floor. Or a surprise turd in the toilet, waiting in grim ambush. The message, crudely put, is this: we are the masters here! We can do what the fuck we please!” One thinks of that when looking at Putin’s seeming insouciance when it comes to covering his tracks.
Putin’s refusal to engage in tit-for-tat expulsions of Americans after President Obama booted 35 Russian diplomats — most, if not all, of them believed to be spies — and the closure of two Russian missions in the U.S., in reaction to the election interference, may be taken as a shrewd wait-and-see approach. After all, this was a topic of conversation between Trump advisor and future national security adviser Michael Flynn and now-former Russian ambassador to Washington Sergei Kislyak. President-Elect Trump famously praised Putin for his restraint, writing on Twitter, “Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!”
So Putin would shortly have reason to believe that his hostile act might not meet with proportional response from an incoming president.
Company Intelligence Report 2016/134
18 October 2016
RUSSIA/US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION: FURTHER DETAILS OF KREMLIN LIAISON WITH TRUMP CAMPAIGN
- Steele alleges that Trump aide Carter Page met with Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin in Moscow in July 2016. Sechin, who apparently thought Trump had a real shot at the presidency until October 2016, offered Page a cut of a lucrative privatization scheme for Rosneft in exchange for Trump’s lifting of sanctions on Russian officials and entities.
- This memo also discussed Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen’s role in managing the Trump-Russia relationship.
The reason that Robert Mueller is investigating Donald Trump and his family and organization’s financials is to look for any unaccountable revenue, which may have derived from Russian entities or individuals as kickbacks or payoffs for illicit activities, including what we now generally call “collusion.”
Here Steele suggests that Igor Sechin, the CEO of Rosneft and a former KGB officer, was willing to gift either the “brokerage” of a 19 privatized percent stake in the Russian state-owned oil giant, or the stake itself — a distinction with a sizable difference, as we’ll discuss below.
At the time Steele wrote this memo, Rosneft was indeed finalizing a major multi-billion dollar deal, purportedly for the sale of a 19.5 percent stake of the company to 50/50 joint venture between Qatar and the Swiss commodities trader Glencore. No third party tied to Trump or his associates has ever been linked.
As we noted in the discussion about Memo 94, we have no proof that Igor Sechin ever met Carter Page and we cannot prove he remained in Moscow July 6 when Page was in Moscow. A “close associate of Sechin” who met with Page in Moscow in July 2016 would likely be Andrey Baranov, head of investor relations at Rosneft, but Page denies they discussed any quid pro quo for energy cooperation or lifting sanctions as they sat in a bar watching a soccer game.
The Dossier makes the mistake — also replicated by media — that Page made a speech to the “Higher Economic School” in Moscow when in fact Page is well documented as giving a lecture at the World Trade Center Moscow at the invitation of the New Economic School on July 7, then speaking at a commencement ceremony at the school on July 8. That is an important distinction because the institutions are different; the prominent oligarchs and officials who back NES include Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, with whom Page at least admitted shaking hands.
The claim in the memo’s “summary” regarding Rosneft’s “offer of a large stake” appears to be a mistake within the memo’s own terms because in Steele’s “detail” he refers to an offer of the brokerage of up to of 19% of the stake, not to the stake itself.
The first would be (and was) a colossal sum in the billions; the second would be the equivalent of a smaller but still rather impressive commission or finder’s fee in the multiple millions. Yet it is unclear, from this discrepancy between the summary and detail, which Steele meant.
Steele’s source also contradicts him/herself in describing the same events.
Just how seriously did the Kremlin guard its offloading of almost 20 percent of Russia’s largest oil company? So seriously that a leading business news portal, RBC, was slapped with a crippling $49.5million libel suit for suggesting, based on sources inside the Presidential Administration, that the government had warned British multinational BP not to get involved in the privatization scheme.
Qatar and Glencore bought the 19.5% stake for 10.2 billion euros, or $12.7 billion. Assuming that figure is close to a real market price — although, again, the details of the deal remain murky — it is several times Donald Trump’s actual (as opposed to touted) net worth, according to Forbes magazine. It also seems an all-too-conspicuous “gift” to hide even in an archipelago of offshore accounts, although Russian elites close to Putin have certainly tried.
A brokerage fee on 10.2 billion euros might be a less eye-catching bribe, but again, we cannot be sure as to the amount or even if a brokerage is what Steele actually meant to write.
On Dec. 8, 2016, a day after the Rosneft sale to Qatar and Glencore was announced, Carter Page was again in Moscow. On Dec. 12, he was introduced at a press conference by Shlomo Weber, the rector of the New Economic School, the forum at which Page had lectured earlier that year.
In a slide show presentation, Page showed photographs of German Gref, the head of Sberbank, and Igor Sechin, “the foundation for positive change.” And he referred to interactions he’d had with a Rosneft executive, without naming names.He denied ever having met Sechin, however.
The Russian state news service TASS also reported that Page had mentioned the newly inked Rosneft deal, but in a spirit of disappointment that no American entities were involved in it owing to sanctions. “Unfortunately it’s a great example of where, um, you know, this recent deal which Glencore and Qatar was able to move forward with unfortunately, United States’ actors were constrained. And I think that there is a lot of ways where, you know, a lot of impacts of sanctions has really affected individuals from the U.S. side much more so than we’ve seen in Russia.”
Was Page acting on the authority of the Trump campaign when dealing with any Russian contact? He was still serving as an advisor to the campaign in July 2016. He had the authorization of Cory Lewandowski to make the trip to Russia, but only on the condition that he make the trip as a private citizen.
According to Politico, Page, a former naval officer, had asked J.D. Gordon, his supervisor at the National Security Advisory Committee, for permission to make the trip. Gordon, also a former naval officer, strongly advised against it.
As noted above, the Russia media reported Page as a “Trump advisor” and he was identified as such at his public lecture at the New Economic School and as a speaker at the NES commencement, where his role was to serve as a prestigious and friendly American figure handing out diplomas to graduating Russian economics students.
But Page would not have been too ideologically divergent from the candidate he served even if he didn’t have either Trump’s blessing or that of Trump’s chief lieutenants. By July, Trump was saying openly that, if elected, he would consider recognizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea and lifting U.S. sanctions and that only Congress was in his way His recent refusal to impose new sanctions on Russian officials would appear to lend credence to his belief that these are counterproductive or that he has a personal reason not to penalize the Kremlin any further.
Company Intelligence Report 2016/135
19 October 2016
RUSSIA/US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION: THE IMPORTANT ROLE OF TRUMP LAWYER, COHEN IN SECRET LIAISON WITH THE KREMLIN
- Michael Cohen’s role was not only managing the American side of this conspiracy but also covering up the damage caused by Paul Manafort’s ouster from the campaign and Carter Page’s unflattering media attention.
- Cohen allegedly met with Russian officials in an “EU country” in August 2016. Steele also delves into more Kremlinology, the hiring and firing of officials, as it pertains to the Trump-Russia conspiracy.
This central claim in this memo may be true simply because Michael Cohen is the American figure in the dossier who has been the hardest to pin down and may have taken the most precautions for secrecy. Also note that in late September Carter Page, heretofore seen as the main liaison between the Trump campaign (as a factotum of Paul Manafort, whose surname is here misspelled with an extra “n”) took a permanent “leave of absence” following the U.S. media’s exposure of his ties to Russia.
It would make sense that the campaign was now in need of a new relay with Russian officials, who may well have begun to feel the “heat” of American counterintelligence efforts to uncover a conspiracy owing to the fact that in mid-October, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court approved a surveillance request to monitor the activities of two banks “suspected of being part of the Kremlin’s undercover influence operation,” in the words of Britain’s Guardian newspaper. Paul Manafort and Carter Page were also surveilled, before and after the election, through FISA warrants.
Cohen’s role in “damage limitation” as Trump’s personal attorney does appear to be true, given what the Wall Street Journal has lately reported: that he was the one to orchestrate Trump’s $130,000 pay-off to Stormy Daniels, the porn actress he allegedly had an affair with, to keep her story from appearing in the press prior to the election. Nevertheless, we cannot confirm his orchestration of direct contact with the Kremlin through agents of influence in pro-government policy institutes.
Perhaps coincidentally, on October 31 — 12 days after the dating of this memo — Mother Jones’ David Corn would break the story of the existence of The Dossier and the FBI’s possession of it, which, if Russian intelligence was privy to or had a hand in influencing, would have made them more circumspect as to any interaction with the Trump team.
Company Intelligence Report 2016/136
20 October 2016
RUSSIA/US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION: FURTHER DETAILS OF TRUMP LAWYER SECRET LIAISON WITH THE KREMLIN
- Michael Cohen met with Russian officials in Prague, at the headquarters of a dubious Russian state-run agency.
- An unnamed “Kremlin insider” identifies Duma deputy Konstantin Kosachev as “an important figure” in the Trump-Kremlin liaison operation. Kosachev “may have” also attended meetings with Cohen in Prague.
The Dossier’s claims regarding Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen and Kremlin officials and hackers have been intensively scrutinized by media as they seem to indicate the operational side for not only how the hack of the DNC could play out, but the massive influence operation run by the Kremlin to disrupt American elections in general.
On the one hand, the use of Rossotrudnichestvo, or other “soft” Russian entities for such purposes, seems too public for the purpose but, on the other, is perfect for running large projects and moving people and funds around.
In an interview with Czech newspaper Respekt, Oleg Solodukhin an official from Russia’s foreign friendship operation Rossotrudnichestvo (in English, the Russian Committee for Cooperation) said he had not met with Cohen or any foreigners.
But Jakub Janda, the Deputy Director of the European Values Think-Tank, a Czech institute based in Prague, has stated that Solodukhin, the official from Rossotrudnichestvo, was well known to him. In fact, Solodukhin came to the think tank’s meetings, and would have seen foreigners there although no dates can be correlated with those in The Dossier.
Reporters from Aktualne.cz and Respekt tried to check Steele’s claims regarding Cohen starting in mid-December. Czech police claimed they knew nothing about the meeting and that Michael Cohen had not passed through passport control in the Czech Republic. A detail from the local press version of this story failed to get into international news. “If the meeting took place, they didn’t fly into the Czech Republic,” a reliable security source in the security community told the Czech reporters.
What that leaves open is the possibility that Cohen could have flown to a neighboring country, then rented a car or reached Prague by train, and would not have been checked at the border. The story then adds a third local point that was lost in foreign coverage: other sources with whom the Czech editors spoke claim that no one was watching this meeting of Americans and Russians, and that there was no proof of it. Czech police and intelligence may not have wished to get involved in spying on meetings between members of the Trump campaign and Russian operatives, for whatever reason, or, aren’t interested in talking about it now.
Meanwhile, the way this story was covered in the West, Czech intelligence appeared to clear Cohen from allegations that he traveled to Prague, and Cohen himself denied he was in Prague during those dates. Cohen does admit he was first in Italy in July, and then at home in the U.S. on August 29.
This prompted much Twitter sleuthing to see whether he could have driven from Italy to Prague in time to appear at meetings and still get home in time for his August 29 alibi in the U.S., or whether there would be a stamp in his passport to prove it. Cohen posted a picture of his passport cover on Twitter to imply it was in order. He then shared the inside pages of it with Buzzfeed, none of which show a Czech Republic stamp.
Even if Cohen had gone to Prague, there might not be any stamp in his passport for perfectly valid reasons. Within the European Schengen zone — all EU countries barring the UK, Ireland, Bulgaria, Romania, Cyprus and Croatia — no stamps would be made or records placed in any police database. So an American traveling from one EU country to another would have his initial EU stamp and the next EU country would find that stamp sufficient and not add another. Cohen might have conceivably flown from Italy to Prague without having a documentary trace of doing so in his passport although there is no evidence of this.
For a while, the hunt to place Trump’s personal attorney in Prague seemed to dissipate. But then, on April 13, 2018, McClatchy reported that the Mueller team did indeed possess evidence that Cohen had traveled to Prague in August 2016. If true, as a news service notes, that revelation would “be one of the most significant developments thus far in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of whether the Trump campaign and the Kremlin worked together to help Trump win the White House.”
Cohen’s recent behavior indicates that he is all too willing to cooperate with federal investigators in a separate case scrutinizing his business practices — even if that means turning on his most famous client. Authorities seized a tape recording he made of his phone conversation with Trump, in the fall of 2016, about buying the rights to an account told by a Playboy model of an alleged affair she had with the Republican candidate. He has also told the media that his loyalty to Trump is at least third in his order of priorities. “My wife, my daughter and my son have my first loyalty and always will,” Cohen told George Stephanopoulos in July. “I put family and country first.”
If Cohen went to Prague when Steele said he did, there is every reason to suspect that he has admitted such to the FBI as part of his ongoing cooperation.
As for Konstantin Kosachev, like Anton Vaino, he is a graduate of Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He began his career in the Foreign Ministry and served in the Russian Embassy in Sweden in 1991; he also served as an advisor to Sergei Kiriyenko when Kiriyenko was Boris Yeltsin’s prime minister.
This memo errs in calling Kosachev the head of the State Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee at the time of the alleged meetings with Cohen in 2016. In fact, Kosachev held that position from 2003 to 2011. Kosachev served as head of Rossotrudnichestvo from 2012 to 2014. In 2014, he became a senator to Russia’s Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, and was elected the head of its Foreign Affairs Committee.
Kosachev addressed the accusations leveled against him by Steele on his Facebook page on January 11, 2017. Kosachev correctly noted that, as of 2016, he hadn’t been the chairman of the Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee chairman for five years (true), nor was he acquainted with Michael Cohen or even aware of who he was. “I have not been in Prague or other Czech cities for about five years, maybe even more,” Kosachev posted to the social media platform.
We were able to determine that Kosachev took part in a conference in Prague titled “Democracy in the Post-Soviet Space – 20 Years” on September 11, 2012 and so he was about nine months off in his timeline — assuming that was the last trip he took to the Czech capital.
There is no open source proof that Kosachev has ever been in Cohen’s company, however.
Company Intelligence Report 2016/166
13 December 2016
US/RUSSIA: FURTHER DETAILS OF SECRET DIALOGUE BETWEEN TRUMP CAMPAIGN TEAM, KREMLIN AND ASSOCIATED HACKERS IN PRAGUE
- Following from the previous memo, this one adds that Michael Cohen was accompanied to Prague by “3 colleagues” who are unnamed.
- Among the topics of discussion with their Russian interlocutors were how the Trump team might pay the Russian-hired hackers who targeted the Clinton campaign.
The final Steele memo is the only one produced after Trump’s election, yet it makes no mention of this event and instead retreads and elaborates much of what was discussed in Memo 136.
The “three colleagues,” mentioned by Steele, who purportedly traveled with Michael Cohen have not been verified and there is no evidence of payment schemes, although it is certainly plausible using Rossotrudnichestvo’s vast budget and networks, which are surely watched by Western intelligence services.
Steele refers to a company whose name is redacted in this memo as having used “botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data and conduct ‘altering operations’ against the Democratic Party leadership.” In Prague, Cohen allegedly discussed contingency plans in the event that Clinton won the election: namely to pay off all remaining debts to cyber operators, in cash, and to stand them all down.
Security specialist Krebs, in commenting early on the DNC hack, described the botnets used by Russian hackers in the DNC hack, and focused on Evgeniy Bogachev, one of the hackers named in the U.S. government’s assessment of the perpetrators of the DNC hack. His post highlights one of the disagreements among cybersecurity specialists about why tracks of Russian hackers are often found in hacks as if they don’t seem to care. Some believe they have been careless and other think they are actually trying to send a message with a signature but as Krebs points out, they may never leave Russia and therefore have no concern about being apprehended.
Steele also writes that “Romanian hackers” were among the cyber operatives told to stop their activity and to repair to a “bolt-hole in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.” His source here is an associate of Sergei Ivanov, the former head of the Presidential Administration, who adds that the operatives were paid by both the Trump camp and the Kremlin.
No Russian hackers related to the DNC hack have been found in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, although 23 hackers were arrested in Bulgaria in May 2017 who were part of an international crime group that used malware to gain access to the Bulgarian Customs Agency.