Posts Tagged ‘Steele dossier’

Republican Offers Bill Targeting Hillary Clinton, James Comey, Eric Holder — “Lying to Congress must be prosecuted equitably”

February 5, 2019

Rep. Matt Gaetz this week introduced a resolution that calls out Hillary Clinton, James Comey, Eric Holder, and other opponents of President Trump for avoiding any punishment even though they lied to Congress.

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Matt Gaetz (for left) with U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) (2nd L)  Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA), and Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA)

Gaetz, R-Fla., noted that Roger Stone, a former Trump campaign operative, was arrested on five counts of lying to Congress, but said most avoid any punishment for the same offense. His “Justice for All” resolution calls out other lies that have gone unpunished, and says the U.S. must treat everyone equally when this happens.

“Unfortunately, it often seems that we have a two-tiered justice system at work; certain people have the book thrown at them, while others face no consequences at all for their behavior,” he said. “This is unfair and wrong, and I hope to correct this with my resolution.”

His resolution said it’s the sense of Congress that lying to Congress must be “prosecuted equitably,” and noted several cases in which Trump’s opponents have gotten away with it.

For example, Clinton told Congress there was “nothing marked classified on my emails, either sent or received.” But the resolution said that statement was later proven false by the FBI and the Office of Inspector General.

It called out former FBI Director James Comey for saying he never authorized anyone to leak information to the media, despite a report from the Office of Inspector General “indicating his response was likely untrue.”

PHOTO: Then-FBI Director James Comey testifies before the House Oversight Committee to discuss Hillary Clintons email investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, July 7, 2016.

Then-FBI Director James Comey testifies before the House Oversight Committee to discuss Hillary Clinton’s email investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, July 7, 2016. J. Scott Applewhite/AP, FILE

Former Attorney General Eric Holder was noted for providing false testimony about the “Fast and Furious” gun running operation, among other cases.

The resolution called out former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who told Congress there was no effort to collect data on millions of Americans, which he admitted later was “clearly erroneous” after a massive phone surveillance program was revealed.

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Former CIA Director John Brennan was also mentioned for telling Congress the Steele dossier was never used as a basis for legal proceedings in the investigation into the Trump administration, as was former IRS Director Lois Lerner for saying she never sought to thwart conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.


Judge orders public release of documents in Trump dossier lawsuit against BuzzFeed

January 31, 2019

A federal judge in Florida ordered the release of dozens of documents in the defamation case brought forward by a Russian technology entrepreneur who protested BuzzFeed’s publication of the infamous Trump-Russia dossier.

BuzzFeed employees

Brendan McDermid/Reuters

U.S. District Court Judge Ursula Ungaro, based in Miami, ruled the more than 40 documents from the discovery process, currently under seal, be released by Feb. 8, according to the Daily Caller. That process included the deposition of the dossier’s author, ex-British spy Christopher Steele and those of the founders of Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that hired Steele.

The development comes a little more than a month after BuzzFeed won a legal battle when Ungaro ruled that BuzzFeed was protected by the fair report privilege, even though Russian executive Aleksej Gubarev was explicitly mentioned in the copy of the dossier that was published.

Gubarev took legal action against BuzzFeed after it posted in January 2017 the entire 35-page dossier, a series of memos compiled by Steele. Gubarev, and his company XBT Holdings and its subsidiary Webzilla, were all referenced in the document for allegedly working with the 2016 Trump campaign.

The company was said to be “using botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data and conduct ‘altering operations’ against the Democratic Party leadership.” Gubarev’s name was later redacted.

BuzzFeed was criticized for publishing the dossier in full, given that it contained unverified details and errors.

BuzzFeed and Fusion GPS were also sued by Trump’s former private lawyer, Michael Cohen, claiming libel as the dossier alleged he traveled to Prague to pay off a Russian hacking job during the 2016 election. However, Cohen dropped those lawsuits last year. Cohen is set to head to federal prison in early March after taking two plea deals last year in two separate federal cases.

A House Intelligence Committee memo released last year, which outlined alleged abuses by the Justice Department and FBI, showed that the FBI used the dossier in obtaining surveillance authority to spy on onetime Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page.

Democrats in the committee put out their own rebuttal memo arguing the FBI would have been “remiss” not to look into someone with suspicious ties to Russia and the dossier was substantiated by additional information.

The GOP memo also found that the FBI didn’t inform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Steele’s anti-Trump bias and that a crucial source of funding for the dossier was Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

How the Clinton machine flooded the FBI with Trump-Russia dirt … until agents bit

January 24, 2019

When at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. That’s what Hillary Clinton’s machine did in 2016, eventually getting the FBI to bite on an uncorroborated narrative that Donald Trump and Russia were trying to hijack the presidential election.

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Between July and October 2016, Clinton-connected lawyers, emissaries and apologists made more than a half-dozen overtures to U.S. officials, each tapping a political connection to get suspect evidence into FBI counterintelligence agents’ hands, according to internal documents and testimonies I reviewed and interviews I conducted.

In each situation, the overture was uninvited. And as the election drew closer, the point of contact moved higher up the FBI chain.

By John Solomon
The Hill

It was, as one of my own FBI sources called it, a “classic case of information saturation” designed to inject political opposition research into a counterintelligence machinery that should have suspected a political dirty trick was underway.

Ex-FBI general counsel James Baker, one of the more senior bureau executives to be targeted, gave a memorable answer when congressional investigators asked how attorney Michael Sussmann from the Perkins Coie law firm, which represented the Clinton campaign and Democratic Party, came to personally deliver him dirt on Trump.

“You’d have to ask him why he decided to pick me,” Baker said last year in testimony that has not yet been released publicly. The FBI’s top lawyer turned over a calendar notation to Congress, indicating that he met Sussmann on Sept. 19, 2016, less than two months before Election Day.

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Sussmann’s firm paid Glenn Simpson’s Fusion GPS opposition-research firm to hire British intelligence operative Christopher Steele to create the now-infamous dossier suggesting Trump and Moscow colluded during the 2016 election.

By the time Sussmann reached out, Steele’s dossier already was inside the FBI. Sussmann augmented it with cyber evidence that he claimed showed a further connection between the GOP campaign and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Some was put on a thumb drive, according to Baker.

Baker’s detailed account illustrates how a political connection — Sussmann and Baker knew each other — was leveraged to get anti-Trump research to FBI leaders.

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James Comey

“[Sussmann] told me he had cyber experts that had obtained some information that they thought they should get into the hands of the FBI,” Baker testified.

“I referred this to investigators, and I believe they made a record of it,” he testified, adding that he believed he reached out to Peter Strzok, the agent in charge of the Russia case, or William Priestap, the head of FBI counterintelligence.

“Please come get this,” he recalled telling his colleagues. Baker acknowledged it was not the normal way for counterintelligence evidence to enter the FBI.

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Bruce Ohr

But when the bureau’s top lawyer makes a request, things happen in the rank-and-file.

The overture was neither the first nor the last instance of Clinton-connected Trump dirt reaching the FBI.

The tsunami began when former MI6 agent Steele first approached an FBI supervisor, his handler in an earlier criminal case, in London. That approach remarkably occurred on July 5, 2016, the same day then-FBI Director James Comey announced he would not pursue criminal charges against Clinton for mishandling classified emails on a private server.

If ever there were a day for the Clinton campaign to want to change the public narrative, it was July 5, 2016.

But the bureau apparently did not initially embrace Steele’s research, and no immediate action was taken, according to congressional investigators who have been briefed.

That’s when the escalation began.

During a trip to Washington later that month, Steele reached out to two political contacts with the credentials to influence the FBI.

Then-senior State Department official Jonathan Winer, who worked for then-Secretary John Kerry, wrote that Steele first approached him in the summer with his Trump research and then met again with him in September. Winer consulted his boss, Assistant Secretary for Eurasia Affairs Victoria Nuland, who said she first learned of Steele’s allegations in late July and urged Winer to send it to the FBI.

(If you need further intrigue, Winer worked from 2008 to 2013 for the lobbying and public relations firm APCO Worldwide, the same firm that was a contractor for both the Clinton Global Initiative and Russia’s main nuclear fuel company that won big decisions from the Obama administration.)

When the State Department office that oversees Russian affairs sends something to the FBI, agents take note.

But Steele was hardly done. He reached out to his longtime Justice Department contact, Bruce Ohr, then a deputy to Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates. Steele had breakfast July 30, 2016, with Ohr and his wife, Nellie, to discuss the Russia-Trump dirt.



(To thicken the plot, you should know that Nellie Ohr was a Russia expert working at the time for the same Fusion GPS firm that hired Steele and was hired by the Clinton campaign through Sussmann’s Perkins Coie.)

Bruce Ohr immediately took Steele’s dirt on July 31, 2016, to then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

When the deputy attorney general’s office contacts the FBI, things happen. And, soon, Ohr was connected to the agents running the new Russia probe.

Around the same time, Australia’s ambassador to London, Alexander Downer, reached out to U.S. officials. Like so many characters in this narrative, Downer had his own connection to the Clintons: He secured a $25 million donation from Australia’s government to the Clinton Foundation in the early 2000s.

Downer claims WikiLeaks’s release of hacked Clinton emails that month caused him to remember a conversation in May, in a London tavern, with a Trump adviser named George Papadopoulos. So he reported it to the FBI.

The saturation campaign kept building. Sometime in September, Winer and Nuland got another version of Steele-like research suggesting Trump-Russia collusion, this time from known associates of the Clintons: Sidney Blumenthal and Cody Shearer.

Again, it was sent to the FBI.

Sussmann’s contact with Baker at the FBI occurred that same month.

By mid-September — less than a month before Election Day — there likely was agitation inside the Clinton machine: After so many overtures to the FBI, there was no visible sign of an investigation.

Simpson and Steele began briefing reporters with the hope of getting the word out. It is taboo for an FBI source such as Steele to talk to the media about his work. Yet, he took the risk, eventually getting fired for it, according to FBI documents.

Baker, the FBI’s top lawyer, testified to Congress that he was clearly aware Simpson’s team was shopping the media. “My understanding at the time was that Simpson was going around Washington giving this out to a lot of different people and trying to elevate its profile,” Baker told congressional investigators.

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Peter Strzok

Ohr, through his contacts with Steele and Simpson, also knew the media had been contacted. In handwritten notes from late 2016, Ohr quoted Simpson as saying his outreach to reporters was a “Hail Mary attempt” to sway voters.

The next and final overture came from one of Clinton’s top acolytes in Congress.

Then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, having been briefed by then-CIA Director John Brennan on the Russia allegations, sent a letter to the FBI in late October demanding to know if agents were pursuing the evidence. Before long, the letter leaked.

John Brennan

The political pressure from Team Clinton had come from many directions: State, Congress, Justice, a top Democratic lawyer.

Yet, no one in the FBI seemed to tap the brakes, noticing the obvious: Its counterintelligence apparatus was being weaponized with political opposition research from one campaign against its rival.

Leaking. Politically motivated evidence. Ex parte contacts outside the normal FBI evidence-gathering chain.

None of it seemed to raise a red flag.

That is a troubling legacy.

John Solomon is an award-winning investigative journalist whose work over the years has exposed U.S. and FBI intelligence failures before the Sept. 11 attacks, federal scientists’ misuse of foster children and veterans in drug experiments, and numerous cases of political corruption. He is The Hill’s executive vice president for video.


What Bruce Ohr Told the FBI — Raises new doubts about the bureau’s honesty

January 18, 2019

The Justice Department official’s testimony raises new doubts about the bureau’s honesty.


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Bruce Ohr, former associate deputy attorney general, arrives to testify behind closed doors in Washington, Aug. 28. PHOTO: CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

Everybody knew. Everybody of consequence at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Justice Department understood fully in the middle of 2016—as the FBI embarked on its counterintelligence probe of Donald Trump—that it was doing so based on disinformation provided by Hillary Clinton’s campaign. That’s the big revelation from the transcript of the testimony Justice Department official Bruce Ohr gave Congress in August. The transcripts haven’t been released, but parts were confirmed for me by congressional sources.

Mr. Ohr testified that he sat down with dossier author Christopher Steele on July 30, 2016, and received salacious information the opposition researcher had compiled on Mr. Trump. Mr. Ohr immediately took that to the FBI’s then-Deputy Director Andy McCabe and lawyer Lisa Page. In August he took it to Peter Strzok, the bureau’s lead investigator. In the same month, Mr. Ohr believes, he briefed senior personnel in the Justice Department’s criminal division: Deputy Assistant Attorney General Bruce Swartz, lawyer Zainab Ahmad and fraud unit head Andrew Weissman. The last two now work for special counsel Robert Mueller.

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More important, Mr. Ohr told this team the information came from the Clinton camp and warned that it was likely biased, certainly unproven. “When I provided [the Steele information] to the FBI, I tried to be clear that this is source information,” he testified. “I don’t know how reliable it is. You’re going to have to check it out and be aware. These guys were hired by somebody relating to—who’s related to the Clinton campaign, and be aware.”

He said he told them that Mr. Steele was “desperate that Donald Trump not get elected,” and that his own wife, Nellie Ohr, worked for Fusion GPS, which compiled the dossier. He confirmed sounding all these warnings before the FBI filed its October application for a surveillance warrant against Carter Page. We broke some of this in August, though the transcript provides new detail.

The FBI and Justice Department have gone to extraordinary lengths to muddy these details, with cover from Democrats and friendly journalists. A January 2017 memo from Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat, flatly (and incorrectly) insisted “the FBI’s closely-held investigative team only received Steele’s reporting in mid-September.” A May 2018 New York Times report repeated that claim, saying Mr. Steele’s reports didn’t reach the “Crossfire Hurricane team,” which ran the counterintelligence investigation, until “mid-September.”

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Rep. Adam Schiff

This line was essential for upholding the claim that the dossier played no role in the unprecedented July 31, 2016, decision to investigate a presidential campaign. Former officials have insisted they rushed to take this dramatic step on the basis of a conversation involving a low-level campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, which took place in May, before the dossier officially came into the picture. And maybe that is the case. Yet now Mr. Ohr has testified that top personnel had dossier details around the time they opened the probe.

The Ohr testimony is also further evidence that the FBI misled the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in its Page warrant application. We already knew the bureau failed to inform the court it knew the dossier had come from a rival campaign. But the FISA application additionally claimed the FBI was “unaware of any derogatory information pertaining” to Mr. Steele, that he was “reliable,” that his “reporting” in this case was “credible.” and that the FBI only “speculates” that Mr. Steele’s bosses “likely” wanted to “discredit” Mr. Trump.

PHOTO: Then-FBI Director James Comey testifies before the House Oversight Committee to discuss Hillary Clintons email investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, July 7, 2016.

Then-FBI Director James Comey testifies before the House Oversight Committee to discuss Hillary Clinton’s email investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, July 7, 2016. J. Scott Applewhite/AP, FILE

Speculates? Likely? Mr. Ohr makes clear FBI and Justice officials knew from the earliest days that Mr. Steele was working for the Clinton campaign, which had an obvious desire to discredit Mr. Trump. And Mr. Ohr specifically told investigators that they had every reason to worry Mr. Steele’s work product was tainted.

This testimony has two other implications. First, it further demonstrates the accuracy of the House Intelligence Committee Republicans’ memo of 2018—which noted Mr. Ohr’s role and pointed out that the FBI had not been honest about its knowledge of the dossier and failed to inform the court of Mrs. Ohr’s employment at Fusion GPS. The testimony also destroys any remaining credibility of the Democratic response, in which Mr. Schiff and his colleagues claimed Mr. Ohr hadn’t met with the FBI or told them anything about his wife or about Mr. Steele’s bias until after the election.

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Hillary Clinton

Second, the testimony raises new concerns about Mr. Mueller’s team. Critics have noted Mr. Weissman’s donations to Mrs. Clinton and his unseemly support of former acting Attorney General Sally Yates’s obstruction of Trump orders. It now turns out that senior Mueller players were central to the dossier scandal. The conflicts of interest boggle the mind.

The Ohr testimony is evidence the FBI itself knows how seriously it erred. The FBI has been hiding and twisting facts from the start.

Write to

Appeared in the January 18, 2019, print edition.


Key Justice Department officials, including Mueller deputy, knew about Steele dossier

January 17, 2019

Testimony last year before a House task force investigating the Trump-Russia affair confirmed that top Justice Department officials knew about the Trump dossier earlier than first thought, and that among those who knew was Andrew Weissmann, who went on to become the top deputy of special counsel Robert Mueller.

By Byron York

Washington Examiner

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Robert Mueller

Bruce Ohr, the fourth-ranking official in the Justice Department, told the House task force that he met with Christopher Steele, the former British spy who wrote the dossier, at a Washington hotel on July 30, 2016. At that point, Steele, recruited for the job by Glenn Simpson of the opposition research firm Fusion GPS, had completed a few installments of the dossier, including the salacious and never-verified sex allegation featuring Donald Trump and prostitutes in a Moscow hotel. Ohr testified that shortly after meeting with Steele, “I wanted to provide the information he had given me to the FBI.”

Ohr said he got in touch with Andrew McCabe, who was at the time the number-two man at the FBI. When Ohr went to McCabe’s office to talk, FBI lawyer Lisa Page was also there. “So I provided the information to them,” Ohr said. Ohr said he later talked to another top FBI official, Peter Strzok.

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Peter Strzok.  Photo by: Manuel Balce Ceneta

That was the FBI. But what about the Justice Department itself? “Who at the Department knew that you were talking to Chris Steele and Glenn Simpson?” asked Trey Gowdy, who last year was chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee.

“I spoke with some people in the Criminal Division, other career officials who dealt with some of these matters,” Ohr answered.

“Any of them have names?” Gowdy asked.

“Yes, so I was about to tell you,” replied Ohr. “One of them was Bruce Swartz, who is the counselor for international affairs in the Criminal Division; a person who was working with him at the time, working on similar matters in the Criminal Division, was Zainab Ahmad; and a third person who was working on some — some of these matters, I believe, was Andrew Weissmann.”

Gowdy wanted to make sure about the third name. “Who is that last one?” he asked

“He was head of the Fraud Section at the time,” said Ohr.

“I’ve heard his name somewhere before, I think,” said Gowdy. Weissmann has become widely known as Mueller’s hard-charging “pit bull.”

Ahmad was a prosecutor who worked on terrorism cases. She later joined Mueller’s team, as well.

It was not clear when, precisely, Ohr told the three Justice Department officials about Steele’s work, but it appears from the testimony that it was not long after Ohr’s July 30, 2016 meeting with Steele.

The Ohr testimony sheds new light on an old question about the dossier: Who knew about it, and when? It has long been known that Steele talked to an FBI official in early July 2016. It was also known that Ohr talked to Steele on July 30. But it was not known who else knew about the dossier at the time. Indeed, there have been many reports that knowledge of the dossier was tightly limited; the FBI agents working on Crossfire Hurricane, the counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign, reportedly did not know about the dossier until September 2016.

The Ohr testimony suggests that not only did top FBI officials know about the dossier, but top Justice Department officials did, too. And two of them, Weissmann and Ahmad, went on to work for Mueller.

Finally, Ohr told the House that he took care to tell the FBI that Steele’s information might not be reliable. He said he told the bureau that Steele was deeply biased against Trump; that Fusion GPS was ultimately working for the Clinton campaign; and that his wife, Nellie Ohr, worked for Fusion at the time.

“When I provided [the Steele information] to the FBI, I tried to be clear that this is source information,” Ohr said. “I don’t know how reliable it is. You’re going to have to check it out and be aware. These guys were hired by somebody relating to — who’s related to the Clinton campaign, and be aware — ”

“Did you tell the bureau that?” asked Gowdy.

“Oh, yes,” said Ohr.

“Why did you tell the bureau that?”

“I wanted them to be aware of any possible bias or, you know, as they evaluate the information, they need to know the circumstances.”

“So you specifically told the bureau that the information you were passing on came from someone who was employed by the DNC, albeit in a somewhat triangulated way?” asked Gowdy.

“I don’t believe I used — I didn’t know they were employed by the DNC,” Ohr answered. “But I certainly said yes, that — that they were working for — you know, they were somehow working, associated with the Clinton campaign. And I also told the FBI that my wife worked for Fusion GPS, or was a contractor for Fusion GPS.”


The Trump ‘Ethics’ Resistance

December 28, 2018

An army of nonprofits may be a foe more formidable than the Democratic House.

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John Podesta speaks during the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 25, 2016. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)


Powerful House Democrats are about to blitz the Trump administration with subpoenas and investigations. Pay attention to their nonprofit helpers, many of which are new.

For nearly a decade, the left has decried the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which restored speech freedoms and enabled hundreds of tea-party groups. For just as long, they have bitterly criticized conservative watchdogs such as Judicial Watch, which they accuse of using litigation to hound the Obama administration. Various liberals have called Judicial Watch a “smear sausage” factory, identified it as the epicenter of “Clinton Derangement Syndrome” and accused it of “weaponizing the Freedom of Information Act for political purposes.”

But if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Judicial Watch has many great admirers. Progressive nonprofits are popping up all over Washington, shepherded by powerful liberal political players, funded by sources unknown, modeled on conservative groups and united in burying the Trump administration under a mountain of scandal. The White House would do well to understand that in some ways these groups are its most potent threat.

Consider Democracy Forward, which launched last year with a mission of “fighting government corruption in court.” Sound familiar? The board includes Marc Elias, the Democratic lawyer behind the infamous Steele dossier, and John Podesta, chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. It’s a big operation as these things go, with a staff composed largely of Obama administration lawyers and advisers. And it’s already touting a packet of FOIA demands and lawsuits against the administration.


Trump-Russia dossier journalist doubts Christopher Steele’s claims

December 18, 2018

The journalist who was among the first to report on the Trump-Russia dossier suspects many of the allegations made in former British spy Christopher Steele’s collection of memos are “likely false.”

Yahoo chief investigative reporter Michael Isikoff was one of the journalists who met with Steele during the 2016 campaign.

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On Sept. 23, 2016, he wrote an article about former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page, which outlined how Page had attracted law enforcement’s attention for allegedly trying to establish back channels between the campaign and Russia and for discussing the lifting of sanctions with Moscow-linked officials. The article was frequently cited during congressional investigations into whether the Justice Department and FBI abused surveillance powers by gathering information on Page, a U.S. citizen, after obtaining warrants based on Steele’s unverified work.

Despite reporting accusations made by Steele, Isikoff told John Ziegler’s Free Speech Broadcasting podcast that many of the claims had still not been corroborated.

“In broad strokes, Christopher Steele was clearly onto something, that there was a major Kremlin effort to interfere in our elections, that they were trying to help Trump’s campaign, and that there was multiple contacts between various Russian figures close to the government and various people in Trump’s campaign,” Isikoff said Saturday. “When you actually get into the details of the Steele dossier, the specific allegations, we have not seen the evidence to support them, and, in fact, there’s good grounds to think that some of the more sensational allegations will never be proven and are likely false.”

Steele’s dossier was funded in part by opposition research firm Fusion GPS, conservative outlet the Washington Free Beacon, the Democratic National Committee, and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. It contained unsubstantiated claims that Russian intelligence operatives filmed President Trump with prostitutes urinating on a Moscow hotel bed and that Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen traveled to Prague in August 2016 to make arrangements with agents of Moscow to hack data beneficial to then-candidate Trump. Trump and Cohen have vehemently denied the accusations. The FBI’s inquiry into connections between the Trump campaign and Russia eventually led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller.

Isikoff added that Mueller’s investigation may not be as probative as some pundits hope or believe.

“Why wasn’t he charged with lying about it if that’s what he did? That would have been as serious a lie as the lie he told about the Trump Tower Moscow project,” Isikoff said, alluding to Cohen. “All the signs to me are that Mueller is reaching his end game, and we may see less than many people want him to find.”

Cohen pleaded guilty last month to lying to Congress about the Trump Organization real estate deal. He was sentenced to two months in prison for the charge, which was brought by Mueller’s team. It will be served concurrently with the three years he received as part of the case he faced in New York for campaign finance violations, and tax and bank fraud.

Sudden shift in get-Trump talk; now it’s campaign finance, not Russia

December 11, 2018


“We’ll ride any horse we can get on this…”

Prosecutors investigating President Trump made big news Friday, but it wasn’t about Russia. Rather, in their sentencing recommendation for fixer Michael Cohen, lawyers with the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York wrote that in the final weeks of the 2016 campaign, candidate Trump directed Cohen to pay off Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, who wanted money to keep quiet about sexual dalliances. While such arrangements are legal, prosecutors argued that since the payoffs occurred during the campaign, they were violations of campaign finance laws.

By Byron York
Washington Examiner

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Cohen, who is cooperating because prosecutors nailed him for tax evasion and bank fraud in his private business, pleaded guilty to two felony campaign finance violations. So no one has to talk about an “alleged” campaign finance scheme; there’s already a guilty plea. But what was really significant about the sentencing memo was that prosecutors specifically said Trump told Cohen to do it.

“With respect to both payments, Cohen acted with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election,” prosecutors said. “He acted in coordination with and at the direction of [Trump].”

Those words caused a sudden shift in the debate over investigating the president. What had been a two-year-long conversation about Trump and Russia instantly became a conversation about Trump and campaign finance.

“Prosecutors are now implicating the president in at least two felonies,” said CNN.

“Federal prosecutors in New York say that President Trump directed Michael Cohen to commit two felonies,” said NBC’s Chuck Todd.

“At least two felonies,” said Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy.

“Implicated in two felonies,” said anti-Trump gadfly George Conway, husband of top Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway.

And so on.

“There’s a very real prospect that on the day Donald Trump leaves office, the Justice Department may indict him,” said Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, who will become chairman of the House Intelligence Committee next month, “that he may be the first president in quite some time to face the real prospect of jail time.”

Jerry Nadler, the Democrat who will chair the House Judiciary Committee, said the campaign finance charges “would be impeachable offenses because, even though they were committed before the president became president, they were committed in the service of fraudulently obtaining the office.” Nadler said he has still not determined whether the charges, even though they could be the basis for impeachment, are important enough to actually go forward, at least yet.

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Jerry Nadler

Nadler’s public caution is understandable; his committee will have the responsibility of starting the impeachment process, if that is what Democratic leaders decide. But the fact is, a number of Democrats clearly believe they already have enough evidence to impeach.

One significant problem could be that the campaign finance charge against the president is a pretty iffy case. Back in 2010, the Justice Department accused 2008 presidential candidate John Edwards of a similar scheme — an alleged campaign finance violation based on a payoff to a woman with whom Edwards had had an affair (and a child).

Edwards said he arranged the payment to save his reputation and hide the affair from his wife. The Justice Department said it was to influence the outcome of a presidential election.

The New York Times called the Edwards indictment “a case that had no precedent.” Noting that campaign finance law is “ever changing,” the paper said the Edwards case came down to one question: “Were the donations for the sole purpose of influencing the campaign or merely one purpose?”

The Justice Department failed miserably at trial. Edwards was acquitted on one count, while the jury deadlocked in Edwards’ favor on the others. Prosecutors opted not to try again.

President Trump would point out that the accusation against him differs in at least one key respect from Edwards. Prosecutors accused Edwards of raising donor money to pay off the woman. Trump used his own money, which even the byzantine and restrictive campaign finance laws give candidates a lot of freedom to use in unlimited amounts.

So even more than Edwards, if the Justice Department pursued a case against Trump, it would be on unprecedented grounds.

But the political reality is, it doesn’t really matter if it is a weak case. And it doesn’t matter if Trump himself has not been indicted, or even that a sitting president cannot be indicted. Because now, Democrats can say, “The Justice Department has implicated the president in two felonies. Two felonies. TWO FELONIES!”

Politically, that’s as good as an indictment of Trump. Perhaps even better, since it does not give the president a forum to make a proper legal defense.

The last few days have seen a big pivot in the campaign against Donald Trump. For two-plus years, it was Russia, Russia, Russia. But despite various revelations in the Russia probe, the case for collusion remains as sketchy as ever. Now, though, prosecutors in the Southern District of New York have given Democrats a new weapon against the president. Look for them to use it.

Comey admits FBI didn’t verify claims in anti-Trump dossier

December 9, 2018

Former FBI Director James Comey admitted that the Bureau did not verify allegations in the Steele dossier before it was cited as grounds for snooping on a former Trump adviser in 2016.

The admission came in closed-door testimony before congressional investigators that was made public Saturday evening.

The dossier contained memos alleging Russian influence over Trump and his advisers and helped authorities get permission from a special court to surveil former Trump adviser Carter Page.

The compilation of the Steele dossier was funded first by a conservative publication, then by Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

During his testimony Friday, Comey repeatedly professed ignorance regarding FBI investigations into Trump campaign associates in the weeks prior to the 2016 election.

Asked by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) what the FBI did to confirm the Steele dossier, Comey indicated that effort was still underway months after the warrant to surveil Page had already been granted and renewed.

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Russian Oligarch: How Oleg Deripaska Is Trying to Escape U.S. Sanctions

November 5, 2018
Oleg Deripaska — Credit Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty Images

This spring, a British lord with deep ties to the governing Conservative Party and a reputation as a do-gooder environmentalist arrived in Washington on an unlikely mission: to save the business empire of Oleg Deripaska, one of Russia’s most infamous oligarchs.

Russian oligarch Oleg V. Deripaska.  Credit Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

Mr. Deripaska was in deep trouble. In April, the Trump administration had announced sanctions on oligarchs close to President Vladimir V. Putin, and on their companies, as punishment for Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and for other hostile acts. A billionaire who controls the world’s second-largest aluminum company, Mr. Deripaska faced possible ruin.

Portrayed as little more than a thug by his critics and suspected by United States officials of having ties to Russian organized crime, Mr. Deripaska, 50, has spent two decades trying to buy respect in the West. London welcomed him; Washington still mostly has not. Successive administrations have limited his ability to travel to the United States.

Even Mr. Putin was unable to resolve the situation when he interceded personally with Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama on Mr. Deripaska’s behalf.

By  Andrew Higgins and Kenneth P. Vogel
The New York Times

Image result for Oleg Deripaska, photos

But with so much on the line this time, Mr. Deripaska’s allies are now fighting back aggressively, mobilizing a vast influence machine on both sides of the Atlantic in an all-out effort to undo the sanctions against his companies before they take full effect.

The campaign to help Mr. Deripaska is playing out against an especially sensitive political backdrop. Any step by the administration that is seen as favorable to a powerful Russian is sure to draw scrutiny at a time when the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, is continuing his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Moreover, Mr. Deripaska has been a subsidiary character in that inquiry, not as a target but because he at one point employed Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, as an adviser. Mr. Manafort was convicted on one set of fraud charges and pleaded guilty to other charges in cases brought by Mr. Mueller, and is now cooperating with the prosecution.

But the current lobbying effort on behalf of Mr. Deripaska’s companies still appears to have made substantial headway. In recent months, Mr. Deripaska’s firms have notched initial victories by winning multiple postponements from the Treasury Department of the sanctions on the oligarch’s holding company, EN+, and the giant aluminum company it controls, Rusal.

Now, with the administration closing in on its latest self-imposed deadline to make a final decision by Dec. 12, there are signs that Mr. Deripaska’s companies could escape the sanctions entirely.

Oleg Deripaska in London in 2011. He is one of Russia’s most prominent, and by some accounts notorious, oligarchs. Credit Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg, via Getty Images

Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, has signaled that he is open to a plan under which Mr. Deripaska would reduce his stake in his companies in return for the sanctions being lifted.

But sidestepping the business sanctions is not Mr. Deripaska’s only goal. His team is preparing an audacious and previously unreported campaign to remove the personal sanctions on him, too. Removing the personal sanctions would eliminate substantial barriers to his doing business in the United States and around the world, and could be a requirement for him to get his hands on the money — potentially billions of dollars — resulting from any sale of part of his stake in the companies.

“Oleg Deripaska understands better than most Russian oligarchs how money buys influence in Washington,” said Michael R. Carpenter, a former National Security Council official during the Obama administration who is now senior director of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement. “It seems like he’s now using that knowledge to try to save his skin.”

The elaborate influence operation highlights one of the fastest-growing elements of the lobbying business: helping deep-pocketed foreign interests massage the sanctions, tariffs and other tools deployed by Mr. Trump against foreign governments, individuals and industries.

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