Jane Mayer has produced an excellent piece of long form reporting on Christoper Steele and the investigation into Russia’s active measures and cyberwarfare campaign to both influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential elections and to continue to influence US politics (h/t: Paul Campos at LGM). I just want to highlight what I think are two of the most important points, if not the two most important points, in Mayer’s article, which Campos also highlighted, with some commentary.
Robert Hannigan, then the head of the U.K.’s intelligence service the G.C.H.Q., had recently flown to Washington and briefed the C.I.A.’s director, John Brennan, on a stream of illicit communications between Trump’s team and Moscow that had been intercepted.
I cannot emphasize how important this is. While this has been reported and/or alluded to in other reporting, what Mayer is unequivocally stating is that the head of Britain’s equivalent of the NSA hand carried the signals intelligence (SIGINT) of communications between the Trump campaign and/or Trump organization with the Russians. Moscow in this sentence means Russian government, not just people living and/or working in Moscow. This is important because it means that counterintelligence task force that Director Comey set up, and that Special Counsel Mueller inherited, has had the actual communications captured by British intelligence. Thanks to our British allies, from the start of his investigation, Special Counsel Mueller and his team have known exactly who from the Trump campaign and/or businesses were in touch with Russian officials and what they said to each other. So when you see reporting on Mueller’s investigation or what he is seeking in subpoenas, just keep in mind that the Special Counsel has known a lot about the who, the what, and the when since he started. What he and his team have been doing is fleshing this out. Mapping the overall network. Determining the directions of influence. And, of course, following the money.
The second important part of Mayer’s reporting I want to highlight is:
One subject that Steele is believed to have discussed with Mueller’s investigators is a memo that he wrote in late November, 2016, after his contract with Fusion had ended. This memo, which did not surface publicly with the others, is shorter than the rest, and is based on one source, described as “a senior Russian official.” The official said that he was merely relaying talk circulating in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but what he’d heard was astonishing: people were saying that the Kremlin had intervened to block Trump’s initial choice for Secretary of State, Mitt Romney. (During Romney’s run for the White House in 2012, he was notably hawkish on Russia, calling it the single greatest threat to the U.S.) The memo said that the Kremlin, through unspecified channels, had asked Trump to appoint someone who would be prepared to lift Ukraine-related sanctions, and who would coöperate on security issues of interest to Russia, such as the conflict in Syria. If what the source heard was true, then a foreign power was exercising pivotal influence over U.S. foreign policy—and an incoming President.
The question here is who was the American conduit of interference? The contemporary reporting at the time was that Kellyanne Conway played the leading role in dissuading the President from nominating Governor Romney as Secretary of State.
President-elect Donald Trump’s former campaign manager again strongly suggested on Sunday that his supporters would not back former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for secretary of state.
Kellyanne Conway, one of Trump’s top advisers, told CNN’s Dana Bash that while she hoped Romney would be a gracious secretary of state if selected, his aggressive criticism of Trump during the 2016 Republican primary did not sit well with the president-elect’s supporters.
“It’s just breathtaking in scope and intensity the type of messages I have received from all over the country,” Conway said. “The number of people who feel betrayed to think that Governor Romney would get the most prominent Cabinet post, after he went so far out of his way to hurt Donald Trump — there was the Never Trump movement, and then there was Mitt Romney.”
Just who was Kellyanne Conway receiving messages from about a potential Romney nomination to be Secretary of State? And is she still receiving them? Or, if it wasn’t Conway, or only just Conway, which other staffer, friend, or family member close to the President is taking direction from the Kremlin? I’m sure Special Counsel Mueller and his team are diligently trying to answer these questions.