A Deep Dive Into the Russian Active Measures Against the United States

The Guardian has published a long form, deep dive piece of investigative journalism into the Russian active measures against the US, provided what is close to the definitive context of how the Steele dossier came to be, and quickly and neatly debunked both the conspiracy theory that the FBI based its inquiry on the Steele dossier and that the Clinton campaign, and the Clintons, were really conspiring with Putin and Russia against the US.

Let’s start with that last item first:

In mid-2015, the Republican front-runner had been Jeb Bush, son of one US president and brother of another. But as the campaign got under way, Bush struggled. Trump dubbed the former Florida governor “low-energy”. During the primaries, a website funded by one of Trump’s wealthy Republican critics, Paul Singer, commissioned Fusion to investigate Trump.

After Trump became the presumptive nominee in May 2016, Singer’s involvement ended and senior Democrats seeking to elect Hillary Clinton took over the Trump contract. The new client was the Democratic National Committee. A lawyer working for Clinton’s campaign, Marc E Elias, retained Fusion and received its reports. The world of private investigation was a morally ambiguous one – a sort of open market in dirt. Information on Trump was of no further use to Republicans, but it could be of value to Democrats, Trump’s next set of opponents.

The FBI, as we know from following this story closely as it emerged across 2016, based its counterintelligence inquiry not on the Steele dossier, but on intercepts and intelligence products produced by US allies and partners. (emphasis mine)

In late 2015 the British eavesdropping agency, GCHQ, was carrying out standard “collection” against Moscow targets. These were known Kremlin operatives already on the grid. Nothing unusual here – except that the Russians were talking to people associated with Trump. The precise nature of these exchanges has not been made public, but according to sources in the US and the UK, they formed a suspicious pattern. They continued through the first half of 2016. The intelligence was handed to the US as part of a routine sharing of information.

The FBI and the CIA were slow to appreciate the extensive nature of these contacts between Trump’s team and Moscow. This was in part due to institutional squeamishness – the law prohibits US agencies from examining the private communications of US citizens without a warrant.

But the electronic intelligence suggested Steele was right. According to one account, the US agencies looked as if they were asleep. “‘Wake up! There’s something not right here!’ – the BND [German intelligence], the Dutch, the French and SIS were all saying this,” one Washington-based source told me.

That summer, GCHQ’s then head, Robert Hannigan, flew to the US to personally brief CIA chief John Brennan. The matter was deemed so important that it was handled at “director level”, face-to-face between the two agency chiefs. James Clapper, director of national intelligence, later confirmed the “sensitive” stream of intelligence from Europe. After a slow start, Brennan used the GCHQ information and other tip-offs to launch a major inter-agency investigation. Meanwhile, the FBI was receiving disturbing warnings from Steele.

As for how the Steele dossier came to be:

Before this, in early spring 2016, Simpson approached Steele, his friend and colleague. Steele began to scrutinise Paul Manafort, who would soon become Trump’s new campaign manager. From April, Steele investigated Trump on behalf of the DNC, Fusion’s anonymous client. All Steele knew at first was that the client was a law firm. He had no idea what he would find. He later told David Corn, Washington editor of the magazine Mother Jones: “It started off as a fairly general inquiry.” Trump’s organisation owned luxury hotels around the world. Trump had, as far back as 1987, sought to do real estate deals in Moscow. One obvious question for him, Steele said, was: “Are there business ties to Russia?”

Over time, Steele had built up a network of sources. He was protective of them: who they were he would never say. It could be someone well-known – a foreign government official or diplomat with access to secret material. Or it could be someone obscure – a lowly chambermaid cleaning the penthouse suite and emptying the bins in a five-star hotel.

Normally an intelligence officer would debrief sources directly, but since Steele could no longer visit Russia, this had to be done by others, or in third countries. There were intermediaries, subsources, operators – a sensitive chain. Only one of Steele’s sources on Trump knew of Steele. Steele put out his Trump-Russia query and waited for answers. His sources started reporting back. The information was astonishing; “hair-raising”. As he told friends: “For anyone who reads it, this is a life-changing experience.”

Steele had stumbled upon a well-advanced conspiracy that went beyond anything he had discovered with Litvinenko or Fifa. It was the boldest plot yet. It involved the Kremlin and Trump. Their relationship, Steele’s sources claimed, went back a long way. For at least the past five years, Russian intelligence had been secretly cultivating Trump. This operation had succeeded beyond Moscow’s wildest expectations. Not only had Trump upended political debate in the US – raining chaos wherever he went and winning the nomination – but it was just possible that he might become the next president. This opened all sorts of intriguing options for Putin.

I highly recommend you click across and read the whole thing. It will be well worth your time.

Disappointment haunted all my dreams…

No, this is not a Doug! post, but I stole his song lyric-post title shtick because it fits my topic so perfectly. Ever since the unthinkable catastrophe of a Trump administration became our waking nightmare, I’ve dreamed of its end, preferably in disgrace and with the Republican Party in smoking ruins in its wake.

But I’ve tried to be a responsible dreamer. I avoid the high-fructose corn syrup confections some enemies of my enemy have been peddling for the last year in the form of promises that this next revelation will bring the entire Jenga treason tower down on the heads of the liars, cheaters, incompetents and thieves in this odious pigpen of an administration.

Well, despite it all, I’m becoming a believer. I understand what we’re up against. I remember the Ghost of Fitzmas past. But formidable obstacles aside, I’m becoming convinced Trump won’t serve out his first term.

The revelation that Don Jr. was colluding with WikiLeaks — and communicating with senior members of the campaign about it — is the latest straw. One of the people Junior emailed with WikiLeaks tidbits was Hope Hicks. I find that significant.

Beltway media types have long been mystified by Hicks’ role in the Trump organization, but I think it’s simple: She primarily functions as a human email interface for Trump. I’ve never believed Junior would take a crap without running it past the old man first, and the fact that Hicks was looped in proves it, as far as I’m concerned.

So, I am officially allowing myself to hope that indictments will roll in, people will flip, and Trump will react with such panic and madness that his presidency will end, one way or another, most likely with a huffy resignation. Sure, I could be wrong. But the staggering stupidity and amateurishness of nearly every actor in the Trump shit-show is an asset for justice.

Anyhoo, IF Trump goes down, that brings us to Mr. Pence, the Man Who Wasn’t There. I apologize for inflicting a Morning Joe clip on you, but this one does address Pence’s lying about the Russia scandal:

Steve Schmidt, from the clip:

“We don’t talk enough about Mike Pence… We don’t talk enough about the vice president’s nonstop lying… I think that over these months, the vice president has exposed himself as a titanic fraud… The truth of the matter is, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, 100% of the time, 100% of the people around this administration, when asked a question about Russia, the Russian involvement in this election, they lie about it. Not 99% of the time, not 99.9% of the time, 100% of the time.”

There’s no mystery about how Pence earned the nickname “Dense Pence” — he’s not a bright guy. But unless Mother rode around on Pence’s shoulders during the entire campaign and transition, with her thighs clamped over his ears, one hand covering his beady eyes and the other stopping his mouth, there’s just no way Pence didn’t know the Trump crew was ass-deep in Russians. He needs to go down too.

I’m guessing 15% or more of the responses to this post will be people telling me I’m an idiot for getting my hopes up. Maybe y’all are right, and feel free to piss on my parade. But I’m feeling more hopeful than I have in months.

AG Sessions’ House Judiciary Committee Testimony Live Stream

I want to thank Cheryl for putting up her congressional hearings post as I couldn’t get to it in time, but since she’s having trouble with the video embeds, I figured I’d put up a post to resolve that problem.

Here’s the live feed for AG Sessions’ appearance before the House Judiciary Committee.

And here’s the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the President’s authority to unilaterally order nuclear strikes:

Open thread!

Benjamin Wittes Shares Some Expert Thoughts on AG Sessions’ Letter to Congress

Attorney General Sessions is scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary Committee tomorrow at 10:00 AM in open session. I will endeavor to make the time to have a post up with the live feed. This evening a letter from AG Sessions to the chairman and majority members of that committee was released. It has gotten everyone stirred up. CBS’s Paula Reid has actually posted the letter to social media. Click on the tweet and then the letter to embiggen it.

Lawfare‘s Benjamin Wittes has taken the time to provide his actual expert opinion on what this all means. His thoughts are below.

The rest is after the jump!

Read more

Rigged Schmigged

My husband is a pretty good barometer for how political stories play among rank-and-file voters. He doesn’t follow politics as closely as we do, but he pays some attention.

He believed the “Bernie was robbed” narrative the media vultures* pushed after Politico published an excerpt of Donna Brazile’s book earlier this week. It played to his preconceived notions.

A new document that emerged yesterday provided context that played to my preconceived notions; it strongly suggests that Brazile’s dramatic narrative was a steaming load of horse shit. Via NBC:

Memo Reveals Details of Hillary Clinton-DNC Deal

WASHINGTON — The Democratic National Committee struck a deal with Hillary Clinton in 2015 that gave her campaign input on some party hiring and spending decisions, but required they be related only to preparations for the general election, according to a memo obtained by NBC News. It also left the door open for other candidates to make similar arrangements.

The document provides more context to the explosive claims made by former DNC Interim Chair Donna Brazile in a forthcoming book, an excerpt of which was published this week.

More context, yes, that’s one way to describe it. The only hinky thing in the agreement that I can see is a provision that let the Clinton campaign influence the DNC communications director hire prior to the primaries.

If you think Clinton is an evil harpy bent on torpedoing people-powered, sparrow-anointed revolutions, you could construe that provision as exerting undue influence before the nomination was settled. If not, you might interpret it as reasonable considering that Clinton’s campaign was bailing out a poorly run organization that was as broke as the 10 Commandments.

Anyhoo, here’s the relevant section of the memo — judge for yourself:

“Nothing in this agreement shall be construed to violate the DNC’s obligation of impartiality and neutrality through the Nominating process. All activities performed under this agreement will be focused exclusively on preparations for the General Election and not the Democratic Primary,” the memo states.

The piece linked above was published yesterday evening. Did it make a difference in how folks who don’t follow this bullshit closely grok the story? Did it tamp down anger among those who have an ax to grind?

Nope and nope. News about the memo doesn’t appear anywhere above the fold that I can find, so non-political junkies are unlikely to see it. And here’s a piece also published at NBC News a few hours ago by the same reporter, Alex Seitz-Wald:

Bernie Sanders Camp: The Fix Was in Against Us

WASHINGTON — Bernie Sanders campaign says they now have proof.

With last year’s primary still roiling the Democratic party more than a year later, two former Bernie Sanders campaign officials are charging the Democratic National Committee offered their campaign a less favorable fundraising deal than Hillary Clinton’s team received…

Jeff Weaver, the campaign’s former campaign manager, dismissed the clause in Clinton’s agreement limiting engagement exclusively to general election activity as a fig leaf.

“Throwing this catchall at the end saying that this document doesn’t say what it says is a little disingenuous,” he said. “Anybody who suggests we were being treated the same way is playing semantic games.”

According to the DNC, Sanders’ campaign could have had the same type of arrangement, but they were strapped when the Clinton campaign swooped in to bail out the DNC. Sanders operatives deny that they were ever offered a similar deal.

For me, all of this bullshit is further proof that facts don’t matter in partisan squabbles. Therefore, it seems appropriate to paraphrase Mr. Orwell: If you want a vision of the (Democratic Party’s) future, imagine a sensible pump stamping on Bernie’s face — forever.

That’s how one side will always see it. Others see Russians, all the way down. I see a window of opportunity to bury the goddamned hatchet and move the fuck on so we can oppose the honest-to-Christ authoritarian demagogue in the White House and his minions in Congress. But it’s closing.

*No disrespect intended toward vultures, which seem to be fairly noble creatures who perform an essential ecological function.

Russiagate Open Thread: Telling Them What They Wanted to Hear

Waiting for this week’s Friday Doc Dump? I nominate this as a strong contender: The GOP used deceptively edited emails to help them steal the election.

An Associated Press investigation into the digital break-ins that disrupted the U.S. presidential contest has sketched out an anatomy of the hack that led to months of damaging disclosures about the Democratic Party’s nominee. It wasn’t just a few aides that the hackers went after; it was an all-out blitz across the Democratic Party. They tried to compromise Clinton’s inner circle and more than 130 party employees, supporters and contractors.

While U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia was behind the email thefts, the AP drew on forensic data to report Thursday that the hackers known as Fancy Bear were closely aligned with the interests of the Russian government.

The AP’s reconstruction— based on a database of 19,000 malicious links recently shared by cybersecurity firm Secureworks — shows how the hackers worked their way around the Clinton campaign’s top-of-the-line digital security to steal chairman John Podesta’s emails in March 2016…

Guccifer 2.0 acted as a kind of master of ceremonies during the summer of leaks, proclaiming that the DNC’s stolen documents were in WikiLeaks’ hands, publishing a selection of the material himself and constantly chatting up journalists over Twitter in a bid to keep the story in the press.

He appeared particularly excited to hear on June 24 that his leaks had sparked a lawsuit against the DNC by disgruntled supporters of Clinton rival Bernie Sanders.

“Can it influence the election in any how?” he asked a journalist with Russia’s Sputnik News, in uneven English.

Later that month Guccifer 2.0 began directing reporters to the newly launched DCLeaks site, which was also dribbling out stolen material on Democrats. When WikiLeaks joined the fray on July 22 with its own disclosures the leaks metastasized into a crisis, triggering intraparty feuding that forced the resignation of the DNC’s chairwoman and drew angry protests at the Democratic National Convention…

Guccifer 2.0, WikiLeaks and DCLeaks ultimately published more than 150,000 emails stolen from more than a dozen Democrats, according to an AP count.

The AP has since found that each of one of those Democrats had previously been targeted by Fancy Bear, either at their personal Gmail addresses or via the DNC, a finding established by running targets’ emails against the Secureworks’ list.

All three leak-branded sites have distanced themselves from Moscow. DCLeaks claimed to be run by American hacktivists. WikiLeaks said Russia wasn’t its source. Guccifer 2.0 claimed to be Romanian.

But there were signs of dishonesty from the start. The first document Guccifer 2.0 published on June 15 came not from the DNC as advertised but from Podesta’s inbox, according to a former DNC official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

The official said the word “CONFIDENTIAL” was not in the original document.

Guccifer 2.0 had airbrushed it to catch reporters’ attention

This should be a big honkin’ story… but I suspect it will get buried under a weekend’s worth of OMG WHAT TRUMP JUST SAID IN ASIA. Here’s hoping Mueller’s people are less distractible!

Kim Jung-Orange

I can scarcely recall what I imagined the internet would bring when it bloomed a generation ago. But my speculation about an interconnected future did not include reading the real-time rage-tweets of a malevolent clown while he pinches off a loaf in the White House throne room, having been placed there by traitors, racists, misogynists and assorted goddamned nitwits.

Nope. I did not see that coming.

I often wonder what good it does to repackage the more outrageous tweet-turds for your consideration, look at what the media says about them or discuss them with family and friends. Some days I just don’t bother. Some days, I wonder if it’s harmful to give the shitgibbon’s childish rants any energy and attention at all. And some days, I feel compelled to bear witness, even in a small and insignificant way.

This morning’s rage-tweets fall into the latter category, so even though several hours have passed since they dropped into the Twitter toilet bowl, here’s a representative (stool) sample:

There are several more in the same vein, which include allusions to “Crazy Bernie” and “Pocahantas” and additional ranting about “Crooked Hillary.” But this line is the most alarming: “Lets [sic] go FBI & Justice Dept.”

These are the ravings of a tinpot authoritarian. These are the rantings of an unhinged, predatory demagogue who is salivating at the prospect of using the apparatus of the United States government to conduct show trials and persecute political opponents. Trump expanded on the same idea in a radio interview [via CNN]:

“The saddest thing is that because I’m the President of the United States, I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department, I am not supposed to be involved with the FBI. I look at what’s happening with the Justice Department. Well, why aren’t they going after Hillary Clinton with her emails and with her, the dossier? I’m very unhappy with it that the Justice Department isn’t going. I am not supposed to be doing the kind of things that I would love to be doing. And I am very frustrated by it.”

Should we be grateful that Trump seems to grasp that he’s “not supposed to” leverage the justice system to punish political enemies, however unfair he rates that restraint? Maybe. But given the fact that those agencies are headed up by his flunkies, the fact that he’s applying even more pressure on them to do his bidding is worrisome.

I think Cheryl’s post downstairs asks the following question in a different way: Will our institutions be sufficient to withstand the onslaught of this lunatic? I vacillate between optimism and pessimism, but this latest push has me worried.

As the Civil War began, Ulysses S. Grant said, “There are but two parties now: traitors and patriots.” There’s a good argument that the party that countenances rule by a manifestly unfit crackpot who was sleazed into office in part via the machinations of a hostile foreign power has already become a party of traitors. There can be no doubt about it if Trump succeeds in turning the DOJ and FBI into his own personal score-settling force and distraction circus.

Anyhoo, it seemed important, if futile, to note for the record that the president of the United States escalated his calls to turn this nation into a nuclear-armed banana republic today. The wonder — and perhaps the danger — is that it attracted comparatively little attention. We’re used to this shit now, and that’s not healthy.