Trump Jr coordinated with Kremlin-linked “known hostile non-state actor” oops!

Donald Trump Jr. seems to think that the direct messages he exchanged with WikiLeaks aren’t particularly incriminating. On Monday night, Trump Jr. tweeted out what he claims were his “entire chain of messages” with WikiLeaks, and he dismissively wrote that his messages consisted of a “whopping 3 responses.”

According to those direct messages, Trump Jr.’s last message to Wikileaks was sent on October 3, 2016 — four days before the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Election Security released a joint statement publicly accusing WikiLeaks of being a Kremlin front.

“The recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts,” the statement said. “These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process… We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.”

While Trump Jr. could argue he stopped sending messages to WikiLeaks as soon as U.S. intelligence agencies publicly accused it of being a Kremlin front, his willingness to collaborate with WikiLeaks seems to have extended past the statement’s release on October 7.

On October 12, WikiLeaks sent Trump Jr. a message lauding Trump Sr. for “talking about our publications” during campaign rallies, and suggested, “your dad tweets this link if he mentions us.”

Fifteen minutes later, Trump Sr. posted a tweet complaining that there was “Very little pick-up by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by WikiLeaks. So dishonest! Rigged system!”

Donald J. Trump ✔@realDonaldTrump Very little pick-up by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by WikiLeaks. So dishonest! Rigged system! 5:46 AM – Oct 12, 2016 · United States

And two days later, Trump Jr. tweeted out the very link WikiLeaks suggested.

Donald Trump Jr. ✔@DonaldJTrumpJr For those who have the time to read about all the corruption and hypocrisy all the @wikileaks emails are right here: 5:34 AM – Oct 14, 2016

During the last month of the campaign, Trump Sr. mentioned WikiLeaks 164 times, with many of them occurring after the intelligence agencies released their joint statement. Despite the fact that stolen emails published by WikiLeaks were a central part of his closing message, Trump later insisted that WikiLeaks had “absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election.”

On Tuesday morning, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski went on CNN and tried to rewrite history in a manner favorable to the Trumps.

Asked how Trump Jr. could have thought it was a good idea to communicate with Kremlin-linked “known hostile non-state actor,” Lewandowski suggested Trump Jr. might not have known “what WikiLeaks was about” in October of last year.

“I don’t know if we knew back in October that WikiLeaks had that same type of notion behind them,” Lewandowski said. “Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t, but I don’t think it’s fair to say that looking back a year ago that we would have known what WikiLeaks was about.”

Lewandowski did not mention the intelligence community statement that was released early that month and received significant media attention.

During another part of the interview, Lewandowski tried to distance the president from his eldest son, saying that “Don Jr. is a private citizen, he can tweet or retweet anything he wants to, and it doesn’t have a material effect on the outcome of the campaign.”

Tuesday night wasn’t the first time Trump Jr. has published incriminating private correspondence under duress. Last July, Trump Jr. tweeted out emails showing that the Trump campaign was eager to collude with individuals connected to the Russian government in an effort to bring down Clinton.



New Trump talking point: Russian investigation insults Putin and may cost “millions of lives”

Trump believes Putin on Russia meddling and says Mueller may cost lives

Trump with his “bestie” at APEC

Donald Trump said on Saturday he believes Vladmir Putin’s denials of Russian involvement in the manipulation of the 2016 presidential election.

After a brief meeting with the Russian leader on the margins of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in Vietnam, Trump launched a tirade against special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and the Kremlin.

The investigation could cost “millions and millions of lives”, Trump claimed, by hindering agreement with Moscow over conflicts in Syria and Ukraine and a looming confrontation with North Korea.

The president’s remarks, made to reporters as Air Force One flew to Hanoi from Da Nang, represented his open disregard for the views of US intelligence agencies. They have concluded that Russia did interfere in multiple ways in the 2016 election, with the aim of helping Trump’s candidacy.

The president suggested he put more faith in Putin’s word.

“Every time he sees me he says ‘I didn’t do that’ and I really believe that when he tells me that,” Trump said. “He really seems to be insulted by it and he says he didn’t do it. He is very, very strong in the fact that he didn’t do it. You have President Putin very strongly, vehemently says he has nothing to do with that.”

The president described the investigation led by Mueller, a former FBI director appointed by Trump’s own justice department, as “Democrat-inspired” and a “hit job”.

Trump also claimed the investigation was preventing a normalisation of relations with Putin and therefore could cost countless lives around the world. He suggested Russia was not helping more to persuade Pyongyang to disarm “because of the lack of the relationship that we have with Russia, because of this artificial thing that’s happening with this Democratic-inspired thing”.

“I think [Putin] is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country. Because again, if we had a relationship with Russia, North Korea which is our single biggest problem right now, it would help a lot,” he said.

“You know you are talking about millions and millions of lives,” Trump said, adding that good relations with Moscow were also vital to resolving other conflicts.

“When we can save many, many, many lives by making a deal with Russia having to do with Syria, and then ultimately getting Syria solved, and getting Ukraine solved, and doing other things, having a good relationship with Russia is a great, great thing. And this artificial Democratic hit job gets in the way. It gets in the way. And that’s a shame. Because people will die because of it, and it’s a pure hit job, and it’s artificially induced and that’s shame.”

After Trump’s comments, Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA and NSA, posted a tweet saying current CIA leadership agreed with the general intelligence community assessment about Russian interference in the election.

“CIA just told me: the [director] stands by and has always stood by the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment entitled: Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections,” he wrote. “The intelligence assessment with regard to Russian election meddling has not changed.

Trump met Putin briefly on three occasions at Da Nang, having scheduled no formal meetings with him during the summit. The two exchanged a jovial handshake at the gala dinner on Friday and stood next to one another in a “family photo” of leaders on Saturday.

The US press pool including photographers were blocked from covering the day’s events, including the Trump-Putin meetings. Only Fox News and the official White House photographer were granted access.

Putin dismissed accusations Moscow meddled in the US election as “fantasies” intended to undermine Trump. “Everything about the so-called Russian dossier in the US is a manifestation of continuing domestic political struggle,” he said.

Putin was asked if he had followed the mounting investigation into alleged contacts between Trump’s campaign team and Russians, including a woman who claimed to be Putin’s niece.

“Regarding some sort of connections of my relatives with members of the administration or some officials,” he said, “I only found out about that yesterday from [his spokesman Dmitry] Peskov.”

He also said: “I don’t know anything about [the investigation]. I think these are some sort of fantasies.”

The two leaders produced a joint statement on Syria, restating their determination to defeat Islamic State and their desire for a United Nations-brokered solution.

“It’s going to save tremendous numbers of lives and we did it very quickly, we agreed very quickly,” Trump said.

The statement lists longstanding areas of agreement between the US and Russia on the importance of reviving mostly dormant UN-mediated negotiations known as the Geneva process, which envisages constitutional reform and free elections. In the past, Washington has disagreed with Moscow on how the process should be carried out and what role Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad would play.

Assad’s forces, with Russian and Iranian support, have been gaining ground. The Syrian president has consequently shown little real interest in a peace deal. Asked if Russia would be able to bring Assad to the table, a state department official, quoted on CNN, said: “We’re going to be testing that, we’re going to find out.”

Trump renewed his assault on the Mueller investigation at a time when it is making significant advances, each time a step closer to the president. His former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and a senior fundraiser have been indicted for money laundering and conspiring to defraud the authorities.

Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, is under investigation. His lawyer on Friday denied a report that he had negotiations with Turkish representatives about kidnapping a dissident cleric living in the US.

A former foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, has pleaded guilty to perjury about his contacts with Russian surrogates and officials. Although he personally announced Papadopoulos’s hiring in March 2016, describing him as “an excellent guy”, since the guilty plea was made public the president has said he was a “young, low-level volunteer” who “few people knew”.

However, court papers show Papadopoulos was in frequent contact with senior campaign staff, mostly about plans to bring Trump and Putin together. He met a UK foreign office minister, Tobias Ellwood, at the UN in September 2016. The New York Times reported on Saturday that Papadopoulos helped edit a major foreign policy speech in April of that year, and that one of the officials he was in touch with was Stephen Miller, still one of Trump’s closest advisers.

Russians here and Russians there, more confirmation of the Steele dossier

Carter Page’s bizarre testimony before the House Intelligence Committee supported some key elements of the infamous dossier compiled by a former British spy.

The former foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign told lawmakers last week about his visits to Russia before and after the election, when he met with government and business leaders, reported Business Insider.

Page confirmed he had emailed campaign adviser J.D. Gordon July 8, 2016, from Moscow — on a trip approved by former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski — to say he had gotten “incredible insights and outreach from a few Russian legislators and senior members of the presidential administration here.”

That seems to confirm findings by former British spy Christopher Steele, who reported in his dossier that “official close to Presidential Administration Head, S. Ivanov, confided in a compatriot that a senior colleague in the Internal Political Department of the PA, Divyekin (nfd) also had met secretly with Page on his recent visit.”

According to Steele’s source, Diveykin told Page the Kremlin had damaging information on Hillary Clinton that they wanted to turn over to the Trump campaign.

Page denied meeting with Diveykin and told the committee that “senior members of the presidential administration,” as described in his email, was actually just a brief chat with deputy Prime Minister Arkadiy Dvorkovich.

He also claimed his reference to legislators meant only a few people shaking his hands in passing during the trip.

Page also confirmed that he “possibly” had contacted the head of investor relations at the Russian oil company Rosneft in advance of his July 2016 visit.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the committee’s ranking Democrat, pointed out that Rosneft’s CEO, Igor Sechin, was under U.S. sanctions as part of the Magnitsky Act.

A U.S. intelligence source claimed in September 2016 that Page met with Sechin, who raised the issue of lifting those sanctions after the election.

A Russian source told Steele that Sechin and Page held a secret meeting to discuss “the issues of future bilateral energy cooperation and prospects for an associated move to lift Ukraine-related western sanctions against Russia.”

Steele alleged that Sechin offered Page the brokerage of a 19 percent stake in Rosneft in exchange for getting U.S. sanctions lifted against oligarchs close to Russian president Vladmir Putin.

Page denied “directly” expressing support for lifting sanctions, but he admitted

that Andrey Baranov, the head of investor relations, “may have briefly mentioned” the sale of a significant percentage of Rosneft in July.

A 19.5 percent stake in Rosneft changed hands in December under mysterious circumstances, and Page returned to Moscow the day after the deal was signed to meet with “some top managers” at the company.

He has denied meeting with Sechin while there, but agrees it would have been “a great honor.”


J.D. Gordon Quote from NBC news “ I discouraged Carter from taking the trip to Moscow in the first place because it was a bad idea. Since I refused to forward his speech request form for approval, he eventually went around me directly to campaign leadership

The Steele Dossier linked Trump to the mob, now Mueller links them to Manafort

Mueller Reveals New Manafort Link to Organized Crime


Trump’s former campaign manager didn’t just do business with accused gangsters. One of them transferred millions into a Manafort account, allegedly used for money laundering.

Buried deep in Robert Mueller’s indictment of Paul Manafort is a new link between Donald Trump’s former campaign and Russian organized crime.

The indictment (PDF), unsealed on Monday, includes an extensive look into Paul Manafort’s byzantine financial dealings. In particular, it details how he used a company called Lucicle Consultants Limited to wire millions of dollars into the United States.

The Cyprus-based Lucicle Consultants Limited, in turn, reportedly received millions of dollars from a businessman and Ukrainian parliamentarian named Ivan Fursin, who is closely linked to one of Russia’s most notorious criminals: Semion Mogilevich.

Mogilevich is frequently described as “the most dangerous mobster in the world.”  Currently believed to be safe in Moscow, he is, according to the FBI, responsible for weapons trafficking, contract killings, and international prostitution. In 2009, he made the bureau’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.

“Ivan Fursin was a senior figure in the Mogilevich criminal organization,” Taras Kuzio, a non-resident fellow at Johns Hopkins-SAIS’ Center for Transatlantic Relations and a specialist on the region told The Daily Beast.

Martin Sheil, a retired criminal investigator for the IRS, said the indictment, with its connections to Fursin, helps illuminate the murky world Manafort operated in before taking the reins of Trump’s presidential bid.

“This indictment strongly indicates the existence of a previously unknown relationship between an alleged Russian organized crime leader and Mr. Manafort,” Sheil told The Daily Beast.

According to the indictment, Manafort and his former business partner, Rick Gates, used Lucicle to avoid paying taxes on money which they then spent on a variety of pricey items: clothes, antiques, and at least one Mercedes-Benz.

Paul Manafort’s attorney, Kevin Downing, told reporters on Monday that the idea that anyone would engage in such a scheme is laughable.

“The second thing about this indictment that I, myself, find most ridiculous is a claim that maintaining offshore accounts to bring all your funds into the United States, as a scheme to conceal from the United States government, is ridiculous,” he told a scrum of reporters on the steps of a D.C. courthouse.

But the indictment alleges otherwise. According to Mueller’s team, from April 2012 to March 2013, Lucicle transferred more than $1.3 million to a home improvement company in the Hamptons, where Manafort owns property.

Lucicle also sent more than $200,000 to a New York men’s clothing store from March 2012 to February 2013. In that same window of time, it also sent more than $100,000 to a New York antique dealer, more than $340,000 to a Florida contractor, $88,000 to a landscaper in the Hamptons, and a comparatively paltry payment of $7,500 to a clothing store in Beverly Hills.

On Oct. 5, 2012, Lucicle wired in $62,750 to pay for a Mercedes-Benz. And on Valentine’s Day of 2013, it sent $14,000 to a Florida art gallery. In total, according to Mueller’s indictment, Lucicle wired more than $5 million into the U.S. for Gates and Manafort.

At least some of the money Manafort and Gates used to pay for all those goodies appears to have come from Fursin. The New York Times reported in July that Lucicle and Fursin are tied to an “offshore entity, Mistaro Ventures, which is registered in St. Kitts and Nevis and listed on a government financial disclosure form that Mr. Fursin filed in Ukraine.”

According to the Times, “Mistaro transferred millions to Lucicle in February 2012 shortly before Lucicle made the $9.9 million loan to Jesand L.L.C., a Delaware company that Mr. Manafort previously used to buy real estate in New York.” It was one month after that transfer that Lucicle started shelling out millions to pay for cars, clothes, and real estate, according to the indictment.

That isn’t Fursin’s only connection to Manafort. He is also a lawmaker for the Party of Regions, which paid at least $17 million to Manafort’s firm.

In addition, Fursin’s longtime business associate, Ukrainian billionaire Dmitry Firtash, has an off-again, on-again partnership with Manafort. Together, they tried to buy the Drake Hotel in Manhattan for a cool $850 million. Firtash also bankrolled Ukraine’s Party of Regions.

Firtash has his own legal complications. He is currently under indictment in U.S. federal court for allegedly orchestrating an international titanium mining racket. The acting U.S. attorney in Chicago recently dubbed him an “organized-crime member” and an “upper-echelon associat[e] of Russian organized crime.” His attorneys say those charges are mere “innuendo,” according to the Chicago Tribune.

A December 2005 report from the Austrian Federal Criminal Investigation Agency said the FBI described Fursin and Firtash as senior members of the Semion Mogilevich Organization.

Ken McCallion, a former federal prosecutor who represented Yulia Tymoshenko in a civil case against Manafort and Firtash, told The Daily Beast that Fursin and Firtash are close.

“It was very similar to the relationship between Manafort and Gates,” he said. “Gates was a significant player in the criminal activities that Manafort engaged in… He played a major role, he was a major lieutenant in Manafort’s organization. By the same token, Fursin was one of the chief lieutenants of Firtash.”

Betsy Woodruff – Daily Beast

As Trump goes apoplectic; is he looking for a scapegoat at the White House

Is the stage being set to throw Jared Kushner under the bus for the Russian collusion fiasco? On Monday the big news was foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos cutting a deal with Mueller. Papadopoulos reportedly clear everything he did with Russians with a “senior” policy advisor, was that Kushner? Recently it has also been noticed that Ivanka has all but disappeared from photos of the inner circle. So is Jared being set up for being the fall guy? -TE

After Monday’s indictments, the president blamed Jared Kushner for Mueller

Until now, Robert Mueller has haunted Donald Trump’s White House as a hovering, mostly unseen menace. But by securing indictments of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, and a surprise guilty plea from foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, Mueller announced loudly that the Russia investigation poses an existential threat to the president. “Here’s what Manafort’s indictment tells me: Mueller is going to go over every financial dealing of Jared Kushner and the Trump Organization,” said former Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg. “Trump is at 33 percent in Gallup. You can’t go any lower. He’s fucked.”

The first charges in the Mueller probe have kindled talk of what the endgame for Trump looks like, according to conversations with a half-dozen advisers and friends of the president. For the first time since the investigation began, the prospect of impeachment is being considered as a realistic outcome and not just a liberal fever dream. According to a source, advisers in the West Wing are on edge and doing whatever they can not to be ensnared. One person close to Dina Powell and Gary Cohn said they’re making sure to leave rooms if the subject of Russia comes up.

The consensus among the advisers I spoke to is that Trump faces few good options to thwart Mueller. For one, firing Mueller would cross a red line, analogous to Nixon’s firing of Archibald Cox during Watergate, pushing establishment Republicans to entertain the possibility of impeachment. “His options are limited, and his instinct is to come out swinging, which won’t help things,” said a prominent Republican close to the White House.

Trump, meanwhile, has reacted to the deteriorating situation by lashing out on Twitter and venting in private to friends. He’s frustrated that the investigation seems to have no end in sight. “Trump wants to be critical of Mueller,” one person who’s been briefed on Trump’s thinking says. “He thinks it’s unfair criticism. Clinton hasn’t gotten anything like this. And what about Tony Podesta? Trump is like, When is that going to end?” According to two sources, Trump has complained to advisers about his legal team for letting the Mueller probe progress this far. Speaking to Steve Bannon on Tuesday, Trump blamed Jared Kushner for his role in decisions, specifically the firings of Mike Flynn and James Comey, that led to Mueller’s appointment, according to a source briefed on the call. When Roger Stone recently told Trump that Kushner was giving him bad political advice, Trump agreed, according to someone familiar with the conversation. “Jared is the worst political adviser in the White House in modern history,” Nunberg said. “I’m only saying publicly what everyone says behind the scenes at Fox News, in conservative media, and the Senate and Congress.” (The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment by deadline.)

As Mueller moves to interview West Wing aides in the coming days, advisers are lobbying for Trump to consider a range of stratagems to neutralize Mueller, from conciliation to a declaration of all-out war. One Republican explained Trump’s best chance for survival is to get his poll numbers up. Trump’s lawyer Ty Cobb has been advocating the view that playing ball will lead to a quick resolution (Cobb did not respond to a request for comment). But these soft-power approaches are being criticized by Trump allies including Steve Bannon and Roger Stone, who both believe establishment Republicans are waiting for a chance to impeach Trump. “The establishment has proven time and time again they will fuck Trump over,” a Bannon ally told me.

In a series of phone calls with Trump on Monday and Tuesday, Bannon told the president to shake up the legal team by installing an aggressive lawyer above Cobb, according to two sources briefed on the call. Bannon has also discussed ways to pressure Congress to defund Mueller’s investigation or limit its scope. “Mueller shouldn’t be allowed to be a clean shot on goal,” a Bannon confidant told me. “He must be contested and checked. Right now he has unchecked power.”

Bannon’s sense of urgency is being fueled by his belief that Trump’s hold on power is slipping. The collapse of Obamacare repeal, and the dimming chances that tax reform will pass soon—many Trump allies are deeply pessimistic about its prospects—have created the political climate for establishment Republicans to turn on Trump. Two weeks ago, according to a source, Bannon did a spitball analysis of the Cabinet to see which members would remain loyal to Trump in the event the 25th Amendment were invoked, thereby triggering a vote to remove the president from office. Bannon recently told people he’s not sure if Trump would survive such a vote. “One thing Steve wants Trump to do is take this more seriously,” the Bannon confidant told me. “Stop joking around. Stop tweeting.”

Roger Stone believes defunding Mueller isn’t enough. Instead, Stone wants Trump to call for a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton’s role in approving the controversial Uranium One deal that’s been a locus of rightwing hysteria (the transaction involved a Russian state-owned energy firm acquiring a Canadian mining company that controlled a large subset of the uranium in the United States). It’s a bit of a bank shot, but as Stone described it, a special prosecutor looking into Uranium One would also have to investigate the F.B.I.’s role in approving the deal, thereby making Mueller—who was in charge of the bureau at the time—a target. Stone’s choice for a special prosecutor: Rudy Giuliani law colleague Marc Mukasey or Fox News pundit Andrew Napolitano. “You would immediately have to inform Mueller, Comey, and [Deputy Attorney General] Rod Rosenstein that they are under federal investigation,” Stone said. “Trump can’t afford to fire Mueller politically. But this pushes him aside.”

The Fourth Man; untangling Russia’s election espionage

The Fourth Man: Did a Mole-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named Leak Plot to Elect Trump?

A brave lawyer defending people the Russian government accuses of treason says the case of cyber experts charged with working for the CIA is about the toughest he’s seen.

MOSCOW—For the first time in his two decades defending people accused of treason, Ivan Pavlov has come across a case he says he truly has trouble getting his head around. Everything about it is a guessing game for the defense lawyer, including the charges against his client, whose name he is not allowed to mention in public.

Speaking at his office in St. Petersburg, under a photograph of President Barack Obama shaking his hand, Pavlov, 46, explained to The Daily Beast that the arrest in Russia last December of accused cyber spies is heavy with high-profile politics.

“This is a dangerous case for everybody, including the FSB investigators, attorneys and journalists,” said Pavlov.

To get a sense of just how fraught it may be, let us go back to January. By then, allegations by the American intelligence community about Russian meddling in the American elections had been building for several months. President Obama had warned Putin, eyeball to eyeball, to stop. Two reports had been issued publicly by the U.S. intelligence services in October and in December, but in guarded and less than explicit language as America’s spooks tried to protect the methods and especially the sources that had led them to their conclusions.

As candidate and as president-elect, Donald Trump had received several classified briefings in August, November and afterward but, in public at least, Trump rejected the conclusion that Russia had interfered in the election he won, calling it fake news and the work of disgruntled losers.

Then on January 6, two weeks before Trump’s inauguration, the American intelligence community issued a much more explicit declassified report based on a much more detailed classified one pulled together from the coordinated reporting and analysis of the FBI, CIA, and NSA.

The key conclusions fingered Russian President Vladimir Putin directly, and because there’s been so much obfuscation by the White House, not to mention the Kremlin, they are worth repeating at some length:

“We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary [Hillary] Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments …

“Moscow’s influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations—such as cyber activity—with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or ‘trolls.’…”

On the specific issues of hacking, as opposed to the broader effort to influence the elections, in late December 2016 the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation together with the Department of Homeland Security distributed a report (PDF) that described the core Russian operation known by various aliases including the fanciful names “Cozy Bear” and “Fancy Bear.” The report updated in February also noted that one technical tool, a malware program used in the attack, had been created originally by a Ukrainian programmer—potentially a very important point as the plot thickened.

The assessment overall was as damning as such documents can be, and in it the U.S. intelligence community had claimed to know the decision making at the very highest level of the Russian government: Putin himself.

The Russian government denied all the allegations and has never acknowledged officially or unofficially that it was involved in this alleged multifaceted campaign about which the FBI and CIA seem to have no doubt.

But in the meantime any intelligence officer reading a document liked the January 6 assessment would surmise that it implicated one or more moles inside the upper levels of the Russian government.

Then, at the end of January, the news broke: Russia’s most secret law enforcement agency had arrested one of its own top officers, and that had happened in the middle of an official meeting. Like a scene out of some Brian de Palma movie, FSB officers grabbed their colleague and put a bag over his head—and afterward they made no effort to keep what they had done a secret.

Two top Federal Security Service officials, Sergei Mikhailov (who’d had the bag over his head) and Dmitry Dokuchayev, both from the FSB cyber intelligence department, were accused officially of state treason for passing confidential information to the CIA, according to the Interfax news agency.

But what sort of information? There was certainly no mention in the Kremlin leaks that these two might have exposed Putin’s direct order to undermine the American elections. Far from it. The crimes described by the news reports in Moscow related to hacking operations with no apparent ties to Trump or U.S. politics.

Also arrested was Ruslan Stoyanov, the head of the cybercrime investigation team at Kaspersky Lab, Russia’s major cybersecurity and anti-virus provider.

And then there was Pavlov’s unnamed client: the Fourth Man.

Now, months have passed, and the office of the U.S. Director of National intelligence, responding to a query for this story, declined to comment in any fashion about the December arrests in Russia or the status of the those who were jailed. Obviously if any of those arrested were indeed working with U.S. intelligence, the American government would not want to confirm that.

After the initial burst of publicity the FSB continues to stay quiet about the details of Pavlov’s client’s charges, and the other three as well, creating a thick curtain of secrecy around the crime. Even for the agency that is the successor of the infamous KGB, that is an unusually long silence.

Pavlov had to sign a gag order before he was allowed to represent his client. Now he and his colleagues, an association of lawyers called Team 29, refer to the Fourth Man simply as “Him.” But Pavlov hints at a world of cyberespionage even murkier and more dangerous than that of spy and counterspy.

“I can tell you something about this case: I believe that the FSB keeps Russia’s top cybersecurity experts under arrest so nobody can interview them, use them—or harm them,” said Pavlov. “It looks like authorities plan to keep the investigation low key at least until after the [Russian] presidential elections next year.”

“If he were not locked in prison, my client could have been murdered by now,” Pavlov said, without elaboration.

The secrecy annoys Team 29, which Pavlov founded in 2015 as an informal association of lawyers and journalists fighting against the Russian government’s increasing reluctance to release information amid fears of traitors and spies.

The name “29” comes from the number of an article in Russia’s constitution that says: “Everyone shall have the right to freely look for, receive, transmit, produce and distribute information by any legal way.”

The lawyers teamed up soon after the FSB ordered the deportation of Pavlov’s ex-wife, American citizen Jennifer Gaspar, “as a threat to national security.”

The reason is a secret.

“My wife worked for the Hermitage museum; I am convinced that the FSB deported her to hurt me, their opponent,” Pavlov said.

He explained to The Daily Beast why his mission in Russia is so important: “If before Russia’s conflict with Ukraine there were a couple of treason cases a year, now we count up to 15 state treason cases a year,” Pavlov said. “Our job is to educate people about their rights, so not all talented and skillful Russians flee the country.”

For six months, Team 29 has been visiting the Fourth Man at Lefortovo prison, trying to guess from such materials as have been revealed to them how much material remains hidden.

Was their client accused of selling secrets to the CIA or to FBI? Was he a spy helping to hack emails of the Democratic National Committee? That’s a secret.

Meanwhile one of the arrested FSB officers, Dokuchayev, has been indicted in the United States for economic espionage and a massive hacking of Yahoo accounts.

In Russia, many wonder how it is possible that Russia’s leading officials responsible for cybersecurity could have been passing state secrets abroad. The Daily Beast asked Dmitry Artimovich, considered one of the “hacker elite” in Russia and an expert at ChronoPay, a Russian company specialized for online payments. There are not many experts as knowledgeable as Artimovich when it comes to spam, spearphishing, botnets, and other kinds of cyber attacks.

The Daily Beast asked what people like Pavlov’s secret client might have been up to?

Their motivation might have been career growth, the suspects must have shared too much information about Russian hackers with American special services under Obama’s administration, creating an impression that Russia’s hackers are the most dangerous in the world, Artimovich suggested.

Artimovich had his own reasons not to like the kontora, or “the office,” the nickname for the FSB. In 2013, the security service’s cyber department investigated Artimovich for executing a distributed denial of service attack meant to shut down the website of Aeroflot, Russia’s major national airline. The programmer was sentenced to two years and six months in a corrective labor colony, and it was a harrowing experience.

“A guy in my cell tried to recruit me for the FSB,” says Artimovich. “He threatened me that otherwise I would not come out of prison, if I do not work with them.”  But Artimovich says he turned down the offer.

Now, Artimovich offers alternative explanations regarding the arrests last December. He does not believe the order for the attack on the American democratic institutions was coming from the Kremlin and suggests that is a “myth created by the American special services.”

At a technical level, Artimovich says he is skeptical about the malware described in the U.S. reports. “The virus collecting passwords from only one system cannot be described as a cyber-weapon,” he says.

After Trump won the elections, Russian hackers who used to travel freely around Europe before started to be grabbed by law enforcement. One example is Pyotr Levashov, who was arrested on a U.S. warrant four months ago in Spain. They were picked up one after another.

Artimovich suggests that Mikhailov and his associates provided data to the U.S. on Russian hackers at a time when there was cooperation with Washington, and that now looked “unpatriotic.”

“In 2010 our company ChronoPay informed the FSB leadership that Mikhailov was passing personal information about Russian citizens to the U.S. agencies, [so] the FSB leadership must have been aware of what Mikhailov’s department was doing, but they did nothing to stop them,” says Artimovich.

“Since the arrests, the entire FSB management has been distant from their case,” says Artimovich.

Sergei Markov, a member of the Russian Public Chamber thinks that Mikhailov and other suspects were responsible for cyber attacks in the cyber war with the U.S.

“One thing is clear: that the roots of their treason, of their espionage, stretch far beyond Russia’s border,” Markos told The Daily Beast. “This case has a high political price, I do not think we should share any details with Trump’s critics before the [U.S.] elections for Congress [in November 2018],” Markov explained.

Team 29’s strategy is to turn the most absurd cases into a joke, since “the only thing the state system cannot stand is when you laugh at them,” says Pavlov.

Last year the attorney started a campaign in support of his client Oksana Sevastidi,  a 46-year-old mother of seven. In March 2016 Sevastidi had been sentenced for high treason by a secret court in Krasnodar for sending two text messages back in 2008 about Russian movements in the direction of Georgia’s breakaway region of Abkhazia.

“It is absurd for a nuclear power to sentence a market vendor for seven years for state treason,” Pavlov told The Daily Beast.

In March, President Putin pardoned Sevastidi.

But by then there was a long line of convicts charged with treason and extremism asking Team 29 to help them.

Recently Pavlov came to Moscow to meet two more women whose freedom he had won. Annik Kesyan and Marina Dzhadzhgava had served several years for treason for sending messages about Russian army movement in 2008. President Putin pardoned Kesyan and Dzhadzhgava, after Team 29 attracted public attention to their cases.

But Pavlov’s cybersecurity treason case is stuck.

The Kremlin has kept denying any intrusion in the U.S. elections and blamed the reports about Russian hackers on Russophobia. Trump in the immediate wake of the January 6 report conceded grudgingly that Russia had interfered in the U.S. elections, but has since gone back to his allegations of “fake news.”

The level of bitterness about this among veterans of counterintelligence like former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper is palpable. Speaking of Trump at the Aspen Security Forum last month, Clapper said, “I sometimes wonder whether … what he’s about is making Russia great again.”

President Putin, for his part, has said he believes that U.S. president Donald Trump agreed with Russia’s denial, which would reinforce the idea that Trump is rejecting the conclusions made by U.S. intelligence agencies and choosing to believe Moscow instead.

Irina Borogan, a Russian independent expert on cybersecurity and cyber wars, told The Daily Beast that it is impossible at a technical level to have any exact attribution about the attacks being ordered by the Kremlin.

“The technical expertise identifies general pieces of coding, the methods of the attack, of botnet, hacker groups,” Borogan said. In this particular case, she said, it might be clear that “the attack was ordered by the Russian Federation, but they did not sign: ‘Moscow, the Kremlin.”

That’s another reason that the positive identification by the U.S. intelligence of Putin as the person who directed the interference in the U.S. elections would seem to be related to human intelligence gathering rather than technical means. But it is also possible that in this dark and dirty game, the four arrested in December were mere scapegoats.

Like many other people in Russia, Borogan, the author of The Red Web about Russia’s attack on internet freedoms, cannot wait to hear what sort of state secrets Pavlov’s client allegedly passed abroad.  “We see a uniquely dumb secrecy, which gives us a sense that the suspects are actually not guilty of treason,” Borogan told The Daily Beast.

Anna Nemtsova Daily Beast  

Spencer Ackerman and Christopher Dickey also contributed to this article.

Former MI8 officer Christopher Steele ambushed by a bunch of lame Nunes’ hacks

Former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele in London. The dossier contained explosive allegations about Trump and the Kremlin. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA

Two US congressional staffers who traveled to London in July and tried to contact former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele were sent by a long-standing aide to Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House intelligence committee and a close ally of the White House.

The trip has brought back to the surface a continuing struggle for control of the committee’s investigation into Moscow’s role in the 2016 US election. The reliability of a dossier compiled by Steele, containing explosive allegations of extensive secret collusion between Trump and the Kremlin, is a key part of that investigation.

The two staffers turned up unannounced at Steele’s lawyers’ offices while the former MI6 officer was in the building, according to a report by Politico on Friday. But the committee’s leading Democrat, Adam Schiff, said on Sunday neither he nor his Republican counterpart had been informed about the staffers’ London trip.

A congressional official insisted, however, that the staffers were in London on official committee business. He said they had been told to make contact with Steele’s lawyers, rather than Steele himself.

“It was an intelligence committee trip although going to meet with the lawyer was not the sole purpose of the trip. They were also there on other committee business,” the official said, but he added he could not describe what else the committee staffers were doing in London.

“Them being sent to meet with the lawyers was at the behest of the committee staff director,” the official added, speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of the subject.

The House intelligence committee’s staff director is Damon Nelson, who worked as deputy chief of staff for Devin Nunes from 2003 until 2014 and then as a senior adviser before moving in 2015 to the staff of the committee which Nunes chairs. Nunes was a member of Trump’s transition team on security and enraged Democrats by maintaining close contact with the president and making a secret visit late at night to the White House in March to view supposedly secret information without telling other committee members.

The staffers were sent by an aide to Devin Nunes, chairman of the House intelligence committee and a close Trump ally. Photograph: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Nunes stepped aside from the committee’s Russia investigation in April, months before the London trip, after becoming the subject of an inquiry by the House ethics panel into whether he disclosed classified information in a bid to discredit the Obama administration. The Republican congressman Mike Conaway took over Nunes’s duties directing the Russia inquiry. Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the committee, has since praised Conaway’s cooperation into investigating the links between the Trump campaign and Moscow, but has also complained that Nunes has continued to intervene in the investigation, despite his understanding to stay out of it pending the ethics inquiry.

The staffers were sent by an aide to Devin Nunes, chairman of the House intelligence committee and a close Trump ally.View photos

Schiff’s office declined to comment, and Conaway’s office did not reply to a request for comment. But Schiff said on Sunday that neither of them had been told about the London visit aimed at establishing contacts with a key witness.

“I wasn’t aware of it, and I don’t think Mr Conaway was either,” Schiff told CNN. “But the reality is we do want to meet with Mr Steele, would like him to come before the committee. If he’s not willing to do that, we’d be happy – Mr Conaway and myself – to go to London to sit down with him. He does have, certainly, very relevant information that would assist our investigation.”

Steele’s dossier on Trump’s alleged collusion with the Russian government was compiled in 2016 for a Washington research company, Fusion GPS, and commissioned by Trump’s election opponents, first Republicans in the primaries, and then Democrats.

It was presented by Republican Senator John McCain to the then FBI director, James Comey, in December, and has since been part of a wide-ranging inquiry into possible collusion, now under the control of special counsel Robert Mueller.

A congressional official insisted it would not be unusual for a committee staff director to organize a foreign fact-finding trip on his own authority.

However, Adam Blickstein, a former Democrat spokesman on the House intelligence committee, said he found that unlikely in such a sensitive investigation.

“In this specific scenario, I can’t imagine a staff director sending two staffers on this trip without the chairman knowing about it,” Blickstein said. “That wouldn’t pass the smell test.”

“I find the fact that they presumably spent taxpayer money to undertake such a hyperpartisan and unprofessional effort extremely troubling,” John Sipher, a former senior CIA officer said in an emailed comment. “There are normal ways to do this through our existing institutions, and their relationships with our British partners. This is bad on many levels.

“Republicans that are part of the House investigation should not be undertaking efforts without informing their Democratic colleagues,” Sipher added. “Not only is it unprofessional but it is impolite. Mr Steele was a professional who worked on important and compatible issues with the US. He deserves better than being ambushed by a bunch of hacks.”