Implausible deniability

Plausible deniability is the ability of people (typically senior officials in a formal or informal chain of command) to deny knowledge of or responsibility for any damnable actions committed by others in an organizational hierarchy because of a lack of evidence that can confirm their participation, even if they were personally involved in or at least willfully ignorant of the actions. In the case that illegal or otherwise disreputable and unpopular activities become public, high-ranking officials may deny any awareness of such acts to insulate themselves and shift blame onto the agents who carried out the acts, as they are confident that their doubters will be unable to prove otherwise. The lack of evidence to the contrary ostensibly makes the denial plausible, that is, credible, although sometimes it merely makes it unactionable. The term typically implies forethought, such as intentionally setting up the conditions to plausibly avoid responsibility for one’s (future) actions or knowledge. In some organizations, legal doctrines such as command responsibility exist to hold major parties responsible for the actions of subordinates involved in heinous acts and nullify any legal protection that their denial of involvement would carry.

Ivanka Trump helped make her father’s first international hotel venture a success with the help of an alleged international fraudster with ties to money launderers and criminals from the former Soviet Union.

A joint report between Reuters and NBC News examined the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama, which includes residential apartments and a casino in one of the tallest buildings in Latin America.

President Donald Trump’s daughter worked with Alexandre Ventura Nogueira, a 43-year-old Brazilian who was arrested three years later by Panamanian authorities on charges of fraud and forgery unrelated to the Trump project.

He later fled the country after his release on $1.4 million bail.

Nogueira and his company, Homes Real Estate Investment & Services, was responsible for up to half of the advance 666 apartment sales, according to Reuters.

The joint Reuters-NBC News report found Nogueira did business with a Colombian who was later convicted of money laundering and is now jailed in the United States, a Russian investor in the Trump tower jailed in Israel in the 1990s for kidnapping and death threats, and a Ukrainian investor arrested for alleged human trafficking while working with Nogueira and later convicted in Ukraine.

https://www.rawstory.com/2017/11/ivanka-filled-trumps-panama-tower-with-the-help-of-fraudster-with-ties-to-russian-money-launderers/

Watch the in-depth report tonight: Richard Engel on Assignment

LIVE TONIGHT, 6:00 PM ON MSNBC

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Trump’s Saudi buddies move on their opposition including Trump opponent Prince Alwaleed bin Talal

In this photo released by Saudi Royal Council, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman al-Saud, center, attends a ceremony held for pledging Saudi local emirs and other notable people’s allegiance to him as the new Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia in Mecca, Saudi Arabia on June

Ryan Grim reports for the INTERCEPT on:

WHAT HAPPENED IN SAUDI ARABIA LAST NIGHT — AND HOW WASHINGTON CORRUPTION ENABLED IT

THE MASS ARREST of high-ranking Saudi businessmen, media figures, and royal family members Saturday has shaken the global business community. Among 10 other princes and 38 others, the roundup netted Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the world’s richest men, who owns significant shares in everything from Citibank to Twitter to the parent company of Fox News.

Prince Alwaleed has done business with President Donald Trump in the past, but during the campaign turned into a fiery critic, drawing Trump’s Twitter ire.

 Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump……..Dopey Prince @Alwaleed_Talal wants to control our U.S. politicians with daddy’s money. Can’t do it when I get elected. #Trump2016         7:53 PM – Dec 11, 2015

The move against Alwaleed and the other officials was couched as the result of a secret investigation carried out by a “high committee on fighting corruption.” Minister of Education Dr. Ahmed bin Mohammed Al-Issa “hailed the royal decree,” according to the Saudi Press Agency, saying, “this committee heralds a future of firmness against those who are trying to to undermine the capabilities of the homeland.”

Whatever the official explanation, it is being read around the world as a power grab by the kingdom’s rising crown prince. “The sweeping campaign of arrests appears to be the latest move to consolidate the power of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the favorite son and top adviser of King Salman,” as the New York Times put it. “The king had decreed the creation of a powerful new anti-corruption committee, headed by the crown prince, only hours before the committee ordered the arrests.”

The men are being held, as The Intercept reported, in the Ritz-Carlton Riyadh. “There is no jail for royals,” a Saudi source noted.

The move marks a moment of reckoning for Washington’s foreign policy establishment, which struck a bargain of sorts with the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, and Yousef Al Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to the U.S. who has been MBS’s leading advocate in Washington. The unspoken arrangement was clear: The UAE and Saudi Arabia would pump millions into Washington’s political ecosystem while mouthing a belief in “reform,” and Washington would pretend to believe that they meant it. MBS has won praise for some policies, like an openness to reconsidering Saudi Arabia’s ban on women drivers.

Meanwhile, however, the 32-year-old MBS has been pursuing a dangerously impulsive and aggressive regional policy, which has included a heightening of tensions with Iran, a catastrophic war on Yemen, and a blockade of ostensible ally Qatar. Those regional policies have been disasters for the millions who have suffered the consequences, including the starving people of Yemen, as well as for Saudi Arabia, but MBS has dug in harder and harder. And his supporters in Washington have not blinked.

The platitudes about reform were also challenged by recent mass arrests of religious figures and repression of anything that has remotely approached less than full support of MBS.

The latest purge comes just days after White House adviser Jared Kushner, a close ally of Otaiba, visited Riyadh, and just hours after a bizarre-even-for-Trump tweet.

 Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump…….Would very much appreciate Saudi Arabia doing their IPO of Aramco with the New York Stock Exchange. Important to the United States!     4:49 AM – Nov 4, 2017

Whatever legitimate debate there was about MBS ended Saturday — his drive to consolidate power is now too obvious to ignore. And that puts denizens of Washington’s think tank world in a difficult spot, as they have come to rely heavily on the Saudi and UAE end of the bargain. As The Intercept reported earlier, one think tank alone, the Middle East Institute, got a massive $20 million commitment from the UAE.

And make no mistake, MBS is a project of the UAE — an odd turn of events given the relative sizes of the two countries. “Our relationship with them is based on strategic depth, shared interests, and most importantly the hope that we could influence them. Not the other way around,” Otaiba has said privately. For the past two years, Otaiba has introduced MBS around Washington and offered assurances of his commitment to modernizing and reforming Saudi Arabia, according to people who’ve spoken with him, confirmed by emails leaked by the group Global Leaks. When confronted with damning headlines, Otaiba tends to acknowledge the reform project is a work in progress but insists that it is progress nonetheless, and in MBS resides the best chance of the region.

“I don’t think we’ll ever see a more pragmatic leader in that country. Which is why engaging with them is so important and will yield the most results we can ever get out of Saudi,” Otaiba said in one representative note. “I think MBS is far more pragmatic than what we hear is Saudi public positions [sic].”

In an email to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, Otaiba laid out his thinking clearly while thanking him for a column.

Thank you for taking the time to go out there and meet with MBS. As someone who knows the region well, it looks from how you wrote this piece, that you are beginning to see what we’ve been saying for the last two years. Change!

Change in attitude, change in style, change in approach.

I think we would all agree these changes in Saudi are much needed. So I’m relieved to find you saw what we’ve been seeing and frequently trying to convey. Your voice and your credibility will be a huge factor in getting reasonable folks to understand and believe in whats happening.

Our job now, is to [do] everything possible to ensure MBS succeeds.

In an unusual move, Saudi Arabia even recently hired the UAE’s longtime public-relations firm, the Harbour Group, run by Otaiba friend Richard Mintz. Richard Clarke, most well known for his public apology to 9/11 victims for the intelligence failure, was brutal in his criticism of Saudi Arabia in the wake of the attack. An Otaiba friend, he is now chairman of the MEI’s board and has personally lobbied Saudi Arabia for funding, walking out of the Saudi embassy with a $500,000 check. Michael Petruzzello, the longtime Washington hand for Saudi Arabia, is also on the MEI board.

Gulf countries that are family-run dynasties tend to produce the same kind of family rivalries seen the world over. In Abu Dhabi, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, Otaiba’s mentor and boss who is known as MBZ, has long detested Mohammed bin Nayef, who was in line for the Saudi throne, going so far as to publicly call him a monkey. MBZ and Otaiba saw MBS as the way to derail bin Nayef, and exert control over the larger country by elevating the junior prince.

The campaign worked, and was largely cheered in Washington.

Scholars at the think tanks that are backed with Saudi and UAE money say they pride themselves on their ability to speak and write freely, and bristle at any suggestion that the funding corrupts the intellectual product.

That claim has always been dubious, but the next few days will put it to the test in a way it never has been tested before.

https://theintercept.com/2017/11/05/what-happened-in-saudi-arabia-last-night-and-how-washington-corruption-enabled-it

The “Dossier” by former UK intelligence official Christopher Steele is casting an ever darker shadow over Trump

 

former British intelligence official, Christopher Steele

Nine months after its first appearance, the set of intelligence reports known as the Steele dossier, one of the most explosive documents in modern political history, is still hanging over Washington, casting a shadow over the Trump administration that has only grown darker as time has gone by.

It was reported this week that the document’s author, former British intelligence official, Christopher Steele, has been interviewed by investigators working for the special counsel on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The Senate and House intelligence committees are, meanwhile, asking to see Steele to make up their own mind about his findings. The ranking Democrat on the House committee, Adam Schiff, said that the dossier was “a very important and useful guide to help us figure out what we need to look into”.

The fact that Steele’s reports are being taken seriously after lengthy scrutiny by federal and congressional investigators has far-reaching implications.

Originally commissioned by a private firm as opposition research by Donald Trump’s Republican and then Democratic opponents, they cite a range of unnamed sources, in Russia and the US, who describe the Kremlin’s cultivation over many years of the man who now occupies the Oval Office – and the systematic collusion of Trump’s associates with Moscow to help get him there.

The question of collusion is at the heart of the various investigations into links between Trump and Moscow. Even a senior Republican, Richard Burr, the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, admitted this week it was an open question.

Burr said his committee needed to talk Steele himself to assess the dossier properly and urged him to speak to its members or staff. According to an NBC report on Friday, Steele had expressed willingness to meet the committee’s leaders.

In his remarks this week, Burr said his committee had come to a consensus in supporting the conclusions of a US intelligence community assessment in January this year that Russian had conducted a multi-pronged campaign to interfere in the 2016 election, in Trump’s favor.

It is a finding that echoes the reports that Steele was producing seven months earlier. Trump has called the assessment a “hoax”, but there is no sign the three agencies that came to that conclusion, the CIA, FBI and NSA, have had any second thoughts in the intervening months.

“Many of my former CIA colleagues have taken [the Steele] reports seriously since they were first published,” wrote John Sipher, a former senior officer in the CIA’s National Clandestine Service on the Just Security website. “This is not because they are not fond of Trump (and many admittedly are not), but because they understand the potential plausibility of the reports’ overall narrative based on their experienced understanding of both Russian methods and the nature of raw intelligence reporting.”

Sipher emphasised the “raw” nature of the reports, aimed at conveying an accurate account of what sources are saying, rather than claiming to be a definitive summary of events. There are spelling mistakes and rough edges. Several of the episodes it described remain entirely unverified.

But as every passing month brings more leaks, revelations in the press, and more progress in the investigations, the Steele dossier has generally gained in credibility, rather than lost it.

The Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya,: Yury Martyanov/AFP/Getty Images

Trump Tower meeting

One of the more striking recent developments was the disclosure of a meeting on 9 June 2016 in Trump Tower involving Trump’s son, Donald Jr, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, with a Russian lawyer closely tied to the government, Natalia Veselnitskaya.

After the meeting was first reported on 8 July this year, the president’s son claimed (in a statement dictated, it turned out, by his father) that it had been about adoptions of Russian children by Americans.

The next day that was exposed as a lie, with the publication of emails that made it clear that Veselnitskaya was offering damaging material on Hillary Clinton, that an intermediary setting up the meeting said was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump”.

“If it’s what you say, I love it, especially later in the summer,” Donald Trump Jr replied.

Just 11 days after that meeting – but more than a year before it became public – Steele quoted a source as saying that “the Kremlin had been feeding Trump and his team valuable intelligence on his opponents, including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton”, for several years.

A later report, dated 19 July 2016, said: “Speaking in confidence to a compatriot in late July 2016, Source E, an ethnic Russian close associate of Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump, admitted that there was a well-developed conspiracy of cooperation between them and the Russian leadership.” The report said that such contacts were handled on Trump’s end by his then campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who participated in the 9 June Trump Tower meeting.

Manafort has denied taking part in any collusion with the Russian state, but registered himself as a foreign agent retroactively after it was revealed his firm received more than $17m working as a lobbyist for a pro-Russian Ukrainian party. He is a subject of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and in July the FBI raided his home in Virginia.

Other key protagonists in the Steele dossier have surfaced in subsequent disclosures and investigation. Two of them, an Azeri-Russian businessman Araz Agalarov and his son Emin, are described in emails released by Donald Trump Jr as offering to serve as intermediaries in passing on damaging material on Clinton and is reported to have help set up the Trump Tower meeting.

Carter Page

Another key figure in the Steele dossier is Carter Page, an energy consultant who Trump named as one of his foreign policy advisors. Steele’s sources describe him as an “intermediary” between Manafort and Moscow, who had met a Putin lieutenant and head of the Russian energy giant, Rosneft, and a senior Kremlin official, Igor Diveykin. Page denied meeting either man on his trips to Moscow, which he has said were for business purposes and not connected to his role in the Trump campaign.

Nonetheless, he has become a focus of investigation: it was reported in April that that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court issued an order last year for his communication to be monitored. To obtain the order, investigators would have to demonstrate “probable cause” to believe Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power. Page has said he welcomed the news of the order as it demonstrated he was being made a scapegoat of the investigation.

Elsewhere, a Steele memo in September 2016 mentions a “Mikhail Kulagin” who had been withdrawn from the Russian embassy in Washington because of his “heavy involvement in the US presidential election operation”.

There was no diplomat of that name at the mission, but there was a Mikhail Kalugin; five months later, it emerged that he had left the embassy in August 2016.

McClatchy reported he was under investigation for his role in Russia’s interference in the campaign. The BBC reported that the US had identified Kalugin as a spy.

Facebook

More recently, there has been a slew of revelations about the role of disinformation spread by Russians and other eastern Europeans posing as Americans on social media. The New York Times reported that hundreds and possibly thousands of Russian-linked fake accounts and bots on Facebook and Twitter were used to spread anti-Clinton stories and messages.

Facebook disclosed that it had shut down several hundred accounts that it believes were fabricated by a Kremlin-linked Russian company to buy $100,000 in ads that often promoted racial and other divisive issues during the campaign.

This week, Facebook handed over to Congress 3,000 ads bought by a Russian organization during the campaign, and it was reported that many of those ads, some of them Islamophobic, were specifically targeted on swing states, Michigan and Wisconsin.

A Steele memo from August 2016 states that after Russia’s hand had been discovered in the hacking of Democratic party emails and passing them to WikiLeaks for publication, another avenue of influence would be explored.

The memo says “the tactics would be to spread rumors and misinformation about the content of what already had been leaked and make up new content”. The Russian official alleged by Steele’s sources to be in charge of the operation, Sergei Ivanov – then Putin’s chief of staff – is quoted as saying: “The audience to be targeted by such operations was the educated youth in America as the PA [Russian Presidential Administration] assessed that there was still a chance they could be persuaded to vote for Republican candidate Donald Trump as a protest against the Washington establishment (in the form of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton).”

The Steele dossier said one of the aims of the Russian influence campaign was to peel off voters who had supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries and nudge them towards Trump.

Evidence has since emerged that Russians and eastern Europeans posing as Americans targeted Sanders supporters with divisive and anti-Clinton messages in the summer of 2016, after the primaries were over.

The startling claim that Trump was filmed with prostitutes while staying at a Moscow hotel in November 2013, when he was staging the Miss Universe contest there, has not been substantiated in any way.

Nor has the allegation that Trump’s lawyer and vice-president of the Trump Organisation, Michael Cohen, traveled to Prague in August 2013 to conspire with a senior Russian official. In a letter to the House intelligence committee, Cohen said he never went to Prague and took issue with a string of other claims in the dossier.

It has however emerged that Cohen was involved in exploring a real estate deal in Moscow for the Trump Organisation while the campaign was in full swing. He has been summoned to appear in open hearing before the Senate intelligence committee later this month.

The Steele dossier, its author and the firm who hired him, Fusion GPS, have become favored targets for Trump’s loyalists on Capitol Hill. They point to the fact that the genesis of the documents was a paid commission to find damaging facts about Trump.

But the dossier has not faded from view. Instead, it appears to be growing in significance as the investigations have gathered pace.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/oct/07/trump-russia-steele-dossier-moscow

by Julian Borger in Washington

 

Remember the Pitiful response to Katrina? That was awful, this is even worse

Late-night host Seth Meyers framed it just right last night, Trump is “so desperate for literally any kind of positive achievement” that he’s willing to lie that he won something.

Homeland Security secretary Elaine Duke, who is helping to coordinate the response.

“I know it is really a good news story in terms of our ability to reach people and the limited number of deaths that have taken place in such a devastating hurricane,”

Carmen Yulín Cruz hugs a woman during her visit to an elderly home in San Juan, Puerto Rico on 22 September 2017. Photograph: Thais Llorca/EPA

“Dammit, this is not a good news story,” Mayor of San Juan Carmen Yulín Cruz told CNN. “This is a people are dying story. This is a life-or-death story.”

The mayor of San Juan lashed out at the Trump administration on Friday after a senior official called the relief effort in Puerto Rico a “good news story”.

Donald Trump and administration figures have sought to put an optimistic gloss on their aid to the US territory, where residents are struggling to access drinking water and nearly half remain in the dark without electricity after being hit by two hurricanes in quick succession.

“FEMA & First Responders are doing a GREAT job in Puerto Rico,” the president wrote on Thursday in a typical tweet, referring to the US Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Massive food & water delivered.”

The San Juan mayor was reacting to comments by acting Homeland Security secretary Elaine Duke, who is helping to coordinate the response.

“I know it is really a good news story in terms of our ability to reach people and the limited number of deaths that have taken place in such a devastating hurricane,” Duke told reporters on Thursday.

The phrase drew a sharp rebuke from Cruz, who implored Duke to visit the ravaged island.

“This is a story of a devastation that continues to worsen because people are not getting food and water,” Cruz told CNN. “When you’re drinking from a creek, it’s not a good news story. When you don’t have food for a baby, it’s not a good news story … I’m sorry. That really upsets me and frustrates me.”

Elaine Duke is briefed on the Hurricane Maria response during a flight to Puerto Rico on Friday.

On Friday, Duke traveled to the US territory, a visit that was planned before her comments drew criticism. Duke clarified her comments during a press conference, explaining that she meant she was encouraged by the coordination among federal agencies, local government, and first responders.

“Clearly the situation here in Puerto Rico after the devastating hurricane is not satisfactory,” Duke said. “But together we are getting there and the progress today is very very strong. The president and I will not be fully satisfied, however, until every Puerto Rican is back home, the power is back on, clean water is freely available, schools and hospitals are fully open and the Puerto Rican economy is working.”

Despite the mobilization efforts underway, the situation in Puerto Rico remains dire as residents face food, water and fuel shortages and many residents have questioned why help has been so slow to arrive.

The electric grid was badly damaged, leaving many residents without power and reliant on gas-powered generators for energy. The storm crippled the island’s already weakened waste and water treatment plants. Fallen trees and strewn debris block roads. Cell phone service remains limited for many residents, making it difficult to reach family members.

Donald Trump has complained that the coverage of the government’s response has been unfair. He has also faced criticism for raising the issue of the country’s debt crisis as it reels from the impact of two hurricanes.

On Friday, Trump praised the administration’s relief effort, noting that 10,000 federal workers had been sent to the island along with ships bringing food and water.

Donald Trump waives Jones Act to allow foreign ships to supply Puerto Rico

“All appropriate departments of our government from homeland security to defense are engaged fully in the disaster. And the response and recovery effort probably has never been seen for something like this,” Trump said during a speech to the National Association of Manufacturers in Washington.

“This is an island, surrounded by water, big water, ocean water,” he added, referring to the logistical challenges.

He said that Puerto Rico was “totally and unfortunately unable” to manage the crisis on its own.

“They are working so hard. But there’s nothing left. It’s been wiped out. The houses are largely flattened,” he said.

Trump also said the government of Puerto Rico would have to work with federal authorities to determine how to pay for the massive recovery effort, which is compounded by “the tremendous amount of existing debt already on the island”.

He tweeted earlier: “The fact is that Puerto Rico has been destroyed by two hurricanes. Big decisions will have to be made as to the cost of its rebuilding!”

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/29/san-juan-mayor-criticizes-us-officials-for-calling-puerto-rico-relief-effort-good-news#img-1

 

Trump: Dutch documentary Part III -1 billion dollar international money-laundering scheme

“The Dubious Friends of Donald Trump, Part III: The Multibillion-Dollar Fraud”

Lock him up!

Trump’s real estate empire is linked to an international money-laundering scheme that netted more than $1 billion for himself and his business partners, according to the third installment of a documentary series by Dutch filmmakers that aired Wednesday.

As Alternet’s Steven Rosenfeld reports, director of “The Dubious Friends of Donald Trump, Part III: The Multibillion-Dollar Fraud” Sander Rietveld followed the transfer of money from Kazakhstan to the United States to identify “how this could relate to Donald Trump, the Trump Organization, and Trump’s real estate.”

The result, Rietveld said, ”is a follow-the-money documentary revealing the connections between several people in Trump’s orbit and an alleged multibillion-dollar fraud.” Rietveld also noted Kazakh oligarch Ilyas Khrapunov “tried to block” the documentary from airing.

“Judge turned down his request and allowed airing documentary,” Rietveld said.

The documentary zeros in on money from Kazakhstan that went towards Bayrock, the group that joined forces with Trump International for the company’s SoHo Tower project. The project manager of Bayrock, Felix Sater, pleaded guilty in 1998 to a fraud scheme involving the Russian mob. He later became an FBI informant and in 2017 began cooperating with investigators working on an international money laundering scheme, the Financial Times reports.

“The significant thing is they have got the Kazakh government saying that Bayrock was a money launderer for these guys,” James Henry, an investigative reporter who worked on the film, told AlterNet. Henry noted if special counsel Robert Mueller probes Trump’s Bayrock ties, “we have Felix Sater laundering criminal money.”

Pointing to the previous two installments in this documentary series, Henry argued Trump and his associates have engaged in “a continuing cover-up of money laundering.”

Watch the video below, via YouTube:

https://www.rawstory.com/2017/09/watch-trumps-mob-ties-and-multibillion-dollar-fraud-revealed-in-dutch-documentary-sequel/

The march toward full Republican acceptance of a Trump Dictatorship 

52 percent said that they would support postponing the 2020 election, and 56 percent said they would do so if both Trump and Republicans in Congress were behind this.

Moreover, nearly half of Republicans (47 percent) believe that Trump won the popular vote, which is similar to this finding. Larger fractions believe that millions of illegal immigrants voted (68 percent) and that voter fraud happens somewhat or very often (73 percent). Again, this is similar to previous polls.

Not surprisingly, beliefs about the 2016 election and voter fraud were correlated with support for postponement. People who believed that Trump won the popular vote, that there were millions of illegal votes in 2016, or that voter fraud is not rare were more likely to support postponing the election. This support was also more prevalent among Republicans who were younger, were less educated, had less factual knowledge of politics and strongly identified with the party.

Of course, our survey is only measuring reactions to a hypothetical situation. Were Trump to seriously propose postponing the election, there would be a torrent of opposition, which would most likely include prominent Republicans. Financial markets would presumably react negatively to the potential for political instability. And this is to say nothing of the various legal and constitutional complications that would immediately become clear. Citizens would almost certainly form their opinions amid such tumult, which does not at all resemble the context in which our survey was conducted.

Washington Post

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.”

https://www.yahoo.com/news/secretive-search-man-behind-trump-004816327.html