Reconsidering the Steele Dossier

It’s time to reconsider the Steele dossier. Not necessarily to show how much Christopher Steele got right or wrong, but because it is a relatively compact collection of information about how the Donald Trump campaign may have worked with the Russians. Looking at it can help to organize the torrent of information coming at us.

Lawfare has posted an excellent summary, in narrative form, of recent evidence in court filings that supports the material in the dossier. It also gives a good background summary of what the dossier is.

The narrative form tends to impose a particular organization on the material. The dossier is a raw compilation of human intelligence, with no evaluation. The court documents now available do not point to one single scenario; in fact, much of their material is redacted, so we know that there is much more to the story.

I’ve seen people more informally claim that the dossier is supported, but they seem to be referring to a general sense that a story that can be elicited from the dossier are similar to what is in the news. This is often correct, but when I have checked some of these claims with my breakdown of the dossier, the correlation is often cloudy.

My breakdown of the dossier is a listing of its claims, in the order in which they are presented in the dossier. In this post, I’ll state the claim and add evidence for or against it. I may have missed some things; there’s a lot out there.

In this post, the claims are in italics, often shortened from the wording in the dossier. They are identified by the numbers in my breakdown, along with the Company Intelligence Report (CIR) number and date of the document in the dossier. I have included a broader selection of relevant evidence than do the Lawfare authors. The summaries of information may be verbatim from sources or shortened. If you want to do detailed analysis, refer to the linked sources.

 

1 and 22 (CIR 080, 20 Jun 2016; CIR 097, 30 Jul 2016). The Russian regime has been supporting and cultivating Trump for at least five years (eight years in CIR 097). Many sources trace Trump’s interest in Russia back as far as 1987.

The top level of the Soviet diplomatic service arranged his 1987 Moscow visit. With assistance from the KGB. It took place while Kryuchkov was seeking to improve the KGB’s operational techniques in one particular and sensitive area. The spy chief wanted KGB staff abroad to recruit more Americans. (Politico)

After the 2016 elections, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said “There were contacts. We are doing this and have been doing this during the election campaign.” (Reuters)

2 (CIR 080, 20 Jun 2016). Putin is directing the operation, wants to cause discord in West, return to 19th century Great Power politics. That Putin would like to return to Great Power politics is widely accepted. The DNI report of January 2017 says the operation was directed “at the highest levels” but does not name Putin.

3 (CIR 080, 20 Jun 2016). The Kremlin has offered, but Trump has declined, lucrative real estate deals. Trump has wanted to build a Trump Tower Moscow since at least 1987. Various approaches have been made from Trump’s side, and the dealing continued through the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump’s company may have offered the $50 million penthouse in a Trump Tower to Putin.

4 (CIR 080, 20 Jun 2016). Trump has accepted intelligence on electoral rivals, particularly Hillary Clinton. Full proof is lacking. The June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower and the activities of Roger Stone and his colleagues with Wikileaks are the most likely connections that have been made public.

5 (CIR 080, 20 Jun 2016). Prostitutes were hired to urinate on bed where Obamas slept in Moscow Ritz Carlton. The “Pee Tape” has not been shown to exist. Trump’s bodyguard at the time, Keith Schiller, testified to the House Intelligence Committee that “he rejected a Russian offer to send five women to then private-citizen Trump’s hotel room during their 2013 trip to Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant.” (CNN)

6 (CIR 080, 20 Jun 2016). “Trump’s unorthodox behavior in Russia over the years had provided the authorities there with enough embarrassing material…to blackmail him” The Russians collect kompromat on everyone significant who visits there.

7 (CIR 080, 20 Jun 2016). The FSB has a file of kompromat on Clinton, focused on internally contradictory things she had said. Again, such a file would not be surprising, although it would be less useful than the emails proved to be. Nothing specific is known about this particular file.

8 (CIR 080, 20 Jun 2016). The Clinton file is controlled by Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin press secretary, and not available to Trump. No supporting information publicly available. More about Peskov in later claims.

9 (CIR 086, 26 Jul 2016). Russia is involved in extensive cyber operations in many countries. FSB is the lead organization. The DNI report of January 2017 confirmed this, with plenty of additional confirmation. GRU is also involved. The two organizations have a history of competition. See also claims 15 and 16.

10 (CIR086, 26 Jul 2016). Russia’s success was limited in penetrating foreign, especially Western, governments, so its effort was redirected into Western private banks and smaller states, like Latvia. Hundreds of agents were recruited with monetary inducements or contractual favors from RUS government. Caused a money laundering problem for Central Bank of Russia. The Estonian branch of Danske Bank seems to have been a major conduit for money laundering.

11 (CIR 086, 26 Jul 2016). US citizens of Russian origin were approached to be recruited for cyber operations. FSB provides the money, has been successful in installing malware via cheap Russian IT games. See claims 15 and 16.

12 (CIR 086, 26 Jul 2016). An IT operator inside a leading Russian state-owned enterprise, who had been employed on conventional (defensive) IT work there, helped the FSB to penetrate the personal IT of a “foreign director of the company”. Through this, the FSB gained backdoor access to “various important institutions in the West.” Nothing so far seems to match up with this specifically.

13 (CIR 086, 26 Jul 2016). “Telegram” encryption, used by social activists, was cracked by FSB. Reported here, but not confirmed.

14 (CIR 086, 26 Jul 2016). Non-state cyber activity a problem within Russia. Central bank targeted. Organized crime also involved. A possible example of this is continuing phoned bomb threats over the last year and more. Paul Goble has covered this, for example here and here.

15a (CIR 095, no date). Well-developed “conspiracy” of cooperation between Trump campaign and Russian leadership to defeat Clinton. Paul Manafort and Carter Page, others, are intermediaries.

15b (CIR 095, no date). Russian regime behind leaks of DNC emails to Wikileaks for plausible deniability.

15c (CIR 095, no date). In return, Trump campaign agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as campaign issue and raise NATO/US defense commitments in Baltics/Europe to deflect attention from Ukraine.

The first two of these are now well established. The indictment of 12 officers of the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff (GRU) corroborates these allegations from Steele’s sources. Trump advisor Roger Stone publicly acknowledged that he had communicated with Guccifer 2.0 and was likely the unnamed individual to whom the indictment refers.  The draft statement of offense for Jerome Corsi provides more information. Details are given in the Lawfare article.

Emails between Donald Trump Jr. and Rob Goldstone, a British-born former tabloid reporter and entertainment publicist suggest connections between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Trump people intervened to make the Republican platform milder toward Russia. Carter Page called it “excellent work” in an email to Trump campaigners. No causal connection between that and the leaks of DNC emails has been established.

16 (CIR 095, no date). The intelligence network against Clinton was composed of three elements: 1) Agents/facilitators within the Democratic Party itself; 2) Russian emigre and associated offensive cyber operators in US; and 3) State-sponsored cyber operators in Russia. The mechanism for transmitting this intel involves “pension” disbursements for Russian emigres living in US as cover, using consular officials in New York, DC, and Miami. Tens of thousands of dollars involved.

The participation of state-sponsored cyber operators in Russia has been confirmed by numerous sources, including the DNI report and the indictment of 12 officers of the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff (GRU). In November 2017, BuzzFeed reported more than 60 money transfers sent by the Russian Foreign Ministry to its embassies across the globe, supposedly “to finance election campaign of 2016.”

17 (CIR 095, no date). Trump campaign was to provide info to Russia on business oligarchs and their families and activities in the US. No evidence so far.

18 (CIR 095, no date). Attention on Russia diverts press and public attention from Trump’s dealings in China and developing markets, involving bribes and kickbacks. No evidence so far, unless “developing markets” includes the Middle East, for which a great many interactions are now being documented. Other than this, the Steele dossier mentions nothing about the Middle Eastern connections to the Trump campaign that are being found. Some of those connections involve Russia as well.

19 (CIR 095, no date). Trump had gone to St. Petersburg to try to make real estate deals and had to settle for prostitutes instead. Trump’s attempts to put together a deal for a Trump Tower Moscow are now known to have extended into 2016. Michael Cohen’s statement of information explains his role in pursuing a deal to get a Trump-branded building in Moscow as late as June 2016. More detail in the Lawfare article. See claim 5 on prostitutes.

20 (CIR 94, 19 Jul 2016) and 42 (134, 18 Oct 2016). “Recent” secret meeting between Carter Page and Igor Sechin, CEO of Rosneft. Sechin raised issues of future bilateral energy cooperation and prospects of removing Ukraine-related sanctions. Page reacted positively. Page was in Russia in June 2016. Throughout his testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, Page denies he met with Russian officials. Sechin’s name comes up on p. 118 (brought up by Page). “I have never met him” (p. 136). Asked about it by WSJ on July 26, 2016 (p. 198).

21 (CIR 94, 19 Jul 2016). Igor Diveykin, senior police official in Presidential Administration, also met with Page. Diveykin brought up a kompromat file on Clinton, suggested it could be shared with Trump campaign. In his testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, Page says he met with Arkadiy Dvorkovich during his July visit to Moscow (pp. 47, 52, 71-78, 82-84,  207, 11/3/17) The Russians paid for the trip (pp. 105-108, 11/3/17) “And I immediately – you know, all these false allegations regarding Igor Sechin and Mr. Diveykin. You know, Sechin I had obviously heard of. Diveykin I had never heard of.” (p. 118, 11/3/17) Does not know Diveykin. (pp. 176-177, 240, 11/3/17) He met with Andrei Baranov in July 2016 (pp. 141-146) and in December 2016 (pp. 158-162).

Vox reports that in a memo and an email sent to Trump campaign staffers at the time, Page painted a very different of his picture of his trip. He wrote that he’d had a “private conversation” with Dvorkovich, and that he had received “insights and outreach” from several other Russian politicians.

  • Page wrote in a memo to the Trump campaign that “In a private conversation, Dvorkovich expressed strong support for Mr. Trump and a desire to work together toward devising better solutions in response to the vast range of current international problems.” (This suggests a much more substantive and lengthier interaction between Page and Dvorkovich.)
  • And on July 8, Page wrote to two Trump campaign staffers from his trip, “I’ll send you guys a readout soon regarding some incredible insights and outreach I’ve received from a few Russian legislators and senior members of the Presidential administration here.” (This suggests Page had several other Russian political contacts while he was there.)

22 (CIR 097, 30 Jul 2016).  High degree of anxiety in Trump team on disclosure of DNC emails because of accusations against them and in Kremlin because things threatened to spiral out of control. Kremlin wanted situation to calmdown  but for plausible deniability to be maintained, so situation unlikely to be ratcheted up. Kremlin has more kompromat on Clinton, but not known when it will be released, and plenty of kompromat on Trump but cooperation means it will not be released.  This is the first mention of concern about reactions to the disclosure of the emails, which were released through May. From the January 2017 intelligence report: “Russia collected on some Republican-affiliated targets but did not conduct a comparable disclosure campaign.”

23 (CIR 100, 5 Aug 2016). Sergei Ivanov, Putin’s chief of staff, felt Dmitry Peskov’s team had gone too far in interfering with foreign affairs with their “elephant in a china shop black PR”. Ivanov claimed always to have opposed this approach, advocated that Russian leadership “sit tight and deny everything.”

24 (CIR 100, 5 Aug 2016). Peskov “scared shitless” that he will be scapegoated by Putin. Ivanov determined to stop Peskov from playing independent role in relation to US.

25 (CIR 100, 5 Aug 2016). Dmitry Medvedev and colleagues want good relations with US, whoever is elected, so they can travel there, officially or privately. Refused to cover up for or support Peskov.

26 (CIR 100, 5 Aug 2016). There had been talk in the Kremlin of Trump being forced to withdraw from presidential race as a result of recent events. From the dossier, it appears that there was a difference of opinion between Ivanov and Peskov (Putin’s press secretary) about the operation, run by Peskov, to disclose the emails. On August 12, Putin fired Ivanov as chief of staff and replaced him with Anton Vaino. The firing was unexpected and unexplained. Vaino’s reputation is primarily as a bureaucrat. If the firing was over this disagreement, Putin sided with Peskov’s riskier strategy.

27 (CIR 101, 10 Aug 2016). While still technically deniable that the Kremlin is behind the leaked DNC emails, releasing more was judged too risky. Tactic now will be to spread rumors and misinformation about existing leaks and make up new content. The audience is educated American youth. The objective is to bog Clinton down as president with reconciling the American public. Despite problems, Putin was generally satisfied with results. No direct evidence, but consistent with Ivanov’s firing.

28 (CIR 101, 10 Aug 2016). Recent visits to Moscow by Jill Stein, Carter Page, Michael Flynn, and a delegation from Lyndon LaRouche were “indirectly” paid for by the Kremlin. Stein and Flynn were present at the tenth anniversary celebration of RT in December 2015, along with Putin, Ivanov, and Peskov. Stein says she paid for the trip. Flynn received a $45,000 speaking fee from RT. Page made trips to Russia in July and December 2016. No information is available on how he paid for them.

29 (CIR 102, 10 Aug 2016). Wikileaks release of DNC emails moved voters from Sanders to Trump. Trump campaign had underestimated reaction to emails, against Trump. Trump camp looking to television to remedy this. Some anger in Trump camp against Putin for overreach. No evidence for or against.

30 (CIR 136, 20 Oct 2016).  Clandestine meeting between Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and Kremlin representatives in Prague in August 2016. Rossotrudnichestvo used as cover for meeting, making it plausibly deniable while fully under state control. Konstatin Kosachev, Duma head of Foreign Relations Committee, is liaison. Cohen strongly denies such a meeting. His letter to the House Intelligence Committee. McClatchy claimed in April 2018 that the Mueller investigation has evidence that Cohen was in Prague at that time.

31 (CIR 105, 22 Aug 2016). In meeting between Putin and Victor Yanukovych on August 15, Yanukovych told Putin that he had authorized substantial kickback payments to Manafort, but left no trail. Putin and others were skeptical about Yanukovich’s ability to cover his tracks and feared the payments were a political liability. Handwritten ledgers showed $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Mr. Manafort from Mr. Yanukovych’s pro-Russian political party from 2007 to 2012, according to Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau. Investigators assert that the disbursements were part of an illegal off-the-books system whose recipients also included election officials. Trump accused Kiev of having attempted to “sabotage” his presidential campaign – a perception based in part on Ukrainian officials’ disclosures of Manfort’s alleged link to the black ledgers. Manafort’s work for, and bankrolling by, Yanukovych is at the core of the criminal charges against him—conduct he has admitted. The superseding indictment filed by Mueller’s office in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia goes into extensive detail about Manafort’s ties to Yanukovych and other Ukrainian political and business interests. (Via Lawfare)

32 (CIR 105, 22 Aug 2016). In addition to Ukraine issues, Corey Lewandowski wanted Manafort out of the Trump campaign. General rivalry between the two was widely reported. Lewandowski says Manafort wanted him out.

33 (CIR 111, 14 Sep 2016). Issue of Russian hacking has become incredibly sensitive, and Putin ordered government insiders not to discuss it in public or private. On one side were Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and an independent group headed by presidential foreign policy advisor Yuriy Ushakov, who urged caution. On the other was Ivanov backed by SVR, who urged boldness. Vaino was selected to replace Ivanov because he was not involved in the US election actions. [Note: claims 22-25 indicate that Ivanov was on the side of caution.] See discussion after claim 26.

34 (CIR 111, 14 Sep 2016). Thinking about releasing more Clinton emails. Final decision up to Putin. Growing element in Moscow’s strategy to shift consensus in Moscow’s favor no matter who won.

35 (CIR 111, 14 Sep 2016). Mikhail Kulyagin was withdrawn from Washington on short notice because of his involvement in the payment scheme for hacking. Replacement Andrei Bondarev is clean in this regard.Two people with knowledge of a multi-agency investigation into the Kremlin’s meddling have told McClatchy that Mikhail Kalugin was under scrutiny when he departed. He has been an important figure in the inquiry into how Russia bankrolled the email hacking of top Democrats and took other measures to defeat Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump capture the White House”. Kalugin denies the allegations. Same week as resignation of Michael Flynn.

36 (CIR 112, 14 Sep 2016). Leading figures in Alpha (Alfa) group were on good terms with Putin. Significant favors were done in both directions. Mikhail Fridman of Alfa Group communicates with Putin directly and via Oleg Govorun, now a senior Presidential Administration official who was the delivery boy for large amounts of illicit cash to Putin when he was mayor of St. Petersburg and also was an official of Alfa. Alfa held kompromat on Putin and his corrupt business practices from the 1990s. Fridman and others at Alfa sued Christopher Steele over the publication of the dossier; the suit was thrown out of court. No connection to this claim is obvious, but it might be noted that a strange computer link between Alfa Bank and The Trump Organization was investigated by the FBI. It’s still not clear whether the connection was significant.

37 (CIR 113, 14 Sep 2016). Trump paid bribes to further his real estate interests in Russia. Araz Agalarov would know more. BuzzFeed reported that Trump planned to give Putin a $50 million penthouse in Trump Tower Moscow.

38 (CIR 113, 14 Sep 2016). Trump participated in sex parties, but all direct witnesses had been bribed or coerced to disappear. Araz Agalarov would know more. No evidence.

39 (CIR 130, 12 Oct 2016). Putin and colleagues disappointed that Clinton’s leaked emails didn’t have more of an effect on the campaign. No evidence.

40 (CIR 130, 12 Oct 2016). More hacked emails were in the pipeline to Wikileaks, but best material was already out.

41 (CIR 130, 12 Oct 2016). Putin angry at subordinate’s overpromising on results and blowback. Russia wants to upset the global status quo, have Ukraine sanctions rolled back. No evidence for first; second is generally accepted.

42 (CIR 134, 18 Oct 2016). In their July meeting, Sechin offered Page/Trump a brokerage of 19% of privatized stake in Rosneft for lifting of sanctions against Russia. Sechin no longer believed Trump could win the presidency, so was seeking other contacts Page gave the impression that he was speaking for Trump and implied that sanctions would be lifted if Trump were president. See also claim 20.

From Page’s testimony to the House Intelligence Committee: Page had a conversation with a “junior attache” about Gazprom around March 2013. According to Page, no offer or request was made (p. 133). Owns no shares in Rosneft, did own a “small” amount in Gazprom, which he sold about the time of Harry Reid’s letter (p. 141). Did meet with Andrei Baranov in July 2016 (pp. 141-146; pp. 173-176) and December 2016 (pp. 158-162). “Had nothing to do with any Rosneft deal” (p. 173). Baranov may have mentioned sale of Rosneft in July, may have mentioned sanctions (p. 175). “Nothing even  remotely close to allegations” p. 176). Aware of Rosneft sale through the news (p. 241). “I never had any discussions with him about changing any sanctions policy or things I could conceivably do in that regard.” (p. 138)

43 (CIR 134, 18 Oct 2016). Michael Cohen played a key role in the relationship. Cohen denies; see claim 30.

44 (CIR 135, 19 Oct 2016). Cohen is secret liaison between Trump campaign and Russian leadership. Earlier, it was Manafort.  Cohen heavily engaged in damage control, met with Russian officials in an EU country in August 2016 to deal with situation around Manafort and exposure of Carter Page’s Moscow visit. Cohen denies; see claim 30.

The Kremlin farmed out activity to trusted agents of influence working in pro-government policy institutes like that of Law and Comparative Jurisprudence. Replacement of Ivanov by Vaino related to these issues. See claims 26 and 33.

45 (CIR 166, 13 Dec 2016). Cohen was accompanied by three colleagues on his trip to Prague in August 2016. The agenda was how to make deniable cash payments to hackers in Europe under Kremlin direction against the Clinton campaign. A company (name redacted) and its affiliates used botnets and porn traffic to plant bugs, transmit viruses, steal data and conduct “altering operations” against Democratic leadership. Discussions in Prague also covered contingencies if Clinton won the presidency and damage limitation re Manafort and Page. It was agreed that Romanian hackers, others, would stand down. Ivanov’s team responsible for hackers. Cohen denies; see claim 30. See also claim 15 on hacking.

 

3 comments

  1. Pingback: The Dossier Is Not the Measure of the Trump-Russia Conspiracy | emptywheel
  2. Mike McKeown · December 18

    > The “Pee Tape” has not been shown to exist
    I think there’s strong circumstantial evidence that it does. Why was trump so concerned about it?
    https://www.vox.com/2018/4/15/17233994/comey-interview-trump-pee-tape-russia

    Like

    • Cheryl Rofer · December 18

      “Strong circumstantial evidence” is less than my criteria for inclusion in the post. Trump could be concerned at being accused falsely.

      I think the “Pee Tape” gets an inordinate amount of attention because of its salacious nature. If Trump did sexual stuff in his hotel rooms in Russia, they’ve likely got tapes. If he met with suspicious people, there are probably tapes of that too. There is an enormous amount of material Russia could use to press Trump on his behavior, beyond those tapes. Trump has lied over and over again about his business relations in Russia. They have material on that too.

      So there’s plenty of kompromat. The story is far more than the “Pee Tape.”

      Like

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