Over the last few days a series of firings in the Defense Department and the National Security Agency have roiled Washington. Fears of a coup abound. But there are compelling reasons to see these firings as part of a coverup, not a coup.
First, what is being hidden is very, very big and goes to the heart of the Trump-Russia scandal. As detailed in my piece in the Byline Times, Trump, as a candidate, as President-Elect and as President tried to deliver a pro-Russian peace in Ukraine during the first months of the Trump Administration.
Other events demonstrate the GOP’s intense interest in deflecting from revelations yet to come. Today former Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe faced yet another grilling before Senator Lindsey Graham’s Judiciary Committee. There, he told the senators that he believed that the President may have “posed a danger to national security.”
But the most compelling evidence comes from the troubling personnel moves at Defense and the NSA. These recent personnel changes have one thing in common–they involve putting extreme Trump loyalists in positions of power. Three of these loyalists were directly involved in disinformation operations to hide the attempt to press Ukraine into a disadvantageous peace with Russia and to defend the President from the investigations that swirled around the President from the beginning of his single term.
Take Ezra Cohen-Watnick. Cohen-Watnick provided Congressman Devin Nunes (R-CA) with the highly-edited evidence that the GOP congressman used to launch the so-called “unmasking” scandal.
Kash Patel, a Nunes staffer, was the point man for all of Nunes’ efforts to discredit the Russia Investigation and its sequel, the impeachment of President Trump.
And the appointment of former National Security Council lawyer Michael Ellis to be the General Counsel of the National Security Agency, over the objections of its head, General Paul Nakasone is another tell. Ellis, is also a Nunes loyalist who helped Cohen-Watnick get the intelligence documents on the infamous “midnight ride” that spawned the “unmasking scandal.”
Taken together, these appointments appear to be more about about putting the evidence of Trump’s misdeeds beyond the reach of Biden officials who will be taking over the government soon. Expect more moves to come.
The origins of the Burisma disinformation campaign against Joe Biden lie in the long history of corruption in the government of Ukraine. Burisma was a natural gas development company that sought leases of gas fields in Ukraine. Its owner was oligarch Mykola Zlochevsky.
In 2010, Ukraine’s pro-Russian Party of Regions won the Presidential elections. The new President, Viktor Yanukovych, appointed Zlochevsky to be the Minister of Ecology, responsible for awarding leases of gas fields in Ukraine. Zlochevsky proceeded to give out lucrative gas licenses to several different shell companies that were subsidiaries of Burisma, his own company.
In early 2014, Yanukovych was deposed in a revolution after he ordered police to fire on protestors in Kyiv’s central square, the Maidan. Zlochevsky fled Ukraine. In April 2014, he tried to move some of his ill-gotten gains into the UK from Cyprus. The UK seized the funds. Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s office opened a case against Zlochevsky and Burisma.
Burisma needed a makeover. Its management team hired a series of new board members with international experience and reputations. One of those people was the Vice President’s son, Hunter Biden, whom the board hoped could connect the company with overseas investors. A non-executive director, Hunter Biden was also tasked with obtaining a law firm to help the company get the proposed investments from American companies. There is no evidence he ever engaged in any improper activities while on the board of Burisma.
A SEVEN MILLION DOLLAR BRIBE
The US tried to help the new Ukrainian government fight the corruption of the Yanukovych era and part of this aid included teaming up with the UK to help Ukraine to get the stolen Zlochevsky money back. The US was dismayed when despite spending half a million dollars on the effort, someone in the Prosecutor General’s Office took a $7,000,000 bribe to miss a deadline.
The State Department was unhappy and the US ambassador called out the Burisma failure and the Prosecutor General, Viktor Shokin in a speech by name. US State Department officials got the green light to condition additional aid on firing Viktor Shokin as Ukraine’s top law enforcement officer.
Vice President Joe Biden was tasked with handling diplomatic troubleshooting in several different areas of the world, including Ukraine and it fell to him to deliver the message in December 2015. He told Poroshenko the US would not approve upcoming loan guarantees for Ukraine’s government unless Shokin was fired. Poroshenko went along with Biden in the meeting, but Shokin stayed on for five more months.
THE INTERNATIONAL PLAYBOY
A few months later, In June 2016, pro-Russian Ukrainian law maker and oligarch Oleksandr Onyshchenko received a notice of suspicion from Ukraine’s Specialized Anticorrpution Prosecutor for embezzlement of funds from sales of natural gas, known as skimming. In response, Onyshchenko launched a media campaign accusing Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko as being a co-conspirator alongside himself in the large fraud perpetrated by Burisma during the previous administration. Prior to a vote to strip of him of his parliamentary immunity, he fled to Russia. The Ukrainian security services announced he was a Russian intelligence agent.
Onyshchenko considered himself an international playboy. Fortunately, he had a friend in America, his former business partner, Donald Trump, who at that very moment had won the Republican nomination for President. Onyshchenko, a pimp turned natural gas trader, had purchased the Ukrainian franchise for Trump’s Ms. Universe Pageant in the 2000’s.
Onyshchenko then left Moscow for his home in the Spanish countryside, where he settled down to a long extradition battle against Ukraine. When Onyshchenko’s friend Donald Trump won the 2016 election, Onyshchenko gave an interview to the Ukrainian publication Strana telling them he had congratulated Trump and that they were discussing the future of Ukraine and that Trump would bring peace. Onyshchenko also told Strana that the election would help his criminal case in Ukraine.
As Ukraine’s corruption investigation of Onyshchenko closed in, Onyshchenko needed that help. He turned to Russian-linked figures for help. The former media man for the Yanukovych administration, Viktor Zubritsky was tasked helping the fugitive get his message out. Zubritsky taped an interview with him where he was to detail his participation in a corrupt scheme with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
Onyshchenko’s next move was to bring his claims to America, where his friend and former business partner was the President-elect. His lawyer reached out to the FBI. An FBI agent was sent to Spain to interview Onyshchenko in late November. He then told the Ukrainian Press that he had recorded Petro Poroshenko in corruption using his watch.
On December 1, 2016, Ukraine indicted Onyshchenko in absentia. He also soon learned that the FBI had declined to open an investigation based on his interview.
But the interview with Zubritsky leaked, and the b-roll showed Zubritsky coaching Onyshchenko’s on his claims about being involved in Burisma corruption with Poroshenko. On December 15th, Ukrainian publication Obzervatel revealed the video. Onyshchenko did not know the details of his claims about Poroshenko and was prompted by Zubritsky to make a series of claims including to say he feared for his life. In response to Zubritsky’s complaint that Onyshchenko did not have the detail needed, the fugitive responded that details were known by a reporter, he told Zubrkitsky. The video never aired.
THE BEGINNING OF THE DISINFORMATION CAMPAIGN AGAINST JOE BIDEN
In the run-up to the 2020 election, Joe Biden wrote a book, Promise Me Dad about the death of his son Beau and the year of grief that followed. He also wrote an article about how to handle Putin with a colleague and appeared at the Council of Foreign Affairs to give a talk about it in early 2018. At the talk, Biden recounted pressuring Ukraine to fire Shokin. “Well son of a bitch” Biden exclaimed “He got fired.”
Biden’s words caused a stir in Ukraine. Viktor Shokin, in the midst of a court battle to regain his job as Prosecutor General, saw opportunity and gave interviews complaining of the unjust treatment he received.
Oleksandr Onyshchenko also saw opportunity in Biden’s words. On April 19, 2018, Onyshchenko provided a recording to Ukraine’s 1+1 TV. He alleged it recorded a call between himself and Petro Poroshenko. In it, Onyshchenko discusses entering into business with Zlochevsky and Burisma. When Poroshenko states that the Americans have been on his case in regards to Zlochevsky, Onyshchenko tells President Poroshenko that the U.S. will not interfere in the case because the son of “Senator Joe Biden” plays a significant role in the company’s business. It was the start of the disinformation campaign against Biden. The story was that Biden had forced Shokin from office to protect Burisma to help his son Hunter. The story, however, was false: the underlying story of tale corruption between Poroshenko and Onyshchenko was Russian disinformation.
The Ukrainian government announced the tape had evidence of tampering and that Onyshchenko was trying to avoid prosecution. Onyshchenko soon found that the tape of him being coached had permanently discredited him amongst Ukrainians. But these allegations would again surface a year later, this time in the hands of Rudy Giuliani.
On December 5th, 2018, Giuliani, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman met with the President. According to Parnas, the President gave them a task—to go on a “secret mission” to pressure the Ukrainian government into investigating Joe and Hunter Biden. It was the beginning of the Zelenskyy Affair. Nine months later, these accusations would explode into the Impeachment of Donald Trump.
THE BLACK LEDGER: HOW TRUMP BROUGHT PUTIN’S DISINFORMATION WAR TO AMERICA
Adapted from Chapter 1 “All Decided in the Back Room” of The Black Ledger: How Trump Brought Putin’s Disinformation War to America
Today many news watchers have commented on Michigan Governor Whitmer’s fierce sign-language translator who boldly signed out the Governor’s disdain for the White supremacists who were arrested by the FBI for their role in a plot against her. An incident in Ukraine during its Orange Revolution in 2004. In some ways, that incident was the tipping point that led to the revolution and set off the chain of events that led to The Black Ledger and the 2016 Russian interference campaign against US elections.
In 2004, when Viktor Yanukovych first ran for president of Ukraine, his Party of Regions was caught attempting to rig the vote count by Western election observers. Russia had been involved in it all, helping Yanukovych stuff ballot boxes and intimidate voters and election monitors. Worse, Yanukovych’s opponent Viktor Yushchenko was poisoned with dioxin weeks before the election. These efforts to rig the election failed. As a news anchor went on television to announce a Yanukovych victory, the sign language interpreter defiantly signed: “I address all deaf viewers. Yushchenko is our President. Do not believe the Electoral Commission. They are lying.” The event was a turning point.
Armed with data from Western election monitors, Yushchenko and his political ally, Yulia Tymoshenko, sent orange-clad supporters en masse on to the Maidan, the central square of Kyiv, to protest the announced election results. The political upheaval that followed was called the Orange Revolution. Protestors on the Maidan forced a new, fair election that Yanukovych lost. Yushchenko was elevated to the presidency and Tymoshenko became prime minister of Ukraine.
Discovery of Russia’s deep involvement in Ukraine’s 2004 election, and their interference on behalf of the Party of Regions, created what one report called “severe blowback” for Russia.
The Orange Revolution would be key to the future of Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine. Putin would order Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska to prevent further “color revolutions” and to rehabilitate Viktor Yanukovych by hiring Paul Manafort.
On June 23, 2005, Manafort and his partner Rick Davis sent Deripaska a strategy memo for what Manafort called “our program.” It was to be a broad system of political, lobbying, and legal efforts to restore the Party of Regions to prominence in Ukraine.The memo outlined a strategy to “subtly influence the perceptions” of the West to provide “an acceptable explanation for actions by governments not totally in concert with Western thinking.”
The memo outlined the purpose of the plan:
to create . . . the protections needed to ensure the avoidance of Orange Revolutions becoming acceptable in the West. The key is to understand the West and to use their tools to deal with the specific problems in ways that the West believes is in concert with them. Rather than attacking the West, the correct strategy can be created to embrace the West and in so doing restrict their options to ferment [sic] an atmosphere that gives hope to potential advocates of a different way.
Manafort was confident of the plan’s success in Ukraine and argued in his memo this method could be used beyond Ukraine: “We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitments to success.” The plan was approved.
Manafort would succeed. Yanukovych would be elected President in 2010. After 2010, Yanukovych would move to control Ukraine via a bribery-and-influence scheme paid for with $4 billion in Russian funds skimmed from the natural gas that powered Ukraine. That scheme was recorded in the Black Ledger. After Yanukovych was deposed during the EuroMaidain revolution in 2014, Russia sought to recover its position in Ukraine via the election of Donald Trump. But for one moment in 2004, a sign language translator played a huge role on Ukraine’s national stage.
The Black Ledger: How Trump Brought Putin’s Disinformation War to America
Four years ago today was one of the most eventful days in Presidential campaign history–three events, the revelation that Putin had personally ordered the March 2016 hack of the DNC, the revelation of the Access Hollywood tape and the release of John Podesta’s emails–shaped the final four weeks of the 2016 struggle for the Presidency. It seems scarcely possible a day like this could happen again.
“For Immediate Release,” the press release read, “The US Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of emails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations.” The intelligence community was announcing that Russia was interfering in the presidential election. The release continued: “Recent disclosures of alleged hacked emails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts.” It was early on October 7, 2016.
But due to events ten years in the past, the Trump campaign would scarcely have time to respond. Roger Stone had information for Jerome Corsi—a videotape of Donald Trump making crude and sexist remarks about women was about to be released to the public. Corsi suggested that Stone tell WikiLeaks to immediately release the Podesta emails.
Corsi told a conference call with the staff of right-wing tabloid World Net Daily that a tape featuring Trump making crude remarks was about to leak, and he urged the online site’s staff to reach Assange immediately to have the Podesta emails released.
It turned out that the tape of Donald Trump on a hot mic making a series of lewd comments about women had been sitting in the vaults of NBC Universal’s television show Access Hollywood for years. Three days earlier, a staffer for the show had remembered the tape and a producer went to dig it up. NBC debated for days what to do with the tape, finally making a decision on the morning of Friday, October 7. Access Hollywood prepared a story to air on Monday, the day after the second presidential debate.
Fate would not spare Trump the weekend. A source called the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold, whose relentless pursuit of Trump’s finances would later win him the Pulitzer Prize. The source asked him if he wanted to watch previously unaired footage of Donald Trump. Within minutes, the reporter was on the telephone with NBC, Access Hollywood, and the Trump campaign.
Hope Hicks burst into a debate prep session for the candidate with Rudy Giuliani, Chris Christie and Kellyanne Conway. Hicks showed Jason Miller an email from Fahrenthold and the campaign went into damage control mode. The team pushed back, demanding a copy of the tape, but settled for a rough transcript. NBC readied a story for air, as the Post raced to get its tip on the internet, a race Fahrenthold won, at 4 p.m.
As negative reactions to Trump’s lewd and offensive comments poured in, WikiLeaks and the Internet Research Agency (IRA) sprang into action to try and save his candidacy. Within an hour, WikiLeaks released the first of the Podesta emails stolen by the GRU. The Translator Department was actually ahead of the game. In preparation for their own October surprise, the tweets at the IRA peaked the day before. The Russians moved quickly to draw attention to the Podesta release.
As many Republicans prepared to jump ship, one stood up for Donald Trump. That Sunday, Rudy Giuliani appeared on all four Sunday morning national news programs. Donald Trump never forgot it.
Will we see a day like October 7, 2016 this year? It seems scarcely possible that three October surprises on the same day could happen again. But as Konstantin Kilimnik told an associate in April of that year “there could be surprises, even in American politics.”
Buried in Volume 5 of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election was a new revelation—Intercepts of Russian Intelligence Officer Konstantin Kilimnik showed that it was Paul Manafort’s “хитрый план” or “cunning plan” to “screw Clinton” based on “surprises” that had been at the core of the 2016 Trump campaign’s strategy. In the new world of intelligence, spies’ briefcases were more likely to carry sophisticated polling results than secret radios to call Moscow. The plans to hack Clinton were devised by Trump’s campaign manager, not Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Manafort had been Kilimnik’s one-time boss in the business of advancing Russia’s interests via a series of pro-Russian candidates throughout the world. Kilimnik explained Manafort’s skill to a reporter: “Manafort is a guy who can merge, you know, strategy and messages into something that will work for victory.” “I’ve seen him work in different countries,” Kilimnik continued, “and . . . he really does take seriously his polling and can spend, you know, two weeks going through the data, and he’ll come [up] with the best strategy you can ever have.”
Manafort’s gifts tended towards political division. He had masterminded Ronald Reagan’s infamous speech to resentful Whites in Neshoba Mississippi in 1980. Reagan cracked the Solid South for Republicans once and for all that fall.
The Therm Poll
It is not a surprise, then, that Manafort’s plan for Trump involved stoking Clinton’s negatives amongst White males in the Upper Midwest. Manafort explained the plan in detail to Kilimnik in August, 2016:
Because Clinton’s negatives were so low [sic]—if they could focus on her negatives they could win the election. Manafort discussed the Fabrizio internal Trump polling data with Kilimnik, and explained that Fabrizio’s polling numbers showed that the Clinton negatives, referred to as a ‘therm poll,’ were high. Thus, based on this polling there was a chance Trump could win.
The tool to do this was to focus media coverage of the campaign on Hillary Clinton’s emails. In 2015, House Republican investigators digging into Benghazi learned she had run a private email server out of her home for some of her official email traffic as Secretary of State. Clinton insisted there was no classified information on the servers but that July, the State Department Inspector General found there had been classified information on the server.
With these facts in hand, Manafort began reaching out to the Trump campaign for work in January 2016. At the same time, pro-Russian politicians such as Serhii Lyovochkin told GOP lobbyist Sam Patten he believed Trump was going to hire Paul Manafort to run his campaign. The Russian intelligence officer, Konstantin Kilimnik, was even more confident, telling Patten it was “likely” that Manafort would be Trump’s campaign manager.
Manafort reached out to a common friend of his and Trump’s to make his case—Lebanese-American magnate Tom Barrack. At a January 30, 2016 meeting with Barrack, Manafort asked the Trump confidant to try and get him on to the Trump campaign.
Barrack obliged, bringing Manafort up twice in February to Trump. Manafort prepared strategy memos to convince Trump. Barrack forwarded them to Trump’s longtime personal assistant Rhona Graff, Ivanka Trump, and Jared Kushner. In the email, Barrack explained why they should make the hire: “Manafort is a genius killer,” he insisted. Ivanka promised to show Donald Trump the email after Super Tuesday in early March. She printed out a copy of the email from Barrack and attached a note: “Daddy, Tom says we should get Paul.”
Russia Responds to the Hiring of Paul Manafort
Eleven days later, Major Boris Antonov of the GRU ordered Fancy Bear, the Russian GRU’s infamous hack-and-dump outfit to prepare to steal emails belonging to Hillary Clinton.
Barrack then met with Trump to push the Manafort hire. Eventually after being told that Manafort would be “non-paid,” the candidate was convinced. According to Barrack, Manafort offering to work for free “were the magic words
On the evening of March 16th, 2016, Donald Trump personally called Manafort and asked him to run the delegate process for him. Manafort emailed Barrack that evening: “You’re the Best!” read the subject line. “We are going to have so much fun and change the world in the process” Manafort gushed.
Three days later, at 11:28 a.m. Moscow time, Fancy Bear launched its attack against the Clinton campaign.
Manafort’s hire was announced on March 28. Immediately after the announcement Konstantin Kilimnik emailed Sam Patten and rubbed it in. Manafort was running the Trump campaign. By early April, Manafort’s daughter texted her sister: “Dad and Trump are literally living in the same building and mom says they go up and down all day long hanging and plotting together.”
The Cunning Plan Succeeds
We cannot know exactly how the theft of the Clinton emails affected the minds of individual voters, but the media effect of the email hack is undeniable. It drove political coverage. The Berkman-Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard measured the media impact of disinformation in a 2017 report.
The Center’s verdict was unambiguous. “Donald Trump succeeded in shaping the election agenda. Coverage of Trump overwhelmingly outperformed coverage of Clinton. Clinton’s coverage was focused on scandals, while Trump’s coverage focused on his core issues.”
Clinton’s emails outpaced all other campaign stories in total sentences written with nearly 70,000. The next closest were stories regarding Trump’s hardline immigration stance with 40,000. There were over 100,000 references to Clinton scandals in media coverage, far ahead of the 80,000 or so references to Trump’s policies.
The email hack implied to the media that there was in fact, something hidden within the DNC emails. It drove the media towards the Clinton email scandal like moths to the flame. The words “Clinton” and “emails” became fused in the minds of the media. The result was a storm of media coverage on Clinton’s emails. When FBI Director Jim Comey announced in late October that more Clinton emails were found and under investigation, Clinton’s poll numbers dropped.
As we enter the final month of the 2020 campaign, the Russians are at it again. Using disinformation sourced by Rudy Giuliani to pro-Russian Ukrainian figures, the 2020 Trump campaign hopes to replicate Manafort’s plan, this time falsely accusing Biden of misconduct in office relating to his work for the Obama Administration. America waits to see the results.
Yesterday, Lindsey Graham wanted the public to know that in 2009, the FBI investigated the primary sub-source of information from the Steele Dossier as a possible Russian intelligence asset. He did not want to let you know what the results of that investigation were. Most importantly, he does not want you to know about the secret effort the GOP undertook to out and then smear Steele and this sub-source. Until yesterday we did not know what the smear was regarding this sub-source. The answer Graham provided was the fact that the sub-source had a lot of contacts with Russian counter-intelligence officers and that the FBI had investigated if that meant that the sub-source was a Russian Intelligence asset. Senator Graham has chosen not to inform us more.
The origin story of the efforts to smear the sub-source stretch back nearly four years. In mid-November 2016, David Kramer, a Director of the McCain Institute was attending the Halifax International Security Conference. Sir Andrew Wood, former UK Ambassador to Russia pulled him aside and told him he recently had become aware of some troubling information developed by Orbis Intelligence in the UK. Wood was an informal advisor to one of its principals, former MI-6 Russia Desk head, Christopher Steele. Steele, Sir Andrew said, had discovered that the Russian government may have potentially compromising material on the President-Elect in the form of a tape involving prostitutes and that evidence existed that the Trump Campaign had colluded with the Russian interference campaign in the 2016 election.
McCain, Kramer, Wood and McCain’s Chief-of-Staff Chris Brose met in a room where Sir Andrew explained what he knew of the Steele Dossier. McCain, alarmed, turned to Kramer and asked him to fly to London to meet with Steele.
“I’m in a blue jacket holding a Financial Times.”
Sir Andrew told Kramer that he would be contacted upon arrival in London. Kramer booked a flight with his own miles. Upon landing, Kramer received a text from a number: “I’m in a blue jacket holding a Financial Times.” Steele was ever the spy. After meeting, the two drove to Steele’s suburban home and sat down. Two documents were on the table the Steele Dossier and a list of the sources identified by letter in Dossier. Four names were Russian, and one was “from the region.” He recognized two of them as “serious people.”
Steele expressed that the information needed to be verified. Steele told Kramer that he would arrange for Kramer to get a copy in the United States. Steele was worried because he had heard nothing from the FBI for months. Kramer met the next day with Steele’s client, Glenn Simpson, the owner of Fusion GPS who gave Kramer a copy of the dossier. McCain and Kramer met the next day. McCain asked Kramer what he should do. Kramer said he should give it to the head of the CIA and the Director of the FBI.
In a series of phone calls to Kramer, Steele admitted there were two things he was concerned might not be correct in the dossier–that Cohen had met in Prague and which of Cohen’s relatives connected him to Ukraine. The meeting may have been in Czech countryside or even in Budapest and it could be Cohen’s father-in-law who had connections to Ukraine.
Steele also told Kramer in these conversations that some information was not in the Dossier—that General Flynn had had an extramarital affair with a Russian woman in London and that the Russians may have another compromising tape of Trump.
In late December, Steele asked if it would be OK if Kramer met with Buzzfeed’s Ken Bensinger and CNN’s Carl Bernstein. Kramer agreed. Bensinger met with Kramer in Washington and asked he could take photos of the Dossier. Kramer declined. Bensinger read it slowly and Kramer eventually left the room to make a phone call.
On January 10, 2017, Buzzfeed published the Steele Dossier. The story included photographs of the Dossier taken by Bensinger. Kramer was furious and asked if the photographs could be taken down because “you’re going to get people killed.”
“Junior Varsity Gamesmanship”
In late 2017, the GOP-led House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence was conducting a fractious inquiry into the Russian active measures operation against the U.S Presidential election. Although Chair Devin Nunes had technically recused himself from the inquiry, unusually, he had retained subpoena power in the investigation.
David Kramer had been asked to testify in the probe and was represented by Larry Robbins a lawyer who and had been around the Washington investigation game for years. Kramer was appearing voluntarily.
Kramer told his story of meeting Sir Andrew and then his travel to meet Steele. He admitted he was a “Never Trumper” Republican.
Committee Chair K. Michael Conaway asked about the Buzzfeed article and Robbins told the Committee he feared leaks which would draw Kramer into libel cases involving the Dossier. Conaway reassured him: “the transcript will remain executive session material.” Kramer then recounted the story of how Buzzfeed got the Dossier.
Kramer told of Steele’s insistence that the material in the Dossier needed to be verified and his concerns about the Cohen information in the dossier. Schiff pointedly asked him if the Budapest information that triggered any associations and Kramer alluded to the fact that Carter Page had mentioned being in Budapest at the same time.
The Committee majority then turned to their real goal—the sources of the Dossier. They appeared to have information held in confidence they wanted released. Robbins expressed concern physical danger to Kramer and those he might name. Conaway insisted that “we all have concern for people’s lives.” Conaway backed off when Schiff mentioned Kramer was appearing voluntarily, but the Chair stated the Committee reserved the right to subpoena the witness.
Less than an hour after the interview ended later the first leak hit the Internet from the Hill’s Katie Bo Williams. Michael Cohen’s defense counsel, Stephen Ryan contacted Robbins and told that a “little birdie” from the House had informed him that some parts of the Steele Dossier involving Michael Cohen might be inaccurate and asked that Robbins help Cohen’s defense by writing a letter to the Committee. Robbins responded by asking Ryan if he would mind disclosing his source. Ryan declined.
Robbins refused to confirm or deny anything regarding Kramer’s testimony and refused to write a letter to the Committee. Ryan then asked that the call be kept from the Committee. Robbins said he would do what was in his client’s best interest. Robbins wrote a letter to the Committee asking for an investigation of the leakers.
At 2:49 on December 27th Robbins was served with subpoena from the Committee for Kramer, signed by Devin Nunes. The committee only wanted one thing: the names of Christopher Steele’s sources. Exactly ten minutes later Byron York published a story in the Washington Examiner detailing Kramer, the subpoenas and the Committee’s desire to know the names of Steele’s sources. York wrote that some on the Committee had a new theory which absolved Trump and they needed the names to confirm it. We learned yesterday that this theory revolved around the prior FBI counter-intelligence investigation of Steele’s primary sub-source.
Robbins asked Kash Patel for more time to appear based on his upcoming cancer treatments and Patel told him he would move the testimony by one day—Robbins replied he would like to have the day before the treatments off. Committee staff began negotiating for a new date, but surprised Robbins the evening prior to the hearing with notice that Kramer must appear the next day.
Kramer took the first flight to Washington and Robbins wrote a twelve-page letter to the Committee on the reasons why his client should not be forced to answer the “one remaining question” of the Committee. At the hearing Conaway admitted that he did not expect the witness to appear due to Robbins’ cancer treatments.
Robbins expressed dismay at the leaks, calling it “junior varsity gamesmanship” designed to “to tell some false narrative to the press about Mr. Kramer’s unwillingness to cooperate with this committee.”
Robbins then argued the subpoena should be withdrawn because it could endanger the lives of his client and the sub-sources. Robbins final argument: Donald Trump could not be counted to act lawfully with his control of government: “the President of the United States, has repeatedly characterized the dossier and its dissemination as a hoax . . .He has said that the Justice Department is within his control. . . recent events disclose that the Justice Department is responsive to the suggestions of the President.” Robbins argued the President and the Justice Department could not be trusted to not engage in illegal political prosecution.
Acting Chairman Conaway recessed to huddle with his lawyers. Returning, Conaway allowed the witness to take the Fifth and the Committee’s lawyer said the Chair could rule Kramer’s invocation of his right not to incriminate himself out of order and demand the names. That later date never came. On March 7th, 2017, CNN ran a story stating testimony was leaked to Cohen’s lawyer. Conaway’s spokesperson called the charges “unequivocally false,” but the committee backed off. More details regarding the sub-source have dribbled out over this summer. Until yesterday, the specific reasons for why the sub-source was a target were not announced. Now, we know.
Copyright 2020 by Cobra y Craneo, Inc. All Rights Reserved
“The Black Ledger: How Trump Brought Putin’s Disinformation War to America. @BlackLedgerBook
Just in time to counter the false narratives of Ron Johnson and Rudy Giuliani, The Black Ledger chronicles the efforts of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin to bring the politics of disinformation from Ukraine and Russia to America in the 2016 election, while also revealing the full story behind four years of political warfare as Americans prepare to vote again in 2020.
This is the first book to offer a coherent narrative of the Russian interference campaign in 2016 and its Ukrainian sequel. It fully illuminates these events, and explains what motivated the key players—Paul Manafort, Putin, Trump and the Ukrainian figures pulled into American politics. From the Russian interference campaign to the Republicans’ defense of the four Russia investigations to Trump’s use of disinformation that led to his 2019 impeachment, The Black Ledger: How Trump Brought Putin’s Disinformation War to Americaincorporates the most current information—such as the recent release of Volume 5 of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee Report. The book presents the never-before understood secrets of the saga of Paul Manafort, Donald Trump, and Vladimir Putin.
Advance praise for The Black Ledger:
“In Ukraine, nothing is ever as it seems. In his meticulously researched investigation, Rob Waldeck examines the murky intersection where the Trump presidency collides with the world of Ukrainian-Russian political intrigue and corruption. Waldeck brings to light much of the backstory that contributed to the impeachment of Donald Trump. As this timely book suggests, that episode may be only the tip of the iceberg.”—Linda Feldmann, White House Bureau Chief, Christian Science Monitor
“Will be an absolute must-read for future historians, and for plenty of others who are still trying to figure out what the heck happened during impeachment, and how it all connected together.”—Casey Michel, Journalist, author of the forthcoming AMERICAN KLEPTOCRACY
In an interview last fall, Ukrainian Trump fixer Andrii Derkach gave an interview in which he told the truth about what’s happened to the politics of his country and the U.S.: “Since 2016, Ukraine has been at the center of domestic politics and the political confrontation of its strategic partner, the United States” and the result has been a “series of international scandals and corruption, in which some representatives of law enforcement and diplomatic bodies of the two countries are mired.”
The first sign that Ukraine week is about to unfold is that Trump’s friends are being protected from prosecution.
Yesterday, the new powers-that-be in the Southern District of New York took a cue from Attorney General William Barr and rewrote the history of the campaign to smear Joe Biden by filing a superceding indictment of Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. The prosecution took out all references to Rudy Giuliani and the campaign he helped orchestrate to remove Ambassador Yovanovitch; the prosecutors claim a flimsy reason: “streamlining” the facts. Also gone from the indictment is Congressman-1, Pete Sessions, tossed by voters from his suburban Dallas seat, now running for the safer TX-17 seat in Waco. Rudy is off the hook.
Bigger still are the huge changes that occurred yesterday in Ukraine. The Constitutional Court gutted the National Anticorruption Bureau of Ukraine, known as NABU, the only governmental force that emerged from the 2014 Package of Reforms passed by the Ukrainian Parliament that’s consistently fought corruption in recent years. Late last month, the same court declared the appointment of NABU’s Director, Artem Sytnyk invalid. These changes mean that the forces behind corruption in Ukraine are moving to eliminate their opponents in the last days of Trump’s term, perhaps expecting a Biden win. It is time for the chips to be cashed in. Don’t be surprised by a sudden peace before the end of the year between Ukraine and Russia which recognizes Crimea as Russian. If it happens, Trump will try and drop sanctions as what might be a final payoff to Putin and his associates.
The final piece we are likely tosee from the Trump camp is something out of the Durham investigation, Barr’s wished-for probe to discredit the Mueller Investigation. Last week, Senator Lindsey Graham told supporters to wait 10 or 12 days for something from the Durham probe.
The Black Ledger: How Trump Brought Putin’s Disinformation War to America will be out next week, just in time to give you the whole story behind the last five years of disinformation spread by Putin, Trump-friendly Ukrainians, and the president himself, who faces a reckoning with voters November 3.
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