Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Deripaska Could Spell Big Trouble For The FBI--And Team Mueller

John Solomon apparently decided to come out with his latest bombshell before the 4th of July holiday. It's in the Hill tonight, based on Solomon's interview of Oleg Deripaska: Russian oligarch's story could spell trouble for Team Mueller.

Deripaska, of course, is the Russian former aluminum magnate and close associate of Vladimir Putin. Deripaska's past connections to the FBI, Christopher Steele, and Bruce Ohr are fairly well known. Basically, during the years 2008-2009 the FBI under then Director Robert Mueller approached Deripaska for assistance in trying to obtain the release of retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, who was being detained in Iran. Deripaska spent upwards of $20 million of his own money in the attempt, which was ultimately unsuccessful. Deripaska also had business dealings with Paul Manafort, but had fallen out with him.

Deripaska's business and legal affairs are too complicated to go into in detail at this time. Briefly, however, in the period leading up to the 2016 election Deripaska was seeking to regularize his visa situation to allow him to travel more freely to the US. He was employing Chris Steele and a lawyer named Adam Waldman in that effort, and Waldman was also representing Julian Assange as well as serving as a go between among these players for Dem senator Mark Warner. Bruce Ohr was handling the Deripaska matter at DoJ. Complicated yet? You can get the details in this article by Jeff Carlson: Manafort’s Deripaska Connections and Waldman’s Role in the Assange Negotiations.

For our purposes, what's important is that the FBI attempted to use Deripaska's visa situation to obtain information from him, and to that end the FBI contacted Deripaska twice during the period 2015-2016. The 2016 contact took place in September, which means that it took place a month or so after Crossfire Hurrican was opened (July 31, 2016) and a month or so before the FBI obtained its FISA on Carter Page--late October, 2016. Here's Solomon's account of what Deripaska told him about that interview:

In a wide-ranging interview with me, Deripaska confirmed a story told to me more than a year ago by law enforcement sources: He was indeed interviewed by FBI agents in September 2016 during the early Russia probe, and he told them he strongly doubted the bureau’s theory that the Trump campaign, through Manafort, was colluding with Moscow to hijack the 2016 election.

Earlier accounts had it that Deripaska laughed at the FBI agents, considering their theory to be totally harebrained. To put this into proper perspective we need review just what Crossfire Hurricane purported to be about.

According to the Congressional testimony of disgraced former FBI Director James Comey, Crossfire Hurricane was an "enterprise" counterintelligence investigation of four Americans. Those four Americans were Paul Manafort, Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, and Michael Flynn. In other words, the FBI maintained that these four Americans were working in concert as an "enterprise" within the Trump campaign. The purpose of this "enterprise" was, allegedly, to obtain assistance for the Trump campaign from Putin's Russia. Dirt on Hillary. The "evidence" for this was the narrative presented in Steele's "dossier" reports, which maintained that Manafort was the mastermind and that Carter Page was the courier who traveled back and forth between Russia and the US.

With that in mind, we see the following events in the very tight time frame from July 31 to October 23, 2016:

The FBI opens Crossfire Hurricane, alleging that Manafort and Page are facilitating Trump's "collusion" with Russia to flip the election in Trump's direction. 
The FBI contacts Deripaska, who points out that, while he has no particular liking for Manafort and is, in fact, suing Manafort, the idea of Manafort being engaged in such a "collusion" operation is laughable. 
The FBI gets a FISA on Carter Page, Manafort's alleged right hand man, based on the theory of Russian "collusion" as outlined above.

Two things should jump out from this. The first is that Deripaska's statements to the FBI directly undercut the entire basis for the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. The second is that Deripaska's statements also, ipso facto, undercut the basis for the Carter Page FISA. You have to ask yourself, if the FBI trusted Deripaska enough to ask him for help in the Levinson case, should they not have taken his statements about Manafort seriously? Did they, for example, make Deripaska's views known to the FISA court? I'm guessing they didn't, and that's a very big deal.

And then there's this. The Team Mueller inquisition, by the terms of Rod Rosenstein's authorization letter, was a continuation of Crossfire Hurricane. But we've already seen that the basis for Crossfire Hurricane is seriously undercut by Deripaska's statements.  And it leads to some very interesting questions:

Did the FBI make Rosenstein aware of Deripaska's statements?  
Certainly Andrew McCabe and Peter Strzok were aware of Deripaska's statements. When they met with Bruce Ohr and Andrew Weissmann in late September or early October to plan strategy for Crossfire Hurricane, did they share that information with them? I believe they did, because of Ohr's close association with the Deripaska visa matter.
When Mueller asked Rosenstein for a scope memo to expand his inquisition regarding Manafort, did Mueller rely at all on the notion that Manafort had "colluded" with Putin's Russia--and did anyone raise the issue of Deripaska's views on that score?

Suppose someone objects--so what if Deripaska said the whole story about Manafort was ridiculous? Why should his views carry any weight? Solomon asks and answers that question:

OK, so why should you care if a Russian denied Trump campaign collusion with Russia during the election? 
First, Deripaska wasn’t just any Russian. He was closely aligned with Putin and had been helpful to the FBI as far back as 2009. So he had earned some trust with the agents.

I believe Solomon is right. At the very least the FBI, confronted by Deripaska's strong statements that their theory made no sense, should have backed off from their Full Investigation, bumped it down to a Preliminary Investigation at most, and dropped the Carter Page FISA application.

It all looks very bad, because Solomon has confirmed that in fact Team Mueller did claim that they were investigating Manafort because of claimed "collusion". In addition, it turns out that Team Mueller never made Deripaska's statements known to Manafort. If Team Mueller obtained search warrants, for example, based on claims of "collusion," knowing that Deripaska, a reliable source, had derided the entire notion ... uh oh. Here's Solomon's summary of that angle:

Most importantly, Deripaska’s interview with the FBI reportedly was never provided by Team Mueller to Manafort’s lawyers, even though it was potential proof of innocence, according to Manafort defense lawyer Kevin Downing. Manafort, initially investigated for collusion, was convicted on tax and lobbying violations unrelated to the Russia case. 
That omission opens a possible door for appeal for what is known as a Brady violation, for hiding exculpatory information from a defendant. 
“Recent revelations by The Hill prove that the Office of Special Counsel’s (OSC) claim that they had a legitimate basis to include Paul Manafort in an investigation of potential collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and the Russian government is false,” Downing told me. “The failure to disclose this information to Manafort, the courts, or the public reaffirms that the OSC did not have a legitimate basis to investigate Manafort, and may prove that the OSC had no legitimate basis to investigate potential collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and the Russian government.”

There can be no doubt that Bill Barr and John Durham are fully aware of all these matters. I assume Barr and Durham will take a keen interest in Mueller's testimony before Congress. The list of questions that the GOP will want to ask Mueller keeps getting longer.


  1. I don't see anything new in this story about the FBI's questioning of Deripaska. The only new thing is that Solomon himself now has interviewed Deripaska, who confirmed to him information that is publicly known.

    I also do not see any Brady violation. Manafort was prosecuted for tax violations. In such a prosecution, why is Deripaska's information relevant?

    What interests me here is whether the FBI

    * really thought that Manafort was involved in the alleged "enterprise?

    ... or else ....

    * was luring Deripaska into providing false information that Manafort was involved in the alleged "enterprise".

    In the latter case, Deripaska might receive a travel visa if he provided false statements about Manafort or if he arranged to frame Manafort in a future operation.

    1. I agree that we already knew about the contacts with Deripaska and that he derided the whole notion. However bringing out how this ties in directly central aspects of the Russia Hoax is important.

      I'll admit that, for all the time I spent talking about probable cause and the Carter Page FISA, I never tied Deripaska into that. The thing is, the longer the basic Crossfire Hurricane investigation went on, the more relevant Deripaska's claims that it was all nonsense become. Crucially, by the time Mueller got the SC gig Deripaska's claim that (in Strzok's words) there was "no there there" should have been viewed as confirmed.

      I agree that the Brady angle that Solomon tries to work is problematic--note that Downing, as quoted, doesn't mention Brady. That's why, like Downing apparently, I restricted my comments to the likely concealment of Deripaska's statements when presenting Weissmann's trademark "collusion narrative" as preambles to requests for search warrants and indictments.

      Opening an investigation on premises known to be doubtful or even debunked could be very important. That, of course, is at the heart of what I've been hammering at. Bringing in Deripaska strengthens that whole contention significantly because of his past close cooperation with the US government. I think his statements gain greatly in credibility with the new revelations about the role of Ukraine in the election--all of which was well known to the FBI at the time that they spoke to Deripaska.

  2. Deripaska wasn’t just any Russian. He was closely aligned with Putin

    I am not aware of any evidence that Deripaska is "closely aligned with Putin".

    Every so-called "oligarch" is "closely aligned with Putin" -- according to James Clapper and his ilk.

    Is the USA's oligarch Bill Gates "closely aligned" with President Donald Trump? After all, Gates is a rich businessman. Doesn't that prove that he is a close confidant and loyal collaborator of the US President?

    1. Wikipedia cites the Wikileaked US diplomatic cables for the contention that Deripaska have a close working relationship.

      The point Solomon is making is not to discredit Deripaska by saying, hey, he's close to Putin = bad, bad, bad.

      Solomon is reflecting Deripaska's own point, which was, Look, if anyone in Russia wanted to use Manafort for political purposes they'd come to me first because they know my links to Manafort and my distrust of Manafort. Further, as someone "close" to Putin, Deripaska would also know Putin's views on Manafort's work in Ukraine, which (contrary to Clapper and his ilk) was not in Russia's interests.

    2. Your Wikipedia link leads to a paragraph that includes the following sentence:

      Leaked U.S. diplomatic cables from 2006 described Deripaska as "among the 2-3 oligarchs Putin turns to on a regular basis" and "a more-or-less permanent fixture on Putin's trips abroad"

      That sentence's link leads to a Wikipedia article titled United States diplomatic cables leak. Although the article is quite long, it does not include the word "Deripaska".

      That sentence in the first Wikipedia article cites a footnote #108, which refers to an Associated Press article, titled AP findings on Trump associate’s work for Russian oligarch.

      In my opinion, the AP article is tendentious.

      Back in 2005, Manafort proposed a consulting contract to Deripaska. Manafort's puffery of his proposed contract promised "to re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government.”

      That is half of the AP article's evidence that Deripaska was "closely aligned with Putin".

      The other half of the evidence is that ...

      U.S. diplomatic cables from 2006 described Deripaska as “among the 2-3 oligarchs Putin turns to on a regular basis” and “a more-or-less permanent fixture on Putin’s trips abroad.”

      I assume that there was such a cable in the year 2006, but I am skeptical about its reliability and significance. I would like to see the entire cable.

    3. Mike, you're entitled to your skepticism, but I think you're tilting at windmills.

      For starters, contrary to what you say, it isn't AP that tendentiously claims that Deripaska is "closely aligned with Putin." That's Solomon's probably somewhat careless phrase.

      Beyond that, given that Deripaska was once the wealthiest man in Russia, it would be surprising if he didn't have ready access to Putin. US politics works that way, too. In fact, I doubt that there is any country in the world where money doesn't provide political access. The fact, widely reported, that Russian FM Sergei Lavrov attempted to intercede on behalf of Deripaska in D's visa situation is certainly another indication. That aspect seems very uncontroversial to me, and IMO strengthens the point of Deripaska's statements.

      Re the cable, your desire to see it in its entirety is readily enabled:

      To my way of thinking, if the FBI tipped their hand to Deripaska, that means they trusted him. In that situation, it would have been easy for Deripaska to use the FBI to get back at Manafort, for whom D. had a grudge. If he did have communication lines to Putin, he would certainly have been able to warn Putin that the FBI was looking at Manafort. To me, it all seems consistent with Deripaska having spoken candidly re the nonsensical idea that Manafort and Putin were colluding.

    4. Thanks for the link to the diplomatic cable, which I will address later.

      In the meantime, let's ponder this sentence from the AP article (emphasis added).

      Deripaska became one of Russia’s wealthiest men under Putin, buying assets abroad in ways widely perceived to benefit Kremlin interests. U.S. diplomatic cables from 2006 described Deripaska as “among the 2-3 oligarchs Putin turns to on a regular basis” and “a more-or-less permanent fixture on Putin’s trips abroad.”

      This is a lot of vague insinuation -- just like Mueller put into his Dossier.

      * in ways widely perceived to benefit Kremlin interests

      * on a regular basis

      * more-or-less a permanent fixture

      Too bad that no real, specific facts are stated.


      Deripaska owned Russia's biggest aluminum business.

      Within the USA's political leadership, is the owner of the USA's biggest aluminum business a crucial person?

      If the US President were, for example, to manage a super-secret operation to affect Russia's Presidential election, then would he confide in and personally involve the owner of the USA's biggest aluminum business?

      This is preposterous.


      The FBI wanted a FISA warrant primarily against Manafort, because he was Trump's campaign manager. The FBI met with Deripaska in order to arrange for him to engage Manafort in a conversation where Manafort would say something -- anything -- about Clinton's e-mails. The FBI intended to twist Manafort's remark tendentiously into evidence that would justify a FISA warrant against Manafort.

      That was the main purpose of the FBI's meeting with Deripaska. Of course, the FBI knew that Deripaska -- an aluminum businessman -- had no inside knowledge of any super-secret operation by Putin to affect the US election.

      What Deripaska had was ...

      1) a previous business relationship with Manafort that would enable Deripaska to engage Manafort in a conversation in which Deripaska could raise the subject of Clinton's emails.

      2) a visa problem that the FBI might solve for Deripaska.

    5. Mike, you're doing apples to oranges:

      "Within the USA's political leadership, is the owner of the USA's biggest aluminum business a crucial person?"

      Materials exports are huge for the Russian economy. Year in, year out, Russia is one of the top (often THE top) aluminum exporting countries in the world. Year in, year out, the US doesn't even rank in the top ten. There's a reason why Deripaska, the aluminum magnate, became the richest man in Russia, and why his US counterpart--whoever he may be--is NOT the richest man in the US.

      Did the Dems confide in an involve Eric Schmidt in their grand scheme to totally dominate US politics? Uh, I think so. Did Hillary involve rich people--American and foreign alike--in her foundation and probably even her FP plans? I'll bet she did.

      Has Sheldon Adelson had a say in GOP policies, especially re foreign policy? Don't bet against that.

    6. I have read your apples-to-oranges comment. I still don't see any reason to assume that Deripaska is any more "closely aligned" with Putin than the USA's owner of the USA's biggest aluminum business is "closely aligned" with the US President.

      The USA's richest "oligarch" is Jeff Bezos. Is Bezos "closely aligned with President Trump? Was Bezos "closely aligned also with President Obama?


      Now I will address the diplomatic cable, which supposedly proves that Deripaska is "closely aligned" with Vladimir Putin.

      The cable was written by a State Department analyst in 2006 -- when the US President was George W. Bush. This analyst was assigned to write an analysis of a proposed merger of three companies -- two Russian companies and one British-Swiss company -- that produced aluminum.

      In his second sentence, the analyst acknowledged that aluminum industry insiders considered the proposed merger to be part of a global trend for aluminum companies to merge.

      However, this State Department analyst intended to prove in this report that the proposed merger was "part of the Kremlin's drive to create national champions". In other words, the proposed merger was a cause for alarm, and so the analyst's report deserved much attention from the State Department's leadership. The proposed merger was part of Putin's nefarious strategy "to create national champions".

      If the proposed merger happened, then the new company -- a "national champion" of the Kremlin -- would be even larger than the USA's largest aluminum company Alcoa.

      And so, this analyst's report would be very, very, very important for the State Department's leadership to read and appreciate.

      Blah, blah, blah ... let's skip to the report's last paragraph.

      It turns out that Deripaska announced the proposed merger immediately following a meeting with Putin -- which "signals the deal has Putin's blessing".

      Then the analyst adds that Deripaska "is a more or less permanent fixture on Putin's trips abroad". I want to know:

      * How many times has Putin traveled abroad?

      * How many of those times did Deripaska travel along?

      I would like to know the ratio of those two numbers.

      The analyst's final bit of evidence is that Deripaska "is widely acknowledged by our contacts to be among the 2-3 oligarchs Putin turns to on a regular basis". I would like to know:

      * What is the total number of contacts?

      * How many of those contacts have said that Deripaska is one of just two or three such oligarchs?

      * What is the meaning of the phrase "turns to on a regular basis"?

      In 2006, this State Department was writing a lot of puffery in order to prove that he knew better than the aluminum industry insiders who considered this merger to be just part of a global trend for aluminum companies to merge.

    7. "The USA's richest 'oligarch' is Jeff Bezos. Is Bezos 'closely aligned with President Trump?' Was Bezos 'closely aligned also with President Obama?'"

      This is more apples and oranges. You're comparing the US and Russian political environments. I don't say they're diametrically opposed, but there are significant differences both in their historical development and in their current tendencies. But since you ask, yes, I do think Bezos is aligned with Obama in many ways.

      You state that the DoS cable "supposedly proves that Deripaska is 'closely aligned' with Vladimir Putin." That's a complete mischaracterization of the cable's purpose.

      First of all, I find it annoying that you insert Solomon's phrase "closely aligned" into the context of the cable. That phrase is Solomon's, and doesn't appear anywhere else--as I pointed out already. I doubt that Solomon put much thought into his choice of words, since the phrase doesn't carry much weight within the article.

      As for the cable itself, the cable doesn't purport to "prove" anything--certainly not anything re Deripaska's relationship with Putin, which is taken as given. All your questions are therefore quite irrelevant to the purpose of the cable. The purpose of the cable is to report contacts with RUSAL--the world's 2nd largest Aluminum company in which Deripaska has a major stake--and to report on developments within the important Russian aluminum sector.

      In that regard, your claim that the report was sounding some sort of "alarm" about "nefarious" doings by Putin is totally unwarranted. In point of fact, the cable is quite neutral in tone and in the last paragraph the author expressly notes that the major Western aluminum company is favorably disposed to the developments under discussion:

      "senior ALCAN representatives have volunteered to us their pleasure with the pending merger. The merger will force RUSAL and SUAL to play by generally accepted rules, which will have the effect of leveling the playing field. If United Company RUSAL wants to be a global leader, the firm will have to leave behind bad past practices -- which would be inconsistent with global practice, and could cost the firm its commanding edge. The merger, they say, makes a good deal of sense in light of global consolidation trends, and was likely driven in large part by pure commercial considerations."

      The cable very briefly notes that Deripaska is considered to have a better relationship with Putin than his biggest competitor, but overall is making no major point about Deripaska at all--it's just that you can't talk about aluminum in Russia without Deripaska being part of the conversation.

      Quite honestly, I have no idea what your big point is.

    8. ... Russia is one of the top (often THE top) aluminum exporting countries in the world. Year in, year out, the US doesn't even rank in the top ten.

      Export is only one measure of a company's importance in a country. Other measures are total production and profits.

  3. A CTH thread about Deripiska includes this interesting assertion:

    ... Manafort was trying to move Ukraine toward the EU, which was Obama/Hillary policy, and going to and from the US Embassy in Kiev all the time, dutifully reporting his progress. He was working for USGOV to avoid being prosecuted on his white collar beefs. Mueller needed indictments, so they slam-dunked the Manafort indictment. FBI had been after Paul Manafort for many years, who ducked prosecution by working for CIA and State Department who exploited Manafort’s position with the ruling circle of Ukraine and other politicians in other countries who would hire Manafort as consultant and lobbyist. ...

    This assertion seems to be mere speculation, but it's a plausible explanation of the US Government's decisions to not prosecute Manafort many years ago.

    I hope that William Barr's team might look into whether there was such a previous collaboration between the US Government and Manafort.


    I suppose that when the FBI officials met with Deripaska, the officials did not expect Deripaska to know that Manafort was part of any Putin-Trump collaboration to affect the US election. Why would Deripaska know anything about that?

    I think that, rather, the FBI officials intended lure Deripaska into an FBI operation to frame Manafort as a participant in the alleged "enterprise". Deripaska's business dispute with Manafort gave him good cause to communicate and even meet with Manafort.

    In this situation, the FBI could use its usual tactic again. Guided by the FBI, Deripaska would sneak into his conversation with Manafort the subject of Hillary Clinton's e-mails. No matter what Manafort responded, the FBI would twist the response tendentiously into evidence that would justify a FISA warrant.

    I think that the meeting between the FBI officials and Deripaska needs to be elaborated and clarified along those lines.

    1. "I suppose that when the FBI officials met with Deripaska, the officials did not expect Deripaska to know that Manafort was part of any Putin-Trump collaboration to affect the US election. Why would Deripaska know anything about that?"

      Perhaps the FBI shared Deripaska's own view, as stated to Solomon: that anyone in Russia--obviously including Putin in the total context of the interveiw--looking to use Manafort in US politics would consult with Deripaska, because of Deripaska's past dealings with Manafort.

      The FBI clearly assumed that Deripaska would be happy to anonymously smear Manafort--which would exponentially strengthen the Russia Hoax beyond the Steele dossier's baseless claims. They were wrong.

  4. Once again, you are trying to parse known information in such a way as to rationalize the FBI's conduct as a legitimate (if somewhat incompetent) exercise of it's investigative powers. No doubt that is the best case scenario for protecting the reputation and integrity of this seminal law enforcement institution. But Occam's Razor makes a different case for what actually played out at the highest levels of leadership and also systemically within a large cohort of the working agents. This alternative explanation is that this institution was corrupted into becoming, in effect, a criminal enterprise itself and weaponized to exonerate Hillary Clinton lawlessness while simultaneously illegally undermining the Trump Campaign and later participating in an attempted coup against a duly elected president.

    This is no trivial matter. This is the fox guarding the henhouse. Class I felonies were committed by numerous members of the FBI routinely and with malice. And hiding that reality is the highest priority of current Director Wray, and not cleaning house or rectifying the systemic rot. God help us if Barr doesn't tackle this problem.

    1. Once again your comment contains unsupported nonsense re me.