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.