Confused? Here’s This Week’s Russia/Clinton/DNC News Distilled Down to Bullet Points

This Russia / Trump / Comey / Clinton campaign / DNC story is complex and has become unwieldy. Add to that the first charges in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election were filed yesterday, and it’s enough to make anyone feel like the first time they waded into The Lord of the Rings: Too many names and places and dates.

The instinct is to tune out because we’re all busy and we don’t have time to weed through all of this. Because of that, I thought I’d boil it down for you so you could be informed in the quickest way possible. This story is important for many reasons. Please don’t tune out.

The Players:

Fusion GPS: A law firm hired to do opposition research

Christopher Steele: Former MI6, hired by the Clinton campaign and the DNC, compiled the salacious and not-entirely-corroborated “Trump Dossier”

James Comey: Was FBI director at the time; Used Christopher Steele’s dossier on Trump (paid for by the Clinton Campaign and the DNC) to obtain a FISA warrant to spy on the Trump campaign in 2016

Natalia Veselnitskaya: Russian lawyer, met with Donald Trump Jr. in June 2016, claiming to have dirt on Hillary Clinton

Rinat Akhmetshin: In the same meeting with Donald Trump Jr.; former Soviet counterintelligence officer, reportedly worked for GRU (Russian Military Intelligence), specializing in subversive political influence operations involving disinformation and propaganda. He was working with Fusion GPS lobbying for Kremlin interests to ease international sanctions.

Why is this just now coming to light:

The Fusion GPS, on Tuesday, was released from their client confidentiality obligation, which is how we now know about the Clinton campaign and DNC involvement in all of this.

The New York Times published an expose on this earlier in the week, with correspondent Maggie Haberman angrily tweeting, “Folks involved in funding this lied about it, and with sanctimony, for a year”

What happened:

  • It has now been revealed that Fusion GPS was originally hired by Free Beacon to do opposition research into Trump and other GOP candidates from Fall 2015—Spring 2016.
  • When they discontinued with Fusion GPS, the Clinton campaign and the DNC picked up where they left off and additionally hired Christopher Steele (MI6 Trump dossier guy).
  • Steele came up with the Trump dossier and spread it around D.C. (including the FBI) in the summer of 2016.
  • The FBI (remember James Comey?) used the dossier (paid for by the Clinton campaign and the DNC) to obtain a FISA warrant to spy on the Trump campaign.
  • Steele also spread the dossier to reporters in the fall of 2016 in the weeks leading up to the election, but reporters chose not to report on it until January 2017 (you know, when Trump was being inaugurated?).
  • An additional part of this story is a meeting which took place in June 2016 between Donald Trump, Jr., Natalia Veselnitskaya (Russian lawyer), and Rinat Akhmetshin (former Soviet counterintelligence officer specializing in disinformation and propaganda).
  • Trump, Jr. took the meeting because he was promised dirt on Hillary Clinton (which he never got).

Here are the main points (and why you should care) :

1) The Russians were playing both sides against the middle in last year’s campaign. They were involved, clearly, but their main goal was to sow division among us. This kind of scheming is old hat for them (I mean, hello, this is the former Soviet Union we’re talking about. If you’re unfamiliar with their tactics, I would encourage you to brush up on their history).

The question is: Will we continue to walk blithely along, not acknowledging that a foreign government would use underhanded means to cause our nation harm by influencing our elections?

2) Whichever side of the political spectrum you fall on, if anyone is found to have committed criminal activity, they should go to jail like you or I would if we had committed the same crimes.

We were always supposed to be “a nation of laws, and not of men,” meaning that it didn’t matter what your connections were or how powerful you were—justice was blind. At this point, we can either return to being the constitutional republic we once were, or we can embrace cults of personality, complete with the corruption characteristic of every other banana republic.

3) At the end of the day, we still need to look at as the responsible parties for this pile of political puke. It’s taken us a long time to get here, and it will take us a long time to clean it up, but our politicians are a reflection of us. Yes. They are.

You may hate Donald Trump—or you may hate Hillary Clinton. But we must get back to the core of truly wanting justice no matter who’s involved. Look. James Comey had to have known that Dossier was funded by the Clinton Campaign and the DNC.

If you hate Donald Trump and are glad he acted the way he did (meaning, as FBI director, he was acting in a thoroughly political manner), just consider: Would you be glad if the Trump FBI chief did the same thing?

I suspect not. Corruption is corruption, and if we don’t return to being the people who require honesty and blind justice from their politicians (because we are honest and require that of ourselves), we can, ultimately, wave goodbye to our freedoms and admit that our side winning was more important than the freedoms it was our duty to preserve for our children.

Secret Service Says It Did Not Vet Russians Who Met With Trump, Jr.

The Secret Service is denying a claim by Jay Sekulow, a prominent member of the Trump legal team, that nothing “nefarious” could have happened at the June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump, Jr. and Natalia Veselnitskaya, described to Trump as a Russian government lawyer with information damaging to Hillary Clinton. Sekulow claimed that the Secret Service would have prevented misbehavior and would have even prevented the Trumps from meeting with unsavory characters.

Reuters reports that Sekulow, who is also Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, said on “This Week” on ABC News, “Well, I wonder why the Secret Service, if this was nefarious, why the Secret Service allowed these people in. The president had Secret Service protection at that point, and that raised a question with me.”

In an emailed response to Sekulow’s query, also quoted by Reuters, Secret Service spokesman Mason Brayman said, “Donald Trump, Jr. was not a protectee of the USSS in June, 2016. Thus we would not have screened anyone he was meeting with at that time.”

Additionally, the Secret Service does not screen meeting participants for honesty or “nefarious” purposes. The role of the Secret Service is limited to providing physical protection for their protectees.

It is not the job of the Secret Service to prevent protectees from making bad decisions. This concept is illustrated by reports that Malia Obama smoked marijuana while under Secret Service protection. The Bush twins also reportedly got into trouble while under Secret Service protection. A 2009 book detailed the girls’ wild side that included buying alcohol with a fake ID and a bar fight that eventually required the Secret Service to intervene.

Questions have been raised about the role of participants at the meeting, as well as the purpose of the meeting itself. Donald Trump, Jr. initially claimed the meeting was about child adoption policy, but then released the email chain showing that the topic was to be Hillary Clinton and assistance that the Russian government could provide to the Trump campaign.

The principal in the meeting was Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer described as representing the Russian government of Vladimir Putin. Veselnitskaya denies working for the Kremlin and seems to have been a lobbyist who met with both Democrats and Republicans.

Last week, NBC News reported that Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-born lobbyist who served as a counterintelligence officer in the Russian military, was also present at the meeting. Akhmetsin, who holds dual US-Russian citizenship, denies having current ties to Russian intelligence.

In musing about the responsibility of the Secret Service to protect adult children of the president from unsavory characters, Sekulow broke a cardinal rule of the trial lawyer profession: Never ask a question unless you know the answer. Sekulow is a respected conservative attorney who really should have known better.

If This Former Soviet Spy Met With Donald Trump, Jr., It Probably Was a Set Up by Democrats

NBC News is reporting that a former Soviet counterintelligence officer joined Natalia Veselnitskaya in her meeting with Donald Trump, Jr. They are not naming the person.

If this rings a bell, you might have read my piece yesterday. Senator Chuck Grassley, in a letter to the Department of Justice, noted that “Fusion GPS and Rinat Akhmetshin, among others, were involved in the pro-Russia campaign in 2016” while Fusion GPS was preparing the anti-Trump dossier.

Senator Grassley described Akhmetshin as “Russian immigrant to the U.S. who has admitted having been a “Soviet counterintelligence officer.” In fact, it has been reported that he worked for the GRU and allegedly specializes in “active measures campaigns,” i.e., subversive political influence operations often involving disinformation and propaganda.”

So we have Fusion GPS, a Democratic opposition research firm, working with a Russian company whose lawyer is Natalia Veselnitskaya. And we have this. And we also know it was the Obama Administration that allowed Veselnitskaya into the United States to meet with Trump, Jr.

This sounds more and more like a set up.

Keep in mind that this does not excuse Donald Trump, Jr.’s judgment in taking the meeting, but it does put it in perspective.

Were Democrats Working With Russia Against Trump? That Russian Lawyer Has Ties to Democrat Oppo Researchers

This will not get nearly as much coverage as Donald Trump, Jr. meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya, but it does raise the issue of whether Democrats and Russians were as collaborative as the Democrats claim the Trump team was. There is a remarkably small degree of separation between Natalia Veselnitskaya and Fusion GPS, the Democrat opposition research firm that came up with the Trump dossier.

In 2012, the Russian government started hiring hordes of Washington law firms, lobbyists, political strategist, and others to get the Magnitsky Act repealed. The act, named for Sergei Magnitsky, sought to hold the Russian government accountable for the man’s death. Mr. Magnitsky was a lawyer who uncovered massive tax fraud in Russia. He was arrested, tortured while in prison, and died.

One of the law firms hired by Russia to work on repeal is Baker Hostetler, which also has ties to Glenn Simpson’s Fusion GPS. According to Senator Chuck Grassley, who wants Fusion GPS officials to testify before the Senate, Fusion GPS was also involved with the Russians over the Magnitsky Act. Senator Grassley’s office notes “Despite the reported evidence of their work on behalf of Russian interests, neither Fusion GPS nor Akhmetshin are registered as foreign agents under the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA).”

Grassley continued, “Fusion GPS was apparently simultaneously working on the unsubstantiated dossier alleging collusion between Trump presidential campaign associates and Russia” while helping Russia with the Magnitsky Act. It also appears the FBI was willing to pay Christopher Steele, the former spy, who helped Fusion GPS compile the dossier.

Now, let me quote directly from the Chuck Grassley press release on Fusion GPS with the major, relevant portions highlighted:

In 2013, the Justice Department opened a case to seize the U.S. assets of Russian-owned Prevezon Holdings, which received millions of dollars from the theft and used it to purchase real estate in New York, according to the department’s complaint. In response, Prevezon Holdings and the Kremlin launched a campaign to undermine the Magnitsky Act and discredit Magnitsky’s claims of corruption, according to a 2016 complaint by Hermitage CEO William Browder. Fusion GPS and Rinat Akhmetshin, among others, were involved in the pro-Russia campaign in 2016, which involved lobbying congressional staffers to attempt to undermine the Justice Department’s account of Magnitsky’s death and the crime he uncovered, repeal the Magnitsky Act itself, and delay efforts to expand it to countries beyond Russia, according to Browder’s complaint. Akhmetshin, a Russian immigrant, has reportedly admitted to being a “soviet counterintelligence officer,” and has a long history of lobbying the U.S. government for pro-Russia matters. Fusion GPS was reportedly tasked with generating negative press coverage of Browder and Hermitage.

You know who else worked for Preveson Holdings? Natalia Veselnitskaya.

According to Russian propaganda outlet Sputnik News, Veselnitskaya had “evidence showing that the grounds for the Magnitsky Act are based on lies perpetuated by UK millionaire of US origin William Browder.”

In addition to working for Prevezon Holdings and working against William Browder, just like Fusion GPS was doing, Veselnitskaya also had dealings with Rinat Akhmetshin, the founder of the Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative Foundation. As noted above, Akhmetshin was named by Senator Grassley as sharing work with Fusion GPS against Browder. In a letter to the Department of Justice, Senator Chuck Grassley says this about Akhmetshin:

It is particularly disturbing that Mr. Akhmetshin and Fusion GPS were working together on this pro-Russia lobbying effort in 2016 in light of Mr. Akhmetshin’s history and reputation. Mr. Akhmetshin is a Russian immigrant to the U.S. who has admitted having been a “Soviet counterintelligence officer.” In fact, it has been reported that he worked for the GRU and allegedly specializes in “active measures campaigns,” i.e., subversive political influence operations often involving disinformation and propaganda. According to press accounts, Mr. Akhmetshin “is known in foreign policy circles as a key pro-Russian operator,” and Radio Free Europe described him as a “Russian ‘gun-for-hire’ [who] lurks in the shadows of Washington’s lobbying world.” He was even accused in a lawsuit of organizing a scheme to hack the computers of one his client’s adversaries.

As you know, Fusion GPS is the company behind the creation of the unsubstantiated dossier alleging a conspiracy between President Trump and Russia. It is highly troubling that Fusion GPS appears to have been working with someone with ties to Russian intelligence –let alone someone alleged to have conducted political disinformation campaigns– as part of a pro-Russia lobbying effort while also simultaneously overseeing the creation of the Trump/Russia dossier. The relationship casts further doubt on an already highly dubious dossier.

Radio Free Europe has a story noting Akhmetshin’s group had hired Veselnitskaya as an attorney:

Prevezon and the Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative Foundation overlap in another way. In an e-mail sent in April to a Warsaw-based NGO that was hosting a speech by Browder, Russian Natalia Veselnitskaya identified herself as a lawyer working on behalf of the foundation and sought permission to attend, according to officials with the NGO, called the Open Dialog Foundation. Veselnitskaya is also a lawyer for Prevezon.

So let’s tie all this together.

Prevezon, which is a Russian group, hires Fusion GPS and Rinat Akhmetshin to generate negative press coverage on a British citizen. Prevezon also hires as legal counsel both Baker Hostetler and Natalia Veselnitskaya.

Rinat Akhmetshin also puts Natalia Veselnitskaya on the payroll.

Rinat Akhmetshin, who works in collaboration with Fusion GPS at the time it is preparing the Trump dossier, is an admitted “Soviet counterintelligence officer” who specializes in “subversive political influence operations often involving disinformation and propaganda.”

While all of this is going on, Fusion GPS is working on the opposition research dossier on Donald Trump using a foreign agent. Are we really supposed to believe that it is completely coincidental that Natalia Veselnitskaya just so happens to be the Russian lawyer who got access to Donald Trump, Jr.? Are we to believe that there is no direct relationship between Veselnitskaya and Fusion GPS?

It is remarkable how she gets a PR agent to urge Trump, Jr. to meet with her by promising Russian information about Hillary Clinton’s emails as the Clinton email server story is blowing up. And then it is remarkable how she gives a perfect performance to NBC News two days ago claiming she only talked with Trump about the Magnitsky Act, but assured the press that the Trump team was hoping for dirt on Hillary.

It is also really remarkable that this all happens as Fusion GPS is prepping its opposition dossier and a New York Times reporter who has been following the story admits it was a year ago, at that time, that someone tipped him off about the meeting.

Add to all of that two more nuggets. Natalia Veselnitskaya had been denied a visa into the United States. She had been given temporary parole, allowing her to enter the country with an expired visa, but it has been revoked by 2016. Still, Veselnitskaya was able to enter the US anyway to meet with Trump, Jr. in the middle of 2016. It is my understanding this could have only happened in one of two ways. First, she could have argued she was the sole lawyer of representation for her client, but Baker Hostetler also represented Prevezon. She could also have been allowed into the country if she had a collaborative relationship with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. You know, the organization that was considering paying Christopher Steele for his Trump dossier work prepared for Fusion GPS.

Also, Ms Veselnitskaya, on her Facebook page, purportedly had several pro-Hillary Clinton posts and anti-Trump posts.

There are three questions reporters should be asking right now.

What is the relationship between Glenn Simpson, Fusion GPS and Natalia Veselnitskaya?

Did Veselnitskaya serve as a source for the “Trump Dossier”?

Who retained Veselnitskaya to attempt to meet with Donald Trump, Jr.?

One final point: the issue is not whether this excuses Donald Trump, Jr. for poor judgment. The issue is whether certain Democrats were collaborating with Russians at a time Democrats claim the Trump campaign was collaborating with Russians. Both sides should have been dubious of Russians bearing gifts and it looks increasingly likely that neither side was. The Democrats could be trying to undermine Donald Trump with as much help from the Russians as they claim Trump received from Russia.

Comparing Timeline to Emails Creates Big Problems for Trump

The text of Donald Trump Jr.’s emails detailing the meeting with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya is troubling enough, but the way the emails fit into the overall timeline of the presidential campaign and the unfolding Russia scandal are even more problematic for the Trump Administration. The emails, released by Donald Trump, Jr., provide confirmation that members of the Trump campaign were open to accepting “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump” and actions taken by the Trump campaign may indicate that Donald Trump himself was aware of the offer and intended to use the Russian government’s intelligence information.

The email chain began on June 3, 2016, about a week after Donald Trump had officially secured a majority of Republican delegates to become the presumptive nominee. At this point, the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the theft of the emails was not public knowledge.

On Tuesday, June 7, 2016, Donald Trump announced, “I am going to give a major speech on… probably Monday of next week [June13] and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons and I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.”

The next day, June 8, the @DCLeaks_ Twitter account posted the first links to stolen emails on the DC Leaks website. The DC Leaks website and Facebook accounts apparently debuted the same day.

On Thursday, June 9, Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort met with Natalia Veselnitskaya, “The [sic] Russian government attorney” referred to in the emails, in New York’s Trump Tower.

On Sunday, June 12, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said on British television that more leaked emails relating to the Clinton campaign would be coming out soon.

Donald Trump did not make his promised “very interesting” speech on June 13, but on June 14, the Washington Post broke the news that hackers had penetrated the DNC network and “gained access to the entire database of opposition research on GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump.” The report, which identified the culprits as “Russian government hackers” even at that early date, also said that “the intruders so thoroughly compromised the DNC’s system that they also were able to read all email and chat traffic.” The Post also reported the hackers had targeted Republicans as well. Trump’s speeches from that week did not contain any new and notable information about Hillary.

The next day, June 15, a hacker calling himself “Guccifer 2.0” contacted The Smoking Gun to claim credit for the hack of the Democratic National Committee. Guccifer 2.0  claimed to be a Romanian, but is widely suspected to be a creation of Russian intelligence.

On June 18, the Washington Post reported that the Trump campaign had removed a pledge to provide weapons to the Ukrainian forces fighting the Putin-backed invasion of their country. The report says that the changes were made “last week,” which would mean the platform changes immediately followed the meeting of Trump’s campaign advisors with Veselnitskaya.

On June 27, the first stolen DNC emails were published on the DC Leaks website.

A month later, on July 22, WikiLeaks released a second batch of DNC emails. The FBI announced that it was opening an investigation into the hack shortly after.

It was at this point that Donald Trump publicly asked Russia for help in finding the emails that were deleted from Hillary Clinton’s private server. “I will tell you this,” Trump said on July 27 at a press conference, “Russia: If you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

A few months later, just before the final release of stolen emails by WikiLeaks, Roger Stone, a Trump advisor, seemed to hint that something big was coming. “Trust me, it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel,” Stone tweeted on August 21. In the week before the final email dump on Oct. 7, Stone posted three tweets hinting that something was coming according to Business Insider, including one on Oct. 3 that read “I have total confidence that @wikileaks and my hero Julian Assange will educate the American people soon.”

While Donald Trump, Jr. claims that nothing of substance emerged from the meeting with the Russian lawyer, his response to the emails and the subsequent actions of the Trump campaign clearly show an intent to use information obtained from a foreign government to discredit a political rival. Such coordination is possibly illegal and certainly unethical.

While there is currently no paper trail that leads directly to Donald Trump, Sr., Trump’s speech on June 7 suggests that he was aware that something was in the wind. Additionally, his July 27 appeal to Russia looks starkly different in view of the revelation that the Russian government had offered its assistance to his campaign a month before.

In addition to the fact that none of the Trump advisors disclosed the meeting and that Donald Trump, Jr. initially lied about what was discussed, the emails create another problem for the Trump Administration.  The timing of the meeting and the platform change raise the possibility of a quid pro quo with the Russians. The fact that the Trump campaign changed the Republican Party platform in a way that benefitted the Russian government immediately after the Russians offered dirt on Hillary is something that will be difficult to explain away. It is also a decision that can likely be traced to Donald Trump himself.

Although the Donald Trump, Jr. emails are not a smoking gun to prove that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, but they are close to it.