Sunday, December 31, 2017

Which Hunt

Kensington Wine Rooms, Notting Hill. Via Britain Magazine.
Here we are again, trying to figure out which emails we're talking about.

The new Papadopoulos episode in The New York Times, in which young George, in the Kensington Wine Rooms with Australian High Commissioner to Great Britain (which is the Commonwealth equivalent of ambassador, that's bonus info that even Matty didn't have) Alexander Downer, drunkenly informs his excellency that Russians are in possession of thousands of emails that could sink Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, in May 2016, which the high commissioner then shares with the FBI after an interesting delay, launching the FBI's investigation of a possible conspiracy between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, raises some questions for people with a better understanding of the big picture than I have, like Marcy at Emptywheel:
the few GOPers who have responded to this news raise another question: did the Aussies even know what emails Papadopoulos was talking about?
As I noted in October, we actually don’t know what emails Joseph Misfud [recte Mifsud] was talking about when he told Papadopoulos had dirt on Hillary. Trumpsters are now suggesting these emails might be those Guccifer 1.0 stole from Hillary, but they could be a range of other emails.
This story would be far more damning if the NYT knew for sure that the emails were ones freshly stolen from DNC, John Podesta, or the Hillary campaign itself, but they don’t.
But I think from the standpoint of my own little patch in the garden it's not all that complicated. Not that I've got a story that meets the evidentiary standards you'd want the Times to apply, but we do know enough for a reasonable person to speculate with.

There's no good reason to be sure Papadopoulos himself knew exactly which emails were being tendered, or even Mifsud, when he told Papadopoulos about them at the end of April. They obviously couldn't have been the ones the original Guccifer claimed to have stolen from Secretary of State Clinton's private server, because those didn't exist, outside the imagination of certain deeply confused people such as Donald Trump Jr. or the unfortunate Peter Smith, or Donald Trump himself ("Russia, if you're listening..."). They could conceivably have been the Democratic National Committee emails hacked by the Fancy Bear group and later published by WikiLeaks, but they couldn't have been all of them, because these are virtually all from April and May 2016 (in spite of the fact that the hacking of the DNC by Cozy Bear goes back to July 2015).

Which leaves us pretty much with the emails stolen from John Podesta, chairman of the Clinton campaign (Mifsud's expression "emails of Clinton" and "dirt on Clinton" applies better to them than to the DNC heist in any case), after he fell victim to a phishing attack in March 2016, which is timed exactly right for the Papadopoulos-Mifsud encounter, and stuff that WikiLeaks hasn't published and we haven't specifically imagined at all. If he had any idea what he was talking about at the Kensington Wine Rooms, it was the former.

But we do have some evidence of the DNC emails entering the Trump picture by early June, as I've been saying, from Rinat Akhmetshin's account of what Natalya Veselnitskaya brought and left behind in her plastic folder at the June 9 2016 Trump Tower meeting, which was not what Veselnitskaya herself said she'd brought (an English translation of her brief against the Ziff brothers and Bill Browder for stealing their own tax payments to the Russian government):
Veselnitskaya brought with her a plastic folder with printed-out documents that detailed what she believed was the flow of illicit funds to the Democrats, Akhmetshin said. Veselnitskaya presented the contents of the documents to the Trump associates and suggested that making the information public could help the campaign, he said.
“This could be a good issue to expose how the DNC is accepting bad money,” Akhmetshin recalled her saying.
Trump Jr. asked the attorney if she had sufficient evidence to back up her claims, including whether she could demonstrate the flow of the money. But Veselnitskaya said the Trump campaign would need to research it more. After that, Trump Jr. lost interest, according to Akhmetshin.
There's one set of emails that contains something that could be printed out to detail the flow of possibly illicit money to Democrats, and that's the emails taken from the DNC
thousands of emails exchanged by Democratic officials and party fund-raisers, revealing in rarely seen detail the elaborate, ingratiating and often bluntly transactional exchanges necessary to harvest hundreds of millions of dollars from the party’s wealthy donor class. The emails capture a world where seating charts are arranged with dollar totals in mind, where a White House celebration of gay pride is a thinly disguised occasion for rewarding wealthy donors and where physical proximity to the president is the most precious of currencies.
They didn't in fact provide any information on illicit donations, because there weren't any, but as Veselnitskaya explained, further research was needed to ascertain that (I think they assumed there was financial dirt because they assume everybody's dirty, but they were wrong).

Further research indeed! What emerges is that Russian intelligence had scored these great coups in getting into the Podesta and DNC email accounts, but was having trouble working out just what they'd caught, or what they could do with it. In their interactions with Papadopoulos in March-April (over the Podesta collection) and with the Trump Tower group in June (DNC), they were trying to sell the stuff to the Trump campaign without knowing whether it was really valuable or not; it wasn't until the end of July that they finally managed to craft something, with the assistance of the WikiLeaks editorial staff, that they could use, the tale of Wasserman Schultz and her anti-Bernie conspiracy (beefed up with the bogus Loretta Lynch material created in Russia). Meanwhile other avenues, the fake news Facebook operation and the Cambridge Analytica voter targeting work, were becoming more significant, and in the end the emails weren't such an important a factor in fixing the election, though an extremely important factor in the Mueller investigation.

But their different approaches to the Trump campaign took different forms as they developed a clearer view of what the heist had yielded, and there's no reason to think Papadopolous had any idea of the DNC hack.

As to Australian intelligence, they may not have been able to associate Downer's report on his evening with Papadopolous and Trump campaign activities with anything in particular for quite a while. When the DNC announced that it had been hacked on June 14, it may not have sounded at all like "emails of Hillary Clinton" or "dirt on Hillary Clinton": the lede in the Washington Post made it sound like dirt on Donald Trump, followed by an impossibly broad bothsidery:
Russian government hackers penetrated the computer network of the Democratic National Committee and gained access to the entire database of opposition research on GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, according to committee officials and security experts who responded to the breach.
The intruders so thoroughly compromised the DNC’s system that they also were able to read all email and chat traffic, said DNC officials and the security experts.
The intrusion into the DNC was one of several targeting American political organizations. The networks of presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were also targeted by Russian spies, as were the computers of some Republican political action committees, U.S. officials said. But details on those cases were not available.
And the announcement by "Guccifer 2.0" the following day taking responsibility for the attack would have reinforced that:
“Guccifer 2.0” posted to a website some of the allegedly stolen documents. They included a file titled “Donald Trump Report,” dated Dec. 19, 2015, and a list of what was purported to be million-dollar-plus donors to the Democratic Party.
It wasn't until the WikiLeaks publication of the DNC emails six weeks later and Trump's bizarre appeals to Putin ("Russia, if you're listening") and WikiLeaks that the episode began looking like something the Trump campaign could be involved in to us, if you'll remember (I know that's when I got there) and perhaps inside the Australian intelligence service it took that long to get a clear idea of what their information on Papadopoulos might mean. 

Happy New Year!

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