Thursday, August 20, 2020

Useful Idiot in the Strict Sense of the Term


And the reason they held the meeting was so they could run a photo of the meeting. Duh. From Trump's Twitter account via USA Today.

Live-blogging volume 5—

Of what some have decided to call the Rubio Report, after Senator Marco, who has pulled a Billy Barr in this connection:

There is, as you can imagine, evidence of "collusion" in the report, some of it new, as in SSCI's certainty that Manafort's assistant Konstantin Kilimnik was a Russian intelligence officer, something previously only described as a possibility:
(U) Paul Manafort's connections to Russia and Ukraine began in approximately late 2004 with the start of his work for Oleg Deripaska and other Russia-aligned oligarchs in Ukraine. The Committee found that Deripaska conducts influence operations, frequently in countries where he has a significant economic interest. The Russian government coordinates with and directs Deripaska on many of his influence operations....
(U) Manafort hired and worked increasingly closely with a Russian national, Konstantin Kilimnik. Kilimnik is a Russian intelligence officer. Kilimnik became an integral part of Manafort's operations in Ukraine and Russia, serving as Manafort's primary liaison to Deripaska and eventually managing Manafort's office in Kyiv. Kilimnik and Manafort formed a close and lasting relationship that endured to the 2016 U.S. elections and beyond. (vi)

And that close work of Manafort's with a Russian intelligence office is one of the crimes Mueller was unable to prove, coordination as opposed to the vague "collusion", though the Committee was unable to get a lot of detail because of its inability to interview Manafort and Kilimnik, their use of encrypted communications, and Manafort's lying:

(U) Lastly, Manafort, who was interviewed by the [Special Counsel's Office] approximately a dozen times, lied consistently to the SCO during these interviews about one issue in particular: his interactions with Kilimnik, the Russian intelligence officerat the center of the Committee's investigation. These lies violated Manafort's plea agreement, which obligated him to be truthful in his cooperation with the government, and exposed him to a more severe prison sentence than the agreement contemplated. Manafort's obfuscation of the truth surrounding Kilimnik was particularly damaging to the Committee's investigation because it effectively foreclosed direct insight into a series of interactions and communications which represent the single most direct tie between senior Trump Campaign officials and the Russian intelligence services. Manafort's true motive in deciding to face more severe criminal penalties rather than provide complete answers about his interactions with Kilimnik is unknown, but the result is that many interactions between Manafort and Kilimnik remain hidden. (32)

But it would probably include coordination in the Russian "hack-and-leak" operation in which Russian intelligence stole sensitive documents from the Democratic and Clinton campaign offices and published them through WikiLeaks. 


And that's just a small part of how wrong Rubio is about this, because it wasn't just Kilimnik and Manafort but the entire campaign:

(U) The Committee's bipartisan Report found that Russia's goal in its unprecedented hack-and-leak operation against the United States in 2016, among other motives, was to assist the Trump Campaign. Candidate Trump and his Campaign responded to that threat by embracing, encouraging, and exploiting the Russian effort. Trump solicited inside information in advance of WikiLeaks's expected releases of stolen information, even after public reports widely attributed the activity to Russia, so as to maximize his electoral benefit. The Campaign crafted a strategy around these anticipated releases to amplify the dissemination and promotion of the stolen documents. Even after the US. government formally announced the hack-and-leak campaign as a Russian government effort, Trump's embrace of the stolen documents and his efforts to minimize the attribution to Russia only continued. The Committee's Report clearly shows that Trump and his Campaign were not mere bystanders in this attack - they were active participants. They coordinated their activities with the releases of the hacked Russian data, magnified the effects of a known Russian campaign, and welcomed the mutual benefit from the Russian activity. (943, from the "additional views" of the Committee's Democratic members, their italics)

Which still leaves out the quid pro quo of what the Trump administration did in return for the help, its consistent efforts to mitigate US sanctions on Russia, in defiance of Congress, which I discussed at some length in June 2019.

There's also no indication in the Executive Summary that the report has anything to say about the FBI's use of the Steele dossier beyond what was already said in Inspector General Horowitz's report from the beginning of December.

Regarding the Steele Dossier, FBI gave Steele's allegations unjustified credence, based on an incomplete understanding of Steele's past reporting record. FBI used the Dossier in a FISA application and renewals and advocated for it to be included in the ICA before taking the necessary steps to validate assumptions about Steele's credibility. Further, FBI did not effectively adjust its approach to Steele's reporting once one of Steele's subsources provided information that raised serious concerns about the source descriptions in the Steele Dossier. The Committee further found that Steele's reporting lacked rigor and transparency about the quality of the sourcing.

As a matter of fact, SSCI goes out of its way to assert that the FISA order on Carter Page, PhD, the main place in which the FBI made use of Steele material, was justified in its own right

The Carter Page FISA order and renewals are examined in detail in the DOJ OIG FISA Report. While there were several problems with the FBI's FISA renewals for Page, the Committee assesses that Page's previous ties to Russian intelligence officers, coupled with his Russian travel, justified the FBI's initial concerns about Page. (555, fn. 3663)

so they clearly did not think FBI "relied" on Steele to get it, though it did "rely" on Steele for certain specific assertions that it wasn't able to corroborate elsewhere, like the probably false stories that he met with Igor Sechin and Igor Diveykin during his Moscow trip in July 2016, or that he served as an intermediary between Manafort and the Russian government, as the Horowitz report said.

But the Senate Committee report is about the Trump campaign, not about the FBI, and they have some information about Page based on their own investigation,

(U) The Committee interviewed Page and members of the Trump Campaign who interacted with Page. The Committee also reviewed communications and other documents related to Page. The interviews and materials did not provide a thorough understanding of all of his activities while in Russia during his two visits in 2016. 

which clarify why the FBI may have found him such an alarming character in a way the Mueller Report doesn't manage to do.

(U) The Committee had significant challenges in its attempt to understand Page's activities, including his role as a foreign policy adviser to the Trump Campaign. After ,weeks of negotiation and an eventual Committee subpoena, Page produced some electronic documents, some of which included his own annotations and alterations to the original document form, and sat for an interview that lasted six and a half hours. Page's responses to basic questions were meandering, avoidant, and involved several long diversions. Despite the meticulous records Page kept on his personal hard drive detailing his daily routines, he was unable to recall any details of his trips to Moscow, or the names of senior Russian officials with whom he met, despite using his engagements with them to build his credentials within the Campaign. 

In reading the material you get the constant impression that he's lying, but you can't tell in which direction, whether he's making a false claim or walking an earlier false claim back. For instance, we've all heard by now that he served as a source for the CIA between 2008 and 2013 (this was one of the items the FBI failed to include in the FISA application, and the one for which Kevin Clinesmith may go to jail), but he I hadn't realized he claimed to have been an FBI informant as well, and it was not the kind of work you might imagine, in his telling:

Page voluntarily met with U.S. intelligence officials and law enforcement, from CIA and FBI, on several occasions from roughly 2008 through 2013. He told the Committee that "the CIA guys would invite me out to lunch from time to time in New York." In a letter to then-Director Comey of the FBI, he acknowledged, "Having interacted with members of the U.S. intelligence community including the FBI and CIA for many decades"

which is a silly lie, since it was clearly no more than 0.6 decades. But then he also seemed to be claiming to be a source for Russian intelligence, though he objected to putting it that way:

Even though the FBI had intercepts from April 2013 of an intelligence officer, Viktor Podobnyy, talking about his effort to recruit Page and Page's eagerness to "make lots of money", which came out when Podobnyy was indicted on FARA violations in 2015, Page boasted on the one hand about being the "Male-1" cited in the indictment but denied he had any intelligence connection:

Page pushed fairly aggressively to join the Trump foreign policy/national security team when the newspapers started reporting that the campaign was assembling one in February 2016 ("Although I have little to gain from this personally, I'm committed to supporting Mr. Trump's· efforts to make America great again"), but it looks like they took him on happily with little or no vetting, because—this is another thing I'm learning—the Trump campaign didn't really want a foreign policy/national security team; they just wanted the press to stop criticizing them for not having one:

(U) As described elsewhere in this Report, the formation of a foreign policy and national security team was undertaken in large part to respond to public scrutiny over the lack of expertise on the Campaign. Clovis recalled in particular that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump asked him in mid-March to start assembling this team, which would be formed around then-Senator Jeff Sessions. Clovis recalled that the Campaign was "desperate to get the press off our backs." 

They only had a single meeting in which they ever got a chance to advise the candidate (at the Trump International in Washington, of course, 31 March, with Instagram evidence), at which Papadopoulos, later identified by Trump as a possible "coffee boy", announced that he had developed connections that could put together  a Putin-Trump meeting, but Carter Page was out of town. And of Page in particular, Hope Hicks said,

I think describing him as an "adviser" is inaccurate. I don't know who he was advising, but he was not advising the candidate or the policy team . ... He was just a person whose name got slapped on a list for a committee because we didn't have anybody else. 

But they did have two dinners and a meeting over the course of the next couple of months and Page did get to meet Sessions. But he traveled around and reported to the campaign about his travels:

Following up on our discussions about Russia earlier this month and Fox's obnoxious failed comments regarding the Putin-Trump relationship this week, I wanted to share with you a few thoughts and suggestions about some massive additional potential upside for the campaign. I spent the past week in Europe and have been in discussions with some individuals with close ties to the Kremlin. The possible game-changing effect which Mr. Trump could have in bringing the end of the new Cold War that Obama and George W Bush managed to create in recent years has literally brought a new exceptionally high level of optimism in Moscow and across the country....

(U) In his interview with the Committee, Page claimed that he could not remember which well-connected individuals to whom he was referring in this email.

And arousing some hostile interest from the media that got some of the more serious people in the campaign a bit nervous:

On June 11, 2016, Gordon emailed Campaign officials Rick Dearborn and John Mashburn with the subject line "Carter Page, Gazprom & Media Engagement." Gordon discussed Page's history of speaking with the press and suggested that while Page was generally helpful, he was "difficult to manage," especially as it related to the press. In the email, Gordon noted that he "wanted to draw your attention to National Review piece on Carter," which referred to Page as an "out-and-out Putinite," who is "tight with the Kremlin's foreign-policy apparatus and has served as a vehement propagandist for it."

Just as he exaggerated his Russia connections in his emails to the campaign, so he exaggerated his importance to the campaign when he was in Moscow:

(U) Page's invitation from the NES [New Economic School] was based solely on their perception of Page as an adviser to the Trump Campaign. Page's invitation to Russia was proffered by the rector of the NES, Shlomo Weber.... [who] told the Committee, "Because of [Page's] role in this campaign we thought it would be good," and said, "the hope was we would hear something from a potentially important person." 

Though in his emails to Gordon and Lewandowski and Hicks and the rest he kept suggesting that the person who should really address the NES would be Trump himself:

(U) Page also renewed his suggestion that Trump attend, stating "[a]s I had also previously suggested, I'm sure they would love to have Mr. Trump speak at this annual celebration." Page added: "Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich is a board member and a graduate who will likely be in attendance."

That didn't of course work out, and in July Page eventually went to Moscow himself, delivered the famous talk envisioning a renewed Russian-American friendship, and wrote to Washington

On a related front, I'll send you guys a readout soon regarding some incredible insights and outreach I've received from a few Russian legislators and senior members of the Presidential Administration here. Suffice to say that after watching their national economy and relationships with Europe get derailed by Washington mismanagement with disastrous consequences over recent years, Russians from the highest levels of government to the. average man on the street have a new optimism and hope for the future based on Mr. Trump's common sense statements about his foreign policy approaches over the past year. 


Russian Deputy Prime Minister and NES Board Member Arkady Dvorkovich also spoke, before the event. In a private conversation, Dvorkovich expressed strong support for Mr. Trump and a desire to work together toward devising better solutions in response to the vast range of current international problems. Based on feedback from a diverse array of sources close to the Russian Presidential Administration, it was readily apparent that this sentiment is widely held at all levels of the government.

but he later denied he'd had anything but a handshake with Dvorkovich, and his array of sources diminished to almost nothing.

(U) The Committee asked Page about the source of his ''incredible insights," the private conversation with Dvorkovich, and the "diverse array of sources close to the Russian Presidential Administration" that he wrote about in this email. As was the case with his January 30, 2016 email to Glassner, Clovis, and Lewandowski, Page had difficulty recalling his allegedly high-level engagements. He told the Committee that he was referring to: the exchange with academics over dinner on July 5; one encounter he had with a staff member who worked for a Duma (Russian parliament) member and whose name he could not recall; and, the handshake with Dvorkovich at the commencement ceremony on July 8. Page told the Committee that the unnamed Duma staffer and Dvorkovich were the only two people that he directly interacted with in the Russian government during the trip. Page allowed that his written comments from the email relating to outreach from Russian legislators "may have been an exaggeration."

"May have been." But it's always possible that he was lying to the Committee, hiding his criminal engagement with anything from Russia-stolen documents to the Rosneft sale. We can't really tell.

Carter Page, PhD, was an idiot, just as Viktor Podobnyy said he was in that 2013 conversation, but a Münchausen of self-promotion who had been engaged in trying to make himself look important to Russian and American intelligence professionals for years, with some success, and enough success that you could never be absolutely sure he wasn't important. It seems clear, as Marcy has been saying forever, that the more compelling material on Page in the Steele dossier was disinformation, dezinformatsiya, planted there to distract US intelligence from the focus they should have been putting on Manafort and Flynn in particular, but you can see how they had to investigate Page just because of the picture he presented of himself, virtually telling the world he was a double agent with a dual loyalty to Putin and the Republican Party and the grandest possible connections, that might be capable of getting Donald Trump to show up in Moscow for a commencement speech or collect Page a sizable piece of one of the world's largest oil companies.

And he was valuable to Russian intelligence precisely because he was such an idiot, with no ability to assess how important or unimportant he really was, and such a pathological liar that you could count on him to make himself look incredibly suspicious even when he was completely innocent, because he wouldn't be able to tell the truth about whatever it was. That's why they foisted him on Steele, and that's why the FBI would have wanted to put him under surveillance if Steele had never written about him. It's unfortunate, and especially unfortunate that Steele's work seems to have been sloppier than it should have been.

But the first avoidable error on the chain was the Trump team's taking this idiot on (together with other idiots like Papadopoulos and Phares) as a way of furthering their own dishonest presentation of the candidate as somebody prepared to be president, making the rest inevitable.

Whereas, in Rubio's defense, nobody could ever call him useful.

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