May 15, 2019

Wonkette had a startling new scoop yesterday, one that everyone else seems to be ignoring. (Probably because the top-tier news organizations viciously raked Slate's Franklin Foer over the coals for the same story that was seemingly validated by said scoop.) The New Yorker's Dexter Filkin did his own deep dive two years later.)

In the interest of simplicity, I'm leaving out some of the backstory. If you want more details, go back and read the Wonkette story.

Here's the gist: Citizens United released documents they got through FOIA, including the notes of an Oct. 11, 2016 Christopher Steele briefing with then-Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kathleen Kavalec and Steele's Orbis Security associate, Tatyana Duran.

In that meeting, Steele told Kavalec he believed the Trump Organization server, the one that communicated with two Alfa Bank servers in Russia and one associated with the DeVos family's Spectrum Health, was used by Alfa Bank chief Petr Aven as the secret conduit (encrypted via TOR) between Paul Manafort and Russia.

(I'll remind you here that Franklin Foer's story didn't appear until late October 2016. So Steele was saying something that wouldn't be public for another three weeks.)

This all makes this Salon story from last July even more of a jawdropper:

The Republican-led Senate — with the help of Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia — voted on Wednesday to confirm President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the Justice Department’s oversight of criminal cases involving public corruption. The choice was arguably a strange one. Brian Benczkowski, a lawyer with no experience as a federal prosecutor, whose last job involved representing a Russian bank closely tied to the regime of Vladimir Putin, was confirmed by a 51-48 vote on Wednesday. Every Democratic senator except Manchin voted against him.

Benczkowski briefly represented Alfa Bank during the late winter period in 2017. No one at Alfa Bank has been charged with criminal wrongdoing, and it isn’t even clear if the bank is being investigated, but it has been accused of involvement in the Trump-Russia scandal, largely because of documents in the so-called Steele dossier.

Wonkette's Evan Hurst:

Manafort officially left the campaign in August, after the press started exposing his myriad weird and fucked up connections to Russia. However, Franklin Foer reported that the server activity continued throughout 2016, spiking around the conventions and around other significant election moments, and only settled down once reporters started prying around later in the fall. Which leads us to a funny/curious question! What was Paul Manafort really doing between August 2016, when he "left" the Trump campaign, and the election in November?

This is all suggestive of something weird, but of course Steele's contentions are raw intelligence. Might be factual, but not proven to be fact. But it bolsters information we already have, including from the Mueller report.

The other big ol' Red flag? Steele believed the Russian operation to sway the election with hacked material was overseen, not by the FSB, but by Vladimir Putin hisownself and his deputies Sergey Ivanov and Dmitry Peskov. Steele said Manafort was the go-between with the Trump campaign.

By the way, Steele still thought the pee tape was real. (His source went back and confirmed two things: The FSB was in the hotel at the time, and that Trump regularly used prostitutes on his visits.)


Evan Hurst again:

Once more, for emphasis before we move on: Franklin Foer had "Trump organization server + Alfa Bank + Spectrum Health," while Chris Steele had "Manafort + Alfa Bank," independent of each other, and that's quite frankly kinda stunning. Foer's sources said the interactions were designed so as to be concealed. Steele said Manafort and Alfa were using TOR software and a hidden server. It sure does appear to be the same story, from two different directions, with two completely different lines of sourcing.

If all these things turn out to be true, you know what we have?


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