How reliable has the Steele dossier proven to be?
There are two ways to evaluate the aspersions cast against the dossier by the Primary Sub-source and the other sub-sources in the dossier.
1/ One way is to assess the likely motives of the players in the matter. Should we believe the Primary Sub-source and the other sources, who told the FBI to a man (or person) that Steele had misrepresented what they had told him in the dossier and that he had exaggerated the reliability and importance of the allegations in the dossier? Here, any rational person must side with Steele against those making the allegations against him, since the detractors clearly had a motive to repudiate the dossier (as the FBI suspected). Steele, on the other hand, had no such motive to misrepresent his findings.
Trump and his rightwing enablers have denounced the dossier as garbage, full of lies and baseless misrepresentations intended to damage Trump. These allegations are nonsense. Unlike the Primary Sub-source and the other sources for the dossier, Steele had no reason to tell anything other than the truth, because his credibility in the field of business intelligence demands it. Clients do not pay reputable firms like Orbis to manufacture dirt on targets, because the information such firms provide is only valuable to the client if it proves to be reliable. Orbis, like any other firm working in the field of intelligence, would not survive for long if it developed a reputation for telling its clients what the clients want to hear rather than for providing reliable information. (There undoubtedly are firms that get paid for manufacturing and disseminating dirt on targets, but these firms don’t work in the field of intelligence, business or otherwise.)
Steele even had a reputation to preserve with the U.S. government when he did his research for Fusion GPS on Trump-Russia relations. Steele had submitted (gratis) hundreds of his reports on Ukraine to the U.S. government well before he began work on the dossier, and the government had found his reports valuable. Victoria Nuland, who was the State Department’s Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs at the time, has said that Steele’s reports were as good as anything she had seen from our own CIA.
Steele defended himself on these grounds in Luke Harding’s book COLLUSION:
“Steele recognized that no piece of intelligence was 100 percent right. According to friends, he assessed his work on the Trump dossier was 70 to 90 percent accurate. Over eight years, Orbis had produced scores of reports on Russia for private clients and others. A lot of this content was verified or ‘proven up.’ And, Steele said, ‘I’ve been dealing with this country for thirty years. Why would I invent this stuff?’”
2/ An even more important way to evaluate the aspersions cast against the dossier by the Primary Sub-source and other sub-sources is to look at how much of it has been confirmed or is likely to be confirmed. At the end of the day, this will be the criterion by which the worth of the dossier is measured.
On this score, it has to be said that Steele did very well, surely hitting the minimal 70 percent mark set by Steele himself. This can be seen by considering in detail some of the principal allegations in the dossier.
For the purposes of this discussion, I will focus on four of these:
1/ The dossier’s allegations about Paul Manafort and Carter Page. These are important because they are central to the dossier’s explosive allegation (in memo #095) that there was a “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” between the Trump campaign and Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
2/ The Ritz-Carlton “pee-tape” allegation. This is not the most important allegation in the dossier, but it is the one that has made the dossier notorious among its critics as “unverified and salacious.”
3/ The allegation that Trump’s personal lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, made a trip to Prague in the Czech Republic in the late summer or early fall of 2016 to meet with officials of the Russian Federation in response to the negative publicity arising from a NYT story about Paul Manafort that led to Manafort’s forced departure from the Trump campaign. This allegation is not even mentioned in the Horowitz Report, nor is there any reason to think that Sater had anything to do with the Cohen-in-Prague story. But I discuss the allegation below because rightwing critics have alleged that the dossier is filled with Russian disinformation, and because the Cohen-in-Prague allegation is especially vulnerable to this charge.
In late July 2016, when memo #095 was written, Paul Manafort was the Trump campaign manager. By this time, the mainstream media had already drawn unfavorable attention to Paul Manafort for the consulting work he had done for highly unsavory dictators and autocrats around the world, including the highly corrupt, pro-Putin former president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovich.
On 14 Aug 2016, the NYT broke the blockbuster story that a black ledger had been found in Kyiv, with a debit entry indicating that Manafort was to be paid millions of dollars for his consulting work for the pro-Russia, pro-Putin political party of Ukraine. Within days, the NYT story led to Manafort’s forced resignation from the campaign. After that, Manafort largely disappeared from public view until late October 2017, when he was arrested and indicted. Manafort is now serving a prison sentence on multiple charges of money laundering, tax evasion, and other white collar crimes having nothing to do with his work with the Trump campaign.
Let us now look at what the dossier says about Manafort.
In July of 2016, Steele reported in memo #095, based on what he had heard from Source E, that the Trump campaign was involved in a well-developed conspiracy of cooperation with the government of Russia, which was interfering in the 2016 presidential election to hurt Clinton and help Trump. This conspiracy, Source E said, was directed by Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager, using Carter Page and others as intermediaries.
Here are some of the things we have learned about Paul Manafort and the Trump campaign’s connections with Russia long after memo #095 was written, and indeed long after the campaign ended on 3 Nov 2016.
The first big story on Paul Manafort and his involvement in Russian efforts to interfere in the election to help Trump was broken by CNN on 4 Aug 2017.
“In the summer of 2016, U.S. intelligence agencies noticed a spate of curious contacts between Trump campaign associates and suspected Russian intelligence, according to current and former U.S. officials briefed on the investigation.” …
“In the months that followed [the opening of the FBI investigation in July 2016], investigators turned up intercepted communications appearing to show efforts by Russian operatives to coordinate with Trump associates on damaging Hillary Clinton’s election prospects, officials said. CNN has learned those communications included references to campaign chairman Paul Manafort.” …
The article continued:
“CNN has learned that investigators became more suspicious when they turned up intercepted communications that U.S. intelligence agencies collected among suspected Russian operatives discussing their efforts to work with Manafort, who served as campaign chairman for three months, to coordinate information that could damage Hillary Clinton’s election prospects, the U.S. officials say. The suspected operatives relayed what they claimed were conversations with Manafort, encouraging help from the Russians.”
It is also clear from the Mueller Report that the Office of the Special Counsel (OSC) regarded Manafort as key to the Trump-Russia story. Leading OSC attorney Michael Dreeben said so in open court in April 2018. The following is also from CNN’s reporting:
[P]rosecutor Michael Dreeben let on that Manafort’s work in Ukraine may connect back to Russia. “Here you have somebody who was a campaign official in the Trump campaign, that he had long-standing ties to Russia-backed politicians in the Ukraine,” Dreeben said on behalf of Mueller at a court hearing. “What were the nature of those connections? Did they provide means for surreptitious communications? Did they provide back channels to Russia? Investigators will naturally look at those things.”
To bolster this argument, Dreeben relied on what may be the single most important document made public so far in the Mueller investigation. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had written a memo for Mueller two-and-a-half months after his appointment in 2017. This became known as the ‘August 2 memo’ and spelled out exactly who and what Mueller should investigate, including Manafort’s years of financial ties in Ukraine and communications with Russians in 2016. The three-page memo that prosecutors revealed in the court filing is still largely redacted. No charge related to the allegation against Manafort’s efforts in 2016 has been brought.
Here is the text of Rosenstein’s August 2 memo, more than half of which is still redacted.
Almost a year later, on 13 Feb 2019, in an article on a hearing over Manafort’s breach of his plea agreement, the New York Times reported that the OSC had emphasized in court once again how important Manafort was deemed to be in the Trump-Russia story. OSC prosecutor Andrew Weissmann told Judge Amy Berman Jackson that Manafort’s interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, Manafort’s closest aide in the Ukraine (who, incidentally, is regarded by US intelligence as a GRU agent and officer) went “to the larger view of what we think is going on and what we think is the motive here.” Weissmann also referred to a peace plan for Ukraine that Kilimnik and Manafort discussed several times. Significantly, that proposal included the lifting of U.S. sanctions against Russia.
It was during this hearing in February of 2019 that the public first learned that Manafort had also shared the Trump campaign’s internal polling data with two pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs for whom Manafort had worked. Manafort’s lawyers claimed that he had only wanted to share public data in the interest of promoting himself and perhaps in the hopes of winning lucrative work overseas. However, Weissmann suggested at the hearing that Manafort’s motivation for lying about his interactions with Kilimnik were important, because, as Weissmann said, whether any Americans had wittingly or unwittingly engaged with Russians who were trying to interfere in the presidential election went to “the core” of Mueller’s inquiry.
Some details included in the Mueller Report about Manafort’s communications with Kilimnik were particularly explosive. For example, the Mueller Report says that a plan that Kilimnik and Manafort discussed was a “backdoor” way for Russia to control part of eastern Ukraine. Both men believed the plan would require candidate Trump’s assent to succeed were he to be elected President.
We also learn from the Mueller Report about an email that Kilimnik wrote to Manafort that said: “all that is required to start the process is a very minor ‘ wink’ (or slight push) from [Donald Trump ].” The email also stated that if Manafort were designated as the U.S. representative and started the process, Yanukovych — the pro-Russian politician and former president of Ukraine for whom Manafort had done highly paid consulting work — would ensure his reception in Russia “at the very top level.”
Perhaps most importantly, the Mueller Report relates that Kilimnik and Manafort discussed the status of the Trump campaign and Manafort’s strategy for winning votes in Midwestern states. Mueller found that for months while he was campaign chairman Manafort had shared internal polling data with Kilimnik. Manafort expected Kilimnik to share that information with others in Ukraine and in particular with Oleg Deripaska, a Russian and the oligarch who is said to be the closest to Putin. Manafort’s associate, Rick Gates, periodically sent such polling data to Kilimnik during the campaign.
This polling data was collected by Tony Fabrizio, the Trump campaign’s pollster, who had worked for Manafort in the past. The Mueller Report says that the Office could not assess what Kilimnik or others he may have given it to did with the polling data. However, unless we suppose that Deripaska was afflicted with an excess of idle curiosity, we have to believe that Deripaska passed the information on to pro-Putin operatives who would be able to use it. The polling data would undoubtedly have been of great interest to operatives working for the Kremlin who were engaged in Russia’s active measures to intervene on Trump’s behalf in the election. Both Kilimnik and Deripaska would have had the contacts necessary to get the polling data to them. All of this would go far to explain why and how Russian active measures targeted the swing states in the Midwest that were crucial to Trump’s electoral victory in 2016.
Let us now compare the foregoing information with what Steele reported in his memo #095. In that memo, Steele referred to a “well-developed conspiracy of co-operation between [the campaign] and the Russian leadership.”
Steele is not a British lawyer or legal scholar, much less an American lawyer or legal scholar, and he was not writing as one. There is no reason to suppose that anyone involved in memo #095 was suggesting that there was a provable “criminal conspiracy” between Manafort and Trump and the Russians, which is the standard that Mueller had set for himself as Special Counsel. However, long after the dossier had been written, an abundance of evidence appeared to show that the Trump campaign, via Manafort in particular, had colluded with Russian intelligence to benefit the Trump campaign in any common sense and ordinary meaning of the word “collusion.” Steele was writing about this and warning the FBI about it long before anyone in the agency suspected it, and a full month and half before Manafort was fired by the Trump campaign over an entry in a financial ledger that had been discovered in Kyiv that belonged to a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party.
Trump admitted once to close associates that Manafort could hurt him. On 30 Jan 2018, Howard Fineman (NBC News) reported that Trump was telling friends and aides in private that things were going well for him, one of the reasons being that Trump had decided that Paul Manafort wasn’t going to “flip” on him and sell him out.
Mueller never did get Manafort to flip, but that may only have been because Trump dangled pardons before Manafort to keep him from flipping. In Volume II of the Mueller Report, in a section entitled “Conduct Directed at Paul Manafort,” we find the following testimony (note the coincidence in time — January of 2018 — with the NBC News article by Howard Fineman):
(The Paul Manafort story comprises a significant part of the Mueller Report. Detailed coverage of Manafort is in Report Vol. I: 129–144; and in “Trump’s conduct directed at Manafort” in Vol. II: 122–128.)
Steele’s allegation in memo #095 about the “well-developed conspiracy” is extraordinarily impressive, considering everything we have learned about Manafort since the dossier was written. At the time the memo was written, no one in the West but Steele and his sources and sub-sources — not even the FBI — seems to have suspected that Manafort was working with pro-Russian actors to assist Russia in its interference in the election on behalf of Trump. This is not to say that Source E = the Primary Sub-source = Felix Sater and his merry band of sub-sources knew all or any of these specific details about Manafort. (Though for all we know they did; indeed, they could have known even more details that we do not know about.) But at the very least the dossier was clearly on to something that proved to be of great significance.
Trump announced that Carter Page was a foreign policy adviser in his campaign on 21 March 2016. In early July 2016, Page made a trip to Moscow with the approval of the Trump campaign, where he delivered the keynote address at a university there, the New Economic School.
The Steele dossier alleged that important meetings occurred between Page and Russian government officials on his July trip to Moscow. Initially, Page categorically denied such allegations. Later, his accounts of the trip became evasive and often inconsistent. “I might have said hello to a few people as they were walking by me at my graduation — the graduation speech that I gave in July, but no meetings,” he once said.
While the details about Page’s trip to Moscow in July 2016 remain murky, we now know that Steele was right to claim that Page was not telling the truth when he said that he only said “hello to a few people in passing” on his trip to Moscow.
The Steele dossier alleges that on his July trip to Moscow Page met with Igor Sechin, the head of the Russian government’s oil company Rosneft. (Sechin is regarded by many Russia experts as the second most powerful man in Russia.) Page has denied that he met with Sechin. In fact, in the beginning Page claimed that he did not have any important meetings in Moscow apart from a two-minute exchange of pleasantries at an open meeting with Arkady Dvorkovich, who had invited him to the New Economic School conference. Eventually, however, Page was forced to acknowledge that he did have longer and more substantive meetings, and we know something now about at least some of those meetings.
For one thing, the Mueller Report provides an account of Page’s meeting with Andrey Baranov, the head of investor relations at Igor Sechin’s company Rosneft. Baranov was close enough to Sechin that he could have spoken for Sechin himself at that meeting.
This is how the Report describes Page’s account of his meeting with Baranov. (The Report came out long after Page had stopped trying to deny that he had had any important meetings in Moscow.)
In one of the most intriguing passages in the Mueller Report, we also learn that in July Page had come to the attention of Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov. This is how that happened.
A Russian ethnic living in the U.S., Dmitri Klimentov, wrote to his brother Denis Klimentov about Page’s visit to Moscow before Page’s trip there. (Denis Klimentov worked at the New Economic School in Moscow, which sponsored and paid for Page’s address on his July trip.) Denis Klimentov copied his brother’s email in an email he sent to Maria Zakharova, the Director of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Information and Press Department, about Page’s visit and his connection to the Trump Campaign. Denis Klimentov said in the email that he wanted to draw the Russian government’s attention to Page’s visit to Moscow. The Report then gives more text from Klimentov’s letter, and then proceeds to relate interesting information about Peskov:
This of course raises the question: Who was the “main one” Peskov was referring to if it wasn’t Carter Page? It would be interesting to know, for example, if Peskov and his “specialists” were referring to Paul Manafort, and they may well have been. But it would also be interesting if they were referring to some other person in the campaign who is at present unidentified.
At the end of the day, Mueller was never able to determine what Page had meant in an email he sent to the campaign on 8 July 2016 when he was still in Moscow. Page’s email said that he would send the campaign “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.” (The Presidential Administration is Putin’s executive staff office.)
The Mueller Report’s discussion of Page concludes: “The Office was unable to obtain additional evidence or testimony about who Page may have met or communicated with in Moscow; thus, Page’s activities in Russia — as described in his emails with the Campaign — were not fully explained.”
The House Intelligence Committee expressed similar doubts and questions about Page in its report on 22 March 2018. The committee expressed concerns about Page’s “seemingly incomplete accounts of his activity in Moscow.”
Finally, let it be noted that Scott Stedman, an investigative journalist, discovered an article in the Russian-language Moscow paper Komsomolskaya Pravda dated 11 July 2016 that also alleged that Page had held “secret talks” in Moscow on his July trip. The article does not say who Page met with, and the page was taken down after Stedman discovered it. It has, however, been archived, which is how Stedman found it.
The Ritz Carlton / pee-tape / golden showers allegation
This is the most notorious of the allegations in the dossier. It has given rise to the commonplace description of the dossier as “unverified and salacious,” and has been one of the main focal points of rightwing attacks against the dossier.
Glenn Simpson saw that the pee-tape allegation would be a lightning rod for attacks if Steele’s memos ever became public. He even had misgivings about including the allegation in the findings that Fusion GPS began describing to a select circle of Beltway journalists in September 2016. But Steele insisted on including it in the memos that Fusion GPS handed over to Perkins Coie and in the verbal description of the findings that Steele and Simpson gave to journalists. Steele did this because he knew that getting sexual kompromat on targets is a standard KGB/FSB practice, and because he had been told the allegation by his “collector” (Source E = Felix Sater).
Steele has said that he has seven independent sources for the Ritz Carlton allegation. A close reading of memo #080 shows what several of these were. That memo reports that Source E was told about the allegation by Source D (Sergei Millian). That makes two. Source E reported to Steele that “s/he and several of the staff [of Trump Org] were aware of it at the time and subsequently” and that “S/he believed it had happened in 2013.” That allegation from Source E means that several of the “staff” of Trump Org had heard of the incident. Finally, Steele relates that a female staffer at the Ritz Carlton (apparently an American, and the manager of the Ritz Carlton at the time) confirmed the story. That’s the count just from the dossier.
Also noteworthy: Moscow-based Western journalists have said that all the prostitutes in Moscow believe the story.
Steele never intended the dossier to be distributed publicly. He only spoke about his findings (including the pee-tape allegation) to American journalists in the hopes that they would follow up on his leads and do their own investigative reporting on Trump-Russia relations.
One veteran journalist, Paul Wood of the BBC, did so after the publication of the dossier by BuzzFeed on 10 January. Here is what Wood found:
“I understand the CIA believes it is credible that the Kremlin has such kompromat — or compromising material — on the next US commander in chief. … [Steele] is not the only source for the claim about Russian kompromat on the president-elect. Back in August, a retired spy told me he had been informed of its existence by ‘the head of an East European intelligence agency’.
Later, I used an intermediary to pass some questions to active duty CIA officers dealing with the case file — they would not speak to me directly. I got a message back that there was ‘more than one tape’, ‘audio and video’, on ‘more than one date’, in ‘more than one place’ — in the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow and also in St Petersburg — and that the material was ‘of a sexual nature’.”
In fact, there probably isn’t a single government intelligence service in the Western world that doesn’t believe the Kremlin has compromising sexual material on Trump, even if there isn’t widespread agreement about the dossier’s details about the alleged incident at the Ritz Carlton in 2013.
Finally, allow me to point out that a similar allegation surfaced as a footnote (#112 of Vol I) of the Mueller Report:
“On October 30, 2016, Michael Cohen received a text from Russian businessman Giorgi Rtskhiladze that said, “Stopped flow of tapes from Russia but not sure if there’s anything else. Just so you know ….” Rtskhiladze said “tapes” referred to compromising tapes of Trump rumored to be held by persons associated with the Russian real estate conglomerate Crocus Group, which had helped host the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Russia. … Cohen said he spoke to Trump about the issue after receiving the texts from Rtskhiladze. … Rtskhiladze said he was told the tapes were fake, but he did not communicate that to Cohen.”
Horowitz reports that the Primary Sub-source told the FBI that he/she reported to Steele that Trump’s alleged unorthodox sexual activity at the Ritz Carlton hotel was “rumor and speculation” and that he/she had not been able to confirm the story.
It is not at all clear what the Primary Sub-source had in mind when he said he had not been able to confirm the story. He had been told by Source D about the allegation, and he himself recalled that he and others of the [Trump Org] staff had heard about it at the time. (Sater did not go to Moscow in 2013.) The Primary Sub-source knew that the contact at the Ritz Carlton had confirmed the allegation, at least to the extent that she had confirmed that there were in fact rumors.
It is hard to see how this doesn’t constitute at least partial confirmation, unless one stipulates that the allegation hasn’t even been partially confirmed unless one actually has in hand a certified videotape of the incident from the Kremlin archives. But of course that is never going to be forthcoming — not for Steele, not for any Western government intelligence agency, nor for anyone else. Short of that, though, there is abundant indirect evidence for the allegation that must be taken seriously.
Verdict about the Ritz Carlton allegation: “Salacious?” Yes. “Unconfirmed?” Nope, can’t say that.” Zero evidence (as some have alleged)?” Absolutely not.
Michael Cohen’s alleged meeting in Prague in the late summer or early fall of 2016
Three of the dossier’s last memos allege, among other things, that Trump’s fixer-lawyer Michael Cohen made a trip to Prague in the Czech Republic in late summer or early fall of 2016 in connection with the Trump campaign’s coordination with the Kremlin’s interference on Trump’s behalf in the 2016 presidential election.
Steele had sources other than the Primary Sub-source and/or Source E for these memos. Nevertheless, it is worth considering the allegation here, because the Horowitz Report has thrown doubt on the entire dossier because of what it reports about the criticisms of the dossier made by the Primary Sub-source = Source E. The Cohen-in-Prague allegation is also worth considering because it provides the strongest case for the critics’ claim that Steele was the victim of Russian deza (disinformation).
The allegation also makes for an exceedingly strange story.
Things started to get very odd right out of the gate. Immediately after the dossier had come to the attention of the public after its publication by BuzzFeed. Michael Cohen strenuously denied that he had been in Prague at the time, and has continued to do so the present day.
But then, almost immediately, the possibility arose that another Michael Cohen was in Prague at the time. The day after after BuzzFeed’s publication of the dossier, a “government source” told CNN’s Jake Tapper that the dossier referred to a “different Michael Cohen” in Prague. (The fact that the government responded almost immediately to the story shows that the government, which had received the dossier in September 2016, had already been investigating the Prague allegation.) https://tinyurl.com/y8r4honq
That was already pretty strange, but it wasn’t totally unbelievable. (Michael Cohen is not a terribly uncommon name, yada yada yada.) But it got even stranger when McClatchy reported on 28 Dec 2018 that cell towers in and around Prague had picked up signals from a phone with the same digital identity (IMEI) as one of Michael Cohen’s cell phones in the late summer or early fall of 2016. McClatchy said its reporting was backed by five reliable sources:
“Our sources cited information that signals from a cell phone owned by Cohen were detected in the vicinity of Prague and that, during that time frame, electronic eavesdropping by an Eastern European intelligence agency picked up a Russian remarking that Cohen was in the Czech capital.”
After the McClatchy story was published, Cohen denied once again that he had been in Prague. Despite this renewed denial and some withering criticism the story had received, McClatchy stood by its story and has continued to do so this day. (It did so as recently as 13 Dec 2019.) https://tinyurl.com/u6oz8yn)
The McClatchy story has been corroborated by John Schindler (@20committee). Schindler had a career at the NSA and maintains contacts there. Schindler has said that he knows the number of the cell phone in question (based on its IMEI); that it is Cohen’s; and that it was not one of Cohen’s burner phones.
This is a puzzle.
Since it is virtually certain at this point that our Michael Cohen (Trump’s personal attorney/fixer) was not in Prague at the time, the theory that someone went to the trouble to clone his phone (that is, his IMEI digital identity) to make it seem that Cohen was in Prague at the time is the most likely story.
This would help explain Jake Tapper’s report on 11 Jan 2017 that a “government source” had told him that it was a “different Michael Cohen.”
But then one has to ask: Why would someone go to the trouble of cloning one of Cohen’s cell phones to perpetrate the hoax?
In answering this question, keep in mind that the conversation the Eastern European intel agency picked up at the same time that the cell towers were pinging Cohen’s phone number was a Russian who was probably talking to other Russians — not Cohen or other Americans talking to Russians. So who were these Russians? Russian deza experts and counterintel officers who wanted to be overheard? This is a logical question to ask, because Russian intel could have gotten an IMEI from one of Michael Cohen’s phones, cloned it, and used it to suggest that Michael Cohen was in Prague to pay off Russian hackers etc.
Russian intel and active measures operatives would have had a motive to make up this story. All we have to do is suppose that they knew by some time in late August or early September that Steele was working on his memos, and that these memos were very damaging and threatening to the Kremlin. Hence the Kremlin — especially one of the Russian Intelligence Services — would have had a motive to proactively discredit the dossier by creating the false Cohen-in-Prague narrative.
Note, too, that if the Russians suspected that Steele was working on an exposé of Trump-Russia relations but weren’t sure who they could use to mislead him, they wouldn’t have been in a position to feed the deza to Steele via sources directly. But Russian intelligence could have circulated the story in certain circles, hoping that it would get picked up and transmitted to Steele by someone that Steele took to be credible. In order to ensure that the strategy would succeed, some part of RIS would likely have been tasked with cloning Michael Cohen’s phone in order to provide backup evidence. It appears that the plan worked, because the deza (we don’t know how) did find its way into the dossier, and by doing so, threw some shade on all the other allegations about Trump-Russia collusion.
The Cohen-in-Prague allegation appears in the last three memos: #135 (written on 19 Oct 2016), #136 (written on 20 Oct 2016), and #166 (written on 13 Dec 2016). The reporting on the allegation is attributed to one of Steele’s Russian sources. That source is a Russian compatriot. (The Detail section of memo #135 begins: “Speaking in confidence to a longstanding compatriot friend in mid-October 2016, a Kremlin insider highlighted the importance of ….”).
According to the memos, the Kremlin wanted to “cover up the scandal of Manafort and the exposure of Page”; that the Kremlin and Cohen were “heavily engaged in a cover up and damage limitation operation in the attempt to prevent the full details of [the] relationship with Russia being exposed”; that “the immediate issues had been to contain further scandals involving MANNAFORT’s [sic] commercial and political role in Russia/Ukraine and to limit the damage arising from exposure of former TRUMP foreign policy advisor, Carter PAGE’s secret meetings with Russian leadership figures”; and that the overall objective had been “to sweep it all under the carpet and make sure no connections could be fully established or proven.”
How to do this? Well, one way would be to throw in someone new (Michael Cohen) and tell a story so tall and easily refuted that it would undermine the entire Trump-Russia narrative, which was only then beginning to come to the attention of the public in the U.S. and which didn’t reach full flower until the Mueller Report was published on 18 April 2019. In order to accomplish this objective, the Russians would have had to be willing to put into the deza pipeline facts, some true and some false, about Russia’s cyberware against the U.S. election, but we can easily imagine they would have been willing to do that. The extent and aggressiveness of that cyberwarfare wasn’t known to the public or even the U.S government at that time, but the Kremlin must have known that it would be discovered eventually.
So there we have it. Act preemptively against future developments by throwing an easily disprovable, bright shiny object into the picture to discredit the dossier. The deza was a brilliant success, because the last three memos have been a thorn in the side of all those who have wanted, ever since the publication of the dossier, to see the full extent of Trump-Russia collusion exposed.
You really have to hand it to the Russians.
I appreciate that this narrative might seem far-fetched, but is it any weirder than the elaborate hoax reported by Adrian Chen in the NYT about an explosion and fire in a chemical plant in Louisiana that never happened? https://tinyurl.com/juory7b And the above theory becomes even more plausible when one considers that hoaxes of this kind were a fairly standard practice of the KGB during the Soviet years. A very interesting example of this can be found in the book SPY WARS, by Tennent H. Bagley. (See pp. 151–152, beginning with “KGB-trusted Soviet colleagues of Kirpichev were instructed to stage phone calls over the tapped lines….”).
If you still think this narrative is too convoluted and weird to be true, consider the following set of statements:
1/ Michael Cohen did not make a trip to Prague in late summer/early fall of 2016, as was alleged in the dossier. (Robert Mueller did not contest Cohen’s denial that he was in Prague at the time, and the evidence that Cohen didn’t make the trip is by now overwhelming.)
2/ The government says that there was a Michael Cohen in Prague during that time but that it was a different Michael Cohen than Trump’s fixer-lawyer. (Reported by CNN’s Jake Tapper.)
3/ Cohen has not only denied that he was in Prague at the time; he has denied that any of his phones were there either.
4/ In late summer/ early fall, cell phone towers in the vicinity of Prague were pinged by a cell phone with an IMEI identical with a phone owned by Trump’s fixer-lawyer, Michael Cohen (according to five sources, as reported by McClatchy).
If you think my proposed solution to the puzzle can’t be true, then identify which of the above statements in the above set you think you can reject, or come up with a better explanation than the one I’ve given, and DM the solution to me @twoodiac. Thanks.