[Marxism] How a Sensational, Unverified Dossier Became a Crisis for Donald Trump

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Jan 12 06:14:08 MST 2017

NY Times, Jan. 12 2017
How a Sensational, Unverified Dossier Became a Crisis for Donald Trump

WASHINGTON — Seven months ago, a respected former British spy named 
Christopher Steele won a contract to build a file on Donald J. Trump’s 
ties to Russia. Last week, the explosive details — unsubstantiated 
accounts of frolics with prostitutes, real estate deals that were 
intended as bribes and coordination with Russian intelligence of the 
hacking of Democrats — were summarized for Mr. Trump in an appendix to a 
top-secret intelligence report.

The consequences have been incalculable and will play out long past 
Inauguration Day. Word of the summary, which was also given to President 
Obama and congressional leaders, leaked to CNN Tuesday, and the rest of 
the media followed with sensational reports.

Mr. Trump denounced the unproven claims Wednesday as a fabrication, a 
Nazi-style smear concocted by “sick people.” It has further undermined 
his relationship with the intelligence agencies and cast a shadow over 
the new administration.

Late Wednesday night, after speaking with Mr. Trump, James R. Clapper 
Jr., the director of national intelligence, issued a statement decrying 
leaks about the matter and saying of Mr. Steele’s dossier that the 
intelligence agencies have “not made any judgment that the information 
in this document is reliable.” Mr. Clapper suggested that intelligence 
officials had nonetheless shared it to give policymakers “the fullest 
possible picture of any matters that might affect national security.”

Parts of the story remain out of reach — most critically the basic 
question of how much, if anything, in the dossier is true. But it is 
possible to piece together a rough narrative of what led to the current 
crisis, including lingering questions about the ties binding Mr. Trump 
and his team to Russia. The episode also offers a glimpse of the hidden 
side of presidential campaigns, involving private sleuths-for-hire 
looking for the worst they can find about the next American leader.

The story began in September 2015, when a wealthy Republican donor who 
strongly opposed Mr. Trump put up the money to hire a Washington 
research firm run by former journalists, Fusion GPS, to compile a 
dossier about the real estate magnate’s past scandals and weaknesses, 
according to a person familiar with the effort. The person described the 
opposition research work on condition of anonymity, citing the volatile 
nature of the story and the likelihood of future legal disputes. The 
identity of the donor is unclear.

Fusion GPS, headed by a former Wall Street Journal journalist known for 
his dogged reporting, Glenn Simpson, most often works for business 
clients. But in presidential elections, the firm is sometimes hired by 
candidates, party organizations or donors to do political “oppo” work — 
shorthand for opposition research — on the side.

It is routine work and ordinarily involves creating a big, searchable 
database of public information: past news reports, documents from 
lawsuits and other relevant data. For months, Fusion GPS gathered the 
documents and put together the files from Mr. Trump’s past in business 
and entertainment, a rich target.

After Mr. Trump emerged as the presumptive nominee in the spring, the 
Republican interest in financing the effort ended. But Democratic 
supporters of Hillary Clinton were very interested, and Fusion GPS kept 
doing the same deep dives, but on behalf of new clients.

In June, the tenor of the effort suddenly changed. The Washington Post 
reported that the Democratic National Committee had been hacked, 
apparently by Russian government agents, and a mysterious figure calling 
himself “Guccifer 2.0” began to publish the stolen documents online.

Mr. Simpson hired Mr. Steele, a former British intelligence officer with 
whom he had worked before. Mr. Steele, in his early 50s, had served 
undercover in Moscow in the early 1990s and later was the top expert on 
Russia at the London headquarters of Britain’s spy service, MI6. When he 
stepped down in 2009, he started his own commercial intelligence firm, 
Orbis Business Intelligence.

The former journalist and the former spy, according to people who know 
them, had similarly dark views of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, 
a former K.G.B. officer, and the varied tactics he and his intelligence 
operatives used to smear, blackmail or bribe their targets.

As a former spy who had carried out espionage inside Russia, Mr. Steele 
was in no position to travel to Moscow to study Mr. Trump’s connections 
there. Instead, he hired native Russian speakers to call informants 
inside Russia and made surreptitious contact with his own connections in 
the country as well.

Mr. Steele wrote up his findings in a series of memos, each a few pages 
long, that he began to deliver to Fusion GPS in June and continued at 
least until December. By then, the election was over, and neither Mr. 
Steele nor Mr. Simpson was being paid by a client, but they did not stop 
what they believed to be very important work. (Mr. Simpson declined to 
comment for this article, and Mr. Steele did not immediately reply to a 
request for comment.)

The memos described two different Russian operations. The first was a 
yearslong effort to find a way to influence Mr. Trump, perhaps because 
he had contacts with Russian oligarchs whom Mr. Putin wanted to keep 
track of. According to Mr. Steele’s memos, it used an array of familiar 
tactics: the gathering of “kompromat,” compromising material such as 
alleged tapes of Mr. Trump with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel, and 
proposals for business deals attractive to Mr. Trump.

The goal would probably never have been to make Mr. Trump a knowing 
agent of Russia, but to make him a source who might provide information 
to friendly Russian contacts. But if Mr. Putin and his agents wanted to 
entangle Mr. Trump using business deals, they did not do it very 
successfully. Mr. Trump has said he has no major properties there, 
though one of his sons said at a real estate conference in 2008 that “a 
lot of money” was “pouring in from Russia.”

The second Russian operation described was recent: a series of contacts 
with Mr. Trump’s representatives during the campaign, in part to discuss 
the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Mrs. Clinton’s 
campaign chairman, John D. Podesta. According to Mr. Steele’s sources, 
it involved, among other things, a late-summer meeting in Prague between 
Michael Cohen, a lawyer for Mr. Trump, and Oleg Solodukhin, a Russian 
official who works for Rossotrudnichestvo, an organization that promotes 
Russia’s interests abroad.

By all accounts, Mr. Steele has an excellent reputation with American 
and British intelligence colleagues and had done work for the F.B.I. on 
the investigation of bribery at FIFA, soccer’s global governing body. 
Colleagues say he was acutely aware of the danger he and his associates 
were being fed Russian disinformation. Russian intelligence had mounted 
a complex hacking operation to damage Mrs. Clinton, and a similar 
operation against Mr. Trump was possible.

But much of what he was told, and passed on to Fusion GPS, was very 
difficult to check. And some of the claims that can be checked seem 
problematic. Mr. Cohen, for instance, said on Twitter on Tuesday night 
that he has never been in Prague; Mr. Solodukhin, his purported Russian 
contact, denied in a telephone interview that he had ever met Mr. Cohen 
or anyone associated with Mr. Trump. The president-elect on Wednesday 
cited news reports that a different Michael Cohen with no Trump ties may 
have visited Prague and that the two Cohens might have been mixed up in 
Mr. Steele’s reports.

But word of a dossier had begun to spread through political circles. 
Rick Wilson, a Republican political operative who was working for a 
super PAC supporting Marco Rubio, said he heard about it in July, when 
an investigative reporter for a major news network called him to ask 
what he knew.

By early fall, some of Mr. Steele’s memos had been given to the F.B.I., 
which was already investigating Mr. Trump’s Russian ties, and to 
journalists. An MI6 official, whose job does not permit him to be quoted 
by name, said that in late summer or early fall, Mr. Steele also passed 
the reports he had prepared on Mr. Trump and Russia to British 
intelligence. Mr. Steele was concerned about what he was hearing about 
Mr. Trump, and he thought that the information should not be solely in 
the hands of people looking to win a political contest.

After the election, the memos, still being supplemented by his 
inquiries, became one of Washington’s worst-kept secrets, as reporters — 
including from The New York Times — scrambled to confirm or disprove them.

Word also reached Capitol Hill. Senator John McCain, Republican of 
Arizona, heard about the dossier and obtained a copy in December from 
David J. Kramer, a former top State Department official who works for 
the McCain Institute at Arizona State University. Mr. McCain passed the 
information to James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director.

Remarkably for Washington, many reporters for competing news 
organizations had the salacious and damning memos, but they did not 
leak, because their contents could not be confirmed. That changed only 
this week, after the heads of the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and the National 
Security Agency added a summary of the memos, along with information 
gathered from other intelligence sources, to their report on the Russian 
cyberattack on the election.

Now, after the most contentious of elections, Americans are divided and 
confused about what to believe about the incoming president. And there 
is no prospect soon for full clarity on the veracity of the claims made 
against him.

“It is a remarkable moment in history,” said Mr. Wilson, the Florida 
political operative. “What world did I wake up in?”

Jonathan Martin, Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.

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