If you're joining late, Part 1 considers whether it really is likely that the anti-Trump conspirators would take the extraordinary risks they have taken simply to get Hillary Clinton elected president; or, perhaps, whether their collective panic has another explanation -- a red thread? Part 2 minutely examines Nellie H. Ohr, the Russian-speaking-ham-radio-operator Fusion GPS boss Glenn Simpson tried in vain to hide from investigators, and finds a tangle of red threads; Part 3 notes that Edward Baumgartner, another Fusion GPS Russia expert, was a Russian history major at Vassar (Class of 1995) when Nellie H. Ohr was a Russian professor at Vassar. Part 4 examines ex-MI6 agent Christopher Steele's political background and finds that he and his "opposite number," Nellie H. Ohr, may be birds of a red feather. Part 5 drills down on why the "Russian threat within," circa 2016-2018, doesn't smell right, and how to judge when information originating in Moscow is intelligence and when it is disinformation. Part 6 examines whether 1976 CPUSA voter and former CIA director John Brennan was passing the Steele "dossier" off as intelligence in the summer of 2016. Part 7 follows the red thread through Clintonworld, Kerryworld and the State Department.
Now for the pivot.
Recall that just as Fusion GPS was working on behalf of the DNC and Hillary campaign in 2016, it was also working on behalf of a law firm defending the Prevezon case, a money-laundering case the US government brought against Russian national Dennis Katsyv. Katsyv's Russian lawyer was Natalia Veselnitskaya. Yes, that Natalia Veselnitskaya, the one who met with Don Trump Jr. at Trump Tower in June 2016. (Some thoughts on Veselnitskaya's little-noticed Senate testimony here.)
The Prevezon case was based on evidence provided by ex-American Bill Browder, a British citizen who became a billionaire in Russia. This evidence would go largely "unvetted," as we say post-"dossier." In his deposition, the primary US investigator on the case admitted as much. So, too, did the the author of a Council of Europe special report on the death of Browder's accountant, Sergei Magnitsky. The connection here is that Magnitsky's miserable death in a Russian prison is the basis of Browder's campaign to sanction "complicit" Russians, which is a basis of the Prevezon law suit. Hence, the defense team effort, assisted by Fusion GPS research, to shred Browder's evidence.
It is an odd feature of our caricature world that even to question Browder's Magnitsky story is to "support Putin." There is simply no other conceivable position or consideration in the public square, as administered by the Left and kindred Right. Thus, Fusion GPS, its key credentials for functioning in that public square tarnished by its anti-Browder/"pro-Putin" research, issued a statement negating the implications of that research to profess institutional support for Browder. Describing the firm's role as collecting facts, Fusion GPS stated: “Occasionally, the facts turn out to be helpful to people we deplore, like Vladimir Putin, or undermine people for whom we have considerable sympathy, like William Browder.”
This was a brief but fascinating insight into Fusion GPS's confessional mindset. The firm may well have uncovered evidence undermining the veracity of the Browder story, calling into gravest question his consequential international campaign, but evidence has no bearing on Fusion GPS's "considerable sympathy" for the man. Professing anything less is to stray from the orthodoxy, and deviations will not be tolerated. This reminds me of ... a lot of things, including the sundering of facts from conclusions historically associated with ideological, especially communist, zealotry. Note Fusion GPS resident Russia-expert Nellie Ohr and her apologetics on the Ukraine Terror Famine, and other "agonizing paradoxes" of Stalin's communist dictatorship.
So what is the pivot from Magnitsky to Steele? Let's begin with a little story.
Once upon a time, Bill Browder, the investment banker -- who (red thread alert) didn't have any Russian connections at all since his grandfather was CPUSA chairman in the 1930s and 1940s, and a Comintern spy in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, and his (illegal alien) grandmother was a Bolshevik revolutionary tribunal judge and Lenin School asset -- renounced his American citizenship to avoid paying taxes on his made-in-Russia fortune. Or was it because of "McCarthyism"? I get them confused. The quickee-billionaire became known as a dependable pro-Putin quote-meister in the financial press. Then he ran into tax problems of his own in Russia? He was thrown out of the country? Anyway, after the miserable Russian prison death, likely due to gross neglect, of his firm's accountant, Sergei Magnitsky in November 2009, Browder became a "human rights campaigner" seeking "justice" for his "lawyer" (Magnitsky) who, Browder claimed, had "discovered" a giant Russian tax fraud and was "murdered" for it by Putin associates. All hail Bill Browder, "Putin's No. 1 Enemy."
A textbook execution of the about-face. But there is something else to see here. In the course of his campaigning especially since 2012, Browder, who, again, renounced his American citizenship, has managed to bring about a kind of Russian "reset" all his own. In driving the passage of "Magnitsky" laws in the US, UK, Canada and elsewhere to sanction individual Russian "bad guys," Browder has transformed the broader American and Western stance on Russia into the sum of these "anti-Putin" sanctions. Never mind that the Obama administration sweetened the original Magnitsky deal in 2012 by passing "permanent normal trade" status for Russia, thus enabling Russia finally to join the WTO. Somehow, Barack's sweet plum for Vladimir is forgotten, along with Obama's "flexibility." All we seem to think about is sanctioning a lengthening list of Russian oligarchs to make Putin "really mad." Weirdly, making Putin "really mad" has become the essence and design of elite foreign policy thinking on US-Russian relations, thanks, in some large part, to Bill Browder.
No word, of course, on whether Putin is also "really mad" about having clinched permanent normal trade status from Obama/Clinton, or "really mad" about having achieved long-sought membership for Russia in the WTO -- or, for that matter, whether Putin is also "really mad" about gaining hypersonic missile engine technology through the Obama/Hillary Skolkovo project, or, for that matter, the 20 percent of US uranium stocks now owned by the Russian government and the rest of it. The important thing is that Americans are now, today, at a point where anything less than pledging fealty to Browder's Magnitsky movement is to risk being caricatured as "Putin's puppet."
Here's where things become more troubling still: There is now the same risk of being publicly ripped as "Putin's puppet," or even a Russian spy, for supporting a range of rational, bold conservative acts -- all compatible with the forgotten anti-Communist tradition, by the way -- from voting for Trump, to calling for the release of the House Intelligence Committee Memo.
It's gotten so bad that if a traditional American conservative pipes up about practically anything, the Putin-puppet-hammer is the weapon of choice, whether wielded by the Left or its kindred (Never Trump) Right. It's open season on Us, the Deplorables, Americans inspired by love of our country (pro-borders, statuary honoring Founders, Civil War heroes, etc.), our people (pro-Wall, anti-chain-immigration, etc.), and our Constitution (limited government, balance of powers, anti-sharia, etc.). To the Putin-puppet-hammer-wielding coalition, however, we are just a mass of "Russian bots," 21st-century-untermenschen who must be routinely loathed and scorned. In Year Two of the Trump administration, to enter the public square and oppose the agenda of the Left and kindred Right, from open borders to "free" trade to global governance (all programs once recognized as parts of the Communist agenda) is to risk being cat-called and hissed for "helping Putin."
The echoes of "Islamophobia" and "Red-baiting" should be startling.
The problem isn't that this name-calling fails to reflect reality. The problem is that it represents a new and ferocious level of internal hostilities.
It continues to strike me that Browder's Magnitsky movement may be related, or, even a catalyst of these unmistakable, radical, new atmospherics.
This is why it seems relevant to point out that Jonathan Winer was not only a point man for the Steele "dossier" at the State Department in 2016 (and Steele dossiers of yore), he was also a father of the Magnitsky Act in 2012. Yes, longtime Senate staffer Winer is the "old friend" Browder credits with envisioning the legislative strategy that culminated in passage of the law. (More recently, Winer is serving as Browder's bulldog-lawyer -- story here.)
More than a pivot, then, maybe we are looking at a hinge, a bridge, a new Western front. From Magnitsky to Steele, all of the battle-stations in between are manned by the Pelosis and McCains, by Left and kindred Right: from sanctions (to make Putin really mad) to Putin's puppet (We, the People, as Them, the Bots) to Russian hacking (election interference), to the "IC assessment" (confirming Russian election interference), to Russian "collusion" (Special Counsel), to the Steele "dossier" (don't attack the FBI/DOJ) to FISA surveillance (don't attack the FBI/DOJ), to Comey (don't attack the FBI/DOJ), to the House Intel Memo (block that "nothing-burger") to the FBI/DOJ (those sacred pillars of society).
Sen. John McCain is himself a hinge between Magnitsky and Steele. He was the GOP sponsor of the Magnitsky Act in 2012 (Sen. Ben Cardin was the sponsoring Democrat). McCain was also a key conduit of a final version of the Steele "dossier" to FBI Director James Comey on December 9, 2016 -- at Steele's behest, via Steele's Orbis associate, Sir Andrew Wood, former UK ambassador to Russia (1995-2000).
A note about that McCain-Wood "dossier" chat. It took place right after Trump's shock victory in November 2016 during the Halifax International Security Forum, which McCain attended with David Kramer, senior director for human rights and democracy at the McCain Institute (and vigorous proponent of the Magnitsky Act). A few weeks after the conference, McCain dispatched Kramer to the UK where Steele briefed him on the "dossier," and presented him with a copy. McCain, in turn, presented this version of the Steele "dossier" to the FBI.
Guess who else was at the Halifax conference? Rinat Akhmetshin, the lobbyist who accompanied Natalia Veselnitskaya to Trump Tower five months earlier. Funny how these people keep popping up. According to Canadian journalist Colin Freeze, Akhmetshin, with his background in Russian counter-intelligence, is a regular attendee of this annual NATO-focused conference in Halifax, even though, Freeze writes, it is "not the kind of place one would expect to meet many Russians."
Did our Russia-focused trio notice Rinat the Russian? I bet he noticed them. McCain has denied having contact with Akhmetshin, but what about Kramer and Wood? If they did speak, it would be interesting to know what they talked about.
Questions for another day.
One would think that an American war hero and Republican senatorial institution would feel livid having been duped by his British friends into presenting to the FBI a piece of badly disguised Democratic oppo research, with Kremlin fingerprints all over it, to sabotage the incoming Republican president.
Last week, following the release of the House Intelligence Committee Memo setting forth details on this scandalous deception, John McCain joined forces with Senate Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to denounce not the deception, but the release of the information about it. Together, McCain and Pelosi set a sinister line of rhetoric to attack their fellow elected representatives as Putin-puppets for carrying out Congress's constitutional oversight responsibilities. To John McCain, educating the American people about a top-level conspiracy to spy on and sabotage a presidential campaign and presidency is "manufacturing partisan sideshows." Even more wildly, it is "doing Putin's job for him." Pelosi, too, pushed this same extreme "Putin" line, calling the release of the House memo the equivalent of President Trump sending "a bouquet to his friend Putin." Congressional oversight, these lawmakers are telling us, is not integral to our "checks and balances"; no, congressional oversight advances the agenda of a menacing former KGB colonel in Moscow.
Instead, what defines American patriotism, they want us to believe, is rubber-stamping the federal police powers of the most ruthless administrators of the Deep State run amok. To protect these conspirators (maybe also himself), Democrat Pelosi and Republican McCain, Left and kindred Right, have declared war on their own co-equal branch of government.
To be sure, there is the sound of crazy talk to these top legislators' "Putin" line, which was immediately echoed all around cable news -- if, that is, one is listening for logic and reasonableness. Their argument doesn't make sense. Exposing police state tactics of senior government officials in the course of committing high crimes and misdemeanors to maintain power by any means necessary doesn't help Vladimir Putin, or any other foreign leader. It helps the American people.
There is in this extreme messaging, however, a defiance and boldness that is alarming. After all, the history of the mass media age tells us, starting in the 1930s with the Ukraine Terror Famine, the Big Lie works -- the bigger the better. When/if the truth comes out, the battles are not only lost, they and the dead are forgotten. FDR, for example, was able to confer normal diplomatic status on the Bolsheviks in the Kremlin in 1933 because of the Big Lie (promoted by the New York Times, of course) insisting that millions were not dying of forced starvation in Ukraine. When the truth was widely accepted -- thirty, forty years later -- it was all but academic.
Say, remember when the Red Hunters in Congress were exposing Soviet agents and ideological Communists on the federal payroll by the score, and Joe McCarthy was looming as a political rival to Ike? Most people will scratch our heads and say no. All that remains of the era is another Big Lie: "Red Scare." Any lawmaker who took seriously his oath to defend the Constitution from enemies foreign and domestic is remembered as a "paranoid," brimming with "McCarthyism," eager to repress "free-thinkers."
Anyway (Big Lie), there were hardly any Soviet agents or ideological Communists influencing US government policy, except for maybe one or two, and they were all gone, never to return, by 1950.
When Pelosi and McCain and Wolf Blitzer and Rep. Schiff and Rep. Swalwell and Ben Rhodes and George Stephanopolous and Martha Raddatz and Sen. Blumenthal and Rep. Speier and more take to the airwaves and social media to spin momentous investigations into a massive domestic spying and election rigging conspiracy by the Democratic Party as aid and comfort for "Putin! Putin!" they are setting and/or promoting a Big Lie. They are denying the existence of the plotters and the evidence of the anti-Trump plot -- a conspiracy shot through with bright, red threads -- and associating the investigators and their constitutional duties with our enemies.
Make no mistake, those who yell "Putin! Putin!" are an angry lot. Till they were red in the face, they shouted "Russian hacking" and "Putin's puppet"; they bought and sowed Kremlin disinformation, and still Trump won the White House. Still, they shout "Russian collusion," "Russian meddling"; they appoint a Special Counsel; they wear black and scowl, but we got our Memo. As we touch the edge of the darkest secrets of the Obama administration and the Clinton machine, those keepers of the flame, they have to turn up the Putin-speak.
Their loudspeakers keep blaring that the patriots are comrades, and the comrades are patriots.
All of this "Putin" talk, like the artwork above, placing duly elected Rep. Nunes in the greatcoat of a dictator responsible for tens of millions of deaths, is obscene. It is not calcuated to spark the exchange of ideas; it is calculated to blow up the thought process. There is no expectation or even desire in this disinformation campaign for generating a discussion to find a way to common American ground. What we are experiencing is the revving up of total information-warfare. It is uniting Left and kindred Right, Democrat and Never- Trump-Republican, the Pelosis and McCains, all of them shooting off their big guns against that greatest of all threats to conspiracies everywhere, from the Mafia to Bolshevism: Exposure.
Make no mistake: What they really want to fire on is us.
To be cont'd.