One would be hard-pressed to name a more influential think tank than the Brookings Institution. The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit routinely ranks at the top of the list of the best think tanks in the world; Brookings scholars produce a steady flow of reports, symposiums, and news releases that sway the conversation on any number of issues ranging from domestic and economic policy to foreign affairs.
Brookings is home to lots of Beltway power players: Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen, former chairmen of the Federal Reserve, are Brookings fellows. Top officials from both Republican and Democrat presidential administrations lend political heft to the organization.
From 2002 until 2017, the organization’s president was Strobe Talbott. He’s a longtime BFF of Bill Clinton; they met in the 1970s at Oxford University and have been tight ever since. Talbott was a top aide to both President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Talbott, who translated Nikita Khrushchev’s memoirs 50 years ago, is widely considered an expert on Russia. According to a 1994 Washington Post profile, Talbott’s dream job was ambassador to Moscow. Instead, he advised Clinton on Russia policy as his deputy secretary of state.
But Talbott’s interest in all things Russian is facing new scrutiny that threatens to tarnish Brookings’ stellar reputation—its role in perpetuating the Trump-Russia collusion hoax. As I wrote last week, the Lawfare blog, a project of Brookings, was a repository of collusion propaganda for nearly three years.
Brookings-based fellows working at Lawfare were the media’s go-to legal “experts” to legitimize the concocted crime; the outlet manipulated much of the news coverage on collusion by pumping out primers and guidance on how to report collusion events from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s appointment to his final report.
Now, testimony related to a defamation lawsuit against Christopher Steele, the author of the infamous “dossier” on Donald Trump, has exposed his direct ties to Talbott in 2016 when he was still head of Brookings. Talbott and Steele were in communication before and after the presidential election; Steele wanted Talbott to circulate the dossier to his pals in John Kerry’s State Department, which reportedly is what Talbott did. Steele also briefed top state department officials in October 2016 about his work.
The Talbott-Steele connection, however, isn’t the paid British operative’s only ties to Brookings. Over the weekend, the New York Times confirmed—after much speculation on social media about who might have been Steele’s unnamed primary sub-source following the release of a redacted FBI interview—that a man named Igor Danchenko supplied most of the garbage claims contained in the dossier.
“By turning to Mr. Danchenko as his primary source to gather possible dirt on Mr. Trump involving Russia, Mr. Steele was relying not on someone with a history of working with Russian intelligence operatives or bringing to light their covert activities but instead a researcher focused on analyzing business and political risks in Russia,” the Times reported. Steele hired Danchenko in March 2016. “Though Mr. Danchenko visited Moscow while gathering information for Mr. Steele, he lives in the United States.”
Danchenko, a Russian, has a thin résumé; his top credential appears to be his past work at—you guessed it—Brookings. From 2005 until 2010, Danchenko was a senior research assistant at the think tank, which would have intersected with Talbott’s tenure. (Talbott left in October 2017.) Fiona Hill, Trump’s onetime foreign affairs advisor-turned impeachment witness, co-authored a paper with Danchenko about Russian energy policy. Hill, following her failed attempt to oust Trump from office, is back at Brookings as a senior fellow.
So who and what have been funding the anti-Trump political operation at Brookings over the past few years? The think tank’s top benefactors are a predictable mix of family foundations, Fortune 100 corporations, and Big Tech billionaires. But one of the biggest contributors to Brookings’ $100 million-plus annual budget is the Embassy of Qatar. According to financial reports, Qatar has donated more than $22 million to the think tank since 2004. In fact, Brookings operates a satellite center in Doha, the capital of Qatar. The wealthy Middle Eastern oil producer spends billions on American institutions such as universities and other think tanks.
Qatar also is a top state sponsor of terrorism, pouring billions into Hamas, al-Qaeda, and the Muslim Brotherhood, to name a few. “The nation of Qatar, unfortunately, has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level,” President Trump said in 2017. “We have to stop the funding of terrorism.”
An email from a Qatari official, obtained by WikiLeaks, said the Brookings Institution was as important to the country as “an aircraft carrier.”
Several foundations run by left-wing billionaires openly hostile to Donald Trump have donated millions to Brookings since the election. The Omidyar Network and Democracy Fund—both financed by Pierre Omidyar, a co-founder of eBay—have contributed millions of dollars to Brookings. Omidyar, as I’ve previously reported, is a Trump foe and main funder of several NeverTrump projects. Between 2017 and 2019, Democracy Fund donated more than $600,000 directly to Lawfare as it was spinning collusion fabulism.
The Tides Center and Open Society Foundations, backed by George Soros, are listed as top Brookings’ donors. Ditto for Tom Steyer, the California hedge-fund billionaire and failed Democratic presidential candidate.
A new donor to Brookings is New Venture Fund, a nonprofit tied to a powerful anti-Trump organization flush with “dark money” from the Left. New Venture Fund is operated by Arabella Advisors, a consulting company founded in 2005 by a Clinton loyalist.
“Arabella and its nonprofit network have been criticized as ‘dark money’ funders both for channeling hundreds of millions of dollars to left-wing organizations and for hosting hundreds of ‘pop-up groups’—websites designed to look like standalone nonprofits that are really projects of an Arabella-run nonprofit,” according to a report in InfluenceWatch. “These nonprofits have collectively hosted hundreds of left-wing policy and advocacy organizations (referred to by critics as pop-up groups because they are little more than websites).”
In the past two years, New Venture Fund has given at least $350,000 to Brookings.
A separate Arabella Advisors nonprofit was heavily involved in the 2018 midterm election, spending nine figures to help elect Democrats, as well as the crusade against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh that same year.
Given its very public anti-Trump slant over the past few years and complicity in the concocted—and possibly criminal—Russian collusion hoax, its hard to see how Brookings is abiding by its own nonpartisanship policy. Further, as Representative Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) has noted, Brookings might be violating federal tax law by engaging in overt partisan politics, particularly campaigns intended to remove a sitting U.S. president, as a nonprofit organization.
Accepting millions from a state sponsor of terrorism, foisting one of the biggest frauds in history on the American people, and acting as a laundering agent of sorts for Democratic political contributions disguised as policy grants isn’t a good look for such an esteemed institution. It’s time for more powerful interests to demand answers, and accountability, from Brookings.