Durham vs. Stephanopoulos: Who Colluded, Trump or Clinton?

Recently, in “Hail Mary” fashion, former Bill Clinton aide turned ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos attempted to revive the moribund absurdities of the Steele dossier and alleged collusion between Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and the Russians. Naturally, CNN followed suit. While quixotic quests are sometimes admirable, this one is so toxic to our body politic, and so absurdly and palpably dishonest, that it must be interred without even faint hope of resurrection. 

Just for openers, the ongoing investigation by Special Counsel John Durham has provided solid links between Obama and Clinton officials and the Kremlin. A most obvious contact point is the recently indicted Igor Danchenko, the primary subsource for Christopher Steele’s infamous dossier. Danchenko, while a young researcher at the left-leaning Brookings Institution, reportedly tried to recruit two young Brookings staffers soon to have security clearance for classified information, asking them if they wanted to “make a little extra money.” 

The FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of Danchenko as a suspected spy was closed in 2010 when he left Brookings. But the question lingers: If he was unsuccessful in recruiting those two, was he successful with anyone else who did not report him?

Shortly after leaving Brookings, Danchenko co-authored a paper on Russia with a notable Brookings scholar and former colleague named Fiona Hill, who later held high-level national security positions with both the Obama and Trump Administrations. Danchenko’s co-authorship, attached to the reputable Hill, gave him both status and credibility.

But Hill was not finished helping Danchenko. In 2011, she introduced Danchenko to her friend Christopher Steele, a former British spy previously stationed in Russia, later running the Russian desk in London. Steele was not particularly successful in the latter posting, as defected FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko, who was assigned to his protection, met in 2006 with a fatal polonium breakfast. Was it incompetence, and only that, which caused this failure?  

How had Steele been paying for supper since leaving British government service? It is noteworthy that he soon developed a lucrative client for his research and investigation business, Orbis Business Intelligence: Oleg Deripaska. Deripaska is a wealthy Russian aluminum oligarch who has enjoyed an extremely close relationship with Vladimir Putin. Deripaska for years had been seeking recognition as the “good oligarch.” Steele’s provision of perhaps 100 reports to American government agencies, on Russian and Ukrainian subjects, helped burnish that image. The research, of course, was funded by Deripaska. 

Fiona Hill reemerged in early 2016 and introduced Clinton campaign aide and public-relations executive Charles Dolan to Danchenko. Dolan had represented the Russian Federation for eight years for its PR in the United States. Why would Hill, well before the FBI’s collusion investigation supposedly began in July 2016, feel that Dolan and Danchenko needed one another? Of course, the easy answer is that the FBI and CIA were already nosing around, as Steele and his Russian researcher Nellie Ohr knew.

While Hill was introducing the two, Hillary Clinton had by then become profoundly aware that she was deeply compromised by Russian email hackers. Remember that earlier, Clinton had allegedly helped acquire between $150 million and $350 million for the Clinton Foundation from parties seeking approval of the sale of Uranium One to, ultimately, Putin and Russia. Out of the nine agency sign-offs required to approve the deal, only one agency—Clinton’s State Department—was considered to have “equity” in the decision, so it was State’s decision to make or break. As a result of that sale, Vladimir Putin now has undisputed pricing power over sales to American nuclear utilities.

No doubt frighteningly for Clinton, 10 suspected Russian intelligence agents circling near the uranium deal were caught before the corrupt bargain closed. Rather than entice them to blab, with the prospect of a Miami condo and assumed identity, the Obama Administration shipped them all to Russia in a nanosecond, in exchange for just one American.So, the issue loomed in early 2016 of Russian kompromat, not on Trump, but on Hillary, probably buttressed by the 30,000 emails she destroyed, but also likely feared would reappear. Hillary, covertly through a law firm, hired Fusion GPS and Steele to engage in dishonest projection, accusing Trump of precisely what she had done. 

But there is more.

Incredibly, despite being the agent of a well-connected Russian oligarch, Steele in 2013 had managed to infiltrate the Department of Justice as a “confidential human source.”. He did so through cultivating a relationship with Bruce Ohr, then chief of the Justice Department’s organized crime unit. How this clear Russian agent was accepted into this status is the stuff of John le Carré novels. The Horowitz report on the FBI’s FISA abuse spells out this cultivation in dry, albeit eyebrow-raising, factual detail. (See pages 268-303.)

After Trump was elected, Ohr convened an interagency meeting of officials below his ranking to exhort them to assist . . . Oleg Deripaska. He explained to an incredulous aide that Deripaska was going to help the Justice Department deal with a “corrupted” Trump campaign. And Ohr worked, outside his job duties, to push his wife Nellie Ohr’s (conflict, much?) Manafort chronology on the Justice Department, to help prosecute Paul Manafort, who, not coincidentally, was Deripaska’s sworn enemy. Ohr also carried Steele’s reports to the FBI (not within his job description) after Steele was cut off by the FBI as a confidential human source after leaking to the press.

In addition, Steele claimed to the Department of State’s Kathleen Kavalec that through his sources he had access to Putin-affiliated Vyacheslav Trubnikov and Vladislav Surkov in compiling the Dossier. Trubnikov was a retired chief of Russian Intelligence agency SVR, and former first deputy of foreign affairs, while Surkov was still in power as a close confidant of Putin, such a close advisor that he was known as “Putin’s Rasputin.”

If they were Danchenko’s sources, do we believe that they were truthfully exposing, against Putin’s wishes, his supposed scheme to help Donald Trump? Can you say “disinformation”? All of this was financed by the Clinton Campaign and the DNC, approved by the White House which, quite cynically, after electoral defeat sanctioned Russia for interfering in the election. And, of course, one of Danchenko’s main sources was Charles Dolan, longtime Clinton campaign aide who was working in close consultation with Russian “diplomats” (read: spies).

How were the FBI and the White House to know of these unholy alliances? CIA Director John Brennan called for a special high-level briefing in the Oval Office on July 28, 2016, just as the FBI was about to open the “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation on Trump-Russian collusion. Brennan explained to President Obama, National Security Advisors Susan Rice and Denis McDonough, and FBI Director James Comey that solid, actionable intelligence suggested that Clinton was using Russian disinformation to smear Trump. Brennan, to his great credit, followed up on September 7, 2016 with a referral to the FBI of an investigative lead based upon the same Russian disinformation plot. Comey has since testified that this dramatic referral, “didn’t ring a bell.”

It does not take a rocket scientist to see that all of this pretty much sinks Hillary Clinton and her campaign as colluding with the Russian government to influence the election through disinformation. So, if former Clinton aide Stephanopoulos wants to continue to bet his reputational chips on the Steele dossier, lots of luck to him.  

About John D. O'Connor

John D. O’Connor is a former federal prosecutor and the San Francisco attorney who represented W. Mark Felt during his revelation as Deep Throat in 2005. O’Connor is the author of Postgate: How the Washington Post Betrayed Deep Throat, Covered Up Watergate, and Began Today’s Partisan Advocacy Journalism.

Photo: Ray Tamarra/GC Images

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