The timeline here cannot be considered a definitive data set on its own. It is undoubtedly incomplete, reflecting only what is publicly known at the moment. There is assuredly more we need to know.
But it does raise questions – chief among them why things were done as they were, and when they were.
The likelihood that the events were unrelated, or at least not understood and connected in the minds of at least a few people, is vanishingly small. The reason: high-profile lawyers at the Perkins Coie firm, who had represented the top Democratic clients involved for years, knew about each one of them, or were connected to someone who knew. It strains credulity to imagine that events involving the central actors in this drama unfolded without at least a handful of people being aware of everything that was going on.
The greatest debt for this timeline is to Chuck Ross at the Daily Caller. In the interest of brevity, I am not including all of his work, instead focusing on the period March through June 2016, and leaving out his commentary. Since his work on this is essential (including key links), I urge readers to review his entire timeline.
What I’ve done is insert additional events where they go in the timeline, and put my insertions in bold. The date entries I have added are underlined. Each of Chuck Ross’s original entries is marked with his name.
The developments in the GOP primaries are perhaps the most tenuously correlatable to decisions made by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the DNC. But they are oddly coincident with some big developments in the timeline. So I’m including them for context and completeness. There is a lot to ponder here.
As a brief preface, we know that the Washington Free Beacon had hired Fusion GPS to do opposition-type research on some GOP candidates in 2015. The start date of that contract was reportedly October 2015. Chuck Ross suggests a connection with billionaire Paul Singer’s support for Marco Rubio in the primary season (also discussed here), and points out that Rubio had dropped out of the race in March 2016, after losing the Florida primary to Trump.
It was in March 2016 that Fusion GPS approached Perkins Coie about potentially being paid to continue the oppo research started for Washington Free Beacon. (Yes, Fusion approached the law firm. See Ross.)
We pick up the Ross timeline in 2016:
April: [Ross] Perkins Coie, using money from the Clinton campaign and DNC, hires Fusion GPS. Marc Elias, a Perkins Coie partner and general counsel for both the campaign and DNC, would serve as the bagman.
25-26 April: Obama’s Organizing for America PAC makes payments totaling $98,047 to Perkins Coie for “Legal Services.” Sean Davis at The Federalist reported this on 29 October 2017, asking if Obama’s OFA may have had something to do with hiring or paying Fusion GPS. (Which, as reported previously, had done oppo work for Obama in 2012.)
Note also that Bob Bauer of Perkins Coie was Obama’s chief counsel in the White House from 2009-2011, after serving as counsel to his 2008 campaign, and that a Perkins Coie attorney, Judith Corley, was Obama’s personal counsel during his presidency (a role that included the duty of personally collecting his long-form birth certificate from Hawaii in 2011). Obama’s ties to Perkins Coie are extensive – as are Perkins Coie’s links (and Marc Elias’s in particular) to numerous senior Democrats and Democratic campaign activities.
26 April: Trump sweeps the primaries in CT, DE, MD, PA, and RI, bringing his delegate count to 854 (with 1,237 needed to clinch the nomination). Although he was still short of the number needed to clinch, this was one of two “Super Tuesdays,” and the first multi-state primary date on which none of his remaining opponents won a state. Talk began in earnest of Trump actually getting to Cleveland with the nomination locked up.
29 April: The DNC discovers the penetration of its servers by unknown hackers. An emergency meeting is called between Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (DNC Chief Executive), Amy Dacey (DNC Technology Director), Andrew Brown, and Michael Sussman, a lawyer for Perkins Coie. Sussman is a former federal prosecutor for the DOJ whose expertise is computer crime. (The write-up by Scott Ritter at the link above is extremely detailed and useful.)
May: [Ross; Date unknown] Free Beacon ends its contract with Fusion.
3 May: Trump wins the IN primary, and Ted Cruz – who had badly needed the conservative state to remain viable – drops out.
4 May: John Kasich also drops out of the GOP race. Trump is now the only remaining candidate. However, he is still well short of the 1,237 delegates he needs to lock up the nomination, with several primaries left to go.
4 May: Five days after first discovering the server penetration at the DNC, Michael Sussman – of Perkins Coie – finally calls CrowdStrike to arrange for analysis of the problem. It isn’t clear why it took five days to make this decision.
5 May: CrowdStrike installs an analytical program at the DNC and immediately gets hits on malware developed by Russian FSB-linked actors (the now-infamous “advanced persistent threats,” or APTs, Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear). Cozy Bear had been on the system since 2015. Fancy Bear’s activity is what became apparent on 29 April.
The DNC then allowed their servers to continue operating with the threat penetrations active on them, and watched as data was pilfered for more than a month before finally pulling the plug. The purpose of this was to employ CrowdStrike applications to track the events and attempt to trace them to their points of origin. Scott Ritter summarizes the findings:
Shawn Henry and his team used CrowdStrike’s Falcon Overwatch capability to monitor the DNC’s compromised servers for more than 30 days, mapping out the scope of the intrusion and tracking the actions of the attackers. The scope of the Cozy Bear intrusion was potentially devastating. According to CrowdStrike, Cozy Bear had roamed uncontested throughout the totality of the DNC server, collecting and transmitting email and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) communications. Significant amounts of data had been exfiltrated during this time, CrowdStrike assessed, and the DNC had to assume that anything stored in the server had been compromised.
Fancy Bear appeared to have more limited objectives. Henry’s team detected evidence of a few select files having already been exfiltrated, while others were staged for future exfiltration. An analysis of these files showed that Fancy Bear was focused on opposition research being done by the DNC on the erstwhile Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump.
In other words, Fancy Bear went to work, finding oppo-research files about Trump, on or shortly before 29 April, around the time Trump had his first primary sweep.
June: [Ross; Date unknown] Fusion GPS hires former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele and his London-based firm, Orbis Business Intelligence, to investigate Trump’s ties to Russia.
3 June: Rob Goldstone, a British-born publicist, emails Donald Trump, Jr. about the possibility of a meeting at which someone with connections to the Russian government would offer official documents that could have useful information about Hillary Clinton. Goldstone follows this up on 7 June requesting to set up a meeting time with a “Russian government attorney.”
7 June: Candidate Trump gains more than enough delegates (a cumulative total of 1,447), in primaries in CA, MT, NJ, NM, and SD, to win the GOP nomination outright in an uncontested convention in July. It is now clear that there will be no successful challenge to his candidacy.
9 June: Donald Trump, Jr. takes the meeting in Trump Tower with Russian lawyer Natalya Veselnitskaya, who is linked to Fusion GPS through the research firm’s work for Russian opponents of the U.S. Magnitsky Act. Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner are with Trump, Jr. Accompanying Veselnitskaya, along with Rob Goldstone, are two associates who share her link to Fusion GPS, all through working on behalf of the Russian government against the Magnitsky Act. The other two Fusion-linked attendees are Rinat Akhmetshin and Anatoli Samachornov (both Russian-Americans). Trump, Jr., discovering that the meeting is about “adoptions” (a sanctions-related side-effect of the Magnitsky Act), ends the meeting without taking further action.
10 June: After 34 days of analysis, during which the DNC system operated under hacker penetration, CrowdStrike begins regaining control of the DNC’s server system. The process goes on for three days and is completed on 12 June. During this time, according to Michael Sussman (see Ritter), the DNC and its consultants were hoping to have the FBI – whom Sussman had told about the breach – make a formal announcement about it to the public. But the FBI wanted to investigate the servers itself in order to do that.
The DNC was unwilling to have the FBI look at the servers. So the decision was made to present the information as analyzed by CrowdStrike to the media; namely, a Washington Post reporter named Ellen Nakashima.
13 June: A tangentially related event occurs: a widely-panned documentary is shown at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., which purports to debunk the narrative behind the Magnitsky Act. It is a Russian-made film arguing that Sergei Magnitsky — a whistleblower on corruption in Russian state financial and tax activities — did not die of torture and neglect in his Russian prison, but of natural causes.
This event is included because it establishes the direct interest between Fusion GPS’s founder and CEO, Glenn Simpson, and Russian lawyer Natalya Veselnitskaya. Simpson was well aware she was in the country, and in fact was reportedly drumming up press for the documentary showing in Washington, where she would appear on 13 June — in conjunction with attending, separately, a congressional hearing. It is not possible to claim that Simpson had little knowledge of, or no engagement with, her visit to the U.S. in June 2016. The activities she was in the country for directly concerned a Fusion GPS client — and Rinat Akhmetshin, one of the attendees at the Trump Tower meeting, was a principal in contracting Fusion for that effort.
Politico interviewed the Magnitsky Act’s chief proponent, William Browder, about the 13 June event later in the summer. One passage from Browder’s comments:
[T]hen after June 9th, they [Veselnitskaya and her retinue from the Trump Tower meeting] come back to Washington. And they have this movie. It’s an anti-Magnitsky movie. Very high budget, high production value, documentary, which is a Putin propaganda film, basically trying to turn the whole Magnitsky story on its head. They organize a screening at the Newseum in Washington, which is supposed to be the museum of free speech and journalism.
They invite members of Congress, members of the State Department, journalists. They get Seymour Hersh to introduce it. And Glenn Simpson, the Fusion GPS character, is running around trying to get different journalists to write about it. The movie’s basic premise was that Sergei Magnitsky actually wasn’t murdered, that he just died of natural causes, that it was nobody’s fault.
14 June: Ellen Nakashima’s article on the DNC hack is published by the Washington Post.
June 20: [Ross] Steele writes first memo of the dossier. It alleges that Trump used prostitutes during a visit to Moscow in 2013 and that the Kremlin was blackmailing him with the evidence. The memo also alleges that the Trump campaign was engaged in a well-orchestrated collusion campaign with Russian operatives.
See Chuck Ross for the rest of the dossier timeline.
We don’t fully understand what happened in the period between 15 March, when Marco Rubio dropped out of the race, and 20 June, the date of Christopher Steele’s first dossier memo.
But one thing we can say right now: it was one heck of an eventful time. Everything that has preoccupied the infosphere since, relating to the “Russia and the election” narrative, centers on that critical period. It is hard to look at the sequence of events and not suspect that someone made a set of decisions in the period in question: between mid-March and mid-June 2016. It is not obvious to me who that someone was; one can frame educated guesses, but they are only guesses.
As others have highlighted, the DNC hack and the activities of CrowdStrike clocked in within weeks of when Fusion GPS contracted with Christopher Steele for the dossier. But the out-of-the-blue solicitation for the meeting with Trump, Jr. – with its cast of Fusion-linked characters – occurred right in the middle of the timeframe. And Perkins Coie, and Democrats and Democratic PAC money, had a direct or indirect connection with all of them.