I mentioned in the first post on the Helsinki meeting that I don’t trust Putin any further than I could throw him.
That continues to be the case. Putin’s claim during the Helsinki press conference that associates of Magnitsky advocate William Browder sent $
400,000,000 — *the Russians corrected that afterward to $400,000 (h/t: Truth Doctor) — to Hillary Clinton’s campaign is as dubious as it gets.
I’ll quote the passage below so you can get the full effect. But the key point to turn to immediately is that Putin’s reference to Browder – and indeed to any link between Browder and Clinton – serves to highlight a rather extraordinary thing.
It highlights that Fusion GPS was working to represent the Putin regime (i.e., in its anti-Magnitsky lobbying against Browder’s crusade), at the same time Fusion GPS was working to obtain Russian-sourced dirt on Donald Trump in the Steele dossier.
By bringing up Browder out of the blue, Putin is thus basically turning a klieg light on himself, and on the common Fusion GPS connection of the Steele dossier and the Russian government’s anti-Magnitsky lobbying effort.
It’s a really good question why he would do that. The very first association that leaps to mind is Russian involvement in both of the Fusion GPS projects, which were underway at the same time in 2016.
A number of commentators (including your correspondent; see also here, here, and here) have written about that link. It can only increase the appearance of taint on the Steele dossier. It would be absurd to suggest that Russia was a client of Fusion in the Magnitsky/Prevezon/Browder matter, but was completely unaware at any official level that the selfsame Fusion was having dirt dug up by Christopher Steele using contacts supposedly in Russian intelligence and the Russian government.
It’s especially absurd given that both Fusion projects came together on 9 June 2016, when Fusion client attorney Natalya Veselnitskaya showed up at Trump Tower for the meeting with the son and aide of Fusion target Donald Trump. There is simply no way to credibly argue from any perspective that the two Fusion client cases were pristinely separable.
Putin’s first-order targets appear to be Browder and Clinton. In theory, his purpose is to push a principle of tit-for-tat questioning of Americans (although Browder is a British national now), if the U.S. wants to question Russian GRU officers about the DNC hacking. (See the quote below; Putin refers to U.S. intelligence being complicit in moving the alleged $400,000,000 to Hillary’s campaign. The Washington Examiner reported today that Russia wants to question former U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul and “at least three National Security Agency officials,” although no names were given. Note: NSA officials would not be at all likely to be involved in what Putin is suggesting. The “questioning” of Ambassador McFaul would be, in the terms of diplomatic protocol and national prerogatives, obscene.)
Putin also doesn’t seem to mind pulling the pin on the Fusion GPS grenade. If you mention Bill Browder and Hillary Clinton, Fusion GPS has to come up. Russia hired Fusion to generate dirt on Browder; Hillary hired Fusion to generate dirt on Trump by pumping Russians – and both projects were underway at the same time. The confluence of both Fusion projects produced the notorious attempt to bait the Trump campaign through the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump, Jr. Putin knows all that.
This will take some sorting out. For now, here is the transcript from the press conference on Monday (courtesy Gateway Pundit):
PUTIN: … For instance, we can bring up Mr. Browder, in this particular case. Business associates of Mr. Browder have earned over $1.5 billion in Russia and never paid any taxes neither in Russia or the United States and yet the money escaped the country. They were transferred to the United States. They sent [a] huge amount of money, $400,000,000, as a contribution to the campaign of Hillary Clinton. Well that’s their personal case. It might have been legal, the contribution itself but the way the money was earned was illegal. So we have solid reason to believe that some [US] intelligence officers accompanied and guided these transactions. So we have an interest in questioning them.
Remember, Putin’s putative agenda is to defame Browder and his dealings in Russia, because Browder has been pursuing the mountain of tax fraud by Putin cronies in Russia, uncovered in Sergei Magnitsky’s forensic probe over a decade ago. (Magnitsky was later imprisoned by Putin, brutalized in prison, and died reportedly of untreated medical problems while in state custody.)
I don’t doubt Browder’s version of what happened to Sergei Magnitsky, and I support the U.S. Magnitsky Act that sanctions foreign officials if they have been involved in human rights abuses like those Magnitsky suffered.
I also don’t doubt that Putin has skin in the game of getting the Magnitsky Act overturned. The Act’s provisions would affect him, freezing billions in foreign assets that are connected to him, because of how Magnitsky was treated in his prison. And it’s not just Sergei Magnitsky: findings could be made about other victims, potentially including the gruesome poisoning cases in the UK that are thought to be linked to the Putin regime. The Magnitsky Act could be invoked in multiple instances. It has also sparked the adoption of Magnitsky legislation in other countries.
A tightening noose of Magnitsky sanctions around the world would be extremely inconvenient for Putin – not just affecting his retirement plans, but more importantly, affecting his basis of political power.
But bringing up Browder, and suggesting that he had something to do with hundreds of millions of suspicious-sounding dollars going to Hillary Clinton, was awfully pointed – and, let’s say, gratuitous, in a press conference meant basically to inaugurate a great-power relationship. To my ear, it sounds like Putin has something bigger in mind than merely hammering a long-running theme about Browder. He could have done that without implicating Hillary. But he didn’t.
I urge you not to buy any narrative that Bill Browder is connected with moving funny money to Hillary. There has never been the slightest hint of such a thing. (In fact, when the Magnitsky Act was being debated in Congress, Hillary Clinton’s State Department was stalling on it and giving it unfavorable treatment (as a foreign affairs issue), at the same time Bill Clinton was being paid hundreds of thousands for speeches to Russian audiences. Putin’s implication about Browder is a rat-hole there is no reason to go down.)
For the rest, it looks like Putin is playing an uncharacteristic game in which he has nothing to back up a fantastic claim, and yet makes it in the highest-profile venue possible. Either that, or he has some kind of actual transaction in mind, which could be depicted in the way he suggests, at least as his tale alludes to Clinton and “U.S. intelligence.”
If there’s anywhere to go with that latter thought, it could explain why the media reaction has been so frantic and unrestrained in the last three days. That said, it’s early days to speculate further. Some kind of evidence is necessary before taking such a claim seriously. In the meantime, for America, there are miles to go, and a lot of other things to do.