On Tuesday, John Solomon reported on a dossier compiled by Christopher Steele in 2015, which Steele forwarded via email to an American lawyer representing Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash.
Although Solomon doesn’t name the lawyer, the dossier was reportedly forwarded in December 2015. During the period 2014-2016, Lanny Davis’s firm, which rebranded itself in the same timeframe from Lanny Davis & Associates to Davis Goldberg & Galper, represented Firtash in legal matters in the United States, of which Firtash has the usual bagful. (Davis, of course, is a long-time Clinton associate who was a special counsel to then-President Bill Clinton from 1996 to 1998. Davis has also represented Michael Cohen in Cohen’s legal woes incident to the Russiagate/Spygate operations. Davis’s firm and Firtash ended their relationship in July 2019.)
Steele’s firm also did work for attorneys representing Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, during the period in 2016 when Steele was under contract to Fusion GPS and the U.S. Democrats, including the Hillary Clinton campaign.
But two things stand out about Steele’s dossier prepared for Firtash and his legal team in 2015. One is that it alluded to information from U.S. government sources, in an “intelligence” document meant for a Ukrainian oligarch facing charges in the United States (hence the need for all the legal representation). Says Solomon:
Steele had engaged the U.S. government on occasion since his retirement from MI6 in 2009, both as an FBI informant in the FIFA soccer corruption case and as intelligence provider to the Obama State Department. So any assessment he offered from U.S. officials was closely watched by private clients.
His Firtash report cited an unnamed intelligence source indicating that Firtash had little chance of winning any favor under the Obama administration, but that other oligarchs in the region might be welcomed by the Americans if they sought to play a role in Ukraine.
Steele may have been passionately opposed to the election of Donald Trump in 2016. But apparently he wasn’t morally finicky about using his access to U.S. government agencies to pad the intelligence documents he was paid to produce for the foreign oligarchs facing their perpetual legal tribulations. Firtash at the time was in Austria, awaiting a decision in Vienna on an extradition request from the United States.
Meanwhile, the last sentence of the excerpt above leads to the second standout observation about Solomon’s report. The “other oligarchs” who “might be welcomed by the Americans” were identified by Steele as follows:
“The source had a separate confirmation from US sources that Washington regarded FIRTASH as a conduit for Russian influence,” the report said. “Whilst the USG was prepared to do business with the likes of Rinat AKHMETOV and Ihor KOLOMOISKY, FIRTASH remained a pariah.”
Now, it’s not as though there are so many Ukrainian oligarchs that a dossier referencing them would have names no one has ever heard of. But what’s striking is that Steele purports, in this dossier, to have an inside track – through a “source” – on the U.S. government’s perspective in 2015 on two of the top names, Akhmetov and Kolomoisky.
Akhmetov has for some time been the wealthiest, and for a considerable time before the Maidan uprising the highest-profile, Ukrainian oligarch, known to be aligned with Russia-oriented former President Viktor Yanukovych. He was also a client of Paul Manafort for a number of years between 2005 and 2014. According to a New York Times report in January 2019 – which the Times had to correct after naming the wrong oligarch – Manafort sought to pass polling data on the U.S. 2016 election to Akhmetov. (The idea that there is something nefarious about that continues to be a source of humor for me. Polling data, for crying out loud.)
But Akhmetov is also a major donor to the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation (see the Taras Kuzio monograph linked above). As Jeff Carlson noted in 2018, the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation – with the key connection of Democratic operative Alexandra Chalupa and multiple links in the State Department – was a big player in a White House meeting with Obama’s senior national security staff in early 2014, when the Maidan crisis was barreling toward its climax.
So the “intelligence” in Steele’s 2015 dossier is by no means far-fetched as regards Akhmetov. Akhmetov may have been a Yanukovych crony, but he was paying for representation that had an open door to the highest levels of the Obama administration. A source of Steele’s could very well have said the Obama administration was prepared to do business with Akhmetov.
Kolomoisky, remember, we have encountered before. He is thought to actually control the gas company Burisma, where Hunter Biden was a board member starting in April 2014. (Kolomoisky’s control, through cut-out purchases of the company’s assets, would be as opposed to the nominal control of Yanukovych crony Mykola Zlochevsky. Kolomoisky is now considered as a patron of President Volodymyr Zelensky.)
As regards Burisma, Kolomoisky, and the Bidens, see an article reprinted in a publication called The Ukrainian Weekly at the same time Steele was delivering his 2015 dossier to Firtash’s lawyer; i.e., late December 2015. The article is entitled “Biden issues warning to oligarchs as corruption accusations fly in Ukraine,” and recounts a speech Joe Biden gave in Kyiv earlier that month, exhorting Ukrainians to get their corruption problems under control. (The article is on page 2.)
Biden’s exhortation, of course, has in retrospect a melancholy irony to it. In the article, the author, Oleg Varfolomeyev, lists allegations about theft from public monies in Ukraine that are virtually identical to the ones that have come to the fore again in 2019:
Indeed, one day before Mr. Biden’s arrival, Mikheil Saakashvili, the reformist former president of the former Soviet republic of Georgia, who currently heads the state administration of the Odesa Oblast, openly accused the Ukrainian government of corruption. He estimated state budget losses from sweetheart deals between the government and local oligarchs, such as Rinat Akhmetov, Igor Kolomoisky, Mykola Martynenko and Dmytro Firtash, at $5 billion (Pravda.com. ua, December 6). For comparison, Ukraine received $6.6 billion in loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) this year.
It’s all been there the whole time.
The point in inflicting this Ukrainian-names headache on readers is to illuminate who Steele was, whom he swam with and was connected to, when he undertook to produce the dossier on Trump in 2016. Think for a moment about the fact that Steele had had a connection since at least 2009 to Glenn Simpson, as well as to the U.S. Justice Department and FBI. All of those entities had been tracking the Ukrainian oligarchs for years (tracking Russian and East European oligarchs was a specialty of Simpson’s when he worked for the Wall Street Journal).
Look at the names Steele slung around in the 2015 dossier produced for Firtash, and the implied connections Steele had with U.S. agencies on the particular topic of those names. Look at the significance of those names to U.S. government and political actors; significance that has been an open secret since well before Trump became a political candidate.
Steele, Simpson, Fusion GPS, an analyst like Nellie Ohr, multiple officials in the Obama administration, the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton, Sidney Blumenthal – all of them knew the same things about Ukraine and its oligarchs and government officials, long before you and I had ever heard of them.
In 2016, the Steele dossier purportedly compiled on Trump, commissioned by Fusion GPS and the Democrats, ignored all those things Steele knew and was immersed in. It cherry-picked Paul Manafort’s interactions with, effectively, Akhmetov (given his links with the Party of Regions and Yanukovych), and presented them as if they had something to do with Trump, and by implication suggested a Trump-Russia connection.
This wasn’t because Steele didn’t know any better. Steele’s “intelligence” wasn’t accepted by Fusion GPS and its clients because they didn’t know any better.
The Steele “intelligence” in the Trump dossier was cherry-picked and cooked because this was a coordinated operation from the beginning – the coordinators of which are the same persons as the dramatis personae in Spygate, and all seem to pop up with remarkable frequency wherever there is corruption in Ukraine.