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Steele dossier compiler constantly pressed his DOJ pal Bruce Ohr for favors and information valuable to Steele’s client Deripaska whom NY Times describes as so close to Putin that he’s been called ‘Putin’s oligarch.’ Steele flooded US State Dept. with “free” Russia info for years-Eric Felten, Wkly Standard, 9/14/2018

January 16, 2019

In October 2016 “Steele emailed Ohr that he had information about “the unfolding Government of Ukraine-RUSAL dispute” that “Paul H” [Deripaska’s legal counsel] had asked him to pass along to Ohr. “Naturally he [Hauser] wants to protect the client’s interests and reputation,” Steele wrote.”

9/14/2018, “Was Christopher Steele Disseminating Russian Disinformation to the State Department?” Weekly Standard, Eric Felten

When Christopher Steele was hired to compile his “dossier” on Donald Trump in 2016, he already had an extensive history of presenting private intelligence analysis to U.S. policymakers. The former British spy had for years been funneling reports on Russia and Ukraine to senior State Department Russia analysts. Materials recently turned over to Congress show that while Steele was giving memos to State he also maintained close ties to the billionaire Russian industrialist Oleg V. Deripaska. Some congressional investigators are thus concerned that his memos may have been a channel of Russian disinformation.

Here’s how Steele got his work distributed in the halls of Foggy Bottom, according to those who opened the door for him. During “the Ukraine crisis in 2014 and ’15, Chris Steele had a number of commercial clients who were asking him for reports on what was going on in Russia, what was going on in Ukraine, what was going on between them,” former assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs Victoria Nuland told CBS’s Face the Nation in February. Chris had a friend at the State Department, and he offered us that reporting free, so that we could also benefit from it.”

That friend was Jonathan M. Winer, then State’s special envoy for Libya and now a scholar at the Middle East Institute. Winer and Steele had been pals since 2009, back when each was in the private international affairs consulting trade. Winer, who had left the State Department in 1999, returned there in 2013. Soon after that, Steele approached Winer with a pitch: “He asked me whether the State Department would like copies of new information as he developed it,” Winer wrote in the Washington Post in February. Winer took some of Steele’s Russia memos to Nuland. “She told me they were useful and asked me to continue to send them,” Winer wrote. “Over the next two years, I shared more than 100 of Steele’s reports with the Russia experts at the State Department, who continued to find them useful.”

No one seems to have asked who paid Steele to produce the materials. The memos may have been free for the State Department, but someone was paying Steele to produce them. And as we’ve since learned—the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee’s funding of the Trump dossier being Exhibit A—Steele, like many in the international fraternity of consultants, had no qualms about writing intel in the interest of clients. Would it matter if the person doing the paying for Russia-policy memos was a top Russian oligarch?

The Department of Justice recently provided Congress with materials, including emails and handwritten notes, involving onetime associate deputy attorney general Bruce Ohr and Steele. The former British spy regularly asked his friend Ohr for favors and information valuable to Deripaska (whom the New York Times describes as “so close to the Russian president that he has been called ‘Putin’s oligarch’ ”).

How close was Steele to Deripaska? “Congress has documents showing Steele making numerous requests to Bruce Ohr on Deripaska’s behalf,says one congressional source. “It’s hard to believe Steele was doing that for Deripaska just because he likes the guy.”

Steele had done business with the oligarch’s organization going back to the early days of his private practice [2009]. After he retired from MI6, the New York Times reports, Steele “opened a business intelligence firm, and had tracked Russian organized crime and business interests for private clients, including one of Mr. Deripaska’s lawyers.”

When asked by The Weekly Standard about Deripaska and the Steele-produced memos Winer shared with State, Winer had his attorney respond: “Mr. Winer did not provide information to anyone at the State Department at any time that was funded by, or related in any way to, Mr. Deripaska. Any statement to the contrary is false.”

Without access to the books of Steele’s company, Orbis Business Intelligence, it’s impossible to know who exactly was paying for his many memos. But the notion that Steele’s information was not “related in any way” to Deripaska is another matter.

Deripaska was such a frequent topic of discussion between Steele and the Justice Department’s Bruce Ohr that the two referred to him as “OD” or “OVD. And often those discussions suggest Steele was doing his best to grease the skids for the oligarch who, because he was under U.S. sanctions for his role as a Putin crony, had a perennial problem getting visas to enter the United States. On February 8, 2016, Steele wrote to Ohr: “our old friend OD apparently has been granted another official visa to come to the US later this month.” Steele went on, “As far as I’m concerned, this is good news all round.” Steele seems to have been on the lookout for any information affecting Deripaska’s visit, and suggests it isn’t the first time he has adopted that role: “As before,” he wrote to Ohr, “it would be helpful if you could monitor it and let me know if any complications arise.”

The communications between Steele and Ohr show that Steele not only produced memos about Deripaska and issues important to the businessman, he did his best to spread those memos around official Washington. Typical is an email Steele sent Ohr February 21, 2016, titled “Re: OVD—Visit To The US.” Steele wrote he had been in touch with “Paul H and Adam W.” That would be Paul Hauser—a London-based lawyer who describes himself as “legal counsel for Mr. Deripaska and for various of the businesses associated with him”—and Adam Waldman, then Deripaska’s registered Washington lawyer/lobbyist. Steele told Ohr he was “circulating some recent sensitive Orbis reporting” that purportedly showed Deripaska wasn’t a “tool” of the Kremlin, simply under pressure from the Russian regime to toe the line.

Steele had remarkable access to Deripaska. When the FBI tried (and failed) to “turn” the oligarch into a confidential source in 2015, it was Steele who “helped set up a meeting between the Russian and American officials,” according to the New York Times. And when congressional committees were looking to interview Steele in 2017, the dossier author turned to Deripaska’s Washington lawyer, Waldman, to attempt back-channel negotiations.

Even in the thick of compiling the Trump dossier, Steele found time to look out for Deripaska’s interests. In the middle of October 2016, the president of Ukraine issued sanctions against more than 100 Russian companies, including Deripaska’s aluminum giant, Rusal. Within a day, Steele emailed Ohr that he had information about “the unfolding Government of Ukraine-RUSAL dispute” that “Paul H” [OD’s legal counsel] had asked him to pass along to Ohr. “Naturally he [Hauser] wants to protect the client’s interests and reputation,” Steele wrote.

Steele’s extensive interactions with Deripaska and Deripaska’s lawyers make it unlikely that the succession of memos on Russia and Ukraine he offered to Winer and the State Departmen were not “related in any way” to Deripaska. Ukraine was a pressing issue for Deripaska and the crisis there was the main topic Steele was analyzing.

Does the fact that those memos were distributed at State for years mean U.S. policy might have been warped by Russian disinformation, as some on Capitol Hill fear? No, says a senior State Department official who was serving at the time—because the Russia hands weren’t naïve. Asked about the Russia and Ukraine memos Steele provided to State, the official tells The Weekly Standard, “We were not aware of his specific sources but assumed that many of them were close to Putin and were peddling information that was useful to the Kremlin.”

The official says the Putinesque spin of the memos led them to take Steele’s analysis with more than a grain of salt: “There was a huge discount factor for that reason.”

This was the reputation Steele had at the upper reaches of State: Among the people who saw his work most frequently and who had the most expertise in Russian issues, the onetime MI6 officer was seen as “peddling information that was useful to the Kremlin.”

Which brings us back to Victoria Nuland. The taint that Steele’s work carried at State may explain why she ran as far and as fast as she could from Jonathan Winer when he showed up with a condensed version of Steele’s Trump dossier in September 2016. In an interview with Politico last February, Nuland says her reaction to the summary of Steele’s Trump-Russia allegations was that it was “not the business of the State Department.” Give the thing to the FBI, she said, which may have been the good-government response—and may also have been sensible hand-washing by one of the few people who were in a position to know what Steele’s Russia reporting was worth.”

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