Ev­i­dence con­tra­dicts dossier against Trump

Democrats’ ar­gu­ment for inquiry crum­bles

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

An anti-Don­ald Trump “dossier” cre­ated by a for­mer Bri­tish spy and fi­nanced by Demo­cratic-linked money has sig­nif­i­cant de­trac­tors: the peo­ple ac­cused of crimes in a sup­posed Trump-Rus­sia con­spir­acy.

Three men — Mr. Trump’s at­tor­ney, a cam­paign vol­un­teer and a tech com­pany CEO — have publicly said that the parts about them in the dossier by Lon­doner Christopher Steele are fic­tion.

A fourth fig­ure — a Rus­sian diplo­mat whom Mr. Steele ac­cused of law­break­ing — said via Rus­sia’s For­eign Min­istry that the dossier is fan­tasy. And there is ev­i­dence to back him up.

The 35-page dossier has taken on crit­i­cal im­por­tance in re­cent weeks for Democrats in Washington. They cite its ac­cu­sa­tions with­out cor­rob­o­ra­tion as the rea­son for a spe­cial com­mis­sion to in­ves­ti­gate Mr. Trump and his aides for a sup­posed role in Rus­sia’s hack­ing of Demo­cratic Party email servers.

Lost in the Democrats’ en­dorse­ments are the

peo­ple who say Mr. Steele’s chron­i­cle of sup­posed meet­ings and mis­deeds is un­true. McClatchy News re­ported that the man Mr. Steele iden­ti­fied as spear­head­ing part of the hack­ing op­er­a­tion was at the time (and still is) in a Rus­sian prison with no ac­cess to the in­ter­net or a cell­phone.

Mr. Steele was paid by Fu­sion GPS, a Demo­cratic Party-aligned op­po­si­tion re­search firm that was try­ing to bring down the Trump can­di­dacy last year. Fu­sion GPS spread the dossier around Washington to re­porters and Democrats.

Once it was pub­lished in Jan­uary by Buz­zfeed, whose ed­i­tor doubted its ac­cu­racy, the de­nials started.

Michael Co­hen, Mr. Trump’s per­sonal at­tor­ney, said he has never been to Prague — the city where Mr. Steele said he met se­cretly in late Au­gust with Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence to dis­cuss Moscow’s hack­ing and how to cover it up.

When the sup­posed meet­ing took place, Mr. Co­hen was with his fam­ily in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. He has shown his pass­port to Mr. Trump and aides and pro­vided his itin­er­ary for when he vis­ited Cal­i­for­nia.

Carter Page, a vol­un­teer Trump cam­paign sur­ro­gate, said he never met in Moscow with the oil ex­ec­u­tive and a Krem­lin fig­ure. Mr. Steele said Mr. Page, who was in Moscow to give two pu­bic talks, met the two men and planned Rus­sia’s hack into the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee.

Mr. Page, who has done busi­ness with Rus­sian en­ergy firms for more than a decade, said he has never met Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s for­mer cam­paign man­ager. Mr. Steele said the two con­spired as li­aisons to Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence.

The CEO of a Rus­sian tech com­pany, Alek­sej Gubarev, has filed a defama­tion law­suit against Mr. Steele, who ac­cused Mr. Gubarev’s XBT Hold­ings of “us­ing bot­nets and porn traf­fic to trans­mit viruses, plant bugs, steal data” against Democrats.

Though it has not re­ceived a lot of at­ten­tion, there is an­other Steeledescribed con­spir­acy for which pub­lic ev­i­dence is lack­ing.

Mr. Steele’s plot line re­volves around a Rus­sian diplo­mat named Mikhail Kalu­gin. Mr. Kalu­gin headed the eco­nomic sec­tion at the Rus­sian Em­bassy in Washington, where he was posted for six years be­fore re­turn­ing in Au­gust to the For­eign Min­istry in Moscow, where he works to­day.

Mr. Steele, in one of his last memos to Fu­sion GPS that com­prised the com­plete dossier, spins a far more sin­is­ter tale. Mr. Kalu­gin was at the cen­ter of an il­le­gal money-skim­ming op­er­a­tion run out of the em­bassy. Pen­sions des­tined for Rus­sian vet­er­ans in the U.S. were di­verted to fund the hack­ing of Demo­cratic Party com­puter net­works.

En­coun­ters with Kalu­gin

The al­leged Rus­sian hack­ing brought in­tense po­lit­i­cal and media heat on Moscow in Au­gust.

Moscow abruptly whisked Mr. Kalu­gin out of Washington, Mr. Steele wrote, in a Sept. 14 memo ti­tled “US: Krem­lin Fall­out from Media Ex­po­sure of Moscow’s in­ter­fer­ence in the U.S. pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.”

Mr. Steele wrote, “Fi­nally, speak­ing separately to the same com­pa­triot, a se­nior Rus­sian [min­is­ter of for­eign af­fairs] of­fi­cial re­ported that as a pro­phy­lac­tic mea­sure, a lead­ing Rus­sian diplo­mat, Mikhail [Kalu­gin], had been with­drawn from Washington at short no­tice be­cause Moscow feared his heavy in­volve­ment in the US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion op­er­a­tion, in­clud­ing the so-called vet­er­ans pen­sions ruse (re­ported pre­vi­ously), would be ex­posed in the media there.”

The Rus­sian For­eign Min­istry de­nied all of Mr. Steele’s charges in­volv­ing Mr. Kalu­gin and pen­sions.

Vladimir Putin’s gov­ern­ment also de­nied hack­ing Democrats in the face of U.S. in­tel­li­gence as­sess­ments that it did, so a Rus­sian de­nial of Mr. Kalu­gin is not de­fin­i­tive.

But there is in­de­pen­dent ev­i­dence that Mr. Steele’s story is wrong.

Amer­i­cans who knew Mr. Kalu­gin and worked with him on eco­nomic pro­jects said he told them months be­fore his de­par­ture that he and his fam­ily planned to re­turn to Rus­sia as a nor­mal diplo­matic ro­ta­tion. Rus­sian diplo­mats typ­i­cally spend three years at an em­bassy be­fore trans­fer, but the U.S. is such an im­por­tant ac­count that diplo­mats typ­i­cally serve longer.

One of the Amer­i­cans is Earl Ras­mussen — a re­tired Army of­fi­cer, West Point grad­u­ate and tech­nol­ogy con­sul­tant in Washington. He is also vice pres­i­dent of the Eura­sia Cen­ter, which works to cre­ate eco­nomic ties be­tween the U.S. and Euro­pean-Asian coun­tries. He had a num­ber of en­coun­ters with Mr. Kalu­gin.

Mr. Ras­mussen told The Washington Times: “He was def­i­nitely not ‘with­drawn on short no­tice.’ It was a sched­uled de­par­ture and one where sev­eral peo­ple that may have in­ter­faced with him and his staff di­rectly knew that he was leav­ing sev­eral months ear­lier and who his re­place­ment was sched­uled to be. More­over, while many of us know peo­ple who work in the clan­des­tine world, I had sig­nif­i­cant in­ter­ac­tion with Mr. Kalu­gin, and never have I de­tected any type of covert ac­tions or even an in­di­ca­tion of pref­er­ences re­gard­ing the po­lit­i­cal cam­paign. My ex­pe­ri­ence with him was that he was a very good pro­fes­sional in the eco­nomic area and sought to im­prove U.S.-Rus­sia re­la­tions.”

The Times asked Mr. Ras­mussen, who was in­ter­viewed last win­ter by McClatchy, to re­call the chronol­ogy.

“Mikhail was ac­tu­ally on an ex­ten­sion of a typ­i­cal as­sign­ment/tour,” he said in an email. “I knew he was due to leave sum­mer of 2016 prob­a­bly some­time sum­mer or fall of 2015. I knew the ac­tual month/time pe­riod of his ro­ta­tion (July/Au­gust 2016) about 5 or so months out. The topic came up while we were in the plan­ning stages of an­nual BRICS [a group of five emerg­ing economies] con­fer­ence held ev­ery spring that I am in­volved with or­ga­niz­ing.”

‘De­fies logic’

The Washington Times also spoke with a se­nior for­mer State Depart­ment of­fi­cial who had contact with Mr. Kalu­gin. The for­mer of­fi­cial de­scribed Mr. Kalu­gin as a func­tion­ing diplo­mat who vis­ited the State Depart­ment and ac­com­pa­nied the Rus­sian am­bas­sador dur­ing meet­ings deal­ing with global eco­nomics.

The for­mer of­fi­cial re­called that when the am­bas­sador needed a statis­tic to make a point, Mr. Kalu­gin was quick to pro­vide it.

“I have more than a pass­ing ac­quain­tance with the Rus­sian Em­bassy staff,” the for­mer diplo­mat said. “I saw him at a lot of events. We had reg­u­lar nor­mal contact with him do­ing stuff that typ­i­cally diplo­mats do. I can tell you he is quite knowl­edge­able about the econ­omy.”

The for­mer of­fi­cial said Mr. Kalu­gin’s re­sume showed a log­i­cal pro­gres­sion for a diplo­mat spe­cial­iz­ing in eco­nomics. He is now back at the For­eign Min­istry in a pol­icy shop.

“This is not a deep-cover guy,” the for­mer of­fi­cial said. “I dealt with lots of Rus­sians over the past 30 and 40 years, and I can tell you he pre­formed his du­ties pro­fes­sion­ally and com­pe­tently. Maybe he’s the world’s most super-se­cret spy.”

Of the dossier, the for­mer diplo­mat said, “There is stuff in there that just de­fies logic. Lots of it.”

The dossier gen­er­ally was shunned by the main­stream media as it cir­cu­lated through Washington’s cor­ri­dors dur­ing the cam­paign. The rea­son: It could not be con­firmed.

But el­e­ments of it did ap­pear spo­rad­i­cally couched as be­ing from in­tel­li­gence sources.

To­day, the Steele cre­ation is cited by Democrats try­ing to get Congress to ap­point a spe­cial com­mis­sion and by some lib­eral news web­sites that con­tend it is true.

Af­ter read­ing aloud from the Steele pa­per at a March 20 hear­ing of the House Per­ma­nent Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence, Rep. Adam B. Schiff, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, said: “I be­lieve that we would ben­e­fit from the work of an in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion that can devote the staff re­sources to this in­ves­ti­ga­tion that we do not have. And it can be com­pletely re­moved from any po­lit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions.”

Two other Democrats read parts of the dossier into the hear­ing record.

There has been no pub­lic, in­de­pen­dent ver­i­fi­ca­tion of Mr. Steele’s charges against Mr. Trump or his aides. White House press sec­re­tary Sean Spicer has de­nied any Trump-Rus­sian col­lu­sion.

What alarms some Repub­li­cans are re­ports that the FBI re­lied on Mr. Steele and his Demo­crat-fi­nanced op­po­si­tion re­search to open and con­duct its TrumpRus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man Chuck Grass­ley, Iowa Repub­li­can, sent a letter to FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey last month ask­ing ques­tions about the bureau’s re­liance on Mr. Steele’s work. No re­ply has ar­rived.

The se­na­tor is con­cerned about a Washington Post re­port that said the FBI planned to pay Mr. Steele to con­tinue his in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Mr. Trump. This pre­sumedly would mean an op­po­si­tion re­search spe­cial­ist would be in­ves­ti­gat­ing the pres­i­dent and paid by the FBI.

No Repub­li­can asked Mr. Comey about this sup­posed ar­range­ment when he tes­ti­fied at the House hear­ing.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

AU­THOR: Christopher Steele, a for­mer Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer, com­piled the ex­plo­sive and un­proven dossier on Pres­i­dent Trump.

Carter Page, a for­mer for­eign pol­icy ad­viser of Don­ald Trump, is part of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into po­ten­tial links be­tween the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial cam­paign and Rus­sia. A re­port was based on uniden­ti­fied law en­force­ment and other U.S. of­fi­cials.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

Christopher Steele, who went into hid­ing in Jan­uary, reap­peared in London in early March. The man who com­piled the dossier said he was pleased to be back at work af­ter a pro­longed pe­riod.

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