The Story of Ohr and More

The two big stories this week are interrelated: the utter collapse of the Russian Collusion Fantasy and the conclusion of the Manafort case, a case of selective and apparently not very persuasive prosecution which flows from that fantasy.

The Manafort Trial Ends 

This week marked the end of the trial of Paul Manafort. The jury is now deliberating his fate. I cannot with certainty opine on the prosecution’s handling of the case. I can’t because all we know -- in the absence of transcripts of the trial -- is what reporters have told us. In my experience they often lack the background to adequately apprise us of what went on. Reporters also give more weight generally to salacious details -- in this case Manafort’s wardrobe and Gates’ affairs -- than they do to the more significant documentary evidence. Finally, as I learned in covering the Libby trial as an observer, even the best reporters have deadlines, which means their stories are often filed before the cross-examination of key witnesses and begin the next day with the direct examination of the next witness, which means half of what occurred -- often the most important part to my mind -- is unreported.

Nevertheless, from even those accounts, it would appear that the prosecution was hardly a slam dunk, and Manafort’s lawyers obviously thought so in closing without presenting any case.

In closing arguments, they hit upon those weaknesses.   

As predicted, they argued that Manafort’s former aide, Rick Gates, (who received an exceptionally generous immunity agreement which violated Justice Department standards) was not credible.  Admittedly he lied to the FBI, his wife, forged documents, embezzled from Manafort and others, including the Trump Inauguration Committee, suggesting, asserted defense counsel, that this was a weak reed upon which to prosecute someone.

Richard Wesley, a lawyer on Manafort's team, called the government's bank fraud evidence against his client 'selective.'

'Clearly the goal was to… stack up the counts,' said Wesley. 'And to give you a sense that the evidence is so overwhelming to draw one conclusion.'

'There is not a single bit of evidence that any of these banks came to the government and complained about these frauds,' added Wesley.

He said none of the banks seemed concerned 'until the special counsel showed up and starting asking questions.'

Throughout the trial, Manafort's attorneys have suggested Gates was responsible for falsifying bank and tax records -- even implying he forged Manafort's signatures on foreign bank records. They claimed he did this to cover up for millions of dollars he embezzled from Manafort's businesses.

In testimony last week Gates said he committed tax and bank fraud crimes under orders from Manafort -- but also admitted to embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from his former boss while carrying at least one extramarital affair.

Downing told the jury that Gates was a 'liar' who 'tried to get one over on you.'

'How [Gates] was able to get the deal he got [with Mueller's team] I have no idea,' said Downing. 'He gets to walk out of here on probation… because [prosecutors] were so desperate to try to make the case.'

After the jury began deliberations, there was a mysterious pause and after recessing the trial the judge inexplicably left the courtroom through the door reserved for jurors. That mystery was apparently solved on Friday when CNN, the Washington Post, BuzzFeed, POLITICO, the New York Times, NBC Universal, and the Associated Press filed a motion to obtain the names and addresses of the jurors.  Judge Ellis then revealed that he had received death threats and is being accompanied by federal marshals. He said the jury had expressed to him their fears for their own safety and he denied the request, as he should.  

Ellis said he has no reason to believe the jurors wouldn’t also be exposed to threats if their names were revealed. 

“I had no idea this case would excite these emotions, I will tell you frankly,” he said.

Had the jurors been told at the outset of the case that their names would be revealed, Ellis said he likely would have seen some requests to be excused.

The harassment of jurors who are not sequestered would surely have followed the grant of this motion. After the trial, one can imagine that they, like the judge, would receive threats on their lives. This is the first real test of the Mueller team -- and though it still has nothing to do with the fake collusion theory, it seems the notion has taken on some kind of religious fervor among the left, still smarting from their loss in 2016 who are determined to bring the infidels to heel.

 After the jury submitted several questions to the judge, the trial was recessed until Monday

(Please note I have not followed the usual “conservative” commentary on the trial which begins with distancing myself from Manafort and then heading into “but…” It’s a kind of virtue signaling I despise. Were the defendant Anthony Podesta, with whom Manafort worked, would PBS or NPR or any news organization begin with a distancing from him followed by “but…”? The man is entitled to fair and equal treatment under the law, and I see no reason to prejudge the defendant’s character while making that point.)

The Ohrs

As the selective prosecution of Paul Manafort draws to a conclusion, the villains of the Russian collusion fairy tale that was the impetus for the appointment of a Special Counsel who brought this case, are being further unmasked.

Reputable accounts reveal that former associate deputy attorney general Bruce Ohr and his wife Nellie (an undisclosed employee of GPS Fusion) continued to receive reports from Christopher Steele, author of the now discredited dossier. They did so after Steele was terminated as an FBI source because of Steele’s leaks to the press and lying to the agency about them.  Ohr and his DOJ and FBI cohorts in this stove-piping operation apparently “operated outside the chain of command, misled their bosses (and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) and concealed evidence from Congressional oversight committees.” And they did this work even after Trump was elected and inaugurated. 

The evidence to date suggests that Rod Rosenstein, who is tasked with supervising Robert Mueller and his team, was kept in the dark about Ohr’s continued work with Steele when he signed the last FISA warrant application, post inauguration, in June 2017. The Ohr-Steele exchanges which have made it to public view suggest that Ohr’s boss, now fired but then Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, most likely received the stove-piped reports, okayed this channel of information gathering, and even oversaw it.

John Solomon at The Hill broke the story about the Ohr-Steele work-around. 

Ohr’s own notes, emails and text messages show he communicated extensively with Steele and with Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson. Those documents have been turned over in recent weeks to investigative bodies in Congress and the DOJ, but not reviewed outside the investigative ranks until now.

They show Ohr had contact with Steele in the days just before the FBI opened its Trump-Russia probe in summer 2016, and then engaged Steele as a “confidential human source” assisting in that probe.

They also confirm that Ohr later became a critical conduit of continuing information from Steele after the FBI ended the Brit's role as an informant.

“doubtless a sad and crazy day for you re- SY,” Steele texted Ohr on Jan. 31, 2017, referencing President Trump’s firing of Sally Yates for insubordination.

Steele's FBI relationship had been terminated about three months earlier. The bureau concluded on Nov. 1, 2016, that he leaked information to the news media and was “not suitable for use” as a confidential source, memos show.

The FBI specifically instructed Steele that he could no longer “operate to obtain any intelligence whatsoever on behalf of the FBI,” those memos show.

Yet, Steele asked Ohr in the Jan. 31 text exchange if he could continue to help feed information to the FBI: “Just want to check you are OK, still in the situ and able to help locally as discussed, along with your Bureau colleagues.”

“I’m still here and able to help as discussed,” Ohr texted back. “I’ll let you know if that changes.”

Steele replied, “If you end up out though, I really need another (bureau?) contact point/number who is briefed. We can’t allow our guy to be forced to go back home. It would be disastrous.” Investigators are trying to determine who Steele was referring to.

FBI officials now admit they continued to receive information from Steele through Ohr, identifying more than a half-dozen times its agents interviewed Ohr in late 2016 and 2017, to learn what Steele was saying.

That continued reliance on Steele after his termination is certain to raise interest in Congress about whether the FBI broke its own rules.

Bruce Ohr is scheduled to testify on August 28 before a joint committee of Congress (House Oversight and House Judiciary) in a closed hearing. As more information has finally been made available to Congress, the possibilities for selective disinformation become narrower. 

And forces other than Congress are lifting the veil on the dirtiest official wrongdoing in U.S. history.  Judge Amit O. Mehta of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has issued a ruling which must frighten the FBI miscreants who have to date manage to conceal their actions from public scrutiny. 

...the FBI can no longer hide behind the “we can neither confirm nor deny” response in order to stonewall records requests regarding how they may have tried to determine the validity of the synopsis of the dossier that raised concerns President Donald Trump might be compromised by Russia, pee tapes and all.[snip]

“In this case, the court must decide whether the February 2018 public release of two congressionally drafted memoranda—popularly known as the ‘Nunes Memo’ and the ‘Schiff Memo’ -- vitiates Defendants’ Glomar responses to Plaintiffs’ demand for records concerning a ‘two-page synopsis’ of the Dossier,” the judge began, noting that he had previously sided with the government.

Judge Mehta said that the disclosures in the Nunes and Schiff memos “constitute a public acknowledgement of the existence of the records sought by Plaintiffs from Defendant Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) and that the FBI therefore may no longer maintain its Glomar responses.”

(Glomar responses are the means by which, in order to protect national security or privacy, official agencies can refuse information requests by answering they can neither confirm nor deny the existence of the information requested, the synopsis of the dossier.) Since the existence of the information requested was made known in the Nunes and Schiff memos, the Judge properly reversed his earlier decision.

The case before Judge Mehta concerns BuzzFeed's suit against GPS fusion. (BuzzFeed is being sued by Aleksej Gubarev for allegations about Russian collusion, specifically hacking the DNC computer, in the dossier which it published, and is seeking to find out how the DOJ and FBI verified the allegations in the dossier. 

Judge Mehta explained:

The DOJ also sought to distinguish between the Steele Dossier and a synopsis of the dossier presented to both Trump and then-President Obama in 2016, however Mehta rejected the attempt, writing "That position defies logic," while also rejecting the government's refusal to even say if the FBI has a copy of that synopsis. 

"It remains no longer logical nor plausible for the FBI to maintain that it cannot confirm nor deny the existence of documents," Mehta wrote. 

It is simply not plausible to believe that, to whatever extent the FBI has made efforts to verify Steele’s reporting, some portion of that work has not been devoted to allegations that made their way into the synopsis. After all, if the reporting was important enough to brief the President-elect, then surely the FBI thought enough of those key charges to attempt to verify their accuracy. It will be up to the FBI to determine which of the records in its possession relating to the reliability of the Dossier concerns Steele’s reporting as discussed in the synopsis. 

“This ruling represents another incremental step in revealing just how much the FBI has been able to verify or discredit the rather personal allegations contained in that synopsis derived from the Steele dossier,” said Brad Moss, a lawyer pressing the lawsuit for the pro-transparency group, the James Madison Project. “It will be rather ironic if the president’s peripheral actions that resulted in this ruling wind up disclosing that the FBI has been able to corroborate any of the ‘salacious’ allegations.”

Things seem finally to be moving, glacially, but at last more rapidly than before. 

Like the army of white supremacists the media is always trumpeting, the Russian collusion evidence seems to be based on a media-induced hallucination. My friend “porchlight” observes, “Charlottesville proves once again that the demand for racism far outstrips the supply” and there’s much evidence this week for that. There must have been a million or more pixels expended per participant in the scare reporting about the Unite the Right rally in D.C. this week. As it happens the rally drew maybe two-dozen nutters and countless reporters and photographers.

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