By Paul Sperry
Special Counsel Robert Mueller spent more than $732,000 on outside contractors, including private investigators and researchers, records show, but his office refuses to say who they were. While itâ€™s not unusual for special government offices to outsource for services such as computer support, Mueller also hired contractors to compile â€œinvestigative reportsâ€ and other â€œinformation.”
The arrangement has led congressional investigators, government watchdog groups and others to speculate that the private investigators and researchers who worked for the special counselâ€™s office might have included Christopher Steele and Fusion GPS, the private research firm that hired Steele to produce the Russia collusion dossier for the Clinton campaign.
They suspect the dossier creators may have been involved in Muellerâ€™s operation â€“ and even had a hand in his final report â€“ because the special counsel sent his team to London to meet with Steele within a few months of taking over the Russia collusion investigation in 2017. Also, Muellerâ€™s lead prosecutor, Andrew Weissmann, had shared information he received from Fusion with the media.
Raising additional suspicions, Muellerâ€™s report recycles the general allegations leveled in the dossier. And taking a page from earlier surveillance-warrant applications in the Russia investigation, it cites as supporting evidence several articles â€“ including one by Yahoo! News â€“ that used Steele and Fusion as sources.
Mueller even kept alive one of the dossierâ€™s most obscene accusations â€“ that Moscow had “compromising tapes” of Trump with Russian hookers â€“ by slipping into a footnote an October 2016 text Trump lawyer Michael Cohen received from a “Russian businessman,” who cryptically intimated, â€œStopped flow of tapes from Russia.â€ Lawyers for the businessman, Giorgi Rtskhiladze (who is actually a Georgian-American), are demanding a retraction of the footnote, arguing Mueller omitted the part of his text where he said he did not believe the rumor about the tapes, for which no evidence has ever surfaced.
Muellerâ€™s reliance on the Steele dossier is raising questions because it occurred long after FBI Director James B. Comey described the dossier as â€œsalacious and unverified.â€
U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said the report should be renamed â€œThe Mueller Dossier,â€ because he says it contains a lot of similar innuendo. Even though Mueller failed to corroborate key allegations leveled in the dossier, Nunes said his report twists key facts to put a collusion gloss on events. He also asserted that it selectively quotes from Trump campaign emails and omits exculpatory information in ways that cast the campaignâ€™s activities in the most sinister light.
Steeleâ€™s 17-memo dossier alleged that the Trump campaign was involved in â€œa well-developed conspiracy of cooperationâ€ with the Russian government to rig the 2016 presidential election in Trumpâ€™s favor. It claimed this conspiracy â€œwas managed on the Trump side by Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort, who was using foreign policy adviser Carter Page and others as intermediaries.â€ Specifically, the dossier accused Page of secretly meeting with Kremlin officials in July 2016 to hatch a plot to release dirt on Hillary Clinton. And it accused Manafort of being corrupted by Russian President Vladimir Putin through his puppets in the Ukraine.
Likewise, Muellerâ€™s report focuses on Manafort and Page and whether they â€œcommitted crimes by colluding with Russian government officials with respect to the Russian governmentâ€™s efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.â€
Though the investigation did not establish that Page coordinated with the Russian government, the Mueller report implies there may be a kernel of truth to the dossierâ€™s charges.
“In July 2016, Campaign foreign policy advisor Carter Page traveled in his personal capacity to Moscow and gave the keynote address at the New Economic School,â€ according to the section on him. “Page had lived and worked in Russia between 2003 and 2007. After returning to the United States, Page became acquainted with at least two Russian intelligence officers, one of whom was later charged in 2015 with conspiracy to act as an unregistered agent of Russia.â€
“Page’s July 2016 trip to Moscow and his advocacy for pro-Russian foreign policy drew media attention,â€ Mueller’s narrative continued. “July 2016 was also the month WikiLeaks first released emails stolen by the GRU [Russian intelligence] from the DNC.”
â€œPage acknowledged that he understood that the individuals he has associated with were members of the Russian intelligence services,â€ the report added, implying that Page in the 2015 case (referenced above) knowingly cavorted with Russian spies, which echoes charges Steele made in his dossier.
But federal court records make it clear that Page did not know that those men were Russian agents.
Mueller also left out of his report a detail RealClearInvestigations has previouslyÂ reported: that Page was a cooperating witness in the case in question, helping the FBI eventually put a Russian agent behind bars in 2016. Nor did Mueller see fit to include in his report another exculpatory detail revealed in agent Gregory Mohaghanâ€™s complaint andÂ reported earlierÂ by RCI — namely, that the Russians privately referred to Page as “an idiotâ€ who was unworthy of recruitment.
Excluding such details is curious, given that the Mueller report quotes from the same FBI complaint and cites it in its footnotes. Similarly, in its section dealing with Manafort, the Mueller report echoes the dossierâ€™s claims that the Trump campaign chairman was in cahoots with the Kremlin, even though Mueller never charged him with conspiring to collude with Russia.
The special prosecutorâ€™s report indicated that one of Manafortâ€™s Kremlin handlers was Konstantin Kilimnik.
â€œManafort briefed Kilimnik on the state of the Trump Campaign and Manafortâ€™s plan to win the election,â€ it said. â€œThat briefing encompassed the Campaignâ€™s messaging and its internal polling data. It also included discussion of â€˜battlegroundâ€™ states, which Manafort identified as Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Minnesota.”
Except that this wouldnâ€™t have been an unusual conversation: Kilimnik was a longtime Manafort employee who ran the Ukraine office of his lobbying firm. Footnotes in Muellerâ€™s report show that Manafort shared campaign information to impress a former business partner, Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who was suing him over financial losses. Mueller failed to tie the information exchange to Russian espionage. He also failed to mention that Deripaska is an FBI informant.
Muellerâ€™s team worked closely with dossier author Steele, a long-retired British intelligence officer who worked for the Clinton campaign. Muellerâ€™s investigators went to London to consult with Steele for at least two days in September 2017 while apparently using his dossier as an investigative road map and central theory to his collusion case. Steele now runs a private research and consulting firm in London, Orbis Business Intelligence.
Itâ€™s not clear if Muellerâ€™s office paid Steele, but recently released FBI records show the bureau previously made a number of payments to him, and at one point during the 2016 campaign offered him $50,000 to continue his dossier research. Steele was also paid through the Clinton campaign, earning $168,000 for his work on the dossier.
Expenditure statements show that the Special Counselâ€™s Office outsourced â€œinvestigative reportsâ€ and â€œinformationâ€ to third-party contractors during Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian â€œcollusionâ€ during the 2016 presidential election.
Over the past few months, Muellerâ€™s office has rejected several formal requests from RealClearInvestigations for contract details, including who was hired and how much they were paid.
Washington-based Judicial Watch suspects Muellerâ€™s office may have farmed out work to the private Washington research firm Fusion GPS or its subcontractor Steele, both of whom were paid by the Clinton camp during the 2016 presidential election. Several law enforcement and Hill sources who spoke with RCI also believe Steele and Fusion GPS were deputized in the investigation.
The government watchdog group has requested that the Justice Department turn over the contracting records, along with all budget requests Mueller submitted to the attorney general during his nearly two-year investigation. It’s also requested all communications between the Special Counselâ€™s Office and the private contractors it used.
A Judicial Watch spokesman said its Freedom of Information Act request is pending.
Special counsel spokesman Peter Carr declined comment when asked specifically if Muellerâ€™s team hired or collaborated with Fusion GPS or any of its subcontractors. Mueller took over the FBIâ€™s Russia probe in May 2017, whereupon he hired many of the agents who handled Steele and pored over his dossier.
For the first reporting period ending Sept. 30, 2017, and covering just four months, the Special Counselâ€™s Office reported paying $867 to unnamed contractors for â€œinvestigative reports/information,â€ along with $3,554 in â€œmiscellaneousâ€ payments to contractors.
In the next reporting period ending March 31, 2018, the office stopped breaking out investigative reports and information as a separate line item, lumping such contractual services under the category â€œOther,â€ which accounted for a total of $10,812, or more than 4% of the total spending on outside contracts.
For the six months ending Sept. 30, 2018 â€“ the latest reporting period for which there is data â€“ Muellerâ€™s office showed a total of $310,732 in payments to outside contractors. For the first time, it did not break out such expenses into subcategories, though it noted that the lionâ€™s share of the $310,000 was spent on â€œIT services.â€
Mueller concluded his investigation and delivered his final report in March. The next expenditure report, for the period October 2018-March 2019, will cover contract work directly tied to compiling the report.
Asked if the contracting details were classified, Carr demurred. If the information is not deemed classified, it must be made public, Judicial Watch maintains.
Republican critics on the Hill say Muellerâ€™s written narrative was slanted to give the impression there still might be something to the dossier’s most salacious allegations, even though Mueller found no evidence corroborating them or establishing that Trump or his campaign coordinated or cooperated with Russian meddling in the election.
â€œWhoever wrote the report leaves you with the idea thereâ€™s still something to all the allegations of collusion that were first promoted by the dossier,â€ said a witness who was interviewed by Muellerâ€™s investigators late in the probe and is referenced in the report.
In a section on Donald Trump Jr., moreover, the report gives the misimpression that the president’s oldest son was collaborating with WikiLeaks on the release of the Clinton campaign emails.
â€œDonald Trump Jr. had direct electronic communications with WikiLeaks during the campaign period,â€ it stated.
In fact, Trump got an unsolicited message through his Twitter account from WikiLeaks. He described the outreach as â€œweirdâ€ in an email to senior Trump campaign staff at the time. Other contemporaneous messages make it clear he had no advance knowledge about any Clinton emails released by WikiLeaks.
The FBI first began receiving memos from Steele’s dossier in early July 2016 and used the documents as the foundation for its October 2016 application for a warrant to wiretap the private communications of Page. These milestones are missing from the Mueller reportâ€™s chronology of events. In fact, neither Steele nor his dossier is mentioned by name anywhere in the first half of the report dealing with collusion, though their allegations are hashed out.
Some Mueller critics are focused on the role played by his top prosecutor, Andrew Weissmann, a Democrat and Hillary Clinton supporter with longstanding ties to Steele and Fusion GPS.
â€œWeissman had a lot to do with the way the report was written,â€ said author Jerome Corsi, who, as a friend of Trump confidant Roger Stone, was targeted by Mueller. â€œThatâ€™s why itâ€™s basically a political document.â€
Corsi said he spent more than 40 hours with Muellerâ€™s prosecutors and investigators, who grilled him about possible ties to WikiLeaks but never charged him with a crime.
Formerly a top Justice Department official under Obama, Weissmann not only donated to Clintonâ€™s presidential campaign but also attended her election-night party in New York City in November 2016. Three months earlier, he was briefed on Steele’s dossier and other dirt provided by the Clinton contractor and paid FBI informant. In early 2017, Weissmann helped advance the Russia collusion narrative by personally sharing Steele’s and Fusionâ€™s dirt on Trump and his advisers with Washington reporters.
In an April 2017 meeting he arranged at his office, Weissmann gave guidance to four Associated Press reporters who were investigating Manafort, according to internal FBIÂ documents.
Among other things, they discussed rumors that Manafort used “some of the money from shell companies to buy expensive suits.â€ A month later, Weissmann became the lead prosecutor handling the Manafort case for Mueller. His February 2018 indictment of Manafort highlights, among other things, the Trump adviser’s taste for expensive suits.
Attempts to reach Weissmann for comment were unsuccessful.
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said there are signs Mueller may have hired â€œresearchersâ€ like Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson, who worked with Steele on the dossier, along with Edward Baumgartner and Nellie Ohr, who have worked for Fusion GPS, which originally hired Steele in June 2016 after contracting with the Clinton campaign.
â€œI ran into Glenn at the 2017 Aspen Security [Forum], and I distinctly remember him leaning in and claiming he was working for the government,â€ said one associate, who wished to remain anonymous.
Congressional investigators say Simpson, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, has been feeding Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate investigative tips regarding Trump and his associates, including Manafort.
In 2017, for instance, he urged Democrats specifically to look into the bank records of Deutsche Bank, which has financed some of Trumpâ€™s businesses, because he suspected some of the funding may have been laundered through Russia.
Around the time Simpson began coordinating with Democratic investigators looking into Trump’s bank records, Mueller subpoenaed Deutsche Bank for financial records for Manafort and other individuals affiliated with Trump.
Simpson did not return calls and emails seeking comment.
Founded by the journalist-turned-opposition researcher, Fusion has rehired Steele to continue his anti-Trump work with millions of dollars in left-wing funding from The Democracy Integrity Project, a Washington-based nonprofit started in 2017 by former FBI analyst Daniel Jones, who also worked for Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
In March 2017, Jones met with FBI agents to provide them data he collected from IT specialists he hired to analyze web traffic between servers maintained by the Trump Organization and a Russian bank mentioned in the dossier. The traffic turned out to be innocuous marketing emails, or spam.
Â© 2019 RealClearInvestigations.com. Reprinted with permission.