- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 23, 2017

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 are fiction.

A fourth figure — a Russian diplomat whom Londoner Christopher 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 by Mr. Steele 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 supposed chronicle of meetings and misdeeds is untrue. McClatchy News reported that the man Mr. Steele identified as spearheading part of the hacking operation was (and still is) in a Russia prison at the time 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 two Kremlin-connected men, an oil executive and a Kremlin figure. Mr. Steele said Mr. Page, who was in Moscow to give two pubic talks, met them 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. Mr. Steele 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 Steele-described 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 Trump-Russia 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.

The New York Times reported Saturday that the FBI offered Mr. Steele $50,000 to continue investigating Mr. Trump and his aides. The Times said the deal never went through.

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