- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The FBI has turned down a request from The Washington Times to disclose whether it has received any opposition research from Daniel J. Jones, the former Senate Democratic staffer who raised $50 million to investigate President Trump.

Mr. Jones has spread the discredited Alfa Bank server conspiracy, which says Russia’s largest commercial bank supposedly had a direct link to the Trump campaign via a computer network.

The FBI said The Times’ request under the Freedom of Information Act has been closed. The action should not be construed as acknowledging that the material does or doesn’t exist, the bureau said in an April 25 letter.

Mr. Jones, a former FBI investigator and once an intelligence aide to Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, met with bureau agents in March 2017, according to an FBI memo obtained by the then-Republican majority on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Sources said the meeting appeared to involve a transfer of information. Mr. Jones told the FBI about his fundraising from seven to 10 Democratic Party donors. He said he had hired two prominent operators in the Trump-Russia affair: the opposition research firm Fusion GPS and former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele.

Mr. Jones said he planned to continue investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and give the research to the news media and Capitol Hill.

Mr. Steele was paid $160,000 in Democratic Party funds to write a 35-page anti-Trump dossier. It alleged an “extensive conspiracy” between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin to interfere in the 2016 election.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report delivered March 22 said no such conspiracy was established during his 22-month investigation.

The FBI letter to The Times stated: “Please be advised the FBI will neither confirm nor deny the existence of such records pursuant to FOIA exemptions. … The mere acknowledgment of the existence of FBI records on third party individuals could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. … As a result, your request has been closed.”

What Mr. Jones, head of the secretive Penn Quarter Group investigative firm, has produced for the news media or any other recipient in the past two years is unclear.

There is one known media story: The New Yorker magazine last year used Mr. Jones’ research to further an allegation pushed by Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn R. Simpson and by the Democratic Party’s private law firm. It said Moscow’s Alfa Bank, controlled by oligarchs close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, operated a computer server with a direct line to a server at Trump Tower in New York City.

The FBI investigated. There is no mention of such a server in Mr. Mueller’s 448-page report.

The Mueller team interviewed Petr Aven, Alfa’s controlling partner. He testified to the grand jury that he was so disconnected from Trump people that when Mr. Putin asked him to reach out to the presidential transition, he had no contacts.

“According to Aven, at his Q4 2016 one-on-one meeting with Putin, Putin raised the prospect that the United States would impose additional sanctions on Russian interests, including sanctions against Aven and/or Alfa-Bank. Putin suggested that Aven needed to take steps to protect himself and Alfa-Bank. Aven also testified that Putin spoke of the difficulty faced by the Russian government in getting in touch with the incoming Trump Administration. According to Aven, Putin indicated that he did not know with whom formally to speak and generally did not know the people around the President-Elect,” the Mueller report says.

Mr. Aven instead turned to former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Burt to find out whether he could make contact to discuss U.S. sanctions. Mr. Burt sits on the board of another company controlled by Mr. Aven.

Mr. Burt contacted Russia-born Dimitri Simes, who runs the Center for the National Interest, which promotes Moscow-Washington ties. Mr. Simes told him it was not a good idea to establish a back channel, given the intense scrutiny on the Kremlin’s hacking of Democratic Party computers.

The Mueller report summed up the episode: “In the first quarter of 2017, Aven met again with Putin and other Russian officials. At that meeting, Putin asked about Aven’s attempt to build relations with the Trump Administration and Aven recounted his lack of success.”

The Trump Organization has told The Washington Times that the server suspected of being a direct link to Alfa by liberals on social media was actually a third-party server housed at a spam marketing center in Pennsylvania.

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