NEW YORK — Jonathan M. Winer, the Obama State Department official who acknowledged regularly interfacing and exchanging information with the author of the largely discredited 35-page anti-Trump dossier, signed disclosure forms for his former firm to represent a Russian billionaire known as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s favorite oligarch.
The detail, being brought to light herein, may raise immediate questions about the origins of the dossier. The oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, had a reported business dispute with former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, is closely tied to Putin and has long been viewed as pushing Russian national interests.
Already, there have been questions about Deripaska’s possible relationship with dossier author Christopher Steele amid reports that the billionaire may have served as a source for the dossier itself.
Also, recently leaked text messages show extensive communication between a Russia-connected lawyer and Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. The attorney, Adam Waldman, was a paid lobbyist for Deripaska. The messages show Warner attempted to arrange a meeting with Steele through Waldman.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley recently sent a letter to an attorney believed to be working for Deripaska asking whether the lawyer had hired Steele’s private firm, Orbis Business Intelligence Limited, to do work on behalf of Deripaska. A recent New Yorker article profiling Steele also raised the possibility that Deripaska was one of Steele’s private clients.
At a hearing last month, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK) asked FBI Director Christopher Wray whether there was information that Steele was working with Deripaska when he compiled the dossier. Wray responded that he could not answer the question at a public hearing.
A January letter from Grassley sent to John Podesta, who served as chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, asked Podesta to provide the Senate Judicial Committee with correspondence with numerous individuals, including Deripaska. That same letter was sent to the Perkins Coie law firm, which represented Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Steele was commissioned to produce the dossier by the controversial Fusion GPS opposition research firm, which was paid for its anti-Trump work by Clinton’s 2016 campaign and the DNC via Perkins Coie.
While questions surround Steele’s possible ties to Deripaska, the news media and legislative investigators may have missed a confirmed link between Deripaska and a State Department official involved in passing anti-Trump claims to Steele during the period that the dossier was compiled – namely Winer.
After his name surfaced in news media reports related to probes by House Republicans into the dossier, Winer authored a Washington Post oped in which he conceded that while he was working at the State Department he exchanged documents and information with dossier author and former British spy Christopher Steele.
Winer further acknowledged that while at the State Department, he shared anti-Trump material with Steele passed to him by longtime Clinton confidant Sidney Blumenthal, whom Winer described as an “old friend.” Winer wrote that the material from Blumenthal – which Winer in turn gave to Steele – originated with Cody Shearer, who is a controversial figure long tied to various Clinton scandals.
The Steele dossier was reportedly utilized by the FBI in part to conduct its probe into Trump over unsubstantiated claims of collusion with Russia. According to House Intelligence Committee documents, the questionable dossier was also used by Obama administration officials to obtain a FISA warrant to conduct surveillance on Carter Page, who briefly served as a volunteer foreign policy adviser to Trump’s campaign. The political origins of the dossier and issues relating to Steele’s credibility as a source were kept from the FISA court, a House Republican memo documents.
Winer’s firm represented Deripaska in visa dispute
In July 2006, the U.S. cancelled a multi-entry visa that Deripaska had secured one year earlier, with the Wall Street Journal linking the decision to concerns over the mogul’s alleged ties to organized crime. Deripaska has denied these charges.
In 2005, Deripaska hired the Alston & Bird law firm to lobby on his behalf, paying the firm about $260,000, according to disclosure forms obtained at the time by Reuters. The lobby work was related to “Department of State visa policies and procedures,” the documents state.
Winer at the time was a partner at Alston & Bird. He was the individual who filed the forms to represent Deripaska, Reuters reported at the time.
Winer exchanged information with Steele
Winer served in Bill Clinton’s administration as the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for international law enforcement. He wrote in his recent Washington Post oped that he rejoined the State Department in 2013 at the insistence of John Kerry. “In 2013, I returned to the State Department at the request of Secretary of State John F. Kerry, whom I had previously served as Senate counsel,” he wrote.
In the Post piece, Winer related that while he was at the State Department, he repeatedly passed Russia-related documents from Steele to State officials, including to Victoria Nuland, a career diplomat who worked under the Clintons and served as assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs under Kerry. “Over the next two years, I shared more than 100 of Steele’s reports with the Russia experts at the State Department, who continued to find them useful,” he wrote.
Winer wrote that in the summer of 2016, Steele “told me that he had learned of disturbing information regarding possible ties between Donald Trump, his campaign and senior Russian officials.”
Winer says that he met with Steele in September 2016 to discuss details that would later become known as the anti-Trump dossier. Winer wrote that he prepared a two-page summary of Steele’s information and “shared it with Nuland, who indicated that, like me, she felt that the secretary of state needed to be made aware of this material.”
Besides bringing Steele’s dossier information to the State Department, Winer conceded that he also passed information from Blumenthal to Steele, specifically charges about Trump that originated with Shearer.
Winer described what he claimed was the evolution of his contacts with Blumenthal regarding Shearer’s information:
In late September, I spoke with an old friend, Sidney Blumenthal, whom I met 30 years ago when I was investigating the Iran-Contra affair for then-Sen. Kerry and Blumenthal was a reporter at the Post. At the time, Russian hacking was at the front and center in the 2016 presidential campaign. The emails of Blumenthal, who had a long association with Bill and Hillary Clinton, had been hacked in 2013 through a Russian server.
While talking about that hacking, Blumenthal and I discussed Steele’s reports. He showed me notes gathered by a journalist I did not know, Cody Shearer, that alleged the Russians had compromising information on Trump of a sexual and financial nature.
What struck me was how some of the material echoed Steele’s but appeared to involve different sources.
Shearer has numerous close personal and family connections to the Clintons and has reportedly been involved in numerous antics tied to them. National Review previously dubbed Shearer a “Creepy Clinton Confidante” and “The Strangest Character in Hillary’s Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy.”
Putin’s favorite oligarch
Deripaska, with an estimated net worth of $6.4 billion, is founder and owner of Basic Element, one of Russia’s largest diversified industrial groups. The firm operates “energy, metals and mining, machinery, aviation, financial services and agriculture businesses worldwide,” according to a Bloomberg profile.
Bloomberg documented the other vast portfolios of Basic Element:
It produces aluminum; generates hydropower and nuclear energy; produces automotive components, aircraft, building materials, military hardware, road-building and construction equipment, and freight cars; manages facilities; develops and produces hi-tech equipment and multi-functional vehicles; trades carbon emissions; designs and constructs residential infrastructure; provides civil and infrastructure construction services; manages commercial property and lets office premises, production sites and warehouses; provides legal and financial support.
Canada’s Globe and Mail previously profiled Deripaska in an extensive piece titled, “At home with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.” The newspaper reported that Deripaska “is said to be Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s favourite industrialist.”
The New Yorker also reported this month that Deripaska “has been described as Putin’s favorite oligarch.”
The billionaire’s relationship with Putin was temporarily publicly strained in 2009 due to a financial crisis in Russia, but the strong ties soon recovered and some say the short-lived tension was public theater.
The Globe and Mail documented:
The crisis appeared to damage Mr. Deripaska’s relationship with Mr. Putin, however. In a televised broadcast in mid-2009 in a hard-hit Russian industrial town called Pikalyovo, Mr. Putin compared industrial barons who left workers’ wages unpaid to cockroaches. He then forced Mr. Deripaska to sign a document safeguarding the future of a local factory, snapping “And give me back my pen,” the moment the crestfallen oligarch did so.
The event played well in recession-racked Russia, but may have been staged political theatre. There no longer appears to be any friction between the two men.
Deripaska has official past connections to the Russian government. He won the Order of Friendship from the Russian Federation in 1999 and was appointed by Putin to represent the Russian Federation in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Business Advisory Council in 2004.
A U.S. diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks and dated from 2006 described Deripaska as “among the 2-3 oligarchs Putin turns to on a regular basis.”
Deripaska and Manafort
The Washington Post reported on Deripaska’s past business dispute with Manafort, which dated back to the mid-2000s when Manafort was advising politicians in Ukraine.
The Post reported:
Manafort and Deripaska have both confirmed that they had a business relationship in which Manafort was paid as an investment consultant. In 2014, Deripaska accused Manafort in a Cayman Islands court of taking nearly $19 million intended for investments and then failing to account for the funds, return them or respond to numerous inquiries about exactly how the money was used. There are no signs in court documents that the case has been closed.
The Post also cited “people familiar with the discussions” claiming that Manafort offered to privately brief Deripaska on the 2016 presidential race.
However, the newspaper allowed:
There is no evidence in the documents showing that Deripaska received Manafort’s offer or that any briefings took place. And a spokeswoman for Deripaska dismissed the email exchanges as scheming by “consultants in the notorious ‘beltway bandit’ industry.”
Questions raised about Deripaska’s ties to the dossier
While the Winer-Deripaska link has not yet been debated, questions about whether dossier author Steele’s firm did work for the oligarch during the time the dossier was compiled has prompted concerns about the origins of the already controversial document.
House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) recently told Breitbart News in an interview that he was familiar with accusations that Deripaska may have been a source for dossier author Steele, explaining he cannot share information on the matter publicly, before adding, “It is a concern of ours.”
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) raised questions last month relating to Deripaska and Steele. “The other important news last week was watch what Sen. Cotton asked Wray. Was Steele being employed by paid by this Russian oligarch? The answer was interesting,” Jordan told The Daily Caller in an interview at CPAC.
Jordan continued: “We don’t know if he was getting paid by this oligarch. Stop and think. So the guy who put together this dossier, that was taken to a secret court, that was given a secret warrant to spy on someone associated with the Trump campaign — a fellow American citizen. That dossier was paid for by Clinton campaign, the Democratic National Committee and maybe a Russian oligarch? You’ve got to be kidding me. So that is why we have to get to the bottom of all of this and keep pushing.”
Writing at Tablet about the possibility of a Steele-Deripaska link, author Lee Smith opined:
If Steele worked for a Russian oligarch with close ties to Putin, it is likely to change prevailing views of the Russia investigations of the past year and a half. The three congressional inquiries (Senate Judiciary, Senate Intelligence and House Intelligence), as well as special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, are based largely on allegations made in the dossier. Was Steele paid by Deripaska at the same time he was paid by the Washington, D.C. communications firm Fusion GPS for his work on behalf of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee? Did his work on behalf of Deripaska influence his investigations into the Trump team’s possible ties to Russia? Was Deripaska one of Steele’s Kremlin-insider sources — and what does that tell us about the contents and purpose of the Steele dossier?
In an oped at the Washington Post, Ed Rogers, a contributor to the PostPartisan blog, asked:
So, today, when the Democrats and their allies in the media insist that we need to know what the Russians did to influence the election and interfere in the democratic process, it is fair to ask which Russians are they talking about? Are they talking about the Russians who were solicited by Steele and his Democrat paymasters? What were the Russians’ interests and were any of them paying Steele? (A new story links Steele to Putin ally Oleg Deripaska.)