|To: FUBHO who wrote (219101)||8/8/2020 8:37:48 PM|
Steele Source Had Meeting In Russia At Crucial Point In Dossier Saga
- Igor Danchenko, the primary source for Christopher Steele’s dossier, met in June 2016 with an official in the Russian ministry of energy and a journalist who is speculated to be a sub-source for the dossier.
- Danchenko’s activities in 2016 have come under intense scrutiny since he was identified as Steele’s source last month. His meetings and travels could shed light on how he obtained information that he later passed to Steele.
- Sergey Abyshev, who served as a deputy director in the Russian ministry of energy, confirmed meeting with Danchenko in Russia days before the first memo of the dossier was written.
In June 2016, a month that is key to the origin story of the Steele dossier, the primary source for that salacious document met with an official in the Russian ministry of energy and a journalist friend in Russia, The Daily Caller News Foundation has learned.
Igor Danchenko, a Russia analyst who worked for Christopher Steele, met with Sergey Abyshev, who was then a deputy director in the energy ministry, and Ivan Vorontsov, the editor-in-chief of a Russian finance website, according to a Facebook post by Vorontsov and confirmation from Abyshev.
It is not entirely clear what relevance the rendezvous might have to the dossier, but it helps fill in the timeline of Danchenko’s interactions and movements at a critical stage in the development of the provocative report.
At the time of the meeting, Danchenko was well at work for Steele collecting information about Donald Trump’s possible ties to Russia.
Danchenko, a Russian national who lives in Washington, D.C., told the FBI in January 2017 that Steele, a former MI6 officer, tasked him in June 2016 to dig up dirt on Trump. Steele was hired in May 2016 by Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm working for the Clinton campaign and DNC.
Vorontsov posted a photo on June 16, 2016 from the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), an annual business conclave, saying he had met the prior evening with Danchenko and Abyshev.
“The night before was so nice with Sergey Abyshev and Igor Danchenko,” Vorontsov wrote.
Four days later, on June 20, 2016, Steele penned the first of 17 memos that make up what is colloquially known as the dossier. Steele has said that most of the information was collected by a single source who worked as an independent contractor for his firm, Orbis Business Intelligence. (RELATED: FBI Memo Raises Red Flags About Sources Behind The Steele Dossier)
Danchenko was identified as the contractor last month by an anonymous Twitter user after the Senate Judiciary Committee released a memo of his interviews with the FBI from Jan. 24-26, 2017.
The first Steele memo contains the dossier’s most eye-catching allegation: that the Kremlin was blackmailing Donald Trump with video of him watching prostitutes urinate on each other in a room at the Moscow Ritz Carlton in 2013.
Danchenko told the FBI that the information came from two sources who are referred to as Source 1 and Source 2 in the FBI memo of the interviews.
It is unclear if Danchenko passed any information from either Vorontsov or Abyshev to Steele, though a group of Twitter sleuths who helped identify Danchenko as Steele’s source have pointed to clues about Vorontsov that match up with descriptions about Source 2.
The DCNF reached both Vorontsov and Abyshev for comment about their interactions with Danchenko and about the dossier.
Abyshev confirmed meeting with Danchenko and Vorontsov after being shown the photo Vorontsov posted on Facebook, though he said that the encounter occurred in Moscow rather than St. Petersburg.
He described the encounter as “an almost accidental meeting in the center of Moscow with three ‘cheerful’ guys.”
“As a result, I had to listen to a lecture on investment opportunities for about 20 minutes,” he said in a message translated from Russian.
The FBI memo describes many of Danchenko’s meetings, but locations and participants are all redacted.
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|From: Sr K||8/8/2020 8:39:36 PM|
Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. said its second-quarter earnings surged 86%, as a rebound in the stock marketoffset a profit decline in the company’s operations and a large write-down for Precision Castparts Corp.
Berkshire reported second-quarter net earnings of $26.3 billion, or $16,314 per Class A share equivalent, from $14.1 billion, or $8,608 per Class A share equivalent, in the year-earlier period.
Operating earnings, which exclude some investment results, fell to $5.5 billion from $6.1 billion in the year prior. Profits increased within the company’s vast insurance operations, especially underwriting, while railroad, utilities and energy, and other businesses declined.
Berkshire took a $9.8 billion write-down for Precision Castparts in the quarter. Berkshire bought Precision Castparts for about $32 billion in 2016. The company, which supplies parts for aircraft makers and makes equipment for power stations and the oil-and-gas industry, has been hurt by the coronavirus pandemic.
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|To: FUBHO who wrote (219102)||8/8/2020 8:45:34 PM|
|"THINK" TANKS ON FOREIGN PAYROLLS|
At the Atlantic Council, Foreign Money Talks
When Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s bodyguards were arrested after attacking a crowd of protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in May 2017, Erdogan and his crew were heading inside for a private, off-the-record meeting with Atlantic Council fellows and board members.
That event is just one example of the close relationship between the Washington, D.C., think tank and the Erdogan government.
Starting in 2008, the Atlantic Council hosted an "Istanbul Summit" bankrolled by several business conglomerates closely aligned with Erdogan’s Justice and Development party, including the state-owned Halkbank, which has been accused of evading U.S. sanctions on Iran. Calik Holding, another conference sponsor and current Atlantic Council donor, is a Turkish business giant that was until late 2013 led by Erdogan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak.
Calik acquired the once-reputable Turkish newspaper Sabah in 2008 and, according to Steven Cook, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, turned it into "a wild mouthpiece of the Erdogan government."
The Turks have tried to do the same with the Atlantic Council, sources say, routinely objecting to the panelists—and even guests—participating in the organization’s Turkey events because their views did not align with those of the Erdogan government.
In 2018, the Atlantic Council moved the annual conference, now known as the Global Energy Forum, to Abu Dhabi because, according to a source familiar with the conference's operations, Erdogan’s son-in-law "was basically the shadow organizer of the event."
A spokesman for the Atlantic Council, Alex Kisling, said that the move to Abu Dhabi had nothing to do with the efforts of Turkish officials to influence programming and that the organization "receives support from a diverse set of organizations, including Calik Holding, which has a significant global footprint."
The Atlantic Council, he added, "is responsible for determining who serves in speaking roles for its programming—as well as for deciding who is invited to join the audience. It’s not unusual for conference partners and participants to make requests, but no one has been disinvited from participating in our Turkish events."
But according to a think tank analyst and the source familiar with the conference's operations, the Atlantic Council canceled a panel at its 2015 Istanbul conference featuring the Turkish journalist Asli Aydintasbas after the Turks objected to her participation. Aydintasbas, now a fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, has been mildly critical of the Erdogan government. The Turks also objected to the participation of the Turkish foreign policy expert Naz Durakoglu, who was also removed from a panel, the same sources said. Both sources requested anonymity to speak freely.
"Their way of handling this was terrible," the think tank analyst said, adding that "there are times where they have allowed themselves to become a PR arm of the Turkish government."
While the influence of foreign money on American think tanks has been well documented, including by the New York Times, seven foreign policy experts told the Washington Free Beacon that the Atlantic Council is an outlier, taking more money from more undemocratic and corrupt governments than its counterparts.
The institution publicly discloses the money it has taken from unsavory governments and foreign businesses and insists that money has no influence on its scholarship—a claim that insiders dispute, pointing to Turkey as an example. The think tank’s operations also provide a window into how the sausage gets made in the nation’s capital, revealing how lobbyists, government officials, wealthy donors and independent experts are often inextricably intertwined.
A member of the Atlantic Council’s executive committee, Amir Handjani, offers one example of the overlapping interests. Handjani was at one time a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a donor to its Iran program, and a registered foreign agent for Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. At one point, Handjani also served as president of his family’s company, a Cargill subsidiary that imports grain into Iran. Attorney David Aufhauser, an Atlantic Council board member who helps underwrite the organization’s "economic sanctions initiative," is a registered foreign agent for Myanmar’s Kanbawza bank, helping it manage the fallout from a United Nations report that called on the international community to impose sanctions on the bank after U.N. investigators implicated it in a "genocidal campaign" against the country’s Rohingya Muslims.
While the Atlantic Council requires scholars and board members to inform them of any conflicts of interest, serving as a lobbyist or foreign agent is permissible, Kisling said.
Sources say those sorts of overlapping equities are the rule, rather than the exception, at the Atlantic Council, which inoculates itself from Beltway criticism by adding members to an ever-expanding board of directors — which has ballooned to approximately 140 members — and taking money from an array of foreign and domestic sources.
"It’s like some John Grisham movie where everybody has a stake in protecting the equities of the Atlantic Council because if you’re not on the board you’re giving money," said a third source who works closely with the organization.
The Atlantic Council’s Ukraine program formalized a relationship with the corrupt Ukrainian gas giant Burisma in early 2017, allowing Burisma to underwrite its Ukraine programming—a move that allowed the scandal-plagued company to burnish its image by associating with a respected Washington institution.
Just four months after the ink dried on the agreement, the American public relations consultant who helped engineer the Atlantic Council partnership on Burisma’s behalf, Sally Painter, was appointed to the Atlantic Council’s board of directors.
Kisling said that Painter’s nomination to the board had nothing to do with her work for the company and that she was nominated to the board "due to her deep foreign affairs experience, her past support for NATO summits, and her commitment to the transatlantic community." The Atlantic Council ended its relationship with Burisma in 2019.
Emails released in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit show that the Atlantic Council accepted the Burisma funding despite reservations, and that the Atlantic Council’s top Ukraine expert, John Herbst, gave State Department officials early warning. The Atlantic Council, Herbst said, had weighed the decision "for over a month" and that "some uneasiness remains."
State Department officials, including George Kent, the deputy chief of mission in Ukraine who testified in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, chalked up the move to "an image rehab campaign" on Burisma's part, led by Painter and her business partner, Karen Tramontano. "The Blue Star duo, Karen and Sally, are on the Atlantic Council roster and are the probable pushers of this," Kent wrote to then American ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.
"So," he added, "Atlantic Council’s robust Ukraine program, funded by … Akhmetov, Pinchuk, and Zlochevsky/Burisma," a reference to the pro-Russian oligarchs Rinat Akhmetov and Victor Pinchuk, whose business and charitable foundation, respectively, have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Atlantic Council.
Kisling, the Atlantic Council spokesman, said the organization agreed to a partnership with Burisma only "once we understood a legal challenge against the company in London was dismissed by a judge." Painter’s colleague, Tramontano, requested meetings with U.S. government officials to try to clear the company of wrongdoing, arguing that "there is no evidence of corruption." But neither was there exoneration, as prosecutors in London were stymied by the refusal of the Ukrainian government to provide the necessary documents. Ukrainian officials said their own investigation found that Burisma had bribed anticorruption investigators, paying them $6 million to drop the case.
While the Atlantic Council has maintained that the foreign money flowing into its coffers has no sway over its scholarship and programming, others say that the money inevitably affects scholarship, even if only the choice of topics the organization’s scholars choose to focus on—and, more importantly, the ones they avoid.
The Atlantic Council’s publications on Turkey, for example, sidestep some of the most contentious issues in the U.S.-Turkey relationship, including Ankara's troubled ties with Europe and the country’s adventurism in the Middle East.
In April, the organization hosted an event featuring, among others, Erdogan’s spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, whom Atlantic Council president Fred Kempe praised as "an intellectual force." A piece penned by the former Turkish ambassador to the United States, Namik Tan, attributes problems in the U.S.-Turkey relationship to the work of "politicized analysts." And a recent event highlighting Turkey’s "refugee resilience" was moderated by a news anchor for TRT, Turkey’s public broadcast station, which has registered as a foreign agent in the United States.
Kisling said the Atlantic Council does not require moderators and panelists to disclose conflicts of interest and characterized the anchor, Maria Ramos, as "an experienced reporter" and said that she was invited to moderate "to bring an outside perspective and pose journalistic questions to panelists."
Asked to point to Atlantic Council publications critical of Turkey, Kisling highlighted an op-ed appended with an "editor’s note" directing readers to a response from a Turkish official; an " issue brief" about Syria, not Turkey, whose lead author is no longer with the Atlantic Council; an op-ed laying out a roadmap for Turkey to repair its relationship with NATO after its importation of Russian missiles set off a conflagration; and a collection of expert views on Turkey’s incursions into Syria.
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|From: Sr K||8/8/2020 8:45:58 PM|
|Twitter, TikTok Have Held Preliminary Talks About Possible Combination|
Microsoft still seen as front-runner in bidding for video-sharing app’s U.S. operations
Updated 7:20 PM
Twitter Inc. TWTR has had preliminary talks about a potential combination with TikTok, the popular video-sharing app that the Trump administration has declared a national-security threat due to its Chinese ownership, according to people familiar with the matter.
It is unclear whether Twitter will pursue a deal with TikTok, which would face significant challenges. A deal would involve TikTok’s U.S. operations, the people said.
Microsoft Corp. MSFT has been negotiating for weeks with TikTok’s owner, Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd., and is considered the front-runner for any possible deal, according to the people. Twitter is seen as a long-shot bidder, given that it is much smaller than Microsoft and would have a harder time paying for the deal—and the software giant is further advanced in negotiations.
Microsoft said on Aug. 2 that it was pursuing a deal, and that Chief Executive Satya Nadella had discussed the issue with President Trump. Microsoft said it was negotiating for TikTok’s operations in the U.S., Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
Mr. Trump has said that TikTok must find a buyer for its U.S. operations by Sept. 15 or face a ban. On Thursday, the White House issued an executive order that would bar people in the U.S. from transactions with ByteDance.
It is not clear what the valuation of TikTok’s U.S. operations would be, but estimates run into the tens of billions of dollars, which raises questions about how Twitter would finance any deal. Twitter’s market capitalization is about $29 billion and Microsoft’s is more than $1.6 trillion.
Because it is much smaller, Twitter has reasoned that it would be unlikely to face the same level of antitrust scrutiny as Microsoft or other potential bidders, said people familiar with the discussions.
Twitter would almost certainly need help from other investors if it does buy TikTok. The company has far less financial firepower than other major tech players, though it does have high-powered investors such as private-equity firm Silver Lake. Twitter started making a consistent profit in the past couple of years, but reported a $1.23 billion loss in the latest quarter. Twitter reported $7.8 billion in cash and short-term investments as of June, compared with more than $136 billion for Microsoft.
If a deal does ultimately come together, it would reshape Twitter. Although Twitter allows users to upload videos, the app’s focus is on short messages of text and images.
Mr. Trump is Twitter’s most high-profile user, but he has lately criticized the company for labeling or restricting some of his poststhat it says violate its policies. Such moves have fueled the president’s claim that Silicon Valley tech firms are biased against him.
Mr. Trump’s statements against TikTok have caused concern among potential buyers. Microsoft and ByteDance have been discussing a potential deal for weeks, The Wall Street Journal has reported. But when Mr. Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One on July 31 that he planned to ban TikTok, the companies were caught off guard and paused their discussions until they had more clarity about Mr. Trump’s plans, the Journal has reported.
Mr. Trump has also said that the U.S. government should receive a “very big proportion” of the sale price, a condition that will further complicate negotiations. It has also stoked public anger in China.
Unlike Microsoft, Twitter doesn’t operate in China. China blocked access to Twitter in 2009.
For Twitter, a deal could help jumpstart a social-media company that has struggled to find its footing despite widespread use of its main platform. Activist investor Elliott Management Corp. earlier this year pushed Twitter to make changes, including naming additional board members and a full-time CEO since Chief Executive Jack Dorsey splits his time between Twitter and Square Inc., where he is also CEO. Twitter added board members, but kept Mr. Dorsey on as part-time CEO.
Pursuing TikTok would be somewhat of an about-face for Twitter on video-sharing apps. The company shut down Vine, an app that let users share short, looping videos, in 2016 as a part of a cost-cutting effort.
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