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Ed Baumgartner: What did he do on Fusion GPS, Christopher Steele Russia projects


Russian President Vladimir Putin makes his annual New Year address to the nation in Moscow, Russia December 31, 2017.  Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS
Russian
President Putin makes his annual New Year address to the nation
in Moscow

Thomson
Reuters


  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein unilaterally released the Senate
    Judiciary Committee’s interview with the cofounder of Fusion
    GPS this week.
  • It introduced a new name into the Russia investigation:
    Edward Baumgartner.
  • Baumgartner worked with Fusion on two projects that
    have garnered high-profile attention in recent months.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s unilateral release of the Senate Judiciary
Committee’s August interview
with Fusion GPS cofounder Glenn
Simpson was applauded by those who called it a win for
transparency — and a nail in the coffin of GOP lawmakers’
attempts to distract from the probe into potential collusion
between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Others, however, viewed the content of Simpson’s testimony as
validation of a talking point often repeated by President Donald
Trump and his allies in the media and Congress: Fusion GPS was
working both for the Russians and against Trump — albeit on
separate projects — during the 2016 election.

The accusation lacks the necessary nuance — Fusion was working
for an American law firm, Baker Hostetler, that had been hired by
a Russian holding company, Prevezon, as part of a money laundering
case
in New York’s Southern District court.

Baker Hostetler hired Fusion to look into the wealthy investor Bill Browder,
who had told the Justice Department that Prevezon was implicated
in a $230 million tax fraud scheme that was uncovered by
Browder’s tax attorney, Sergei Magnitsky, in 2008. The research
Fusion did on Browder made it back to Baker and, inevitably, to
Prevezon’s Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya. 

In late 2015, Fusion was hired by the Republican megadonor Paul
Singer to work on an entirely separate project: opposition
research on Trump. That research, according to Simpson’s
testimony, was done using open-source information and covered a
wide range of subjects, including the Trump family’s reported use
of sweat shops in Asia and South America to produce Trump-branded
merchandise.

Christopher Steele, the former
British spy who had spent decades on the Moscow desk at the UK’s
foreign intelligence service MI6, was not the only subcontractor
Fusion hired to research Trump, Simpson said. But his research on
Trump’s Russia ties, conducted between June through December
2016, was arguably the most
explosive
.

Once the timeline of Fusion’s projects had been established,
Senate investigators asked Simpson whether any of Fusion’s
employees or subcontractors worked on both the Prevezon and
Steele projects.

Enter: Edward Baumgartner


dianne feinstein
Dianne
Feinstein

Associated Press/J. Scott
Applewhite


Simpson told investigators that Edward Baumgartner, who has a
degree in Russian language and runs his own consulting firm
similar to Fusion (but with a focus on Russia and Ukraine) worked
on both projects.

Simpson said he had been impressed by Baumgartner’s “knowledge of
the region and his general abilities,” which, for Fusion and
Baker Hostetler, mostly involved discovery — gathering Russian
language documents, reading media reports, and interviewing
witnesses who speak Russian.

“I don’t speak Russian, I’ve never been to Russia,” Simpson said.
“So it would be ordinary course of business for me to identify a
specialist who could supply me with that kind of specialized
expertise.”

Baumgartner, who cofounded the UK-based intelligence
consultancy Edward Austin in 2010,
agreed with that
characterization in an interview on Wednesday.

“What I do is not a particularly radical or novel skill in
London,” Baumgartner said, referring to the large number of
Russians that live and work in the city. “In the US, though,
we’re actually quite rare.”

Baumgartner, a fluent Russian speaker, said he was hired by
Fusion to serve as “an interface” with Veselnitskaya, who does
not speak much English. They worked “very closely” together in
Washington and Moscow, Baumgartner said, reviewing documents and
finding witnesses who could bolster Prevezon’s case.

He said he overheard Veselnitskaya speaking by phone to the
Russian prosecutor, Yuri Chaika, several times in a way that
struck him as being “friendly, like a family friend,” rather than
hierarchical.

‘She never told me anything’


Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya speaks during an interview in Moscow, Russia November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Kommersant Photo/Yury Martyanov
Russian
lawyer Veselnitskaya

Thomson
Reuters


Chaika’s relationship with Veselnitskaya
was heavily scrutinized
last summer after Donald Trump Jr.
released emails showing he had been promised incriminating
information on his father’s opponent Hillary Clinton from the
“crown prosecutor of Russia” — an apparent
reference to Chaika, Russia’s current prosecutor general.

Veselnitskaya attended a meeting at Trump Tower on June 9,
2016. She brought with her what she considered to be dirt on
Clinton and the Democrats: a memo that suggested the American
firm Ziff Brothers Investments — which she said had helped
Browder illegally buy up Gazprom shares — had “financed the
Hillary Clinton campaign.” 

Trump Jr.’s eyes glazed over, according to one source
familiar with the meeting. Trump’s campaign chairman Paul
Manafort and son-in-law Jared Kushner were similarly unimpressed,
according to their own recollections of the rendezvous.

It is not clear whether that was the only document
Veselnitskaya brought to the meeting. But a memo that closely
mirrored the one Veselnitskaya brought with her had been given by Chaika’s office
to US Rep. Dana Rohrabacher two months earlier
, suggesting a
degree of coordination between Veselnitskaya and the Russian
government. 

Baumgartner, for his part, said the last time he met with
Veselnitskaya face-to-face was sometime in early June — possibly
the day of the Trump Tower meeting, but he couldn’t recall the
exact date.

“She never told me anything about what was going on,”
Baumgartner said, referring to the Trump Tower meeting. “She’s
obviously very good at compartmentalizing.”

Veselnitskaya didn’t tell Simpson about the meeting,
either, according to his congressional testimony.

“Natalia respected Glenn’s work, but they rarely spoke to each
other,” Baumgartner said. “She never went to his office, and even
if they did have a conversation, Anatoli would have had to
translate it.” 

Baumgartner was ‘never made aware of’ the dossier


Carter Page
Carter
Page, former foreign policy adviser for the Trump campaign,
speaks to the media after testifying before the House
Intelligence Committee on November 2, 2017 in Washington,
DC.

Mark Wilson/Getty
Images


Anatoli Samochornov is a US citizen who had translated
for Veselnitskaya in court and for her lobbying
group, the Human Rights Global Accountability
Initiative Foundation. The Delaware-based NGO, which was founded
in February 2016, has been lobbying to overturn the Magnitsky Act
sanctions spearheaded by Browder. 

Baumgartner said that while he stopped dealing with Veselnitskaya
in June 2016, his legal involvement with the Prevezon case
formally ended in October 2016. By that point, he had been
working with Fusion GPS on its election-related opposition
research for about three months.

“I was helping them on this other project, which was unrelated,
and they mentioned it to me in July 2016,” Baumgartner said,
referring to the election-related research. “I was never made
aware of Chris Steele’s work or the dossier, and it was kept that
way deliberately. I would have had nothing to add,
anyway. I produce memos based on information that is
in the public record that can be given to the feds or shared with
journalists.”

Baumgartner declined to speak in detail about the
election-related work he did for Fusion. But he said his
responsibilities involved, among other things, writing reports
that compiled “everything publicly known” about Trump campaign
associates like Carter Page and Manafort. 

With regard to what Fusion told journalists about the research it
had been doing throughout 2016, Simpson, like Baumgartner, said
the firm discussed things with reporters that were already “in
the public record.” Specifically, he said, that included
“open-source public information pointing towards the possibility
that the Russians had infiltrated the Trump campaign.”

“So we spoke broadly to reporters and encouraged them to look
into this,” he told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

‘They offer people business deals as a way to compromise them’


Glenn Simpson
Glenn
Simpson.

Pablo Martinez
Monsivais/AP


Simpson went on in the testimony to describe in more detail how
Fusion went about analyzing the raw intelligence Steele reported
back to the firm from his sources in Russia and elsewhere. Page’s
trip to Moscow in July 2016, for example, was closely scrutinized
by the firm following Steele’s report that Page had met with Igor
Sechin, the CEO of Russia’s state oil company.

Sechin, according to Steele’s sources, had offered Page and his
associates the brokerage of a 19% stake
in the company in
exchange for the lifting of US sanctions.

“It comports with my knowledge, and Chris’s knowledge, of how the
Kremlin does this,” Simpson told the committee. “Which is they
offer people business deals as a way to compromise them.”

Sergei Ivanov, who served as Putin’s chief of staff until
August 2016,was managing the election interference operation,
according to Steele’s sources.

“So w
e looked into Carter Page and we also
looked into Igor Sechin and whether Sergei Ivanov was in a
position to be managing the election operation … and we
determined that he was,” Simpson said.

Steele was wary of being fed disinformation, Simpson told the
committee. A central concern among those scrutinizing the overlap
between Fusion’s work for Prevezon and its Trump-related research
was whether the Russians would catch wind of that project and
plant disinformation to undermine it. 

Simpson said Steele was armed against those kinds of
tricks. 

“What [Steele] said was: ‘Disinformation is an issue in my
profession, it is a central concern, and we are trained to spot
disinformation,” Simpson said. “‘And if I believed this was
disinformation, or I had concerns about that, I would tell you
that. And I’m not telling you that. I’m telling you that I don’t
believe this is disinformation.'”


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