A release last week of texts showed that Christopher Steele, the former British spy whose memos regarding the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia are referred to as the Steele dossier, reached out to Sen. Mark Warner, the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, through a Russian-linked Washington, D.C., lobbyist named Adam Waldman. Among Waldman’s clients is Oleg Deripaska, a Russian aluminum magnate with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. In a text dated March 16, 2017, Waldman texted Warner, “Chris Steele asked me to call you.”
In 2009, Waldman filed papers with the Department of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) registering himself as an agent for Deripaska in order to provide “legal advice on issues involving his U.S. visa as well as commercial transactions” at a retainer of $40,000 a month. In 2010, Waldman additionally registered as an agent for Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, “gathering information and providing advice and analysis as it relates to the U.S. policy towards the visa status of Oleg Deripaska,” including meetings with U.S. policymakers. Based on the information in his FARA filings, Waldman has received at least $2.36 million for his work with Deripaska.
A letter dated Feb. 9 sent by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley to a London-based lawyer may shed light on why Steele used Waldman as an intermediary. (Waldman’s office did not reply to an email from Tablet requesting comment.)
February 9, 2018
VIA ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION
Paul E. Hauser, Esq.
88 Wood Street
London, EC2V 7AJ UK
Dear Mr. Hauser:
The United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary has been investigating issues relating to the Russian government’s disinformation efforts targeting the 2016 Presidential election, as well as the nature of the FBI’s relationship with Christopher Steele. Part of that inquiry involves examining the connections between those involved and Russian interests.
In light of this, by February 23, 2018 please answer the following questions:
1. Public reports and court documents indicate that you are an attorney for Mr. Oleg Deripaska. Do you serve, or have you served, as legal counsel for Mr. Deripaska or any business associated with him?
2. Have you ever hired or otherwise worked with Mr. Christopher Steele, Orbis Business Intelligence Limited, Orbis Business International Limited, Walsingham Training Limited, or Walsingham Partners Limited? If so, when, and what was the nature of the arrangement?
3. Is it the case that Mr. Steele, through you, works or has worked on behalf of Mr. Deripaska or businesses associated with him? If so, when has such work occurred?
4. Are you otherwise aware of any business or financial relationships between Mr. Steele and Russian government officials, Russian oligarchs, or Russian businesses?
If Steele was employed by Deripaska or by his lawyer to do work on his behalf, it is likely to cast the dossier he allegedly authored in a new light.
In January, Deripaska filed a lawsuit against Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign-convention manager—the latest chapter in an ongoing nine-year business dispute between the two men, in which Deripaska has alleged that Manafort failed to properly account for more than $20 million in investments and fees from a 2008 business deal between the two men. In 2014, Deripaska took legal action against Manafort in the Cayman Islands.
Manafort’s work on behalf of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was underscored in the Steele dossier, which alleged that Manafort had partnered in a money-laundering operation with Yanukovych. In October, special counsel Robert Mueller indicted Manafort on several counts, including a conspiracy to launder millions of dollars in payment from political parties and officials in Ukraine.
In the Warner-Waldman texts, the lobbyist refers to his “Russian client” and discusses the possibility of the oligarch offering his testimony before the Senate committee. “My other guy,” Waldman says, apparently referring to Deripaska, is “very mistrustful of the USG [United States government]. He’s been essentially shut out of the country and dragged through the mud.”
According to The New York Times, Deripaska has long had difficulty entering the United States. “The State Department has refused to issue him a business visa because of concerns over allegations that he was connected to organized crime, according to a former United States government official, which Mr. Deripaska has denied.”
Putin himself complained about the State Department’s refusal to issue Deripaska a visa. “They give us nothing, explain to us nothing, and forbid him from entry,” the Russian president said in 2008. In 2011, after Waldman began working for Deripaska and Lavrov, the Russian government issued Deripaska a diplomatic passport, and the oligarch was allowed to visit the United States.
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?
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Lee Smith is the author of The Permanent Coup: How Enemies Foreign and Domestic Targeted the American President (2020).