- The Washington Times
Friday, October 9, 2020

Special investigator John Durham is looking at the origins of persistent anti-Donald Trump stories that the president’s land development company maintained a secret communication link with Alfa Bank, one of Russia’s largest, according to a magazine report.

The lore surrounding the supposed Alfa-Trump Organization secret server took root right before the Nov. 8 election with a story in Slate.com. Hillary Clinton pounced on the report with a tweet accusing candidate Trump of Russian collusion, a claim she settled on as a campaign tactic on July 26, 2016, new documents show.

The Alfa story was pushed by her opposition researcher, Glenn Simpson, co-founder of Fusion GPS. It hired Christopher Steele, with Clinton campaign and Democratic Party money. He wrote a 17-memo dossier accusing Mr. Trump and aides of being in an “extensive conspiracy” with the Kremlin.

According to congressional testimony, Mr. Simpson tried to sell The New York Times on the Alfa narrative in October 2016. The Times story fell short of his expectations. On Oct. 31, it appeared in Slate.

From a 2019 Justice Department inspector general report the public learned for the first time that the FBI investigated the Alfa angle and concluded in February 2017 that no such computer server existed.

Months after the FBI’s private conclusion, the New Yorker’s Dexter Filkins breathed new life into the Alfa theory with a story quoting cyber experts who gave it credence.

The story was promoted by Daniel Jones, a former FBI official and ex-staffer for Sen. Diane Feinstein, California Democrat.

He formed an anti-Trump investigative group, the Democracy Integrity Project, and raised millions of dollars from Democratic donors, he told the FBI, according to congressional documents. Mr. Jones hired Fusion GPS.

On Wednesday, the New Yorker published a followup Filkins story that tells of a grand jury probe by Mr. Durham. The Connecticut U.S. Attorney was appointed by Attorney General William Barr to find out the origins of the FBI’s long Russia election interference probe.

Special counsel Robert Mueller concluded in March 2019 that he did not establish that a conspiracy existed between the Trump campaign and Kremlin. Russia hacked Democratic computers and conducted social media information warfare.

The FBI probe relied heavily on the discredited dossier as evidence for court-approved wiretaps and avenues to investigate.

Former lead FBI Agent Peter Strzok has now repudiated the dossier as inaccurate and disinformation.

Mr. Filkins wrote in the Oct. 7 New Yorker, “In recent weeks, scientists and others quoted in my story have been summoned to testify to a grand jury impaneled by John Durham…..”

Among others, Mr. Filkins in 2018 relied on cyber sleuths with the names “Max” and “Tea Leaves.”

“Some agents told scientists that they were exploring a potential criminal charge — presumably against Max and Tea Leaves — for giving false information to the government,” the New Yorker article says. “A number of those called to testify are seeking to quash the subpoenas, and it’s not apparent that anyone has testified so far.”

As a parallel, Alfa Bank partners, billionaires Petr Aven, German Khan and Mikhail Fridman, are filing lawsuits trying to find out the identities of people they believe cooked up the Alfa story with fake cyber addresses.

In London earlier this year, they won a defamation case against Mr. Steele. He is the ex-British spy who wrote the Democratic Party-financed dossier based on information from Igor Danchenko, a Russian national the U.S. suspects of being a Kremlin spy.

To FBI interviewers, Mr. Danchenko has repudiated his own reporting to Mr. Steele, saying his sources’ information was not worth “a grain of salt,” according to the Justice IG report

Mr. Filkins quotes an unnamed source as saying the FBI did not do a thorough job investigating the Alfa link before closing the case.

Mr. Filkins wrote of the dossier, “Steele has been criticized for sloppy tradecraft, but much of the information he recorded has been neither proved nor disproved.”

Republicans say that when claims–––such as Mr. Trump financed the hacking, his lawyer traveled to Prague to meet Russians, two campaign aides worked as liaisons with Kremlin hackers–––lacked any evidence after four years, it falls under the category of “disproved.”

An Alfa spokesman responded to the New Yorker article. He told The Washington Times the lawsuits were filed to find the people the Russian bankers believe created phony cyber links.

The spokesman said, “Alfa Bank brings this action to seek redress from the unknown actors who perpetrated a sustained series of highly sophisticated cyberattacks against it in 2016 and 2017. This was not just an attack on Alfa Bank, one of the few remaining privately owned banks in Russia. It was an attack on the integrity of the U.S. political process. The FBI investigated whether there were cyber links between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank and concluded by early February 2017 that there were no such links.”

On the question of whether Alfa is coordinating with Mr. Durham’s team, the spokesman said, “Alfa Bank representatives contacted and voluntarily briefed the FBI and other authorities in 2017. The briefings were about investigations conducted by top U.S. cybersecurity firms that found no evidence of any communication between servers but did find evidence that edited DNS [Domain Name System] data had been disseminated by an anonymous cyber group. This lawsuit is in no way related to U.S. or international politics.”

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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