The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, nominally controlled by Republicans in 2020, should have had an easy time dispensing with one of the shakiest of all the Trump-Russia conspiracy allegations.
Instead, it left the phony Alfa-Bank narrative intact. Who was the claim’s key advocate behind the scenes? A former committee Democratic staffer.
The committee failure was underscored on Sept. 16 when Hillary Clinton campaign attorney Michael A. Sussmann was indicted of lying to the FBI. Mr. Sussmann led the campaign’s concerted effort to prove candidate Donald Trump and Russia’s big lender, Alfa-Bank, secretly talked to each other online. The indictment revealed internal emails from the computer scientists who supplied data to Mr. Sussman. One frustrated techie talked of “faking” connections.
The committee’s “Volume 5” Russia report was Congress’ last major account of Trump-Russia. Four years after the FBI probe began, enough time had passed for an authoritative separation of reality and myth.
But instead, Volume 5 was filled with anti-Trump innuendo.
Some Republicans dubbed the 966-pages the “Warner Report,” a reference to then-committee vice chairman, now chairman, Mark R. Warner, Virginia Democrat.
There was one easy slam-dunk.
This is because by the time the Senate committee’s Volume 5 emerged in August 2020, the public knew two significant facts. And a third fact was committee-findable.
No. 1. The FBI, prodded by Hillary Clinton campaign operative Mr. Sussmann and his thumb drives of purported Alfa-Trump pinging, concluded there was no communication, or as the Justice Department inspector general put it, “no such links.”
No. 2. When special counsel Robert Mueller, who headed a team of Democratic-aligned prosecutors, was asked at a 2019 House hearing if it were true there was an Alfa-Trump cyber connection, he answered that the allegation is “just not true.”
No. 3. The Alfa conspiracy media consistently pointed to one crime scene: A spam marketing server in Pennsylvania. Operated by a company, Cendyn, through a contractor, the Trump Organization (domain mail.trump-email.com) used the server to send out hotel spam ads.
The media reports said the domain suspiciously disappeared after a journalist informed Alfa Bank in September 2016 that researchers had discovered supposed Domain Name System (DNS) server digital links between Alfa and the Trump Organization.
There is, however, a possible innocent explanation. Former FBI agent Peter Strzok wrote a text message to colleagues on Sept. 23, 2016, which said Cendyn did not realize it still hosted a Trump domain that had been shifted to Trump Organization the year before. Once the FBI informed Cendyn, it was gone.
Sept. 23 is the exact date given by journalists for the domain’s disappearance.
The final Senate intelligence committee report concluded: “Based on the FBI’s assessment, the Committee did not find that the DNS activity reflected the existence of substantive or covert communications between Alfa Bank and Trump Organization personnel. However, the Committee also could not positively determine an intent or purpose that would explain the unusual activity.”
This muddled conclusion would have been acceptable if it stopped right there. But it didn’t. The panel staff found it necessary to then add contorted innuendo. Democrats, then, could still cling to Alfa.
For example, the staff interviewed Trump Organization IT Director Jae Cho.
Look at this report sentence: “Cho did not recall conducting a system-wide review of the Trump Organization network to determine if there were any connections from the Trump Organization side with any of the Alfa Bank servers.”
And then there is the Sept. 23, 2016, Trump domain disappearance.
Following the press’s lead, the Senate report said the domain vanishing “occurred after the Trump Organization began receiving press inquiries about the DNS lookups.”
The Senate staff was also not happy with Cendyn. The company looked for Alfa-Trump emails but found none. There were six emails to Alfa from other Cendyn server registrars — but not from Mr. Trump, the company said.
Not good enough for Mr. Warner’s staff:
“Cendyn did not explain how the unusual DNS lookup activity might relate to those  emails and did not filter its records to find information like the DNS logs at issue.”
The Senate report made no mention that operatives promoted the entire conspiracy for the Clinton campaign.
So, where did the fake DNS logs come from?
Alfa-Bank, controlled by three billionaire Russian oligarchs, has filed lawsuits against defendant “John Doe.” The strategy: Use the civil evidence discovery process to try to find who sent hundreds in 2016, and in 2017, thousands of DNS “lookups.”
The bank’s hired cyber experts concluded that hackers (a “highly skilled group with robust offensive capabilities,” the lawsuit says) created these streams of fake DNS tables. Alfa says the hackers made them available to researchers who pitched them to journalists.
What did Senate investigators think of Alfa’s evidence? Their report said it received a letter from Alfa it did not request.
The guy who organized a team of researchers who came up with the Alfa-Trump collusion is Daniel Jones, the New Yorker reported. Mr. Jones is a 10-year committee Democratic Party investigator who left to form his own intelligence firm to principally investigate Trump world.
The FBI spent five months running down Mr. Sussmann’s digital trails. Its cyber experts looked at data from email servers in Pennsylvania and ones located in Cendyn’s Florida facility.
The FBI found no emails, no super-secret, back-channel, hidden Alfa-Trump communications.
Bottom line: By August 2020, the Senate committee had enough information to dispel the Alfa-Bank conspiracy theory. Instead, their report resorted to innuendo to keep it alive. It was all Democratic misinformation intended to smear former President Trump.
• Rowan Scarborough is a columnist at the Washington Times.
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