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9 Feb, 2018 17:57

Leading ‘Russiagate’ proponent revealed to have links to lobbyist of Russian billionaire

Leading ‘Russiagate’ proponent revealed to have links to lobbyist of Russian billionaire

With allegations of collusion with Russia mounting in the US, even the staunchest Russia-bashers seem to fall under suspicion. Senator Mark Warner in particular has been reported to have links to a Russian oligarch’s lobbyist.

Warner (D-Virginia), the top Democrat on the US Senate Intelligence Committee and one of the most outspoken advocates of blaming Russia for the 2016 electoral defeat of Hillary Clinton, was reported to have had extensive communication with Adam Waldman, a US lobbyist, who is best known for acting on behalf of Russian businessman Oleg Deripaska.

The senator was in contact with Waldman, who is a co-founder and the president of a Washington DC-based consultancy, the Endeavor Group, between February and May 2017. The two discussed such issues as getting the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the US to potentially be brought to court, getting access to Christopher Steele, the author of a controversial dossier on US President Donald Trump’s alleged connections with Russia, as well as getting Deripaska to cooperate with the intelligence committee, Fox News reports, citing the message records it obtained.

Attempts to have private conversation with controversial Trump dossier author

Warner seemed to be particularly secretive as he tried to invite Steele for an interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee through Waldman. The senator repeatedly asked the lobbyist to help him establish a direct link to the former British intelligence officer and warned him to be “careful.” He also wanted to talk with Steele in private in advance of any potential formal procedure without any other committee members being aware of it, Fox News reports.

"We want to do this right private in London don't want to send letter yet cuz if we can't get agreement wud rather not have paper trail,” the senator wrote in one of the messages to Waldman, referring to an official bipartisan letter from Warner and the committee’s chairman, Richard Burr (R- North Carolina), which Steel wanted to receive before talking to the US officials.

As Steele insisted on getting “the letter first,” Warner made it clear he wanted to talk to the ex-spy directly without anyone else involved. "Hey can't we do brief (off the record) call today before letter so I can frame letter," he wrote in another message to Waldman. Eventually, the senator failed to convince Steele to talk to the Senate intelligence panel.

Steele was hired by a private firm, Fusion GPS, in June 2016 to gather information on alleged links between Trump and Russia. His dossier, parts of which were leaked to the media before the elections, was the basis for the warrant to spy on Trump adviser Carter Page, according to a recently released GOP memo.

The dossier contains unverified allegations that Russia holds information on Trump which it's using to blackmail the US president. It was also recently revealed that Steele used information obtained from people close to the Democratic Presidential candidate and Trump’s rival in the 2016 elections, Hillary Clinton.

Seeking info on Trump aide… from a Russian billionaire

Apart from Steele, the senator and the lobbyist also discussed the possibility of Deripaska giving a testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee. The Russian billionaire, who once sued Paul Manafort, Trump’s election campaign manager, was expected to have some information on the US president’s aide.

Waldman was once hired by Deripaska to lobby the US government on his behalf back in 2009 and 2010 after the billionaire’s US visa was revoked in 2006 over charges of having alleged ties to organized crime, which he denied. In May 2017, when the Senate and House Intelligence Committees decided not to give the businessman legal immunity in exchange for his testimony, Warner and Waldman appeared to stop communicating.

The text message logs of the senator’s communication to the lobbyist were quietly provided to the Senate Intelligence Committee after Warner and Burr signed a joint request for them in June 2017. The two then privately informed other committee members about the messages in a meeting in October, Fox News reports. A Warner aide told the media outlet that the information about the messages was revealed because Warner and Burr “realized out of context it doesn't look great.”

An aide to Burr told Fox News that the Republican senator was aware of Warner’s attempts to use a “back channel” to contact Steele but did not know the exact content of the messages. Following the Fox News publication the two senators also issued a statement, in which they criticized the “leaks of incomplete information.”
"From the beginning of our investigation we have taken each step in a bipartisan way, and we intend to continue to do so," Warner and Burr said in the statement. "Leaks of incomplete information out of context by anyone, inside or outside our committee, are unacceptable."

Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida), who is also a member of the Intelligence Committee, said that Warner "fully disclosed this to the committee four months ago,” referring to the contacts with Waldman. He also said that it had “zero impact on our work.”

In the meantime, the incident also drew the attention of President Trump, who said that Warner was “caught having extensive contact with a lobbyist for a Russian oligarch.” He also added that the whole issue was “tied into Crooked Hillary,” referring to Clinton.

The information about Warner’s contacts with a Russian billionaire’s lobbyist comes amid allegations that Hillary Clinton herself also colluded with Russia to gain influence with the Obama White House back in 2010. An FBI informant told three separate congressional committees via written statements on Wednesday that Moscow had routed millions of dollars to the US, which were intended for the Clintons’ charity.

The move was reportedly aimed at leveraging then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s influence to negotiate a deal, involving the US administration’s approval of the Canadian-based mining company, Uranium One, to Rosatom, a Russian state energy company. Uranium One owns 20 percent of US uranium deposits.