Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) - the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee and a lead investigator in the Trump-Russia probe, had "extensive" contact last year with a lobbyist for a Russian Oligarch who promised Warner access to Christopher Steele, according to Fox News. Steele is the former British spy who assembled several anti-Trump opposition research "dossiers," including an unverified 35-page document which the FBI used to obtain a FISA "wiretap" warrant on one-time Trump campaign advisor, Carter Page.
On March 22, 2017, Sen. Warner texted lobbyist Adam Waldman of the DC-based Endeavor Group: "We have so much to discuss u need to be careful but we can help our country" on March 22, 2017.
"I'm in," replied Waldman, whose firm has ties to Hillary Clinton.
Secrecy seemed very important to Warner as the conversation with Waldman heated up March 29, when the lobbyist revealed that Steele wanted a bipartisan letter from Warner and the committee’s chairman, North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr, inviting him to talk to the Senate intelligence panel.
Throughout the text exchanges, Warner seemed particularly intent on connecting directly with Steele without anyone else on the Senate Intelligence Committee being in the loop -- at least initially. In one text to the lobbyist, Warner wrote that he would "rather not have a paper trail" of his messages. -FOX
The text messages, obtained by a Republican source and marked "CONFIDENTIAL," are not classified, and were turned over to the Senate panel Warner sits on last September. An aide to Warner confirmed that the text messages were authentic.
The conversation about Steele started on March 16, 2017, when Waldman texted, "Chris Steele asked me to call you."
Warner responded, "Will call tomorrow be careful.”
The records show Warner and Waldman had trouble connecting by phone. On March 20, Warner pressed Waldman by text to get him access to Steele.
"Can you talk tomorrow want to get with ur English friend," Warner texted.
"I spoke to him yesterday," Waldman texted.
Waldman and Warner had apparently touched base about Steele in a March 22 phone call. "Hey just tried u again gotta give a speech but really want to finish our talk," Warner texted.
Steele was apparently concerned over leaks, and was "spooked" (pun intended?) by the recent attention he had received over the 35-page dossier. Warner texted back on March 30: "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."
Then on April 5, Warner texted Waldman: "Any word on Steele?"
"Yes seems to have cold feet from the leaks. Said he wanted a bipartisan letter followed by written questions," texted Waldman, adding that the Wall Street Journal had contacted him asking if he was an intermediary between the panel and Steele. At one point, Warner also discussed possibly flying to London to meet with Steele, as he was insistent that he receive a "bipartisan letter" requesting his testimony before entering the United States.
"Hey can't we do brief (off the record) call today before letter so I can frame letter," Warner texted Waldman on March 29.
"Steele wants to have letter first. Or did you mean call w me?" Waldman texted back.
Waldman signed a $480,000 annual retainer in 2009 and 2010 to lobby the US government on behalf of controversial Russian billionaire Oleg V. Deripaska - whose visa was revoked by the State Department in 2006 over charges of organized crime.
Short-lived Trump advisor and lobbyist, Paul Manafort, worked with Deripaska for several years before joining the Trump campaign, where he reportedly offered to brief the Russian oligarch oin the Trump campaign.
In a 25-minute Youtube video (Russian with subtitles), Navalny shows footage of Deripaska with Russian deputy prime minister Sergei Prikhodko on his yacht in Norway in August 2016. Based on that footage, he alleges that information about the Trump campaign must have passed between the two. -Quartz
It is suspected that Deripaska, thought to be a "backchannel" top Putin, brought Manafort's briefings with him. After a report by the Washington Post asserted Manafort's offer to provide the documents, Deripaska told CNN it was "fake news," while his spokesman told AP in an email "These scandalous and mendacious assumptions are driven by sensationalism and we totally refute these outrageous false allegations in the strongest possible way."
Manafort allegedly offered Deripaska the private briefings on Jul. 7, 2016. The yacht trip allegedly took place over three days from Aug. 6. Less than two weeks later, Manafort resigned from the campaign under heavy scrutiny of his ties to pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs. Manafort has since been charged by special counsel Robert Mueller with twelve crimes, including a conspiracy against the United States. -Quartz
Circling the wagons
In a joint statement to Fox News, Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Warner released a joint statement blasting the "leaks of incomplete information," and said that the committee has known about the texts for several months.
“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.”
"Little" Marco Rubio popped on Twitter to downplay the texts:
Warner and Waldman initially opened a dialogue in February 2017 to discuss the possibility to broker a deal with the DOJ in order to slap criminal charges on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange - a conversation which was discloised to the FBI according to an aide for Sen. Warner.
In May 2017, the House and Senate Intelligence Committees decided against granting Deripraska legal immunity in exchange for testimony to the panels. According to Fox News, the text messagers between Warner and Walderman appeared to stop that month.
Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, had extensive contact last year with a lobbyist for a Russian oligarch who was offering Warner access to dossier author Christopher Steele. More from @edhenry reporting https://t.co/PwJoFvwkj6 pic.twitter.com/HUMyoyhxZ1— Nick Short 🇺🇸 (@PoliticalShort) February 9, 2018