The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee communicated through phone calls and text messages last spring with a lobbyist for a Russian oligarch in order to gain access to Christopher Steele, the former British spy who wrote the salacious and unverified anti-Trump dossier.
Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) texted back and forth with lobbyist Adam Waldman, who runs the Endeavor Group — which has ties to (surprise!) Hillary Clinton — while leading the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into President Trump’s alleged ties to Russia with his Republican colleague North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr.
In one text to the lobbyist, the senator expressed a desire to “not have a paper trail” of his messages. He suggested in another text that he did not want Burr or any other senator included in the discussions.
Waldman signed a $40,000 monthly retainer in 2009 and 2010 to lobby the U.S. government on behalf of Russian billionaire Oleg V. Deripaska.
Before retaining the Endeavor Group, Deripaska had “employed beltway lobbyists close to John McCain, including his former campaign manager Rick Davis,” according to a 2009 article in Harper’s.
Endeavor’s partners include Lorrie McHugh-Wytkind, formerly “Communications Director for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton and Deputy Press Secretary for Media Affairs and Operations for President Bill Clinton,” and its advisers include Bruce Babbitt, Secretary of the Interior under Bill Clinton and a Hillary supporter during the Democratic presidential primaries.
He had his visa revoked by the State Department in 2006 amid concerns about his links to organized crime, which he has denied.
President Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, worked for Deripaska for a few years more than a decade ago, allegedly to advance the interests of Putin.
The text messages between Senator Warner and Adam Waldman were obtained exclusively by Fox News.
“We have so much to discuss u need to be careful but we can help our country,” Warner texted Waldman on March 22, 2017.
“I’m in,” Waldman texted back to Warner.
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.
An aide to Warner confirmed to Fox News that the text messages are authentic. The messages, which were obtained from a Republican source are all marked “CONFIDENTIAL” and are not classified, were turned over to the Senate panel by Waldman last September.
The text exchanges began on March 16, 2017, with Waldman texting, “Chris Steele asked me to call you.”
Warner responded, “Will call tomorrow be careful.”
The records indicate that Warner and Waldman had trouble connecting by phone for a few days.
On March 20, Warner texted Waldman, requesting help with getting in touch with Steele.
“Can you talk tomorrow want to get with ur English friend,” Warner texted.
“I spoke to him yesterday,” Waldman texted.
The two men appear to have finally connected about Steele by phone on March 22, according to the records.
“Hey just tried u again gotta give a speech but really want to finish our talk,” Warner texted.
The two continued to text and communicate by phone, and Waldman, at one point, texted that Steele “wanted a bi-partisan letter requesting his testimony first.”
Waldman also said that Steele didn’t want word leaking to the media that they were talking.
Warner also expressed concern about their conversations leaking, even suggesting in one text that he did not want his colleague Burr or any other senator included in the discussions: “Ok but I wud (sic) like to do prelim call u me and him no one else before letter just so we have to trail to start want to discuss scope first before letter no leaks.”
As the spooked Steele became increasingly uncooperative, Warner discussed the possibility of taking a trip overseas to meet with Steele.
On March 23, Warner texted, “Need to coordinate date for trip can u talk with my scheduler also want to discuss Paul,” Warner texted on March 23, apparently referring to Paul Manafort.
On March 26, Warner texted, “Really need to set date things r going to really pick up.”
“Standying (sic) by to do it,” texted Waldman. “Awaiting call from your scheduler and also the letter he (Steele) would like they (sic) we discussed. And have second interesting thing to raise. Pls call.”
After more exchanges, “Warner made clear that he wanted to talk to Steele directly without Burr or anyone else being involved,” but Waldman said Steele was insisting that his contact with the committee start with “a bipartisan letter inviting him to cooperate with the Senate panel.”
“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 repeatedly warned Warner that Steele was concerned about leaks and was “spooked” by all of the attention he was getting around the world.
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.”
On April 5, Warner texted, “Any word on Steele.”
“Yes seems to have cold feet from the leaks. Said he wanted a bipartisan letter followed by written questions,” Waldman texted back. Steele had good reason to be skittish. According to Waldman, “the Wall Street Journal had contacted him asking if he was an intermediary between the panel and Steele.”
At a joint news conference last October, Burr and Warner said their panel had “hit a brick wall” in its investigation of the anti-Trump dossier because Steele had refused to speak with them.
But Steele sent word through anonymous sources to the media that the situation was “more complicated” than the senators’ comments suggested.
As of this date, he has not agreed to an interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee.
A Warner aide acknowledged that Warner and Burr revealed the texts to their colleagues on the panel because “they realized out of context it doesn’t look great.” But aides to Warner and Burr both stressed that the chairman was kept apprised of Warner’s efforts.
Senators Warner and Burr blasted the “leaks of incomplete information” in a joint statement to Fox News while stressing they are working together.
“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.”
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
The president reacted to the story on Twitter Thursday evening.
“Wow!” the president exclaimed, “Senator Mark Warner got caught having extensive contact with a lobbyist for a Russian oligarch. Warner did not want a ‘paper trail’ on a ‘private’ meeting (in London) he requested with Steele of fraudulent Dossier fame. All tied into Crooked Hillary.”
Wow! -Senator Mark Warner got caught having extensive contact with a lobbyist for a Russian oligarch. Warner did not want a “paper trail” on a “private” meeting (in London) he requested with Steele of fraudulent Dossier fame. All tied into Crooked Hillary.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 9, 2018