EXCLUSIVE — Sen. Mark Warner, the leading Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee who has been directing a congressional investigation into President Trump’s alleged ties to Russia, had extensive contact annually using a lobbyist to get a Russian oligarch who had been supplying Warner access to former British spy and dossier writer Christopher Steele, according to text messages obtained exclusively by Fox News.
“We’ve got so much to talk about u need to be careful but we can help our nation,” Warner texted the lobbyist, ” Adam Waldman, on March 22, 2017.
“I am in,” Waldman, whose company has ties to Hillary Clinton, texted back to Warner.
Steele famously assembled the anti-Trump dossier of unverified information that has been used by FBI and Justice Department officials in October 2016 to find a warrant to conduct surveillance of prior Trump adviser Carter Page. Despite the efforts, Steele hasn’t consented to a meeting with the committee.
Secrecy appeared very significant to Warner since the conversation with Waldman warmed up March 29, once the lobbyist revealed that Steele needed a bipartisan letter from Warner and the committee’s chairman, North Carolina Republican Sen. Richard Burr, inviting him to speak to the Senate intelligence panel.
Through the text exchanges, Warner seemed particularly intent on connecting directly with Steele without anybody else about the Senate Intelligence Committee being in the loop — at least initially. In 1 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. September they were turned over to the Senate panel by Waldman.
Waldman, who didn’t return calls seeking opinions, runs the Endeavor Group in Washington.
Waldman is best known for signing a $40,000 monthly retainer in 2009 and 2010 to lobby the U.S. government on behalf of contentious Russian billionaire Oleg V. Deripaska. Deripraska had his visa revoked by the State Department in 2006 due to charges, which he’s denied, that he’s arranged crime ties.
An aide for Burr, the Republican chairman, told Fox News that Burr was conscious of this “contact” Warner made with Steele’s representative but added, “I do not believe that he was aware of the content of the text messages” initially.
The senators released a joint statement to Fox News stressing they are working together, while blasting the “escapes of imperfect info. ”
They said the committee has been in possession of this material for many months and committee researchers have pursued all applicable investigative leads related to the material.
“From the beginning of our investigation we’ve taken every step in a bipartisan manner, and we plan to continue to do so,” Warner and Burr said in the announcement. “Leaks of imperfect information out of context by anybody, inside or outside committee, are unacceptable.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., yet another member of this committee, tweeted Thursday night which Warner “completely revealed this to the committee four months ago.” He added that the revelation “has had no effect on our work.”
The dialog about Steele began on March 16, 2017, when Waldman texted, “Chris Steele requested me to call you.”
Warner responded, “Will call tomorrow be more careful.”
The records show Warner and Waldman had trouble. On March 20, Warner pushed Waldman by text to get him access to Steele.
“Can you speak tomorrow want to get with ur English friend,” Warner texted.
“We’ve got so much to talk about u need to be careful but we can help our nation”
“I talked to him,” Waldman texted.
The two men appear to have connected about Steele by telephone on March 22, according to the records.
“Hey just attempted u gotta give a language but really want to finish our conversation,” Warner texted.
Waldman, at one point, texted back that Steele really wanted a bi-partisan letter asking his testimony first. He added that Steele was worried about word leaking to the media that they were talking.
In 1 text, Warner suggested he didn’t desire Burr or any other senator included in the talks: “Ok but I wud (sic) prefer to do prelim call u him and me no one else before letter just so we must trail to start desire to discuss extent at first before letter no leaks”
Waldman noted repeatedly that Steele was worried about escapes and has been “spooked” with all of the attention that he had received around the world. Steele, he said, was skittish about talking to Warner.
Warner texted back on March 30: “We wish to do this ideal private in London do not wish to send letter yet cuz when 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 needed a bipartisan letter followed by written questions,” texted Waldman, adding that the Wall Street Journal had contacted him asking if he had been an intermediary between the board and Steele.
In the text messages, Warner discussed the prospect of a trip to see Steele.
On March 23, Warner texted, “Need to arrange for trip can u talk with my scheduler also wish to talk about Paul,” a clear reference to former Trump effort chairman Paul Manafort, whose initials are employed in the next text by Waldman.
On March 26, Warner texted, “Really have to set things up r going to really pick up”
“Standying by to do it,” texted Waldman. “Awaiting call from your scheduler and also the letter that he (Steele) would enjoy they(sic) we spoke. And also have instant interesting thing to raise. Pls call”
But after calls forth and back, Warner made clear that he wanted to speak to Steele straight without Burr or anybody else being included, although Steele was insisting through Waldman that the touch beginning using 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 me?” Waldman texted back.
Trump responded to the findings in a tweet late Thursday, writing, “All tied into Crooked Hillary.”
Warner’s text messages were quietly given to the intelligence committee after he and Burr signed a joint petition for the messages last June. Warner and Burr independently informed the rest of the Republican and Democratic senators on the board of Warner’s text messages in a meeting last October.
A Warner aide acknowledged that Warner and Burr revealed the texts for their colleagues on the board because “they realized out of context it doesn’t seem great.” But aides to Warner and Burr both stressed that the chairman was kept apprised of Warner’s efforts.
An aide to Burr knew there was a “back channel” Warner was having to try and get to Steele and wasn’t worried that Warner was freelancing on the situation.
Warner started texting with Waldman in February 2017 about the potential for helping broker a deal with the Justice Department to find the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to the United States to possibly face criminal charges. That went nowhere, even though a Warner aide told Fox News that the senator shared his previously undisclosed private conversations about WikiLeaks together with the FBI.
Over the span of four months between February and May 2017, Warner and Waldman also exchanged dozens of texts about potential testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee from Deripaska, Waldman’s primary Russian billionaire client.
Back in January 2009, Harper’s Magazine noted that Deripaska had hired an aide company with close ties to Hillary Clinton to help him get a visa to enter the United States.” The magazine hailed Waldman as saying his company doesn’t lobby, though he filed paperwork with the Justice Department to signify Deripaska before the U.S. government.
In the dozens of text messages between February 2017 and May 2017, Waldman also talked to Warner about getting Deripraska to cooperate with the intelligence committee. There were reports that Deripraksa, who has sued Manafort over a failed business deal, has info to share about the prior Trump aide.
In May 2017, the Senate and House intelligence committees chose not to provide Deripraska legal immunity in exchange for testimony to the panels. The text messages between Warner and Waldman seemed to stop that month.
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