Andrew Weissmann, a senior Robert Mueller prosecutor, tried to keep the Russia collusion probe going by prompting a tip that there was a Trump-related “meeting on a yacht near Greece,” according to FBI agent William J. Barnett.
Mr. Barnett provided the insider’s anecdote during a Sept. 17 interview with U.S. attorney John Durham’s investigators. The 21-year FBI agent is the first known whistleblower on the FBI’s and Mr. Mueller’s operations from July 2016 to March 2019.
Mr. Barnett did not provide further details on the yacht story, which ultimately went nowhere.
But it dovetails with a rumor being pushed in 2017 by Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of Fusion GPS which was hired by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party. He in turn retained former British MI6 officer Christopher Steele who produced the infamous — and false — dossier on which the FBI and Democrats relied to target President Trump.
Mr. Steele made the stunning allegation that Trump attorney Michael Cohen secretly traveled to Prague in August 2016 to meet with Vladimir Putin cronies and pay cash hush money for Romanian computer hackers.
Mr. Simpson pushed this story to journalists and in testimony to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence where he raised the yacht scenario.
Questioned by Rep. Adam B. Schiff, California Democrat, a dossier proponent, Mr. Simpson suggested that Cohen traveled from the Hamptons, perhaps on a private Russian plane, and could have ended up on a yacht in the Adriatic Sea. The supposition is that from the Adriatic he went to Prague.
“There is a very puzzling sequence of events that we spent a lot of time looking at,” Mr. Simpson testified, according to a transcript. “There were all these yachts nearby and that, you know, there had been rumors of meetings between Trump people and Russians on yachts off Dubrovnik [Croatia].”
The Justice Department’s Barnett interview report described Mr. Weissmann’s interest in the yacht angle. Overall, the FBI agent criticized the Mueller team for a “get Trump” attitude.
“Barnett said it seems there was always someone at SCO [special counsel office] who claimed to have a lead on information that would prove the collusion only to have the information be a dead end,” the report said. “Barnett provided an example: Weissmann said there was meeting on a yacht near Greece that was going to be the proof of collusion, ‘quid pro quo.’ Barnett said within a day or two the information was not substantiated.”
Mr. Weissmann is a legal analyst on MSNBC. He did not respond to a message to his law firm.
On MSNBC, he offered the conspiracy theory that Mr. Trump spoke on an open line to his European Union ambassador so Mr. Putin could listen in.
A Democratic donor in the past, Mr. Weissmann’s twitter timeline is a steady stream of anti-Trump comments and articles.
Responding to Sunday’s New York Times article that President Trump paid little in federal income taxes, Mr. Weissmann tweeted about his son:
“As you read the NYT Trump tax story, remember the Eric Trump statement in 2013: “We don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.”
This is not a verified quote. It came from a golf writer and book author James Dodson. He provided the disputed quote during a May 2017 appearance on WBUR, an NPR station in Boston. He claimed Eric Trump said this during an interview at Trump’s National Golf Course in Charlotte, N.C.
Eric Trump immediately rebutted it as false. “This story is completely fabricated and just another example of why there is such a deep distrust of the media in our country. #FakeNews.” he tweeted.
The Steele dossier did not contain the yacht-Adriatic sea story.
Recent further declassification of the 2019 Justice Department’s inspector general report revealed that intelligence agencies warned the FBI in early 2017 that the Prague story was likely Kremlin disinformation fed to Mr. Steele.
New revelations last week showed that the dossier’s main source, Russian-national Igor Danchenko, was suspected by the FBI of being a Kremlin spy.
The Prague story titillated Democrats and liberal journalists because, if true, it proved a Trump-Russia conspiracy.
At the November 2017 committee session with Mr. Simpson, Rep. Eric Swalwell, California Democrat, asked if Mr. Cohen has multiple passports, aliases and Social Security numbers.
“Just on Michael Cohen,” Mr. Swalwell said to Mr. Simpson. “Did you ever research whether Michael Cohen had any aliases or other names that he used? Did you ever find anything out about that?”
During his Sept. 17 interview with U.S. attorney Jeffrey Jensen, who has joined the Durham operation, Mr. Barnett generally provided a negative narrative of the Mueller operation.
“There was a lack of letting the evidence lead the investigation and more that attitude of ‘the evidence is there and we just have to find it,’” Mr. Barnett testified. “Barnett said it seems there was always someone at [Special Counsel’s Office] who claimed to have a lead on information that would prove collusion, only to have the information be a dead end.”
In the end, Mr. Mueller said he found no Russian-Trump conspiracy.
Attorney General William Barr tapped Mr. Durham to investigate how the FBI started and conducted its probe into Trump world.
After BuzzFeed published the dossier on Jan. 10, 2017, Cohen immediately denied that he went to Prague. As proof, he provided his passport to some reporters.
No public evidence ever materialized. The Justice IG report said the FBI concluded Cohen never went to Prague.
He did, however, get caught up in the probe. He pleaded guilty to income tax fraud concerning his taxi business and to campaign finance violation for paying hush money to a Trump accuser.
Fusion GPS’s Simpson was a steadfast Steele defender, calling him a “boy scout.”
“Quality is a really important issue in the business intelligence industry,” he told a Senate committee. “There’s a lot of poor quality work and a lot of people make a lot of promises about what they can do and who they know and what they can find out and then there’s just a lot of people who operate in sort of improper questionable ways. Chris was, you know, a person who delivered quality work in very appropriate ways.”