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A "stand down" order given by James Comey to kill an imminent deal between the US Government and Julian Assange preceded the largest leak in CIA history, known as "Vault 7," reports John Solomon of The Hill. Assange was willing to redact the names of CIA employees, and also offered to provide technical evidence which would rule out "certain parties" (such as Russia) in the DNC email hack.

In short, Comey killed advanced negotiations with the WikiLeaks founder that would have safeguarded the lives of CIA agents who are now at risk, while also providing key evidence in the ongoing Russia investigations. For the longer version, keep reading. 

In January of 2017, Julian Assange's legal team approached Clinton-linked D.C. lobbyist Adam Waldman to reach out and see if anyone in the Trump administration would negotiate with the WikiLeaks founder. 

Waldman, who acted as an intermediary from 2009 - 2011 between Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska and the FBI, worked for Assange pro bono. Assange's bargaining chip was a massive trove of CIA technical documents known as "Vault 7," which detailed the agency's massive cyber-warfare arsenal. 

After Assange's team made contact, Waldman reached out to Bruce Ohr - a DOJ official who would later be demoted in December, 2017 for failing to disclose secret meetings with Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson. Bruce's wife, Nellie Ohr was hired by Fusion GPS as part of an ongoing anti-Trump effort. Fusion also produced the 35-page "Steele Dossier," written by former MI6 spy Christopher Steele.

[As an aside, Waldman also promised Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) access to Steele in late March of 2017, which fell through weeks later after Steele got cold feet. So Waldman is a "deep-state middleman" of sorts.]

Waldman and Ohr would meet in person on Feb. 3, 2017 in Washington, while Waldman and Assange met three times in London.

After Assange made clear that he would be open to redactions at most to protect the names of exposed officials, Ohr took Assange's offer up the chain of command at the DOJ - which by and large held Assange in contempt

Although the intelligence community reviled Assange for the damage his past releases caused, officials “understood any visibility into his thinking, any opportunity to negotiate any redactions, was in the national security interest and worth taking,” says a senior official involved at the time. -The Hill

(To reiterate, James Comey killed a deal that would have protected CIA officials in the line of duty and ostensibly ruled out Russia in the election leaks.)

After Ohr ran Assange's offer up the flagpole, the DOJ assigned federal prosecutor David Laufman - an accomplished prosecutor and then-head of the DOJ's counterintelligence and export controls section. 

Waldman, Assange's lobbyist, then contacted Laufman - where he laid out the groundwork for a deal that would grant Assange limited immunity and a one-time "safe passage" to leave the London embassy and talk with US officials. 

The shuttle diplomacy soon resulted in an informal offer — known in government parlance as a “Queen for a Day” proffer — in which Assange identified what he wanted and what he might give. -The Hill

Laufman also "put an offer on the table from the intelligence community to help Assange assess how some hostile foreign powers might be infiltrating or harming WikiLeaks staff." 

Amid the negotiations, and perhaps to show the US government that he was serious, Assange released his first Vault 7 leak on March 7, 2017 - around 8,000 pages of documents concerning the CIA's cyber weapons. The talks continued since US officials were very concerned about the remainder of Assange's leaks.

“Dear David, I relayed our conversations to Assange and he had a generally positive view of it,” Waldman wrote Laufman in mid-March.

The shuttle diplomacy soon resulted in an informal offer — known in government parlance as a “Queen for a Day” proffer — in which Assange identified what he wanted and what he might give. -The Hill

Three weeks later on March 28, 2017, Waldman wrote Laufman with an advanced offer: “Subject to adequate and binding protections, including but not limited to an acceptable immunity and safe passage agreement, Mr. Assange welcomes the opportunity to discuss with the U.S. government risk mitigation approaches relating to CIA documents in WikiLeaks’ possession or control, such as the redaction of agency personnel in hostile jurisdictions and foreign espionage risks to WikiLeaks staff.

Assange was also willing to discuss technical evidence which would rule out certain parties in the DNC leaks during the 2016 election - which the US Government believes were hacked by Russia - a charge Assange denies. 

“Mr. Assange offered to provide technical evidence and discussion regarding who did not engage in the DNC releases,” Waldman told The Hill's Solomon. “Finally, he offered his technical expertise to the U.S. government to help address what he perceived as clear flaws in security systems that led to the loss of the U.S. cyber weapons program.”

Inside Justice and the intelligence community, confidence grew that perhaps the mercurial Assange might adapt how he released classified information.

“As we give continued consideration to the substance of your proposed proffer, please clarify a procedural point,” Laufman wrote Waldman in early April. The government wanted to know if Assange’s demand for “safe passage” meant him coming to America, or just leaving the London embassy for meetings there.

What U.S. officials did not fully comprehend was that an earlier event weighed heavily on the Assange team’s distrust of U.S. intentions. -The Hill

Several days after the negotiations with Assange began, Warner reached out to Senator Warner to see if Senate Intelligence Committee staff desired any contact with Assange as part of their investigations. 

Warner then reached out to James Comey - who ordered a stand-down.

“He told me he had just talked with Comey and that, while the government was appreciative of my efforts, my instructions were to stand down, to end the discussions with Assange,” Waldman told The Hill

In disbelief at the news, Waldman went back to Laufman - who said "You are not standing down and neither am I." 

Waldman couldn’t believe a U.S. senator and the FBI chief were sending a different signal, so he went back to Laufman, who assured him the negotiations were still on. “What Laufman said to me after he heard I was told to ‘stand down’ by Warner and Comey was, ‘That’s bullshit. You are not standing down and neither am I,’” Waldman recalled.

A source familiar with Warner’s interactions says the senator’s contact on the Assange matter was limited and was shared with Senate Intelligence chairman Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.). But the source acknowledges that  Warner consulted Comey and passed along the “stand down” instructions to Waldman: “That did happen.” -The Hill

And with that, Assange got cold feet and backed out of the deal - releasing the entire "Vault 7" trove of information for which the DOJ just indicted former CIA computer engineer, Joshua Adam Schulte. And the rest is history.