The Steele dossier has been at the heart of the case that Donald Trump colluded with the Russian government in order to win the 2016 presidential election. The compilation of “salacious and unverified” information, in the words of former FBI director James Comey, has nonetheless fueled an ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign since the inception of the current presidential administration.
Both major political parties have released memos regarding the application to the secretive FISA court in order to conduct surveillance on former Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page. In the memo released by House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes (R-CA), a point of contention has been the FBI’s reference to the Steele dossier as corroborating evidence that surveillance of the Trump campaign aide was appropriate and justified.
The Democratic Party, in their countering memo, dismissed the implication that it was inappropriate for the FBI to reference the dossier and pointed out that the political nature of the dossier’s funding was disclosed in footnotes. New information has come to light, however, that adds a problematic to the narrative that nothing was amiss with the FBI’s FISA warrant application.
Christopher Steele knew the source of his funding was political in nature.
The former Mi6 spy, who spent twenty years at the British government’s foreign desk, was aware prior to the FISA court application; thus an FBI footnote has been rendered questionable. The potential issue with the FISA application was reported on by Sara Carter.
“In a footnote on the warrant application to the court, the FBI stated that the ‘identified U.S. Person never advised Source #1 as to the motivation behind the research into Candidate #1’s ties to Russia.’ Meaning that now embattled Fusion GPS, the firm that hired Steele to conduct the research, never advised him of who was paying his bill,” Carter writes.
“The FBI submitted the FISA application on Carter Page, a former volunteer for the Trump campaign, on Oct. 21, 2016. Steele, according to testimony provided by Fusion GPS owner and former Wall Street Journal Reporter Glen Simpson was hired in the Spring of 2016. The New Yorker article also states that Steele was hired in the Spring,” she continued.
“That means that Steele would have known who was paying him by the time he met with the FBI in Italy during the summer of 2016,” she concluded.
The source of the revelation, the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, provided further details on the Steele payment arrangement.
“Under the arrangement, Orbis was a subcontractor working for Fusion GPS, a private research firm in Washington,” the New Yorker article reveals. “Fusion, in turn, had been contracted by a law firm, Perkins Coie, which represented both Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Several months after Steele signed the deal, he learned that, through this chain, his research was being jointly subsidized by the Clinton campaign and the D.N.C. In all, Steele was paid a hundred and sixty-eight thousand dollars for his work.”
The New Yorker article gets to the crux of the FISA warrant issue, while gliding past the problematic FBI entry.
Eighteen months after the dossier’s publication, Steele has impassioned detractors on both the left and the right. On the left, Stephen Cohen, a Russia scholar and Nation contributor, has denied the existence of any collusion between Trump and Russia, and has accused Steele of being part of a powerful “fourth branch of government,” comprising intelligence agencies whose anti-Russia and anti-Trump biases have run amok. On the right, the Washington Examiner’s Byron York has championed Grassley and Graham’s criminal referral, arguing that Steele has a “credibility issue,” because he purportedly lied to the F.B.I. about talking to the press. But did Steele lie?
The Justice Department has not filed charges against him. The most serious accusation these critics make is that the F.B.I. tricked the fisa Court into granting a warrant to spy on Trump associates on the basis of false and politically motivated opposition research. If true, this would be a major abuse of power. But the Bureau didn’t trick the court—it openly disclosed that Steele’s funding was political. Moreover, Steele’s dossier was only part of what the fisa warrant rested on. According to the Democrats’ Intelligence Committee report, the Justice Department obtained information “that corroborated Steele’s reporting” through “multiple independent sources.”
The FBI very well may have disclosed that the funding was political, but the entry obscures that Steele was knowingly acting in the capacity of a paid political operative of the Democratic Party, rather than a skilled expert researcher merely attempting to compile “raw intelligence” on Donald Trump. There is a drastic difference, with implications for the entire investigation. If the FBI knew that Steele was a Democratic operative and concealed it, then that is a tacit acknowledgment that it was engaging in partisan politics and not legitimate investigative work.
Steele indeed apparently lied to the FBI about never having talked to the media: It was revealed later that he had met with Michael Isikoff, a journalist whose report was used to provide “corroboration” of Steele’s dossier. In addition, Senator Chuck Grassley uncovered that Steele used Clinton talking points in the dossier.
“It is troubling enough that the Clinton Campaign funded Mr. Steele’s work, but that these Clinton associates were contemporaneously feeding Mr. Steele allegations raises additional concerns about his credibility,” Grassley wrote.
Furthermore, there are questions about the purported origin story of the Trump collusion investigation, namely, that a conversation between the Australian ambassador Alexander Downer and former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos started it all. It recently came to light that Downer has extensive ties to the Clintons.
The Russian collusion investigation was propelled forward by FBI agent Peter Strzok, an agent subsequently removed from it due to pro-Clinton bias, and who was instrumental in the dubiously handled email investigation. It all adds up to a chain of ‘coincidentally’ pro-Clinton actors at the very heart of the Trump-Russia investigation.
Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Trey Gowdy and Chariman of the House Judiciary Committee Bob Goodlatte are petitioning the Department of Justice for a second special counsel to investigate bias at the FBI. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that he is going to “consider seriously” their recommendation.
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