Chuck Ross, DCNF
Former FBI Director James Comey made a glaringly false claim about the infamous Steele dossier in a recent interview with ABC News.
Comey told interviewer George Stephanopoulos that the FBI was unaware of the salacious and unverified dossier until after the bureau formally opened its counterintelligence investigation of President Donald Trump’s campaign.
The investigation was opened on July 31, 2016. Comey is contradicted by extensive reporting that dossier author Christopher Steele provided the FBI with information from his dossier on July 5, 2016.
There has also been reporting that the information was almost immediately passed to the FBI’s counterintelligence division, which would later oversee the Trump probe.
It is unclear why Comey got the timeline so wrong. Several parties, including the FBI, Justice Department, and Democrats, have tried to downplay the significance of the dossier to the FBI’s collusion investigation. That’s possibly because the dossier remains largely unverified more than 15 months after it was published by BuzzFeed News.
“Did [the dossier] trigger the FBI investigation in any way?” Stephanopoulos asked Comey during their five-hour interview, parts of which aired Sunday night.
“No,” said Comey. “No, in fact, as I said, the information that triggered it was the [former Trump campaign adviser George] Papadopoulos information that came in late July. The FBI didn’t get any information that’s part of the so-called Steele dossier, as I understand it, until after that.”
The Papadopoulos information that Comey referred to was provided by the Australian government. Alexander Downer, the top Aussie diplomat to the U.K., claimed that Papadopoulos told him about hacked Hillary Clinton emails during a conversation in a London barroom in May 2016.
That information arrived on the FBI’s doorstep in late July 2016, as Comey stated.
Steele was in contact with the FBI several weeks earlier. On July 5, 2016, the ex-MI6 officer met in London, where he is based, with Michael Gaeta, an FBI agent stationed at the time in Rome. Gaeta had previously worked with Steele on an investigation of bribery in FIFA, the international soccer organization.
In their recent book, “Russian Roulette,” authors Michael Isikoff and David Corn reported that Gaeta met with Steele after receiving approval from the State Department.
“There were a few hoops Gaeta had to jump through. He was assigned to the U.S. embassy in Rome. The FBI checked with Victoria Nuland’s office at the State Department,” Isikoff and Corn reported.
Nuland okayed the project, and Gaeta traveled to London to meet Steele.
After reading the Steele memo, Gaeta told the former British spy, “I have to report this to headquarters,” according to Isikoff and Corn.
Isikoff and Corn also reported that the Steele memo arrived at FBI headquarters just days after Comey’s July 5, 2016, press conference exonerating former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the email investigation.
“When the first Steele memo arrived in FBI headquarters that same week, it got the attention of the Bureau’s counterintelligence division,” they wrote.
Gaeta would meet with Steele again in early October 2016. Steele traveled to Rome for that meeting, it has been reported.
It is widely accepted that the FBI formally opened the Trump investigation based on the Papadopoulos information, the bureau relied heavily on the dossier for much of its investigation.
Comey signed an application on Oct. 21, 2016, for a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant against former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Congressional Republicans have publicized evidence that the dossier was a significant portion of the application and three others that would be granted to spy on Page.
In his interview, Comey acknowledged that he still does not know whether the dossier is “credible.”
“Has it checked out? Is it a credible document?” Stephanopoulos asked Comey of the dossier.
“The answer is, I don’t know,” said Comey, who on Tuesday will release his memoir, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership.”
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