British intelligence questioned Christopher Steele’s judgement in assessment given to the FBI

Chuck Ross, DCNF.     DCNF

British intelligence told the FBI that dossier author Christopher Steele sometimes showed questionable judgment regarding investigative targets, according to a report that could preview some of the findings in a highly anticipated Justice Department watchdog report of FBI surveillance against the Trump campaign.

Investigators with the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) have asked witnesses about an assessment that MI6 officials provided the FBI regarding Steele, a former MI6 officer based in London, The New York Times reported Saturday.

The Times report says:

[Inspector General Michael] Horowitz has asked witnesses about an assessment of Mr. Steele that MI6, the British spy agency, provided to the F.B.I. after bureau officials received his dossier on Mr. [Donald] Trump in September 2016. MI6 officials said Mr. Steele, a Russia expert, was honest and persistent but sometimes showed questionable judgment in pursuing targets that others viewed as a waste of time, two people familiar with the assessment said.

The FBI’s handling of information from Steele is central to the OIG investigation into whether the bureau complied with laws and regulations in applications for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants against Carter Page, a former Trump campaign aide.

The OIG has also raised concerns, according to The Times, that the FBI overhyped Steele’s value as a confidential source in the applications to obtain the Page FISAs.

The FBI relied heavily on information from Steele in the FISA applications, the first of which was granted on Oct. 21, 2016.

The timeline of when the FBI received the MI6 assessment is likely critical to the OIG investigation.

It is unclear if the FBI had the MI6 assessment in hand prior to obtaining the first FISA warrant against Page. It is also not known if the FBI disclosed details of the assessment in the FISA applications.

An internal FBI assessment of Steele dated Feb. 9, 2017 deemed him to have a history of providing credible information, but also said that investigators had only “medium confidence” in the allegations from his dossier.

Republicans have long accused the FBI of improperly relying on unverified information from Steele in the FISA applications. Those accusations have gained traction in the wake of the special counsel’s report, which said there was insufficient evidence that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia or that any Trump aides acted as Russian agents.

Horowitz is expected to release his report within weeks.

Steele began investigating President Trump and his campaign in June 2016, after being hired by Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm that was hired by the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee. Steele relied on a network of sources he developed during his days as an MI6 officer working in Moscow. The ex-spy left MI6 in 2009.

While working for Fusion GPS, Steele wrote a series of 17 memos alleging that the Trump campaign was involved in a “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” with the Kremlin to influence the 2016 election results. One of the main villains in the dossier is Page, an energy consultant who joined the Trump team in March 2016.

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