The Russiagate has taken an extraordinary twist with confirmation that two Republican Senators – Senator Grassley, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senator Lindsey Graham, have written to the US Justice Department requesting that Christopher Steele, the former British spy who compiled the Trump Dossier, be investigated because of “significant inconsistencies” in the statements he has made to the authorities.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has disclosed the request in a tweet
Senators @ChuckGrassley and @LindseyGrahamSC have referred Christopher Steele to @TheJusticeDept for investigation after information reviewed by committee investigators revealed significant inconsistencies in statements provided to authorities pic.twitter.com/MKhJlscdKP
— Senate Judiciary (@senjudiciary) January 5, 2018
Senators Grassley’s and Lindsey Graham’s letter to the Justice Department, addressed to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray, reads as follows
Dear Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and Director Wray
Attached please find a classified memorandum related to certain communications between Christopher Steele and multiple US news outlets regarding the so-called “Trump dossier” that Mr. Steele compiled on behalf of Fusion GPS for the Clinton Campaign and the Democratic National Committee and also provided to the FBI.
Based on information contained therein, we are respectfully referring Mr. Steele to you for investigation of potential violations of 18 U.S.C. § 1001, for statements the Committee has reason to believe Mr. Steele made regarding his distribution of information contained in the dossier.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this important matter. If you have any questions, please contact Patrick Davis or DeLisa Lay of Chairman Grassley’s staff at (202) 224-5225.
Note that to the best of my knowledge this is the first official confirmation from the US government that Christopher Steele himself provided the Trump Dossier to the FBI.
Note also that this is merely a request that the Justice Department and the FBI undertake an inquiry into certain of Steele’s actions. It is in no sense a statement that Steele is guilty of any offence.
18 U.S.C. § 1001 – the provision in the US Code referred to in the letter – reads as follows
(a) Except as otherwise provided in this section, whoever, in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully—
(1) falsifies, conceals, or covers up by any trick, scheme, or device a material fact;
(2) makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or
(3) makes or uses any false writing or document knowing the same to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry;
shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years or, if the offense involves international or domestic terrorism (as defined in section 2331), imprisoned not more than 8 years, or both. If the matter relates to an offense under chapter 109A, 109B, 110, or 117, or section 1591, then the term of imprisonment imposed under this section shall be not more than 8 years.
(b) Subsection (a) does not apply to a party to a judicial proceeding, or that party’s counsel, for statements, representations, writings or documents submitted by such party or counsel to a judge or magistrate in that proceeding.
(c) With respect to any matter within the jurisdiction of the legislative branch, subsection (a) shall apply only to—
(1) administrative matters, including a claim for payment, a matter related to the procurement of property or services, personnel or employment practices, or support services, or a document required by law, rule, or regulation to be submitted to the Congress or any office or officer within the legislative branch; or
(2) any investigation or review, conducted pursuant to the authority of any committee, subcommittee, commission or office of the Congress, consistent with applicable rules of the House or Senate.
Given that the memorandum attached to the Senators’ letter is classified and has not been disclosed it is impossible to say what are the “statements” which Christopher Steele has made which are being referred to, or what the “significant inconsistencies” in those statements are, or why Grassley and Lindsey Graham think there may be grounds to suspect breaches of 18 U.S.C. § 1001.
Most are interpreting the Senators’ letter to mean that the Senators are saying that there are grounds to believe that Christopher Steele has misled the US authorities about his contacts with journalists. Whilst that is the most likely interpretation of the letter, a careful study of the letter’s very careful wording does however leave open the possibility that the memorandum attached to the letter touches on the contents of the Trump Dossier
What suggests that the Senators may have concerns about the contents of the Trump Dossier are certain statements they have made following their sending of the letter.
Here is what Senator Grassley is reported to have said
I don’t take lightly making a referral for criminal investigation. But, as I would with any credible evidence of a crime unearthed in the course of our investigations, I feel obliged to pass that information along to the Justice Department for appropriate review.
Everyone needs to follow the law and be truthful in their interactions with the FBI. If the same actions have different outcomes, and those differences seem to correspond to partisan political interests, then the public will naturally suspect that law enforcement decisions are not on the up-and-up.
“Maybe there is some innocent explanation for the inconsistencies we have seen, but it seems unlikely. In any event, it’s up to the Justice Department to figure that out.
Note that this comment appears to leave open the possibility that Steele may not have been fully truthful to the FBI.
Lying to the FBI is of course the offence for which Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos have been indicted.
Here is what Senator Lindsey Graham is reported to have said
After reviewing how Mr. Steele conducted himself in distributing information contained in the dossier and how many stop signs the DOJ ignored in its use of the dossier, I believe that a special counsel needs to review this matter
Lindsey Graham has previously made known his concern about the way the Trump Dossier has shaped the Russiagate inquiry, and he has all but confirmed that information drawn from the Trump Dossier was used to obtain from the FISA court surveillance warrants which made possible surveillance of members of the Trump campaign during the 2016 Presidential election.
Lindsey Graham’s comment following release of his and Senator Grassley’s letter to the Justice Department – specifically his words about the Justice Department “ignoring stop signs in its use of the Trump Dossier – suggests that it is concerns about the content of the Trump Dossier and the uses to which it was put which has at least in part triggered the Senators’ letter.
Needless to say the Democrats and others who believe or have a vested interest in the Russiagate conspiracy theory have reacted badly to Grassley’s and Lindsey Graham’s letter.
Dianne Feinstein, the senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has issued this statement
I think this referral is unfortunate as it’s clearly another effort to deflect attention from what should be the committee’s top priority: determining whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the election and whether there was subsequent obstruction of justice.
I’ll continue to stand strong against any efforts to undermine Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation, as well as the ongoing congressional investigations. Getting to the bottom of what happened remains a top priority for me, as I hope it does for everyone on the judiciary committee.
A lawyer for Fusion GPS – the firm which on behalf of the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign commissioned the research which led to the Trump Dossier – has made this statement on behalf of his client
After a year of investigations into Donald Trump’s ties to Russia, the only person Republicans seek to accuse of wrongdoing is one who reported on these matters to law enforcement in the first place. Publicising a criminal referral based on classified information raises serious questions about whether this letter is nothing more than another attempt to discredit government sources, in the midst of an ongoing criminal investigation. We should all be skeptical in the extreme
The difficulty the Democrats and Fusion GPS face in dismissing the Senators’ letter is that neither Grassley nor Lindsey Graham are obvious Trump loyalists.
Grassley is a famously independent Senator who has no personal attachment to Donald Trump and who has no special reason to back him. Here is what CNBC had to say about Grassley as recently as 4th January 2018
Grassley is not a Trump toady. First off, he took his time in his decision to eventually put the Trump judicial nominees on the fast track.
Second, Grassley handled another incident last month with a prudent level of independence. When Trump critics were rightfully questioning some of his judicial nominees who did poorly in their congressional confirmation hearings, Grassley didn’t rush to defend the nominations.
And he did clearly and publicly tell the White House to rescind the nominations of the two most egregiously embarrassing judicial nominees.
Those nominees did step aside, and there wasn’t a nasty Trump tweet or anything else in response. Grassley literally forced the Trump team to adjust course, and he did it without starting World War III.
What’s in it for Grassley? It’s hard to find anything. He was just re-elected in 2016 to his seventh term and he’s 84. He also comes fromIowa where the polls say President Trump’s support has very much eroded. That means his support for the president could make the next year or so a nightmare back home. Finally, the hint of disastrous scandal that swirls around the Trump team could stain Grassley’s reputation by association.
But all of the above just adds to Grassley’s value for the White House.
He doesn’t have to help Trump in these endeavors, but he is. He has more to lose than to gain, but he persists and now with the FBI scrutiny, he’s taking it to a new level.
As for Lindsey Graham, he is one of the most extreme anti-Russia hawks in the Senate and is an implacable opponent of Donald Trump’s wish for a rapprochement with Russia. He was also until just a few months ago one of Donald Trump’s most trenchant Republican critics in Congress. He was also someone who pulled out all the stops to prevent Donald Trump from winning the Republican nomination. Here is one of his tweets from 3rd May 2016
If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed…….and we will deserve it.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) May 3, 2016
In view of this, if people like Grassley and Lindsey Graham are saying that Steele has questions to answer then it defies logic to say that it is wrong for Christopher Steele to be asked those questions.
In saying this I of course admit that I have been a skeptic about the Trump Dossier all along. On 11th January 2017 – immediately after it was published – I called it a clever fabrication. On 31st March 2017 I said that its account of Russian government decision making was absurd.
The great mystery for me is how it came to pass that the FBI, the Justice Department, the US intelligence community, the Obama administration, many members of Congress, and most of the media, ever came to give any credence to this bizarre dossier. That it took so long for its credibility even amongst Republicans to collapse frankly astonishes me.
In light of this the fact that there are now calls for Christopher Steele to be asked questions about his actions does not surprise me, and though I have no intention of anticipating the results of any inquiries into his actions I am not surprised that calls for such inquiries into his actions are now being made.