Hot on the heels of the publication of the GOP memorandum (discussed by me here) has come another potentially even more extraordinary development in the Russiagate scandal.
This is the publication of a massively redacted version of the referral sent by Senators Grassley and Lindsey Graham to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein requesting that the Justice Department consider whether a criminal prosecution of Christopher Steele, the compiler of the Trump Dossier, should be brought.
The Senators’ referral or memorandum is so heavily redacted (whole paragraphs have been entirely blacked out) that it is exceptionally difficult to follow, and any analysis of it must be treated as strictly provisional pending release of a less heavily redacted version.
However what can be read from the Senators’ memorandum is disturbing enough.
Moreover it is now clear that over and above the lies Christopher Steele is alleged by the GOP memorandum to have told to the FBI about his contacts with the media, the Senators’ concerns and their referral to Rosenstein extend to the content of the Trump Dossier itself.
In order to show how this is so I am going to set out the Senators’ memorandum in its entirety. Given that the published version of this document is so incomplete, it seems to me that it might potentially distort it even further if I simply published extracts from it.
Charles E. Grassley, Chairman, U.S. Senate Committee on the JudiciaryLindsey 0. Graham, Chairman, Subcommittee on Crime ~nd Terrorism,U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary
The Honorable Rod J. Rosenstein, Deputy Attorney General, U.S. Department of JusticeThe Honorable Christopher A. Wray, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation
RE: Referral of Christopher Steele for Potential Violation of 18 U.S. C. § 1001
(1) As you know, former British Intelligence Officer Christopher Steele was hired by the private firm Fusion GPS in June 2016 to gather information about “links between Russia and [then-presidential candidate] Donald Trump.” Pursuant to that business arrangement, Mr. Steele prepared a series of documents styled as intelligence reports, some of which were later compiled into a “dossier” and published by BuzzFeed in January 2017. On the face of the dossier, it appears that Mr. Steele gathered much of his information from Russian government sources inside Russia. According to the law firm Perkins Cole, Mr. Steele’s dossier-related efforts were funded through Fusion GPS by that law firm on behalf of the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton Campaign.
(2) In response to reporting by the Washington Post about………….the Judiciary Committee began raising a series of questions to the FBI and the Justice Department about these matters as part of the Committee’s constitutional oversight responsibilities.
(3) The FBI has since provided the Committee access to classified documents relevant to the…………… As explained in greater detail below, when information in those classified documents is evaluated in light of sworn statements by Mr. Steele in British litigation, it appears that either Mr. Steele lied to the FBI or the British court, or that the classified documents reviewed by the Committee contain materially false statements.
(4) In response to the Committee’s inquiries, the Chairman and Ranking Member received a briefing on March 15, 2017, from then-Director James B. Corney, Jr.
(7) Similarly, in June 2017, former FBI Director Corney testified publicly before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that he had briefed President-Elect Trump on the dossier allegations in January 2017, which Mr. Corney described as “salacious” and “unverified.”
(12) But there is substantial evidence suggesting that Mr. Steele materially misled the FBI about a key aspect of his dossier efforts, one which bears on his credibility.
(18) However, public reports, court filings, and information obtained by the Committee during witness interviews in the course of its ongoing investigation indicate that Mr. Steele……provided dossier information……..to numerous media organizations prior to the end of…….October 2016.
(19) In Steele’s sworn court filings in litigation in London, he admitted that he “gave off the record briefings to a small number of journalists about the pre-election memoranda [i.e., the dossier] in late summer/autumn 2016.” In another sworn filing in that case, Mr. Steele further stated that journalists from “the New York Times, the Washington Post, Yahoo News, the New Yorker, and CNN” were “briefed at the end of September 2016 by [Steele] and Fusion at Fusion’s instruction.” The filing further states that Mr. Steele “subsequently participated in further meetings at Fusion’s instruction with Fusion and the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Yahoo News, which took place mid-October 2016.” According to these court filings,”[t]he briefings involved the disclosure of limited intelligence regarding indications of Russian interference in the US election process and the possible co-ordination of members of Trump’s campaign team and Russian government officials.” In his interview with the Committee, Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS confirmed this account by Mr. Steele and his company as filed in the British court.
(23) Mr. Steele conducted his work for Fusion GPS compiling the “pre-election memoranda” “[b]etween June and early November 2016.” In the British litigation, Mr. Steele acknowledged briefing journalists about the dossier memoranda “in late summer/autumn 2016.” Unsurprisingly, during the summer of 2016, reports of at least some of the dossier allegations began circulating among reporters and people involved in Russian issues. Mr. Steele also admitted in the British litigation to briefing journalists from the Washington Post, Yahoo News, the New Yorker, and CNN in September of 2016. Simply put, the more people who contemporaneously knew that Mr. Steele was compiling his dossier, the more likely it was vulnerable to manipulation. In fact, in the British litigation, which involves a post-election dossier memorandum, Mr. Steele admitted that he received and included in it unsolicited – and unverified – allegations. That filing implies that he similarly received unsolicited intelligence on these matters prior to the election as well, stating that Mr. Steele “continued to receive unsolicited intelligence on the matters covered by the pre-election memoranda after the US Presidential election.“
(25) One memorandum by Mr. Steele that was not published by Buzzfeed is dated October 19, 2016. The report alleges…………, as well as……….. Mr. Steele’s memorandum states that his company “received this report from……US State Department,” that the report was the second in a series, and that the report was information that came from a foreign sub-source who “is in touch with….., a contact of….., a friend of the Clintons, who passed it to….. .” 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.
(28) On September 23, 2016, Yahoo News published its article entitled “U.S. Intel Officials Probe Ties Between Trump Adviser and Kremlin.” That article described claims about meetings between Carter Page and Russians, including Igor Sechin. Mr. Sechin is described in the article as “a longtime Putin associate and former Russian deputy prime minister” under sanction by the Treasury Department in response to Russia’s actions in the Ukraine. The article attributes the information to “a well-placed Western intelligence source,” who reportedly said that “[a]t their alleged meeting, Sechin raised the issue of the lifting of sanctions with Page.” This information also appears in multiple “memoranda” that make up the dossier.
(29) In sum, around the same time Yahoo News published its article containing dossier information about Carter Page, Mr. Steele and Fusion GPS had briefed Yahoo News and other news outlets about information contained in the dossier.
(31) Accordingly, we are referring Christopher Steele to the Department of Justice for investigation of potential violation(s) of 18 U.S.8. § 1001.
(all italics and bold lettering in the original; paragraph numbers added)
I have added paragraph numbers to make it easier to find my citations from the Senators’ memorandum. I have also deleted the very extensive notes and references that can be found at the bottom of the pages of the original Senators’ memorandum. These are probably as important as the text of the Senators’ memorandum itself. However in its present heavily redacted form they make the Senators’ memorandum appear even more difficult to follow than it already is. The notes and references can be found in a PDF of the original of the Senators’ memorandum, which can been seen by following this link.
The most important words in the Senators’ memorandum are in my opinion these
…….On the face of the dossier, it appears that Mr. Steele gathered much of his information from Russian government sources inside Russia…..
(from paragraph 1)
……..Simply put, the more people who contemporaneously knew that Mr. Steele was compiling his dossier, the more likely it was vulnerable to manipulation. In fact, in the British litigation, which involves a post-election dossier memorandum, Mr. Steele admitted that he received and included in it unsolicited – and unverified – allegations. That filing implies that he similarly received unsolicited intelligence on these matters prior to the election as well, stating that Mr. Steele “continued to receive unsolicited intelligence on the matters covered by the pre-election memoranda after the US Presidential election.“
(from paragraph 23)
One memorandum by Mr. Steele that was not published by Buzzfeed is dated October 19, 2016. The report alleges…………, as well as……….. Mr. Steele’s memorandum states that his company “received this report from……US State Department,” that the report was the second in a series, and that the report was information that came from a foreign sub-source who “is in touch with….., a contact of….., a friend of the Clintons, who passed it to….. .” 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.
The wording in paragraph 1 appears to cast doubt on the extent to which the Trump’s Dossier really is based on Russian sources (…….On the face of the dossier, it appears that Mr. Steele gathered much of his information from Russian government sources inside Russia…..);
The wording in paragraph 23 appears to say that because information from the Trump Dossier was being published by the media at the same time that the Trump Dossier was being compiled Christopher Steele, pressure increased on Steele from people who had thereby learnt of the Trump Dossier’s existence to include in the Trump Dossier information Steele has himself admitted was ‘unsolicited’ and ‘unverified’. It seems that some of this information was in fact included in it.
It is not at all clear who these people who the Senators say gave Steele this ‘unsolicited’ and ‘unverified’ information were, but the wording of the entirety of paragraph 23 suggests that some of them at least were people working in the US media.
If so, then the US media had a hand in the creation of the Trump Dossier.
The wording in paragraph 25 has attracted the most attention, with suggestions – eg, from Byron York – that the ‘unpublished entry’ of 19th October 2016 may refer to the compilation I have previously referred to as the ‘second Trump Dossier’ the existence of which was revealed by the Guardian in a recent article.
There are strong reasons to think this is correct.
The Guardian has said that Steele provided this ‘second Trump Dossier’ to the FBI in October 2016.
That corresponds closely with the date of the ‘unpublished entry’ referred to in paragraph 25, which is dated 19th October 2016;
Paragraph 25 says the this ‘unpublished entry’ refers to a report which was ‘the second in a series’.
This shows that there was more than one report and that they formed a series, which clearly points to the existence of a second dossier. That plausibly is the ‘second Trump Dossier’ referred to by the Guardian.
Though paragraph 25 is heavily redacted, it seems that the report upon which Steele based his unpublished of 19th October 2016 entry was sourced to “a friend of the Clintons”.
That closely matches Cody Shearer, the person whom the Guardian says was the person who was responsible for the ‘second Trump Dossier’.
Byron York has set out the convoluted way in which the report from the ‘second Trump Dossier’ reached Christopher Steele
According to the referral, Steele wrote the additional memo based on anti-Trump information that originated with a foreign source. In a convoluted scheme outlined in the referral, the foreign source gave the information to an unnamed associate of Hillary and Bill Clinton, who then gave the information to an unnamed official in the Obama State Department, who then gave the information to Steele. Steele wrote a report based on the information, but the redacted version of the referral does not say what Steele did with the report after that.
Byron York has also dropped a heavy hint about who were the people involved
Published accounts in the Guardian and the Washington Post have indicated that Clinton associate Cody Shearer was in contact with Steele about anti-Trump research, and Obama State Department official Jonathan Winer was a connection between Steele and the State Department during the 2016 campaign.
What paragraph 25 says, especially when it is read in combination with paragraph 23, gives rise to deep concern.
Paragraph 23 says that as news that Steele was compiling the Trump Dossier spread he came under growing pressure to include in it “unsolicited” and “unverified” information from a variety of different sources.
Though given the way in which the Senators’ memorandum has been redacted it is hard to be sure, it looks as if the unpublished entry of 19th October 2016 was one of the products of this pressure, with a ‘friend of the Clintons” (Cody Shearer?) directly implicated on this occasion as a source.
Moreover it seems that the US State Department – which was once headed by Hillary Clinton – was somehow involved.
The Senators do not hesitate to spell out the implications of this
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.
Beyond this there has to be the obvious concern of this having given rise to a feedback loop, with Steele’s own disclosures being reported back to him in a way which might make it appear that they were being independently reported to him.
By way of example, the article in the Guardian claims that the ‘second Trump Dossier’ somehow corroborates the first Trump Dossier.
Given that Christopher Steele and Fusion GPS had been working hard throughout the summer and autumn of 2016 to spread information drawn from the Trump Dossier far and wide across the US media landscape, and given that top members of the Clinton campaign (including Bill and Hillary Clinton) would of course have known about the information which appeared in the Trump Dossier, it is entirely likely that the ‘second Trump Dossier’, instead of corroborating the Trump Dossier is actually based upon it.
Something very like that – of information originating with Steele being used to ‘corroborate’ information originating with Steele – is after all what the GOP memorandum says happened with the 23rd September 2016 story which appeared in Yahoo News.
The FBI mistook this story as providing independent corroboration of the information in the Trump Dossier, and told the FISA court this when they used information from the Trump Dossier and from the Yahoo News story to apply on 21st October 2016 for a surveillance warrant against Carter Page.
In fact the September 2016 Yahoo News story did not corroborate the Trump Dossier since it was based on information drawn from the Trump Dossier provided to Yahoo News by Christopher Steele.
In summary, the Senators’ memorandum appears to paint an alarming picture in which the Trump Dossier far from being based on information provided to Christopher Steele by his network in Russia was actually a kind of collaborative effort, with lots of people across the US media and in the Clinton campaign involved in producing it.
That would explain why its entries so closely followed the news cycle.
Some of these people perhaps were not fully aware of what they were doing, but there has to be a concern that some of them – especially those involved in the Clinton campaign – were, and of course Steele himself would have known all along what was going on.
I say all this in part because the convoluted way in which the ‘second Trump Dossier’ reached Steele looks frankly like an attempt to create ‘distance’ between associates of the Clintons and Steele.
The reference to the State Department suggests that elements of the US bureaucracy were involved, and certain comments Representative Nunes has made in an interview with Fox News suggest that more revelations about the involvement of the State Department are on the way.
In passing, involvement by the State Department might explain the reference in the Trump Dossier to the Russian diplomat Mikhail Kalugin.
An article by the BBC dated 30th March 2017 – which revealed that the Trump Dossier was providing the ‘frame narrative’ for the Russiagate investigation – claimed that the single reference to Kalugin in the Trump Dossier was being treated by US intelligence as a reason for taking its claims seriously. This despite the fact that the Trump Dossier had misspelled Kalugin’s name as “Kulagin”
……sources I know and trust have told me the US government identified Kalugin as a spy while he was still at the embassy.
It is not clear if the American intelligence agencies already believed this when they got Steele’s report on the “diplomat”, as early as May 2016.
But it is a judgment they made using their own methods, outside the dossier….
Steele’s work remains fiercely controversial, to some a “dodgy dossier” concocted by President Trump’s enemies.
But on this vitally important point – Kalugin’s status as a “spy under diplomatic cover” – people who saw the intelligence agree with the dossier, adding weight to Steele’s other claims.
Based on what the Senators’ memorandum tells us, there now has to be at least a possibility that Steele got the information about Kalugin not from his sources in Russia but from the State Department. That might explain why he got the spelling of Kalugin’s name wrong.
If this is all correct, then it paints a most ominous picture.
It would mean that the US news media has been busy ever since the summer of 2016 reporting news about collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia which it had itself a hand in creating.
There also has to be concern that something more sinister was going on, and that what we are looking at is an intentional campaign of disinformation orchestrated during the Presidential election by people involved with the Clinton campaign.
I say this because – as the Senators point out – the DNC and the Clinton campaign not only paid for the Trump Dossier but people connected to the Clintons were also feeding information to Steele, some of which may have found its way into the Trump Dossier.
The very heavily redacted nature of the Senators’ memorandum means that conclusions about it such as those made in this article must be tentative.
However on any analysis the facts set out in the heavily redacted version of the Senators’ memorandum which has now been published are worrying enough.
Given the extent to which the Justice Department and the FBI have already been compromised by Christopher Steele’s activities it is now obvious that they cannot be expected to conduct what now looks certain to be a criminal investigation which may touch on their own conduct.
Appointing a second Special Counsel to carry out a proper investigation is now essential.