Barr Says Mueller Was Responsible for Looking at Russian Disinformation in Steele Dossier

By Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan is a reporter based in New York covering the Justice Department, courts, and First Amendment.
May 8, 2020Updated: May 8, 2020

Attorney General William Barr said Special Counsel Robert Mueller was responsible for looking at whether former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele’s dossier had been compromised with disinformation from Russia.

Barr made the comments during an interview with CBS’s Catherine Herridge where they discussed a range of topics including the Justice Department’s decision to dismiss the charges against Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, COVID-19 measures, and Russian disinformation in the Steele dossier.

During the interview, Herridge asked Barr to comment on how the FBI continued to use information from the Steele dossier even though the agency was given “multiple warnings” that the document was “likely the product of Russian disinformation.”

Barr said he thinks the revelation is “one of the most troubling aspects of this whole thing.”

“I said it in testimony on the Hill, I can’t remember if it was my confirmation, that I said I was very concerned about the possibility that that dossier and Steele’s activities were used as a vector for the Russians to inject disinformation into the political campaign,” Barr said.

“I think that is something that Robert Mueller was responsible for looking at under his charter, which is the potential of Russian influence. But I think it was ignored and there was mounting indications that this could very well have been happening and no one really stopped to look at it.”

A number of footnotes from DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s December report were declassified at the request of Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) last month. The footnotes revealed that the FBI was advised that a portion of the Steele dossier was likely the product of a Russian disinformation campaign meant to harm U.S. foreign relations.

Mueller was appointed in 2017 to investigate allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election after President Donald Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey. A newly declassified scope memo issued by then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein revealed that the FBI was still investigating allegations against Trump campaign associate Carter Page in May 2017. That investigation relied on the Steele dossier.

Information from the Steele dossier was central to the FBI’s decision to obtain Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants to surveil Page. The dossier, which was funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee through the Perkins Coie law firm, claimed collusion between the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald Trump and the Russian government to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Mueller’s investigation ultimately concluded that they were unable to establish such collusion.

Based on publicly available documents, there is little indication that Mueller had looked into whether the dossier was free from Russian disinformation.

Some of the declassified footnotes released last month said that the FBI had received information indicating “the potential for Russia disinformation influencing Steele’s election reporting.”

“In addition to the information in Steele’s Delta file documenting Steele’s frequent contacts with representatives of Russia oligarchs, we identified reporting the Crossfire Hurricane team received from [redacted] indicating the potential for Russia disinformation influencing Steele’s election reporting,” one of the footnotes states, referring to FBI’s codename for the investigation of the Trump campaign.

Meanwhile, another footnote shows that the FBI learned that one of Steele’s sources was linked to the Russian Intelligence Service, and was rumored to be a former Russian intelligence officer.

Horowitz’s December report found 17 significant errors or omissions in the original Page FISA applications as well as subsequent applications. Many of those errors were related to the FBI’s reliance on the Steele dossier and information within it to obtain the warrants against Page.

During the interview, Herridge asked Barr what he thought motivated the investigators.

“Well, I think one of the things you have to guard against, both as a prosecutor and I think as an investigator, is that if you get too wedded to a particular outcome and you’re pursuing a particular agenda, you close your eyes to anything that sort of doesn’t fit with your preconception. And I think that’s probably the phenomenon we’re looking at here,” Barr responded.

The Steele dossier, which fueled two years of wild speculation in the media about alleged ties between Trump, his associates, and Russia, contains unverified claims that served as the foundation of the Trump–Russia narrative, which was subject to the Mueller investigation. His report did not confirm, nor provide, any evidence for the 103 key allegations contained in the Steele dossier.

Ivan Pentchoukov contributed to this report.