Deposition Reveals Late Sen. McCain’s Role in Spygate Scandal

March 15, 2019 Updated: April 11, 2019

David Kramer, a longtime associate of the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), revealed in an unsealed deposition that he had contact with at least 14 members of the media regarding the Steele dossier—a collection of 17 memos containing unverified allegations against Donald Trump.

Additionally, Kramer gave a full copy of the unverified dossier to then-Senior Director for Russian Affairs at the National Security Council Celeste Wallander, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), and then-House Speaker Paul Ryan’s chief of staff, Jonathan Burks. Kramer also provided a briefing in early December 2016 on the dossier to both Wallander and Victoria Nuland, then the assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasian Affairs.

McCain associate David Kramer. (Courtesy McCain Institute)

Kramer also provided ongoing updates to Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson, former MI6 spy and dossier author Christopher Steele, and other members of the media regarding McCain’s meeting with FBI Director James Comey.

Steele had been hired by Simpson on behalf of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to produce the so-called Steele dossier on Trump.

Kramer, in his deposition, confirmed that he was BuzzFeed News’ source for the dossier. BuzzFeed published the dossier online in January 2017, resulting in a defamation lawsuit by Aleksej Gubarev, whose company XBT/Webzilla was mentioned in the dossier. The Epoch Times covered the court case in a previous article.

McCain famously denied ever providing a copy of the dossier to BuzzFeed, telling the Daily Caller on Oct. 18, 2017: “I gave it to no one except for the director of the FBI. I don’t know why you’re digging this up now.”

Kramer, who is an affiliated senior fellow at the McCain Institute, revealed in his deposition that he had been in contact with 14 journalists and producers about the dossier. These contacts included:

  • ABC News: Brian Ross, Matt Mosk
  • BuzzFeed: Ken Bensinger
  • CNN: Carl Bernstein
  • The Guardian: Julian Borger
  • McClatchy: Peter Stone, Greg Gordon
  • Mother Jones: David Corn
  • NPR: Bob Little, Rachel Martin
  • The Washington Post: Tom Hamburger, Rosalind Helderman, Fred Hiatt
  • The Wall Street Journal: Alan Cullison

Kramer, who doesn’t appear to have spoken with The New York Times, noted that both Simpson and Steele were speaking to the Times directly because “they felt it required investigation by a serious news outlet, and they seemed to have chosen The Times at that point.”

McCain Meets Sir Andrew Wood

Kramer said he was initially approached about the Steele dossier on Nov. 19, 2016, by Sir Andrew Wood, the former British ambassador to Russia, during a meeting at the Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Kramer knew Wood previously from their mutual expertise on Russia. Notably, Wood may have worked on behalf of Steele’s company, Orbis Business Intelligence; he was referenced in a UK court filing as an associate of Orbis, and Kramer referred to Wood as an adviser to Orbis in his deposition. Wood had been previously briefed on the dossier by Steele in London.

Kramer said that Wood told him that “he was aware of information that he thought I should be aware of and that Senator McCain might be interested in.” McCain, Wood, and Kramer would meet later that afternoon, on Nov. 19, 2016, in a private meeting room at the Halifax conference.

Sir Andrew Wood (Courtesy Chatham House)

Wood told both Kramer and McCain that “he was aware of this information that had been gathered that raised the possibility of collusion and compromising material on the president-elect. And he explained that he knew the person who gathered the information and felt that the person was of the utmost credibility.”

Kramer ascribed the word “collusion” three times to Wood in his deposition.

Wood also mentioned that there was the possibility of a video “of a sexual nature” that might have “shown the president-elect in a compromising situation.” According to Kramer, Wood said that “if it existed, that it was from a hotel in Moscow when president-elect, before he was president-elect, had been in Moscow.”

No such video was ever uncovered or given to Kramer.

Kramer testified that following the description of the video, “the senator turned to me and asked if I would go to London to meet with what turned out to be Mr. Steele.”

Kramer traveled to London to meet with Steele on Nov. 28, 2016. Kramer reviewed all the memos during his meeting with Steele but wasn’t provided with a physical copy of the dossier.

In response to a question regarding Steele’s sources, Kramer noted that “there was a piece of paper in which the names were there.” Kramer testified that he recognized some of the names on the paper that Steele purported to be his sources:

Q: “Were any of the names people with whom you were already familiar because of your background in Russia?”

Kramer: “Yes.”

The matter of sources was returned to later in Kramer’s deposition, when he indicated that at least one of the names was a “serious, high-level source.”

Q: “You knew some of the names; correct?”

Kramer: “I was familiar with — I was certainly familiar with one of the names and vaguely familiar with the second.”

In regard to the name that Kramer knew, he noted, “If that person was a source, it was a serious high-level source.” Under further questioning, Kramer noted, “Two of the other names also seemed to be serious if they were, in fact, the sources.”

Kramer’s familiarity with the names of Steele’s alleged sources is of some interest. Although the dossier has been largely discredited, the fact that Kramer recognized these alleged sources indicates they were likely fairly well-known names. The identities of these alleged sources haven’t been publicly reported.

Notably, these sources were second- and third-hand, as both Steele and Kramer testified that there was an intermediary between Steele and these sources.

Kramer noted that Steele told him that the information in the dossier “needed to be corroborated and verified.” According to Kramer, Steele said he “did not feel that he was in a position to vouch for everything that was produced in this.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, Kramer said, Steele told him that “he would arrange for Glenn Simpson to get me a copy of the material upon my return to Washington.”

When Kramer returned to Washington, he was provided with a copy of the dossier—which, at that point, consisted of 16 memos—at a meeting with Simpson on Nov. 29, 2016. Kramer also testified that there was another individual, “a male,” present at the meeting.

Interestingly, Kramer testified that Simpson gave him two copies of the dossier, noting that Simpson told him that “one had more things blacked out than the other.” Kramer said, “It wasn’t entirely clear to me why there were two versions of this, so but I took both versions.”

Kramer noted that Simpson, who was aware the dossier was being given to McCain, said the dossier “was a very sensitive document and needed to be handled very carefully.”

Despite that warning, Kramer showed the dossier to a number of journalists and had discussions with at least 14 members of the media, along with some individuals in the U.S. government.

Kramer testified that he gave a physical copy of the dossier to reporters Peter Stone and Greg Gordon of McClatchy; to Fred Hiatt, the editor of the Washington Post editorial page; Alan Cullison of The Wall Street Journal; Bob Little at NPR; Carl Bernstein at CNN; and finally, Ken Bensinger at BuzzFeed. It’s possible that Kramer gave copies to other reporters mentioned as well; his deposition is somewhat vague in respect to differentiating between where Kramer only discussed the dossier and where he gave copies out.

Kramer said that Simpson and Steele were aware of most of these contacts, but that Kramer hadn’t told either of them that he gave the dossier to NPR. He also noted that Steele had been in contact with Bernstein at CNN and that the CNN and BuzzFeed meetings occurred at Steele’s request. Steele told Kramer that he and Bensinger “had been in touch during the FIFA investigation; they got to know each other that way.”

According to Kramer, he didn’t believe that Fusion GPS and Simpson were aware of these two meetings with CNN and BuzzFeed.

Kramer testified that he, McCain, and McCain’s chief of staff, Christopher Brose, met to review the dossier on Nov. 30, 2016. Kramer suggested that McCain “provide a copy of [the dossier] to the director of the FBI and the director of the CIA.” McCain later passed a copy of the dossier to James Comey on Dec. 9, 2016. It isn’t known whether McCain also provided a copy to then-CIA Director John Brennan. Notably, Brennan did attach a two-page summary of the dossier to the intelligence community assessment that he delivered to outgoing President Barack Obama on Jan. 5, 2017.

McCain–Comey Meeting

Kramer said that he wasn’t aware of the content of McCain’s Dec. 9 discussion with Comey, noting that he “did not get any readout from the senator on the meeting, but just that it had happened.”

Kramer did, however, provide updates to both Steele and Simpson regarding the status of McCain’s meeting with Comey, in subsequent discussions with Simpson and Steele:

“It was mostly just to inform him about whether or not the senator had transfer — transmitted the document to the FBI. Both he and Mr. Steele were — I kept them apprised of whether the senator was — where the senator was in terms of his contact with the FBI.”

The implications of this statement are significant. Kramer, a private citizen, was providing updates to a former British spy as to what a sitting senator was saying to the director of the FBI.

Other members of the media also had some awareness of McCain’s intention to meet with Comey. Kramer testified that both Mother Jones reporter David Corn and The Guardian reporter Julian Borger came to meet with him. According to Kramer, “they were mostly interested in Senator McCain and his, whether he had given it to Director Comey or not.”

Meeting With State Department

Several days after McCain, Brose, and Kramer met to discuss the dossier, Kramer said that McCain instructed him to meet with Victoria Nuland, the assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasian Affairs, and Russian Affairs Director Celeste Wallander.

Victoria Nuland
Former State Department official Victoria Nuland. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

The purpose of the meeting was to verify whether the dossier “was being taken seriously.” Both Nuland and Wallander were previously aware of the dossier’s existence, and both officials previously knew Steele, whom “they believed to be credible.” Kramer said he didn’t physically share the dossier with them at this point, but met again with Wallander, a National Security Council member, “around New Years” and “gave her a copy of the document”

Nuland had actually received a copy of the earlier Steele memos back in July 2016.

Steele produced a final memo dated Dec. 13, 2016. According to UK court documents, Kramer, on behalf of McCain, had asked Steele to provide any further intelligence that he had gathered relating to “alleged Russian interference in the US presidential election.” Notably, it appears it was this request from McCain that led Steele to produce his Dec. 13 memo.

Although Kramer didn’t provide a date, he said he received the final Steele memo sometime after “Senator McCain had provided the copy to Director Comey.” We know that Kramer received the final memo prior to Dec. 29—when Kramer met with BuzzFeed’s Bensinger.

BuzzFeed Obtains Dossier

Kramer showed a copy of the dossier to Bensinger on Dec. 29, 2016, during a meeting at the McCain Institute, which, according to Kramer, “was closed for the holidays during that whole week.”

There is apparently some dispute as to how Benzinger obtained physical possession of the dossier. A footnote within the court document notes there is disagreement between Kramer and Bensinger about whether “Kramer gave Bensinger a copy or whether Bensinger took photos of the dossier when Kramer was not looking.”

According to Kramer, he testified that Bensinger “said he wanted to read them, he asked me if he could take photos of them on his—I assume it was an iPhone. I asked him not to. He said he was a slow reader, he wanted to read it. And so I said, you know, I got a phone call to make, and I had to go to the bathroom…” Kramer said that he “left him to read it for 20, 30 minutes.”

Kramer also testified that he gave a final copy of the dossier to two other people in early January 2017—Kinzinger and House Speaker Paul Ryan’s chief of staff Burks. In regard to Kinzinger, Kramer noted, “I felt I could trust him. … I really got to know him at the Halifax meeting. … He strikes me as a very serious and honorable person, and I felt that someone on that side of Congress should be aware.”

By late December, additional members of the media had obtained copies of the dossier.

Dossier Goes Public

The Intelligence Community Assessment on alleged Russian hacking was released internally on Jan. 5, 2017.

On this same day, outgoing President Obama held an undisclosed White House meeting to discuss the ICA—and the attached summation of the dossier—with National Security Adviser Susan Rice, FBI Director James Comey, and Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates. Rice would later send herself an email documenting the meeting.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The following day, a declassified version of the ICA was publicly released. Comey then met with President-elect Trump to inform him of the dossier.

Comey would only inform Trump of the “salacious” details contained within the dossier. He later explained on CNN in an April 2018 interview that he had done so at the request of then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Brennan, “because that was the part that the leaders of the Intelligence Community agreed he needed to be told about.”

Shortly after Comey’s meeting with Trump, both the Trump–Comey meeting and the existence of the dossier were leaked to CNN. The significance of the meeting was material, as Comey noted in a Jan. 7 memo:

“Media like CNN had them and were looking for a news hook. I said it was important that we not give them the excuse to write that the FBI has the material.”

The media had widely dismissed the dossier as unsubstantiated and, therefore, unreportable. It was only after learning that Comey briefed Trump on it that CNN reported on the dossier. The House Intelligence Committee report on Russian election interference confirmed that Clapper personally leaked confirmation of the dossier, along with Comey’s meeting with Trump, to CNN:

“The Committee’s investigation revealed that President-elect Trump was indeed briefed on the contents of the Steele dossier and when questioned by the Committee, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper admitted that he confirmed the existence of the dossier to the media.”

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Additionally, the House Intelligence Report shows Clapper appears to have been the direct source for CNN’s Tapper and his Jan. 10 story, which disclosed the existence of the dossier:

“When initially asked about leaks related to the ICA in July 2017, former DNI Clapper flatly denied ‘discuss[ing] the dossier [compiled by Steele] or any other intelligence related to Russia hacking of the 2016 election with journalists.’ Clapper subsequently acknowledged discussing the ‘dossier with CNN journalist Jake Tapper,’ and admitted that he might have spoken with other journalists about the same topic.”

“Clapper’s discussion with Tapper took place in early January 2017, around the time IC leaders briefed President Obama and President-elect Trump, on ‘the Christopher Steele information,’ a two-page summary of which was ‘enclosed in’ the highly-classified version of the ICA.”

On Jan. 10, 2017, CNN published the articleIntel Chiefs Presented Trump With Claims of Russian Efforts to Compromise Him” by Evan Perez, Jim Sciutto, Tapper, and Carl Bernstein. (This article would later be updated and have a Jan. 12, 2017, date.)

The allegations within the dossier were made public, and with reporting of the briefings by intelligence community leaders, instant credibility was given to the dossier’s assertions.

Immediately following the CNN story, BuzzFeed published the Steele dossier, containing highlighted portions made by Kramer, and the Trump–Russia conspiracy was pushed into the mainstream.

Former CIA Director John Brennan. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Kramer was asked about his reaction when CNN broke the story on the dossier. According to his deposition, Kramer stated, “I believe my words were ‘Holy [expletive].’”

Kramer, who was meeting with The Guardian’s Borger when CNN reported on the dossier, said that he quickly spoke with Steele, who “was shocked.”

The following day, Jan. 11, 2017, Clapper issued a statement condemning the leaks—without revealing the fact that he was the source of the leak.

On Nov. 17, 2016, Clapper submitted his resignation as director of national intelligence; his resignation became effective on Jan. 20, 2017. In August 2017, CNN hired Clapper as its national security analyst.

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