In an exchange with then-Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), Brennan claimed he didn’t know who commissioned ex-British spy Christopher Steele to write what would become the infamous “Steele dossier” that alleged Russia had damaging information on Donald Trump and that Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign colluded with the Russian government to win the election.
Mr. Gowdy: “Director Brennan, do you know who commissioned the Steele dossier?”
Mr. Brennan: “I don’t.”
Brennan’s response to the question is similar to that of former special counsel Robert Mueller, who was asked about Fusion GPS—the company who hired Steele—during a hearing before Congress last month.
In response to questions by Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), Mueller claimed he was “not familiar with” Fusion GPS, the firm that commissioned the Steele dossier, and said it was outside his “purview” to investigate. Notably, Fusion GPS was working on behalf of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, at the same time it also represented a Russian-based company, Prevezon, that had been sanctioned by the government.
Brennan, in his testimony, also claimed he didn’t know whether the FBI paid for a part of the dossier.
Mr. Gowdy: “Do you know if the FBI paid for any portion of the Steele dossier?”
Mr. Brennan: “I don’t know. I know that there are press reports related to that, but I don’t know. I have no firsthand knowledge of that.”
According to a House Intelligence Committee memo that was declassified in February 2018, the Steele dossier “formed an essential part” of the FBI’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) application to spy on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Brennan, however, claimed he had no awareness of such use.
Mr. Gowdy: “Do you know if the bureau ever relied on the Steele dossier as any — as part of any court filings, applications, petitions, pleadings?”
Mr. Brennan: “I have no awareness.”
What is even more telling is Brennan’s outright denial that the CIA ever relied on the Steele dossier and that the dossier “was not in any way used as the basis for the Intelligence Community assessment that was done.”
Mr. Gowdy: “Did the CIA rely on it?”
Mr. Brennan: “No.”
Mr. Gowdy: “Why not?”
Mr. Brennan: “Because we — we didn’t. It wasn’t part of the corpus of intelligence information that we had. It was not in any way used as a basis for the Intelligence Community assessment that was done. It was — it was not.”
After this answer, Brennan should have been asked: If the Steele dossier wasn’t used as a basis for the Intelligence Community assessment or by the CIA, then what other “intelligence” did Brennan have as a basis for his assessment?
Outside of alleged drunken comments in a London bar by then-Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos to an Australian diplomat, what “evidence” in July 2016 did Brennan have to pass along to the FBI, which began its probe into then-candidate Trump’s associates that same month?
As Brennan noted in his testimony, “I was aware of intelligence and information about contacts between Russian officials and U.S. persons that raised concerns in my mind about whether or not those individuals were cooperating with the Russians, either in a witting or unwitting fashion, and it served as the basis for the FBI investigation to determine whether such collusion, cooperation occurred.”
Besides the Steele dossier, what intelligence and information did Brennan possess to make the determination that these contacts between Russian officials and U.S. persons were “suspicious” enough to help kickstart the FBI’s probe?
Gowdy further prodded Brennan: “All right. Well, there are a bunch of words that start with ‘c’ floating around. I asked you about collusion, coordination, and conspiracy, and you used the word contact. And I think in a previous answer, you did a really good job of establishing that contact could be benign or not benign. So, was it contact that you saw? Was it something more than contact? What is the nature of what you saw?”
Brennan responded: “I saw interaction and [was] aware of interaction that, again, raised questions in my mind about what the true nature of it was. But I don’t know. I don’t have sufficient information to make a determination whether or not such cooperation or complicity or collusion was taking place, but I know that there was a basis to have individuals pull those threads.”
When Brennan notes that there “was a basis to have individuals pull those threads,” was he alluding to individuals such as former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, whom Brennan had briefed behind closed doors on “intelligence” that seems to have been nothing more than the Steele dossier? Or was he alluding to former FBI Director James Comey, who was pressured by Reid, in a public letter, to investigate the supposed ties between the Trump campaign and Russia?
In Reid’s letter, written two days after Brennan briefed him, he mentions a “Trump Advisor” having “met with high-ranking sanctioned individuals in Moscow in July 2016.” This reference to former Trump campaign adviser Page was taken almost verbatim from the dossier.
Reid also failed to mention in his letter that he was briefed by Brennan. While it’s known that Brennan briefed members of the “Gang of Eight”—a group of congressional leaders with oversight on the Intelligence Community—it appears he briefed them at different times, and it remains unclear whether he provided them with the same information. This raises the question whether Brennan was trying to use the briefings for his own purpose to influence the FBI’s investigation.
As Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) stated two weeks ago in an interview with “America First” host Sebastian Gorka, he and then-Speaker of the House Paul Ryan—both members of the Gang of Eight—weren’t briefed by Brennan until January of 2017, while Reid was briefed in August 2016.
Lastly, it can’t be forgotten that Reid’s letter, following his briefing from Brennan, was used in a Sept. 23, 2016, article by Yahoo News reporter Michael Isikoff. That article was then used as evidence by the FBI for its FISA application to spy on Page. No matter which way you look, the Steele dossier informed the FISA warrant and the renewals.
These matters are currently under investigation by the U.S. Attorney for Connecticut John Durham, appointed by Attorney General William Barr to investigate the origins of the FBI’s and other agencies’ investigation of the Trump campaign.