The Federal Bureau of Investigation “admonished” former British spy Christopher Steele eight months before using his anti-Trump opposition research dossier to apply for a warrant to spy on former Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page, according to documents released by the agency on Aug. 3.
The admonishment shows the FBI had a working relationship with Steele far earlier in the 2016 presidential campaign than was previously disclosed.
According to Department of Justice guidelines for using confidential informants, the word “admonishment” refers to the instructions given to the confidential informant outlining the constraints within which they are to do their work. The guidelines indicate that the admonishment needs to be repeated after a certain period of time.
According to the FBI’s Confidential Human Source Policy Manual, agents also need to “re-admonish” a source that they believe has engaged in an “unauthorized criminal activity.” If this situation applied to Steele, it would contradict the FBI’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) application (pdf), in which officials state that “the FBI is unaware of any derogatory information pertaining” to Steele.
The revelation of the FBI’s admonishment on Feb. 2, 2016, is on the last page of the mostly redacted 71-page document trove. The document states that someone “verbally admonished the CHS [confidential human source].” Steele acknowledged the admonishment, according to the form.
No other information is provided on the form about the admonishment, but the February 2016 date is significant because eight months later, FBI officials would go on to use a dossier compiled by Steele to apply for a secret court warrant to spy on Page.
If the admonishment was a reprimand, then the FBI officials appear to have concealed the information from the judge. If the admonishment was a set of instructions, then the FBI failed to disclose that the agency had a working relationship with Steele during the presidential campaign of a candidate who later became the target of his intelligence gathering.
Since the admonishment form is almost completely redacted, there is a possibility that it pertains to the FBI’s utilizing Steele for another activity that’s unrelated to the Trump campaign.
The admonishment is not the only key fact the FBI officials involved in obtaining the warrant left out of the secret court application. The FISA warrant applications show that officials also failed to disclose who funded the opposition research dossier that Steele compiled. It was later revealed the dossier was funded by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
The claims in the Steele dossier remain unverified, more than two years after copies of it first began circulating. Former FBI Director James Comey called the document “salacious and unverified” months after it was used to obtain a warrant to spy on Page.
Republican lawmakers have referred the FBI and DOJ officials who were involved in signing off on the warrant documents for criminal investigation, after they said it had become clear that the dossier was at the core of the FISA application.
The lawmakers accuse Comey, former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, and former Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente of depriving Page of his civil rights. The lawmakers also accuse the officials of investigative misconduct.
While Trump fired Comey for mishandling the Clinton email investigation and Yates for insubordination, Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired McCabe for authorizing a self-serving leak to the media and lying about it to investigators under oath.
In addition to the admonishment, the FBI terminated Steele as a source after he violated confidential-source guidelines by speaking about his relationship with the FBI to the media. Before and after being terminated from the FBI, Steele maintained contact with the Justice Department through former Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr. In the documented conversations, Ohr said that Steele “was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president.”
After the FBI terminated Steele, he continued to dig for dirt on Trump. Tech moguls from New York and California have reportedly paid $50 million to sustain the investigation, according to the final report on Russian interference in the 2016 election released by the House intelligence committee on April 27. The report concluded that there is no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
A footnote in the House report states that Daniel Jones, a former staffer for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), told the FBI in March 2017 that he was working on a project with Fusion GPS that “was being funded by seven to 10 wealthy donors, located primarily in New York and California, who provided approximately $50 million.”