Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the chairman of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, has demanded the Department of Justice (DOJ) provide more documents related to Christopher Steele’s sources, including one primary source.
Graham’s move came after a newly-declassified footnote (pdf) shows one of Steele’s sources had informed the FBI back on Jan. 12, 2017, that Steele’s dossier was possibly tainted by disinformation from Russia.
The FBI was informed by a source that Steele, a former British intelligence officer and the author of the dossier, had frequent contacts with Russian oligarchs, which raised concerns at the bureau’s Transnational Organized Crime Intelligence Unit, the footnote indicated.
“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,” reads the now declassified footnote 350 on page 197 of DOJ Inspector General (IG) Michael Horowitz’s report released on Dec. 9, 2019.
“A January 12, 2017, report relayed information from [redacted] outlining an inaccuracy in a limited subset of Steele’s reporting about the activities of Michael Cohen. The [redacted] stated that it did not have high confidence in this subset of Steele’s reporting and assessed that the referenced subset was part of a Russian disinformation campaign to denigrate U.S. foreign relations,” reads the footnote.
The DOJ released the footnotes in response to a request by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
In an investigation codenamed Crossfire Hurricane, the FBI obtained a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to spy on Trump 2016 presidential campaign adviser Carter Page.
The application was filed on Oct. 21, 2016, and renewed three times on Jan. 12, April 7, and June 29, 2017.
The April 2017 warrant renewal application was approved by then-Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe and former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Former FBI Director James Comey approved the April 2017 warrant application.
The last two renewal applications were determined by the DOJ to be “not valid,” according to an unclassified order (pdf) released by Presiding FISA Court Judge James Boasberg.
Steele’s dossier, which alleged collusion between the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald Trump and the Russian government to sway the 2016 presidential election, played a crucial role in the FISA warrant applications.
The dossier was funded by Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
The Crossfire Hurricane investigation was ultimately unable to establish any such collusion. Former DOJ Special Counsel Robert Mueller also found insufficient evidence to establish that Trump, or anyone from his campaign, colluded with Russia.
The IG Report (pdf) focused on abuses of the FISA process. The IG’s findings showed numerous problems with the actions taken by FBI agents in obtaining the FISA warrant used to spy on Page.
Horowitz identified “at least 17 significant errors or omissions in the Carter Page FISA applications, and many additional errors in the Woods Procedures.”
Another declassified footnote suggests that a source identified as a “Primary Sub-source” in the IG report may not qualify as a source.
“When interviewed by the FBI, the Primary Sub-source stated that he/she did not view his/her contacts as a network of sources, [redacted] with whom he/she has conversations about current events and government relations,” read footnote 334 on page 186.
Steele relied on the Primary Sub-source for information. The latter used a network of sub-sources to gather the information, the IG report said.
Steele didn’t disclose the identity of the Primary Sub-source to the FBI.
Graham’s requested documents relate to both footnotes.
In an April 20 letter (pdf) to Attorney General William Barr, Graham asked the DOJ to provide all documents and communications related to the FBI’s interviews with the Primary Sub-source in January, March, and May 2017.
He also demanded the complete Feb. 15, 2017, email exchange between then-FBI agent Peter Strzok, the former head of FBI counterintelligence Bill Priestap, and others.
Strzok stated in the email that “recent interviews and investigation, however, reveal [Steele] may not be in a position to judge the reliability of his sub-source network.”
“As the Committee continues to investigate this and other abuses related to FISA coverage on Carter Page, it is important that the Committee have access to the documents,” Graham wrote in the letter.
According to one of the unredacted footnotes, the FBI was warned of Russian disinformation back on Jan. 12, 2017, the same day the FBI filed the first renewal application for the Carter Page FISA warrant.
That contradicts what Priestap told the IG.
Priestap told the IG that the FBI wasn’t aware of any Russian disinformation in the dossier by May 2017 when the investigation was transferred to Mueller.
“Priestap told us that the FBI ‘didn’t have any indication whatsoever’ by May 2017 that the Russians were running a disinformation campaign through the Steele election reporting,” the IG stated.
This is not the only circumstance where the FBI was warned of possible Russian disinformation in Steele’s dossier.
Unredacted footnote 302 on page 164 of the IG Report shows that a document circulated among members of the Crossfire Hurricane team in early October 2016 showing that “Person 1,” a sub-source Steele relied on, had “historical contact with persons and entities suspected of being linked to RIS (Russian Intelligence Services).” The document described reporting that Person 1 “was rumored to be a former KGB/SVR officer.”
Another footnote also shows that DOJ attorney Bruce Ohr told a supervisor of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation “SSA 1” in late December 2016 that Person 1 was reportedly a “RIS officer” central in connecting President Trump to Russia.
SSA 1 was later identified as FBI Supervisory Special Agent Joe Pientka.
Ivan Pentchoukov and Petr Svab contributed to the report.