Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe told lawmakers that the FBI’s efforts to verify the infamous Steele dossier “generally” made the dossier more credible, in his belief. However, the efforts uncovered much information that undermined the dossier’s credibility.
The dossier, a collection of unsubstantiated claims about collusion between Russia and the 2016 campaign of Donald Trump, was put together by former British spy Christopher Steele. It was paid, through intermediaries, by the campaign of Trump’s opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the Democratic National Committee.
The FBI used the dossier to obtain a highly intrusive spying warrant on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
The FBI exerted significant resources to try to verify the dossier’s claims, but either contradicted or came up empty-handed on all the flagship allegations.
McCabe, however, claimed the dossier’s credibility had increased with the vetting when he was interviewed by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on Dec. 19, 2017. At the time, he was still the second in command at the bureau.
Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) asked McCabe, whether he was “more comfortable with the credibility of the dossier” at the time of the interview than he was in early January 2017.
“Do you think it’s more credible now than you believed it was at that time?” he asked.
“I think that our folks have done a fair amount of work on trying to track down and vet the information in the Steele reporting since the time,” McCabe replied.
“Has that work made you more comfortable and more believing in its credibility?” Stewart jumped in.
“I think generally, yes, but I can’t speak to the specifics,” McCabe said.
Later he added: “I think that our folks have done a solid job in shedding light [redacted]. And I think that that work has not exposed any weaknesses or failures in the reporting [by Steele].”
In fact, the more the FBI looked into the dossier, the more it fell apart.
Steele claimed all his information was coming from a single source, which had a network of further sub-sources.
When the FBI finally got to interviewing the primary source, he (or she) said he “never expected” Steele to put his “statements in reports or present them as facts,” said the Dec. 9 report (pdf) by the Justice Department’s Inspector General (IG), who reviewed some aspects of the FBI investigation of the Trump campaign.
The source “made it clear to Steele that he/she had no proof to support the statements from his/her sub-sources and that ‘it was just talk,’” the IG learned from the FBI agent who interviewed the source.
The information was “word of mouth and hearsay;” “conversation that [he/she] had with friends over beers;” and some was made in “jest,” the source said, according to the agent.
Based on what the source said, Steele exaggerated much of the information that was provided. Some of the information the source couldn’t recognize at all.
Some of the most explosive allegations, according to the source, were actually not explosive at all and were conveyed to him or her in one 10-15 minute anonymous phone call. The source said he guessed who the caller was based on finding “a YouTube video” of a certain person speaking that “sounded like the person on the telephone call,” the IG said.
The interview with the source revealed that his or her “network” didn’t really have the level of access Steele was attributing to it, and “it could have been multiple layers of hearsay upon hearsay,” the IG said.
Moreover, on Jan. 12, 2017, the FBI received a report that a part of the Steele dossier may have contained Russian disinformation. A person named in that part of the dossier denied the truthfulness of the information presented in the dossier and the denials were “assessed” as “truthful,” says a more recently declassified footnote (pdf) in the IG report.
Even after the source interview, the FBI kept using the dossier to renew the Page spying warrant. It even used the interview as an example of “corroborating” the dossier, saying the bureau found the source “to be truthful and cooperative,” while leaving out all the denials and qualifications the source voiced.
The FBI has since acknowledged that at least the last two renewals of the Page warrant were not justified and resulted in illegal spying on Page.
Correction: A previous version of this article featured a headline that didn’t accurately reflect the grist of the story. The Epoch Times regrets the error.