Former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe said in a 2017 interview released on Thursday that the FBI was unable to “prove the accuracy of all of the information” contained in the Steele dossier—the material that the FBI used to help obtain surveillance warrants to spy on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
McCabe was interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee on Dec. 19, 2017 as part of its investigation into allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, including possible links between Russia and any political campaigns. His closed-door interview (pdf) was among the dozens that were released to the public on Thursday after a protracted classification review of the transcripts.
“What is the most damning or important piece of evidence in the [Steele] dossier that you now know is true?” McCabe was asked.
“Well, as I tried to explain before, there is a lot of information in the Steele reporting. We have not been able to prove the accuracy of all the information,” McCabe replied.
The interviewer later asked McCabe about an FBI assessment regarding Carter Page—the details of which was redacted in the interview—how McCabe knew that the assessment was true.
“How do you know that that’s true?” the interviewer asked, a short while later adding, “You don’t know if it’s true or not?”
“That’s correct,” replied McCabe. McCabe said that the assessment was “an educated guess based on evidence.”
McCabe also told the interviewer, “I will not sit here and tell you that I can vouch for all the content of the Steele reporting. We can’t prove all of it. But nevertheless, with appropriate caveats … I think it was appropriate to put it in the FISA package.”
Information from the Steele dossier formed part of the evidence that the FBI used to obtain Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants to surveil Page—the surveillance formed part of the FBI’s “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation into then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s election campaign. The FISA warrant application described Page as an agent of Russia.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz in late December 2019 found that “the Crossfire Hurricane team’s receipt of Steele’s election reporting on Sept. 19, 2016, played a central and essential role in the FBI’s and Department’s decision to seek the FISA order” against Page. Horowitz’s report (pdf) also stated that the charge that Page allegedly coordinated with the Russian government was one that “relied entirely on information from Steele.”
The dossier, which comprises several reports compiled by Fusion GPS and former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, claimed that the Trump’s presidential campaign colluded with the Russian government to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee through the Perkins Coie law firm funded the dossier.
Then-special counsel Robert Mueller took over the FBI’s investigation in May 2017 after President Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey. Mueller concluded in April 2019 that the investigation found no evidence for any of the main 103 claims contained in the dossier. Mueller’s report stated that while Russia did attempt to interfere in the election, there was no evidence to establish that either Trump or any U.S. citizen knowingly conspired or coordinated with the Russian government ahead of the election. Mueller also did not establish that Page was an agent of Russia.
Horowitz in December 2019 concluded that the FISA warrant applications on Page contained 17 “significant errors.” Among the stated errors, the FBI did not tell the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) that it knew that Page was reporting his contacts with Russian intelligence officers to another U.S. government agency.
Footnotes from Horowitz’s report (pdf) declassified in April showed that a portion of the dossier likely was the product of a Russian disinformation campaign.
A declassified summary of a Department of Justice (DOJ) assessment in January (pdf) said that at least two of the FBI’s applications to surveil on Page lacked “probable cause to believe that [Carter] Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power.” Two of Page’s surveillance warrants “were not valid,” the FISC court wrote. The admission was made in response to Horowitz’s report.
McCabe was also asked in his December 2017 interview about Comey’s remarks regarding the dossier.
“What do you think when Mr. Comey describes the [Steele] dossier as unsubstantiated? How do you respond to that?” the interviewer asked.
“I can’t speak to why he referred to it that way,” McCabe said.
“Director Comey was very familiar with the Steele reporting and was involved in not only our assessments that led to its inclusion in the FISA package, but also how we broached the issue of including it in the Intelligence Community assessment,” McCabe also said.
“Why would he describe it [the Steele dossier] as unverified?” the interviewer asked, to which McCabe responded, “I don’t know.”
A congressional testimony from Comey in December 2018 (pdf) appears to indicate that the Steele dossier was not verified as of May 2017.
“What I understand by verified is we then try to replicate the source information, so that it becomes FBI investigation and our conclusions rather than a reliable source’s. That’s what I understand it, the difference to be,” Comey said at the time.
“And that work wasn’t completed by the time I left in May of 2017, to my knowledge.”