Steele’s Meeting With US Official Casts Doubts on FBI’s Official Story

Author of Trump dossier told State Department official that his client wanted allegations against Trump out before elections, claimed Russia had an agent planted in DNC
May 13, 2019 Updated: May 16, 2019

News Analysis

A recently released State Department memo revealed that dossier author Christopher Steele met with Kathleen Kavalec, then-deputy assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs, on Oct. 11, 2016, just 10 days prior to the FBI obtaining a FISA warrant on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page on Oct. 21, 2016.

Notably, Victoria Nuland is the former assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs. Nuland admitted to receiving an early version of Steele’s dossier in July 2016.

As noted in a May 10, 2019, letter sent by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to both Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Inspector General Michael Horowitz, “Ms. Kavalec’s contacts with Steel may have been the most significant and memorialized communications with him by a U.S. government official prior to the issuance of the Carter Page FISA warrant.”

Kavalec was mentioned during the Aug. 28, 2018, testimony of DOJ official Bruce Ohr, who stated that Kavalec was an “official at the State Department and she had also, I believe, spoken with Chris Steele at some point. And whatever I had from her, I gave to the Department as well, because I thought it related to the same subject matter.” Kavalec is misspelled as Cavilick in the Bruce Ohr transcript.

It appears that at least one meeting between Ohr and Kavalec took place on or prior to Nov. 21, 2016, based on dates in emails from Kavalec to Ohr in which a meeting between the two was referenced. Ohr reiterated to congressional investigators that he “reported the conversation to the FBI.”

Christopher Steele
Christopher Steele, former British intelligence officer in London where he has spoken to the media for the first time on March 7, 2017. (Victoria Jones/PA via AP)

On Oct. 11, 2016, Kavalec met with Steele and Tatyana Duran, who was referenced as being with Steele’s firm Orbis Security. Information regarding Duran remains minimal at this point, and she recently took down her LinkedIn profile.

The meeting was likely brokered by Jonathan Winer, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for international law enforcement and former special envoy for Libya, whom Steele had known since at least 2010. Winer was thanked by Kavalec on the following day in an email that was released as part of the State Department documents obtained by Citizens United through a FOIA request:

“Thanks for bringing your friend by yesterday – it was very helpful. I’ll be interested in seeing the article you mentioned.”

Winer received a separate dossier, very similar to Steele’s, from longtime Clinton confidant Sidney Blumenthal. This “second dossier,” compiled by longtime Clinton operative and former journalist Cody Shearer, echoed claims made in the Steele dossier. Winer gave Steele a copy of the “second dossier.” Steele then shared it with the FBI, which may have used it as a means to corroborate Steele’s own dossier.

“J. Winer” is also listed at the top of notes from the meeting taken by Kavalec. Also included are multiple references to former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page (spelled as “Paige” in Kavalec’s typed notes); former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort; Sergei Millian, who is often described as a source for Steele’s dossier; former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen; and Russian Alfa Bank. Interestingly, “Alfa” is spelled correctly in Kavalec’s notes unlike in the Steele dossier, which misspelled the institution as “Alpha.”

It seems clear from Kalevec’s notes, which contain redactions, that Steele gave a full rundown of the unverified information compiled in his dossier to that date. Unknown is what, if any, information was provided back to Steele by Kavalec or the State Department. Page, Manafort, Millian, and Cohen are all U.S. citizens. Steele, as a British citizen, would have no right to any information on any American citizen.

In Kavalec’s typed notes, she writes that Steele told her, “The institution approached them [Steele’s firm, Orbis] based on the recommendation of Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritch (specialists in economic crime, formerly of the WSJ) and is keen to see this information come to light prior to November 8.”

In his letter, Graham attributes the following statement to Steele, which has received significant media attention:

“Ms. Kavalec met with Steele ten days prior to the issuance of the initial Carter Page FISA warrant and was told by Steele that he was ‘keen to see this information [the dossier] come to light prior to November 8.’”

It would seem likely that the “institution” Steele is referring to is the Democratic National Committee, whose claims of its servers being hacked by Russia have been widely reported. If indeed it was the DNC that wished to have the information come out prior to the 2016 presidential election, this would seem a far larger issue than personal wishes on the part of Steele.

Notably, we know from an Oct. 24, 2017, response letter sent by Perkins Coie that the law firm engaged Fusion GPS “to assist in its representation of the DNC and Hillary for America” in April 2016. Fusion, in turn, hired Steele.

Kavalec, in her typed notes, also refers to leaks stemming from the alleged hack of the DNC emails. She quotes Steele as saying, “According to their source, while there will continue to be leaks of DNC material, ‘all the best stuff’ has already been leaked and there will not be any bombshells coming.”

In other words, Steele and his source claim to have direct knowledge of precisely what WikiLeaks had in their possession.

Steele also told Kavalec of “a technical/human operation run out of Moscow targeting the election.” In Kavalec’s notes, she disputes some of the details asserted by Steele—indicating these were both researched, and disproven.

Item 3 from Kavalec’s notes is short but also a potential bombshell. The only thing written is “the Russians have succeeded in placing an agent inside the DNC.” It doesn’t appear that the FBI has ever investigated this, nor is there any additional detail or clarity provided in Kavalec’s notes.

This item, combined with Kavalec’s dispute of earlier details, presents a problem for the FBI. Either Steele is a credible witness for the FBI, or he isn’t. If the FBI took his information seriously, there should have been parallel investigations of these other, equally serious claims. If this information was quickly proven false, why did the FBI use Steele as a primary source of evidence for the Page FISA?

The FBI told the FISA court that Steele’s “reporting has been corroborated and used in criminal proceedings and the FBI assesses [Steele] to be reliable.”

The final item covered in Kavalec’s notes from the Oct. 11, 2016, meeting with Steele concerns Sergei Millian, who has been reported as being a source in the dossier. Kavalec specifies that “Per Steele, Millian is connected to Simon Kukes (who took over management of Yukos when Khodorkovsky was arrested).”

On Nov. 21, 2016, Kavalec would reference Millian again in a follow-up email that was sent to DOJ official Bruce Ohr:

“Just re-looking at my notes from my convo with Chris Steele, I see that Chris said Kukes has some connections to Serge [misspelled] Millian,” she wrote.

The mentions of Alfa Bank, Millian, and Carter Page were particularly noteworthy because of ongoing and concurrent events.

Alfa Bank Allegations

On Sept. 19, 2016, FBI General Counsel James Baker met with Perkins Coie partner Michael Sussmann. Baker told congressional lawmakers in an Oct. 3, 2018, testimony that Sussmann presented him with documents and electronic media.

The information that Sussmann gave to Baker was related to alleged communications between Alfa Bank and a server in Trump Tower. These allegations, which were investigated by the FBI and proven false, were widely covered in the media.

Baker’s testimony also shows that Sussmann was speaking with the media about Alfa Bank at the same time he had approached Baker, who noted that Sussmann told him that “The New York Times was aware of this.”  Several significant articles regarding Alfa Bank would be published on Oct. 31, 2016.

Carter Page Reveals Steele in Letter to FBI

The more fascinating sequence of events concerns Carter Page. On Sept. 23, 2016, Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News published his infamous article “U.S. intel officials probe ties between Trump adviser and Kremlin,” concerning Page.

Steele was the source for Isikoff’s article, but nowhere in that article is Steele referenced.

Two days later, on Sept. 25, Page sent a letter to FBI Director James Comey:

“I am writing to request the FBI’s prompt end of the reported inquiry regarding my personal trip to Russia in July 2016 – an investigation which has been widely mentioned in the media.”

In the letter, Page noted that “the source of these accusations is nothing more than completely false media reports.” Page closed with an offer to meet with the FBI:

“Although I have not been contacted by any member of your team in recent months, I would eagerly await their call to discuss any final questions they might possibly have in the interest of helping them put these outrageous allegations to rest.”

Page had previously met with the FBI on March 2, 2016, in relation to the case of Russian spy Evgeny Buryakov. Page was assisting in the case and met with FBI and SDNY prosecutors just nine days before Buryakov pleaded guilty. Page would not meet with the FBI again until March 2017, in a series of five meetings. He has never been charged with any crime.

On Oct. 28, 2016, Page sent another letter. By this time, he was under active surveillance, as the FISA warrant had been obtained on Oct. 21, 2016. Page references the Isikoff article and refers to it as being “almost entirely attributable to the ‘Hillary for America’ campaign.”

A bit later in his letter, Page dropped this bomb:

“I have learned from a reliable source that a law firm close to the Clinton campaign has hired a London-based private investigator to investigate my trip to Russia.”

Page was aware that DNC law firm Perkins Coie had hired—through Fusion GPS—Christopher Steele. What happened next is particularly interesting. On Oct. 31, 2016, Mother Jones’ David Corn published an article headlined “A Veteran Spy Has Given the FBI Information Alleging a Russian Operation to Cultivate Donald Trump.”

In that article, Corn noted that “in recent months,” Steele had “provided the bureau with memos based on his recent interactions with Russian sources.” Corn also stated that he had “reviewed that report and other memos this former spy wrote.”

Steele, who was not actually named, was referred to as “a former senior intelligence officer for a Western country who specialized in Russian counterintelligence.” A bit later in the article, Corn got more specific:

“In June, the former Western intelligence officer—who spent almost two decades on Russian intelligence matters and who now works with a US firm that gathers information on Russia for corporate clients—was assigned the task of researching Trump’s dealings in Russia and elsewhere, according to the former spy and his associates in this American firm.”

This is the first public reference to Steele, and with hindsight, the description is obvious. It also falls directly in line with the description provided by Page in his Oct. 28, 2016, letter.

All of which raises a question: Why did Steele decide to effectively go public at this time? Corn’s article outed Steele’s existence and led to his termination as a source for the FBI in the first days of November 2016.

On Oct. 28, 2016, then-FBI Director Comey sent a letter to Congress whereby he informed members that he was reopening the Clinton investigation in response to the discovery of emails contained in Anthony Weiner’s laptop.

This event has been repeatedly noted as the cause for Steele’s sudden outreach to Corn, including in The New Yorker:

“Steele was therefore shocked when, on October 28, 2016, Comey sent a letter to congressional leaders: the F.B.I. had come across new e-mails bearing on its previously closed investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server as Secretary of State.

“At Fusion’s urging, Steele decided to speak, on background, to the press. Identified only as a ‘former Western intelligence officer,’ he told David Corn, of Mother Jones, that he had provided information to the F.B.I. as part of a ‘pretty substantial inquiry’ into Trump’s ties to Russia. He noted, ‘This is something of huge significance, way above party politics.’”

Glenn Simpson gave this same story in his Nov. 14, 2017, testimony to the House Intelligence Committee:

“I felt like the rules had just been thrown out and that Comey had violated the sort of one of the more sacrosanct policies, which is not announcing law enforcement activity in the closing days of an election. And so, we began talking to the press· again about –we decided that if James Comey wasn’t going to tell people about this investigation that, you know, he had violated the rules, and we would only be fair if the world knew that both candidates were under FBI investigation.”

The FBI almost certainly knew before the Corn article that Steele had been speaking with the media. The Hill’s John Solomon reported on the discovery of a chain of emails that reportedly detailed exactly that:

‘The exchanges also indicate FBI officials were aware that Steele, the former MI6 British intelligence operative then working as a confidential human source for the bureau, had contacts with news media reporters before the FISA warrant was secured.”

Additionally, we know that Kavalec was aware of this fact after just one meeting with Steele on Oct. 11, 2016; her notes mention “Wash Po/NYT” under a section listed as “Managing.” And we also know that her typed notes were passed on to “other government officials” on Oct. 19, 2016—two days prior to the issuance of the Page FISA warrant.

It seems more likely that Page’s Oct. 28 letter is what forced Steele to effectively out himself, which could indicate that the directive to do so came from the FBI. Notably, Steele has stated in UK court documents that he was instructed to speak with Corn by Fusion GPS. This theory was first explored—to my knowledge—by an internet researcher who publishes under the anonymous account ‘Monsieur America’ on Jan. 25, 2019.

On Jan. 10, 2017, BuzzFeed News published the Steele dossier, which created some problems, as the document could now be readily examined for inaccuracies. The dossier referenced several sources, referring to them as “Source A,” “Source B,” and so on.

During Bruce Ohr’s testimony, he revealed that Glenn Simpson had called him on Jan. 20, 2017—Trump’s inauguration day—conveying concern that one of Steele’s sources was about to be exposed. The likelihood that Simpson should have this knowledge was highlighted by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) during Ohr’s testimony:

“[H]ow would Glenn Simpson know that and the intel community and the Department of Justice and FBI not know that? I mean, what made Glenn Simpson so uniquely qualified to call you on Inauguration Day about a concern about a source being outed?”

Ohr said that he didn’t know Simpson’s sources, prompting a reply from Meadows:

“So you mean he must have talked to media. Did he share with you that he had talked to the media, that he was concerned about that?”

Four days later, on Jan. 24, 2017, The Wall Street Journal reported that Millian, a Belarusan-American businessman and onetime Russian government translator, was both “Source D” and “Source E” in the dossier.

But there is a problem with the Journal’s reporting. The dossier appears to conflict with the newspaper’s article in at least one material aspect. According to the dossier, Source E was used as confirmation for Source D—meaning they can’t be the same person.

Notably, since Steele relied on second- and third-hand sources, Millian wouldn’t have been a direct source to Steele, but instead would have given his information to an intermediary, who then relayed to Steele what Millian had reportedly said. Millian has denied being a source for the dossier and has stated that “they were protecting their real source and framing others.”

This would seem to make more sense. If Millian was the true source—the original source—why would those involved want to expose Millian, as he would, in turn, know the identity of the person who spoke with Steele? Intentional misdirection away from the true source appears a likelier answer.

Prague Reference

There has been some discussion of a Cohen-Prague notation contained in the second to last page of Kavalec’s notes. The reference appeared noteworthy given that Steele’s meeting with Kavalec took place on Oct. 11 and prior to an Oct. 19 Steele memo that stated Steele’s source did not know the location of Cohen’s alleged meeting. However, a close examination of that page reveals a few timing hints, including a reference to a “Reuter’s story today.”

The note reads in part:

“703 of 2044 are LLC

Zip code – 1200 R-born residents”

On March 17, 2017, Reuters published an article titled, “Russian elite invested nearly $100 million in Trump buildings.” Two quotes from the article:

“The analysis found that at least 703 – or about one-third – of the owners of the 2044 units in the seven Trump buildings are limited liability companies, or LLCs…”

“The zip code that includes the Sunny Isles buildings has an estimated 1,200 Russian-born residents, among the most in the country, U.S. Census data show.”

It appears that the final two pages contained in the notes are from March 17, 2017, unlike the earlier pages that stem from the Oct. 11, 2016 meeting.

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