On Feb. 28, the federal judge presiding over a libel lawsuit filed by Russian entrepreneur Aleksej Gubarev against BuzzFeed News for publishing the so-called “Steele dossier” ordered the unsealing of depositions given by two key Spygate players.
Christopher Steele’s dossier contains within it the claim that Gubarev was a key player in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s emails during the 2016 election campaign. Although the claim of Gubarev’s involvement turned out to have no evidence to support it, the court ruled in BuzzFeed’s favor because there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate that, in publishing this unverified information, BuzzFeed had acted with “malicious intent” and had deliberately defamed Gubarev.
Key to the Gubarev’s case against BuzzFeed were the depositions given by two people directly involved in transmitting information to various media outlets: David Kramer, a former aide to the late U.S. Sen. John McCain, and Steele, the author of the Steele dossier.
Kramer’s deposition, which was made public on March 14, was certainly an eye-opening read. After reading it, the entire sordid Spygate plot comes into even-clearer focus. The biggest fact that leaps out at me from Kramer’s testimony is just how doomed the Spygate plotters’ “insurance policy” strategy was almost from the start.
Kramer’s deposition reveals that the Steele dossier was never supposed to become a public document. It was meant to be a “deep background” source for strategic leaks.
Before the election, it was just Steele and Fusion GPS’s Glenn Simpson doing the shopping of the dossier to media reporters, with the reporters engaging in a series of leaks targeting Trump and his campaign team, by alleging they had been compromised by the Russian government of Vladimir Putin.
Kramer, the former McCain aide, details at length how he contacted 14 reporters after the 2016 election and shared the anti-Trump allegations contained in the dossier with them. The reporters weren’t supposed to publish the dossier, but instead, only vaguely leak from it in attempts to investigate the allegations and try to “verify” them.
Once the media frenzy was well underway and enough media reports were alleging Trump campaign–Russia collusion, the Clinton and Obama partisans inside the federal agencies would use the planted stories based on the Steele dossier to initiate investigations of Trump.
This symbiotic relationship of strategic leaks—based on Steele’s dossier that targeted Trump and his associates, which then sparked investigations being started at the FBI—was supposed to damage Trump’s campaign and cause a worse election loss than expected.
This plan didn’t work. Trump won the election anyway.
During the presidential transition phase from November 2016 to late January 2017, the strategy of the Spygate plotters changed. At that point, the Steele dossier became an “insurance policy” the plotters could cash in to remove Trump from office, or at the very least, handicap his administration until he lost control of Congress in the 2018 midterms, and then fail in his re-election bid in 2020.
To make this new strategy work, the Spygate plotters fully intended to continue escalating the symbiotic relationship already established: Strategic leaks to the news media using the Steele dossier as a background source, coupled with escalating investigations from federal agencies.
As long as the Steele dossier was kept hidden from sight, reporters could continue launching vague leaks of its allegations that targeted Trump and the people in his orbit. Federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies, in the hands of Clinton and Obama partisans, could then make use of these escalating leaks to probe for things to use against Trump and his administration.
That’s is why Kramer stressed in his testimony that he insisted to the reporters that he shared the dossier allegations on the condition that they wouldn’t publish the dossier itself. They were only to leak from the dossier, and share allegations from it over time, but no concrete specifics.
The hope of the Spygate plotters was that throughout the remainder of 2017—using the strategic leaks from their news media allies and investigations firmly in the hands of people like James Comey, Andrew McCabe, and Peter Strzok—Trump could be forced from office.
Then, two things happened that blew their strategy up.
First, BuzzFeed published the entire dossier on Jan. 11, 2017. BuzzFeed did this on the same day that CNN actually did it “right,” according to the overall Spygate “insurance policy” strategy, launching a story based on allegations from the dossier, but deliberately keeping many of the details uncertain.
The CNN story was authored by Evan Perez, Jake Tapper and Carl Bernstein. It never mentions Steele by name and keeps most of the dossier allegations extremely vague.
Just a few hours after CNN published its report, in an apparent ham-handed attempt to seize attention and control of this huge story from a media rival, BuzzFeed News’s Ken Bensinger, Miriam Elder and Mark Schoofs proudly posted an article on their site that put the entire Steele dossier into the public eye.
Tapper then angrily emailed BuzzFeed News editor-in-chief, Ben Smith, because of how this made CNN’s earlier story look—now that everyone could see directly the absurd allegations that CNN’s reporting had only vaguely hinted at.
“I think your move makes the story less serious and credible[.] I think you damaged its impact,” Tapper wrote to Smith on Jan. 10, 2017, just after BuzzFeed published the dossier in full on its website.
Apparently, the BuzzFeed people didn’t figure out that the plan was to spend months, if not over a year, leaking various allegations from the dossier while holding the document itself back.
Once the entire dossier was outed to public view, thanks to BuzzFeed, the strategy of spending months strategically leaking from it was dead. That’s why Kramer says in his testimony that Steele was shocked that BuzzFeed was dumb enough to publish all of it:
Q: When did you first speak to Mr. Steele after the publication of The Memos?
A: Within an hour after they were published.
Q: And what did Mr. Steele say to you?
A: He was shocked.
Q: Do you recall his precise words?
A: Not exactly no.
Q: Do you recall what you said to him?
A: Yeah, he said this wasn’t supposed to happen this way. I said the same thing to Mr. Simpson, which was that this was only supposed to have been released or posted and published if it had been verified.
The Spygate plotters, both in the federal agencies and in the DNC Media Complex, had hoped to get way more mileage out of a shadowy, anonymous document that was held from public scrutiny. Once Buzzfeed blew the game, they were caught flat-footed.
Then, a second disaster struck. Rod Rosenstein, Trump’s handpicked guy, was dropped into the middle of the Spygate plot on April 25, 2017, when the U.S. Senate confirmed him as Deputy Attorney General.
Much to the Spygate plotters’ horror, Trump’s new appointee hit the ground running, and wasted no time in blowing all their carefully laid plans to smithereens.
The Spygate plotters panicked on hearing, right after he got done firing James Comey as director of the FBI, that Rosenstein might take control of the Trump-Russia investigation from acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe and hand it to a special counsel who he would appoint himself. Text messages sent between FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page showed them anxiously wanting to know of any news if “Rod” was going with “Andy.”
“Rod” didn’t go with “Andy.” Instead, Rosenstein ripped control of the Trump-Russia investigation from McCabe’s desperately clutching hands over his strident objections and sidelined him. McCabe, who was subsequently investigated for illegal leaking to the media and eventually fired from the FBI, has been the subject of a grand jury investigation for almost a year, so his troubles are far from over.
To sum it up: Spygate plotters lost their leaking strategy with the Steele dossier in early January, and by May, that no longer mattered because Comey had been fired and the Trump-Russia investigation was no longer under their control.
Mueller’s special counsel’s office is about to close shop without having come within yodeling distance of any Trump-Russia collusion or any other Trump crime. This “insurance policy” plot never had a chance, thanks to BuzzFeed News blowing the leak strategy and Rosenstein taking over the Russia investigation.
And who is about to show there is no evidence whatsoever that Trump cheated with Russian help or any other kind of foreign help to win the 2016 election?
Special counsel Robert Mueller and his crack team of 13 angry Democrats!
Kramer revealed in his deposition that he was handpicked to receive the Steele dossier right after the 2016 election because he and the man he worked for, McCain, were Republicans.
Kramer relates that his impression was that he and McCain were picked by Fusion GPS to be the ones to pass the dossier publicly to the FBI so the FBI would be getting it from Republicans—because if the federal agency got it directly from the paid Democratic political operatives at Fusion, it would look bad.
He actually admits that on pages 95-96 of his deposition.
Q: He wanted it to get to the FBI; correct?
A: Yes, but he had also been in touch with the FBI before, and I think he felt that Senator – having Senator McCain provide it to the FBI would give it a little more oomph than it had had up until that point.
Q: With all due respect for Senator McCain’s illustrious career, and I meant that sincerely, is there a particular reason that Senator McCain was the person that they were focusing on, rather than say Senator Schumer or Senator Corker or somebody, any one particular person?
A: I think they felt a senior Republican was better to be the recipient of this rather than a Democrat because if it were a Democrat, I think that the view was that it would have been dismissed as a political attack.
Kramer knew that the dossier came straight from political propagandists at Fusion GPS and paid by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the DNC. But there had to be deniability, so McCain and Kramer willingly let themselves be used so the dossier could appear to be coming from Republicans.
Everybody in their testimony that’s public thus far—Comey, Bruce Ohr, Page, Strzok—all pretend to be hazy on how the dossier got to the FBI. “I’m not sure, don’t recall, …” etc. This is why Kramer’s deposition under oath is so important.
Kramer admits in his deposition that he kept Steele and Simpson updated about McCain’s meeting with FBI Director James Comey in which the senator gave Comey a copy of the dossier.
Here’s why that’s important. There’s one remaining piece of the puzzle that’s yet to be filled in and that is the question whether McCain and Kramer were telling reporters and the FBI that Steele’s allegations were coming from allied intelligence agencies overseas.
If true, which I believe is the case, the pitch would have been something like: “We have this very interesting raw intelligence data from an intelligence agency in an allied nation about how Trump might be compromised by the Russians, this is probably something you want to look into.”
Now, that pitch is a far cry from the pathetic reality, which would have been: “Here are some unverified allegations we got from paid political operatives here inside the United States working for both the Clinton campaign and the DNC, and based on anonymous sources claiming that Trump is a Russian asset!”
By blatantly lying and claiming this “raw unverified intelligence” came from an intelligence agency in an allied nation, the idea was to get federal agencies to launch investigations of the Trump campaign.
Which is exactly what happened.
Brian Cates is a political pundit and writer based in southern Texas and the author of “Nobody Asked For My Opinion … But Here It Is Anyway!” He can be reached on Twitter at @drawandstrike.