With the current flow of news, it’s now easy to miss some intriguing details that serve to highlight an underlying theme: The Steele dossier has been debunked.
Christopher Steele is currently involved in litigation in a British court, where he is being sued for defamation by three Russian bankers because of claims he made in the dossier, namely that Alfa Bank had meaningful ties to Russian leader Vladimir Putin. In his most recent responses to the court, Steele made a rather startling admission:
"Fusion’s immediate client was law firm Perkins Coie LLP. It engaged Fusion to obtain information necessary for Perkins Coie LLP to provide legal advice on the potential impact of Russian involvement on the legal validity of the outcome of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.
“Based on that advice, parties such as the Democratic National Committee and HFACC Inc. (also known as ‘Hillary for America’) could consider steps they would be legally entitled to take to challenge the validity of the outcome of that election.”
Steele was hired to prepare information that would allow Clinton to challenge the validity of the 2016 election. That legal challenge was never made, although a less-formal effort was aggressively undertaken. Meanwhile, Steele’s dossier, which remains uncorroborated by the FBI, was used to obtain a FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) warrant for spying on Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page.
Steele—who also is being sued for libel by Russian businessman Aleksej Gubarev—used a technique known as circular reporting to assist in the corroboration of his dossier with the FBI.
Isikoff DeniesSteele met with Yahoo News reporter Michael Isikoff in September 2016 and gave Isikoff information from the dossier. The resulting Sept. 23, 2016, article from Isikoff was then cited by the FBI as validating Steele’s claims and was featured in both the original FISA application and the three subsequent renewals. Steele was fired by the FBI in late October or early November over his contacts with journalists in violation of FBI protocol. His dossier, however, was nevertheless used by the FBI in obtaining the FISA warrant, and subsequent renewals, of the Page surveillance.
Interestingly, Isikoff recently gave an interview on John Ziegler's podcast "Free Speech Broadcasting" on Dec. 15; that interview didn't go as Zeigler had hoped (from the 26:50 mark):
Zeigler: You mention the Steele dossier, which to me has been unfairly derided, especially by Trump fans. Would you agree that a lot of what’s in the Steele dossier has been at least somewhat vindicated? Would you agree with that assessment?
Zeigler: You would not?
Zeigler: Tell me why.
Isikoff began his explanation, noting that, "In broad strokes, Christopher Steele was clearly onto something, that there was a major Kremlin effort to interfere in our elections, that they were trying to help Trump's campaign, and that there was multiple contacts between various Russian figures close to the government and various people in Trump's campaign.”
But then, Isikoff came to his underlying conclusion, admitting: “When you actually get into the details of the Steele dossier, the specific allegations, we have not seen the evidence to support them, and, in fact, there's good grounds to think that some of the more sensational allegations will never be proven and are likely false. ... But based on the public record at this point, I’d have to say that most of the specific allegations have not been borne out.”
Zeigler responded, noting somewhat wryly, “That’s interesting to hear you say that Michael because, as I’m sure you’re well aware, your book was kind of used, indirectly, to try to validate the “pee tape” for lack of a better word.”
Comey TestifiesIt wasn’t just Isikoff questioning the veracity of the dossier. James Comey, the former FBI director, recently made some notable admissions during congressional testimony (found on page 127 of the testimony transcript):
“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.
“And that work wasn’t completed by the time I left in May of 2017, to my knowledge.”
Comey told congressional investigators the Steele dossier wasn’t verified as of May 2017. Again, the dossier was used as the primary piece of evidence by the FBI to obtain the Page FISA warrant on Oct. 21, 2016.
Further highlighting the importance of the dossier, former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe testified to the House Intelligence Committee in December 2017 that no surveillance warrant would have been sought from the FISC (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) without the Steele dossier information.
The importance of Comey’s statement can’t be overemphasized. The Steele dossier was never confirmed or verified by the FBI, yet it was used by the FBI as the primary piece of evidence before the FISA court.
More InconsistenciesAnother element contained within the dossier was in regard to President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen. Steele had claimed that Cohen had visited Prague, something that has been consistently and vehemently denied by Cohen and his former lawyer and now-adviser, Lanny Davis.
In a Dec. 16 appearance on MSNBC, Davis was asked by Kasie Hunt if the Prague trip ever happened. Davis responded, laughing: “No. No. Everybody, America, we all love Kasie’s show. No, no Prague, ever, never.”
A month earlier, Greg Miller, the national security correspondent for The Washington Post, appeared in an interview televised on C-Span, while promoting his book, “The Apprentice: Trump, Russia and the Subversion of American Democracy.”
Miller was asked his opinion of the dossier and responded (32:25 mark): “It’s most accurate in its broadest and most sweeping assertions and conclusions. The narrower you get, the more particular you get, the harder it is to figure out whether it’s on the mark.”
In other words, the actual underlying details that make up the dossier fail to stand up to scrutiny. Miller then noted specific assertions The Washington Post had attempted to prove and failed:
“It’s not for lack of trying. There’s other material in the dossier, we literally spent weeks and months trying to run down. There’s an assertion in there that Michael Cohen, Trump’s lawyer, went to Prague to settle some payments that were needed at the end of the campaign. We sent reporters through every hotel in Prague, through all over the place, just to try to figure out if he was ever there, and came away empty.
“We’ve talked to sources at the FBI and CIA and elsewhere. They don’t believe that ever happened.”
Interestingly, Miller failed to make these disclosures in his book. And to my knowledge, The Washington Post has, for some unknown reason, never mentioned their failed investigative efforts in any articles.
Why the Lies in Steele Dossier MatterThe continued and proven failures of the Steele dossier matter. Not only was it used in obtaining the Page FISA warrant, but was also used in intelligence-community documents provided to Obama and his administration.
Former CIA Director John Brennan has claimed he never used the dossier in the Intelligence Community assessment. That claim was later disputed by his co-author, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who said on CNN that “some of the substantive content, not all of it, but some of the substantive content of the dossier, we were able to corroborate in our Intelligence Community assessment from other sources in which we had very high confidence to it.”
Former NSA Director Mike Rogers was more specific:
“In a March 5, 2018, letter to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, Adm. Rogers informed the committee that a two-page summary of the dossier—described as 'the Christopher Steele information'—was 'added' as an 'appendix to the ICA [Intelligence Community Assessment] draft,' and that consideration of that appendix was 'part of the overall ICA review/approval process.'”
In August, Brennan did an interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow that was discussed in an Epoch Times article, "Did Brennan Admit to Using Reverse Targeting to Spy on the Trump Campaign?" During that interview, Brennan repeatedly stated his knowledge of Russian contacts with U.S. citizens. Maddow pursued his conclusions from those contacts:
Maddow: While you were in office as CIA director, before you left on inauguration day, did you conclude that U.S. persons were successfully leveraged in that effort?
The look of shocked surprise on Maddow’s face was notable at Brennan's denial that the Russians had successfully engaged Americans to obtain their goals.
The Steele dossier, written by a British national and former MI6 agent, was used by both the FBI and the CIA and a summary of the document was provided directly to Obama. And yet, for all the weight attached to this document, most of its assertions have never been proven to be factual, many have been proven to be false and it remains unverified to this day.
Which is perhaps fitting for a document that had its origination as something to be used by Hillary Clinton to challenge the election in the then-unlikely event she lost.
Jeff Carlson is a CFA Charterholder. He worked for 20 years as an analyst and portfolio manager in the high-yield bond market. He runs the website TheMarketsWork.com