- U.S. officials who investigated the Steele dossier had ‘misgivings’ about the salacious document much earlier than previously known, according to a report in The New York Times
- The FBI also interviewed an alleged source for the dossier in January 2017, and determined that he may have embellished some of the claims attributed to him by Christopher Steele
- If the report is accurate, it is unclear why the FBI and other government officials have allowed the dossier’s salacious claims to hang like a dark cloud over the Trump administration for more than two years
Government officials who investigated the Steele dossier had doubts about the salacious document’s claims much earlier than previously known, according to a bombshell report from The New York Times.
According to the newspaper, the FBI and CIA had determined by Summer 2017 that one of the key claims in the dossier was likely false. In the dossier, former British spy Christopher Steele alleged that former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen visited Prague in August 2016 to meet with Kremlin insiders as part of a campaign-related conspiracy.
But Cohen’s financial records, and foreign intelligence services who communicated with the CIA did not substantiate the dossier’s claims, according to The Times. The special counsel’s report, released on Thursday, settled the question of the Prague allegation once and for all. In his report, Special Counsel Robert Mueller stated outright that Cohen did not visit the European city, as Steele alleged.
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The Times also reports that “misgivings” about the dossier’s reliability arose soon after BuzzFeed News published the document on Jan. 10, 2017.
The new report does not detail when those misgivings arose. But the FBI and other government agencies have remained tightlipped about the dossier’s veracity. That silence allowed a cloud of suspicion to hang over the Trump administration, and several Trump associates.
The dossier, which was commissioned by the Clinton campaign and DNC, alleges a “well-developed conspiracy” between the Trump campaign and Russian government to influence the 2016 election. It also alleges that the Kremlin has blackmail material on President Trump in the form of a tape of him in Moscow with a group of prostitutes.
The unfounded claim has fostered allegations that Trump is acting under the control of the Russian government.
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The FBI relied heavily on Steele’s reporting to obtain four Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants against Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
Page, an energy consultant who has done business in Russia, is also accused by Steele of serving as a Trump campaign back channel to the Kremlin. Page has vehemently denied the claims. He was not charged in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, which officially ended on March 22 after a 22-month investigation.
FBI agents also tracked down two of Steele’s sources in January 2017 and determined that one may have embellished allegations attributed to him in the dossier, according to The Times.
One of the sources is described by The Times as “a Russian speaker from a former Soviet republic who had spent time in the West.”
“After questioning him about where he’d gotten his information, they suspected he might have added his own interpretations to reports passed on by his sources, one of the people said. For the F.B.I., that made it harder to decide what to trust,” reads The Times report.
According to The Times, FBI agents did not believe that the source or Steele had lied about the information. Instead, they appear to have assessed that the information contained in the dossier was the result of a game of telephone, where gossip and innuendo were passed along through a network of Steele’s sources and sub-sources.
The Times did not identify the source. But Sergei Millian, a Belarusian-American businessman, has been identified in news reports as an unwitting source for Steele. Millian is reported to be one of the sources behind the blackmail tape claim about Trump. He also cozied up to Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos in Summer 2016.
The intelligence agencies are now taking more seriously the possibility that much of the dossier is the product of disinformation planted by Russian operatives, according to The Times.
The Justice Department’s inspector general is reportedly investigating the FBI’s handling of the dossier, and the use of Steele as a source. Politico reported on Wednesday that the inspector general’s report is excepted to cast doubt on the dossier’s veracity. Politico also reported that Steele has declined requests to meet with the DOJ watchdog.
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