- The Washington Times - Friday, January 13, 2017

The story reads like a John le Carre Cold War novel, complete with Moscow’s bad guys, Great Britain’s MI6 spy agency and Washington’s FBI counterintelligence.

But the saga is taking place now, in real life. The capitals London, Moscow and Washington have been entwined in a political thriller by an unverified, once-secret dossier on President-elect Donald Trump.

It was compiled by Christopher Steele, a prosperous retired British spy known in his college days at Cambridge as a debater and a socialist. One of the conveyors who acquired the 35-pages of raw material and alerted the FBI is a powerful senator, John McCain, who heads the Armed Services Committee and does not hide his dislike for Mr. Trump.

The British novelist Mr. le Carre could not have created more vivid characters.

What is intriguing is not just the breathtaking charges spun in Mr. Steele’s paper — with talk of wild sex, Kremlin-Trump conspiracies and Democratic Party moles — but also how the dossier itself was passed around among journalists and the Trump opposition.

The U.K.’s Guardian newspaper reported that Mr. Steele became so frustrated that his allegations were not surfacing, and thus not torpedoing Mr. Trump’s candidacy, that he provided it to the FBI before the election.

After the election, when Mr. McCain learned of its existence, he sent an emissary to Great Britain to meet with Mr. Steele and acquire the documents, The Guardian said. Mr. McCain then personally turned them over to FBI Director James B. Comey in December.

If true, Mr. McCain’s involvement in circulating the dossier is deeper than his terse public statement, which said he simply acted as any citizen would in alerting the FBI.

Mr. McCain said of The Guardian report, “Media reports that I dispatched an emissary overseas to meet the source of the information I received are false.”

The dossier’s electronic distribution around the city helps explain why Democrats increasingly began charging that Mr. Trump conspired with the Kremlin to hack Hillary Clinton’s campaign as well as the Democratic National Committee. The intelligence community concluded that Russian did in fact declare cyberwar on Democrats and gave the scandalous stolen emails to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.

Meanwhile, a number of journalists in Washington have said they too acquired the report but found it so lacking in evidence that there were no stories — that is until BuzzFeed, a news site headed by a Democratic Party fundraiser, decided to post it online for the world to see.

Still unclear is who paid Mr. Steele’s firm, Orbis Business Intelligence, located at a tony London address, as reported by The Wall Street Journal. Orbis’ website brags of “Real-time source reporting on business and politics at all levels.” Opposition research, in other words.

Mr. Steele, whose MI6 career included a posting at the British embassy in Moscow, festooned his report with references to “Kremlin insiders,” “trusted compatriot,” “former top level Russian intelligence officer still active inside the Kremlin” and unnamed sources he called “sources A and B.”

There are passages on wild sex in the $14,000-a-night presidential suite at the Moscow Ritz Carlton. Mr. Steele says the posh hotel is controlled by the Russian FSB spy service, complete with hidden video cameras and microphones.

A Ritz-Carlton spokesman in London declined to comment.

Mr. Steele asserts that the FSB and Mr. Trump’s campaign officers worked together in a conspiracy to defame Mrs. Clinton. There is no verification.

The former spy makes at least one fundamental mistake. It is difficult for the Trump team to prove something did not happen — that is, until Mr. Steele wrote of a specific meeting (time, place, attendee) that could not possibly have taken place.

It revolved around a man extremely close to Donald Trump: Michael D. Cohen, his attorney at the hotel-building and land development Trump Organization.

If true, Mr. Steele’s information would be the smoking gun needed by Democrats. But it was not.

Mr. Steele wrote his dispatches in batches. His first reference to Mr. Cohen was that Mr. Cohen supposedly met with unnamed Kremlin officials in a European Union nation to discuss political matters in August 2016.

In a subsequent dispatch, Mr. Steele, who refers to his work as a “Company Intelligence Report,” said he had pinned down the location: Prague, Czech Republic.

“According to the Kremlin adviser, these meeting/s were originally scheduled for Cohen in Moscow but shifted to what was considered an operationally ‘soft’ EU country when it was judged too compromising for him to travel to the Russian Capital,” Mr. Steele wrote.

The problem for Mr. Steele is that Mr. Cohen has never been to Prague. He told The Washington Times he was not in Europe at that time and was instead on the West Coast. He personally showed Mr. Trump his passport.

This fundamental inaccuracy on Mr. Steele’s part would indicate the entire foundation for his report is suspect since he makes a wide array of other charges based on these same sources.

Mr. Cohen told The Times, “I don’t think there is a shred of accuracy in the entire document other than the proper spellings of President-elect Trump’s name and my name. The document is worthless, inaccurate and not worth the paper it’s printed on.”

Mr. Steele writes in a flip manner as he narrates supposed efforts by Vladimir Putin and FSB to create a file (kompromat) of Mr. Trump in compromising situations for possible blackmail. Mr. Trump has condemned the entire Steele report as “fake news.”

Mr. Steele, whom the BBC reported is now in hiding, said Mr. Trump looked into real estate deals in Moscow and St. Petersburg, “but in the end Trump had had to settle for the use of extensive sexual services there from local prostitutes rather than business success.”

The Times asked Kent Clizbe, a former CIA case and counterintelligence officer, to evaluate the Steele dossier as an intelligence product.

Mr. Clizbe said, “The entire file reads like an opposition researcher telling a client what they want to hear. It seems likely that the researcher has sources in Russia, maybe with the access claimed. But it appears that they are telling him, or he reported, what his clients wanted to hear.”

He added, “The title of page 7, ‘Extensive conspiracy between Trump’s campaign team and the Kremlin,’ is ludicrous in the extreme. The subsequent description of the Trump campaign conducting close and continuing collaboration, liaisons with Kremlin officials to conduct the WikiLeaks and other operations does not seem plausible at all.”

Mr. Clizbe said it has always been standard operating procedure for Russian intelligence to attempt to compromise Americans during visits.

“The salacious details of Trump and sex, and maybe much of the entire file, are likely to be the products of imaginings and postulation by the researchers and/or his Russian sources,” he said. “They could be simply repeating stories, rumors that may have circulated in Russia or elsewhere. Recording rumors in a ‘company intelligence report’ does not make them true. Trump is not likely to have made himself vulnerable to Russian manipulation by doing the things he’s accused of in these reports.”

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