In trying to bolster a discredited dossier by a former British spy, Rep. Adam B. Schiff on Monday recounted the document’s telling of a supposed meeting between an informal Donald Trump adviser and a Russian oligarch.
The dossier from paid opposition researcher Christopher Steele said Carter Page, an energy investor who does business in Moscow, met with Igor Sechin, president of the state-owned Rosneft gas and oil company. Mr. Sechin offered Mr. Page a brokerage fee for a plan to sell a 19 percent stake of Rosneft to private investors, Mr. Steele wrote in October. Mr. Page was to persuade Mr. Trump to lift U.S. sanctions against Moscow.
At the hearing Monday of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on Russian interference in the presidential election, Mr. Schiff embraced the dossier’s retelling as proof of Mr. Steele’s reliability.
“Is it a coincidence that the Russian gas company, Rosneft, sold a 19 percent share after former British intelligence officer Steele was told by Russian sources that Carter Page was offered fees on a deal of just that size?” said Mr. Schiff, California Democrat and the intelligence committee’s ranking member.
With his “just that size,” the congressman was implying that Mr. Steele had inside knowledge that proved uncannily accurate months before Russia sold a 19.5 percent stake in Rosneft.
But Mr. Steele did not have inside knowledge. In July, Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov announced that “the Kremlin will move on to the sale of 19.5 percent of the equity in Rosneft,” the energy publication Newsbase.com reported.
Mr. Page has denied meeting Mr. Sechin in Moscow, where he delivered a commencement address and expressed his pro-Russian views.
Mr. Schiff’s spokesman said he could not speak for the congressman on this issue.
Mr. Schiff’s praise of former MI6 agent Mr. Steele was a theme among Democrats on Monday as they questioned FBI Director James B. Comey and Navy Adm. Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency.
Democrats are attempting to prove collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence, which hacked into Democrat Party emails.
At this point, Mr. Steele’s unverified dossier is their best public evidence. They have embraced Mr. Steele’s research, which makes the case for collusion even though it has been discredited by the press, its subjects and former intelligence officials.
James R. Clapper, until Jan. 20 the nation’s top intelligence officer, was asked about the dossier’s believability on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“Without respect to the veracity of the contents of the dossier, that’s why it was not included as part of our report because much of it could not be corroborated,” said Mr. Clapper, referring to a time President-elect Donald Trump received an intelligence briefing. “And, importantly, some of the sources that Mr. Steele drew on, the second- and third-order assets, we could not validate or corroborate.”
Former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell, a Hillary Clinton adviser, said he learned that Mr. Steele paid his Russian sources and talked to them only through intermediaries, NBC News reported.
“On the question of the Trump campaign conspiring with the Russians here, there is smoke but there is no fire, at all,” Mr. Morell said at an event sponsored by Cipher Brief. “There’s no little campfire, there’s no little candle, there’s no spark. And there’s a lot of people looking for it.”
But those expressions of doubt from two intelligence advisers to President Obama have not curtailed House Democrats, who quoted its contents as fact.
Rep. Andre Carson of Indiana: “In fact, the dossier written by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele alleges that Trump agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue, which is effectively a priority for [Russian President] Vladimir Putin. There’s a lot in the dossier that is yet to be proven, but increasingly as we’ll hear throughout the day, allegations are checking out. And this one seems to be as accurate as they come.”
‘Fake intel report’
Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas: “I want to take a moment to turn to the Christopher Steele dossier, which was first mentioned in the media just before the election and published in full by media outlets in January. My focus today is to explore how many claims within Steele’s dossier are looking more and more likely, as though they are accurate.
“This is not someone who doesn’t know how to run a source and not someone without contacts. The allegations it raises about President Trump’s campaign aides’ connections to Russians, when overlaid with known established facts and timelines from the 2016 campaign, are very revealing,” he said.
Mr. Castro has called for impeaching Mr. Trump over his travel ban executive order.
When Adm. Rogers said it is possible the Kremlin would trade favors for intelligence from foreigners, Mr. Castro responded, “OK. Well, the dossier definitely seems right on these points. A quid pro quo relationship seems to exist between the Trump campaign and Putin’s Russia.”
Neither Mr. Comey nor Adm. Rogers testified about any quid pro quo.
Mr. Castro also attempted to have Mr. Comey add credence to the dossier’s report that Moscow has embarrassing information on Mr. Trump and prostitutes in the Moscow Ritz Carlton.
After Mr. Comey said that Russian intelligence tries to obtain compromising information on people it wants to blackmail, Mr. Castro said, “Does that include private places, including places such as hotels that are wired for audio and video?”
“I don’t think I remember enough about the particulars to say, but in theory, sure,” Mr. Comey said.
Rep. Jackie Speier, California Democrat, also referred to the Steele work product, as did Mr. Schiff several times.
People pilloried in the dossier say it is fiction.
Mr. Steele said Mr. Trump’s attorney, Michael D. Cohen, met in Prague with members of Russian intelligence. Mr. Cohen said he was in Los Angeles at the time and showed his passport to Mr. Trump to prove he had never visited Prague. Mr. Cohen said everything about him in the dossier is false.
The dossier said the Russian intelligence hacking of the Democratic National Committee was conducted by the technology company XBT, run by Russian entrepreneur Aleksej Gubarev.
Mr. Gubarev has sued Buzzfeed, which posted the dossier online, and Mr. Steele. Mr. Gubarev said the charges are outrageous and greatly damaged his businesses.
Then there is Carter Page, a Naval Academy graduate who worked in Moscow for Merrill Lynch and now runs the investment firm Global Energy Capital in New York.
Like many American businessmen, Mr. Page has ties to Russian scholars and energy executives. His relationship with the Trump campaign was always unclear. He seems to have been a nominal adviser when the campaign was building up a staff, but they parted ways as anything Russia-related began to tar the Trump campaign.
“I’m constantly being attacked [because of the Steele] fake intel report,” Mr. Page told CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “Everything about me is completely false and so inaccurate.”
He singled out the supposed Rosneft deal as pure fiction. He said he was never offered a brokerage free to influence Mr. Trump.
Investigative reporter Bob Woodward has called the Steele dossier “garbage.”