- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 19, 2017

Democrats have sometimes given credit to the infamous Trump-Russia dossier for inside information that already had been made public.

During the dossier’s 11-month span in Washington’s Russia debate, its entries about WikiLeaks, the Russian oil company Rosneft and Russian President Vladimir Putin have been hailed by liberals as evidence that the 35-page collection of memos is true.

A closer look shows the claims are debatable.

The dossier has become one of the most ballyhooed documents in modern U.S. politics. Republicans charge that what is essentially Democrat-paid rumors and salacious gossip may have been the catalyst for the FBI to justify launching an investigation in July into the Donald Trump campaign and suspected Russia collusion.

Some Democrats continue to bet the dossier will bring President Trump’s downfall.

House Republicans say Democrats may have violated campaign finance laws by funneling money from the national committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign through a law firm to opposition research firm Fusion GPS. From there, the money flowed overseas to former British spy Christopher Steele, the dossier writer who handed out the money to Kremlin sources to dish dirt on Mr. Trump and his people.

Mr. Steele’s major charge is that there was an elaborate Russia-Trump conspiracy involving the hacking of Democratic Party computers. That charge, and other dossier conclusions, remain unverified by any public official confirmation. People identified by Mr. Steele as conspirators vehemently deny they did things the dossier says they did.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, who is leading House Democrats in the probe of Mr. Trump and his people, said the effort to uncover Mr. Steele’s source of money was a Republican smokescreen.

Rep. Devin Nunes, California Republican and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, signed subpoenas for bank records. His move ultimately forced Democrats to admit they funded the dossier.

Mr. Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, spoke highly of Mr. Steele and his report on CNN on Oct. 26. The dossier was first published by BuzzFeed in January, but some accusations made their way into press reports during the campaign, although the dossier was not cited.

“So I think this is a bit of an effort to discredit Christopher Steele, discredit the dossier, ignore how much of it has been corroborated already and ignore the fact that the intelligence community is operating from a broad array of sources as a way of basically calling this all a hoax,” Mr. Schiff said. “And it just doesn’t add up to me.”

His spokesman did not respond to a message asking which dossier items have been corroborated.

WikiLeaks

At a March hearing of the intelligence committee, Mr. Schiff and his Democratic colleagues made several claims to bolster Mr. Steele as a reliable source.

For example, Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas asserted that Mr. Steele in a July 19 dossier memo predicted that WikiLeaks would release a cache of Democratic Party emails.

Said Mr. Castro: “An entry from July 19, 2016, in the dossier states that a Trump associate knew that the Kremlin was using WikiLeaks in order to maintain quote ‘plausible deniability of its involvement.’ Three days after this entry, WikiLeaks carries out the Kremlin’s wishes and publishes upwards of 20,000 stolen DNC emails and 8,000 associated email attachments. And the rest, as they say, is history.”

A Washington Times analysis shows that Mr. Steele’s memo dated July 19 made no mention of WikiLeaks.

The first time he mentioned WikiLeaks was in an undated memo that followed the July 19 submission. This conclusion is based on sequential numbers he gave each memo.

What’s more, Mr. Steele’s first mention of WikiLeaks‘ email dump, or the word “email,” is in the past tense.

He wrote, “TRUMP associate admits Kremlin behind recent appearance of DNC e-mails on WikiLeaks, as means of maintaining plausible deniability.”

Mr. Steele can be given credit for stating that WikiLeaks received the emails from Russian sources.

By late July, when that entry was written, it had become conventional wisdom among the Washington press corps that Moscow stole the emails. News reports on WikiLeaks immediately noted that Russia had done the hacking.

A month earlier, CrowdStrike, an anti-hacking firm, reported that two offensive cyberunits directed by Russian intelligence were the ones that penetrated the Democratic Party computers.

A June 14, 2016, headline in Politico said, for example, “Russian government hackers broke into DNC services, stole Trump oppo.”

Russian tradecraft

Mr. Castro also gave Mr. Steele credit for reporting that Russian intelligence likes to trade favors with influential wealthy foreigners (read: Mr. Trump). Mr. Steele had written of this in sections that claim Mr. Trump maintained a secret eight-year relationship with Russian intelligence.

Mr. Castro tested his theory by questioning Navy Adm. Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, during a hearing:

Mr. Castro: “So, is it likely that the Kremlin would accept or actively trade favors or other valuable or sensitive information, intelligence from foreign figures about Russian oligarch or wealthy businessmen living abroad?”

Adm. Rogers: “Is it possible? Yes, but again, it depends on the particulars of the situation. I don’t know that I would make a flat statement.”

Mr. Castro: “But it’s certainly a possibility.”

Adm. Rogers: “It’s a possibility.”

Mr. Castro: “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.”

Bart Bechtel, a retired CIA clandestine officer who worked to turn Soviet spies into U.S. sources, said the methods Mr. Steele wrote of are common tradecraft.

“It has been that way since before, during and after the Cold War,” Mr. Bechtel said. “KGB and predecessor organizations continually sought out influential people in all the respected professions. Academia, journalism, banking, sciences, politics, law, clergy, civil rights, Hollywood — approaches to such folks could be subtle or direct, depending on the target.”

As to Mr. Steele’s charge that Mr. Trump has nurtured a long give-and-take relationship with Russian intelligence, there has been no public confirmation.

Rosneft

One of Mr. Steele’s most serious charges against former Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page is that he was personally guaranteed a broker’s fee in the sale of a 19.5 percent stake in Russian oil giant Rosneft.

Mr. Steele wrote that Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin, whose company is under U.S. sanctions, made the offer in July, when Mr. Page, a onetime resident of Russia, delivered a speech at Moscow’s new Economics School.

In December, Rosneft announced the sale’s completion.

Mr. Page has dismissed the charge as fiction. He said he has never met Mr. Sechin or received a broker fee offer in exchange for working to end U.S. sanctions.

Mr. Schiff, however, has used the sale’s announcement to bolster the dossier’s credibility and as evidence that Mr. Steele has inside knowledge.

Said Mr. Schiff at the March hearing: “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?”

Mr. Steele wrote the 19 percent memo in October 2016.

Three months earlier, the Kremlin had announced the proposed sale, saying the stake would be 19 percent. The news was carried by The Moscow Times, Reuters and various business journals.

Mr. Steele repeatedly asserted this was public, not inside, information.

Putin’s role

In recent TV appearances, Mr. Schiff’s most frequent assertion is that Mr. Steele may have known before U.S. intelligence that Mr. Putin intervened to help Mr. Trump win.

In an ABC News interview on Oct. 29, Mr. Schiff also acknowledged that Democrats had yet to prove Trump-Russia collusion.

“Well, the most significant thing to me is that Christopher Steele may have found out even before our intelligence agencies that the Russians were, in fact, aiming to help Donald Trump in the election,” Mr. Schiff said. “That has now been borne out by ample evidence from not only — from individual sources, but also from the social media campaign, for example [that was] very demonstrably pro-Trump, anti-Clinton.

“So, that central conclusion has been borne out. Now the question we continue to investigate is, was the campaign coordinating in the Russian help? And that still remains to be seen. There’s certainly evidence that is highly suggestive of that in terms of the meeting in Trump Tower, but a lot more work needs to be done.”

The first time Mr. Steele quoted Kremlin sources about Moscow’s pro-Trump desires appears to be July 30, with subsequent memos on that theme.

That date is roughly six weeks after CrowdStrike first reported that the Russian government hacked the Democratic computers and eight days after the WikiLeaks release.

By then, the Clinton campaign was charging publicly that the release was part of a Russian plan to help Mr. Trump.

Also at that time, the intelligence community was preparing a brief for President Obama that concluded Russia interfered to bolster the Republican campaign. Intelligence officials briefed the president in early August, The Washington Post reported.

What appears to be the most important political question about the Steele document is not so much what he said the Russians did to interfere but whether the Trump team colluded with them.

Mr. Steele made a broad accusation about an “extensive conspiracy between [the] campaign team and the Kremlin.”

He named four Trump people who carried out this conspiracy: Mr. Trump, Mr. Page, former campaign manager Paul Manafort and Trump attorney Michael Cohen. All deny the charges as lies and fiction.

Mr. Steele told the left-wing Guardian newspaper, a big supporter of the former spy, that 70 percent to 90 percent of his dossier is true.

A Washington Times analysis shows that none of his collusion charges against Trump associates has been confirmed publicly by officials or press reports.

Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, sits on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which has been investigating Trump-Russia since April.

Of the dossier, according to The Daily Caller, Mr. Cotton said in late October, “I think you can’t give any credibility to it at this point, certainly not until we answer those questions, nor have I seen any reason to do so.”

Another firm believer in Mr. Steele is a Schiff colleague on the House committee, Rep. Eric Swalwell of California.

Mr. Swalwell told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Oct. 11: “But we’re determined. We are, you know, continuing to make progress. And, you know, I would just say, Rachel, if he had the interest in what was behind the dossier, not the progress or the process that led to the dossier, we could find out a lot more because there is a lot of people mentioned in the dossier who should be subpoenaed, like Donald [Trump] Jr. or Michael Cohen or Jared Kushner or Carter Page. Those are the individuals who should be hauled in under subpoena.”

Neither Donald Trump Jr. nor Mr. Kushner is mentioned in the dossier.

Mr. Steele briefed Washington reporters in September 2016 at Fusion GPS’s request. He warned them to first confirm his assertions before writing articles, according to his filing in a libel lawsuit against him in London.

The libel lawsuit’s focus is on Mr. Steele’s final December 2016 memo. He accused Russian entrepreneur Aleksej Gubarev of hacking the Democrats under pressure from Russia’s FSB intelligence service. Also accused of wrongdoing in that memo is Mr. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s attorney.

Mr. Steele’s attorney said in a court filing: “Readers of the words complained [and] were therefore aware that the contents of the December memorandum did not represent (and did not purport to represent) verified facts, but were raw intelligence which had identified a range of allegations.”


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide