The evidence kick-starting the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation in 2016 came from Democratic Party opposition research, as opposed to independent intelligence reports.
This reliance on partisan-driven accusations is found in a review of congressional reports by Republicans on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“The more information becomes available about the origins and conduct of this probe, the more it becomes clear that barely anything was investigated through normal channels and according to normal procedures,” said a Republican congressional staffer.
Rep. Devin Nunes, California Republican and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said not a single official intelligence product started the FBI investigation.
Exhibit No. 1 is the Christopher Steele dossier, financed by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign. Mr. Steele makes at least 10 specific charges of Trump-Russia collusion, with the sweeping assertions of an “extensive conspiracy” between the two.
Former FBI Director James B. Comey has acknowledged in a TV interview that he took the Steele dossier and tried to see “what we can replicate.”
The FBI huddled with Mr. Steele beginning in July 2016 and ultimately based a wiretap application on his charges against Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page. Its corroborating evidence was a Yahoo News article that originated from the same source — Mr. Steele.
“Indeed, the documents we have reviewed show that the FBI took important investigative steps largely based on Mr. Steele’s information and relying heavily on his credibility,” said a criminal referral to the Justice Department from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican.
The two want Mr. Steele investigated for suspicions of lying to the FBI when he denied he had briefed reporters, when in fact he had spoken with Washington’s most powerful news bureaus.
“There is substantial evidence suggesting that Mr. Steele materially misled the FBI,” the senators wrote. “Lying to the FBI is a crime.”
According to Trump people interviewed by The Washington Times, the FBI’s reliance on the dossier went further. Agents embraced the 35 pages as a guide to target people and interrogate witnesses.
Democrats used at least two other avenues to funnel anti-Trump information to the FBI during the campaign.
The FBI fired Mr. Steele as a source in October 2016 after an article appeared in Mother Jones magazine that quoted the unidentified former British intelligence officer as saying he had gone to the FBI with anti-Trump collusion charges. That violated the FBI policy of not disclosing investigations.
But it did not stop the flow of partisan information. Mr. Steele was hired by Fusion GPS, the investigative firm that also employed the wife of a senior Justice Department official, Bruce Ohr.
With Mr. Steele fired, the flow of anti-Trump information continued via Mr. Ohr’s wife to him and then to the FBI, according to the senators’ referral. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz is investigating this unofficial channel and is examining how the FBI obtained the Carter Page surveillance warrants.
The FBI interviewed Mr. Ohr three times in November and December 2016. He relayed that Mr. Steele was “desperate” to sink the Trump campaign.
A third partisan avenue developed from the State Department to the FBI.
‘There was no intelligence’
Sidney Blumenthal, a longtime Hillary Clinton advocate, said he and an associate had obtained dirt on candidate Donald Trump. They used an Obama political appointee at the State Department to put them in touch with Mr. Steele, who then wrote a memo that ended up with the FBI.
It was the State Department that gave the go-ahead for an FBI agent in Italy to travel to London and meet with Mr. Steele in the summer of 2016, according to the book “Russian Roulette.” The agent then reported Mr. Steele’s collusion charges to Washington.
“It is troubling enough that the Clinton campaign funded Mr. Steele’s work, but that these Clinton associates were contemporaneously feeding Mr. Steele’s allegations raises additional concerns about his credibility,” Mr. Grassley and Mr. Graham said.
Mr. Nunes, the House intelligence committee chairman, searched for the final piece of evidence to determine how the FBI started the Trump-Russian counterintelligence investigation in July 2016. After Mr. Nunes’ threats of legal action, the Justice Department turned over an “electronic communication,” a memo that justified opening the investigation.
“So what we found now after the investigators have reviewed it is that, in fact, there was no intelligence,” Mr. Nunes said on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures,” hosted by Maria Bartiromo.
He explained that no official intelligence product charged collusion from the “Five Eyes” — the U.S. and its closest allies: Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Canada.
Mr. Nunes’ probing previously uncovered who paid for the dossier — the DNC and the Clinton campaign — as well as the FBI’s reliance on a partisan document to obtain a wiretap warrant and its plan to pay Mr. Steele to continue investigating Donald Trump, possibly when he became president.
“This was about a counterintelligence investigation that was at the height of a political campaign where you opened up an investigation using these intelligence services to spy on the other campaign,” Mr. Nunes said. “It’s really serious stuff.”
Mr. Nunes’ ongoing inquiry is to find out how Obama political appointees played a role in starting and nourishing the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign.
“We now know there was no official intelligence used to start this investigation,” he said. “We know that Sidney Blumenthal and others were pushing information into the State Department, so we’re trying to piece all of that together, and that’s why we continued to look at the State Department.”
Mr. Comey, amid a book-selling tour for his memoir, “A Higher Loyalty,” defends his reliance on Mr. Steele.
He said the former spy was correct in reporting that Moscow wanted to inject chaos into the election by hacking and releasing Democratic Party emails, and that it favored Mr. Trump.
Mr. Comey has not confirmed publicly that any of Mr. Steele’s collusion charges have been proved, but he has acknowledged that they created a blueprint for agents. Republicans, though, say the charges are far-fetched.
“Certainly [Mr. Steele] was credible,” Mr. Comey told ABC News. “There’s no doubt that he had a network of sources and subsources in a position to report on these kinds of things. But we tend to approach these things with a bit of a blank slate, trying to figure out, ‘So what can we replicate?’ This guy, who’s credible, says these things are true. OK. That means we should try and replicate that work to see if we can develop the same sources.”
Special counsel Robert Mueller has informed President Trump’s attorneys that he is not an investigation target. This tends to disprove the Steele dossier, which makes sweeping conspiracy charges against the president.