Fired FBI Director James B. Comey has provided a number of assertions about the Trump-Russia investigation that conflict with the historical record.
Whether it involves who paid for the dossier that repeated salacious and unproven claims about President Trump, what Mr. Comey knew about the funding, and when author Christopher Steele first met with the FBI, the former director has provided his version of facts that critics say are wrong.
Mr. Comey is on a media tour selling his memoir, “A Higher Loyalty.”
Mr. Comey told Fox News Channel anchorman Bret Baier last week that Republicans first funded the Steele dossier and the money flow later shifted to unknown Democrats. This assertion is one that liberals often repeat to cast blame on Republicans for a dossier that makes a series of election collusion charges that remain publicly unconfirmed.
Here was their dialogue:
Mr. Baier: When did you learn that the DNC and Hillary Clinton campaign had funded Christopher Steele’s work?
Mr. Comey: Yes. I still don’t know that for a fact.
Baier: What do you mean?
Mr. Comey: I’ve only seen it in the media. I never knew exactly which Democrats had funded. I knew it was funded first by Republicans.
Mr. Baier: But that’s not true.
Mr. Comey: I’m sorry?
Mr. Baier: That’s not true that the dossier that Christopher Steele worked on was funded by Republicans.
Mr. Comey: My understanding was his work started funded by — as oppo research funded by Republicans.
The congressional and court records in this matter clearly show that Fusion GPS, a private investigative firm, received funds from a Republican donor to investigate Mr. Trump during the primary election season. When Mr. Trump secured the nomination, the funding stopped.
In June 2016, Fusion went to the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign for opposition research funds. With money secured, Fusion hired Mr. Steele, a former British spy, who began submitting on June 20 the memos that eventually became the dossier.
His work was based on one or more intermediaries whom he paid to collect anti-Trump information from Kremlin spies. The dossier writing did not begin until the Democratic money started flowing to Fusion, via a law firm.
In a court filing in London, where he is being sued for libel, Mr. Steele provided this chronology: “Between June and early November 2016 [Steele] was engaged by Fusion to prepare a series of confidential memoranda based on intelligence concerning Russian efforts to influence the U.S. presidential election process and links between Russia and Donald Trump.”
Mr. Comey has offered no criticism of the dossier or Mr. Steele. Republicans call it a work of fiction that embroiled Mr. Trump in an investigation now headed by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Mr. Comey says the FBI did not receive any information from Mr. Steele until after “late July.”
This is important because the FBI and liberal media outlets are trying to downplay the dossier’s role, while Republicans say it drove and dominated the investigation.
“Late July” is the time the FBI officially opened a counterintelligence investigation based on a tip about George Papadopoulos, a Trump volunteer living in London.
“The FBI didn’t get any information that’s part of the so-called Steele dossier, as I understand it, until after that,” Mr. Comey told ABC News. “And so the investigation was triggered entirely separately from the Steele dossier.”
But available evidence shows Mr. Steele began funneling information well before late July. In fact, the dossier and other Democratic Party opposition research made up the driving force for the FBI investigation of the Trump campaign that summer and fall.
In late October, Mr. Steele did a Skype interview with Mother Jones magazine. He told reporter David Corn that he had sent his reports to the FBI “near the start of July.”
This is an apparent reference to a July 5, 2016, meeting Mr. Steele had in England with an FBI agent stationed in Rome. Mr. Steele handed him his reports on a supposed conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
The agent read them and remarked, “I have to report this to headquarters,” according to the book “Russian Roulette.”
That meeting was set up by Obama political appointees at the State Department who knew Mr. Steele from his reports to them on Ukraine.
In the dark
Mr. Comey contended to Mr. Baier that he knew only that the dossier was funded by some unidentified Democrat during his tenure. His lack of firm knowledge extended to include briefing the president-elect on the dossier’s sleazy prostitute tale during a private meeting on Jan. 6, 2017, at Trump Tower in New York.
Mr. Comey took Mr. Trump aside to tell him about a report that Russia had compromising information on him. The then-FBI director never told the president-elect that the report was Democratic opposition research.
At the time, Mr. Comey claimed ignorance of the dossier’s true funding, but senior FBI and Justice Department officials knew it had been funded by the DNC and the Hillary Clinton campaign, according to the majority report of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
“The political origins of the Steele dossier were then known to senior DoJ and FBI officials,” the committee said, referring to the Oct. 21, 2016, wiretap warrant application filed by the bureau.
Republicans say the FBI abused the court process by using unverified material from the other party to spy on the Trump campaign.
Mr. Comey asserted that the investigation began in late July “because of reliable information George Papadopoulos was having conversations about obtaining information from the Russians,” he told ABC News.
Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI because he denied he was working for the campaign when he met Kremlin-connected people. He was in London trying to set up a grand meeting between the candidate and the Kremlin, maybe even Mr. Putin. He appeared to be freelancing rather than acting on explicit campaign orders.
The indictment doesn’t say he was trying to obtain information. It says that during a talk, a Kremlin-connected professor told Papadopoulos he heard the Kremlin owned thousands of Mrs. Clinton’s emails.
There has been no publicly released evidence that Papadopoulos or the campaign tried to acquire the emails, if they even existed. At the time, the Russians were hacking Democratic Party computers and stealing thousands of messages.
Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn
Mr. Baier asked Mr. Comey whether he had testified to lawmakers that agents did not believe former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn lied to them about the extent of his ties to Kremlin officials. This was how last week’s interview went:
Mr. Baier: Did you tell lawmakers that FBI agents didn’t believe former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was lying intentionally to investigators?
Mr. Comey: No. … And I saw that in the media. I don’t know what — maybe someone misunderstood something I said. I didn’t believe that and didn’t say that.
Mr. Comey’s answer was immediately challenged by people inside the closed House intelligence committee hearing room.
“Director Comey’s recollection is flawed if he does not remember telling Congress that his agents told him that they didn’t think Flynn was lying,” Rep. Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Republican, told Fox News Channel’s Tucker Carlson. “Director Comey’s recollection is flawed if he does not remember telling Congress that his agents told him that they didn’t think Flynn was lying. He needs to get his lawyers and go back and look at the transcript. We did not mishear. Maybe he misspoke, but that is in the transcript.”
Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about two phone calls with the Russian ambassador. He was fired by Mr. Trump for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the calls concerning U.S. sanctions on individual Russians and their businesses. Flynn is awaiting sentencing.
Mr. Comey tweeted on Thursday, the day his Fox News interviewed was broadcast, “The last two weeks were a reminder of the vital role of the press and of open-minded, respectful conversation in our lives. I’m grateful for good and tough questions from reporters across the spectrum and around the world. Look forward to more.”