- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 7, 2018

Christopher Steele, the former British spy who wrote the discredited Russia-Trump dossier, has told friends that his 16 memos — 35 pages in length — were close to flawless.

“I’ve been dealing with this country for 30 years,” he said. “Why would I invent this stuff?”

He called his dossier “a life-changing experience” for anyone who reads it.

He told this to Luke Harding, a reporter for Britain’s left-leaning Guardian newspaper who has written an homage to the man and his dossier. Together, the two fueled the FBI’s 18-month-old investigation into the Trump campaign for suspected coordination with Kremlin hacking of Democratic Party computers.

“The dossier, Steele told friends, was a thoroughly professional job, using professional methods,” Mr. Harding says in the book “Collusion.”

Outside of Mr. Steele’s filings in a London court, the book marks his first extended public comments.

Mr. Steele’s high opinion of his work — he told Mother Jones: “My track record as a professional is second to no one” — is running into a new reality in Washington.

On Friday, two Republican senators made a criminal referral to the Justice Department. An investigation revealed that Mr. Steele misled the FBI, said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

The FBI told lawmakers that the bureau had not confirmed the dossier’s core collusion charges since Mr. Steele’s first briefing in July 2016.

That September, Mr. Steele met with a team of FBI agents in Rome. It was apparently during that meeting that the bureau offered to pay Mr. Steele to continue investigating Mr. Trump, then the Republican nominee destined to become the next president.

That FBI-Steele relationship is now under scrutiny by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Its chairman — Rep. Devin Nunes, California Republican — after months of applying pressure, won a Justice Department commitment last week to allow the committee access to classified dossier documents and Justice witnesses.

In the book, Mr. Harding tells readers that Mr. Steele was hired by Fusion GPS with Democratic Party money in April 2016 to investigate Mr. Trump’s business deals. By June, the month the Democratic National Committee discovered its email servers had been hacked by Russians, Mr. Steele was ordered by Fusion to begin looking for a Trump-Russia conspiracy.

Mr. Steele said he quickly found such skullduggery. “It’s massive. Absolutely massive,” he said.

Writes Mr. Harding: “Steele had stumbled upon a well-advanced conspiracy that went beyond anything he had discovered [in a global soccer scandal]. It was the boldest plot yet. It involved the Kremlin and Trump. Their relationship, Steele’s sources claimed, went back a long way. For at least the past five years Russian intelligence had been secretly cultivating Trump. This operation had succeeded beyond Moscow’s wildest expectations.”

Mr. Steele wrote his first memo in June. “The memo was sensational,” Mr. Harding writes.

“According to Steele’s sources, associates of Trump and Russian spies had held a series of clandestine meetings, in central Europe, Moscow, and elsewhere,” Mr. Harding says. “The Russians were very good at tradecraft. Nonetheless, could this be a trail that others might later detect?”

Again, the problem for Mr. Steele is that this supposed massive conspiracy has not been proved by any public evidence. Even some Democrats say they have yet to see firm evidence of collusion.

‘Intermediaries, subsources’

In a libel lawsuit filed against him in a London court, Mr. Steele expressed less confidence in his conclusions. There he talked of only “possible” coordination based on “limited intelligence.”

It would seem that the House and Senate intelligence committees, which have been in the collusion chase for nearly a year, would know of this plot by now.

Then again, the final word will come from special counsel Robert Mueller, who has interviewed scores of Trump people.

Former Trump campaign volunteer George Papadopoulos was in London in 2016 trying to arrange a Trump-Russian meeting. He has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his efforts. He is cooperating with the Mueller probe.

The Steele dossier, however, does not mention him.

Mr. Harding explains the dossier’s sourcing as a complicated arrangement: intermediaries who talked to Kremlin sources and then reported back to Mr. Steele.

But in the dossier, Mr. Steele seemed to describe his contacts as firsthand informants.

“Normally an intelligence officer would debrief sources directly,” the Harding book says. “Since Steele could no longer visit Russia, this had to be done by others or in third countries. There were intermediaries, subsources, operators — a sensitive chain. Only one of Steele’s sources on Trump knew of Steele.

“Steele put out his Trump-Russia queries and waited for answers. His sources started reporting back.

“The information was astonishing, ‘hair-raising.’ As he told friends, ‘For anyone who reads it, this is a life-changing experience,’” the book says.

This sourcing arrangement fits the description offered by former acting CIA Director Michael Morell. He told a conference in March that he investigated Mr. Steele’s methods and discovered he had provided money to the intermediaries, who then paid Kremlin sources.

Mr. Harding reports that the FBI is well on its way to confirming Mr. Steele’s charges.

Says the book: “Behind the scenes the FBI was establishing that much of the Steele dossier was true. At several key moments it was uncannily accurate. It laid out a dynamic relationship between the Trump campaign and the Russians — with politically helpful material offered by Moscow, and something given in return. There was, Steele wrote, a ‘well-developed conspiracy of cooperation.’”

“In the United States the FBI was making progress, we agreed, getting some evidence. Of the wider Trump-Russia conspiracy, Steele said: ‘It’s massive. Absolutely massive,’” the book says.

Again, the FBI is telling Congress these supposed confirmations are not happening.

Trump’s attorney … in Prague?

Mr. Harding even says some in the FBI give credence to one of Mr. Steele’s most far-fetched tales — that Mr. Trump’s attorney, Michael Cohen, secretly traveled to Prague in August 2016. He met with top aides of Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss cash payments to cover up the computer hacking, Mr. Steele wrote.

Writes Mr. Harding in “Collusion”: “According to intelligence sources in Washington and London, the FBI was skeptical of Cohen’s denials. It examined Cohen’s movements and considered whether he might have gone to Europe on a private jet.”

Mr. Cohen repeatedly has denied the charge publicly and before the House and Senate intelligence committees. There has not been one hint of public confirmation by investigators.

Mr. Harding quotes a Steele associate as saying, “He’s not the sort of person who will pass on gossip. If he puts something in a report, he believes there is sufficient credibility in it.”

This quote comes two pages after the book discusses the dossier’s assertion that Mr. Trump engaged in an escapade with prostitutes in Moscow’s Ritz-Carlton in 2013.

Mr. Harding gives Mr. Steele’s October 2016 memo credit for predicting that Rosneft, Russia’s giant state-owned oil company, would sell a 19 percent private stake. The sale happened two months later.

An internet search shows that Moscow had announced the 19 percent target sale the previous July.

Mr. Harding says he first met Mr. Steele over tea and beer in London in December 2016 as the dossier was bubbling secretly through liberal Democratic circles in Washington.

The Guardian reporter needed help in trying to prove that Russia financed Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign.

“We had two leads,” he writes. “One was intriguing and at this point speculative: that Russia had covertly financed Trump’s campaign. We knew much of the alleged details. There was no proof. We had no primary source. If proof did exist, it was well hidden.”

The next month, Mr. Steele went back into the cold. BuzzFeed posted the entire dossier on Jan. 10 with all its salacious and unproven felony accusations. Mr. Steele was nowhere to be found — not in his London Orbis Business Intelligence office or his Surrey home.

He emerged weeks later, aided by Mr. Harding’s public relations advice. Reporters had lost most interest.

“The paparazzi still dropped by, though,” Mr. Harding writes. “The solution was for Steele to appear again in public. He didn’t have to say a huge amount, I explained — but might make a brief statement for the cameras. This could be arranged. After that the press would leave him in peace.”

The book faithfully promotes Mr. Steele and his dossier. Yet readers find out in one sentence that the former Russia desk MI-6 officer who spent 1990 to 1993 in Moscow harbored doubts.

“Steele acknowledged his memos were works in progress,” Mr. Harding writes.

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