For months, the FBI asked a judge to wiretap a Trump associate based on assurances from dossier writer Christopher Steele, even though public information contradicted what the former British spy was telling the bureau.
The narrative is contained in a Senate Judiciary Committee criminal referral on Mr. Steele sent to the Justice Department.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and the committee’s chairman, released a largely unredacted version.
He concluded that the FBI repeatedly misled the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge who granted four warrants from October 2016 to June 2017 to spy on an American who had volunteered with the Trump campaign.
The timeline for what Mr. Grassley, and co-referral signer Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, call Mr. Steele’s “apparent deception” played out this way.
In October 2016, the FBI filed a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act application to eavesdrop electronically on Carter Page, a volunteer who had left the Trump campaign that September. FISA warrants allow agents to reach back in time to communications.
The bulk of the FBI’s probable cause evidence, the referral says, came from information in Mr. Steele’s Democrat-financed dossier. It makes a series of criminal charges, plus numerous salacious charges, against President Trump, Mr. Page and others. All deny the accusations.
On the application, the FBI did not list any of its own independent corroboration. But the bureau did cite a September story in Yahoo News on Mr. Page to buttress the dossier. Agents attested to the judge that the article was independent corroboration because Mr. Steele said he had not spoken to Yahoo News.
That FBI assertion was false.
Mr. Steele fed his dossier material to Yahoo News and other media outlets that September but told the FBI he had not. In other words, the dossier and the articles came from the same source: Mr. Steele.
In fact, the FBI stated in the application, “The FBI does not believe that [Mr. Steele] directly provided this information to the press.”
The FBI’s reliance on Yahoo News and writer Michael Isikoff did not end there. Mr. Grassley’s referral says that in three subsequent renewals through June 2017, the FBI cited Yahoo News, which would take the surveillance period through September.
What makes that date interesting is that The Washington Times first reported in April on a Steele declaration filed in a closed civil case in London, where he is being sued for libel.
In the declaration, Mr. Steele described a number of meetings with reporters in Washington in September and October 2016, including from Yahoo News, before the FBI filed the first FISA application.
The Times report included a copy of the filing.
Thus, it was public information that Mr. Steele talked to Yahoo News, contrary to his denial to the FBI, two months before the June wiretap filing.
“The FBI repeatedly represented to the court that Mr. Steele told the FBI he did not have unauthorized contacts with the press about the dossier prior to October 2106,” the Grassley-Graham referral says.
Said the two senators:
“In short, it appears the FBI relied on admittedly uncorroborated information, funded by and obtained for Secretary Clinton’s presidential campaign, in order to conduct surveillance of an associate of the opposing presidential candidate.”
While the FBI continued to surveil Mr. Page, based on Mr. Steele’s word, then-FBI Director James B. Comey briefed President-elect Donald Trump on the dossier at Trump Tower. He called the document “salacious and unverified,” even though his agents continued to rely on it.
Mr. Steele was paid $168,000 by Fusion GPS, which received the money from a law firm representing the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
The FBI knew the dossier was funded by Democrats but did not tell the judge.
Mr. Steele accused Mr. Page of negotiating a bribe with a Kremlin figure while the volunteer was in Moscow in July 2016 to deliver a public speech to a university.
Mr. Page, a Naval Academy graduate and former Navy officer, lived and worked in the 2000s in Moscow as an investor. He has denied under oath that he ever talked of a bribe or met with the people identified by Mr. Steele.
The FBI’s FISA warrants remain mostly secret. But it is assumed this Steele accusation was presented to the judge as probable cause that Mr. Page was a foreign agent.
The Grassley-Graham referral said the FBI never presented any evidence to substantiate this charge other than the Yahoo News report.
“The bulk of the application consists of allegations against Page that were disclosed to the FBI by Mr. Steele and are also outlined in the Steele dossier,” the document says. “The application appears to contain no additional information corroborating the dossier allegations against Mr. Page.”
Since first sending the referral on Jan. 4, the two senators worked with the FBI to declassify most of it, which happened with its release Tuesday night.
What remained redacted were the names of two Clinton operatives and an Obama State Department official who were funneling information to Mr. Steele that fall election season.
The storyline now is that Mr. Steele, who by his own words was “desperate” to bring down Mr. Trump, worked with a list of people: the FBI; Fusion GPS and co-founder Glenn Simpson; news reporters; Clinton associates; a State Department official; and Bruce Ohr, an associate attorney general whose wife worked at Fusion GPS.
Mr. Ohr was sending his wife’s and Mr. Steele’s work to the FBI. Mr. Ohr, who met with Mr. Steele that fall, told the FBI of Mr. Steele’s desperation to stop Mr. Trump. The Justice Department has demoted Mr. Ohr.
At that time, the lead FBI agent for the Russia investigation was Peter Strzok. His text messages with FBI lawyer Lisa Page, with whom he was having an extramarital affair, showed that both harbored disdain for Mr. Trump and planned to somehow try to disrupt his administration.
Special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating suspected Trump-Russia collusion, fired Mr. Strzok when the Justice Department’s inspector general discovered the messages.
Mr. Steele made charges against other Trump associates, such as personal attorney Michael Cohen.
Mr. Steele said Mr. Cohen traveled secretly to Prague in August 2016 to engineer a cover-up of Russian hacking of Democratic Party computers. Mr. Cohen denied under oath that he ever took such a trip and that there was no public evidence that he did.
The FBI terminated work with Mr. Steele in late October 2016 after a Mother Jones magazine article quoted him as an unidentified source disclosing the FBI investigation.
But the bureau stayed committed to his word and his dossier.
“In defending Mr. Steele’s credibility to the FISC, the FBI had posited an innocuous explanation for the September 23 article, based on the assumption that Mr. Steele had told the FBI the truth about his press contacts,” the referral says. “The FBI then vouched for him twice more using the same rationale, in subsequent renewal applications filed with FSIC court in April and June 2017.”
The referral asked the Justice Department to investigate Mr. Steele for lying to the FBI.
• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at email@example.com.
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