Christopher Steele has released his first on-the-record statement on how he investigated Donald Trump, but he does not specifically defend his dossier’s list of disproved felony allegations against the then-candidate.
Mr. Steele, a former British intelligence officer financed by Democrats, issued his statement through Washington attorneys and focused much of his ire at the Justice Department inspector general’s Dec. 9 report.
With the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report in March and the IG’s findings, Mr. Steele’s dossier and its central allegation of a huge Trump-Russia election conspiracy have been largely discredited.
Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz found that the Steele dossier was “essential” for the FBI to obtain wiretaps on Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
The IG drew a negative profile of Mr. Steele’s main contact, identified as “Primary Sub-Source.” Based in Moscow, the sub-source told the FBI that his information flow was “just talk” and hearsay and that he never imagined that Mr. Steele would put it into a report sent to America to influence the 2016 election.
Here are Mr. Steele’s observations about the FBI and Mr. Horowitz:
⦁ Mr. Steele, a former MI6 officer once posted to Moscow, objected to the label of “confidential human source,” or CHS, as listed by the FBI and the Horowitz report. He previously had been paid $94,000 for other investigative projects, including a FIFA soccer scandal.
“Orbis and Christopher Steele repeatedly told the FBI that he could not be a CHS because his obligations to his former government employer [M16] prohibited his acting in such a capacity,” the statement says.
He told the FBI that the relationship could only be a contract between the bureau and his business, Orbis Business Intelligence in London.
⦁ Mr. Steele was never given a chance to respond to the primary sub-source’s allegations that the dossier relied on gossip.
“Had Orbis been given the opportunity to respond in a private session, the statements by the ‘Primary Sub-Source’ would be put in a very different light,” the statement says. “The ‘Primary Sub-Source’s‘ debriefings by Orbis were meticulously documented and recorded.”
⦁ The FBI never admonished Mr. Steele not to provide information to the news media. The IG report said that agents warned him during a huddle in Rome in October 2016 as the FBI was preparing to ask a federal judge to approve the first electronic surveillance on Mr. Page.
Mr. Steele’s paymaster, the Washington investigative firm Fusion GPS, required him to brief reporters on his anti-Trump package so news stories would appear during the election.
“The Report shows that the FBI agents who attended the meeting have very different recollections of what was and was not discussed at the meeting,” Mr. Steele said.
He said the IG reviewed his meetings notes and they confirm that he told the FBI he could not fire Fusion in favor of the bureau.
Later in October 2016, the FBI closed its CHS relationship with Mr. Steele after he leaked an anti-Trump story to Mother Jones magazine. But, in 2017 the FBI continued to receive his Trump packages as the candidate became the president.
Concerning the FISA warrant, the FBI attested to judges that Mr. Steele told agents that a September 2016 Yahoo News story didn’t come from the dossier writer. The implication was that it corroborated Mr. Steele’s reporting that Mr. Page met with Kremlin figures in Moscow in July and discussed bribes. (The Mueller report found no such wrongdoing.)
“Christopher Steele would have had no reason to deny these media contacts if asked about them by the FBI, as they related to intellectual property that belonged to Fusion,” the statement said.
⦁ Mr. Steele denied he pushed the oft-repeated conspiracy theory that the Trump Organization in New York maintained a secret direct computer server hook-up with Alfa, Russia’s largest commercial bank whose owners are close to President Vladimir Putin.
“In fact, Orbis did not investigate or report on that issue,” Mr. Steele said, adding that he merely passed along public information.
The IG report said he did. It also said the FBI debunked the theory in early 2017.
Mr. Steele’s denial is contradicted by notes taken by Kathleen Kavalec, a deputy assistance secretary of state with whom he met in Washington in October 2016.
She memorialized the meeting: “Peter [sic] Aven of Alfa Bank has been the conduit for secret communications between the Kremlin and Manafort; messages are encrypted via TOR software and run between a hidden server managed by Alfa Bank.”
There was no evidence of this in the Mueller report.
Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson pushed the Alfa story to reporters and also to Bruce Ohr, then the No. 4 ranking official at the Justice Department.
Mr. Ohr met with Mr. Simpson in December 2016. His notes from the meeting: “The New York Times story on Oct. 31 downplaying the connection between Alfa servers and the Trump campaign was incorrect. There was communication and it wasn’t spam.”
“Alfa server in US is link to campaign,” Mr. Ohr quoted Mr. Simpson as saying.
Mr. Steele didn’t push the server conspiracy in the dossier, but he did link Alfa’s partners to Russian election interference. They are suing him for defamation in London, as is another Russian businessman whom Mr. Steele said actually did the computer hacking into Democratic Party computers.
⦁ Mr. Steele did address his own work — the dossier — on a single issue.
In the dossier, Mr. Steele alleges that Mr. Page, while in Moscow to deliver a public university commencement address, met with Igor Sechin, head of the giant energy firm Rosneft. The two discussed a bribe in exchange for ending economic sanctions. Mr. Page has always denied ever meeting Mr. Sechin, a close Putin adviser.
Mr. Steele argued that Mr. Page confirmed this in his 2017 testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Here is what Mr. Page, an energy investor who worked in Moscow from 2004 to 2007 with Merrill Lynch, said: An “old friend” from his Moscow days, Andrey Baranov, and he met at a bank-sponsored event to watch a soccer match at a bar. Since Mr. Page left Moscow, Mr. Baranov had become director of investor relations at Rosneft.
Mr. Page testified that they may have talked about sanctions since the issue was in the news. He recalled no discussion of a private sale of a 19% stake in Rosneft, which had been announced in mid-July.
“I can tell you for sure is I have never had any discussions with him about changing any sanctions policy or things I could even conceivably do in that regard,” he testified.
After the election, Mr. Page returned to Moscow in December and had lunch with Mr. Baranov. He said they may have discussed the Rosneft private sale since it was in the news. He said he had no financial interest.
Mr. Page was exonerated by the Muller report.
It does not appear Mr. Steele has given any on-the-record news media interviews since his identity was revealed in January 2017. But his views on certain events have come through in generally sympathetic books and articles.
Before Mr. Steele’s Dec. 10 press statement, his only on-the-record remarks came in libel lawsuits filed in Florida and London.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, unleashed scathing criticism of Mr. Steele during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on the IG report on Dec. 12.
“If you had spent 30 minutes looking at Christopher Steele, you would understand this guy is biased. He’s got an ax to grind. He’s on the payroll of the opposing party. Take anything he says with a grain of salt,” Mr. Graham said.
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