The Christopher Steele dossier is the most important political document in America’s modern era.
Imported from London, the dossier contained a dozen or so bogus felony allegations against a U.S. president, Donald Trump, and aides for purported Russian election collusion. It was designed to bring his end.
Recipients treated the collection of 2016 memos like precious jewels — FBI directorships and counter-intelligence; the Justice Department; the Barack Obama White House and his CIA and State Department; senior congressional Democrats, most notably intelligence chair Rep. Adam Schiff; and the most influential cluster of newsrooms in the world that shape and dictate Washington’s daily political struggles.
The Washington establishment’s acceptance is what makes the dossier — at its core a piece of campaign opposition research — historically unmatched.
It became a weapon to constantly harass, destabilize and distort Mr. Trump for much of his presidency. It was an astounding success from the Democrats’ point of view. It only cost them and Hillary Clinton’s campaign team about $160,000 for Mr. Steele and his ex-journalist handlers, the folks at Fusion GPS.
Dossier Democrats never paid a political price for trying to bring down a president with non-existent conspiracies.
Mr. Steele told us the 35-page booklet came directly from the lips of senior Kremlin insiders. Mr. Steele, the liberal press told us, especially the liberal British press, was the best spy ever during his time at MI6 as a Moscow embed.
The dossier enjoyed devotion from the Leftist media. (CNN and MSNBC vouched for its accuracy. Mr. Trump was a Russian agent.)
The FBI studied the dossier pages like they were a roadmap to the point where the story ends with the slaying of monster Trump. It wasn’t just FBI wiretaps based on dossier “probable cause” search warrants. Mr. Steele assured there was a well-developed Trump-Russia election conspiracy and, by God, the FBI gumshoes were going to find it.
When Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein sent investigative directions in 2017 to special counsel Robert Mueller, his memo read as if it came straight out of Mr. Steele’s brain.
When the CIA was writing the official intelligence history of Russia’s election interference in the fall of 2016, FBI Director James Comey and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe insisted that it include the dossier. A public intelligence community report that was supposed to be based on verified facts would have contained the unverified claims of a poorly sourced dossier if the FBI had had its way. The CIA balked and relegated the unreliable dossier to an appendix.
Still, the FBI repeatedly soaked up dossier info via intermediaries, including the Justice Department’s No. 4 official. Agents met with Mr. Steele in Rome and agreed to pay him for more anti-Trump dirt.
By early 2017, Mr. Steele’s main source, Russian-born Igor Danchenko, told the FBI that Mr. Steele had embellished his report.
U.S. intelligence told the FBI that Moscow intelligence penetrated Mr. Steele’s dossier project and likely fed him disinformation, such as the fictitious Prague trip by Trump lawyer Michael Cohen. Vladimir Putin likes to mess with America, Republican or Democrat.
Put on notice, the FBI continued to rely on the dossier.
Eventually, Republicans and Washington’s plucky conservative press took over. Mr. Trump did not finance Russian computer hacking. There was no sinister trip to Prague to meet Mr. Putin’s goons. Nor did campaign operatives agree to end sanctions for gobs of Russian natural gas money.
Today, a small reckoning is appearing in Washington discourse.
Former New York Times reporter Barry Meier has written a book on the ubiquitous private intelligence industry. “Spooked: The Trump Dossier, Black Cube, and the Rise of Private Spies” gets around to looking at Steele handler Fusion GPS and its stable of ex-Wall Street Journal reporters.
What’s interesting is that the New York Times played host to a Meier book preview. While the Times promoted all kinds of Trump-Russia conspiracy theories, the paper was decidedly neutral on the dossier itself. It tried hard to corroborate its specious allegations but never did, even as it wrote scores of stories that insinuated that a conspiracy did exist. The Times has never eviscerated Mr. Steele’s body of work despite its collapse.
Mr. Meier depicts Mr. Steele and Fusion co-founders Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch as united in the liberal contest to beat up, destroy and discard Mr. Trump. Mr. Steele sold his life rights to Hollywood. Oh, the fun that Democratic bastion would have made Mr. Steele a star on its Walk of Fame.
“Now the glow has faded — from both the dossier and its promoters,” Mr. Meier wrote in the Times. “Russia, as Mr. Steele asserted, did try to influence the 2016 election. But many of the dossier’s most explosive claims — like a salacious ‘pee’ tape featuring Mr. Trump or a supposed meeting in Prague between Michael Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former attorney, and Russian operatives — have never materialized or have been proved false.”
Mr. Simpson and Mr. Fritsch have never acknowledged any dossier mistakes. They once adorned the New York Times op-ed pages. The Times published at least three Simpson-Fritsch columns attacking Mr. Trump in 2018-19.
Their rebuttal to Mr. Meier appeared on the community site Medium.com.
They paint Mr. Meier as a hypocrite because he wrote a book criticizing them — after previously seeking their opposition research on Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.
“By far, the most salient fact that Meier omits in his book and news story is that he himself repeatedly contacted us for help on Times stories before, during and after the 2016 election,” they write. “We would generally consider our correspondence with a journalist to be confidential, but Meier’s extraordinary hypocrisy warrants an exception.”
On June 6, Mr. Meier posted a photo on his Twitter account of Mr. Simpson and Mr. Fritsch, with the heading: “The dossier’s journey from media obsession to the slush pile. It’s one of the stories in SPOOKED.”
He was interviewed for a July 14 New York Magazine “Intelligencer” article that began: “To pick the worst press failure of the past half-decade would be a daunting assignment, but the coverage of the Steele dossier would have to be high on any list.”
That sentence is a big admission for the Intelligencer logo. In December 2017, with months to scrutinize Mr. Steele’s work, the magazine ran a story with the headline, “The Steele Dossier on Trump and Russia is Looking More and More Real.”
Mr. Simpson spun his conspiracies to both House and Senate committees. One of his favorites was that Mr. Cohen did indeed go to Prague. (The FBI concluded he did not.) Mr. Simpson surmised Mr. Cohen got there by boat and secret aircraft and ended up in the Adriatic Sea –– without leaving a trace.
“There is a very puzzling sequence of events that we spent a lot of time looking at,” Mr. Simpson testified in 2017 to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. “There were all these yachts nearby and that, you know, there had been rumors of meetings between Trump people and Russians on yachts off Dubrovnik [Croatia].”
That scenario was also the suspicion of Andrew Weissmann, now an MSNBC anti-Republican analyst and previously an important player in Mr. Mueller’s list of Democratic Party-aligned prosecutors.
According to FBI Special Agent William J. Barnett, who was assigned to the “Crossfire Hurricane” Trump probe, Mr. Weissmann promoted the idea inside the Mueller shop that there was a “meeting on a yacht near Greece.”
A Justice Department interview report quoted Mr. Barnett as saying, “Weissmann said there was a meeting on a yacht near Greece that was going to be the proof of collusion, ‘quid pro quo.’” According to the report, Mr. Barnett said the information was not substantiated within a day or two.
Mr. Durham’s anticipated public report, if there is one under the now-political Biden Justice Department, may well be the U.S. government’s first official word on the dossier’s seamy legacy.
What will always be the dossier’s historical footnote is this: A retired senior spy for Britain, the United States’ closest friend, tried to bring down an American president using Kremlin gossip. There is no public evidence anyone at Great Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), with whom he shared his claims, tried to stop him.
• Rowan Scarborough is a columnist at the Washington Times.
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