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Thursday, July 29, 2021

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Court filings released last month revealed new details about how retired British MI-6 officer Christopher Steele horrifically mismanaged a network of Russian contacts in compiling his infamous anti-Trump “dossier.” The bumbling ex-spy unwisely subcontracted the handling of his network to Russian national research analyst Igor Danchenko. Now, Mr. Danchenko’s “sources” are saying he deceitfully mischaracterized them as having provided the juicy material for Mr. Steele’s dossier.  

None of the Russians cited by Mr. Danchenko had access to Kremlin insiders and decision-makers. They provided none of the salacious, unproven allegations against Mr. Trump in the dossier, even as Mr. Steele was claiming Russia was secretly helping Mr. Trump win the 2016 presidential election.   


Ivan Vorontsov, an editor of an online banking site, and Sergey Abyshev, who served as deputy director of the Russian energy ministry until 2016, denied they discussed any of the content used in the dossier with Mr. Danchenko. They were falsely accused of being the sources for the first of Mr. Steele’s 17 reports concerning Mr. Trump’s alleged lurid behavior at the Ritz Carlton in Moscow in 2013. 

Mr. Abyshev and Russian journalist Lyudmilla Podobedova believed Mr. Danchenko included them as his “sources” to embellish the credibility of his reporting. Mr. Abyshev asserted Mr. Danchenko had a “drinking problem,” appeared “intoxicated” during their only meeting in 2016, and was “fishing for information that would fit a preconceived narrative.”

Public relations specialist Olga Galkina was cited as Mr. Danchenko’s source on the supposed trip by then-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen to Prague and on Russian contacts with onetime Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Both stories later were proven to be false. 

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) would have easily tracked Mr. Danchenko’s use of public meetings, mail, and phone records to communicate with his sources.  According to the Department of Justice inspector general’s report, the FBI obtained evidence in 2017 that Russian intelligence used Mr. Steele as a conduit for disinformation.

These latest revelations only intensify questions of where Mr. Steele, who never met any of Mr. Danchenko’s sources, obtained the information used for his dossier — or whether he fabricated it entirely.  Hired to collect opposition research on then-candidate Donald Trump on behalf of the Hillary Clinton campaign, Mr. Steele might be guilty of the sort of ideologically predisposed bias, which ethical, professional intelligence officers are trained to strictly avoid.  

Having served in Moscow and been in charge of the MI-6 Russia desk, Mr. Steele should have known better.   

And so should those who commissioned and used the dossier. Collecting sensitive information from inside Russia is extraordinarily challenging, even for the most sophisticated intelligence operatives. The Clinton campaign should have asked Mr. Steele basic questions about how he obtained his information from Mr. Danchenko and what he had done to double-check the accuracy of the sensational charges.

Mr. Cohen’s alleged visit to Prague to meet with Russian hackers and government agents, a glaring red flag that was soon proved to be total fiction, should have cast serious doubt on the dossier’s veracity and caused readers to think twice about making decisions based on its allegations. 

Instead, the dossier became a massive, self-inflicted wound, a virus injected into the U.S. political process which caused great harm here while serving the direct interests of the Kremlin. It received wide dissemination in the American press and was used to support the FBI’s ill-starred Crossfire Hurricane investigation into supposed links between Moscow and the Trump campaign. 

Mr. Steele will likely never issue a public apology for his malfeasance and the damage it did to this country. But his specious dossier should be a clarion call to action.  

During the 2016 and 2020 presidential election campaigns, Democrats and Republicans accused one another of soliciting and accepting foreign assistance to conduct opposition research.  Almost every campaign seeks out derogatory information on opponents. According to U.S. law, foreign nationals are not allowed to provide a “contribution or donation of money or other thing of value…in connection with a federal, state, or local election.”  

With that in mind, here are three steps we must take to defend our democracy:

First, Congress should pass a law requiring political campaigns to report any offer of assistance from foreign governments and non-U.S. citizens, while making it illegal to employ any foreigner to conduct opposition research. This would help protect against undue influence in our political process from abroad.   

Second, Congress should conduct stricter oversight to ensure there is a firewall between opposition research conducted with a political purpose and the use of such research for legal cases, including the surveillance of suspects.  

Third, media outlets, which rushed to judgment on Mr. Steele’s dossier without proper due diligence, should make the appropriate corrections for the record, to mitigate the immense damage they have done to trust in their reporting.

• Daniel N. Hoffman is a retired clandestine services officer and former chief of station with the Central Intelligence Agency. His combined 30 years of government service included high-level overseas and domestic positions at the CIA. He has been a Fox News contributor since May 2018. Follow him on Twitter @DanielHoffmanDC.


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