Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Another Steele Dossier?

Updated 5 May

This is kind of interesting, reported in England by The Telegraph (paywall) and picked up by the Sydney Morning Herald: It seems Christopher Steele compiled a second dossier on Donald Trump, this one directly for the FBI, after Trump took office:

The second dossier contains raw intelligence that makes further claims of Russian meddling in the US election and also references claims regarding the existence of further sex tapes. The second dossier is reliant on separate sources to those who supplied information for the first reports.

The fact the FBI continued to receive intelligence from Steele, who ran MI6’s Russia desk from 2006 to 2009 before setting up Orbis, is potentially significant because it shows his work was apparently still being taken seriously after Trump took hold of the reins of power.

It was, was it? We'd been given to believe FBI broke off relations with Steele in November 2016, after David Corn revealed the existence of the original dossier in a Halloween article in Mother Jones—not that at that point that they didn't trust his research, but that they couldn't trust him to stay away from the press, which is understandable (I can also understand Steele's point of view, that the FBI didn't seem to be doing anything with the material he'd showed them, even as they publicly reopened an obviously bogus investigation into Hillary Clinton, and someone who appeared to be a tool of the Russian government was dangerously close to getting elected president of the United States, and he and Glenn Simpson felt morally obliged to do something).

But it's not exactly true that the FBI broke off with Steele. DOJ's Bruce Ohr kept talking to Steele, and the FBI was aware, and opinions on it in the Bureau differed:

(Senate Intelligence Committee report on Russian active measures, vol. 5, p. 851)

And of course in September 2017 FBI agents working on Robert Mueller's investigation team interviewed Steele, over a two-day period, at a hotel near Steele's office in London, as we know from the DOJ Inspector General report on the origins of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, in which it provided a lot of the material for IG Horowitz's discussion of the unreliability of the original dossier, or at least the bits that were used to support the surveillance orders on Carter Page. 

I had thought, based on the way Horowitz (and eventually the Senate Intelligence Committee) presented it, that this interview was a kind of hostile interrogation meant to challenge the veracity of the original dossier, but the Telegraph story mentions it in reference to this second dossier, as discussing the research that went into it—

In the interview, Steele told the FBI that Orbis had “four discrete, ‘hermetically-sealed’ main agent networks”. His primary “sub-source” for the dossier was no longer “active” at the time of the interview with FBI agents, but that another “main agent network is up and running and is now starting to get good information”.

The Telegraph understands this agent, referred to by Steele in his interview with the FBI, supplied information for the second dossier.

—and I find, looking at the 302 of the interview (which Trump ordered declassified just last January, on the morning of Biden's inauguration), that it reads more like a negotiation over whether and how Steele and the investigation should start working with each other; Steele opens by apologizing for the David Corn article

(Burrows is Christopher Burrows, Steele's partner at Orbis), assures himself that the interviewers represent the Special Counsel's Office and not the FBI, clarifies that Glenn Simpson knows he is talking to them, and moves on to the discussion of the primary sub-source and the other sub-sources and sub-sub-sources and who is responsible for which reports in the original dossier that we know about from Horowitz, not in a particularly defensive tone, but maybe a bit anxious to make it clear, as in the the bit cited above, that that primary sub-source isn't working for him at the moment and the new network is really good. 

One interesting detail is that he frequently appeals to Fiona Hill, a close friend, to vouch for the primary sub-source, to whom she had introduced him in 2011; another is that he did a study of Dmitry Rybolovlev and the purchase of that Palm Beach house on which Trump made an inexplicable $54-million profit, which didn't make it into the dossier. Also, he regards Carter Page as an entirely insignificant figure; it's the sinister presence of Paul Manafort in the Trump orbit that got him interested in the Trump campaign, before he started working on it with Fusion GPS.

And then, after the very detailed report-by-report discussion of the original dossier, he moves on to a pretty detailed discussion of the new network:

..... and lots more, including information on Russian interference in French, German, and British elections, and then this:

In fact, he's plainly pitching it to the Special Counsel in the interview, and that is what the interview is about. They weren't calling him in to complain about the dossier, they were calling him in to talk about doing some more work for them. And I think they must have bought it. This, friends, looks like the counterintelligence side of the Mueller investigation, as opposed to its criminal side, whose possible existence we've been tantalized and then disappointed with so many times, but also the investigation of Trump's business dealings that was missing from the Mueller Report, with an absolutely criminal element. Kazakhstan and Cyprus! Felix Sater and Trump Soho! A RICO case and a corrupt American official!

Nobody seems to have looked at this material from January—hardly anybody seems to have reported on it, other than the Trumpy Washington Examiner and Putin's RT, which both focus naturally on trying to make Steele look like a criminal and deflecting—but the Telegraph story about the second dossier makes it all make sense. Most of the attention on that (e.g. in Salon), as in the first dossier, seems to be going to the question of new sex tape allegations, inevitably, but there is so much more going on than that. I hope the dossier itself comes out, and I mean soon. Trump-Russia is far from dead.

Update: Steele's firm told Scott Stedman there is no second dossier:

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

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