Here is one more reason why the Nunes memo is consequential: Its release prompted the Justice Department and FBI to grant the Senate Judiciary Committee’s request to declassify portions of its criminal referral of dossier author Christopher Steele for making false statements to federal officials. The new information corroborates a key allegation in the Nunes memo that “Steele improperly concealed from and lied to the FBI.”
Shortly after the president authorized the publication last Friday of the House Intelligence Committee’s memo, Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray asking them again to declassify parts of the referral.
“Much of the information in the declassified [House Intelligence] memorandum overlaps with the information in the criminal referral made by Senator Graham and me,” Grassley wrote. “That information has now been declassified and can no longer properly be deemed as classified in our criminal referral. Accordingly, I ask that you immediately review the classified referral in light of today’s declassification and provide a declassified version of it to the Committee.”
‘Hide the Ball’
Just as the FBI had attempted to halt the Nunes memo’s release, Bureau officials initially tried to block portions of Grassley’s January 4 referral from public view, insisting it contained classified information and warning that the Bureau was “deeply concerned that granting exceptions to this policy would send a troubling signal.” Grassley blasted the FBI’s excuse from the Senate floor on January 24, accusing FBI leadership of “falsely claiming that three of our unclassified paragraphs each contain the same or single classified fact,” because the sections in question are from “non-government sources and do not claim to repeat or confirm any information from any government document.”
Grassley called the agency’s attempt to obfuscate pertinent information “a bureaucratic game of ‘hide the ball’ rather than a genuine concern about national security.”
Well, Grassley scored a partial victory in that game on Monday when the heavily-redacted referral memo finally became public. Although the majority of Grassley’s original missive (co-authored with Senator Lindsey Graham) is blacked-out, it contains enough fresh information to further erode Steele’s credibility: “As explained in greater detail below, when information in those [FBI] classified documents is evaluated in light of sworn statements by Mr. Steele in British litigation, it appears that either Mr. Steele lied to the FBI or the British court, or that the classified documents reviewed by the Committee contain materially false statements.”
Steele’s Conflicting Stories
The conflicting statements stem from the ex-MI6 agent’s answers in an affidavit for a defamation lawsuit filed a year ago by Russian businessman Aleksej Gubarev against Buzzfeed for publishing false allegations in Steele’s dossier. Steele claimed Gubarev and his Luxembourg-based technology company were involved in hacking the Democratic National Committee. (Buzzfeed subsequently redacted Gubarev’s name and the name of his company: “We have redacted Mr. Gubarev’s name from the published dossier, and apologize for including it.”)
It appears—reading through the black lines, as it were—that Steele told the FBI something quite different from what he told a British court about his interactions with media outlets before October 2016: “There is substantial evidence suggesting that Mr. Steele materially misled the FBI about a key aspect of his dossier efforts, one which bears on his credibility.” While the next four paragraphs are fully redacted, subsequent paragraphs give a clue about what information was blacked-out. “However, public reports, court filings, and information obtained by the Committee during witness interviews in the course of its ongoing investigation indicate that Mr. Steele provided dossier information to numerous media organizations prior to the end of October 2016.” (Emphasis added.)
Did Steele tell the FBI he had only spoken with Mother Jones’ columnist David Corn, who published the first known Steele-sourced article on October 31, 2016? Corn dutifully carried the Clinton campaign’s water in that piece just one week before the election. Corn’s story blasted FBI Director James Comey for his letter to Congress about discovering new Clinton emails, pivoted to that now-suspect August 2016 letter from former Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid urging the FBI to expose Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page, and offered the public’s first look at Steele’s numerous memos, which would later be called a “dossier.” (Steele’s disclosure of his work with the FBI to Corn prompted the Bureau to fire him.)
But in the May 2017 affidavit, Steele admitted speaking with several other media outlets in September 2016: “The journalists initially briefed at the end of September 2016 by [Steele] and Fusion at Fusion’s instructions were from the New York Times, the Washington Post, Yahoo News, the New Yorker, and CNN.” Steele also spoke with the Times, Washington Post, and Yahoo News again in mid-October 2016, and then a “journalist from Mother Jones” (presumably Corn) in late October.
On September 23, 2016, Yahoo News writer Michael Isikoff published the first dossier-related story tying Carter Page to “suspected efforts by Moscow to influence the presidential election.” The article, which only cited “U.S. intelligence officials,” ignited follow-up coverage in top media outlets including the Washington Post, CNN, and Politico, led to Page’s ouster from the campaign, and compelled the businessman to file his own defamation lawsuit against Yahoo in September. (The House Intelligence committee memo contends the Yahoo News article was “cited extensively” in the initial FISA application seeking authorization to spy on Page.)
Playing the Press—and the Feds
But we know now Steele talked to Isikoff, not just because the ex-spy testified as much in the lawsuit, but also because Isikoff himself just acknowledged Steele was his source, and introduced to him by his “old friend [Fusion GPS co-founder] Glenn Simpson in September 2016.” Here’s how it went down:
Isikoff said he was introduced to Steele by Glenn Simpson, who invited him to meet a “secret source” at a Washington restaurant.
“Glenn had booked a private room upstairs so that no one would see us,” Isikoff recalled. “During the hour or so we talked that day, Steele tells me an amazing story—how one of Donald Trump’s foreign policy advisers, Carter Page, had flown to Moscow and had private talks with close associates of Vladimir Putin about lifting U.S. sanctions against Russia.”
“And Steele tells me something else that day that gets my attention: He’s taken this information to the FBI and the bureau is very interested,” Isikoff continued. “Why were they interested? What did the bureau know that would prompt them to take the extraordinary step to launch an investigation into an adviser of the Republican nominee for president?”
Good questions, Mike.
The FBI was either “utterly USED by the Clinton campaign,” as Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberly Strassel tweeted yesterday, or it was a cog in this orchestrated scheme to smear Carter Page, discredit Donald Trump’s candidacy, and undermine his presidency. We also know that the press was a willing partner in this plot, eagerly regurgitating talking points from a known opposition-research firm with extensive media ties (not to mention direct ties to the Justice Department) that shopped a story using a paid “former spy.” Yet no one saw any red flags.
Democrats and pundits continue to insist Republicans are threatening the integrity of the FBI. With each new disclosure, it’s clear who is really doing the damage.
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