Two years ago today, the “dossier” was officially introduced to the American public.
Although its author and his handlers had been circulating the document within Washington, D.C. circles for nearly six months, a scoop orchestrated by then-FBI Director James Comey and then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper allowed CNN to air its award-winning segment, “Intel Chiefs Presented Trump With Claims of Russian Efforts to Compromise Him” on January 10, 2017.
The reporters disclosed that President Obama and President-elect Trump had been briefed a few days earlier on classified documents that suggested Russian officials possessed compromising information about the incoming president. Reporter Jim Sciutto cited “multiple U.S. officials with firsthand knowledge of the briefings” who told the network that a brief summary of the damaging material had been attached to the in intelligence community’s official report on the Russian government’s plan to disrupt the 2016 presidential election.
“The allegations were part of a two-page synopsis,” Sciutto explained. “These were based on memos compiled by a former British intelligence operative whose past work U.S. intelligence officials consider credible.”
Later in the segment, author Carl Bernstein confirmed the information was sourced by a “former British MI6 intelligence agent who was hired by a political research opposition firm in Washington who was doing work about Donald Trump for both Republicans and Democratic candidates opposed to Trump.”
Buzzfeed published the entire series of memos online a few hours later, conferring a more official term—”dossier”—onto the document. (Perhaps the term was chosen because it sounded much better than “political dirt from a shady foreign operative and paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.”)
“The documents have circulated for months and acquired a kind of legendary status among journalists, lawmakers, and intelligence officials,” Buzzfeed admitted. “[It] includes specific, unverified, and potentially unverifiable allegations of contact between Trump aides and Russian operatives, and graphic claims of sexual acts documented by the Russians.”
The news rocked the political world and sent the incoming administration into panic mode: “The consequences [of the dossier] have been incalculable and will play out long past Inauguration Day,” warned a follow-up story in the New York Times on January 11, 2017.
What an understatement that would be.
Dirty Hands at Justice
So, two years after the “dossier” became part of the nation’s political lexicon, what do we know?
We know much more about Christopher Steele, the ex-British agent who the media attempted to portray as an honest broker with unassailable integrity and top-notch sources. (In a 15,000-word puff piece published last March in the New Yorker, Jane Mayer depicted Steele as a hero just trying to admonish Americans about a traitorous presidential candidate.)
In reality, Steele is a hired gun who had been retained by Glenn Simpson, founder of Fusion GPS and a former Wall Street Journal reporter, to dig up Russian-related dirt on Donald Trump. Fusion GPS was being paid through a law firm (to stay under the radar) hired by the Clinton campaign and the DNC.
Steele also was working for the FBI as a source while at the same time representing Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch desperate to get his travel privileges restored by the U.S. government. (He did.) Steele had a long-standing relationship with Bruce Ohr, a high-ranking Justice Department official at the time, whose wife also was working on the anti-Trump research at Fusion GPS.
Months before the presidential election, Steele, along with Simpson, pitched the dossier to American journalists. At least two articles published before Election Day were sourced by Steele and Simpson. That malfeasance led to his being fired by the FBI a few days before the election. One year ago, the Senate Judiciary Committee asked the Justice Department to investigate Steele for lying to federal officials. No action has been taken.
Aside from its author, what else do we know about the dossier? We know that Comey used the dossier as evidence to obtain a FISA warrant on Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page two weeks before the election. It’s still unclear exactly when or who gave Comey the dossier in the fall of 2016: He told Bret Baier last April that “someone on his senior staff” briefed him on the dossier and gave him a copy. Comey also denied that the dossier comprised the bulk of Page’s FISA application.
But thanks to the work last year of then-House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), we know most of the evidence in the FISA applications was sourced from the dossier, which Comey himself admitted was “salacious and unverified.” Comey also cited a September 2016 Yahoo News article, the first media report alluding to the dossier and Christopher Steele, in the application on Page: What he did not disclose to the court was the fact that the dossier had been paid for by Trump’s rival presidential campaign and the DNC.
We also know that Comey, a virulent Trump foe whose agency was led by biased FBI agents, selected the most outlandish accusation in the dossier—that Trump used Russian prostitutes—to alarm Trump on January 6, 2017. The purpose of his solo briefing, Comey revealed in his own memos, was to warn Trump that “the media, CNN in particular, was telling us they were about to run with it.” Again, he didn’t tell Trump who paid for the dossier: Comey told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that “it wasn’t necessary for my goal.”
That’s because his goal, as we know how, was to give CNN a major scoop. Shortly after he left the briefing, someone leaked to the network. The final report by the House Intelligence Committee concluded, “James Clapper, now a CNN national security analyst, provided inconsistent testimony to the Committee about his contacts with the media, including CNN.” Clapper directed Comey to brief Trump about the prostitute and “golden shower” allegations.
A Whole Lot of Nothing
Two years after the Steele dossier became the lynchpin of the Trump-Russia collusion saga, none of its most damning revelations have been proven; key players are backing away from it. Michael Isikoff, the author of the Yahoo News article and pal of Glenn Simpson, said in a radio interview last month that “when you actually get into the details of the Steele dossier, the specific allegations, we have not seen the evidence to support them. In fact, there’s good grounds to think some of the more sensational allegations will never be proven and are likely false.”
This week, the original reporters on the January 10, 2017, CNN segment gave an unconvincing if not comical defense that “parts” of the dossier have been shown to be true. Scuitto listed the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting and a prospective, unrealized plan to build a Trump hotel in Moscow as proof the dossier is somehow still credible. (Neither was included in Steele’s work.)
More “proof”? Putin admitted last year he wanted Trump to win—hardly a solid vindication of the dossier’s legitimacy.
Further, costly and time-consuming congressional investigations based on the dossier have come up empty. The ongoing work of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team has not rendered one charge, let alone indictment, related to the issue of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
But the result of the media frenzy that began two years ago, remain. Ancillary figures have been bankrupted by legal fees and lost business. Carter Page, whose personal and professional life was nearly destroyed, has not been charged with a crime despite Comey’s FBI telling a secret court he was acting as a foreign agent of Russia. And the country remains as divided as ever, with millions of Americans still waiting for a tape of Trump’s peeing prostitutes to go viral.
Sadly, the dossier will live in infamy but its propagandists will escape any accountability. The Times was correct when it said two years ago that the consequences would be “incalculable.” They will be; just not in the way they had hoped.
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