After receiving a subpoena to appear before the House Intelligence Committee last year, David Kramer, a close associate of the late Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The committee had additional questions to ask Kramer about his handling of the infamous Steele dossier, which he helped circulate on Capitol Hill and in the news media after the 2016 presidential election.
Now, we may know why.
Kramer’s recently unsealed court deposition in a lawsuit related to the dossier contains bombshell revelations that not only directly contradict media reporting about how McCain came into possession of the dossier, but Kramer’s December 2017 testimony also undercut claims made by McCain himself in his 2018 book. This might explain why Kramer refused to appear before the committee for a second time.
It’s important to revisit the history of the dossier. While the term is meant to confer seriousness (it sounds more official than “file”), the dossier is nothing more than unverified political opposition research produced by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer who now runs a consulting firm in London. Steele was hired in mid-2016 by Glenn Simpson, the head of Fusion GPS, also a political consulting firm, to dig up Russia-related dirt on then-candidate Trump. Simpson, in turn, was being paid by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
(Steele and Simpson have collaborated since 2009 on behalf of “oligarchs litigating against other oligarchs,” according to a 2017 article in The Guardian.)
Steele confessed that he never traveled to Russia, and instead relied on distant sources and hearsay for the dossier, which is a poorly formatted and in some places, ridiculous, collection of allegations about Trump and some associates. It’s nothing close to hard evidence—but that did not stop former FBI Director James Comey from presenting the dossier to a secret court in order to obtain a warrant to spy on a Trump campaign volunteer.
The dossier was used before the election for a number of nefarious purposes by political schemers at the highest levels of government. But McCain’s engagement occurred after the election. This is even more troubling because the shady dossier was legitimized arguably by Trump’s most powerful enemy on Capitol Hill in a campaign to sabotage the duly elected president of the United States.
Shortly after the election, McCain and Kramer attended a conference in Nova Scotia. Kramer, who worked for the McCain Institute at the time, hosted a panel with Sir Andrew Wood, a former British ambassador to Russia. At the November 19, 2016 event, McCain, Kramer, and a staffer for the Senate armed services committee briefly met with Wood.
According to Kramer, Wood mentioned “the possibility of a video that might have shown the president-elect in a compromising situation. He mentioned that it was, if it existed, from a hotel in Moscow before he was president-elect, and . . . [it] was of a sexual nature.” (Wood was referring to the infamous “pee pee” tape that has yet to surface.)
In his final book, The Restless Wave, McCain described the somber climate of the meeting despite its farcical topic.
“Our impromptu meeting felt charged with a strange intensity,” McCain wrote. “We spoke in lowered voices. The room was dimly lit, and the atmosphere was eerie.” Both Kramer and McCain admit that Wood did not present to them any material, including the dossier. At that point, it was gossip. But McCain “was taken aback. They were shocking allegations.” (Wood, it turns out, is an advisor to Steele’s consulting firm.)
What happened afterwards appears to be in dispute. McCain wrote, “Kramer offered to go to London to meet with Steele, confirm his credibility, and report back to me. I agreed to the idea.”
But Kramer had a different, and far more consequential, version of the story. In his deposition, Kramer testified that McCain directed him to meet with Steele. “[Wood] said that the person who gathered this was in London and would be willing to meet. And so the Senator turned to me and asked me if I would go to London to meet with what turned out to be Steele.”
This is a distinction with a major difference; if Kramer indeed offered to go of his own accord, that’s far different than a sitting U.S. senator directing an associate to travel overseas to track down information from an unknown British consultant that would humiliate the incoming U.S. president. In his own June 2018 court deposition, Steele testified that “McCain nominated [Kramer] as the intermediary” between the hired gun and the senator.
There is another significant fact Kramer revealed that contradicts news reports as well as McCain’s suggestion in his book about who furnished the dossier to him. The public has been led to believe that Steele gave Kramer a top-secret copy of the dossier during their November 28, 2016 meeting in London; Kramer, in turn, gave it to McCain upon his arrival home. “Kramer flew back to Washington that same night, guarding his hard-won prize with his life,” wrote Howard Blum in a 2017 puff piece about Steele for Vanity Fair.
McCain also intimated that Steele was his source for the dossier. “When David returned and shared his impression that the former spy was . . . a respected professional . . . I agreed to receive a copy of what is now referred to as ‘the dossier.’ I reviewed its contents. The allegations were disturbing.”
In fact, Steele refused to give Kramer the dossier in London; instead he arranged for Kramer to meet Glenn Simpson in Washington the very next day. It was Simpson, a DNC-Hillary Clinton hired gun, who was responsible for furnishing two versions of the dossier to Kramer and ultimately to McCain.
“Both [Simpson] and Steele knew that I was going to give this to Senator McCain,” Kramer testified. “[Simpson] indicated to me that it was a very sensitive document and needed to be handled very carefully. That it covered material that was politically sensitive and in terms of the allegations in here, so it was not something to be bandied about.” Kramer also acknowledged he became aware that Fusion had a “relationship” with Steele at that point.
Even more troubling, Kramer claimed McCain did not carefully vet the 35-page dossier.
“He had not read the whole thing but had read parts of it and indicated that he would think about what to do and would probably go see [FBI Director James] Comey,” Kramer explained in his deposition, referring his November 30, 2016 meeting with McCain. The senator delivered the dossier to Comey over a week later, on December 9; it’s unclear whether Comey informed the senator that he already had possession of the dossier since the summer.
McCain, true to form, put a selfless, patriotic spin to what he did. “I did what duty demanded I do,” he wrote. “I gave it to the people best equipped to answer those questions. Had I done any less I would be ashamed of myself.” The reason he was given the dossier, McCain explained, was not that he was a Republican foe of a Republican president who had won the office that McCain twice failed to win himself, but because McCain is “known internationally to be a persistent critic of Putin’s regime.” Anyone who disagreed with his handling of the dossier could “go to hell,” he warned.
Kramer has a different view of why Steele and Simpson wanted McCain involved. “I think they felt a senior Republican was better to be the recipient of this rather than a Democrat because if it were a Democrat, I think that the view was that it would have been dismissed as a political attack,” he said during his deposition.
But in late 2016, there was no difference between McCain and the Democrats; in fact, McCain was a more dangerous adversary than any of his Democratic colleagues considering his vaunted status in the U.S. news media. Trump-hating journalists were happy to do the dirty work of any Trump foe, especially a Republican one with unmatched influence on Capitol Hill.
As I will detail later this week, the reason McCain passed along the dossier to Comey appears to have had less to do with national security than with confirming that explosive news with complicit journalists. While McCain worked over the news media in late 2016 to peddle stories about Trump and Russia, Kramer worked with Simpson behind the scenes to validate the dossier. It was a carefully executed strategy—in collaboration with the Democrats—to undermine Trump and sap the public’s trust in their newly-elected president.
In the end, it backfired.
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