According to investigative journalist John Solomon writing at the Hill Thursday, newly unearthed memos show that a high-ranking government official from the Obama State Department figured out pretty quickly that the Steele dossier was a political hit job intended to slime Donald Trump on behalf of Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kathleen Kavalec came to that conclusion after just one meeting with former British spy Christopher Steele in October of 2016, it’s important to note.
Breaking: Memo flagged false intel, media contacts by Steele before FBI used dossier for FISA. https://t.co/tcW4pH1MsI
— John Solomon (@jsolomonReports) May 9, 2019
Kavalec met with Steele 10 days before the FBI used his infamous dossier to justify securing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to spy on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
It is important to note that the FBI swore on Oct. 21, 2016, to the FISA judges that Steele’s “reporting has been corroborated and used in criminal proceedings” and the FBI has determined him to be “reliable” and was “unaware of any derogatory information pertaining” to their informant, who simultaneously worked for Fusion GPS, the firm paid by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Clinton campaign to find Russian dirt on Trump.
As Solomon points out, this is pretty remarkable because Kavalec apparently “needed just a single encounter with Steele” to figure out that he was anything but “reliable.”
Kavalec wrote in her typed summary that Steele told her the Russians had a “technical/human operation run out of Moscow targeting the election” that recruited emigres in the United States to “do hacking and recruiting.” Her summary memo was obtained under open records litigation by the conservative group Citizens United.
In the memo, she quoted Steele as saying, “Payments to those recruited are made out of the Russian Consulate in Miami,” then bluntly debunked the assertion in a bracketed comment: “It is important to note that there is no Russian consulate in Miami.”
Kavalec, two days later and well before the FISA warrant was issued, forwarded her typed summary to other government officials. The State Department has redacted the names and agencies of everyone she alerted.
But it is almost certain the FBI knew of Steele’s contact with State and his partisan motive. That’s because former Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland says she instructed her staff to send the information they got from Steele to the bureau immediately and to cease contact with the informer because “this is about U.S. politics, and not the work of — not the business of the State Department, and certainly not the business of a career employee who is subject to the Hatch Act.”
Even if the FBI didn’t get Kavalec’s memo, it is just as implausible that the bureau couldn’t figure out, during the many hours that its agents spent with Steele, what Kavalec divined in a few short minutes: He was political, inaccurate, spinning wild theories and talking to the media.
All those concerns would weigh against Steele’s credibility and should have been disclosed to the judges under the honor system that governs the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, experts say.
Kavalec pointed out in her handwritten notes that Steele might be talking to the media. “June — reporting started,” she wrote. “NYT and WP have,” she added, referring to the New York Times and the Washington Post.
She also quoted Steele as suggesting he was “managing” four priorities — “Client needs, FBI, WashPo/NYT, source protection,” in her handwritten notes.
Steele shared a number of wild conspiracy theories with Kavalec, including one that alleged the Russians had a “plant in DNC” and had assembled an “HRC dossier,” in reference to the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
She quoted Steele as saying: “The Russians have succeeded in placing an agent inside the DNC.”
Other theories Steele allegedly peddled include the following debunked claims:
- Trump lawyer Michael Cohen traveled to Prague to meet with Russians
- Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort owed the Russians $100 million and was the “go-between” from Russian President Vladimir Putin to Trump
- Trump adviser Carter Page met with a senior Russian businessman tied to Putin; and The Russians secretly communicated with Trump through a computer system
- Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, released last month, dispelled all those wild theories while hardly mentioning Steele, except for a passing reference to his dossier being “unverified.”
- That’s significant, because the FISA request from October 2016 that rested heavily on Steele’s information was marked “verified application” before the FBI submitted it to the court.
Earlier this week, Solomon also reported that Kavalec’s memo to the FBI clearly warned that Steele had admitted his client was “keen” to get the Trump dirt out before Election Day.
“In other words, he had a political, rather than an intelligence, deadline,” the reporter noted.
David Bossie, head of Citizens United, called on State and the FBI to release the rest of Kavalec’s information: “Christopher Steele was a political operative. The American people have a right to know why the FBI took this garbage to the FISA court.”
Kavalec’s notes aren’t the only red flag that should have caught the FBI’s attention before the bureau vouched for Steele’s credibility.
Notes and testimony from senior Justice Department official Bruce Ohr make clear Steele admitted early on that he was “desperate” to get Trump defeated in the election, was working in some capacity for the GOP candidate’s opponent, and considered his intelligence raw and untested. Ohr testified that he alerted FBI and other senior Justice officials to these concerns in August 2016.
Steele eventually was fired by the FBI for leaking to the press — in violation of his source agreement with the bureau — and lying about it. But that did not happen until Nov. 1, 2016 — after the FISA warrant was secured. And, even then, the court wasn’t notified until a few months later, well after Election Day.
Also, the FBI continued to receive information from Steele, using Ohr as a back channel for many months even after he was fired.
Worse yet, according to RCI reporter Paul Sperry, congressional investigators, government watchdog groups and others are now speculating that the special counsel’s office might have used Christopher Steele and Fusion GPS’s research in their investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia.
Finally, earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz was “homing in on” and “has been asking witnesses about” the FBI’s “treatment of information” provided by Steele, the “key source” who was used to obtain the FISA warrants.
Stay tuned, and buy popcorn.
(Photo by Victoria Jones/PA Images via Getty Images)