The FBI team leading the Trump-Russia investigation received an email from the State Department questioning the credibility of former British spy Christopher Steele’s unverified dossier, well before they used it to obtain a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to spy on Trump’s campaign, the Hill’s John Solomon reported Tuesday.
Last week, Solomon reported that a high-ranking government official from the Obama State Department had met with Steele in October 2016, ten days before the FBI used his infamous dossier to justify securing FISA warrant to spy on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. The meeting itself was “a breach of protocol for an informant if it was unauthorized,” according to Solomon.
The official, then-Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kathleen Kavalec, took notes during the meeting that strongly suggest she figured out right away that Steele’s dossier was a political hit job intended to slime Donald Trump on behalf of Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Kavalec’s recently unearthed memos reveal that the Trump-hating spy had shared with her a number of wild conspiracy theories regarding the Trump campaign and Russia.
In her handwritten notes, for instance, she quoted Steele as saying, “Payments to those recruited are made out of the Russian Consulate in Miami.” She then debunked the assertion in a bracketed comment: “It is important to note that there is no Russian consulate in Miami.”
Kavalec also wrote in her notes that Steele said that he had a political deadline of Election Day to get his dirt out on Trump and that he was probably leaking to the media: “June — reporting started,” she wrote. “NYT and WP have,” she added, referring to the New York Times and the Washington Post.
Despite this, the FBI swore to the FISA judges on Oct. 21, 2016, 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. Steele at the time was working for Fusion GPS, the firm paid by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Clinton campaign to find Russian dirt on Trump.
Solomon reported last week that Kavalec forwarded her typed summary of the meeting to other government officials but the State Department redacted the names and agencies of everyone she alerted.
Now Solomon says, based on multiple sources, that Special Agent Stephen Laycock, then the FBI’s section chief for Eurasian counterintelligence, received the email from the State Department raising red flags about the Steele dossier.
Officials tell me that Laycock immediately forwarded the information he received about Steele on Oct. 13, 2016, to the FBI team leading the Trump-Russia investigation, headed by then-fellow Special Agent Peter Strzok.
Laycock was the normal point of contact for Kavalec on Eurasian counterintelligence matters, and he simply acted as a conduit to get the information to his colleagues supervising the Russia probe, the officials added.
The officials declined to say what the FBI did with the information about Steele after it reached Strzok’s team, or what the email specifically revealed. A publicly disclosed version of the email has been heavily redacted in the name of national security.
While much remains to be answered, the email exchange means FBI supervisors knew Steele had contact with State and had reason to inquire what he was saying before they sought the warrant. If they had inquired, agents would have learned Steele had admitted to Kavalec he had been leaking to the news media, had a political deadline of Election Day to get his information public and had provided demonstrably false intelligence in one case, as I reported last week.
Current and former FBI officials told me it would be a red flag for an FBI informant on a sensitive counterintelligence case such as Russia to go talking about his evidence with another federal agency without authorization.
Laycock is now one of the bureau’s top executives as the assistant director for intelligence under Director Christopher Wray.
A former FBI assistant director for intelligence told Solomon that the State Department’s email “should have triggered the FBI to reevaluate Steele as a source.”
“This is quite important,” said Kevin Brock, the former G-man. “Under normal circumstances, when you get information about the conduct of your source that gives rise to questions about their reliability or truthfulness, you usually go back and reevaluate their dependability and credibility.
“It doesn’t always mean immediate discontinuation of the source. But there are policy requirements that you exercise some form of prudence, and conduct further vetting to determine whether this source can be utilized going forward. This is particularly true if the source’s information is being used in an affidavit or some other legal process.”
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