Just as the special counsel’s investigation into the origins of Crossfire Hurricane—the FBI counterintelligence probe launched in the summer of 2016 to sabotage Donald Trump’s presidential campaign—is showing signs of life, one of the central figures in the hoax is attempting to burnish his sullied image.
ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos has produced a documentary featuring Christopher Steele, the man responsible for the so-called dossier bearing his name. “Out of the Shadows: The Man Behind the Steele Dossier,” streamed on Hulu Monday night; promotional clips hinted that, far from a hard-hitting interview exposing Steele for the charlatan he is, Stephanopoulos gave Steele a chance to spin his story ahead of possible new indictments related to John Durham’s inquiry into the Trump-Russia election collusion hoax.
Rather than depict Steele accurately, Stephanopoulos and ABC News social media interns repeatedly describe Steele as an “ex-British spy” or “former intelligence officer” even though Steele left MI6, the UKs version of the CIA, in 2009 to start a consulting business. (That same year, Steele presented a report on Russia to President Obama.) Steele’s now-discredited dossier, which Stephanopoulos tries to portray as “raw intelligence,” was the basis not just for the entire Russian collusion hoax but also served as key evidence to support four illicit FISA applications to obtain warrants to spy on Donald Trump and his associates.
Stephanopoulos’ goal, of course, is to convince uninformed viewers—in other words, most of Stephanopoulos’ audience on any given day—that Steele was working in an official national security capacity instead of as a Democratic political operative paid by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee to dig up dirt on Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential race.
But Steele, many folks forget, also had another funder in 2016: the Federal Bureau of Investigation. An often overlooked fact about Steele is that at the same time he was being paid by the Clinton campaign and DNC, he also was being paid by the FBI as a “confidential human source,” otherwise known as an “informant.”
Without James Comey’s FBI, there would be no Steele dossier and no Russian collusion hoax. And Christopher Steele is the most glaring example of the slimy relationship between the FBI, partisan operatives, and the American news media.
Steele began working with the FBI shortly after forming his consulting business, Orbis Business Intelligence, in 2010. In addition to his work on the FIFA corruption investigation, Steele routinely passed along information to the FBI on Russian oligarchs. According to a lengthy report issued in December 2019 by Michael Horowitz, inspector general of the Justice Department, the FBI completed necessary paperwork in 2013 to authorize Steele as a confidential human source.
Acting as a paid lobbyist on behalf of his consulting clients, which included Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, Steele used the FBI to launder his political work. “Steele furnished intelligence information that the FBI disseminated, including in four Intelligence Information Reports (IIRs) sent throughout the U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) concerning the activities of Russian oligarchs,” Horowitz confirmed. “By the time Steele was closed by the FBI as a CHS in November 2016, the FBI had disseminated 10 IIRs based on Steele’s reporting.”
In other words, Steele, with a clear fiduciary interest in what he presented to the FBI under the guise of a confidential human source, influenced both the U.S. Department of Justice and the national intelligence community. What did those reports say about Deripaska, a Putin pal in trouble with the U.S. government and tied to former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, or other Russian tycoons? Was Steele providing useful information to the FBI at that time or was he illegally lobbying the agency for desired outcomes on behalf of his wealthy foreign benefactors?
Between 2014 and November 2016, when he was terminated as a CHS, Steele was paid $95,000 by the FBI.
Fusion GPS, the firm led by Glenn Simpson, leveraged Steele’s status as an FBI informant and trusted source to seed the Russian collusion storyline at the highest levels of the Obama Administration right before the 2016 presidential election. Steele’s approach followed a similar pattern. “According to FBI records, Steele thereafter produced reports related to the 2016 U.S. elections, of which he provided to the FBI and others that were provided to the FBI by third parties,” Horowitz wrote. “The FBI obtained reports directly from Steele during the time period of July through October 2016.” Steele personally delivered the first report to his FBI handler, Michael Gaeta, during a meeting in Rome in July 2016.
Gaeta, according to his testimony summarized in the Horowitz report, knew the initial report had political motivations. Nonetheless, Steele sent another report to Gaeta on July 19, 2016 with the subtitle, “Secret Kremlin Meetings Attended by Trump Advisor Carter Page in Moscow,” alleging Page discussed lifting Russian sanctions with a top Russian energy magnate.
On September 19, 2016, the Crossfire Hurricane team received those reports and four more authored by Steele. Gaeta then organized an early October meeting between Steele and members of the Crossfire Hurricane team in Rome. “Unknown to the FBI at the time, Steele was working with his client, Fusion GPS, to alert select media outlets about his reporting concerning Russian interference with the 2016 U.S elections and allegations regarding the Trump campaign and candidate Trump,” Horowitz reported. Even so, Crossfire Hurricane officials shared details about the probe to Steele, including classified information, during that meeting.
After the meeting, Steele not only continued to send reports to the FBI through his “middleman,” Michael Gaeta, he also met with top officials in John Kerry’s State Department.
Quite the man about town.
Thanks to Steele’s successful courting of influential journalists such as Michael Isikoff, the Trump-Russia collusion narrative gained traction just weeks before Election Day 2016. The FBI filed its first FISA application on October 21, 2016 using Steele’s “dossier” and Isikoff’s Yahoo News article as evidence to convince the FISA court that Carter Page was a suspected foreign agent of Russia.
Then Steele’s hubris finally caught up with him. After David Corn published a bombshell article, “A Veteran Spy Has Given the FBI Information Alleging a Russian Operation to Cultivate Donald Trump,” in Mother Jones on October 31, 2016, Steele admitted to the FBI he had been Corn’s source. While the FBI officially scuttled Steele as an informant, “the Crossfire Hurricane team continued to obtain information from Steele” through Bruce Ohr, a top Justice Department official whose wife, Nellie, also worked for Fusion GPS on the anti-Trump project.
But Christopher Steele is a symptom, not a cause, of what ails the FBI. The nation’s top law enforcement agency—by employing untrustworthy informants at taxpayer expense, peddling garbage documents throughout government agencies, and leaking classified information—flagrantly involves itself in U.S. elections on behalf of the Democratic Party. The concocted plot to “kidnap” Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer last year is the most recent example.
Stephanopoulos might temporarily succeed in refurbishing Steele’s reputation. It’s the FBI, however, that is in need of a desperate, and likely futile, major makeover.