Adam Schiff may be the biggest loser of Russia probe declassification
Review of Democratic House Intelligence Committee chairman's public statements finds many contradicted, some linked to Russian disinformation.
In a packed hearing room two months into Donald Trump’s embattled presidency, Rep. Adam Schiff played the willing protagonist by dramatically reading into the congressional record some of the most explosive claims from Christopher Steele’s dossier.
At the time, Steele’s dossier had recently burst on the scene, and the Trump White House was under siege as a far-reaching FBI investigation examined allegations — later disproven — that former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page and others tried to collude with Russia to hijack the 2016 election.
“According to Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer who is reportedly held in high regard by U.S. intelligence, Russian sources tell him that Page has also had a secret meeting with Igor Sechin, CEO of Russian gas giant Rosneft,” Schiff declared at a March 20, 2017 House Intelligence Committee hearing.
“Sechin is reported to be a former KGB agent and close friend of Putin’s. According to Steele’s Russian sources, Page is offered brokerage fees by Sechin on a deal involving a 19 percent share of the company,” the California Democrat added.
Schiff’s decision to embrace the dossier and read it into a government proceeding gave the document enhanced public credibility with the media, just weeks after it had been leaked to the news site Buzzfeed and before its funding origins and accuracy were determined.
Three years later, Schiff is the House Intelligence Committee chairman. But his claims that day, and many others like it over the three years of the Russia scandal, have fallen into grave discredit, directly contradicted by intelligence evidence in recently declassified or released FBI and Justice Department memos and reports, a Just the News review has found.
For instance, Schiff claimed this about the Steele dossier in a Nov. 15, 2017 interview with The Wall Street Journal: “The bigger factor is how much of it can you corroborate and how much of it is true. A lot of it has turned out to be true.”
By the time Schiff made that remark, the former FBI Director James Comey had publicly warned the dossier contained "salacious and unverified material" and the bureau’s own spreadsheet had shown the dossier possessed several errors and mostly uncorroborated evidence, Justice Department memos show. Significant errors or contradictions with Steele's sources had been flagged already by January 2017.
“Despite the FBI’s efforts to corroborate and evaluate the Steele election reporting, we were told by [an FBI employee] that, as of September 2017, the FBI had corroborated limited information in the Steele election reporting, and much of that information was publicly available. Most relevant to the Carter Page FISA applications, the specific substantive allegations contained in Reports 80, 94, 95, and 102, which were relied upon in all four FISA applications, remained uncorroborated and, in several instances, were inconsistent with information gathered by the team,” Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz wrote in his December report.
More recently declassified memos show Steele was far from being held in “high regard” as Schiff claimed at the hearing: By March 2017, the FBI had already terminated Steele for leaking (November 2016), been warned he was susceptible to Russian disinformation (2015), and been told he had an extreme bias against Trump (August 2016).
And Steele’s primary sub-source had disputed to the FBI facts attributed to him in the dossier, warning that Steele’s claim about the Page meeting with Sechin was inaccurate and fed to him by someone connected to Russia intelligence, raising the distinct concern it was disinformation.
“The Primary Sub-source told the FBI that one of his/her sub-sources furnished information for that part of Report 134 through a text message, but said that the sub-source never stated that Sechin had offered a brokerage interest to Page,” Inspector General Horowitz reported.
In a recently declassified footnote, Horowitz added: “The Primary Sub-Source also told the FBI at these interviews that the sub-source who provided the information about the Carter Page-Sechin meeting had connections to Russian Intelligence Services (RIS).”
At that same March hearing, Schiff pushed another Steele dossier claim. “According to Steele’s Russian sources, the Trump campaign is offered documents damaging to Hillary Clinton, which the Russians would publish through an outlet that gives them deniability, like Wikileaks.”
But like much of the information in the dossier, the FBI found the claim did not stand up when they interviewed Steele’s alleged sources.
“The Primary Sub-source said, among other things, that he/she had only one, 10- to 15-minute telephone call with someone he/she believed was Person 1 and did not recall any discussion or mention of WikiLeaks,” Horowitz reported. “… His/her statement that he/she did not recall any discussion or mention of WikiLeaks during the telephone call was inconsistent with those allegations.”
Many of Schiff’s claims that directly conflict with public evidence today were introduced in formal congressional proceedings.
For instance, here are three claims in Schiff’s Jan. 29, 2018 minority Democratic memo on the House Intelligence Committee’s Russia probe and the conflicting evidence:
Schiff Report Claim: “FBI and DOJ officials did not abuse the FISA process, omit material information, or subvert this vital tool to spy on the Trump campaign. … DOJ met the rigor, transparency, and evidentiary basis needed to meet FISA’s probable cause requirement.”
Declassified Facts: Horowitz told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Dec. 11, 2019, “I do not think the Department of Justice fairly treated these FISAs.” His report went even further in describing how the FBI violated its own rules in submitting four FISA applications with a total of 51 pieces of unverified, inaccurate or false information. “FBI personnel fell far short of the requirement in FBI policy that they ensure that all factual statements in a FISA application are ‘scrupulously accurate,’” he wrote. “We identified multiple instances in which factual assertions relied upon in the first FISA application were inaccurate, incomplete, or unsupported by appropriate documentation.” The FISAs were so flawed in fact that DOJ has formally withdrawn two of the applications from the court in their entirety because they were incontrovertibly inaccurate.
Schiff Report Claim: DOJ and FBI officials “made only narrow use of information from Steele’s sources about Page’s specific activities in 2016.”
Declassified Facts: Horowitz directly contradicted this claim, concluding the dossier “played a central and essential role” in the FISA application. “The FISA request form drew almost entirely from Steele’s reporting in describing the factual basis to establish probable cause to believe that Page was an agent of a foreign power,” the IG wrote.
Schiff Report Claim: “DOJ provided additional information obtained through multiple independent sources that corroborated Steele’s reporting.”
Declassified Facts: “We found that the FBI did not have information corroborating the specific allegations against Carter Page in Steele’s reporting when it relied upon his reports in the first FISA application or subsequent renewal applications,” Horowitz reported in December.
One of the revelations that most undercuts Schiff’s early embrace of the Steele dossier came only recently, when footnotes declassified from the Horowitz report showed the U.S. intelligence community first warned that Steele was susceptible to Russian disinformation starting in 2015 and by early 2017 had specific information in his dossier traced to Russian Intelligence Services (RIS).
“We identified reporting the Crossfire Hurricane team received from [REDACTED] indicating the potential for Russian disinformation influencing Steele's election reporting,” Horowitz wrote in one explosive footnote. “A January 12, 2017, report relayed information from [REDACTED] outlining an inaccuracy in a limited subset of Steele's reporting about the activities of Michael Cohen. The [REDACTED] stated that it did not have high confidence in this subset of Steele's reporting and assessed that the referenced subset was part of a Russian disinformation campaign to denigrate U.S. foreign relations.
“A second report from the same [REDACTED] five days later stated that a person named in the limited subset of Steele's reporting had denied representations in the reporting and the [REDACTED] assessed that the person's denials were truthful," the footnote added. "A USIC report dated February 27, 2017, contained information about an individual with reported connections to Trump and Russia who claimed that the public reporting about the details of Trump's sexual activities in Moscow during a trip in 2013 were false, and that they were the product of RIS 'infiltrating a source into the network'” of Steele.
Those four red flags about Russian intelligence dirty tricks in the Steele dossier all were reported inside the intelligence community before Schiff read parts of the document into the congressional record.
Schiff’s claims on his many television and media appearance during the early days of the Russia collusion narrative have also aged poorly.
In early February 2017, Schiff fanned the narrative that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn may have sought to undercut President Obama’s sanctions on Russia during a phone call with the Russian ambassador and should be prosecuted under the Logan Act.
“Trump’s team, through Flynn, reaches out to the Russian ambassador and potentially says, 'Don’t worry about those sanctions. We’re going to take care of business. We’re not going to bite the hand that fed us.' That’s something that needs to be investigated. That’s hugely consequential,” Schiff told The Atlantic magazine in a Feb. 14, 2017.
By the time Schiff uttered those words, the FBI agent who had investigated Flynn’s contacts with Russia had already concluded on Jan. 4, 2017 that there was “no derogatory information” about Flynn’s contacts and recommended closing down the case, according to recently declassified FBI memos.
And recently declassified documents from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe show that the FBI had informed DOJ by late January 2017 that Flynn was not acting as an agent of Russia. Likewise, the main prosecutor for national security cases inside the Justice Department, Mary McCord, and others thought prosecuting Flynn under the Logan Act was unlikely or a “long shot” after reading Flynn’s actual words from a transcript of his conversation with the Russian ambassador, the memos show.
“McCord said that upon learning of Flynn’s phone calls with Ambassador Kislyak, a Logan Act prosecution seemed like a stretch to her,” the Mueller summary of her interview stated.
And a top FBI official's handwritten notes expressed concern the bureau's treatment of Flynn amounted to "playing games" and appeared to involve an effort to get him into an interview where he might so he could prosecuted or fired.
Once again, Schiff was peddling claims that DOJ, FBI and the intelligence community had already dismissed.
Schiff, whose office has repeatedly declined to respond to request for comment from Just the News, has publicly defended his comments on Steele and Russia collusion by saying: "There is already, in my view, ample evidence in the public domain on the issue of collusion if you're willing to see it."
History will judge Schiff’s claims by the final weight of facts, and there are many more declassifications to come in the Russia case. The Office of Director of National Intelligence informed Schiff this week it may release transcripts of 53 interviews the House Intelligence Committee did with Russia case figures.
But there is already ample evidence to show that the Steele dossier that the House Intelligence Committee chairman so readily embraced and read into the congressional record was, in fact, erroneous, uncorroborated and tainted by Russian intelligence efforts to inject misinformation.
Many of Schiff’s other claims have, likewise, crumbled under the weight of facts now in the public record.
And there is growing evidence that Schiff’s conservative critics intend to make him pay a political price for his past words, as Rep. Jim Jordan and other House GOP colleagues made clear in a letter this week urging the House Intelligence Committee chairman to release the interview transcripts.
“For almost four years, prominent Democrat politicians and commentators alleged that President Trump colluded with Russia, with Chairman Schiff going so far as to say that he had ‘direct evidence’ of collusion,” the lawmakers wrote.
“Now that these allegations have been disproven by several investigations, the American people deserve to have transparency about why public figures such as Chairman Schiff continued to promote such wild accusations.”
The Facts Inside Our Reporter's Notebook
Watch Adam Schiff's opening statement at March 20, 2017 House hearing
IG Report on Russia FISAs
Declassified IG Footnotes
Flynn case close memo
Handwritten FBI notes expressing concern about handling of Flynn case
DNI Ric Grenell's Letter to Schiff
- Steele dossier
- Schiff declared at a March 20, 2017 House Intelligence Committee hearing
- Dossier leaked to Buzzfeed
- Nov. 15, 2017 Schiff interview with The Wall Street Journal:
- Comey testifies the dossier was "salacious and unverified material"
- FBI spreadsheet showed the dossier possessed several errors
- FBI terminated Steele in November 2016
- Schiff's Jan. 29, 2018 minority Democratic memo
- Schiff publicly defended his comments on Steele and Russia collusion