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Concerned FBI agent started an 'enhanced validation' of Christopher Steele, but bosses stopped it

Agent says he disagreed with brass and was told the review was stopped to avoid leaks.

Updated: January 16, 2021 - 4:11pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Concerned by Christopher Steele's behavior, a frontline FBI counterintelligence agent in the Russia probe initiated an "enhanced validation" review of the informant's credibility in the fall of 2016 but was stopped by superiors, according to explosive Senate testimony made public on Friday.

The enhanced validation process would have subjected Steele's dossier and his intelligence work to experts outside the FBI counterintelligence division that was managing the former MI6 agent as he manufactured his case — later debunked — against Donald Trump for colluding with Russia.

The blocked internal review kept the FBI from getting a more complete picture of the flaws in Steele's source network and the reliability of his work, even as the bureau continued to represent to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that Steele's dossier was reliable enough to justify a warrant targeting the Trump campaign, the testimony shows.

The agent disagreed with his superiors, who cited concerns they didn't want Steele's work known outside the FBI's counterintelligence division. "At the time, I understood the answer, but I disagreed with it," the agent testified.

The agent's extraordinary testimony provides further evidence that James Comey's FBI took numerous steps to shield the flaws in Steele's work from disclosure, despite receiving warnings from the CIA starting in 2015 that Steele might be too close to Russian oligarchs and susceptible to misinformation.

Later investigations would determine that many of the Steele dossier's allegations were uncorroborated, debunked or Russian disinformation and colored by his opposition research work for Hillary Clinton — revelations the FBI kept from the FISA court.

The supervisory special agent, whose name was redacted from the transcript, made the revelation in testimony taken by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham last August but not made public until this week, two months after the November 2020 election.

The agent described for Senate investigators how he initiated the enhanced validation review after the FBI terminated Steele as a confidential human source on Nov. 1, 2016 for leaking information from the Russia collusion probe to the news media, including Mother Jones magazine.

"At that point in time, the Mother Jones news article had come out on October 31st. We had closed a source for cause, a source that was used in the FISA application of Carter Page," the agent explained.

"My request was to the FBI directorate of intelligence for them to do what is considered an enhanced validation review, something outside and independent of the Counterintelligence Division," he added.

"So the validation review initiated and it was later turned off," the agent testified.

When asked who gave the order to stop the review, the agent said it came from then-Assistant Director of Counterintelligence William Priestap and was relayed to him by Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok, the lead agent in the Russia probe known as Operation Crossfire Hurricane.

Priestap later retired from the bureau, while Strzok, whose infamous anti-Trump text messages with an FBI colleague created a firestorm that called into question the entire Russia probe, was fired from his job.

When asked why the FBI shut down the validation review, the agent offered this explanation.

"I can give you the answers that I was provided or the discussion that I had with Assistant Director Priestap and DAD Strzok at the time," he said. "There were concerns about leaks. The Bureau, obviously, was, as I understood and I testified already, concerned about anyone outside of the Crossfire Hurricane team being aware of the existence of the investigation."

He added, "They wanted to keep it within the counterintelligence."

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