FBI repeatedly warned Steele dossier fed by Russian misinformation, Clinton supporter

Newly declassified notes provide the most sweeping evidence to date that the Comey FBI ignored and kept from the courts red flags about problems with the Steele dossier.

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Former FBI Director James Comey testifies before Senate Intelligence Committee.
Senate Intelligence Committee
Updated: April 15, 2020 - 8:50pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

The FBI received repeated warnings dating to 2015 that Christopher Steele, the ex-British spy it used to build a case against President Trump, had concerning contacts with Russian oligarchs and intelligence figures that might call into question the credibility of his intelligence reporting, newly declassified documents showed Monday.

The suspect sources included a person described as a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton's campaign and a Russian intelligence figure under separate counterintelligence investigation by the FBI, the memos show. And the red flags included a warning that Russian intelligence appeared to be aware as early as July 2016 that Steele was working on a U.S. election-related investigation, making him susceptible to misinformation.

The revelations are found in newly declassified footnotes from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s December, 2019 report about failures in the Russia probe that included using false evidence to secure a FISA warrant against Trump campaign adviser Carter Page in October 2016.

Some of those red flags were raised prior to the bureau’s decision to rely on Steele’s dossier as key evidence in seeking the FISA warrant targeting the Trump campaign in the final days of the 2016 election, and nearly all were raised before Special Counsel Robert Mueller opened his probe in spring 2017.

For instance, FBI officials urged in 2015 that Steele undergo a re-evaluation as an informant (a “validation review,” in spy parlance) after the bureau’s transnational organized crime office learned that he had received contact from five Russian oligarchs, all of whom wanted to have contact with the bureau.

“The report noted that Steele’s contact with 5 Russian oligarchs in a short period of time was unusual and recommended that a validation review be completed on Steele because of this activity,” one footnote stated.

You can read the declassified footnotes in their entirety here.

The FBI did not complete that reevaluation until 2017, long after they had used Steele’s material for a FISA warrant, even though officials acknowledged they were aware of the red flags concerning his oligarch contacts.

The two dozen newly declassified footnotes from the Horowitz report on Russia probe failures were provided to Sens. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, on Wednesday, about two months after the senators first pressed for their declassifications. The two lawmakers expressed grave concerns about the FBI's conduct.

"As we can see from these now-declassified footnotes in the IG’s report, Russian intelligence was aware of the dossier before the FBI even began its investigation and the FBI had reports in hand that their central piece of evidence was most likely tainted with Russian disinformation,” Grassley and Johnson said Wednesday.

The memos provide the clearest picture to date that the FBI had numerous warnings it ignored, and kept from the FISA court, about Steele, including the likelihood that his dossier was used as a conduit for a Russian disinformation campaign.

For instance, in early October 2016, before the first FISA warrant was secured, the FBI team leading the Russia investigation codenamed Crossfire Hurricane were told that one source used by Steele and known as Person 1 was tied to Russian intelligence, the newly declassified information shows.

“According to a document circulated among Crossfire Hurricane team members and supervisors in early October 2016, Person 1 had historical contact with persons and entities suspected of being linked to RIS,” the acronym for Russian Intelligence Services, one footnote stated. “The document described reporting [redacted] that Person 1 was rumored to be a former KBG/SVR officer.”

The FBI also failed to disclose that the source known as Person 1 was under a separate counterintelligence investigation by the FBI, the footnotes show.

Likewise, the footnotes show, the FBI interviewed one of Steele’s former bosses in MI6 in November 2016, who warned FBI agents that Steele had overstated his seniority during the time he served in British intelligence.

“Steele’s former employer told the FBI in November 2016 after the first application was filed that Steele had served in a ‘moderately senior’ position and not a ‘high-ranking position’ as Steele had suggested,” the footnote said.

By Jan. 12, 2017, eight days before Trump had even taken office as president, the FBI had received clear warnings in a report that some of Steele’s dossier information about Trump lawyer Michael Cohen was “part of a Russian disinformation campaign to denigrate U.S. foreign relations.”

The same month the FBI learned from an interview with Steele’s main subsource of intelligence that the central and later disproven allegation that Page had met with senior Russian official Igor Sechin during the 2016 election likely came from Russian intelligence.

The subsource “who provided the information about the Carter Page-Sechin meeting had a connection to Russian Intelligence Services,” a footnote stated.

A month later, the intelligence community provided further warnings to the FBI about Steele’s salacious claim about Trump having a sexual encounter with a prostitute in Moscow, suggesting it too was misinformation from Russian intelligence.

An intelligence community report dated Feb. 27, 2017 relayed that a source had “claimed that 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' " that Steele had used to create his dossier.

By June 2017 as Mueller was starting his work as special counsel, the FBI got an intelligence community report warning again — this time that “two persons affiliated with RIS were aware of Steele’s election investigation in early July 2016” — raising the possibility he had been targeted for misinformation from the start, the records show.

That same month, FBI was advised that one of Steele's sub-sources may have a bias because he supported Clinton's campaign against Trump.

"The FBI received information in early June 2017 which revealed that among other things there were: ....personal and business ties between the sub‐source and Steele's Primary Sub‐source; contacts between the sub‐source and an individual in the Russian Presidential Administration in June/July 2016; .... and the sub‐source voicing strong support for candidate Clinton in the 2016 U.S. elections," a footnote stated.

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