FBI, State officials aware early on Steele made major mistake in Russia reporting

FBI kept silent about flaws in Steele reporting, one of which widely known.

Published: January 15, 2021 7:18pm

Updated: January 16, 2021 4:11pm

Shortly before the FBI used his dossier to secure a surveillance warrant targeting the Trump campaign, Christopher Steele met with State Department officials and relayed information suggesting Moscow was running an operation out of the Russian consulate in Miami.

There was just one problem with his intelligence: The Russians didn't have a consulate in Florida's largest city.

The anecdote, captured in contemporaneous memos and newly released testimony, illustrates just how bad some of Steele's intelligence reporting was and how widely that was known inside the FBI, even as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was being assured by the bureau that Steele was deemed credible and there was no derogatory information about his work.

Kenneth Laycock, the FBI's current Executive Assistant Director, was a section chief for Eurasian intelligence in fall 2016 when Steele made a visit to Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kathleen Kavalec at the State Department.

During the October 2016 meeting, Steele admitted he was leaking to the news media while working as an FBI informant, a violation of his confidential human source agreement. (He later was terminated for it.) And he also relayed the anecdote about the Russian operation out of the Miami consulate, which officials immediately flagged as false, according to Kavalec's own notes of the meeting.

"It is important to note that there is no Russian Consulate in Miami," Kavalec wrote.

Laycock said Kavalec relayed her concerns to the FBI and that others working on the now-discredited Russia collusion investigation codenamed Crossfire Hurricane were also aware of Steele's mistake.

"Do you recall — just trying to jog your memory here in case you do recall — Ms. Kavalec conveying information to you that Steele conveyed to her information about a Russian consulate being located in Miami and that was an inaccurate assessment on Steele's part?" a Senate investigator asked Laycock in testimony taken last year but made public on Friday by the Senate Judiciary Committee,

"I recall a conversation about a consulate in Miami independent of what she had mentioned regarding what Mr. Steele said to her," Laycock answered.

He added: "It came up in some other discussion regarding if there was a consulate in Miami, which we both knew is not true because we know where all the consulates and embassies are around the country. That's where I would handle normally in my purview as the  section chief of the Eurasia program. So when it came up in a discussion, it was like, we don't have a consulate in Miami."

He said FBI headquarters was aware of Steele's mistaken claim outside of Kavalec's report as well.

"Yes, independent of the Mr. Steele piece in here, it came up through other discussions," he testified.

The anecdote is just another piece of evidence of how much the FBI knew about the flaws in Steele's reporting but kept from the courts and Congress. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Lindsey Graham said Friday the Russia collusion probe was "a massive system failure by senior leadership."

“I believe that Crossfire Hurricane was one of the most incompetent and corrupt investigations in the history of the FBI and DOJ," said Graham (R-S.C). "The FISA court was lied to. Exculpatory information was withheld on those being investigated. The investigators, with some notable exceptions, were incredibly biased and used the powers of law enforcement for political purposes."

Graham on Friday released nearly a dozen transcripts of interviews his committee did with key players in the Russia probe as a prelude to President Trump's expected declassification of a trove of FBI documents expected to show widespread abuses and failures in the probe.

Other testimonies released by Graham showed that a frontline FBI counterintelligence agent in the Russia probe initiated an "enhanced validation" review of Steele's credibility in the fall of 2016 but was stopped by superiors.

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