The Justice Department’s release of documents from the Obama Administration’s 2016-17 Trump-Russia investigation is beginning to paint a picture, and the more we learn the worse the FBI looks.
The latest evidence comes from Friday’s declassification via the Senate Judiciary Committee of the FBI’s interviews, over three days in January 2017, with the primary source for the infamous Steele dossier. The bureau used the dossier’s accusations as the basis for four warrants to surveil Trump aide Carter Page during the 2016 campaign and early months of the Trump Presidency. The 57 pages of notes from the source interviews make clear that the FBI knew the dossier was junk as early as January 2017.
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz disclosed some of this in his December report on the FBI’s surveillance warrants, but the interview transcript adds more color—as in red for embarrassment.
Former British spy Christopher Steele, whose dirt-digging was financed by the Hillary Clinton campaign, based nearly all of his dossier allegations on information from one unidentified “primary subsource.” The FBI didn’t corroborate the Steele dossier’s claims prior to its first application to surveil Mr. Page in October 2016, and it didn’t get around to interviewing the source until nearly four months later.
When agents finally got around to it, the source made clear that there was no factual basis to the dossier’s claims. The source noted he had mainly provided business intelligence to Mr. Steele, so he was “uncomfortable” when Mr. Steele in March 2016 asked him to investigate Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, and later Donald Trump. The source said his friends and contacts were “too far removed” from these matters, but that he “felt like he had to report something back to Steele.”
The source’s attorney insists the source didn’t have a “network” so much as a “social circle.” The source didn’t take notes, and he couldn’t remember which information came from whom. He acknowledged that he even passed along information derived from a telephone call from an anonymous “Russian male” who “never identified himself.”
The source said he warned Mr. Steele that his info was “rumor and speculation.” The FBI interviewer writes: “Steele pushed [the source] to try and either follow-up with people or corroborate the reporting but [the source] wasn’t able to do so.”
Friday’s disclosure also includes a February 2017 document in which leading FBI investigator Peter Strzokacknowledges the dossier is a bust, and that the FBI still had no evidence of any wrongdoing. The New York Times on Feb. 14, 2017 published a story with this headline: “Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence.”
Mr. Strzok wrote an internal FBI analysis highlighting the story’s numerous inaccuracies, explaining “we are unaware of ANY Trump advisors engaging in conversations with Russian intelligence officials.” He also acknowledges: “Recent interviews” reveal “Steele may not be in a position to judge the reliability of his subsource network.”
The FBI interview with Mr. Steele’s source should have put an end to the surveillance and broader investigation. Instead, the FBI continued to tout Mr. Steele as a reliable source as it renewed its requests for surveillance warrants. Former FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe expanded the investigation to include the President, and former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham gets credit for this declassification, and in an interview Friday he told us his next step will be “to go from the bottom of the pyramid to the top and find out just how many people were informed” about the source interview. “Those who knew about this exculpatory information, or should have known, and yet who continued—they are in legal jeopardy,” Mr. Graham said.
Democrats and the press corps that touted the phony Steele dossier will say this is a pursuit of a conspiracy theory, but it’s not a theory. The more evidence that is made public, the clearer it becomes that the Steele dossier and collusion narrative were dirty political tricks that became abuses of power.
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