FBI authorized Christopher Steele payments for dossier information
The FBI officially authorized payments to Christopher Steele, who wrote the infamous Trump-Russia dossier, but then fired the former British spy for lying to agents about his covert leaks to the news media.
The sequence of events is outlined in the declassified memo released Friday by Rep. Devin Nunes, California Republican and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
The Nunes memo is the first official confirmation that the FBI hierarchy made a decision to start paying Mr. Steele and why the deal fell through. Justice Department witnesses in public have declined to confirm such a deal.
The memo shows that the bureau was using Mr. Steele’s unverified Democratic Party-financed dossier not only to obtain a court-ordered wiretap on Trump volunteer Carter Page, but it also wanted a commitment to a longer-term financial agreement with the former British intelligence officer to continue investigating President Trump.
If he had not lied, Mr. Steele, who vowed to ruin the Trump candidacy, could have been investigating Mr. Trump from the postelection transition into his presidency.
Mr. Steele met with Washington reporters in September 2016. One meeting was held in the office of the Democratic National Committee’s general counsel.
Mr. Steele denied to the FBI that he was feeding his discredited information to the press. But on Oct. 30, 2016, an article in Mother Jones magazine quoted an unidentified former spy — who was obviously Mr. Steele — discussing his dossier and the FBI investigation.
The narrative is laid out in the Nunes memo. It notes that at the time the FBI sought the Page warrant on Oct. 21 “the FBI had separately authorized payment to Steele” for the same information the bureau submitted to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court for the warrant. Mr. Steele wrote his last election dossier memo on Oct. 19, apparently ending his $160,000 in payments from Fusion GPS, the investigative firm that had hired him to produce the dossier.
The Nunes memo later states, “Steele was suspended and then terminated as an FBI source for what the FBI defines as the most serious of violations — an unauthorized disclosure to the media of his relationship with the FBI in an October 30, 2016 Mother Jones article by David Corn.”
Two Republican senators have issued a criminal referral asking the Justice Department to open an investigation into Mr. Steele’s misleading of the FBI.
Mr. Trump told The Washington Times in an exclusive interview in April that it would be disgraceful if the FBI did plan to put Mr. Steele on the payroll.
“He made it up,” the president said of the dossier.
“I think if that’s true with the FBI, that would be very disgraceful,” he said. “You understand that.”
The dossier was exclusively funded by Democrats beginning in June 2016 through Fusion GPS, according to court and congressional hearings. The Washington Free Beacon had paid Fusion for Trump opposition research but broke off that arrangement in April.
The dossier makes a number of felony accusations against Trump people. None has been publicly confirmed.
Mr. Steele also wrote salacious material, saying that Mr. Trump frolicked with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel in 2013 — an account Mr. Trump dismisses as fiction.
To Republicans, confirmation that the FBI did plan to pay Mr. Steele to keep investigating Mr. Trump is another piece of evidence that the bureau’s hierarchy was out to get the president.
A fuller scorecard
The Nunes memo shows that the FBI filed with a FISA judge an Oct. 21, 2016, eavesdropping warrant application that included unproven dossier information. The bureau did not tell the judge that the information was purchased by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
FBI agent Peter Strzok, who started the Trump-Russia collusion probe in July 2016, sent scores of text messages excoriating Mr. Trump and indicating he had plans to disrupt his administration. Special counsel Robert Mueller fired Mr. Strzok last summer after reading the messages.
The wife of Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe received nearly $700,000 in 2015 to run for the Virginia state Senate as a Democrat. The money came from funds controlled by then-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a close ally of Mrs. Clinton whose world of donors also contributed to the governor’s PAC.
Mr. McCabe then oversaw the investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s mishandling of classified material. He helped write the statement from then-FBI Director James B. Comey saying no criminal charges were warranted. Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz, who uncovered the Strzok messages, is investigating how the FBI handled the investigation. Mr. McCabe left his post last week and is retiring.
Fusion GPS, which paid Mr. Steele with Democratic Party money, set up a back channel to the FBI via its researcher Nellie Ohr. She conducted opposition research on Mr. Trump and provided the information to her husband, Bruce Ohr, who was an associate deputy attorney general in the Justice Department.
Mr. Ohr, who met with Mr. Steele during the 2016 campaign, in turn funneled all the anti-Trump material to the FBI, the Nunes memo said. Justice demoted Mr. Ohr after Mr. Nunes’ committee discovered his role. The FBI did not disclose this partisan operation in its FISA application to a judge.
The Nunes memo further shows that the FBI maintained electronic surveillance on Mr. Page for 360 days, which involved the initial warrant application and three 90-day renewals.
At the time the judge signed the first warrant, Mr. Page had been pushed out of the Trump campaign. The FISA warrants allowed the FBI to retrieve electronic communications from when Mr. Page served as a low-level national security volunteer on the campaign.
Mr. Page’s acknowledged mistake from a political standpoint was his decision to travel to Moscow in early July to deliver a public speech at a university. Subsequently, news that Russia had hacked Democratic Party headquarters and released stolen emails made any Trump contacts with Russians subject to intense press scrutiny.
Mr. Steele wrote in his dossier that Mr. Page met with two top Kremlin figures and discussed bribes for removal of U.S. sanctions.
Mr. Page responded that the charges were ridiculous. He said he never met with the two men identified by Mr. Steele. Mr. Page had worked in Moscow as an investor and conducted business with Russians while in New York.
He has said repeatedly that he did nothing wrong. He said he has no indication from the Mueller team that he will be charged. He has talked of trying to put his life back together after the dossier ruined his energy investment firm.
The first Page warrant was approved by Obama appointees: Mr. Comey or his deputy, then-Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch or Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates or an assistant attorney general.
The long surveillance span of 360 days would mean Mr. Mueller, appointed in May 2017, also may have used the dossier to renew FISA warrants.
The Nunes memo said Mr. Comey; his temporary replacement, Mr. McCabe; and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein signed the extensions.
At the time Mr. Comey was about to sign extensions or delegate the task, he personally told President-elect Trump in January 2017 that the dossier was “salacious and unverified.”
In his interview with The Times, Mr. Trump was particularly critical of Rep. Adam B. Schiff, California Democrat. Mr. Schiff has embraced the dossier and read its charges into the public record.
“I think it’s a disgrace,” the president said. “The dossier has been totally discredited, No. 1. No. 2, Adam Schiff is totally partisan, as partisan as you can get. And No. 3, the Russia story is a fake story. It was made up so that they can justify the fact that Hillary Clinton lost an election that a Democrat should not lose because it’s almost impossible for a Democrat to lose the Electoral College. And not only did she lose, but she lost by a lot because I got 306 and [she got] 232.”
The dossier, for example, makes the far-fetched claim that Michael Cohen, Mr. Trump’s personal attorney, traveled to Prague in August 2016 to meet with Russian agents and devise a cover-up of Russian hacking. Mr. Cohen says the charge is preposterous and has showed his passport to prove he wasn’t in Prague.
Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson has suggested that Mr. Cohen perhaps was on a yacht in the Adriatic Sea and somehow made it to Prague, which is at least 500 miles away over land.
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