The former MI6 agent best known for his controversial Trump-Russia dossier provided testimony for the United Kingdom’s recently released Russia report, criticizing Hillary Clinton’s “reset” with Russia, claiming the Kremlin had a “hold” over President Trump, and critiquing the U.K.’s approach to Russia.
Christopher Steele, the British ex-spy whose flawed dossier has seen its credibility increasingly crumble as evidence about its inaccuracies continues to emerge amid concerns that it may have been compromised by Russian disinformation, was one of five “expert external witnesses” who provided closed-door testimony to the British Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee’s Russia inquiry. That committee released its highly anticipated 55-page report on Russian interference in U.K. politics and society this week, and Steele’s private Orbis Business Intelligence firm released a seven-page summary marked “confidential” that it says was a “strategic overview” of Steele’s testimony.
“I believe it is erroneous for western governments, including Her Majesty’s Government, to assume that we have rational shared interests that the Russian leadership understands and accepts (for example in promoting general peace and prosperity),” Steele told the committee. “Ostensibly ‘liberal’ representatives of the Russian regime have paid lip service to these perceived mutual interests and some of them may have been superficially convincing. Hence, they have been given the benefit of the doubt resulting in, for example, former Secretary of State Clinton’s so-called ‘Reset’ (a complete failure in policy terms).”
In 2009, Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with a big red button that was supposed to say “reset” on it in Russian, though the word the State Department used was more accurately translated as “overcharged” — a glaring mistake Lavrov pointed out to laughter during the meeting in Foggy Bottom, a Washington neighborhood.
“I wanted to present you with a little gift, and it represents what President Obama, Vice President Biden, and I have been saying, and that is, that we want to reset our relationship,” Clinton said.
After the failed “reset” by the Obama administration, Russia under Vladimir Putin has ramped up its malign global activities in may ways. Obama defeated former Massachusetts Gov. and current Utah freshman Sen. Mitt Romney in 2012 after mocking the Republican’s warnings about Russia during the campaign. Obama told then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in early 2012 to tell Putin he would have ” more flexibility” after his reelection. Since 2012, Putin’s Russia annexed Crimea, made multiple military incursions into Ukraine, was connected to the deadly shoot down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, propped up Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, allegedly conducted poisonings and assassinations in the West, and was linked to interference efforts in elections in Europe and the United States.
Steele told Parliament that “Putin and the ex-KGB clique surrounding him in his ‘Ottoman court’ style government … have a zero-sum view of the world” and that “within this framework, anything that benefits the West (UK/NATO/EU etc.) necessarily does so at Russia’s expense and the Kremlin therefore would prefer a lose-lose outcome to a win-win one.”
The British ex-spy also critiqued Trump and his own country’s reaction to his research.
“My understanding, arising partly from personal experience with the ‘Trump-Russia dossier’, is that this government perhaps more than its predecessors is reluctant to see (or act upon) intelligence on Russian activities when this presents difficult wider political implications,” Steele said. “Examples of this include reporting on the Kremlin’s likely hold over president Trump and his family/administration.” Steele claimed political leaders in the U.K. “threw a blanket over” the dossier.
Robert Mueller’s special counsel report, released in April 2019, said that Russians interfered in the 2016 election in a “sweeping and systematic fashion” but “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government.”
Steele faced increased scrutiny after DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s lengthy December report criticized the DOJ and the FBI for at least 17 “significant errors and omissions” related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants against Trump campaign associate Carter Page and for the bureau’s reliance on Steele’s Democratic-funded and unverified dossier. Declassified footnotes now show that the FBI was aware that Steele’s dossier may have been compromised by Russian disinformation. And last week, Republican Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham released freshly declassified documents that cast doubt on the veracity of Steele’s dossier and undercut the theory of Russian collusion pushed by some in the media.
“Overall, I would argue that Russia under Putin now represents potentially the most significant threat to the U.K.’s institutions and way of life,” Steele told Parliament.
The heavily redacted U.K.-Russia report released earlier this week concluded that although there were “widespread public allegations” about Russian meddling in Brexit, “the impact of any such attempts would be difficult — if not impossible — to assess.”
“The U.K. is clearly a target for Russia’s disinformation campaigns and political influence operations and must therefore equip itself to counter such efforts,” the new Russia report concluded, adding: “Overall, the issue of defending the U.K.’s democratic processes and discourse has appeared to be something of a ‘hot potato,’ with no one organisation recognising itself as having an overall lead.”
The parliamentary inquiry also warned about the influence of Russian oligarchy money in British society and politics.
The U.S., the U.K., and Canada jointly accused Russian intelligence last week of likely attempting to hack into groups conducting COVID-19 vaccine development. On Friday, the U.S. intelligence community announced that it had assessed that Russia, China, and Iran were attempting to influence U.S. politics during the 2020 election.