A top Senate Republican said a newly declassified FBI document on the bureau’s 2018 briefing of the Senate Intelligence Committee shows the FBI misled Congress about the reliability of British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s anti-Trump dossier.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, revealed that the document had been declassified during an interview with Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo on Fox News’s Sunday Morning Futures, arguing that “somebody needs to go to jail” for the FBI misleading the Senate Intelligence Committee about the dossier a year after Steele’s primary subsource, recently revealed to be Igor Danchenko, met with the FBI and disputed the reliability of the research. Danchenko, a 42-year-old Russian-trained lawyer, was identified as Steele’s primary subsource after Graham released declassified documents in July related to a three-day interview with Danchenko in January 2017 where he contradicted claims made in the dossier and undercut the FBI’s case against onetime Trump campaign associate Carter Page.
The FBI’s newly declassified briefing document, dated Feb. 14, 2018, and briefed to senators shortly thereafter, claimed that the primary subsource said that “several reports appeared to be derived from multiple sources, to include the information he provided to Steele as well as information that he had not collected” and that “he did not cite any significant concerns with the way his reporting was characterized in the dossier to the extent he could identify it.”
The bureau also told the senators that “at minimum, our discussions with [the primary subsource] confirm the dossier was not fabricated by Steele.” The bureau further said Danchenko “maintains trusted relationships with individuals who are capable of reporting on the material he collected for Steele.”
But FBI notes on an interview conducted with Steele’s primary subsource, released last month, seem to tell a different story. Danchenko told the bureau that he didn’t know where some of the claims attributed to him came from and that his own Russian sources never mentioned some of the allegations that ended up in Steele’s dossier. Danchenko was also multiple steps separated from some of the claims he passed along to Steele.
Danchenko told bureau agents that he “did not know the origins” of some claims and “did not recall” other information that was in the dossier. Steele’s primary subsource told the FBI that Steele had mischaracterized at least one of his own Russian source contacts too. Steele’s primary subsource also noted that much of what he passed along to Steele was “word of mouth and hearsay” and that some stemmed from a “conversation that [he] had with friends over beers,” while the most salacious Trump allegations may have been claims made in “jest.”
“This document clearly shows that the FBI was continuing to mislead regarding the reliability of the Steele dossier. The FBI did to the Senate Intelligence Committee what the Department of Justice and FBI had previously done to the FISA court: mischaracterize, mislead, and lie. The characterizations regarding the dossier were completely out of touch with reality in terms of what the Russian subsource actually said to the FBI,” Graham said Sunday. “What does this mean? That Congress, as well as the FISA court, was lied to about the reliability of the Russian subsource. I will be asking FBI Director Wray to provide me all the details possible about how the briefing was arranged and who provided it.”
Danchenko told the FBI that Steele contracted him to look into four or five Trump associates, but was only able to name former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, onetime Trump campaign adviser Page, and former Trump fixer Michael Cohen specifically for the bureau. Danchenko said he then reached out to his own source network, which was more of a loose social network compromising a number of shady individuals and old friends from Russia, for information on them. He also contradicted some of the claims in Steele’s dossier.
DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz said FBI interviews with Steele’s primary subsource “raised significant questions about the reliability of the Steele election reporting” and cast doubt on some of its biggest claims. Horowitz also concluded that the FBI’s interviews of Steele and the primary subsource, along with other investigative activity, “revealed potentially serious problems with Steele’s descriptions of information in his reports.” The DOJ watchdog noted that the primary subsource “made statements during his/her January 2017 FBI interview that were inconsistent with multiple sections of the Steele reports, including some that were relied upon in the FISA applications” and that “among other things, regarding the allegations attributed to Person 1, the Primary Subsource’s account of these communications, if true, was not consistent with and, in fact, contradicted the allegations of a ‘well-developed conspiracy’” in Steele’s dossier that were “attributed to Person 1.”
Horowitz said the FISA renewals “continued to rely on the Steele information, without any revisions or notice to the court that the Primary Subsource contradicted the Steele election reporting on key issues described in the renewal applications” and that “we found no evidence that the Crossfire Hurricane team ever considered whether any of the inconsistencies warranted reconsideration of the FBI’s previous assessment of the reliability of the Steele election reports.”
Horowitz’s report also noted that Steele “was not the originating source of any of the factual information in his reporting” but instead “relied on a primary subsource for information, and this Primary Subsource used a network of subsources to gather the information that was relayed to Steele.” Horowitz said that “neither Steele nor the Primary Subsource had direct access to the information being reported.”
The FBI’s briefing document to the Senate also claimed that “our discussions with the primary subsource confirmed that he operates within high level academic and government circles, maintains trusted relationships with individuals who are capable of reporting on the material he collected for Steele, and that Steele and utilized reasonably sound intelligence tradecraft.”
Horowitz’s lengthy December report criticized the Justice Department and the FBI for at least 17 “significant errors and omissions” related to the FISA warrants against Page and for the bureau’s reliance on Steele’s unverified dossier. Steele put his research together at the behest of the opposition research firm Fusion GPS, funded by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee through the Perkins Coie law firm. Declassified footnotes now show that the FBI was aware that Steele’s dossier might have been compromised by Russian disinformation.
Steele’s dossier claims to have a source described as a “close associate of Trump” and attributes to this person some of the more salacious allegations about the president, including the claim about President Trump and prostitutes at a hotel during the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.
Newly released FBI notes cast doubt on these allegations, noting that Danchenko said, “For this story, Christopher Steele was given the names of the management at the Ritz Carlton.” They also note that Danchenko “said that he reported Trump’s unorthodox sexual activity at the Ritz as ‘rumor and speculation’ and that he had not been able to confirm the story.” Danchenko said that “the ability to blackmail Trump was ‘logical conclusion’ rather than reporting.” Danchenko told the FBI that he had “no idea where the [Steele dossier’s] mention of ‘Department K of the FSB’ is from” and did not recall hearing that or mentioning it to Steele.
No evidence to support these claims in Steele’s dossier has ever emerged publicly.
Horowitz’s report noted the second and third surveillance application renewals targeting Page, who has denied any wrongdoing and was never charged with a crime, advised the FISA court that after the interview with Danchenko “the FBI found the Russian-based subsource to be truthful and cooperative.” But despite a few trips to Russia and Moscow in 2016, Danchenko was not “Russian-based” by any means, since he had lived in the United States for many years — yet another flaw in the FISA filings against Page.
Developments from U.S. Attorney John Durham’s investigation of the Trump-Russia investigators are expected by the end of the summer.