Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham released declassified FBI documents on Friday that appear to undercut the reliability of British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s dossier and the case against onetime Trump campaign associate Carter Page.
The South Carolina Republican has been conducting an investigation into the Trump-Russia investigators and thanked Attorney General William Barr for releasing the long-sought-after records, which remain heavily redacted.
“It is clear to me that the memo regarding the FBI interview of the primary subsource in January 2017 should have required the system to stop and reevaluate the case against Mr. Page,” Graham said. “Most importantly, after this interview of the subsource and the subsequent memo detailing the contents of the interview, it was a miscarriage of justice for the FBI and the Department of Justice to continue to seek a FISA warrant against Carter Page in April and June of 2017.”
The FBI interviewed Steele’s primary subsource, whose identity remained concealed, in January 2017 over the course of three days, and the newly released 57-page transcript spans a host of topics, shedding light on Steele’s effort to dig up Russia-related dirt on Trump and those in his circle. The primary subsource told the FBI that Steele contracted him to look into four or five Trump associates, naming Paul Manfort, Page, and Michael Cohen specifically, and that he then reached out to his own source network for info on them.
The primary subsource told the FBI that although he was often in contact with Russian government officials, he did not believe he had been in contact with Russian intelligence services — and the FBI noted that the primary subsource’s attorney stressed how that was only true to the primary subsource’s knowledge. Though his descriptions were heavily redacted, the primary subsource also shed light on some of Steele’s other sources, though their names were redacted and they were assigned numbers in the report. The primary subsource cast doubt on a number of the Steele dossier’s assertions.
Graham argued: “The dossier was a critical document to justify a FISA warrant against Mr. Page, and this DOJ memo clearly indicates that the reliability of the dossier was completely destroyed after the interview with the primary subsource in January 2017. Those who knew or should have known of this development and continued to pursue a FISA warrant against Mr. Page anyway are in deep legal jeopardy in my view.”
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 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 may have been compromised by Russian disinformation.
Horowitz said FBI interviews with Steele’s primary Moscow-based source “raised significant questions about the reliability of the Steele election reporting” and cast doubt on some of its biggest claims. The DOJ watchdog’s report said Steele’s dossier included information from a subsource who was said to be “close” to President Trump. Steele told DOJ investigators that this subsource provided the person described as his “Primary Sub-source” with information and that this subsource met with the primary subsource two or three times.
Stephen Somma, a counterintelligence investigator in the FBI’s New York field office, is believed to be “Case Agent 1.” Horowitz has said he was “primarily responsible for some of the most significant errors and omissions” in the Page FISA warrant applications. RealClearInvestigations cited congressional sources who said that veteran FBI analyst Brian Auten was involved as a “Supervisory Intel Analyst.” Graham is seeking interviews with both men.
The second document released by Graham on Friday contained fired FBI special agent Peter Strzok’s typed comments critiquing the assertions made in a New York Times article from February 2017 about alleged Russian intelligence ties to the Trump campaign, with Strzok apparently referencing the January 2017 conversation with Steele’s primary subsource, writing that “recent interviews and investigation, however, reveal Steele may not be in a position to judge the reliability of his sub-source network.”
The notes by Strzok also appear to cut against the FBI’s assertion in FISA application filings that “the FBI believes that Russia’s efforts to influence U.S. policy were likely being coordinated between the RIS [Russian Intelligence Services] and [Trump campaign associate] Carter Page, and possibly others” — Strzok’s notes indicate that “we have not seen evidence of any individuals affiliated with the Trump team in contact with IOs [intelligence officials]” and “we are unaware of ANY Trump advisers engaging in conversations with Russian intelligence officials.”
“The comments of Peter Strzok regarding the Feb. 14 New York Times article are devastating in that they are an admission that there was no reliable evidence that anyone from the Trump campaign was working with Russian Intelligence Agencies in any form,” Graham said. “The statements by Mr. Strzok question the entire premise of the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign and make it even more outrageous that the Mueller team continued this investigation for almost two and a half years. Moreover, the statements by Strzok raise troubling questions as to whether the FBI was impermissibly unmasking and analyzing intelligence gathered on U.S. persons.”
Graham concluded: “These documents, which I have long sought, tell a damning story for anyone who’s interested in trying to find the truth behind the corrupt nature of the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign in 2016 and beyond.”