Over at the Federalist, Mollie Hemingway has a primer of sorts on the Steele Dossier which is aimed at clarifying some of the facts around the document. I was particularly struck by point #8 which is a bit more speculative than the rest:
As confirmed by the Washington Post, the Russia-Trump collusion narrative was a Clinton campaign political operation. The dossier itself was shopped around by Fusion GPS a year ago to the New York Times, the Washington Post, Yahoo News, the New Yorker, and CNN, according to lawyers for the ex-spy who worked on the dossier. The dossier was so unverifiable that the only reporter to bite was from Mother Jones.
What really got the ball rolling on the last year’s Russia-Trump conspiracy theory, then, was not the dossier itself but the briefing of it by Obama intelligence chiefs to President-elect Trump in January. Jim Comey admitted under oath that DNI Clapper asked him to personally brief President Trump about this dossier. The fact of that meeting was quickly leaked to CNN.
Given the dossier’s many problems, was the entire purpose of the meeting to produce the leak that the meeting happened? No one was biting on the dossier and it needed legitimization by opponents of Trump. If the dossier was so shoddy that it was debunked in hours after BuzzFeed posted it in all its salacious glory, why brief the president and president-elect on it, much less leak it? What was the real purpose of that meeting, and that leak to CNN?
CNN’s publication of a story about the dossier in January hinged on a briefing given to Trump by the intelligence community. In fact, the headline of the CNN story was “Intel chiefs presented Trump with claims of Russian efforts to compromise him.” Hours after CNN published their story, Buzzfeed published the entire dossier claiming the decision was justified since the dossier had been passed around Washington and was now part of an official briefing to the President-elect. So the briefing became the justification for CNN (and then Buzzfeed) to dump the oppo-research into the public sphere.
Hemingway asks whether the entire briefing was, in fact, a pretext to get the dossier out there. It’s a fair question but there may be a few more steps to the story. James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence indicated that one of the reasons for the January briefing was concern that the dossier was about to be published:
The IC leadership thought it important, for a variety of reasons, to alert the incoming President to the existence of this material, even though it was salacious and unverified. Among those reasons were: (1) we knew the media was about to publicly report the material and we believed the IC should not keep knowledge of the material and its imminent release from the President-Elect;
So the reason CNN (and Buzzfeed) published their stories was because of the briefing. But the reason for the briefing was the imminent publication of material from the dossier by someone in the media. This seems to be a circle in which each party claims to be reacting to the other. It’s worth noting that Mother Jones had already published some of the claims in the dossier in late October 2016. So some elements of the story were already out, even before the election making the IC’s concern about imminent publication somewhat odd.
On the same day Mother Jones published its story about the dossier, the Washington Post highlighted another reference to the dossier. In his outgoing letter to FBI Director Comey, retiring Senator Harry Reid included a paragraph which the Post called an “incendiary claim.”
In my communications with you and other top officials in the national security community, it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government — a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States, which Trump praises at every opportunity. The public has a right to know this information. I wrote to you months ago calling for this information to be released to the public. There is no danger to American interests from releasing it. And yet, you continue to resist calls to inform the public of this critical information.
So let’s try to put this in chronological order.
- April 2016 – Hillary’s attorney, acting on behalf of her campaign and the DNC, hires Fusion GPS to do oppo-research on Trump.
- June – Former MI6 agent Christopher Steele is hired by Fusion GPS and begins putting together his dossier.
- July – Steele (acting on his own, he claims) sent part of his dossier to the FBI.
- August – Harry Reid writes Comey asking him to release the dossier to the public.
- Fall? – Fusion GPS shops the dossier to several prominent news organizations.
- October – Harry Reid again writes Comey asking why he hasn’t released the dossier.
- October – Steele gives an interview to Mother Jones’ David Corn about the dossier.
- January 2017 – Trump is briefed about the dossier partly because the IC believes public reports about it are “imminent.”
- January – CNN publishes a story about the dossier because the briefing makes it newsworthy.
- January – Buzzfeed dumps the entire dossier because Buzzfeed.
Oppo-research isn’t much good unless it goes public prior to the election. Based on the facts above, it seems fair to say that the left was working hard to get this out before the public prior to November. Hillary and the DNC paid for the dossier. Steele sent it to the FBI. Somehow Harry Reid learned of it and demanded the FBI release it, twice. When that didn’t happen, Steele spoke to David Corn at the left-wing Mother Jones just before the election.
I have questions: Was Christopher Steele acting on his own when he sent this to the FBI or was he fulfilling the purpose of oppo-research by trying to make a public stink through his contacts at the FBI? How did Harry Reid learn about the dossier by August? And how did Steele wind up in contact with David Corn just prior to the election?
Given all of this effort to turn this oppo-research into public information that could influence the election, it’s also fair to ask exactly what motivated the briefing that effectively opened the floodgates after the election. Specifically, did the FBI jump or were they pushed? Had Comey or the FBI been told a specific news outlet that was going to publish this material, forcing their hand? That’s the gist of what Comey claimed. So who was it that applied that pressure?