Tom Cotton to Chris Wray: Does the FBI still believe the Steele dossier is “salacious and unverified”?
“Salacious and unverified” was the phrase famously used by James Comey during testimony last year to describe parts of the dossier, although those comments have since been misinterpreted — including by Republicans on the House Intel Committee — as a reference to the entire document. Cotton’s setting Wray up here for an obvious follow-up: If the dossier is salacious and unverified, how on earth could you offer it to the FISA Court as evidence of probable cause to believe that Carter Page is a foreign agent?
But Wray doesn’t take the bait. Watch:
It could be that the answer’s “yes” but he’s reluctant to say that publicly, knowing the political sensation it would cause. But I don’t know what the point would be of saving the truth for this afternoon’s classified testimony. Obviously, if he undermines the dossier’s credibility in that session, it’s going to leak.
Cotton also asks him about the curious coincidence of Christopher Steele reaching out to the Senate Intelligence Committee via an attorney for … Oleg Deripaska, a mega-rich Russian Putin crony. Is it possible that Steele has worked for Deripaska too? If so, the odds that the dossier contains Putin-planted disinformation would rise considerably, which means the credibility of the document would drop accordingly. Chuck Grassley sent a letter to Deripaska’s lawyer a few days ago demanding answers:
2. Have you ever hired or otherwise worked with Mr. Christopher Steele, Orbis Business Intelligence Limited, Orbis Business International Limited, Walsingham Training Limited, or Walsingham Partners Limited? If so, when, and what was the nature of the arrangement?
3. Is it the case that Mr. Steele, through you, works or has worked on behalf of Mr. Deripaska or businesses associated with him? If so, when has such work occurred?
4. Are you otherwise aware of any business or financial relationships between Mr. Steele and Russian government officials, Russian oligarchs, or Russian businesses?
If you think memo fever is intense now, let it come out that Steele was taking money from Putin’s buddy (who’s also all tangled up with Paul Manafort, to no one’s surprise) while he was building a case against Trump. One question, though: Deripaska contacted Mark Warner on the Senate Intel Committee many months ago, in March 2017. Is it possible that a Steele/Deripaska connection could have remained hidden this long given the intense scrutiny of the dossier among congressional Republicans? If Steele had something to hide vis-a-vis Deripaska, why on earth would he have used Deripaska’s lawyer as a go-between with Warner? Steele used to be an agent for MI5, remember. Presumably he recalls enough of his training not to advertise the fingerprints of dirty Russian oligarchs on his own handiwork.
Alas, it seems we may never know whether the famous dossier was truly “salacious and unverified” or not. Or will we?
For the last six months, a team led by a former top FBI and White House cybersecurity official has been traveling the globe on a secret mission to verify parts of the Trump dossier, according to four sources familiar with different aspects of the ongoing probe.
Their client: BuzzFeed, the news organization that first published the dossier on U.S. President Donald Trump’s alleged ties to Russia, which is now being sued over its explosive allegations…
BuzzFeed’s outside attorneys initially hired [consulting firm] FTI to verify aspects of the dossier specifically pertaining to the Gubarev lawsuit, but its scope has since expanded. “If it’s fact, it’s not libel, that’s the idea,” one source told FP.
“Gubarev” is Aleksej Gubarev, a Russian tech exec named in the Steele dossier who’s suing BuzzFeed for defamation after it famously published the dossier last January. Truth, of course, is an absolute defense to libel so BuzzFeed’s sniffing around the claims in Steele’s document to see if it can find some truth. But not, apparently, just the parts related to Gubarev. They’re investigating the entire thing, it seems. To think: We could wake up tomorrow and find the “pee tape” posted at the top of the page on BuzzFeed News. Out: Salacious and unverified. In: Verified — and very salacious.
I assume Wray’s testimony about the dossier in today’s classified hearing will leak to Byron York or one of Hannity’s pals in a matter of hours so stay tuned for updates. In the meantime, here’s Wray commenting this morning about the Nunes memo, about which he still has “grave concerns” — not so much because it risked exposing secret intelligence sources and methods but because of its many omissions. How do you take multiple briefings and many thousands of pages of documents, asks Wray, and reduce them to a four-page memo without leaving out reams of important context?