A second dossier relating to Russian “collusion”? Should Donald Trump be shaking in his boots? Naah, at least not from the description by The Guardian. But the FBI may have more questions to answer if this second dossier got used to legitimize their surveillance of Carter Page and the Trump campaign:
The FBI inquiry into alleged Russian collusion in the 2016 US presidential election has been given a second memo that independently set out many of the same allegations made in a dossier by Christopher Steele, the British former spy.
The second memo was written by Cody Shearer, a controversial political activist and former journalist who was close to the Clinton White House in the 1990s.
This could be potentially dangerous for Trump if it provides evidence for the allegations in the lurid Fusion GPS/Christopher Steele dossier on Trump and his campaign. However, it may be more likely that any correlation between the two is either coincidental or manipulated. The Fusion GPS effort began as a research project for the Free Beacon, but it later morphed into an oppo-research effort by the Hillary Clinton campaign. Steele came on board in that phase, with the former intel operative trying to find as much dirt as possible for a political campaign rather than evidence for a prosecution. [see update]
This effort seems markedly less credible:
Unlike Steele, Shearer does not have a background in espionage, and his memo was initially viewed with scepticism, not least because he had shared it with select media organisations before the election.
However, the Guardian has been told the FBI investigation is still assessing details in the ‘Shearer memo’ and is pursuing intriguing leads.
So what we have here is nothing more than another oppo research project, only this one from a freelancer with no background in intelligence. Supposedly Shearer ended up getting a source within the FSB (one of Russia’s security agencies), but that seems curious in itself. How does an activist with no intel background find a mole within Russian intelligence? Could it be that the FSB found out about Shearer’s efforts and used him to float misinformation? That seems a lot likelier than an amateur suddenly penetrating the FSB to capture significant information.
How did the memo get to the FBI? Steele gave it to them in October 2016 as a way for Steele to corroborate his own dossier, but the Guardian reports that Steele warned them that he hadn’t checked out the Shearer memo himself. Steele got it from “an American contact,” which seems pretty fishy. Who knew that Steele was working on this? Well, Fusion GPS knew it, and so did the Hillary Clinton campaign. Shearer has connections to the Clintons, as the Guardian notes.
In other words, what we’re likely to have here is an oppo-research effort that was used to manipulate the FBI into investigating a major-party presidential nominee, based on what may well be Russian disinformation. If that’s the case, it’s not collusion; it’s an embarrassment. That may be why the FBI declined to do anything with either “dossier” at the time, and perhaps even saw the Shearer memo more as a discrediting of Steele than a corroboration, since Steele’s dossier produced what would be the same misinformation.
That may well be part of what Republicans argue in the upcoming Devin Nunes memo. If so, then this has a lot more potential to damage the FBI than Trump.
Update: I had the sequence of events between Fusion GPS and the Free Beacon incorrect in my initial post. Fusion GPS brought Steele on board after Free Beacon dropped its project. I’ve corrected it above, and thanks to Mick Yullie on Twitter for pointing out the error.