How did oppo research from a political opponent become a central focus of the FBI? Until now, the man who developed the material has resisted efforts by investigators to find out. Now, however, the Times of London reports that Christopher Steele has agreed to meet with Department of Justice investigators to discuss his relationship with the FBI:
The former MI6 agent behind the Trump dossier has agreed to be questioned by US officials over his relationship with the FBI.
Christopher Steele, 54, has agreed to meet investigators in London within weeks, according to a source close to him. Mr Trump has tweeted more than 50 times about Mr Steele, calling him a “failed spy” and accusing him of spreading fake news.
Last year Mr Steele, who runs a corporate intelligence company, was named as the author of memos containing unsubstantiated allegations that the Kremlin held sexually lurid information about Mr Trump.
The rest of the Times’ report is buried behind a paywall. The Daily Beast picks up a bit more of the story. Note the scope of what Steele’s prepared to discuss:
An insider at Steele’s Orbis Business Intelligence company said the former MI6 officer told the Department of Justice that he would only discuss his dealings with the FBI and wanted assurances that U.S. officials would secure the agreement of the British government, which has reportedly not yet been approached about the meeting.
In other words, Steele’s not going to discuss sources or methods, or likely not even the dossier itself. He’s willing, it seems, to discuss his interactions with the FBI — but even then, only if the British government agrees to the interview. Presumably that relates to Steele’s earlier work in MI-6, which officially ended a decade ago but likely continued in some kind of unofficial capacity after he opened his own private intelligence firm.
Assuming that the Brits agree to a DoJ debriefing of Steele, what potential information can they get from this limited scope? Steele can perhaps discuss how he either promoted his dossier with the FBI and/or his recruitment to produce more intelligence. Steele could also perhaps shed light on Steele’s briefings with reporters in September and October 2016 about the dossier and just how much the FBI knew about them — and perhaps whether they encouraged Steele. The issue of payment from the FBI will certainly come up, although in the end it didn’t happen.
Steele has some good reasons for refusing to discuss sources and methods, even apart from proprietary concerns. As former CIA deputy director Mike Morell noted at the time and reported by CBS, Steele used questionable methods for collecting the data, almost all of it secondhand or worse:
“Unless you know the sources, and unless you know how a particular source acquired a particular piece of information, you can’t judge the information — you just can’t.” …
“I had two questions when I first read it. One was, How did Chris talk to these sources? I have subsequently learned that he used intermediaries.
“And then I asked myself, why did these guys provide this information, what was their motivation? And I subsequently learned that he paid them. That the intermediaries paid the sources and the intermediaries got the money from Chris. And that kind of worries me a little bit because if you’re paying somebody, particularly former FSB officers, they are going to tell you truth and innuendo and rumor, and they’re going to call you up and say, ‘hey, let’s have another meeting, I have more information for you,’ because they want to get paid some more.
“I think you’ve got to take all that into consideration when you consider the dossier.”
Another former CIA officer in the room pointed out that the CIA also pays its sources.
“But we know who the source is and we know how they got the information,” Morell responded.
That explains a lot about the dossier and the later inability of the FBI to confirm any of its claims. Even if Steele doesn’t want to discuss the sources and methods, investigators will want to know how much the FBI knew about those while pushing Steele to develop more intel from his dossier. If those methods and sources were bad enough to have caused alarm under any other circumstances, the DoJ will want to know why the FBI continued to work with Steele.
That will be of very special interest when it comes to the FBI’s pursuit of a FISA surveillance warrant on Carter Page, which was based on Steele’s intel. Speaking of which, Sean Hannity declared last night that Attorney General William Barr may already have the long-awaited report from Inspector General Michael Horowitz:
Fox News host Sean Hannity said Attorney General William Barr may already have the Justice Department inspector general report on the investigation into alleged Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act abuses.
“Sources are telling me it may now have already been handed to the attorney general,” Hannity said on his Monday evening show.
Let’s assume that’s the case. It might be why Steele has changed his mind and now wants to talk with Barr’s other investigators about the FBI and their approach to the dossier. If Horowitz finds that the FBI knew full well that the Steele dossier and Steele’s methods were flawed and unreliable before they got that FISA warrant, it’s not going to reflect well on any of them.