One of the little mysteries that has remained over the past year of investigation into the Steele dossier is this: Who leaked information about a private briefing given to President-elect Trump to CNN? The briefing itself, by former FBI Director James Comey, took place on Jan. 6, 2017. Comey warned Trump that CNN was looking for a “news hook” to run with a story about the dossier. CNN published a story four days later using the briefing itself, which had been ordered by DNI James Clapper, as the hook.
Clapper was asked about this sequence of events by the Washinton Post’s Glenn Kessler and denied that he leaked information on the briefing to anyone at CNN. But if Clapper didn’t leak it, who did? Yesterday, the Federalist highlighted a letter Senator Ron Johnson sent to FBI Director Christopher Wray which adds some additional insight on that question. The letter reveals several previously unseen emails sent by former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe which reveal a surprisingly detailed knowledge of what was going on internally at CNN. From the Federalist:
Two days after the briefing, on January 8, 2017, former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, who earlier this year was fired and then referred for criminal prosecution by the DOJ inspector general for repeatedly lying about media leaks, wrote an e-mail to top FBI officials with the subject, “Flood is coming.”
“CNN is close to going forward with the sensitive story,” McCabe wrote to Comey, Rybicki, and two others. “The trigger for them is they know the material was discussed in the brief and presented in an attachment.”…
Shortly after sending his e-mail to Comey and other FBI officials, McCabe e-mailed then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and her deputy, Matthew Axelrod. McCabe used the subject line “News” in his e-mail to the DOJ officials.
“Just as an FYI, and as expected,” McCabe wrote, “it seems CNN is close to running a story about the sensitive reporting.” It is not clear how McCabe came to be so familiar with CNN’s understanding of the dossier, its briefing, or how close CNN was to reporting on the matter.
The big takeaway here is that two days after the briefing took place, someone had leaked word of it to CNN. Not only that but Andrew McCabe knew word of the briefing had leaked and that CNN was about to publish. It doesn’t appear from the description of his emails that he was a) surprised or b) concerned about the leak so soon after the briefing. So far as we know, no one at the FBI was pounding a desk demanding to know who gave CNN exactly what it was looking for.
CNN would publish a story two days later and that story would still contain the inaccurate claim that Trump was presented with a two-page summary of the dossier during the briefing. According to Comey, that never happened, but someone told CNN it had. It’s probably not a coincidence that the claim that a summary was handed to the President-elect, though not true, seems designed to give CNN the news hook it needed.
So, to sum this up. Comey and others knew CNN was looking for a hook. Clapper ordered the briefing. Two days later McCabe warned everyone CNN was ready to publish using a false details from the briefing as their news hook. It’s hard to look at the speed with which this happened and not see the potential for abuse by anti-Trump partisans. Did fired leaker Andrew McCabe leak the briefing himself? Possibly, but I wouldn’t put it past known leaker James Comey or known liar James Clapper either. And that still doesn’t exhaust all the possibilities.