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President of the United StatesIncumbent
The Trump–Russia dossier, also known as the Steele dossier, is a private intelligence report comprising 17 memos that were written from June to December 2016 by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence (MI6) officer. It contains allegations of misconduct and conspiracy between Donald Trump's presidential campaign and the Russian government during the 2016 election cycle. Campaign members and Russian operatives allegedly colluded to interfere in the election and benefit Trump. The dossier was published in full by BuzzFeed on January 10, 2017. Several mainstream media outlets criticized BuzzFeed's decision to release it.
A private investigative firm, Fusion GPS, provided political opposition research against Trump in two distinct phases, with completely separate funders. Fusion GPS was first contracted by a conservative political website, The Washington Free Beacon, and Steele was not involved in that research. When Trump became the presumptive nominee on May 3, 2016, The Free Beacon stopped their backing. Separately, in April 2016, attorney Marc Elias hired Fusion GPS to investigate Trump on behalf of Hillary Clinton's campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Fusion GPS later subcontracted Steele to research and compile the dossier. Following Trump's election as president, funding from Clinton and the DNC ceased, but Steele continued to work, and was reportedly paid directly by Glenn R. Simpson, a co-founder of Fusion GPS. The completed dossier was then handed to British and American intelligence services.
Some of the dossier's allegations have been confirmed, while others have yet to be proved or disproved. Some claims may require access to classified information for verification. The media, the intelligence community, and most experts have treated the dossier with caution, while Trump himself denounced the report as "fake news". In February 2017, some details related to conversations "solely between foreign nationals" were independently verified. Some of those individuals were known to be "heavily involved" in efforts to damage Clinton and help Trump. The conversations "took place between the same individuals on the same days and from the same locations as detailed in the dossier", giving US intelligence and law enforcement "greater confidence" in the credibility of parts of the document.Contents
There were two phases of political opposition research performed against Trump, both using the services of Fusion GPS, but with completely separate funders. Only the second phase produced the Steele dossier.Research funded by conservative website
In October 2015, before the official start of the 2016 Republican primary campaign, The Washington Free Beacon, an American conservative political journalism website primarily funded by Republican donor Paul Singer, hired the American research firm Fusion GPS to conduct general opposition research on Trump and other Republican presidential candidates. For months, Fusion GPS gathered information about Trump, focusing on his business and entertainment activities. When Trump became the presumptive nominee on May 3, 2016, The Free Beacon stopped funding research on him.
Although the source of the Steele dossier's funding had already been reported correctly over a year before, a February 2, 2018 story by the Associated Press (AP) contributed to confusion about its funding by stating that the dossier "was initially funded" by the Washington Free Beacon, so the AP posted a correction the next day: "Though the former spy, Christopher Steele, was hired by a firm that was initially funded by the Washington Free Beacon, he did not begin work on the project until after Democratic groups had begun funding it." At no point in time did the Free Beacon have any connection with the production of the Steele dossier, and the Free Beacon stated that "none of the work product that the Free Beacon received appears in the Steele dossier."Research funded by Democrats produces dossier
The second phase of opposition research was funded by the DNC and the Clinton campaign, working through their attorney of record, Marc Elias of Perkins Coie. In April 2016, Elias hired Fusion GPS to perform opposition research on Trump.
As part of their investigation, Fusion GPS hired Orbis Business Intelligence, a private British intelligence firm, to look into connections between Trump and Russia. Orbis co-founder Christopher Steele, a retired British MI6 officer with expertise in Russian matters, was hired as a subcontractor to do the job. In total, Perkins Coie paid Fusion GPS $1.02 million in fees and expenses, $168,000 of which was paid to Orbis by Fusion GPS and used by them to produce the dossier.
Orbis was hired between June and November 2016, and Steele produced 16 memos during that time, with a 17th memo added in December. The memos were like "prepublication notes" based on reports from Steele's sources, and were not released as a fully vetted and "finished news article". Steele believes that 70–90% of the dossier is accurate, a view that is shared by Simpson.
Simpson has stated that, to his knowledge, Steele did not pay any of his sources. According to investigative reporter Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, Orbis has a large number of paid "collectors" who "harvest intelligence from a much larger network of unpaid sources, some of whom don't even realize they are being treated as informants but money doesn't change hands, because it could risk violating laws against, say, bribing government officials or insider trading. Paying sources might also encourage them to embellish." According to British journalist Luke Harding, Steele's sources were not new: "They're not people that he kind of discovered yesterday. They are trusted contacts who essentially had proven themselves in other areas." Howard Blum said that Steele leaned on sources "whose loyalty and information he had bought and paid for over the years".
According to Fusion GPS's co-owners, Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, they did not tell Steele who their ultimate clients were, only that Steele was "working for a law firm", and they "gave him no specific marching orders beyond this basic question: 'Why did Mr. Trump repeatedly seek to do deals in a notoriously corrupt police state that most serious investors shun?'" Mayer reported that when the Clinton campaign "indirectly employed" Steele, Elias created a "legal barrier" by acting "as a firewall" between the campaign and Steele. Thus, any details were "protected by attorney-client privilege. Fusion briefed only Elias on the reports. Simpson sent Elias nothing on paper—he was briefed orally." Only several months after signing the contract with Fusion GPS did Steele learn that the DNC and the Clinton campaign were the ultimate clients. The firewall was reportedly so effective that even campaign principals John Podesta and Robby Mook did not know that Steele was on the Democratic payroll until Mother Jones reported on the issue on October 31, 2016.
Steele delivered his reports individually as one- to three-page memos. The first memo, dated June 20, 2016, was sent to Washington by courier and hand-delivered to Fusion GPS. The names of the sources were redacted, "providing instead descriptions of them that enabled Fusion to assess their basic credibility."
Steele has stated that he soon found "troubling information indicating connections between Trump and the Russian government." According to his sources, "there was an established exchange of information between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin of mutual benefit." According to Harding, "Steele was shocked by the extent of collusion his sources were reporting," and told his friends: "For anyone who reads it, this is a life-changing experience." Steele felt that what he had unearthed "was something of huge significance, way above party politics." American reporter Howard Blum described Steele's rationale for becoming a whistleblower: "The greater good trumps all other concerns."
On his own initiative, Steele decided to also pass the information to British and American intelligence services because he believed the findings were a matter of national security for both countries. According to Simpson's testimony, Steele approached the FBI because he was concerned that Trump, then a candidate, was being blackmailed by Russia, and he became "very concerned about whether this represented a national security threat". When Steele showed his findings to FBI agents in Rome in early July; their reaction was "shock and horror".
Steele enjoyed a good working reputation "for the knowledge he had developed over nearly 20 years working on Russia-related issues for British intelligence." Knowing this, in October 2016, a few weeks before the election, the FBI agreed to pay him to continue collecting information. However, the subsequent public release of the dossier stopped discussions between Steele and the FBI. Simpson testified that "Steele wasn't paid by the FBI, but was possibly reimbursed for a trip to Rome to meet with FBI officials." According to Mayer, Steele "did request compensation for travelling to Rome, but he never received any."
Simpson later revealed that "Steele severed his contacts with FBI before the election following public statements by the FBI that it had found no connection between the Trump campaign and Russia and concerns that was being 'manipulated for political ends by the Trump people'." Steele had become frustrated with the FBI, whom he believed failed to investigate his reports, choosing instead to focus on the investigation into Clinton's emails. According to The Independent, Steele came to believe that there was a "cabal" inside the FBI, particularly its New York field office linked to Trump advisor Rudy Giuliani, because it blocked any attempts to investigate the links between Trump and Russia.Hints of existence: Mother Jones story
By the third quarter of 2016, many news organizations knew about the existence of the dossier, which had been described as an "open secret" among journalists. However, they chose not to publish information that could not be confirmed.
By October 2016, Steele had compiled 33 pages (16 memos), and he then passed on what he had discovered to David Corn, a reporter from Mother Jones magazine. On October 31, 2016, a week before the election, Mother Jones reported that a former intelligence officer, whom they did not name, had produced a report based on Russian sources and turned it over to the FBI. The article disclosed some of the dossier's allegations:
The first memo, based on the former intelligence officer’s conversations with Russian sources, noted, "Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years. Aim, endorsed by PUTIN, has been to encourage splits and divisions in western alliance". It maintained that Trump "and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals". It claimed that Russian intelligence had "compromised" Trump during his visits to Moscow and could "blackmail him". It also reported that Russian intelligence had compiled a dossier on Hillary Clinton based on "bugged conversations she had on various visits to Russia and intercepted phone calls."— David Corn, "A Veteran Spy Has Given the FBI Information Alleging a Russian Operation to Cultivate Donald Trump", Mother Jones (October 31, 2016)
When the Mother Jones story broke, John Podesta, chairman of the Clinton campaign, said he was "stunned by the news that the F.B.I. had launched a full-blown investigation into Trump, especially one that was informed by research underwritten by the Clinton campaign." Although they knew that Perkins Coie had spent money for opposition research, neither Podesta nor campaign manager Robby Mook knew that Steele was on the Democratic payroll. They both maintain they "didn't read the dossier until BuzzFeed posted it online. Far from a secret campaign weapon, Steele turned out to be a secret kept from the campaign."Post-election events
After Trump's election on November 8, 2016, the Democratic client stopped paying for the investigation, but Steele continued working on the dossier for Fusion GPS. At that time, Simpson "reportedly spent his own money to continue the investigation". After the election, Steele's dossier "became one of Washington's worst-kept secrets, and journalists worked to verify the allegations.
On November 18, 2016, U.S. Senator John McCain, who had been informed about the alleged links between the Kremlin and Trump, met with former British ambassador to Moscow Sir Andrew Wood at the Halifax International Security Forum in Canada. Wood told McCain about the existence of the collected materials about Trump, and also vouched for Steele's professionalism and integrity.
Steele agreed with Fusion GPS to deliver a hard copy of all 16 memos to McCain, which he received in early December from David J. Kramer, a former U.S. State Department official working at Arizona State University. On December 9, McCain met personally with FBI Director James Comey to pass on the information. Comey later confirmed that counterintelligence investigations were under way into possible links between Trump associates and Moscow.
After having delivered his 16 memos, Steele received more information and composed the two-page "December memo", dated December 13. It mostly contained allegations against Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, which he denied. In an April 2017 court filing, Steele revealed previously unreported information that he had given a copy of his last memo to a "senior UK government national security official acting in his official capacity, on a confidential basis in hard copy form", because it "had implications for the national security of the US and the UK".Publication by BuzzFeed
In early January 2017, President-elect Trump and President Barack Obama were separately briefed on the existence of the dossier by the chiefs of several U.S. intelligence agencies. Vice President Joe Biden has confirmed that he and the president had received briefings on the dossier, and the allegations within. Trump later expressed that he felt that James Comey was trying to blackmail him at the meeting in Trump Tower, held two weeks before the inauguration.
On January 10, 2017, CNN reported that classified documents presented to Obama and Trump the previous week included allegations that Russian operatives possess "compromising personal and financial information" about Trump. CNN stated that it would not publish specific details on the memos because it had not "independently corroborated the specific allegations". Following the CNN report, BuzzFeed published a 35-page dossier that it said was the basis of the briefing, including unverified claims that Russian operatives had collected "embarrassing material" involving Trump that could be used to blackmail him.
BuzzFeed was harshly criticized for publishing what Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan called "scurrilous allegations dressed up as an intelligence report meant to damage Donald Trump", while The New York Times noted that the publication sparked a debate centering on the use of unsubstantiated information from anonymous sources. BuzzFeed's executive staff said the materials were newsworthy because they were "in wide circulation at the highest levels of American government and media" and argued that this justified public release.Authorship
When CNN reported the existence of the dossier on January 10, 2017, it did not name the author of the dossier, but revealed that he was British. Steele concluded that his anonymity had been "fatally compromised", and, realizing it was "only a matter of time until his name became public knowledge", he fled into hiding with his family, in fear of "a prompt and potentially dangerous backlash against him from Moscow". The Wall Street Journal revealed Steele's name the next day, on January 11. Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd, for whom Steele worked at the time the dossier was authored, and its director Christopher Burrows, would not confirm or deny that Orbis had produced the dossier. On March 7, 2017, as some members of the U.S. Congress were expressing interest in meeting with or hearing testimony from Steele, he reemerged after weeks in hiding, appearing publicly on camera and stating, "I'm really pleased to be back here working again at the Orbis's offices in London today."
Called by the media a "highly regarded Kremlin expert" and "one of MI6's greatest Russia specialists", Steele formerly worked for the British intelligence agency MI6. He entered MI6 in 1987, directly after his graduation from Cambridge University. He currently works for Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd, a private intelligence company he co-founded in London.
Wood, the former British ambassador to Moscow, has vouched for Steele's reputation. He views Steele as a "very competent professional operator ... I take the report seriously. I don't think it's totally implausible." He also stated that "the report's key allegation—that Trump and Russia's leadership were communicating via secret back channels during the presidential campaign—was eminently plausible". FBI investigators reportedly treat Steele "as a peer", whose experience as a trusted Russia expert has included assisting the Justice Department, British prime ministers, and at least one U.S. president.Allegations Vladimir Putin meets with U.S. President Donald Trump at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, July 2017 Michael Cohen (2011) Carter Page (2017)
The dossier contains multiple allegations, some of which are currently unverified and others for which possible verification is classified. Trump and Putin have repeatedly denied the allegations, with Trump labeling the dossier as "discredited", "debunked", "fictitious", and "fake news".Cultivation, conspiracy, and cooperation
Although the dossier alleged in June 2016 that the Kremlin had been cultivating Trump for "at least five years", Harding wrote that the Soviet Union had been interested in him since 1987. In his book Collusion, Harding asserts that the "top level of the Soviet diplomatic service arranged his 1987 Moscow visit. With assistance from the KGB." Then-KGB head Vladimir Kryuchkov "wanted KGB staff abroad to recruit more Americans." Harding proceeds to describe the KGB's cultivation process, and posits that they may have opened a file on Trump as early as 1977, when he had married Czech model Ivana Zelníčková; the Soviet spies may have closely observed and analyzed the couple from that time on.Denials of specific claims Michael Cohen
The dossier alleges efforts by Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, to pay those who had hacked the DNC and to "cover up all traces of the hacking operation". Cohen has denied the allegations against him, stating that he was in Los Angeles between August 23 and 29, and in New York for the entire month of September. According to a Czech intelligence source, there is no record of him entering Prague by plane, but Respekt magazine and Politico pointed out that he could have entered by car or train from a neighboring country within the Schengen Area, for example Italy. In the latter case, a record of Cohen entering the Schengen zone from a non-Schengen country should exist.
On April 13, 2018, McClatchy reported that the Mueller investigation had evidence that Cohen visited Prague in August or early September 2016 by traveling through Germany. The following day, Cohen again denied he has "ever been to Prague".Paul Manafort
Manafort has "denied taking part in any collusion with the Russian state, but registered himself as a foreign agent retroactively after it was revealed his firm received more than $17m working as a lobbyist for a pro-Russian Ukrainian party."Carter Page
Page originally denied meeting any Russian officials, but his later testimony, acknowledging that he had met with senior Russian officials at Rosneft, has been interpreted as corroboration of portions of the dossier.Donald Trump
Trump has denied the salacious "golden showers" allegations, claiming he is a "germaphobe". In April 2018, James Comey said he does not know whether Trump "was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013", adding "It's possible, but I don't know." At the time he was fired, the allegations had not been verified, Comey said.
Jonathan Chait wrote about how James Comey, in his book, A Higher Loyalty, describes how Trump "mixed his denials of the pee tape with obvious lies". Chait also stated that "Trump's alibi is at least partly false"; Comey related that Trump "argued that could not be true because he had not stayed overnight in Moscow but had only used the hotel room to change his clothes." Chait then asked: "Why would Trump offer up a false alibi for something that isn't true?"
Trump not only spent the night in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Moscow that weekend, according to Trump's close acquaintance, Aras Agalarov, he actually stayed in the Presidential suite, where the "golden showers" incident is alleged to have occurred.
Trump's longtime bodyguard Keith Schiller "privately testified that he rejected an offer by a Russian individual to send five women to Trump's hotel room during their 2013 trip to Moscow," stating that "he took the offer as a joke ... and Trump laughed it off." After staying outside the door for a few minutes, he left. "One source noted that Schiller testified he eventually left Trump's hotel room door and could not say for sure what happened during the remainder of the night."
Comey wrote in his book that Trump mentioned "the golden showers things" and told him that "it bothered him if there was 'even a one percent chance' his wife, Melania, thought it was true." Trump "told him to consider having the FBI investigate the prostitutes allegation to 'prove it was a lie'."Veracity
There are those who trust the dossier, and those who question its veracity. Steele and the dossier have become "the central point of contention in the political brawl raging around" the Special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections. Some consider Steele a hero who tried to warn about the Kremlin's meddling in the election, and others consider him a "hired gun" used to attack Trump.Reputation in the U.S. intelligence community
On January 11, 2017, it was reported that, according to Paul Wood of BBC News, the salacious information in Steele's report is also reported by "multiple intelligence sources" and "at least one East European intelligence service". They report that "compromising material on Mr. Trump" included "more than one tape, not just video, but audio as well, on more than one date, in more than one place, in both Moscow and St. Petersburg." While also mentioning that "nobody should believe something just because an intelligence agent says it", he added that "the CIA believes it is credible that the Kremlin has such kompromat—or compromising material—on the next US commander in chief" and "a joint taskforce, which includes the CIA and the FBI, has been investigating allegations that the Russians may have sent money to Mr Trump's organisation or his election campaign".
On January 12, 2017, Susan Hennessey, a former National Security Agency lawyer now with the Brookings Institution, stated: "My general take is that the intelligence community and law enforcement seem to be taking these claims seriously. That itself is highly significant. But it is not the same as these allegations being verified. Even if this was an intelligence community document—which it isn't—this kind of raw intelligence is still treated with skepticism." Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes wrote that "the current state of the evidence makes a powerful argument for a serious public inquiry into this matter".
On February 10, 2017, CNN reported that some communications between "senior Russian officials and other Russian individuals" described in the dossier had been corroborated by multiple U.S. officials. They "took place between the same individuals on the same days and from the same locations as detailed in the dossier". Sources told CNN that some conversations had been "intercepted during routine intelligence gathering", but refused to reveal the content of conversations, or specify which communications were intercepted "due to the classified nature of US intelligence collection programs". CNN was unable to confirm whether conversations were related to Trump. U.S. officials said the corroboration gave "US intelligence and law enforcement 'greater confidence' in the credibility of some aspects of the dossier as they continue to actively investigate its contents". They also reported that American intelligence agencies had examined Steele and his "vast network throughout Europe and found him and his sources to be credible."
On March 30, 2017, Paul Wood reported that the FBI was using the dossier as a road map for its investigation. On April 18, 2017, CNN reported that, according to U.S. officials, information from the dossier had been used as part of the basis for getting the FISA warrant to monitor Page during the summer of 2016. Officials told CNN this information would have had to be independently corroborated by the FBI before being used to obtain the warrant.
British journalist Julian Borger wrote on October 7, 2017, that "Steele's reports are being taken seriously after lengthy scrutiny by federal and congressional investigators", at least Steele's assessment that Russia had conducted a campaign to interfere in the 2016 election to Clinton's detriment; that part of the Steele dossier "has generally gained in credibility, rather than lost it".
On October 11, 2017, it was reported that Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), member of the Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC), had stated: "As I understand it, a good deal of his information remains unproven, but none of it has been disproven, and considerable amounts of it have been proven."
On October 27, 2017, Robert S. Litt, a former lawyer for the Director of National Intelligence, was quoted as stating that the dossier "played absolutely no role" in the intelligence community's determination that Russia had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
On December 7, 2017, commentator Jonathan Chait wrote that mainstream media "treat as gossip" whereas the intelligence community "take it seriously".Varied reactions about veracity
While Steele, the author of the dossier, said he believes that 70–90% of the dossier is accurate, other observers and experts have had varying reactions to the dossier. Generally, "former intelligence officers and other national-security experts" urged "skepticism and caution" but still took "the fact that the nation's top intelligence officials chose to present a summary version of the dossier to both President Obama and President-elect Trump" as an indication "that they may have had a relatively high degree of confidence that at least some of the claims therein were credible, or at least worth investigating further".
Biden told reporters that while he and Obama were receiving a briefing on the extent of election hacking attempts, there was a two-page addendum which addressed the contents of the Steele dossier. Top intelligence officials told them they "felt obligated to inform them about uncorroborated allegations about President-elect Donald Trump out of concern the information would become public and catch them off-guard".
On January 11, 2017, Newsweek published a list of "13 things that don't add up" in the dossier, writing that it was a "strange mix of the amateur and the insightful" and stating that it "contains lots of Kremlin-related gossip that could indeed be, as the author claims, from deep insiders—or equally gleaned" from Russian newspapers and blogs. Former UK ambassador to Russia Sir Tony Brenton stated that certain aspects of the dossier were inconsistent with British intelligence's understanding of how the Kremlin works, commenting: "I've seen quite a lot of intelligence on Russia, and there are some things in which look pretty shaky."
In his June 2017 congressional testimony, former FBI director James Comey called "some personally sensitive aspects" of the dossier "salacious and unverified," but he did not state that the entire dossier was unverified or that the salacious aspects were false. When Senator Richard Burr asked if any of the allegations in the dossier had been confirmed, Comey said he could not answer that question in a public setting.Veracity of certain allegations Russian assistance to the Trump campaign Main articles: Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections and Trump campaign–Russian meetings
A January 6, 2017, assessment by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) stated that Russian leadership favored the Trump candidacy over Clinton's, and that Putin personally ordered an "influence campaign" to harm Clinton's electoral chances and "undermine public faith in the US democratic process," as well as ordering cyber attacks on "both major U.S. political parties".
Newsweek stated that a dossier allegation was confirmed by this assessment. ABC News stated that "some of the dossier's broad implications—particularly that Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an operation to boost Trump and sow discord within the U.S. and abroad—now ring true." Referring to the ODNI assessment, former Los Angeles Times Moscow correspondent Robert Gillette wrote in an op-ed in the Concord Monitor that the dossier has had at least one of its main factual assertions verified....Steele's dossier, paraphrasing multiple sources, reported precisely the same conclusion, in greater detail, six months earlier, in a memo dated June 20."
In The New Yorker, Mayer has stated that the allegation that Trump was favored by the Kremlin, and that they offered Trump's campaign dirt on Clinton, has proven true.
In March 2016, George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, learned that the Russians had "dirt" on Clinton in the form of thousands of stolen emails. This occurred before the hacking of the DNC computers had become public knowledge. Papadopoulos sent emails about Putin to at least seven Trump campaign officials. Trump national campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis encouraged Papadopoulos to fly to Russia and meet with agents of the Russian Foreign Ministry, who reportedly wanted to share "Clinton dirt" with the Trump campaign. Later, on June 9, 2016, a meeting in Trump Tower was held, ostensibly for representatives from Russia to deliver the Clinton "dirt" to the Trump campaign.Republican position on Russian conflict with Ukraine
The dossier alleges that "the Trump campaign agreed to minimize US opposition to Russia's incursions into Ukraine". Harding considers this allegation to have been confirmed by the actions of the Trump campaign: "This is precisely what happened at the Republican National Convention last July, when language on the US's commitment to Ukraine was mysteriously softened." In July 2016, the Republican National Convention made changes to the Republican Party's platform on Ukraine: initially the platform proposed providing "lethal weapons" to Ukraine, but the line was changed to "appropriate assistance". NPR reported, "Diana Denman, a Republican delegate who supported arming U.S. allies in Ukraine, has told people that Trump aide J.D. Gordon said at the Republican Convention in 2016 that Trump directed him to support weakening that position in the official platform." J. D. Gordon, who was one of Trump's national security advisers during the campaign, said that he had advocated for changing language because that reflected what Trump had said. The Trump campaign does not appear to have intervened in any other platform deliberations aside from the language on Ukraine.
Trump had formerly taken a hard line on Ukraine. He initially denounced Russia's annexation of Crimea as a "land grab" that "should never have happened", and called for a firmer U.S. response, saying "We should definitely be strong. We should definitely do sanctions." But after hiring Manafort his approach changed; he said he might recognize Crimea as Russian territory and might lift the sanctions against Russia.Relations with Europe and NATO Vladimir Putin (2017)
The dossier alleges that as part of a quid pro quo agreement, "the TRUMP team had agreed… to raise US/NATO defense commitments in the Baltics and Eastern Europe to deflect attention away from Ukraine, a priority for PUTIN who needed to cauterise the subject." Aiko Stevenson, writing in The Huffington Post, noted that some of Trump's actions seem to align with "Putin's wish list", which "includes lifting sanctions on Russia, turning a blind eye towards its aggressive efforts in the Ukraine, and creating a divisive rift amongst western allies." During the campaign Trump "called Nato, the centrepiece of Transatlantic security 'obsolete', championed the disintegration of the EU, and said that he is open to lifting sanctions on Moscow." Harding adds that Trump repeatedly "questioned whether US allies were paying enough into Nato coffers." Jeff Stein, writing in Newsweek, described how "Trump's repeated attacks on NATO have...frustrated...allies ... raised questions as to whether the president has been duped into facilitating Putin's long-range objective of undermining the European Union."Lifting of sanctions
The dossier says that Page, claiming to speak with Trump's authority, had confirmed that Trump would lift the existing sanctions against Russia if he were elected president. On December 29, 2016, during the transition period between the election and the inauguration, National Security Advisor designate Flynn spoke to Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, urging him not to retaliate for newly imposed sanctions; the Russians took his advice and did not retaliate. Within days after the inauguration, new Trump administration officials ordered State Department staffers to develop proposals for immediately revoking the economic and other sanctions. One retired diplomat later said, "What was troubling about these stories is that suddenly I was hearing that we were preparing to rescind sanctions in exchange for, well, nothing." The staffers alerted Congressional allies who took steps to codify the sanctions into law. The attempt to overturn the sanctions was abandoned after Flynn's conversation was revealed and Flynn resigned. In August 2017, Congress passed a bipartisan bill to impose new sanctions on Russia. Trump reluctantly signed the bill, but then refused to implement it.Spy withdrawn from Russian embassy
The dossier alleges that a "Russian diplomat Mikhail KULAGIN " participated in US election meddling, and was recalled to Moscow because Kremlin was concerned that his role in the meddling would be exposed. The BBC later reported that US officials in 2016 had identified Russian diplomat Mikhail Kalugin as a spy and that he was under surveillance, thus "verifying" a key claim in the dossier. Kalugin was the head of the economics section at the Russian embassy. He returned to Russia in August 2016. McClatchy reported that the FBI was investigating whether Kalugin played a role in the election interference. Kalugin has denied the allegations.Page meeting with Rosneft officials
Jane Mayer said that this part of the dossier seems true, even if the name of an official may have been wrong. Page's congressional testimony confirmed he held secret meetings with top Moscow and Rosneft officials, including talks about a payoff: "When Page was asked if a Rosneft executive had offered him a 'potential sale of a significant percentage of Rosneft,' Page said, 'He may have briefly mentioned it'."
On November 2, 2017, Page appeared before the House Intelligence Committee (HPSCI) which is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections. He testified that he informed Jeff Sessions, J. D. Gordon, Hope Hicks, and Corey Lewandowski, Trump's campaign manager, of a planned trip to Russia, and that Lewandowski approved the trip, responding "If you'd like to go on your own, not affiliated with the campaign, you know, that's fine." In his testimony, Page admitted he met with high ranking Kremlin officials. Previously, Page had denied meeting any Russian officials during the trip. His comments appeared to corroborate portions of the dossier. Newsweek has listed the claim about Page meeting with Rosneft officials as "verified".Relationship between the Kremlin and WikiLeaks Main articles: 2016 Democratic National Committee email leak and Democratic National Committee cyber attacks
Mayer agrees with Steele that the Kremlin and WikiLeaks cooperated to release the stolen DNC emails, as stated by the U.S. Intelligence Community. On December 9, 2016, the CIA told U.S. legislators that the U.S. Intelligence Community concluded Russia conducted operations during the 2016 U.S. election to prevent Clinton from winning the presidency. Three U.S intelligence agencies concluded that people with direct ties to the Kremlin had sent hacked emails from the DNC to WikiLeaks.Investigations using or referencing dossier Use in the FBI's Russia investigation Main article: Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections
At some time during the summer of 2016, the FBI began an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections, spurred by comments made by Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos.
While Trump and some Republicans have claimed that the dossier was behind the beginning of the FBI investigation into his campaign's potential conspiracy with Russia, in December 2017, former and current intelligence officials revealed that the actual impetus was a series of comments made in May 2016 by Papadopoulos to a top Australian diplomat during a night of "heavy drinking at an upscale London bar". Papadopoulos revealed that he had inside information by bragging that the Kremlin had "thousands of emails" stolen from Clinton which could be used to damage her campaign. He had learned this about three weeks earlier. Two months later, when WikiLeaks started releasing DNC emails, Australian officials alerted the Americans about Papadopoulos' remarks. Over a year later, in October 2017, Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, and became a cooperating witness in Mueller's investigation.
Other factors then played into the FBI's decision to investigate Russian interference and the Trump campaign: intelligence from friendly governments, especially the British and Dutch, and information about Page's Moscow trip. Steele's first report was sent to Fusion GPS, dated June 20, 2016, and FBI agents first interviewed Steele in October 2016. CNN later reported that the FBI had used the dossier to bolster its existing investigations.Use in special counsel investigation Main article: Special Counsel investigation (2017–present)
According to Senate Intelligence Committee vice chairman Mark Warner (D-VA), the dossier's allegations are being investigated by a Special Counsel led by Robert Mueller, which, since May 2017, has been investigating allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 elections. In the summer of 2017, Mueller's team of investigators met with Steele. As some leads stemming from the dossier have already been followed and confirmed by the FBI, legal experts have stated that Special Counsel investigators, headed by Robert Mueller, are obligated to follow any leads the dossier has presented them with, irrespective of what parties financed it in its various stages of development, or "hey would be derelict in their duty if they didn't."Subject of Nunes memo Main article: Nunes memo
On February 2, 2018, the Nunes memo, a four-page memorandum written for U.S. Representative Devin Nunes by his staff, was released to the public. Referring to the dossier, the memo alleges that the FBI "may have relied on politically motivated or questionable sources" to obtain a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant in October 2016 and in three subsequent renewals on Page in the early phases of the FBI's interference investigation. Republican legislators argued that the memo presents evidence that a group of politically-biased FBI employees abused the FISA warrant process for the purpose of undermining the Trump presidency. The Nunes memo alleged that there was excessive and improper dependence on the Trump–Russia dossier.
On February 3, 2018, Trump praised the Nunes memo and tweeted:Donald J. Trump✓ via Twitter @realDonaldTrump
This memo totally vindicates "Trump" in probe. But the Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on. Their was no Collusion and there was no Obstruction (the word now used because, after one year of looking endlessly and finding NOTHING, collusion is dead). This is an American disgrace!
February 3, 2018
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) disagreed, stating on February 4 on CBS's Face the Nation: "I actually don't think has any impact on the Russia probe." He went on to say:
"There is a Russia investigation without a dossier," Gowdy said. "So to the extent the memo deals with the dossier and the FISA process, the dossier has nothing to do with the meeting at Trump Tower. The dossier has nothing to do with an email sent by Cambridge Analytica. The dossier really has nothing to do with George Papadopoulos' meeting in Great Britain. It also doesn't have anything to do with obstruction of justice. So there's going to be a Russia probe, even without a dossier."
Glenn Kessler, a fact checker for The Washington Post, has analyzed a false accusation made by Devin Nunes in a February 7, 2018, interview on the Hugh Hewitt Show: "The truth is that they are covering up that Hillary Clinton colluded with the Russians to get dirt on Trump to feed it to the FBI to open up an investigation into the other campaign." Kessler's "Pinocchio Test" rating was: "here is no evidence that Clinton was involved in Steele's reports or worked with Russian entities to feed information to Steele. That's where Nunes's claim goes off the rails—and why he earns Four Pinocchios." "Four Pinocchios" equals a "Whopper".Reactions November 14, 2017 – House Intelligence Committee transcript of Glenn Simpson Wikisource has original text related to this article: House Intelligence Committee Interview of Glenn Simpson Transcript August 22, 2017 Fusion GPS testimony transcript of Glenn Simpson Wikisource has original text related to this article: Senate Judiciary Committee Interview of Glenn Simpson Individual responses
Donald Trump called the dossier "fake news" and criticized the intelligence and media sources that published it. During a press conference on January 11, 2017, Trump denounced the dossier's claims as false, saying that it was "disgraceful" for U.S. intelligence agencies to report them. Trump refused to answer a question from CNN's senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta on the subject. In response, CNN said that it had published "carefully sourced reporting" on the matter which had been "matched by the other major news organizations", as opposed to BuzzFeed's posting of "unsubstantiated materials".
James Clapper described the leaks as damaging to U.S. national security. This contradicted Trump's previous claim that Clapper had said the information was false; Clapper's statement actually said the intelligence community had made no judgment on the truth of the information.
As Putin's press secretary, Peskov insisted in an interview that the dossier is a fraud, saying "I can assure you that the allegations in this funny paper, in this so-called report, they are untrue. They are all fake." Putin called the people who leaked the dossier "worse than prostitutes" and referred to the dossier itself as "rubbish". Putin went on to state he believed that the dossier was "clearly fake", fabricated as a plot against the legitimacy of President-elect Trump.
Some of Steele's former colleagues expressed support for his character, saying "The idea his work is fake or a cowboy operation is false—completely untrue. Chris is an experienced and highly regarded professional. He's not the sort of person who will simply pass on gossip."
Among journalists, Bob Woodward called the dossier a "garbage document", while Carl Bernstein took the opposite view, noting that the senior-most U.S. intelligence officials had determined that the content was worth reporting to the president and the president-elect. Julian Borger has described the dossier as "one of the most explosive documents in modern political history..." Ben Smith, editor of BuzzFeed, wrote: "The dossier is a document...of obvious central public importance. It's the subject of multiple investigations by intelligence agencies, by Congress. That was clear a year ago. It's a lot clearer now."
Ynet, an Israeli online news site, reported on January 12, 2017 that U.S. intelligence advised Israeli intelligence officers to be cautious about sharing information with the incoming Trump administration, until the possibility of Russian influence over Trump, suggested by Steele's report, has been fully investigated.
On March 2, 2017, media began reporting that the Senate may call Steele to testify about the Trump dossier. On March 27, 2017, SJC Chairman Chuck Grassley asked the Department of Justice to initiate an inquiry into Fusion GPS, who initially retained Steele to write the dossier. Fusion GPS was previously associated with pro-Russia lobbying activities due to sanctions imposed by the Magnitsky Act. On August 22, 2017, Steele met with the FBI and had provided them with the names of his sources for the allegations in the dossier.
Steven L. Hall, former CIA chief of Russia operations, has contrasted Steele's methods with those of Donald Trump Jr., who sought information from a Russian attorney at a meeting in Trump Tower in June 2016: "The distinction: Steele spied against Russia to get info Russia did not want released; Don Jr took a mtg to get info Russians wanted to give."
Jane Mayer referred to the same meeting and contrasted the difference in reactions to Russian attempts to support Trump: When Trump Jr. was offered "dirt" on Clinton as "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump," instead of "going to the F.B.I., as Steele had" done when he learned that Russia was helping Trump, Trump's son accepted the support by responding: "If it's what you say, I love it..."
On January 2, 2018, Simpson and Fritsch authored an op-ed in The New York Times, requesting that Republicans "release full transcripts of our firm's testimony" and further wrote that, "the Steele dossier was not the trigger for the F.B.I.'s investigation into Russian meddling. As we told the Senate Judiciary Committee in August, our sources said the dossier was taken so seriously because it corroborated reports the bureau had received from other sources, including one inside the Trump camp." Ken Dilanian of NBC News stated that a "source close to Fusion GPS" told him that the FBI had not planted anyone in the Trump camp, but rather that Simpson was referring to Papadopoulos.
On January 5, 2018, in the first known Congressional criminal referral resulting from investigations related to the Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, Grassley made a referral to the Justice Department suggesting that they investigate possible criminal charges against Steele for allegedly making false statements to the FBI about the distribution of the dossier's claims, specifically possible "inconsistencies" in what Steele told authorities and "possibly lying to FBI officials". Senator Lindsey Graham also signed the letter. Both Grassley and Graham declared that they were not alleging that Steele "had committed any crime. Rather, they had passed on the information for 'further investigation only'." The referral was met with skepticism from legal experts, as well as some of the other Republicans and Democrats on the Judiciary committee, who reportedly had not been consulted.
On January 8, 2018, a spokesman for Grassley said he did not plan to release the transcript of Simpson's August 22, 2017 testimony before the SJC. The next day, ranking committee member Senator Dianne Feinstein unilaterally released the transcript.
On January 18, 2018, the HPSCI released the transcript of the Simpson Testimony given on November 14, 2017. Democratic committee member Adam Schiff stated that the testimony contains "serious allegations that The Trump Organization may have engaged in money laundering with Russian nationals". Trump Organization's chief counsel Alan Garten called the allegations "unsubstantiated" and "reckless", and said that Simpson was mainly referring to properties to which Trump licensed his name. Democratic member Jim Himes said that Simpson "did not provide evidence and I think that's an important point. He made allegations."
In April 2018, the White House Correspondents' Association bestowed The Merriman Smith Memorial Award to Evan Perez, Jim Sciutto, Jake Tapper and Carl Bernstein of CNN for their reporting "that Russia had compromising information about" then-President elect Donald Trump, and noted that "hanks to this CNN investigation, 'the dossier' is now part of the lexicon".Suspicious death of Oleg Erovinkin
On December 26, 2016, Oleg Erovinkin, a former KGB/FSB general, was found dead in his car in Moscow. Erovinkin was a key liaison between Sechin and Putin. Steele claimed much of the information came from a source close to Sechin. According to Christo Grozev, a journalist at Risk Management Lab, a think tank based in Bulgaria, the circumstances of Erovinkin's death were "mysterious". Grozev suspected Erovinkin helped Steele compile the dossier on Trump and suggests the hypothesis that the death may have been part of a cover-up by the Russian government. Mark Galeotti, senior research fellow at the Institute of International Relations Prague, who specializes in Russian history and security, rejected Grozev's hypothesis. According to Harding, Steele denied that Erovinkin was his direct source, but "the information could nonetheless have originated with Erovinkin" and he would be held responsible for the leak as one of the heads of Rosneft's administration in charge of security.Litigation against BuzzFeed
On February 3, 2017, Aleksej Gubarev, chief of technology company XBT and a figure mentioned in the dossier, sued BuzzFeed for defamation. The suit, filed in a Broward County, Florida court, centers on allegations from the dossier that XBT had been "using botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data and conduct 'altering operations' against the Democratic Party leadership". In the High Court of Justice, Steele's lawyers said their client did not intend for the memos to be released, and that one of the memos "needed to be analyzed and further investigated/verified". In response to the lawsuit, BuzzFeed hired the business advisory firm FTI Consulting to investigate the dossier's allegations. BuzzFeed has sued the DNC in an attempt to force the disclosure of information it believes will bolster its defense against libel allegations. Fusion GPS "has claimed that it did not provide the dossier to BuzzFeed."
On January 9, 2018, it was reported that Cohen sued BuzzFeed for defamation over allegations about him in the dossier, which BuzzFeed had published a year before.Reactions to specific allegations Allegation of collusion with Russia
Frida Ghitis, writing in Foreign Policy magazine, commented: "The most important question the dossier raises is whether Trump colluded with Russia in its interference in the U.S. presidential election. That is crucial not just because it might constitute treason, but because if it did occur, that alone would amount to kompromat. Forget the prostitutes. If Trump and the Kremlin worked together, that fact alone gives Putin something with which to pressure Trump to act in Russia's interest."See also