This is the start of five part series that looks at the Steele dossier.
When Trump entered the race for President in 2015, the lasting image is his descent down the escalator in Trump Tower and his announcement speech. At the time, no one really took his candidacy that seriously. He had, after all, been talking about a presidential run in the 1990s and seriously considered a run in 2012. Leading into the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton had written six books herself and there 101 books about her on the market before the 2016 election. For Trump, there were 44 books on the market.
The “dossier” was first compiled at the request of Republicans opposed to the candidacy of Donald Trump. The company designated for the research was a DC-based one called Fusion GPS founded by Glenn Simpson. The person who funded the effort was David Singer, a New York hedge fund manager with a strong dislike of Trump. His preferred candidate was someone less disruptive- perhaps a Jeb Bush candidate.
Funding did not flow to Fusion GPS directly from Singer, but through an intermediary, a Washington-based publication called the Washington Free Beacon. Funding and research started sometime in October 2015 and was primarily based on open-source content. The newspaper later testified to Congress that other Republican candidates had been targeted for research, not just Trump which indicates that Singer likely had a preference.
One of their sources at this phase of the research was reliance on author and investigative reporter Wayne Barrett who had done extensive research on Trump, and he gave them all his information he had gathered over the years. That information focused on Trump’s bankruptcies, real estate deals, alleged ties to organized crime figures, and taxes. Fusion GPS also noticed that Barrett’s research showed that Trump had some potentially strange ties to Russians with questionable backgrounds.
Some of the results of that research in 2015-2016 did end up in the Washington Free Beacon, but the Trump train rolled on. After the Indiana primary, with only John Kasich and Ted Cruz left as viable opposition, Trump secured the Republican Party nomination for President on May 3rd, 2016. It is at that point, unable to stop Trump, that it is believed Singer stopped funding the research. However, this did not stop Fusion GPS who, they later testified to Congress, became alarmed at what had been found out thus far that they made a decision to continue the research. The problem was funding.
Enter the DNC and Clinton campaign. Trump secured the nomination on May 3 and Singer stopped funding the project in either late April or around May 3. In March 2016, Fusion GPS reached out to the DC law firm Perkins Coie who employed Marc Elias, a lawyer for the Clinton campaign and the DNC. They asked whether the campaign or the DNC wanted to fund the research. In April, Elias hired Fusion GPS to continue the opposition research into Trump. Fusion GPS actually pedaled the work to the DNC.
In June, 2016, Fusion GPS hired Orbis Business Intelligence, a British firm founded by Christopher Steele, a former MI6 agent with alleged extensive contacts in Russia. He was tasked with further investigation of Trump’s ties to Russia. In all, Perkins Coie paid Fusion GPS over $1 million in fees and expenses with $168,000 of it going to Orbis.
Subsequent investigation of Steele and his sources by the New Yorker, Steele apparently did not pay any of his informants for information and instead relied on a network of Russians he had come into contact with while a member of MI6. There are conflicting stories. Some reporters noted that Steele relied on this network of informants while Steele said none of the informants were from his time during MI6, but developed after he retired and founded Orbis. According to journalist Luke Harding of the Guardian, initially Steele had no problem obtaining information, but that in July his sources started to dry up. We know Steele is brought in, through Orbis, by Fusion GPS sometime in June, but Harding reports that for the first six months, he was receiving information.
The Clinton campaign and DNC indirectly employed Steele by going through Fusion GPS and Perkins Coie to act as a firewall between the campaign and Steele. Any details or revelations would be protected by attorney-client privilege. According to Simpson, Fusion GPS only briefed Marc Elias on anything and never in writing. Simpson allegedly never told Steele who was paying for the research, but by late July Steele stated he knew the Clinton campaign was ultimately paying. Apparently the firewall was so effective that top campaign aides- John Podesta and Robbie Mook- were unaware of the arrangement.
At some point, Steele decided to pass along the information to American and British intelligence agencies. Simpson testified to Congress that Steele did this fearing national security concerns that Trump was or could be the victim of future Russian blackmail if he won the Presidency.
It was in early July that the FBI dispatched an agent stationed in Rome- Michael Gaetta- to London to interview Steele and that trip had to be approved by Victoria Nuland, a State Department official. Gaetta was given a copy of a Steele report dated June 20th, 2016. The meeting occurred early in July. Nuland later testified, after receiving a copy of the Steele memo, that she passed the information along to the FBI. The report ended up in the hands of the New York Field Office of the FBI and allegedly languished there for two months before it was forwarded to the DC field office in September, 2016.
Here is another trip-up of the narrative’s timeline. The FBI met with Steele in August and asked him to turn over all his research up to that point and to reveal his sources for the information, which Steele did. How can the FBI request this of Steele if the actual report which caused so much consternation was “languishing” in the New York field office until September? Somebody somewhere informed the FBI DC office or headquarters about the Steele memos which they had all along in New York.
Now comes another oddity: in the period from July to September 2016, CIA director John Brennan was assembling a team of analysts from the CIA, FBI and NSA to look into suspected Russian meddling in the election. Why? We know that the FBI had opened Crossfire Hurricane on or about July 31, 2016 so why the need for this small select group being led by Brennan? The gist of his task force was that Russia was indeed meddling and that Russia’s aim was to get Trump elected. Did Comey not tell Brennan of Crossfire Hurricane?
Brennan said: “…The entire intelligence community was on alert about this situation at least two months before [the dossier] became part of the investigation.” Using Brennan’s timeline, “the entire intelligence community” never considered or possibly knew about the dossier until September 2016, yet the FBI had (1) dispatched Gaetta to London in July, and (2) interviewed Steele and discovered the name of his sources in August 2016. So either Brennan is lying, or their entire timelines are screwed up. In fact, the first Gaeta-Steele meeting occurred on July 5th.
A second Gaeta-Steele meeting occurred on October 1st, this time in Rome. It was at this second meeting that Steele was asked about George Papadopolous. Steele never heard of him, another twist in the saga. Steele does identify one intermediary- Carter Page- mainly in the context of Page’s trip to Moscow to give a lecture at an economic forum. This was public knowledge. But, the man the FBI trusted so much had never heard of George Papadopolous, who allegedly rang the alarm bells at the FBI, DOJ, and IC and whose conversation with Alexander Downer, who Steele surely knew, started the whole “investigation.”
As the election drew near, apparently Steele did not believe things were proceeding quick enough for his liking. In late October, the FBI suddenly ceased working with Steele when it was discovered their source was talking to journalists about the findings in his dossier, specifically Michael Isakoff. Another reporter talked to was David Corn, also of Mother Jones.
Which brings up another question in the timeline’s narrative. The FBI dropped Steele as a source of information in October because he was blabbing to journalists. But in September, Steele reached out to State Department official Jonathan Winer. The two had known each other since 2009 and Winer is interesting because he was a former lobbyist with Alston and Bird and in 2003 he filed a FARA application to lobby on behalf of Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska.
In September, Steele is pedaling the dossier to the FBI, journalists, and the State Department. Steele gave Winer a synopsis of his findings which Winer then passed onto Nuland who had previously received information from Gaeta in July. Winer, being a supporter of Clinton, then went to Sidney Blumenthal also with the synopsis from Steele. Blumenthal told Winer that the information was similar to information uncovered in a separate opposition research project being conducted by Cody Shearer, another close confidante of the Clintons and perhaps even more suspect and sleazier than Blumenthal.