For previous entries in this series, see part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here, and part 4 here.
The gap between the last memo and the one previous is almost two months, which is strange since a lot happened in that time period, notably Trump’s victory which is not mentioned at all. It is easy to see why the dossier remains a controversial document to this day.
There is a more concerning and overarching problem with the Steele dossier overlooked in most analysis. Steele describes a massive conspiracy between the Russians and the Trump campaign involving a plethora of actors. In reality, an operation of this nature would be more closely guarded in a country like Russia, and involve fewer people to avoid detection. The larger the conspiracy, the greater the chance of detection.
In many respects, Steele seems to attempt to catch up with the news and in other respects seems to fill in the facts with his take on things of how the Kremlin thought and operated. In the end, we have this massive influence campaign being run out of the Russian PA, the foreign ministry, the FSB, Russian oligarchs, and, if the Mueller report is to be believed, the GRU. That is one massive conspiracy likely to be detected and one doubts that Putin would have been so irresponsible in this area.
There are two alternative explanations, but neither seems plausible. The first is that perhaps these various entities were working on the same thing not knowing what the other one was doing. But the primary focus of the Steele dossier is that Putin approved and directed the whole operation. The second explanation proffered is that the Russians left trails of detection on purpose in a “ha ha…we can do it” message. This is an equally ludicrous assertion.
Before moving onto a third possibility, recall that Steele told the FBI the names of his sources. Later interviews with these sources indicated that many told the FBI Steele overstated or exaggerated their claims. One source said one tidbit of intelligence sounds nothing like what he said. The intelligence gathered was provided by a primary source with most of the lettered sources in the memos being sub-sources. In short, the “intelligence” is mostly second hand hearsay.
As for the third possibility, the Horowitz IG report indicates that the FBI were aware that some of the information may have been part of an elaborate Russian disinformation campaign. Steele identified two of the sub sources as Vyacheslav Trubnikov, a former spy chief and diplomat, and Vladislav Surkov, a top Kremlin adviser. Trubnikov is particularly troublesome because of his ties to Stefan Halper. During one of his recorded conversations with Papadopulos, Halper specifically mentions his name. Halper hosted Trubnikov twice at the CIS and interviewed him for a project with the Office of Net Assessment. Steele also had Oleg Deripaska as a client.
We know that the Steele dossier was used as part of the evidence to establish probable cause in getting a FISA warrant targeting Carter Page. James Comey testified in mid-2017 that many parts of the dossier were unverified. If they were unverified in the middle of 2017, they were unverified in October 2016 when they obtained the warrant against Page.
The dossier was also used to create the IC assessment that was presented to both Obama and Trump in early 2017. Brennan and Comey are at odds over the inclusion of the dossier in those briefings. Painting Clapper and himself as the hero since the report was uncorroborated, it was Comey, Brennan insists, who decided to brief Trump privately on the most salacious accusations.
The IC assessment argument- who wanted it included and who didn’t- is actually a minor sideshow, but one that illustrates the apparent disarray and difference of opinion over the validity of the Steele dossier. In that respect, it makes its inclusion in an application for a FISA warrant that more egregious. Steele’s claims made it to the ICA as an “annex” of unverified accusations; Steele’s claims made it into a FISA application as “certified.”
The Steele dossier also shines a light on the use of outside sources for intelligence or investigative information by the FBI or CIA. Virtually everyone within the DOJ and FBI knew Christopher Steele and they all vouched for his tenacity and integrity given his help in past investigations. It appears they were relying upon that history to give Steele a pass.
On October 11, 2016 deputy secretary of state Kathleen Kavalec (why was the State Department interviewing Steele?) interviewed Steele and noted that Steele told her his research had an Election Day deadline and that suggests a political motivation. Kavalec specifically wrote: “[Steele’s client] is keen to see this information come to light prior to November 8.” The political aspect and apparent need to get something before November 8 is further bolstered by the Strozk-Page texts which show urgency in getting the FISA warrant on Page which would bolster the Kavalec notes.
Perhaps this institutional reliance on and respect of Steele clouded the so-called investigation of links between the Trump campaign and Russia, but that cloud was political bias. Instead, someone made a conscious decision to rely upon a series of memos that were multiple layers of hearsay. If that is how the FBI and DOJ work, then there are serious institutional problems that go far beyond their reliance on an uncorroborated series of memos. When revelations indicated some of Steele’s sources were suspect, the FBI later admitted that at least two of the Carter Page FISA warrant renewals were unjustified. One could say the original warrant was unjustified.
Steele and Simpson have been reluctant to name any of the sources publicly although journalist sleuths have identified and named some. Those layers of hearsay in the memos come from a primary source who allegedly had this network of resources. One name mentioned publicly by Steele and Simpson is Sergei Millian. He is actually an American citizen born in Belarus who apparently entered the real estate market and did good for himself.
Simpson told the DOJ that Millian was a Russian spy. His proof? Millian changed his name when he came to the US (his name is really Siarhei Kakuts). Millian was a Trump supporter from day one and made a small $500 donation to his campaign. Apparently, he wanted to join the campaign which is likely why he reached out to George Papadopolous and the reason they stayed in contact. He dropped the idea of joining the campaign when he found out that the arrangement with Papadopolous and the campaign was informal and that Papadopoulos was “unpaid.”
Steele said Millian was the source for four of the memos including the most salacious and the ones about a vast conspiracy with the Trump campaign and Russia. Simpson told Bruce Ohr that Millian was “central in connecting Trump to Russia.” But when the FBI actually interviewed Millian, he told a different story- that the allegations came from a different source.
One of the memos was based upon an anonymous phone call who Steele surmised was Millian because the voice sounded like his from a YouTube video (WTF?). Also, the source of the allegations against Trump came from someone who managed and organized Trump’s trip to Moscow in 2013. Millian had nothing to do with that. Steele told the FBI that Millian was both Source D and Source E in the memos, but at some junctures one is confirming the reports of the other. Was Millian confirming himself? Steele later characterized Millian as an egotist who often boasted. If so, then why use him as your primary source? And how Steele came to that conclusion is confusing since the two never met.
Millian is also the alleged source about the backchannel communication with Alfa bank and the Trump campaign. Steele testified he first learned of this alleged plot in late July 2016 and the source was Michael Sussman, a lawyer at Perkins Coie and one directly related to Hillary Clinton and her campaign.
In October 2016, the FBI circulated a memo stating that “Person 1,” Millian, had extensive contacts with Russian intelligence operatives. Those extensive contacts were the fact that in 2011 Millian was one of a group of 50 people who participated in a Moscow forum organized by the Russian Cultural Center in DC. Millian put a face to the baseless allegations in the memos.
Given all the conflicts in the reports, the most likely explanation is that the memos are part truth, part confabulation, part personal analysis, and part Steele’s imagination. It does not say much for the FBI in general, and Comey in particular, that they fell for what must ultimately be described as partially a political hit piece and partly Russian disinformation. In that case, we finally arrive at no other conclusion: Putin and the Kremlin ultimately have their “haha..because we can do it” moment.
Putin sends a big “Thank You” to Adam Schiff, Jerrold Nadler and others for doing his work. Who really are the “puppets of Putin?”
Next: The big “bombshell-” the Trump Tower meeting
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