The Trump–Russia dossier, also known as the Steele dossier, is a private intelligence report written from June to December 2016 containing allegations of misconduct and conspiracy between Donald Trump's presidential campaign and the Government of Russia during the 2016 election. The dossier comprises 17 memos based on reports from unnamed sources known to the author, counterintelligence specialist Christopher Steele, a former head of the Russia Desk for British intelligence (MI6), written for the private investigative firm Fusion GPS. The report alleges that Trump campaign members and Russian operatives conspired to interfere in the election to benefit Trump. It also alleges that Russia sought to damage Hillary Clinton's candidacy, including sharing negative information about Clinton with the Trump campaign. The dossier was published in full by BuzzFeed on January 10, 2017. Several mainstream media outlets criticized BuzzFeed's decision to release it without verifying its allegations, while others defended its release.
In October 2015, Fusion GPS was contracted by conservative political website The Washington Free Beacon to provide general opposition research on Trump and other Republican presidential candidates. In April 2016, an attorney for Hillary Clinton's campaign and the DNC separately hired Fusion GPS to investigate Trump, while The Free Beacon stopped its backing in May of 2016. In June 2016, Fusion GPS subcontracted Steele's firm to compile the dossier. DNC officials denied knowing their attorney had contracted with Fusion GPS, and Steele asserted he was not aware the Clinton campaign was the recipient of his research until months after he contracted with Fusion GPS. Following Trump's election as president, funding from Clinton and the DNC ceased, but Steele continued his research and was reportedly paid directly by Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn R. Simpson. While compiling the dossier, Steele passed information to both British and American intelligence services.
The media, the intelligence community, and most experts have treated the dossier with caution due to its unverified allegations, while Trump has denounced it as fake news. The U.S. intelligence community took the allegations seriously, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) investigated every line of the dossier and spoke with two of Steele's sources. The Mueller Report, a summary of the findings of the Special Counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections, contained passing references to some of the dossier's allegations but little mention of its more sensational claims.
Some aspects of the dossier have been corroborated, especially its main allegations, that Russia and Putin tried to prop up Trump over Clinton, and that many Trump campaign members had frequent secret contacts with Russians, however many allegations remain unverified. One allegation against Michael Cohen was dismissed by the Mueller Report using Cohen's own words. The Daily Telegraph reported that anonymous sources believe that Russian intelligence agencies may have sought to create doubt about the veracity of the dossier.
Contrary to a conspiracy theory repeated by Trump, Fox News, and many of his supporters, the dossier was not the impetus for the opening of the FBI's "Crossfire Hurricane" counterintelligence investigation into the Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election campaign.
- 1 History
- 2 Authorship
- 3 Allegations
- 3.1 Cultivation, conspiracy, and cooperation
- 3.2 Key roles of Manafort, Cohen, and Page
- 3.3 Kremlin pro-Trump and anti-Clinton
- 3.4 Kompromat and blackmail: Trump
- 3.5 Kompromat: Clinton
- 3.6 DNC email hack, leaks, and misinformation
- 3.7 Kickbacks and quid pro quo agreements to lift sanctions
- 3.8 Russian spy withdrawn
- 3.9 Cultivation of various U.S. political figures
- 3.10 Use of botnets and porn traffic by hackers
- 3.11 Possible earlier interest in Trump
- 4 Denials of specific accusations
- 5 Veracity
- 5.1 Reputation in the U.S. intelligence community
- 5.2 Varied reactions about veracity
- 5.3 Veracity of specific allegations
- 5.3.1 Russian assistance to the Trump campaign
- 5.3.2 Trump viewed as under Putin's influence
- 5.3.3 Kremlin behind DNC email hack and use of WikiLeaks
- 5.3.4 'Golden showers' allegation
- 5.3.5 Manafort and kickback payments from Yanukovych
- 5.3.6 Lifting of sanctions
- 5.3.7 Republican position on Russian conflict with Ukraine and related sanctions
- 5.3.8 Relations with Europe and NATO
- 5.3.9 Spy withdrawn from Russian embassy
- 5.3.10 Page met with Rosneft officials
- 5.3.11 Use of botnets and porn traffic by hackers
- 6 Investigations using or referencing the dossier
- 7 Reactions
- 7.1 Donald Trump
- 7.2 Other responses
- 7.3 Circumstances surrounding the death of Oleg Erovinkin
- 7.4 Litigation
- 7.5 Conspiracy theories
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
The opposition research conducted by Fusion GPS on Donald Trump was in two distinct operations, each with a different client. The first research operation, from October 2015 to May 2016, was domestic research funded by The Washington Free Beacon. The second operation, from April 2016 to December 2016, was funded by the DNC and the Clinton campaign. Only the second operation involved the foreign research that produced the dossier. From April 2016 into early May, the Washington Free Beacon and the Clinton Campaign/DNC were independently both clients of Fusion GPS.
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 several Republican presidential candidates, including Trump. The Free Beacon and Singer were "part of the conservative never-Trump movement". 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.
In October 2017, the Free Beacon issued a statement:
All of the work that Fusion GPS provided to the Free Beacon was based on public sources, and none of the work product that the Free Beacon received appears in the Steele dossier. The Free Beacon had no knowledge of or connection to the Steele dossier, did not pay for the dossier, and never had contact with, knowledge of, or provided payment for any work performed by Christopher Steele. Nor did we have any knowledge of the relationship between Fusion GPS and the Democratic National Committee, Perkins Coie, and the Clinton campaign.
Although the source of the Steele dossier's funding had already been reported correctly over a year before, and the Free Beacon had issued a statement to this effect in October 2017, 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."
Research funded by Democrats produces dossier
The second operation of opposition research was funded by the DNC and the Clinton campaign, working through their attorney of record, Marc Elias of Perkins Coie. In an October 2017 letter, Perkins Coie general counsel Matthew Gehringer described how, in March 2016, Fusion GPS approached Perkins Coie and, knowing that the Clinton campaign and the DNC were its clients, inquired whether its clients wished to pay Fusion GPS "to continue research regarding then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, research that Fusion GPS had conducted for one or more other clients during the Republican primary contest." In April 2016, Elias hired Fusion GPS to perform opposition research on Trump.
In June 2016, as part of its work for Perkins Coie, 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. Prior to his work on the dossier, Steele had been a paid informant for the FBI for information unrelated to the Russia investigation.
In total, Perkins Coie paid Fusion GPS $1.02 million in fees and expenses, of which Fusion GPS paid Orbis $168,000 to produce the dossier. The DNC and Clinton campaign disclosed the total amount paid to Perkins Coie on campaign finance reports.
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 70–90 percent 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".
Steele delivered his reports individually to Fusion GPS 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".
Luke Harding wrote:
At first, obtaining intelligence from Moscow went well. For around six months – during the first half of the year – Steele was able to make inquiries in Russia with relative ease. It got harder from late July, as Trump's ties to Russia came under scrutiny. Finally, the lights went out. Amid a Kremlin cover-up, the sources went silent and information channels shut down.
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, who enjoyed a good working reputation "for the knowledge he had developed over nearly 20 years working on Russia-related issues for British intelligence, 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".
In early July 2016, Steele called seasoned FBI agent Michael Gaeta, who was stationed in Rome, and asked him to come to London so he could show him his findings. Because he was assigned to the U.S. embassy in Rome, Gaeta sought and was granted approval for the trip from Victoria Nuland, who was then the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs. When he arrived in London on July 5, 2016, he met with Steele at his office. Alarmed by what he read, Gaeta remarked, "I have to show this to headquarters".
As Nuland later shared, "In the middle of July, when he [Steele] was doing this other work and became concerned, he passed two to four pages of short points of what he was finding and our immediate reaction to that was, 'This is not in our purview'." "This needs to go to the FBI if there is any concern here that one candidate or the election as a whole might be influenced by the Russian Federation. That's something for the FBI to investigate." Shortly after, in July, the report was sent to an agent with expertise in criminal organizations and organized crime at the FBI's New York field office -- essentially, the wrong person to handle a counterintelligence investigation. According to Nancy LeTourneau, political writer for the Washington Monthly, the report "was languishing in the FBI's New York field office" for two months, and "was finally sent to the counterintelligence team investigating Russia at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C.", in September 2016.
It has remained unclear as to who exactly at the FBI was aware of Steele's report through July and August, and what was done with it, but they did not immediately request additional material until late August or early September, when the FBI asked Steele for "all information in his possession and for him to explain how the material had been gathered and to identify his sources. The former spy forwarded to the bureau several memos -- some of which referred to members of Trump's inner circle. After that point, he continued to share information with the FBI."
Meanwhile, in the July to September time frame, according to The Washington Post, CIA Director John Brennan had started an investigation with a secret task force "composed of several dozen analysts and officers from the CIA, the NSA and the FBI". At the same time, he was busy creating his own dossier of material documenting that "Russia was not only attempting to interfere in the 2016 election, they were doing so in order to elect Donald Trump ... [T]he entire intelligence community was on alert about this situation at least two months before [the dossier] became part of the investigation." The "Steele dossier has so far proven to be fairly accurate", LeTourneau wrote.
Steele met with Jonathan Winer in September, then the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for international law enforcement, whom he had known since 2009. In a 2018 editorial for The Washington Post, Winer recounted that during their meeting in Washington, he was allowed to review Steele's reports, but not to keep a copy: "I prepared a two-page summary and shared it with [Victoria] Nuland, who indicated that, like me, she felt that the secretary of state needed to be made aware of this material", he wrote. Later in September, Winer discussed the report with Sidney Blumenthal, who revealed he had received similar information from Cody Shearer, a controversial political activist and former journalist who was close to the Clinton White House in the 1990s. Winer met with Steele again in late September, and gave him a copy of Shearer's report, later known as the "second dossier".
In late September, Steele was summoned to Rome where he gave a full briefing to four American FBI officials about the report. Among them, again, was Michael Gaeta, head of the FBI's Eurasian Organized Crime Squad Team, which specializes in investigating criminal groups from Georgia, Russia, and Ukraine. When Steele showed his findings to the agents their reaction was "shock and horror".
During intense questioning the FBI "alluded to some of their own findings of ties between Russia and the Trump campaign", and "asked Steele about Papadopoulos, and he [Steele] said that he hadn't heard anything about him." The agents "raised the prospect of paying Steele to continue gathering intelligence after Election Day", but Steele "ultimately never received payment from the FBI for any 'dossier'-related information". 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 said that "Steele severed his contacts with [the] 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 [the FBI] 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.
What the DNC, Clinton campaign, and Steele knew
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?'"
Jane 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", Mayer reported. In its application for a FISA warrant to survey Carter Page, the Department of Justice told the FISC that Simpson had not informed Steele of the motivation behind the research into Trump's ties with Russia. Only several months after signing the contract with Fusion GPS did Steele learn that the DNC and the Clinton campaign were the ultimate clients, and Steele testified to Congress that he did not know that the Clinton campaign was the source of the payments "because he was retained by Fusion GPS".
A spokesperson for the DNC stated that neither Tom Perez nor "the new leadership of the DNC were ... involved in any decision-making regarding Fusion GPS, nor were they aware that Perkins Coie was working with the organization." A spokesperson for Perkins Coie stated that the campaign and the DNC were unaware that Fusion GPS "had been hired to conduct the research". The Washington Post reported that it is not clear how much of the research Elias received from Fusion GPS he shared with the campaign and the DNC. It is also not clear who in those organizations knew about the roles of Fusion GPS and Steele, but one person "close to the matter" said the organizations were "not informed by the law firm of Fusion GPS's role". The New York Times revealed that earlier in 2017, "Mr. Elias had denied that he had possessed the dossier before the election".
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. When the Mother Jones story broke, John Podesta, chairman of the Clinton campaign, said he was "stunned by the news that the FBI 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. Mayer said they both maintain they "didn't read the dossier until BuzzFeed posted it online". She has also stated that "the Clinton campaign never learned that Christopher Steele was on their payroll until it [the dossier] was in the press." "Far from a secret campaign weapon, Steele turned out to be a secret kept from the campaign."
Hints of existence
Jane Mayer has described how, in "late summer, Fusion set up a series of meetings, at the Tabard Inn, in Washington, between Steele and a handful of national-security reporters. ... Despite Steele's generally cool manner, he seemed distraught about the Russians' role in the election." Mayer attended one of the meetings. No news organizations ran any stories about the allegations at that time.
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, but chose not to publish information that they could not confirm.
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."
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. According to The Independent, at that time, Simpson "reportedly spent his own money to continue the investigation". According to The New York Times, 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, Republican 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.
According to Simpson's August 22, 2017, testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Steele and David J. Kramer, a longtime McCain aide and former U.S. State Department official working at Arizona State University, met each other at the Halifax forum and discussed the dossier. Kramer told Steele that McCain wanted to "ask questions about it at the FBI. ... All we sort of wanted was for the government to do its job and we were concerned about whether the information that we provided previously had ever, you know, risen to the leadership level of the FBI."
Steele had agreed with Fusion GPS to deliver a hard copy of all 16 memos to McCain, which McCain received in early December from Kramer. On December 9, McCain met personally with FBI Director James Comey and gave him a copy of the dossier. On March 25, 2019, Senator Lindsey Graham, a close friend of McCain's, contradicted Trump's attacks against McCain and revealed that he had encouraged McCain to give the dossier to the FBI. Graham described how he confronted Trump: "Senator McCain deserves better. There were some McCain people who took a piece of garbage and tried to go after Trump after the election. But I told the president it was not John McCain." He also stated that McCain acted appropriately. Comey later confirmed that counterintelligence investigations were under way into possible links between Trump associates and Moscow.
After delivering his 16 memos to McCain, 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 Cohen later 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". Both Simpson and Steele have denied providing the dossier to BuzzFeed. Unsealed documents from the discovery process in Russian entrepreneur Aleksej Gubarev's defamation lawsuit revealed that "BuzzFeed got the dossier from an associate of Republican Sen. John McCain in December 2016, weeks after the election".
In early January 2017, President-elect Trump and President Barack Obama were separately briefed about the Russian interference in the election and 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 received briefings on the dossier and the allegations within.
After the meeting with Obama, Trump was informed of the Russian election interference by Comey and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on January 6, 2017, at a meeting in Trump Tower. After this meeting, according to a prior plan, Comey stayed behind and spoke privately with Trump, informing him of the dossier and some of its salacious allegations about tapes held by the Russians. 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. In April 2018, Comey said he did not inform Trump that the dossier was partly funded by Democrats because that "wasn't necessary for my goal, which was to alert him that we had this information." This information about salacious tapes came as no surprise to Trump, as a footnote in the Mueller Report reveals that Trump already knew about incriminating tapes of his behavior. On October 30, 2016, Michael Cohen received a text from Giorgi Rtskhiladze reporting that he had successfully stopped the "flow of tapes from Russia". Rtskhiladze described them as "compromising tapes of Trump", and Cohen said he then spoke to Trump about the issue.
On December 14, 2018, the FBI released a document called "Annex A", which was "part of [the] Russia dossier summary used to brief Trump, Obama." The FBI withheld parts of the synopsis on the grounds that it remained classified and "because it pertains to ongoing investigations or court proceedings, originated with a confidential source or describes confidential investigative techniques or procedures."
Publication by BuzzFeed
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 for the briefing, including unverified claims that Russian operatives had collected "embarrassing material" involving Trump that could be used to blackmail him. BuzzFeed stated that the information included "specific, unverified, and potentially unverifiable allegations of contact between Trump aides and Russian operatives." The New York Times has stated that "Mr. Steele has made clear to associates that he always considered the dossier to be raw intelligence — not established facts, but a starting point for further investigation."
BuzzFeed was harshly criticized by several mainstream media outlets for releasing the dossier without verifying its allegations. Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan called it "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.
The dossier's publication by BuzzFeed has always been defended by Jack Shafer, Politico's senior media writer, as well as by Richard Tofel of ProPublica and the Columbia Journalism Review. Shafer defended the public's right to know about the allegations against Trump, and saw a parallel in Judge Ungaro's ruling in the defamation suit filed by Aleksej Gubarev. Ungaro wrote that the "privilege exists to protect the media while they gather information needed for the public to exercise effective oversight of the government." She also noted that, before the FBI received any memos from Steele, they had "already opened a counterintelligence investigation into links between Russia and the Trump campaign."
In relation to a defamation lawsuit filed by Gubarev against BuzzFeed, regarding their publication of the dossier, Senior Master Barbara Fontaine stated that Steele was "in many respects in the same position as a whistle-blower" because of his actions "in sending part of the dossier to Senator John McCain and a senior government national security official, and in briefing sections of the US media." She said that "it was not known who provided the dossier to BuzzFeed but Mr Steele's evidence was that he was 'horrified and remains horrified' that it was published at all, let alone without substantial redactions."
When BuzzFeed published the 35-page dossier in January 2017, the individual memos were one- to three-pages long and page numbers 1-35 had been handwritten at the bottom. All but one had a typed date at the bottom. Each of the first 16 reports was assigned a typed number in the heading between 80 and 135, but the numeric order didn't always match the chronological order. The 17th memo, known as the "December memo", was numbered 166. Of the original reports numbered 1-166, only certain reports were used for the dossier, and it is unknown what happened with the content of the other reports: "For example, the first report is labeled as '080,' with no indication given as to where the original 79 antecedents might have gone. The second report is then labeled '086,' creating yet another mystery as to 81 through 85, and what content they might contain that would otherwise bolster or contextualize what came before or what follows."
Each memo started with a page heading in the same style as the first one shown here:
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", 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, a counterterrorism specialist, 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 for 22 years, including four years at the British embassy in Moscow, and headed MI6's Russia Desk for three years at the end of his MI6 career. 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.
The dossier describes two different Russian operations. The first was an attempt, lasting many years, to find ways to influence Trump, probably not so much to make him a knowing Russian agent, but most likely to make him a source the Russians could use. This operation utilized kompromat (Russian: short for "compromising material") and proposals of business deals. The second operation was very recent and involved contacts with Trump's representatives during the campaign to discuss the hacking of the DNC and Podesta.
The dossier contains multiple allegations, some of which have been publicly verified, others unverified, but none have been disproven, according to James Clapper and Fox News host Shepard Smith, with Smith stating: "None of the dossier, to Fox News's knowledge, has been disproven." In some cases, public verification is hindered because information is classified.
According to Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff, a major portion of the dossier's content is about Russian efforts to help Trump, and those allegations "turned out to be true".
Trump and Putin have repeatedly denied the allegations, and Trump has labeled the dossier "discredited", "debunked", "fictitious", and "fake news". David A. Graham of The Atlantic has noted that in spite of Trump's "mantra that 'there was no collusion' ... it is clear that the Trump campaign and later transition were eager to work with Russia, and to keep that secret."
Cultivation, conspiracy, and cooperation
- That "Russian authorities" had cultivated Trump "for at least 5 years", and that the operation was "supported and directed" by Putin. (Dossier, p. 1)
- That Trump associates had established "an intelligence exchange [with the Kremlin] for at least 8 years". That Trump and his team had delivered "intelligence on the activities, business and otherwise, in the US of leading Russian oligarchs and their families", as requested by Putin. (Dossier, p. 11)
- That Putin aimed to spread "discord and disunity" within the United States and between Western allies, whom he saw as a threat to Russia's interests. (Dossier, pp. 1–2)
- That Trump was a "divisive" and "anti-Establishment" candidate, as well as "a pragmatist with whom they could do business". That Trump would remain a divisive force even if not elected. (Dossier, p. 29)
- That a major goal of the Russians in supporting Trump was "to upset the liberal international status quo, including on Ukraine-related sanctions, which was seriously disadvantaging the country". (Dossier, pp. 28–29)
- That the Russian government's support for Trump was originally conducted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, then by the Federal Security Service (FSB), and was eventually directly handled by the Russian presidency because of its "growing significance over time". (Dossier, p. 29)
- That Trump had "so far declined various sweetener real estate business deals", but had "accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin", notably on his political rivals. (Dossier, p. 1)
- That there was an extensive and "well-developed conspiracy between them [the Trump campaign] and the Russian leadership", with information willingly exchanged in both directions. That this co-operation was "sanctioned at the 'highest level' and involved Russian diplomatic staff based in the US". That the Trump campaign used "moles within DNC as well as hackers in the US and Russia". (Dossier, p. 7)
- That the Trump camp became angry and resentful toward Putin when they realized he not only was aiming to weaken Clinton and bolster Trump, but was attempting to "undermine the US government and democratic system more generally". (Dossier, p. 17)
Key roles of Manafort, Cohen, and Page
- That then-Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort had "managed" the "conspiracy of co-operation", and that he used Trump's foreign policy advisor, Carter Page, and others, "as intermediaries". (Dossier, p. 7)
- That Page had "conceived and promoted" the idea of leaking the stolen DNC emails to WikiLeaks during the 2016 Democratic National Convention. (Dossier, pp. 7, 17)
- That Cohen played a "key role" in the Trump–Russia relationship by maintaining a "covert relationship with Russia", arranging cover-ups and "deniable cash payments", and that his role had grown after Manafort had left the campaign. (Dossier, pp. 18, 30, 32, 34–35)
- That "COHEN now was heavily engaged in a cover up and damage limitation operation in the attempt to prevent the full details of TRUMP's relationship with Russia being exposed." (Dossier, p. 32)
Kremlin pro-Trump and anti-Clinton
- That Putin feared and hated Hillary Clinton. (Dossier, p. 7)
- That there was a "Kremlin campaign to aid TRUMP and damage CLINTON". (Dossier, pp. 7, 13)
- That Putin's interference operation had an "objective of weakening CLINTON and bolstering TRUMP". (Dossier, p. 17)
Kompromat and blackmail: Trump
- That Trump "hated" Obama so much that when he stayed in the Presidential suite of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Moscow, he employed "a number of prostitutes to perform a 'golden showers' (urination) show in front of him" in order to defile the bed used by the Obamas on an earlier visit. The alleged incident from 2013 was reportedly filmed and recorded by the FSB as kompromat. (Dossier, p. 2)
- That Trump was susceptible to blackmail due to paying bribes and the existence of "embarrassing material" due to engagement in "perverted sexual acts" and "unorthodox behavior" in Russia, "enough embarrassing material ... to be able to blackmail him if they so wished." (Dossier, pp. 1–2, 8, 11, 27)
- That the Kremlin had promised Trump they would not use the kompromat collected against him "as leverage, given high levels of voluntary co-operation forthcoming from his team." (Dossier, pp. 11–12)
- That Trump had explored the real estate sectors in St. Petersburg and Moscow, "but in the end TRUMP had had to settle for the use of extensive sexual services there from local prostitutes rather than business success". (Dossier, p. 8)
- That witnesses to his "sex parties in the city" had been "'silenced' i.e. bribed or coerced to disappear." (Dossier, p. 27)
- That Trump had paid bribes in St. Petersburg "to further his [business] interests". (Dossier, p. 27)
- That Aras Agalarov, "would know most of the details of what the Republican presidential candidate had got up to" in St. Petersburg. (Dossier, p. 27)
- That Trump associates did not fear "the negative media publicity surrounding alleged Russian interference", because it distracted attention from his "business dealings in China and other emerging markets", which involved "large bribes and kickbacks" that could be devastating if revealed. (Dossier, p. 8)
- That Putin ordered the maintenance of a secret dossier on Hillary Clinton, with content dating back to the time of her husband's presidency. The dossier comprised eavesdropped conversations, either from bugging devices or from phone intercepts; it did not contain "details/evidence of unorthodox or embarrassing behavior", but focused more on "things she had said which contradicted her current positions on various issues". (Dossier, pp. 1, 3)
- That the Clinton dossier had been collated by the FSB and was managed by Dmitry Peskov, Putin's press secretary. (Dossier, pp. 1, 3)
DNC email hack, leaks, and misinformation
- That Russia was responsible for the DNC email hacks and the recent appearance of the stolen DNC e-mails on WikiLeaks, and that the reason for using WikiLeaks was "plausible deniability". (Dossier, pp. 7–8)
- That "the operation had been conducted with the full knowledge and support of TRUMP and senior members of his campaign team." (Dossier, p. 8)
- That after the emails had been forwarded to WikiLeaks, it was decided to not leak more, but to engage in misinformation: "Rather the tactics would be to spread rumours and misinformation about the content of what already had been leaked and make up new content." (Dossier, p. 15)
- That Page had intended the email leaks "to swing supporters of Bernie SANDERS away from Hillary CLINTON and across to TRUMP." (Dossier, p. 17)
- That the hacking of the DNC servers was performed by Romanian hackers ultimately controlled by Putin and paid by both Trump and Putin. (Dossier, pp. 34–35)
- That Cohen, together with three colleagues, secretly met with Kremlin officials in the Prague offices of Rossotrudnichestvo in August 2016, where he arranged "deniable cash payments" to the hackers and sought "to cover up all traces of the hacking operation", as well as "cover up ties between Trump and Russia, including Manafort's involvement in Ukraine". (Dossier, pp. 18, 34–35)
Kickbacks and quid pro quo agreements to lift sanctions
- That Viktor Yanukovych, the former pro-Russian President of Ukraine, had told Putin that he had been making supposedly untraceable kickback payments to Manafort while he was Trump's campaign manager. (Dossier, p. 20)
- That in return for Russia's leaking the stolen documents to WikiLeaks, "the TRUMP team had agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue and 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." (Dossier, pp. 7–8)
- That Page had secretly met Rosneft chairman Igor Sechin in Moscow on "either 7 or 8 July", together with a "senior Kremlin Internal Affairs official, DIVYEKIN." That Sechin "offered PAGE/TRUMP's associates the brokerage of up to a 19 per cent (privatised) stake in Rosneft" (worth about $11 billion) in exchange for Trump lifting the sanctions against Russia after his election. (Dossier, pp. 9, 30–32)
Russian spy withdrawn
- That Russia had hastily withdrawn from Washington their diplomat Mikhail Kalugin (misspelled as "Kulagin"), whose prominent role in the interference operation should remain hidden. (Dossier, p. 23)
Cultivation of various U.S. political figures
- That the Kremlin had been "supporting various US political figures", had funded Moscow visits by Lyndon Larouche representatives, Jill Stein, Carter Page and Michael Flynn, and was satisfied with the outcome. (Dossier, pp. 15–16)
Use of botnets and porn traffic by hackers
- That Aleksej Gubarev's "XBT/Webzilla and its affiliates had been using botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data and conduct 'altering operations' against the Democratic Party leadership." and that Gubarev had been coerced by the FSB and was a significant player. (Dossier, pp. 34–35)
Possible earlier interest in Trump
Although the dossier alleged in June 2016 that the Kremlin had been cultivating Trump for "at least five years", Luke 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 married Czech model Ivana Zelníčková; the Soviet spies may have closely observed and analyzed the couple from that time on.
Denials of specific accusations
The dossier alleges that Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, met with Russian officials in Prague in 2016 with the objective of paying 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 and that "I have never been to Prague in my life".
According to a Czech intelligence source, as of January 11, 2017, there was 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.
In April 2018, McClatchy DC Bureau reported that the Special Counsel had evidence that Michael Cohen had secretly visited Prague in the late summer of 2016, as reported by Steele, and that Mueller's investigators had "traced evidence that Cohen entered the Czech Republic through Germany", a claim which The Spectator reported was "backed up by one intelligence source in London".
In August 2018, BBC correspondent Paul Wood wrote: "I have spoken to one intelligence source who says Mueller is examining 'electronic records' that would place Cohen in Prague." McClatchy reported in December 2018 that a mobile phone traced to Cohen had "pinged" cellphone towers around Prague in late summer 2016, and that the signal was "picked up by a foreign intelligence agency..." raising "the possibility that Cohen was not there but one of the many phones he used was". McClatchy reported that their December 2018 report was "based on information from five individuals with foreign intelligence connections, ..." and that each "obtained their information independently from each other. McClatchy stands by the reporting."
McClatchy also reported that during that time an Eastern European intelligence agency had intercepted communications between Russians, one of whom mentioned that Cohen was in Prague. Cohen reasserted that he has never been to Prague, adding "#Mueller knows everything!"
Cohen said publicly that he had never traveled to Prague, though he told Mother Jones in 2016 that he had visited Prague briefly 14 years before. He also told The Wall Street Journal that he had been in Prague in 2001. During an interview with Chuck Todd on August 22, 2018, Cohen's attorney Lanny Davis said that Cohen was "never, ever" in Prague, and that all allegations mentioning his name in the Steele dossier were false.
Cohen has also said that he was in Capri for the time period in question with his family, friends, and musician and actor Steven Van Zandt, and said that receipts would prove he had been on Capri, but he declined to provide them. Van Zandt's wife, Maureen, said they met in Rome, not Capri. Van Zandt confirmed that he met Cohen and his wife in Rome.
The Washington Post sent a team of reporters to Prague in an attempt to verify that Cohen had been there for the purposes alleged in the Dossier. According to reporter Greg Miller, they "came away empty".
Glenn Kessler, fact-checker for The Washington Post, has stated that the Mueller Report "suggests no such meeting in Prague took place". Mueller did not indicate he had investigated the claim, "he simply dismisses the incident in Cohen's own words as he discusses Cohen's preparation for testimony before Congress."
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."
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.
Trump has denied the "golden showers" allegation, insisting it couldn't be true because he is a "germaphobe". According to Comey, Trump told him on two occasions that it could not have happened because he did not stay overnight in Moscow at the time of the Miss Universe contest. That claim was soon disproven.
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. Those who believe Steele consider him a hero who tried to warn about the Kremlin's meddling in the election, and people who distrust him consider him a "hired gun" used to attack Trump. Glenn Kessler has described the dossier as "a political Rorschach test. Depending on your perspective, it's either a hoax used to defame a future president or a credible guide to allegations about Trump's involvement with Russia." The Daily Telegraph reported that anonymous sources believe that Russian intelligence agencies may have sought to create doubt about the veracity of the dossier.
The dossier's "broad assertion that Russia waged a campaign to interfere in the election is now accepted as fact by the US intelligence community." With the passage of time and further revelations from various investigations and sources, it is becoming clearer that the overall thrust of the dossier was accurate, but some details appear to be merely disinformation:
Some of the dossier's broad threads have now been independently corroborated. U.S. intelligence agencies and the special counsel's investigation into Russian election interference did eventually find that Kremlin-linked operatives ran an elaborate operation to promote Trump and hurt Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, as the dossier says in its main narrative.
Reputation in the U.S. intelligence community
On January 11, 2017, Paul Wood, of BBC News, wrote that the salacious information in Steele's dossier was also reported by "multiple intelligence sources" and "at least one East European intelligence service". They reported 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", Wood 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". Some persons were known to be "heavily involved" in collecting information that could hurt Clinton and aid Trump. CNN was unable to confirm whether conversations were related to Trump. 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 because the information was classified. 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 roadmap 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 in October 2016. Officials told CNN this information would have had to be independently corroborated by the FBI before being used to obtain the warrant. In his testimony before Congress, Glenn Simpson "confirmed that the FBI had sources of its own and that whatever the FBI learned from Steele was simply folded into its ongoing work."
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 25, 2017, James Clapper stated that "some of the substantive content of the dossier we were able to corroborate in our Intelligence Community assessment which from other sources in which we had very high confidence."
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 November 15, 2017, Adam Schiff stated that much of the dossier's content is about Russian efforts to help Trump, and those allegations "turned out to be true", something later affirmed by the January 6, 2017, intelligence community assessment released by the ODNI.
On December 7, 2017, commentator Jonathan Chait wrote that as "time goes by, more and more of the claims first reported by Steele have been borne out", with the mainstream media "treat[ing] [the dossier] as gossip" whereas the intelligence community "take it seriously".
On January 29, 2018, a House Intelligence Committee minority report stated that "multiple independent sources ... corroborated Steele's reporting".
John Sipher, who served 28 years as a clandestine CIA agent, including heading the agency's Russia program, said investigating the dossier allegations requires access to non-public records. He said "[p]eople who say it's all garbage, or all true, are being politically biased", adding he believes that while the dossier may not be correct in every detail, it is "generally credible" and "In the intelligence business, you don't pretend you're a hundred per cent accurate. If you're seventy or eighty per cent accurate, that makes you one of the best." He said the Mueller investigation would ultimately judge its merits. Sipher has written that "Many of my former CIA colleagues have taken the [dossier] reports seriously since they were first published."
During his April 15, 2018, ABC News interview with George Stephanopoulos, former FBI Director James Comey described Steele as a "credible source": "It was coming from a credible source, someone with a track record, someone who was a credible and respected member of an allied intelligence service during his career, and so it was important that we try to understand it, and see what could we verify, what could we rule in or rule out."
Varied reactions about veracity
Steele, the author of the dossier, said he believes that 70–90% of the dossier is accurate. In testimony to Congress, Simpson quoted "Steele as saying that any intelligence, especially from Russia, is bound to carry intentional disinformation, but that Steele believes his dossier is 'largely not disinformation'", except for the "golden showers" allegation, which he gives a 50% chance of being true.
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".
Vice President Joe 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 [the dossier] which look pretty shaky."
In his June 2017 Senate Intelligence Committee testimony, former FBI director James Comey said "some personally sensitive aspects" of the dossier were unverified when he briefed Trump on them on January 6, 2017. Comey also said he could not say publicly whether any of the allegations in the dossier had been confirmed.
Trump and his supporters have challenged the veracity of the dossier because it was funded in part by the Clinton campaign and the DNC, while Democrats assert the funding source is irrelevant.
Veracity of specific allegations
Russian assistance to the Trump campaign
A January 6, 2017, intelligence community assessment released 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 the Democratic and Republican parties. John Brennan later said that Steele's dossier played no role in the intelligence community assessment.
The bureau began an effort after we got the Steele dossier to try and see how much of it we could replicate. That work was ongoing when I was fired. Some of it was consistent with our other intelligence, the most important part. The Steele dossier said the Russians are coming for the American election. It's a huge effort. It has multiple goals . . . And that was true.
Newsweek stated that "the dossier's main finding, that Russia tried to prop up Trump over Clinton, was confirmed by" the ODNI 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."
In March 2016, George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign foreign policy advisor, 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, and Papadopoulos later bragged "that the Trump campaign was aware the Russian government had dirt on Hillary Clinton". 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. When Donald Trump Jr. learned of the offer, he welcomed it by responding: "If it's what you say, I love it ..." Later, on June 9, 2016, a meeting in Trump Tower was held, ostensibly for representatives from Russia to deliver that dirt on Clinton.
At the Helsinki summit meeting in July 2018, Putin was asked if he had wanted Trump to win the 2016 election. He responded "Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal."
Trump viewed as under Putin's influence
The Steele dossier alleges that the Russians possess kompromat on Trump which can be used to blackmail him, and that the Kremlin promised him that the kompromat will not be used as long as he continues his cooperation with them. Trump's actions at the Helsinki summit in 2018 "led many to conclude that Steele's report was more accurate than not. ... Trump sided with the Russians over the U.S. intelligence community's assessment that Moscow had waged an all-out attack on the 2016 election ... The joint news conference ... cemented fears among some that Trump was in Putin's pocket and prompted bipartisan backlash."
At the joint news conference, when asked directly about the subject, Putin denied that he had any kompromat on Trump. Even though Trump was reportedly given a "gift from Putin" the weekend of the pageant, Putin argued "that he did not even know Trump was in Russia for the Miss Universe pageant in 2013 when, according to the Steele dossier, video of Trump was secretly recorded to blackmail him."
In reaction to Trump's actions at the summit, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) spoke in the Senate:
Millions of Americans will continue to wonder if the only possible explanation for this dangerous and inexplicable behavior is the possibility — the very real possibility — that President Putin holds damaging information over President Trump.
Several operatives and lawyers in the U.S. intelligence community reacted strongly to Trump's performance at the summit. They described it as "subservien[ce] to Putin" and a "fervent defense of Russia's military and cyber aggression around the world, and its violation of international law in Ukraine" which they saw as "harmful to US interests". They also suggested that he was either a "Russian asset" or a "useful idiot" for Putin, and that he looked like "Putin's puppet". Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper wondered "if Russians have something on Trump", and former CIA director John Brennan, who has accused Trump of "treason", tweeted: "He is wholly in the pocket of Putin."
Former acting CIA director Michael Morell has called Trump "an unwitting agent of the Russian federation", and former CIA director Michael V. Hayden said Trump was a "useful fool" who is "manipulated by Moscow". House Speaker Nancy Pelosi questioned Trump's loyalty when she asked him: "[Why do] all roads lead to Putin?"
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.
Kremlin behind DNC email hack and use of WikiLeaks
The Mueller Report confirmed that the dossier was correct that the Kremlin was behind the appearance of the DNC e-mails on WikiLeaks, noting that the Trump campaign "showed interest in WikiLeaks's releases of documents and welcomed their potential to damage candidate Clinton."
'Golden showers' allegation
The dossier alleges that Trump "hated" Obama so much that when he stayed in the Presidential suite of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Moscow, he employed "a number of prostitutes to perform a 'golden showers' (urination) show in front of him" in order to defile the bed used by the Obamas on an earlier visit. The alleged incident from 2013 was reportedly filmed and recorded by the FSB as kompromat.
Trump has falsely claimed that he never spent the night in Moscow, "but flight records, social media and his bodyguard's testimony show otherwise". According to former federal prosecutor Pete Zeidenberg, those "false statements to Comey about the trip could demonstrate that Trump has 'consciousness of guilt'."
According to Comey, Trump told him on two occasions that it could not have happened because he did not stay overnight in Moscow at the time of the Miss Universe contest. That claim was soon disproven. According to flight records, Trump was in Moscow for 37 hours. He arrived by private jet in Moscow at around 3 p.m. on Friday, November 8, and spent that night in Moscow. Thomas Roberts, the host of the Miss Universe contest, confirmed that "Trump was in Moscow for one full night and at least part of another. (November 8–10). According to flight records, Keith Schiller's testimony, social media posts, and Trump's close friend, Aras Agalarov, Trump arrived by private jet on Friday, November 8, going to the Ritz-Carlton hotel and booking into the presidential suite, where the "golden showers" incident is alleged to have occurred.
There were a number of meetings and a lunch that day. Schiller related that a Russian approached them "around lunch-time" and offered to "send five women to Trump's hotel room that night". According to "multiple sources", the offer "came from a Russian who was accompanying Emin Agalarov". Schiller said he didn't take the offer seriously and told the Russian, 'We don't do that type of stuff'." That evening Trump attended a birthday party for Aras Agalarov. They returned to the hotel after the party. Schiller testified that, "On their way up to Trump's hotel room that night, [he told Trump] about the offer and Trump laughed it off". He then accompanied Trump to his room, stayed outside the door for a few minutes, and then left. According to one source, Schiller "could not say for sure what happened during the remainder of the night." British music publicist Rob Goldstone believes it was "unlikely" that Trump used prostitutes while he was in Moscow. He has stated that he accompanied Trump at the 2013 Miss Universe pageant, and said that Trump was in Moscow for 36 hours, and that he was with Trump for 31 out of those 36 hours.
The next day, Facebook posts showed he was at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. That evening he attended the Miss Universe pageant, followed by an after-party. He then returned to his hotel, packed, and flew back to the United States.
James Comey wrote in his book A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership that Trump asked him to have the FBI investigate the pee tape allegation "because he wanted to convince his wife that it wasn't true":
He brought up what he called the "golden showers thing" ... adding that it bothered him if there was "even a one percent chance" his wife, Melania, thought it was true. ... In what kind of marriage, to what kind of man, does a spouse conclude there is only a 99 percent chance her husband didn't do that?
Comey did not know if the "golden showers" allegation was true, but he came to believe it was possible. In an interview for ABC News, he told George Stephanopoulos:
I honestly never thought these words would come out of my mouth, but I don't know whether the current president of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013. It's possible, but I don't know.
Jonathan Chait has described why he believes Trump is currently being blackmailed by the Russians. New York magazine's Madeleine Aggeler has compiled "everything we know about the pee tape".
Regarding the "golden showers" allegation, Michael Isikoff and David Corn have stated that Steele's "faith in the sensational sex claim would fade over time. ... As for the likelihood of the claim that prostitutes had urinated in Trump's presence, Steele would say to colleagues, 'It's 50–50'."
A 25-second "pee tape" video of the purported occurrence has been in circulation since at least January 25, 2019. Ashley Feinberg has written extensively about it and all the reports and sources which have discussed and analyzed it. She describes it as believable but fake.
A footnote in the Mueller Report reveals that Trump, during the presidential campaign, already knew about incriminating tapes of his behavior. On October 30, 2016, Michael Cohen received a series of texts from Giorgi Rtskhiladze, a Russian businessman who had worked with Cohen on Trump real estate projects. Rtskhiladze reported that he had successfully stopped the "flow of tapes from Russia". Rtskhiladze described them as "compromising tapes of Trump", and Cohen said he then spoke to Trump about the issue. Rolling Stone reported that "Rtskhiladze's description of the tapes' content tracks with the unverified information included in the Steele dossier ..."
Manafort and kickback payments from Yanukovych
The dossier alleges that Russia-friendly president Yanukovych, whom Manafort advised for over a decade, had told Putin that he had been making supposedly untraceable kickback payments to Manafort. After Yanukovych fled to Russia in 2014 under accusations of corruption, a secret "black ledger" was found in the former Party of Regions headquarters. It showed that Yanukovych and his ruling political party had set aside $12.7 million in illegal and undisclosed payments to Manafort for his work from 2007 to 2012. Manafort has denied receiving the payments.
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. After Trump hired Manafort, his approach toward Ukraine changed; he said he might recognize Crimea as Russian territory and might lift the sanctions against Russia.
Among those sanctioned were Russian oligarchs like Oleg Deripaska, "who is linked to Paul Manafort," parliament member Konstantin Kosachev, banker Aleksandr Torshin, and Putin's son-in-law. Preparation for the sanctions started already before Trump took office. In January 2019, Trump's Treasury Department lifted the sanctions on companies formerly controlled by Deripaska. Sanctions on Deripaska himself remained in effect.
In 2015 Trump had taken a hard line in favor of Ukraine's independence from Russia. 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." After hiring Manafort as his campaign manager, his approach changed to one more favorable to Russian interests; he said he might recognize Crimea as Russian territory and might lift the sanctions against Russia.
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." The Washington Post reported that "the Trump campaign orchestrated a set of events" in July 2016 "to soften the language of an amendment to the Republican Party's draft policy on Ukraine." In July 2016, the Republican National Convention did make 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 that "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. Although the Trump team denied any role in softening the language, Denman confirmed that the change "definitely came from Trump staffers".
Kyle Cheney of Politico sees evidence that the change was "on the campaign's radar" because Carter Page congratulated campaign members in an email the day after the platform amendment: "As for the Ukraine amendment, excellent work." Paul Manafort falsely said that the change "absolutely did not come from the Trump campaign". Trump told George Stephanopoulos that people in his campaign were responsible for changing the GOP's platform stance on Ukraine, but that he was not personally involved.
Relations with Europe and NATO
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 HuffPost, 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 ... [and] raised questions as to whether the president has been duped into facilitating Putin's long-range objective of undermining the European Union." Trump's appearances at meetings with allies, including NATO and G7, have frequently been antagonistic; according to the Los Angeles Times, "The president's posture toward close allies has been increasingly and remarkably confrontational this year, especially in comparison to his more conciliatory approach to adversaries, including Russia and North Korea."
Spy withdrawn from Russian embassy
The dossier alleges that a "Russian diplomat Mikhail KULAGIN [sic]" 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 met with Rosneft officials
The dossier alleges that Page secretly met Rosneft chairman Igor Sechin in July 2016. Page denied meeting Sechin or any Russian officials during that July trip, but he later admitted under oath that he met with Sechin's senior aide, Andrey Baranov, who was head of Rosneft's investor relations.
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. In July 2016, Page made a five-day trip to Moscow, but, according to his testimony, before leaving he informed Jeff Sessions, J. D. Gordon, Hope Hicks, and Corey Lewandowski, Trump's campaign manager, of the planned trip to Russia, and 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 July trip. His comments appeared to corroborate portions of the dossier. Newsweek has listed the claim about Page meeting with Rosneft officials as "verified".
Use of botnets and porn traffic by hackers
The accusation that Aleksej Gubarev's "XBT/Webzilla and its affiliates had been using botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data and conduct 'altering operations' against the Democratic Party leadership" has been proven true, due to evidence found during the discovery process in the defamation suit(s) Gubarev had filed against others.
The report by FTI Consulting stated:
Mr. Gubarev's "companies have provided gateways to the internet for cybercriminals and Russian state-sponsored actors to launch and control large scale malware campaigns over the past decade," the report concluded. "Gubarev and other XBT executives do not appear to actively prevent cybercriminals from using their infrastructure."
Investigations using or referencing the dossier
The FBI's Russia investigation
Origins did not involve dossier
Although the dossier later became one factor among many in the Russia investigation, it had no role in the opening of the investigation on July 31, 2016, as top FBI officials received the dossier the following September. This fact has been the subject of intense discussion and controversy, largely fueled by a conspiracy theory pushed by Trump, Fox News, and GOP politicians.
While Trump, Fox News, and some Republicans have claimed that the dossier was behind the beginning of the FBI investigation into his campaign's potential conspiracy with Russia, it was first reported by The New York Times in December 2017 that former and current intelligence officials revealed that the actual impetus was a series of comments made in May 2016 by Trump foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos to Alexander Downer, a top Australian diplomat, during a night of "heavy drinking at an upscale London bar". Shep Smith, an anchor at Fox News, confirmed this series of events, directly contradicting Trump's and Fox News host Sean Hannity's false claims that the dossier was the impetus for the start of the investigation. John Sipher reported that Papadopoulos bragged "that the Trump campaign was aware the Russian government had dirt on Hillary Clinton" in the form of "thousands of emails" stolen from Clinton which could be used to damage her campaign. Papadopoulos 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, Papadopoulos was arrested on July 27, 2017, and in October 2017, Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and became a cooperating witness in Mueller's investigation.
In early February 2018, the Nunes memo, written by aides of Republican U.S. Representative Devin Nunes (who was at the time the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee), described that the information on George Papadopoulos "triggered the opening of" the original FBI investigation in late July 2016 into links between the Trump campaign and Russia. In late February 2018, a rebuttal memo by Democrats in the House Intelligence Committee stated that "Christopher Steele's reporting ... played no role in launching the counterintelligence investigation ... In fact, Steele's reporting did not reach the counterintelligence team investigating Russia at FBI headquarters until mid-September 2016, more than seven weeks after the FBI opened its investigation, because the probe's existence was so closely held within the FBI."
In April 2018, the House Intelligence Committee, then in Republican control, released a final report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential American election, which stated that the House Intelligence Committee found that "in late July 2016, the FBI opened an enterprise CI [counterintelligence] investigation into the Trump campaign following the receipt of derogatory information about foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos".
In December 2018, former FBI Director James Comey testified before the House Judiciary Committee and described the origins of the Russia investigation. He described how the investigation initially looked at four Americans, and that it was not prompted by the dossier, but by comments made by Papadopoulos: "It was weeks or months later that the so-called Steele dossier came to our attention," he added. He also said that Obama had "never ordered him to have the FBI surveil or infiltrate the Trump campaign."
Other factors also 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. The New York Times reported on February 14, 2017, that the FBI had made contact with some of Steele's sources. CNN later reported that the FBI had used the dossier to bolster its existing investigations.
Philip Bump has explained how there "is no evidence the investigation stemmed from the dossier". He wrote that Lisa Page testified that Bruce Ohr was not the FBI's initial source for their first copies of the early portions of the dossier, but rather that they came from Steele's FBI handler "in mid — in mid- to late September", long after the start of the Russia investigation in late July. After establishing that the dossier was not the genesis of the investigation, Bump describes a number of factors which influenced the start of the Russia investigation: Downer's meeting with Papadopoulos, which Papadopoulos lied about; that Manafort had already been on the FBI's radar since the spring of 2016 due to a criminal investigation of his pro-Russian work in Ukraine, connections which Manafort lied about; the suspicious travels to Russia and secret meetings with possible Russian agents by Michael Flynn and Carter Page, which they lied about. Page had already been on the FBI's radar, including a FISA warrant, since 2013 as a possible Russian agent and target for recruitment by Russian intelligence. In October 2016, after Page had left the Trump campaign in September, he became the subject of renewed FISA warrants, but this was only partially related to the dossier, as discussions with the Justice Department about seeking a wiretap on Page had already started in August 2016, a month before FBI agents received the dossier. Bump concludes by noting how all these "multiple questionable points of contact with Russian actors" by the Trump campaign justified the Russia investigation, without the dossier being a factor.
In a January 2, 2018, CNN panel discussion, Elizabeth Foley, a Florida International University law professor, falsely alleged that the FISA warrant on Page was "all based on a dossier", adding "That's what Jim Comey has suggested." She also cited reports from CNN and The New York Times. PolitiFact concluded that her claim about Comey was unsubstantiated, and according to CNN, the dossier was only "part of the justification", and that The New York Times report did not mention the dossier. PolitiFact rated her claim "Mostly False".
The investigation's later relation to the dossier
By late July 2016, "the CIA had set up a special group with the NSA and FBI ... to investigate the extent of Russian intervention in the presidential election." Former CIA director John Brennan then "ensured that all information about links between the Trump campaign and people working for or on behalf of Russian intelligence went to the FBI." These links between Trump associates and Russian officials were numerous. Politico keeps a very detailed running tally of the involved persons, and, as of November 8, 2018, they found "332 people connected to the Russia probes ... 84 [of whom were] associated with [Trump's] 2016 campaign". Julian Borger reported that in Brennan's testimony before the House intelligence committee, he made it clear "that he was alarmed by the extent of contacts between the Trump team and Moscow," and that this justified the FBI inquiry.
The FBI has resisted FOIA requests which would force it to reveal classified details of its investigation, including its efforts to disprove or confirm allegations in the dossier. This resistance was approved by U.S. District Court Judge Amit P. Mehta, but a move by Trump to declassify some of this material, and a following FOIA lawsuit by journalist Josh Gerstein and a pro-transparency group, the James Madison Project, resulted in a ruling which would allow some declassification. The irony of the situation was noted by Brad Moss, a lawyer involved in that lawsuit: "It will be rather ironic if the president's peripheral actions that resulted in this ruling wind up disclosing that the FBI has been able to corroborate any of the 'salacious' allegations."
On August 28, 2018, Bruce Ohr, former head of the Justice Department's Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, testified at a closed-door interview with Congressmen that he had "passed on 'dossier'-linked information to the FBI". At that time, the FBI's investigation had already been underway for four months, and the FBI had cited "previously-obtained information from the 'dossier'" to support secret surveillance of Carter Page. Contrary to a conspiracy theory promoted by Trump, there is no evidence that Ohr was involved in the start of the Russia probe. According to a congressional source speaking to ABC News, Ohr had "little impact" on the investigation.
On September 1, 2018, congressional sources relayed to the Associated Press that Ohr told members of Congress he had met Steele over breakfast on July 30, 2016, along with Nellie Ohr and a Steele associate. At that time Steele revealed that he had been told by a former head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service that the Russians "had Trump over a barrel", an assertion that Steele echoed in his dossier. Ohr also stated that Steele told him Page had met with "higher-level Russian officials than [Page] had acknowledged".
Special counsel investigation
In May 2017, the FBI investigation into Russian interference was taken over by newly-appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller. According to Senate Intelligence Committee vice chairman Mark Warner (D-VA), the Mueller team investigated the dossier's allegations. In the summer of 2017, Mueller's team of investigators met with Steele in Europe. According to CNN, the CIA and FBI "took Steele's research seriously enough that they kept it out of" a January 6, 2017, report on Russian meddling issued by the United States Office of the Director of National Intelligence "in order to not divulge which parts of the dossier they had corroborated and how." As some leads stemming from the dossier had already been followed and confirmed by the FBI, legal experts have stated that Special Counsel investigators 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 "[t]hey would be derelict in their duty if they didn't."
The Mueller Report, a summary of the findings of the Special Counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections, contained passing references to some of the dossier's allegations but little mention of its more sensational claims.
Subject of the 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 states 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 Carter Page in the early phases of the FBI's investigation of the Russian interference. 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 stated that there was excessive and improper dependence on the Trump–Russia dossier. Page had been surveilled under a FISA warrant in 2013 or 2014, although it is not known when that surveillance ended.
On February 3, 2018, Trump praised the Nunes memo and tweeted:
Donald J. Trump @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
There is a Russia investigation without a dossier. 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.
Gowdy was dissatisfied with the process of seeking the warrant: "I say investigate everything Russia did but admit that this was a really sloppy process that you engaged in to surveil a U.S. citizen." When questioned, he said that the FISA warrant on Carter Page would not have been authorized without the dossier.
Jane Mayer has quoted Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse: "To impeach Steele's dossier is to impeach Mueller's investigation ... It's to recast the focus back on Hillary", with the Republicans' aim to "create a false narrative saying this is all a political witch hunt." Mayer tied his view directly to Devin Nunes' production of "a report purporting to show that the real conspiracy revolved around Hillary Clinton," falsely alleging that Clinton "colluded with the Russians ...", a claim debunked by Glenn Kessler. Kessler, a fact checker for The Washington Post, analyzed a false accusation made by Nunes in a February 7, 2018, interview on the Hugh Hewitt Show: "The truth is that they [Democrats] 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: "[T]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".
The Nunes memo falsely asserted that "Comey briefed President-elect Trump on a summary of the Steele dossier, even though it was—according to his June 2017 testimony—'salacious and unverified.'" Factcheckers have clarified that when Comey said "salacious and unverified," he was only referring to "some personally sensitive aspects of the information" in the dossier, not the entire dossier. The Nunes memo asserted that Andrew McCabe testified to the House Intelligence Committee that "no surveillance warrant [on Carter Page] would have been sought from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) without the Steele dossier information," but because McCabe testified in classified session, no transcript has yet been released to verify this assertion. In a CNN interview, McCabe asserted "that House Republicans twisted his answers":
We started the investigations without the dossier. We were proceeding with the investigations before we ever received that information. ... Was the dossier material important to the package? Of course, it was. As was every fact included in that package. Was it the majority of what was in the package? Absolutely not.
Contrary to assertions by Trump and his supporters that the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections was triggered by the dossier, the Nunes memo confirmed the investigation began with a tip from Australian diplomat Alexander Downer regarding a conversation he had with Trump foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos in a London bar in May 2016. The FBI opened its investigation in late July 2016, and The Washington Post noted that this timing is "significant, given the FBI did not seek authorization to conduct surveillance on Page until three months later, on Oct. 21, 2016." The Democrats asserted that the Nunes memo "shows the Russia investigation would be underway with or without the surveillance of Page, and—more critically—even if the government had never seen the dossier of information about Trump that was compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British spy."
Amid assertions in the Nunes memo and from others that the dossier's use in the Carter Page FISA warrant request was improper—countered by Democrats' assertions that there was nothing improper—on April 6, 2018, the Justice Department made the FISA application available for all members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to review.
On July 21, 2018, the Justice Department released heavily redacted versions of four FISA warrant applications for Carter Page which, according to Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter, Charlie Savage, showed that key assertions made in the Nunes memo were "misleading or false", corroborating the rebuttal made by Democrats.
Inspector General's FISA investigation
As part of an investigation into whether the FBI and Justice Department abused the FISA process in their surveillance of Carter Page, investigators from the office of the Justice Department's Inspector General, Michael E. Horowitz, interviewed Steele for 16 hours over the course of two days in June 2019. This occurred in London and was regarding Steele's dossier. They were especially "focused on gauging Steele's credibility as a source" for the FBI. They "delved into Steele's extensive work on Russian interference efforts globally, his intelligence-collection methods and his findings about Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, who the FBI ultimately surveilled." They found his testimony surprising and his "information sufficiently credible to have to extend the investigation".
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Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump
WOW, @foxandfrlends "Dossier is bogus. Clinton Campaign, DNC funded Dossier. FBI CANNOT (after all of this time) VERIFY CLAIMS IN DOSSIER OF RUSSIA/TRUMP COLLUSION. FBI TAINTED." And they used this Crooked Hillary pile of garbage as the basis for going after the Trump Campaign!
December 26, 2017
Trump has 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. In response to Trump's criticism, 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 claims".
The Wall Street Journal reported that the DNC and the Clinton campaign paid a total of $12.4 million to Perkins Coie for legal and compliance services during the 2016 campaign. This led Trump to claim that the dossier had cost $12 million. The actual cost was far less. According to Fusion GPS, Perkins Coie paid them $1.02 million in fees and expenses, and Fusion GPS paid $168,000 to Steele's firm, Orbis Business Intelligence, to produce the dossier. Despite that, Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. continued to claim for more than a year that Steele was paid "millions of dollars" for his work.
A footnote in the Mueller Report revealed that Trump requested James Comey and James Clapper to publicly refute the dossier. The two men then exchanged emails about the request, with Clapper saying that "Trump wanted him to say the dossier was 'bogus, which, of course, I can't do'."
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 FBI'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 4, 2018, U.S. District Court Judge Amit P. Mehta ruled on Trump's repeated tweets describing the dossier as "fake" or "discredited":
None of the tweets inescapably lead to the inference that the President's statements about the Dossier are rooted in information he received from the law enforcement and intelligence communities ... The President's statements may very well be based on media reports or his own personal knowledge, or could simply be viewed as political statements intended to counter media accounts about the Russia investigation, rather than assertions of pure fact.
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 10, 2018, Fox News host Sean Hannity appeared to have advance information on the forthcoming release of the Nunes memo and its assertions about the dossier, saying "more shocking information will be coming out in just days that will show systemic FISA abuse." Hannity asserted that this new information would reveal "a totally phony document full of Russian lies and propaganda that was then used by the Obama administration to surveil members of an opposition party and incoming president," adding that this was "the real Russia collusion story" that represented a "precipice of one of the largest abuses of power in U.S. American history. And I'm talking about the literal shredding of the U.S. Constitution."
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 (WHCA) gave The Merriman Smith Memorial Award to CNN reporters Evan Perez, Jim Sciutto, Jake Tapper and Carl Bernstein. In January 2017, they reported that the intelligence community had briefed Obama and Trump of allegations that Russians claimed to have "compromising personal and financial information" on then-President elect Donald Trump. WHCA noted that "[t]hanks to this CNN investigation, 'the dossier' is now part of the lexicon".
As late as July 29, 2018, Trump continued to falsely insist that the FBI investigation of Russian interference was initiated because of the dossier, and three days later White House press secretary Sarah Sanders repeated the false assertion. Fox News host Shepard Smith said of Trump's assertion: "In the main and in its parts, that statement is patently false."
Alan Huffman, an expert on opposition research, has compared the two forms of opposition research represented by the dossier and Wikileaks. He didn't believe the dossier's intelligence gathering to be illegitimate, although "a little strange", while he was troubled by the large dump of documents from Wikileaks which "may have been obtained in an illegal way".
Circumstances surrounding the 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 said 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. Experts expressed skepticism about the theory. "As a rule, people like Gen Yerovinkin don't tend to die in airport thriller murders," said Mark Galeotti, an expert on the Russian security services.
Against BuzzFeed and Fusion GPS
Filed by Gubarev
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."
In connection with the libel suit against them by Gubarev, on June 30, 2017, BuzzFeed subpoenaed the CIA, the FBI, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. They also sought "testimony from fired FBI Director James Comey, as well as former DNI James Clapper and CIA Director John Brennan". They were interested in using the discovery process to get information about the distribution of the dossier, how it had circulated among government officials, and the "existence and scope of the federal government's investigation into the dossier". They hoped "the information could bolster BuzzFeed's claim that publication of the document was protected by the fair report privilege, which can immunize reports based on official government records." On June 4, 2018, Judge Ursula Ungaro ruled that BuzzFeed could claim "fair report privilege" for the publication of the dossier and its accompanying article, bolstering BuzzFeed's defense. Cyber security and intelligence expert Andrew Weisburd has said that both Gubarev and the dossier "can be right": "Their explanation is entirely plausible, as is the Steele Dossier's description of Mr. Gubarev as essentially a victim of predatory officers of one or more Russian intelligence services. ... Neither BuzzFeed nor Steele have accused Gubarev of being a willing participant in wrongdoing."
On December 19, 2018, Judge Ursula Ungaro sided with BuzzFeed in the defamation suit filed by Gubarev, defending BuzzFeed's privilege to publish and the public's right to know about the allegations against Trump.
Filed by Fridman, Aven, and Khan
In May 2017, Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven, and German Khan – the owners of Alfa Bank – filed a defamation lawsuit against BuzzFeed for publishing the unverified dossier, which describes financial ties and collusion between Putin, Trump, and the three bank owners.
In October 2017, Fridman, Aven, and Khan also filed a libel suit against Fusion GPS and Glenn Simpson, for circulating the dossier among journalists and allowing it to be published.
Filed by Cohen
On January 9, 2018, Michael Cohen sued BuzzFeed and Fusion GPS for defamation over allegations about him in the dossier. On April 19, 2018, ten days after his home, office and hotel room were raided by the FBI as part of a criminal investigation, Cohen filed a motion to voluntarily dismiss the suit.
Against Steele and Orbis Business Intelligence
On April 16, 2018, Alfa Bank owners Fridman, Aven, and Khan filed a libel suit against Steele and Orbis Business Intelligence, since the dossier describes financial ties and collusion between Putin, Trump, and the three bank owners. The lawsuit was filed in Washington D.C. Steele's lawyers filed two motions to dismiss the case, accusing the three men of intimidation.
On August 20, 2018, a judge in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia threw out the libel suit. The case was dismissed with prejudice in response to a motion by lawyers for Orbis Business Intelligence. Without assessing whether the dossier was "accurate or not accurate", the judge determined that the dossier was covered by the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech. He also pointed out its importance to the public interest: "The Steele dossier generated so much interest and attention in the US precisely because its contents relate to active public debates here."
Against DNC and Perkins Coie
In October 2018, Carter Page sued the DNC, Perkins Coie, and two Perkins Coie partners, for defamation. The lawsuit was dismissed on January 31, 2019. Page said he intends to appeal the decision.
The Russia investigation origins counter-narrative is a right-wing alternative narrative, sometimes identified as a conspiracy theory, concerning the origins of the Special Counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections. The fact that the Russians interfered in the 2016 elections has been disputed and denied in a conspiracy theory pushed by Trump, Fox News, and GOP politicians like Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida). In May 2019, US Attorney General William Barr appointed John Durham to perform an inquiry based on this conspiracy theory, an inquiry described as a cover-up to protect Trump.
The conspiracy theory aims to prove that the dossier was used as an excuse for the FBI to start their Russia investigation. It also aims to discredit Steele and thus discredit the whole investigation. The dossier could not have had any role in the opening of the Russia investigation on July 31, 2016, as top FBI officials received the dossier the following September. Instead, it was the activities of George Papadopoulos which started the investigation.
Several conspiracy theories related to the Trump–Ukraine scandal involve the dossier. According to The Wall Street Journal, President Trump's actions in the Trump–Ukraine scandal stemmed from his belief that Ukraine was responsible for the Steele Dossier. Trump has insinuated that the dossier had its origins in Ukraine, that the Clintons were involved, that Hillary Clinton's email server is currently secreted in Ukraine, and that Clinton's deleted emails are in Ukraine. Congressman Devin Nunes, a staunch Trump defender, asserted as fact that the dossier originated in Ukraine during his questioning of EU ambassador Gordon Sondland during the Trump impeachment inquiry hearings in September 2019.
Matt Gaetz and Jim Jordan have pushed a conspiracy theory that the dossier was based on Russian disinformation.
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Chris said he was very concerned about whether this represented a national security threat and said ... he thought we were obligated to tell someone in government, in our government about this information," Glenn Simpson, the man who hired Steele to conduct opposition research on Trump, told Senate staffers in a transcript released Tuesday. "He said he was professionally obligated to do it.
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As time goes by, more and more of the claims first reported by Steele have been borne out. In general, there is a split between the credibility afforded the dossier by the mainstream media and by intelligence professionals. The former treat it as gossip; the latter take it seriously.
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Paragraph 5: "Some portions of the dossier have been validated."
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Donald J. Trump and 18 of his associates had at least 140 contacts with Russian nationals and WikiLeaks, or their intermediaries, during the 2016 campaign and presidential transition, according to a New York Times analysis.
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That conversation, intercepted by U.S. intelligence, raised grave concerns about Russians' secret and frequent contact with Trump allies and advisers during the campaign and before his inauguration.
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"And within a week of the release [of DNC documents by WikiLeaks], a foreign government [Australia] informed the FBI about its May 2016 interaction with Papadopoulos and his statement that the Russian government could assist the Trump Campaign. On July 31, 2016, based on the foreign government reporting, the FBI opened an investigation into potential coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign." Volume 1, p.6
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The heavily redacted records show FBI payments to Steele as a Confidential Human Source (CHS) over an unknown period. They also show that Steele told the FBI he had informed a third party he was acting as a CHS for the bureau, and that the FBI determined Steele had been a source for an online article. ... Because of the redactions, it is not possible to tell when payments to Steele began, but it has previously been reported that he assisted the FBI with past investigations, including a probe of corruption in international soccer.
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Chris said he was very concerned about whether this represented a national security threat and said he wanted to -- he said he thought we were obligated to tell someone in government, in our government about this information," Simpson said. "He thought from his perspective there was an issue -- a security issue about whether a presidential candidate was being blackmailed."
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The firm worked directly with Perkins Coie and its lead election lawyer, Marc Elias, according to the law firm spokesperson, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information about confidential business relationships. The law firm's payments to Fusion GPS for the Russia research ended just before Election Day, the spokesperson said.
"The spokesperson said that neither the Clinton campaign, nor the D.N.C., was aware that Fusion GPS had been hired to conduct the research.
"Earlier this year, Mr. Elias had denied that he had possessed the dossier before the election.
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And I told him the only thing I knew to do with it, it could be a bunch of garbage, it could be true, who knows? Turn it over to somebody whose job it is to find these things out, and John McCain acted appropriately.
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An FBI source [redacted] volunteered highly politically sensitive information [redacted] on Russian influence efforts aimed at the U.S. presidential election. The source is an executive of a private business intelligence firm and a former employee of a friendly intelligence service who has been compensated for previous reporting over the past three years. The source maintains and collects information from a layered network of identified and unidentified subsources, some of which has been corroborated in the past. The source collected this information on behalf of private clients and was not compensated for it by the FBI. The source's reporting appears to have been acquired by multiple Western press organizations starting in October.
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I'm telling you emphatically that I've not been to Prague, I've never been to Czech [Republic], I've not been to Russia.
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Never seen such Republican ANGER & UNITY as I have concerning the lack of investigation on Clinton made Fake Dossier (now $12,000,000?) ...
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When you look at what's going on and then you see all of this horrible stuff," he added, "and then you hear about Ukraine — and you've been hearing about it. I heard Clinton was involved. I heard they got somebody who wrote the fake dossier. Was it out of Ukraine?
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