The new report from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz is an absolutely damning indictment of the Steele dossier.
The dossier, compiled by the former British spy Christopher Steele during the 2016 campaign, was a collection of damaging and unfounded rumors about candidate Donald Trump. It was paid for by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign, and overseen by the opposition research firm Fusion GPS. It was never verified, and some of it was laughably far-fetched from the very beginning.
Still, the dossier’s tales were taken seriously by officials in the highest ranks of the FBI -- then-director James Comey and top deputy Andrew McCabe. In January 2017, Comey briefed President-elect Trump on the dossier’s most sensational allegations. The briefing provided a hook for some news organizations to tell the public of the dossier’s existence, and then, days later, to publish the entire document.
The reporting did terrible damage to a new president as he took office. And now, the Horowitz report definitively shows that it was all garbage.
The report makes clear the dossier never had even a shred of credibility. Steele had no first-hand knowledge of anything in the document. He got all his information second- or third-hand from sources who themselves heard things second- or third-hand.
When the FBI managed to track down one of Steele’s main sources, the source was amazed that Steele took the information so seriously. It was “word-of-mouth and hearsay,” the source said, “conversation ... with friends over beers.” The source said he takes what his own sources tell him “with a grain of salt,” and that it was, in the end, “just talk.”
Nevertheless, Steele, along with his Democratic sponsors and the highest levels of U.S. law enforcement, used those conversations with friends over beers to throw American politics into chaos and do irreparable harm to a newly elected president.
Look at three of the dossier’s most incendiary charges:
1. The “well-developed conspiracy” between Trump and Russia. The dossier claimed that Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort used low-level foreign policy adviser Carter Page as an intermediary to the Russians in a plot to weaken Clinton. But when the FBI interviewed Steele’s “sub-source” -- that is, a person in Russia who gathered gossip from others and passed it on to Steele -- agents heard an account that was “not consistent with and, in fact, contradicted the allegations of a ‘well-developed conspiracy.’” In a secretly recorded conversation with an informant, Page said he “literally never met” or “said one word to” Manafort and complained that Manafort never responded to Page’s emails. And then, according to the report, Steele himself told the FBI that his source was a “boaster” who “may engage in some embellishment.” Nevertheless, Steele passed on the “well-developed conspiracy” allegation -- the foundation of the entire Trump-Russia collusion fabrication -- and the FBI, for a while, believed it.
2. The Carter Page bribe. The dossier reported that during a July 2016 trip to Moscow, Page met with Igor Sechin, head of the Russian energy giant Rosneft and a close associate of Vladimir Putin. Sechin, the dossier said, offered Page a huge bribe, in the form of a multi-billion-dollar brokerage interest, to persuade Trump, should he become president, to end U.S. sanctions. The FBI talked to Steele’s sub-source, who said he got information from another source via text message, and the texts never said anything about a brokerage offer to Page. “We reviewed the texts,” the inspector general report says, “and did not find any discussion of a bribe, whether as an interest in Rosneft itself or a ‘brokerage.’” Somewhere along the line, the Page “bribe” was created out of whole cloth. Beyond being false, it was, of course, enormously harmful to Page’s reputation.
3. The pee tape. The most sensational and salacious part of the dossier was the allegation that businessman Donald Trump watched prostitutes perform a kinky sex act in a Moscow hotel room in 2013 while Russian spy cameras recorded the whole thing. It didn’t happen. The report says the sub-source involved in that story told the FBI he warned Steele the story was “rumor and speculation” which the sub-source had not been able to substantiate. It had not been “confirmed” by a Western staff member at the hotel, as Steele claimed. And then this: The sub-source told the FBI “that some of the information, such as allegations about Trump’s sexual activities, were statements he heard made in ‘jest.’” It was all a joke.
Nevertheless, the nation’s top intelligence chiefs were so excited by the sex story that they decided Comey should give that briefing to President-elect Trump in January 2017. Then news of the briefing leaked, which led to the leak of the entire dossier, which raised the Trump-Russia affair to a new and higher level.
And of course it was not known at the time, but the FBI had used the dossier to persuade a court to authorize a wiretap of Carter Page.
Those were just the two most shameful episodes in the shameful history of the dossier. Now that the Horowitz report has shown it all to be bunk, it’s hard to say what should happen. Certainly those responsible for creating, validating and spreading the lies -- Steele, Comey, Fusion GPS and others -- should suffer disgrace. But for those hurt in the affair, reputations cannot be easily restored. The disruption to the nation’s public life cannot be measured. And the damage cannot be undone.