Movement

Trump-Russia Collusion Claims

Contents

See also: For a more complete list of public figures who promoted collusion claims, please see this resource  from the Capital Research Center.

Starting at least by July 2016 and continuing through March 2019, the FBI and then the office of Department of Justice Special Counsel Robert Mueller conducted a counterintelligence investigation targeting the 2016 Presidential campaign of 2016 Republican Party nominee and eventual President Donald J. Trump. Given the codename “Crossfire Hurricane,” the probe was established to examine “whether individual(s) associated with the Trump campaign are witting of and/or coordinating activities with the Government of Russia.” [1] [2] [3]

No such evidence was revealed, and the Justice Department did not prosecute any Trump campaign officials for crimes involving alleged coordination with the Russian government or its allies in interference in the 2016 election. The office of Special Counsel Mueller issued a report in March 2019, which concluded “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” [4]

When the investigation concluded, analysts from across the political divide, though most were non-establishment figures, derided the allegation of Trump collusion with Russians as a conspiracy theory.  This included left-leaning journalists such as Glenn Greenwald, co-founder of The Intercept,[5] and far-left activists at the World Socialist Web Site. [6]

Another investigation by the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General (IG) confirmed there was no evidence of collusion and uncovered “many basic and fundamental errors” and “extensive compliance failures” committed by the FBI during the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. Among the most serious were 17 “significant inaccuracies and omissions” with the information the Bureau submitted to obtain Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants to electronically eavesdrop on Trump campaign advisor Carter Page. The IG report stated that investigative reports from former British spy Christopher Steele (colloquially and collectively known as the “Steele dossier”) had made critical allegations of collusion with Russia against Carter Page and other Trump officials and played the “central and essential role” in the FBI’s ability to obtain FISA approvals targeting Page. The IG report found extensive and numerous reasons to call into question and to outright discredit the Steele dossier, and furthermore discovered these concerns were never revealed by the FBI in the applications submitted to the FISA judges considering the spying warrants to target Page. In August 2020, Sally Yates, Deputy U.S. Attorney General in the Obama administration and acting U.S. Attorney General for a brief period during the early Trump administration, said she would not have approved a FISA warrant targeting Page if she had known in real-time the flaws in the applications. [7]  [8]

Page was the only Trump advisor known to have been put under FISA surveillance, which the IG report defined as “among the most sensitive and intrusive investigative techniques.” Page was not charged with wrongdoing on any matter, and the IG report stated “the FBI was unable to corroborate any of the specific substantive allegations against [Trump campaign advisor] Carter Page” provided in the Steele dossier. [9] As of August 2020, at least one FBI official had pleaded guilty to altering a memo to state that Page was “not a source” assisting the CIA, when the original language had stated the opposite—that Page had been helping the CIA obtain information regarding the Russian government. [10] [11]

The Steele dossier was produced by the opposition-research firm Fusion GPS, which had been hired in April 2016 by the political law firm Perkins Coie on behalf of the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee. [12] Though discredited by two federal investigations, the general conspiracy theory that the Trump campaign had colluded with the Russian government during the 2016 election, and specific debunked allegations from the Steele dossier, continued to be spread by Hillary Clinton personally, her political allies such as The Democracy Integrity Project,[13] Congressional investigators such as U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA),[14] and major players in the metropolitan-liberal news media such as the Washington Post, CNN, and NBC/MSNBC. [15]

In October 2019, Clinton enhanced the conspiracy theory by alleging that U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and 2016 Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein were also assets of the Russian government. [16] Earlier in 2019, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley and left-leaning journalist Glenn Greenwald both noted that the Clinton campaign had indirectly hired Christopher Steele to obtain information from Russian intelligence sources regarding Donald Trump. [17] [18]

Background

On July 31, 2016, the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation against the 2016 Presidential campaign of real estate developer Donald J. Trump, who had accepted the Republican Party’s presidential nomination ten days earlier. [19] The probe continued through the first two years of the Trump administration, ending with the submission of a report by U.S. Department of Justice Special Counsel Robert Mueller during March 2019. [20]

Given the codename “Crossfire Hurricane,” the FBI probe was established to examine “whether individual(s) associated with the Trump campaign are witting of and/or coordinating activities with the Government of Russia.” [21] Writing in July 2020, Mueller asserted the investigation had been established because “the FBI had evidence that the Russians had signaled to a Trump campaign adviser that they could assist the campaign through the anonymous release of information damaging to the Democratic candidate,” namely former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. [22]

According to Mueller’s Report, “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” [23]

In December 2019, the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General (IG) released its report into the conduct of the FBI during the Crossfire Hurricane probe. The IG’s report cited “many basic and fundamental errors” that it defined as “extensive compliance failures” in the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, such as 17 “significant inaccuracies and omissions” with the information the Bureau submitted to obtain Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants to electronically eavesdrop on Trump campaign advisor Carter Page. [24]

A major source of the 17 significant errors in the FISA applications was the FBI’s reliance upon accusations against Page contained in a dubiously sourced and ultimately discredited report written by former British spy Christopher Steele. The IG found the FBI had credible reason to suspect both Steele and his reporting were unreliable but did not include this exculpatory information in the FISA applications. Similarly, far from evidence that he was a Russian asset, there was strong evidence that Carter Page had been a cooperative source for the CIA in the Agency’s effort to obtain information about the Russian government, but this too was omitted from the FISA applications. [25]

The Mueller team believed it had established that the “Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.” The Mueller Report stated that the Russian interference occurred through two operations: “a Russian entity carried out a social media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaged presidential candidate Hillary Clinton” and “a Russian intelligence service conducted computer-intrusion operations against entities, employees, and volunteers working on the Clinton Campaign and then released stolen documents.” [26]

Principal Alleged Interference Events

DNC and Clinton Campaign Email Compromises

Private email records from both the Democratic National Committee and Clinton 2016 presidential campaign chairman John Podesta were stolen and later released during the 2016 campaign by Wikileaks and an entity known as “DCLeaks.” [27]

The emails revealed that DNC policies had been biased against the Bernie Sanders 2016 presidential campaign,[28] found derogatory statements by DNC staffers against Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT),[29] and released embarrassing statements from Podesta and Clinton ally Neera Tanden criticizing Hillary Clinton and others. [30] [31]

The Mueller Report alleges agents of the GRU, the foreign intelligence agency of the Russian military, conducted these hacks and transferred the information to Wikileaks and DCLeaks. In July 2018, a federal grand jury managed by Mueller’s investigators indicted 12 GRU officials for this alleged crime; the Mueller Report hints at the unlikely prospect of capturing and prosecuting foreign spies: “As of this writing, all 12 defendants remain at large.” [32]

Russian Social Media Campaign

The second major allegation made in the Mueller Report to establish that the “Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion” is that “a Russian entity carried out a social media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaged presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.” Mueller heavily implicated one organization regarding this charge, the Internet Research Agency (IRA), which the Mueller Report asserted is controlled by wealthy Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhi, an alleged ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. [33]

The United States Senate released two reports on the scope and content of the IRA social media campaign. They were profiled by journalist Aaron Maté in a December 2018 analysis for The Nation, a left-leaning opinion magazine that has published commentary favorable to the Kremlin. [34] He concluded by drawing “this picture of Russian social-media activity: It was mostly unrelated to the 2016 election; microscopic in reach, engagement, and spending; and juvenile or absurd in its content.” [35]

The Mueller Report, citing information provided by Facebook, asserted that the Internet Research Agency spent $100,000 for advertisements on the social media website. In a July 2019 report for Real Clear Investigations, Maté clarified that less than half of this total—$46,000—was spent prior to the 2016 election. Assessing the level of influence purchased by IRA, Maté wrote this was “0.05% of the $81 million spent on Facebook ads by the Clinton and Trump campaigns combined” and a “tiny fraction” of the “estimated $2 billion” forked over by both campaigns and their allies for all 2016 election-related activities. [36] [37]

Maté also questioned the electoral effectiveness of the Russian social media content, citing examples provided in the Congressional reports: [38]

Yet another reason to question the Russian operation’s sophistication is the quality of its content. The IRA’s most shared pre-election Facebook post was a cartoon of a gun-wielding Yosemite Sam. On Instagram, the best-received image urged users to give it a “Like” if they believe in Jesus. The top IRA post on Facebook before the election that mentioned Hillary Clinton was a conspiratorial screed about voter fraud. Another ad featured Jesus consoling a dejected young man by telling him: “Struggling with the addiction to masturbation? Reach out to me and we will beat it together.” [39]

Referencing information provided by Facebook, Mueller and Congressional reports regarding the IRA, Maté noted that a lot of the Russian content seemed to be aimed at commercial, rather than political, objectives, and that only a small amount was even election-related: [40]

Then there is the fact that so little of this supposed election interference campaign content actually concerned the election. Mueller himself cites a review by Twitter of tweets from “accounts associated with the IRA” in the 10 weeks before the 2016 election, which found that “approximately 8.4%… were election-related.” This tracks with a report commissioned by the U.S. Senate that found that “explicitly political content was a small percentage” of the content attributed to the IRA. The IRA’s posts “were minimally about the candidates,” with “roughly 6% of tweets, 18% of Instagram posts, and 7% of Facebook posts” having “mentioned Trump or Clinton by name.” [41]

In early 2018 Mueller indicted Prigozhi, the IRA, two related businesses, and 12 other Russian nationals on charges related to the 2016 election interference. But in March 2020, citing potential risks to national security, the U.S. government elected to discontinue the prosecution. [42]

President Trump confirmed in July 2020 that he had ordered a cyber-attack on the Internet Research Agency on the night of the U.S. mid-term election in 2018 to prevent the firm from interfering in U.S. elections. [43] And in July 2020, the U.S. State Department announced a new round of sanctions against businesses allegedly under Prigozhi’s control. [44]

Trump Tower Meeting

A June 9, 2016, meeting between Russians and Trump family and allies at Trump Tower in New York City was judged the “centerpiece of the Trump/Russia conspiracy” by left-leaning journalist Glenn Greenwald, co-founder of The Intercept, a left-wing news website. A 2017 New York Times report regarding the meeting carried the headline: “Trump’s Son Met With Russian Lawyer After Being Promised Damaging Information on Clinton.” [45] [46]

But in April 2019, summarizing the contents of the then-just-released report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Greenwald wrote the actual meeting was less than the media hype had portrayed: [47]

The centerpiece of the Trump/Russia conspiracy – the Trump Tower meeting – was such a dud that Jared Kushner, halfway through the meeting, texted Manafort to declare the meeting “a waste of time,” and then instructed his assistant to call him so that he could concoct a reason to leave. Not only could Mueller not find any criminality in this meeting relating to election conspiring, but he could not even use election law to claim it was an illegal gift of something of value from a foreigner, because, among other things, the information offered was of so little value that it could not even pass the $2,000 threshold required to charge someone for a misdemeanor, let alone the $25,000 required to make it a felony. [48] [49]

Neither the Trump Tower meeting itself nor its participants – for so long held up as proof of the Trump/Russia conspiracy – could serve as the basis for any finding of criminality. Indeed, the key Trumpworld participants who testified about what happened at that meeting and its aftermath (Trump Jr. and Kushner) were not even accused by Mueller of lying about any of it. [50]

Structure of the Steele Dossier

In April 2016 Marc Elias, a partner at the political law firm Perkins Coie, retained the opposition-research firm Fusion GPS on behalf of the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee to provide a “no-stones-unturned” evaluation of then-Presidential candidate Donald Trump, reportedly paying Fusion GPS $1.02 million. As part of this project, Fusion GPS hired former British spy Christopher Steele to research alleged connections between Trump and the Russian government, reportedly paying Steele’s firm $168,000. [51]

Steele produced a 35-page, largely unverified dossier of memos he compiled from June through December 2016. The memos are contain claims of numerous explosive and damaging assertions, most notably that Trump had become a compromised and cultivated asset of Russian spy agencies many years earlier; that the Russians held incriminating blackmail material regarding Trump; Trump’s presidential campaign was willfully collaborating with the Russian government to damage Hillary Clinton; and that Trump advisors Carter Page, Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen were personally involved in these and other collaborations with the Russian government or its allies. [52]

The Department of Justice Inspector General (IG) investigating the FBI’s use of the Steele dossier would later conclude that it played a “central and essential role” in the FBI’s ability to obtain Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants to electronically eavesdrop on the communications of Trump campaign aide Carter Page. Furthermore, the IG found that the FBI “specifically focused on Steele’s reporting” when seeking those warrants and did not have sufficient evidence to obtain spying approval against Page until Steele’s allegations were presented to the FISA court. [53]

The Inspector General concluded that the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation had found no corroboration whatsoever for any of the collusion allegations regarding Trump and his associates in the Steele dossier. To the contrary, the IG found the FBI had obtained several examples of contradictory and exculpatory evidence tending to rule out the Steele findings. [54]

The discrediting of Steele’s work by the IG (and the Mueller Report that preceded it) produced widespread denunciations of both the dossier and the FBI investigation it propped up. Many strong criticisms came from otherwise reliable critics of President Trump.

Left-leaning journalist Matt Taibbi, writing of the IG’s deconstruction of the dossier for Rolling Stone, reported “Steele in his ‘reports’ embellished his sources’ quotes, played up nonexistent angles, invented attributions, and ignored inconsistencies.” [55] In another report Taibbi alleged that all of “Russiagate” was a “fraud” for which some U.S. officials might be “criminally liable.” [56] Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple judged that the credibility of the dossier was in “tatters.” [57] Left-leaning journalist Glenn Greenwald, writing for The Intercept, declared the Trump-Russia collusion theory a “hoax” in April 2019, after the Mueller Report discredited several Steele-generated rumors. [58] Similarly, an editorial from the World Socialist Web Site declared “Mueller’s report, after a sprawling investigation lasting nearly two years, has exposed the entire anti-Russia narrative as a hoax.” [59]

Steele’s Sources

The Department of Justice Inspector General (IG) report on the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation revealed that Christopher Steele “was not the originating source of any of the factual information in his reporting.” Instead, the IG stated that the primary source for many of the most consequential facts was what the Inspector General referred to as Steele’s “Primary Sub-source.” But the primary sub-source, in turn, relied for information exclusively upon a network of friends in Russia and other secondary sources. According to the IG, when the Bureau submitted its FISA warrant to the federal court for approval, it stated that “neither Steele nor his primary sub-source had direct access to the information being reported.” [60] [61]

In late July 2020, Steele’s “Primary Sub-source” was revealed to be Igor Danchenko, then a 42-year-old native of Ukraine who was living in the United States and had worked for the Brookings Institution, a left-leaning American think tank. Speaking to media on behalf of his client, Danchenko’s attorney verified the revelation. [62]

The Inspector General concluded that its review of what Danchenko told the FBI “raised significant questions about the reliability of the Steele election reporting.” [63] In his July 2020 analysis of the FBI interview notes, Eric Felton of Real Clear Investigations concluded: “From the FBI interviews it becomes clear that [Danchenko] and his friends peddled warmed-over rumors and laughable gossip that Steele dressed up as formal intelligence memos.” [64]

Exaggerations and Hearsay

The Inspector General report states “[Danchenko] told the FBI that [he] had not seen Steele’s reports until they became public that month, and that [he] made statements indicating that Steele misstated or exaggerated [Danchenko’s] statements in multiple sections of the reporting.” The Inspector General also reported Danchenko telling the FBI that the “tenor of Steele’s reports was far more “conclusive” than was justified” and that Danchenko “never expected Steele to put [Danchenko’s] statements in reports or present them as facts.” [65]

Danchenko also provided the FBI with reasons to question the accuracy of the information from the secondary sources. Summarizing Danchenko’s statements to the FBI, the Inspector General said Danchenko “believed that the other sub-sources exaggerated their access to information and the relevance of that information” and “that he/she “takes what [sub-sources] tell [him/her] with “a grain of salt.””[66]

Additionally, according to the IG report, “[Danchenko] said he/she made it clear to Steele that he/she had no proof to support the statements from his/her sub-sources and that “it was just talk.” Danchenko also “explained that his/her information came from “word of mouth and hearsay.” [67]

According to the FBI, Danchenko said one of his main sources (identified as “Source 2” in redacted interview notes) “often tries to monetize his relationship with [Danchenko], suggesting that the two of them should try and do projects together for money.” Similarly, another major source (identified as “Source 1” in the FBI notes) is also portrayed as frequently promoting money-making projects to Danchenko. [68]

Lack of Corroboration

The IG report stated that following Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 Presidential election, Christopher Steele asked Danchenko to “find corroboration” for the allegations contained in the dossier. According to the IG, when asked for the results of this search in May 2017, Danchenko “said the corroboration was “zero,”” and “had reported the same conclusion to the Crossfire Hurricane team members who interviewed him/ her in January 2017.” [69]

Steele Dossier Claims

Carter Page Allegations

The Steele dossier alleged that Trump campaign advisor Carter Page had expressed interest in accepting a bribe from the president of the Russian energy firm Rosneft. The dossier states the Rosneft executive was a “Putin ally,” and that the bribe was to be in exchange for a future Trump administration lifting of U.S. economic sanctions against Rosneft. [70]

According to the Inspector General report, Steele’s Primary Sub-Source (later revealed to be Igor Danchenko) told the FBI that the dossier significantly misrepresented the information that had been provided. Danchenko told the FBI the information about the Rosneft meeting had come in via a text message from a secondary source, but that the message did not imply a bribe had been offered to Page, let alone that Page had entertained one. The Inspector General further reports that investigators “reviewed the texts and did not find any discussion of a bribe.” [71] [72]

The report stated that “the FBI was unable to corroborate any of the specific substantive allegations against Carter Page” provided in the Steele dossier. Page was the only Trump advisor known to have been put under electronic surveillance authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). But despite this scrutiny, which the IG report defined as “among the most sensitive and intrusive investigative techniques,” he was not charged with wrongdoing on any matter, let alone a concern connected to the Russian government or its alleged allies. [73]

Michael Cohen Allegations

The Steele dossier alleged that then-Trump Organization attorney Michael Cohen traveled to Prague, Czech Republic, in late summer or early fall 2016 for a secret meeting with Russian government representatives. Issues allegedly discussed included a computer hacking operation against the Hillary Clinton campaign and how to arrange payment for it. [74]

According to the New York Times, the 2019 report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller “found that Mr. Cohen never traveled to Prague.” [75] Similarly, the Inspector General’s report discusses this allegation in three places, each time clarifying that the FBI investigated and found the assertions about Cohen “not true” or “inaccurate.” [76]

Ten months earlier, Cohen testified under oath to Congressional investigators in February 2019 that the alleged Prague meeting had not occurred, further stating he had never been to Prague or the Czech Republic. [77]

No Trump associates were ever charged with crimes related to the alleged conspiracy with the Russian government to influence the 2016 Presidential election, and the report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller reported finding no evidence of such a conspiracy by any of them. As a result of evidence uncovered during the Crossfire Hurricane and Special Counsel Mueller investigations, Cohen admitted to providing false information to Congress about a legal business project of Trump’s in Russia, to campaign finance violations committed during the Trump presidential campaign, and to other financial crimes unrelated to Donald Trump. He was released from prison in July 2020. [78]

Paul Manafort Allegations

Paul Manafort, one-time leader of the 2016 Trump presidential campaign, was alleged in the Steele dossier to also be masterminding a “well-developed” conspiracy to collude with the Russian government. To support this assertion, the dossier relied upon the assumption that Manafort directed the conspiracy work of subordinates such as Trump advisor Carter Page and one-time Trump lawyer Michael Cohen. These allegations regarding Page and Cohen were found by the Inspector General’s and the Special Counsel’s reports to be without evidence and even directly refuted by the evidence, such as Carter Page asserting he had never met nor communicated with Manafort, despite trying to do so, and Cohen showing he had never visited Prague. [79] [80] [81]

However, the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller did uncover evidence of crimes committed by Manafort and a business associate that were unrelated to the debunked accusation of collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. In March 2019 Manafort pleaded guilty to charges such as defrauding the IRS, bank fraud, money laundering, lobbying violations, and witness tampering. An ABC News summary of his offenses noted they were crimes “unrelated to his work on the Trump campaign.” [82]

Steele Dossier Source

In late July 2020, Steele’s “Primary Sub-source” was revealed to be Igor Danchenko, a native of Ukraine who was living in the United States and had worked for the Brookings Institution, a left-leaning American think tank. Speaking to media on behalf of his client, Danchenko’s attorney verified the revelation. [83]

Danchenko’s History

Notes released by the U.S. Senate in July 2020 that were taken by FBI agents when interviewing Danchenko during January 2017 revealed Danchenko had been an employee of Steele’s firm, Orbis Business Intelligence, since well before Steele began asking Danchenko for opposition research to be used against Donald Trump. [84]A July 2020 report from Real Clear Investigations (RCI) uncovered multiple alcohol-related infractions involving Danchenko, who had been living and working in the United States for many years on a work visa. The drinking issues were notable because in his discussion with the FBI about the Steele dossier, Danchenko hinted that alcohol had played a significant role in the information he gathered. [85]

FBI notes said Danchenko and one source “drink heavily together” and that Danchenko looked forward to these interactions. [86]  Similarly, the Inspector General report said Danchenko characterized some of the information he gathered as coming from “friends over beers,” and that some of the information (such as allegations about Trump’s sexual activities) were statements Danchenko “heard made in ‘jest’.””[87]

Real Clear Investigations further reported that in 2006, Danchenko was arrested in Fairfax, Virginia, for “public swearing and intoxication.” This occurred at a time when RCI says he “worked as a research analyst for the Brookings Institution.” In 2013, “federal authorities” in Greenbelt, Maryland, (another Washington, D.C., suburb) charged Danchenko with “several misdemeanors” that included “drunk in public” and “disorderly conduct.” [88]

Referencing the FBI interview of Danchenko, the Real Clear Investigations report alleged that “there is no apparent indication the FBI followed up by asking Danchenko if he had an alcohol problem, which would cast further doubt on his reliability as a source for one of the most important and sensitive investigations in FBI history.” [89]

Connection to Brookings Institution

The FBI’s January 2017 interview with Danchenko is heavily redacted. But it reveals Danchenko’s contract employment with Christopher Steele began at a time when Danchenko’s employment for a prior employer had ended, and that Danchenko was very appreciative of “a few hundred dollars” Steele paid for the first job because Danchenko had little other income at the time. [90] A July 2020 New York Times report states Danchenko worked at the Brookings Institution from 2005 to 2010. [91]

Danchenko is one of at least three individuals connected closely to the Trump-Russia collusion allegation with a work history at Brookings.  Brookings president Strobe Talbott was aware of the dossier by at least August 2016, according to Real Clear Investigations, and contacted Steele at that time to “offer his own input.” Following Donald Trump’s election in November 2016, RCI reports Talbott and Steele collaborating as to what to do next with the Steele dossier. [92]

Real Clear Investigations also reports Danchenko worked closely while at Brookings with Fiona Hill, who would serve in the Trump administration. Danchenko characterized Hill as his “mentor.” Hill, in turn, praised Danchenko as a “highly accomplished analyst and researcher.” RCI reports Hill as both knowing Christopher Steele since 2006 and in 2016 having received an early copy of the Steele dossier from her then-boss, Talbott. Hill later became what RCI characterized as a “star witness” called by Democrats to provide testimony against President Trump during 2019 impeachment proceedings against President Trump. [93]

Investigated as potential “national security threat”

In September 2020 U.S. Attorney General William Barr declassified a summary of a 2009-2011 FBI counterintelligence investigation targeting Danchenko. Beginning in 2009, based on information provided by Danchenko’s coworkers at a “prominent U.S. think tank” (presumed to be the Brookings Institution, where Danchenko was then working), the Bureau began an investigation that led it to the suspicion that Danchenko could be a “threat to national security.” The investigation was closed without a conclusion in 2011, after Danchenko left the United States following the expiration of his visa.[94] [95] [96]

In July 2010, while Danchenko was still in the United States, the Bureau began the process of obtaining a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to target him with electronic spying. In 2016, the information in the Steele dossier, much of it sourced to Danchenko’s reporting, became the primary basis for a FISA warrant targeting Trump campaign aide Carter Page.[97] [98]

The FBI report showed that by December 2016, while the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane team was targeting Page using FISA electronic spying warrants, the Crossfire Hurricane investigators had made the connection between Danchenko’s role in producing the Steele dossier and the FBI’s earlier counterintelligence investigation targeting Danchenko.[99]

The FBI summary of the Danchenko investigation stated that in May 2009 the Bureau was told of a 2008 encounter between Danchenko, a research fellow, and another person employed with Danchenko at the “prominent U.S. think tank” (i.e.: Brookings). The FBI summary stated that the “research fellow” worked as “an influential foreign policy advisor in the Obama Administration.” According to the Bureau report, citing information from the research fellow: “The employee [i.e.: Danchenko] reportedly indicated that if the two individuals at the table “did get a job in the government and had access to classified information” and wanted “to make a little extra money,” the employee [Danchenko] knew some people to whom they could speak.”[100]

The Bureau report indicated the research fellow gave Danchenko the benefit of doubt: “he/she did not believe the employee [Danchenko] was attempting to gain access to the foreign policy advisor through the research fellow’s access.” However, the other coworker seated with the research fellow during the interaction “did express suspicion of the employee [Danchenko] and had questioned the possibility that the employee [Danchenko] might actually be a Russian spy.”[101]

The declassified report cited a follow up investigation by the FBI that revealed contacts between Danchenko and Russian intelligence officers dating back to 2005. In one incident Danchenko allegedly appeared “very familiar” with the Russian officer. In another meeting with a Russian intelligence official Danchenko was allegedly seeking employment through the Russian embassy. A Danchenko associate also told FBI interviewers that Danchenko had “persistently asked about” the associate’s “knowledge of a particular military vessel.”[102]

According to the FBI, Danchenko left the U.S. in September 2010, leading to the FBI closing the investigation and canceling the request for a FISA electronic spying warrant targeting him. Though the summary said the investigation remained closed after that point, it also stated the “record documenting the closing of the investigation stated that consideration would be given to re-opening the investigation in the event that the Primary Sub-source [Danchenko] returned to the United States.”[103]

Justification for FBI Investigation

“Friendly Foreign Government” Referral

The FBI has stated the reason for opening the Crossfire Hurricane counterintelligence investigation of Trump presidential campaign officials in late July 2016 was a tip provided to the FBI from an Australian diplomat, referred to as a “Friendly Foreign Government” or “FFG” in the report produced by the Department of Justice Inspector General. [104]

In July 2016 Alexander Downer, at the time Australia’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, contacted American diplomats to relay his version of a discussion over drinks that he had in May 2016 with George Papadopoulos, then an advisor to the 2016 Trump presidential campaign. Downer alleged that Papadopoulos told him that a Russian government contact had offered to provide the anonymous release of incriminating information (“dirt”) regarding then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Shortly after this, in early summer 2016, Wikileaks began releasing emails stolen from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and the Democratic National Committee, prompting Downer to contact American officials with his suspicions regarding Papadopoulos. [105] [106]

Papadopoulos identified Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese professor based in the United Kingdom with contacts in Russia, as the source of the rumor about Russians having compromising information regarding Clinton. [107]

In his March 2019 report, Special Counsel Robert Mueller found that Papadopoulos (who is a Greek-American) recalled mentioning Mifsud’s rumor to at least one other person, a Greek government official, but that Papadopoulos did not report passing the rumor along to other Trump campaign officials. The Mueller investigation examined contemporaneous notes written by Papadopoulos to Trump campaign officials regarding his (Papadopoulos’s) interactions with Mifsud and Russians, none which revealed a reference to the rumor. The Special Counsel was also unable to find any Trump campaign officials who could recall Papadopoulos discussing the rumor with them. The conclusion of the Special Counsel’s examination of this matter reads as follows: “No documentary evidence, and nothing in the email accounts or other communications facilities reviewed by the Office, shows that Papadopoulos shared this information with the Campaign.” [108]

George Papadopoulos

Papadopoulos was 29 years old in 2016, having received his undergraduate degree in 2009. From 2011 until 2015 he had been a junior-level employee at the Hudson Institute, a right-of-center public policy think tank. He was hired by the Trump campaign in March 2016, just prior to the meeting with Downer. Papadopoulos had previously joined with the ultimately unsuccessful campaign of Ben Carson, a former rival of Trump’s for the 2016 Republican nomination. [109]

In October 2017 Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to offenses related to misleading the FBI regarding when he established contact with Mifsud. Papadopoulos had initially told the investigators Mifsud’s interest in him occurred before his affiliation with the Trump campaign, but in fact the contacts occurred shortly afterward. According to a report in The Hill, the FBI established that Mifsud’s interest in Papadopoulos “only stemmed from his position with Trump’s campaign.” [110]

In announcing their plea deal with Papadopoulos, federal prosecutors estimated he would serve a light sentence for the offense, “as long as he isn’t found to have committed any additional crimes.” [111] He served a 12-day prison sentence in 2018 and agreed to pay a $9,500 fine. [112]

While the Special Counsel did not reveal evidence of collusion between any Trump campaign officials and the Russian government, Papadopoulos was one of six Americans convicted because of other offenses resulting from that investigation.

Joseph Mifsud

The Inspector General report quoted the notes of a February 2017 FBI interview in which Joseph Mifsud claimed, “He had no advance knowledge Russia was in possession of emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and, therefore, did not make any offers or proffer any information to Papadopoulos.” [113]

Similarly, in an October 2017 podcast recorded and released in February 2020 by British newspaper The Telegraph, Mifsud denied that he told Papadopoulos that the Russian government had incriminating information regarding Hillary Clinton. Mifsud also denied having links to the Russian government that would be a precondition for his coming upon such a rumor, even if it were substantive. [114]

In a July 2019 analysis of the Mifsud controversy, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley wrote:[115]

The Mueller report indicates Mifsud lied repeatedly to investigators on sensitive national security issues — and yet Mueller did not charge him with a single count. Cooperating witnesses were sentenced for lying but not Mifsud. [116]

Asked about Mifsud during a July 2019 Congressional hearing, Special Counsel Robert Mueller repeatedly refused to discuss him. [117] Referring to a finding in the Special Counsel’s report, U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) asked Mueller: “He [Mifsud] lied three times, you point it out in the report, why didn’t you charge him with a crime?”[118]

Mueller replied: “I can’t get into internal deliberations with regard to who or who would not be charged.” [119]

Jordan pressed further, stating Mifsud was the “guy who launches everything, the guy who puts this whole story in motion, you can’t charge him…”[120]

Mueller responded: “I can’t get into the evidentiary filings.” [121]

Jordan tried to obtain a simple clarification regarding Mifsud’s loyalties: “Is Mifsud Western intelligence or Russian intelligence?” [122]

Mueller’s answer: “Can’t get into that.” [123]

In a July 2019 report for Real Clear Investigations, journalist Eric Felton wrote of Mueller’s evasiveness regarding which intelligence services may have employed Mifsud: “That’s an awfully consequential question to be outside the special counsel’s purview, one consequential enough to be worth asking until an answer can be found.” [124]

Inspector General Analysis

The Inspector General’s report on Crossfire Hurricane found that the information given to the FBI from the Australian official had met the “low threshold” established by the FBI and Department of Justice for opening a counterintelligence investigation. “However,” the IG report noted, “we also determined that, under Department and FBI policy, the decision whether to open the Crossfire Hurricane counterintelligence investigation, which involved the activities of individuals associated with a national major party campaign for president, was a discretionary judgment call left to the FBI.” [125]

The IG report concluded that the FBI’s “low threshold” for opening the investigation resulted in the following weaknesses: [126]

There was no requirement that Department officials be consulted, or even notified, prior to the FBI making that decision. We further found that, consistent with this policy, the FBI advised supervisors in the Department’s National Security Division (NSD) of the investigation only after it had been initiated. As we detail in Chapter Two, high level Department notice and approval is required in other circumstances where investigative activity could substantially impact certain civil liberties, and that notice allows senior Department officials to consider the potential constitutional and prudential implications in advance of these activities. [127]

In an investigation that elsewhere called into question “serious performance failures” by the FBI in the execution of Crossfire Hurricane, the IG advocated a higher threshold for opening such investigations in the first place: “We concluded that similar advance notice should be required in circumstances such as those that were present here.” [128]

FISA Abuses

The Department of Justice Inspector General reported that after the opening of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation in late July 2016, the FBI team “conducted an initial analysis of links between Trump campaign members and Russia” and that based on this review the “team opened individual cases in August 2016 on four U.S. persons—Papadopoulos, Carter Page, Paul Manafort, and Michael Flynn—all of whom were affiliated with the Trump campaign at the time the cases were opened.” [129]

The FBI obtained four warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to conduct secret electronic surveillance targeting Carter Page over a period of eleven months beginning in October 2016. Page is the only Trump associate known to have been targeted with a FISA warrant, which the Department of Justice Inspector General defined as “among the most sensitive and intrusive investigative techniques.” [130]

The Inspector General reported “extensive compliance failures” and “many basic and fundamental errors” in the Bureau’s FISA effort targeting Page. The FBI never corroborated any of the Steele dossier’s allegations against Page, and federal prosecutors never charged him with wrongdoing on any matter following nearly a year of electronically eavesdropping on his communications. The Inspector General found that the FBI was aware of numerous pieces of information that contradicted the suspicion that Page was colluding with the Russian government and did not turn this information over to the judges who reviewed the FISA applications. [131]

In August 2020 testimony before the U.S. Senate, Sally Yates, the former Deputy Attorney General under President Barack Obama who briefly served as Acting U.S. Attorney General under President Trump, said she would not have approved a FISA warrant targeting Page if she had known in real-time the flaws in the applications. The failure of the FBI to present the FISA court with exculpatory evidence regarding Page led to the Inspector General report citing the Bureau for 17 “significant inaccuracies and omissions” committed in the FISA requests. Some examples are listed below. [132] [133]

Use of Steele Dossier

Very soon after opening Crossfire Hurricane, the FBI pursued a FISA warrant against Carter Page. The FBI also wanted to target George Papadopoulos with FISA surveillance, but this request never advanced after the FBI’s legal counsel objected. The Inspector General reported that it was “aware of no information indicating that the [Crossfire Hurricane] team requested or seriously considered FISA surveillance of [Trump campaign chair Paul] Manafort or [Trump campaign advisor Michael] Flynn.” [134]

The Crossfire Hurricane team made its first request to obtain a FISA warrant targeting Page in August 2016, but FBI lawyers initially denied the request and stated that they needed to see more probable cause to establish the possibility that Page might be an agent of a foreign power. This changed when the FBI received the Steele dossier, which alleged that Page and Manafort were working together in a “well-developed conspiracy” to obtain political assistance from the Russian government. The Inspector General reported that use of the Steele information played a “central and essential role” in the Crossfire Hurricane team’s ability to persuade its internal legal counsel and then four FISA judges to grant the surveillance warrants. [135]

The FBI’s reliance upon unverified and ultimately discredited information in the Steele dossier resulted in several of what the IG report said were “significant inaccuracies and omissions” committed by the FBI in its FISA requests targeting Page. [136]

False Statements

One of the most serious of the Inspector General’s concerns regarding the FBI’s FISA behavior was the alteration of an email detailing Carter Page’s provision of voluntary assistance to the CIA. FBI agents were given information at the beginning of the investigation into Page that he had been providing the CIA with information since 2008 that—according to the IG report—was “among the historical connections to Russian intelligence officers that the FBI later relied upon in the first FISA application (and subsequent renewal applications).” The CIA was confirming Page was an informant regarding the Russians, but in seeking its first FISA warrant the FBI used the evidence of Page assisting U.S. intelligence gathering targeting Russia to investigate the possibility that he was working against American interests in Russia. [137] [138]

The Inspector General found that the FBI “did not engage” with the CIA further regarding this potentially important information and did not include it in any of the first three of the four FISA warrants it obtained. The Bureau also failed to heed Page’s personal statements in public and to the Bureau that he had assisted the U.S. intelligence community. [139] [140]

Before the fourth and final FISA application was submitted targeting Page in summer 2017, the FBI asked the CIA again about its alleged connections to Page and was again told of his assistance to the Agency. But when this information was transmitted to the Bureau agents preparing the FISA application to be sent to the court, an FBI attorney named Kevin Clinesmith inserted the interpretation “not a source” into the email. [141] [142]

For the fourth time, evidence of Page’s assistance to the CIA in its intelligence coverage of the Russian government was not shown to the FISA court judge, even as the work he was plausibly doing at the behest of the CIA had been submitted to the court as evidence against him in a counterintelligence investigation. [143] [144]

In August 2020, Clinesmith agreed to plead guilty to a charge of making a false statement related to his altering the email regarding Page’s cooperation with the CIA. [145]

Steele Contradictions

By January 2017, half a year before the FBI had discontinued its FISA surveillance effort targeting Page, the Bureau had interviewed Igor Danchenko, the primary sub-source for the information in the Steele dossier. The result of that interview, in the judgment of the Inspector General, should have produced “significant questions about the reliability of allegations included in the FISA applications.” [146]

But it did not. Instead, the IG found that the FBI supervisor overseeing the Danchenko debriefing was unconcerned: [147]

The Supervisory Intel Analyst told us that, after the January 2017 interview, his impression was that the Primary Sub-source’s account did not line up completely with Steele’s reporting, but the Supervisory Intel Analyst said he did not have any “pains or heartburn” about the accuracy of the Steele reporting based on what the Primary Sub-source had said. [148]

Among the important discrepancies not provided to the FISA court by the FBI, the IG found that Danchenko had told the Bureau he “did not recall any discussion” regarding Wikileaks and did not provide any information implying Carter Page might have been bribed by a Russian energy firm. [149]

Additionally (as covered in a previous section) the Crossfire Hurricane team became aware as soon as December 2016 that Danchenko had been the subject of an FBI counterintelligence investigation during 2009 through 2011 in which the Bureau became concerned that Danchenko was a potential “national security threat.” During this investigation, the FBI had begun to pursue a FISA spying warrant targeting Danchenko, but discontinued the investigation after Danchenko left the United States in late 2010.[150] [151] [152]

Judging directly concerns such as this, the IG report stated the following: [153]

That so many basic and fundamental errors were made by three separate, hand-picked teams on one of the most sensitive FBI investigations that was briefed to the highest levels within the FBI, and that FBI officials expected would eventually be subjected to close scrutiny, raised significant questions regarding the FBI chain of command’s management and supervision of the FISA process. [. . . ] We concluded that the information that was known to the managers, supervisors, and senior officials should have resulted in questions being raised regarding the reliability of the Steele reporting and the probable cause supporting the FISA applications, but did not. [154]

Partisan Bias

The Inspector General also reported that the FBI should have more deeply investigated Steele’s connections to the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, Fusion GPS, and the Democratic National Committee. The IG determined that the FISA courts should have been made aware of this significant evidence of bias in the source of information being presented to the court, but the FBI did not include this information in the FISA applications. [155]

Steele was a paid opposition researcher working for Fusion GPS under a contract for the benefit of the Democratic Party and Clinton’s presidential campaign. The IG also revealed that Fusion GPS was paying Steele to promote dossier material to the media, and that Steele personally was “desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being the U.S. President.” [156]

Trump Campaign Informant

The FBI cultivated a confidential human source (an informant) to assist the Crossfire Hurricane investigation by engaging in discussions with Trump campaign officials such as Carter Page and George Papadopoulos. Some of the information gathered by the informant directly contradicted the assertions being presented as probable cause to the FISA court. The Inspector General concluded this information should have been turned over to the FISA court to support its review of the eavesdropping warrants targeting Page. [157]

In a September 2016 discussion between the informant and Papadopoulos, Papadopoulos denied “that anyone associated with the Trump campaign was collaborating with Russia or with outside groups like WikiLeaks in the release of emails.” [158]

The IG report states that in August 2016 Page told the informant he had ““literally never met” or “said one word to” Paul Manafort and that Manafort had not responded to any of Page’s emails.” The IG declared “those statements were in tension” with Steele dossier assertions that Page and Manafort were supposedly running a conspiratorial collusion operation with the Russian government to benefit the Trump campaign. [159]

Department of Justice Controversies

In addition to the “extensive compliance failures” identified by the Inspector General regarding the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act electronic eavesdropping targeting Carter Page, the FBI endured several other controversies related to the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. [160]

James Comey’s Leak to New York Times

During mid-May 2017, within days of his dismissal as FBI Director on May 9, James Comey provided the New York Times with notes he had taken during a February 2017 conversation with President Trump. During the meeting, according to Comey’s account, the President asked the then-FBI director to try and wrap up the investigation of Michael Flynn, the president’s former National Security Advisor. [161]

By his own account, Comey did not clear the release of the memo with the FBI. He also considered it part of his personal documents and not FBI property, even though it was generated in his official capacity as the FBI director and he no longer worked for the FBI. His decision to release the memo led to an investigation by the Department of Justice Inspector General (which was separate from and preceded the IG’s later investigation of the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane probe). [162]

Comey told the IG his motive for the release of the memo to the media was an effort to force the appointment of a Special Counsel to investigate President Trump. The IG report quotes Comey as saying he “was doing…something I [had] to do if I love this country…and I love the Department of Justice, and I love the FBI.” [163]

Special Counsel Robert Mueller was appointed the day after the story of Comey’s memo appeared in the media. According to a New York Times account, Mueller’s mission was to “oversee the investigation into ties between President Trump’s campaign and Russian officials.” [164]

After completing its investigation of Comey, the Office of Inspector General stated unequivocally that the memo was FBI property, not Comey’s personal property. The IG report declared that Comey’s belief otherwise had “no support in the law and is wholly incompatible with the plain language of the statutes” and that none of Comey’s former “senior leadership team” at the FBI agreed with his characterization. [165] [166]

The Inspector General also ruled that by not returning all copies of such documents to the FBI, and instead deciding to release them to the media, Comey had “improperly disclosed FBI documents and information” and violated his FBI employment agreement. These problems were made worse, according to the IG, because the specific memo had made “public sensitive investigative information related to an ongoing FBI investigation.” [167]

Concluding its analysis of Comey’s behavior, the Inspector General wrote, “By not safeguarding sensitive information obtained during the course of his FBI employment, and by using it to create public pressure for official action, Comey set a dangerous example for the over 35,000 current FBI employees—and the many thousands more former FBI employees—who similarly have access to or knowledge of non-public information.” [168]

Andrew McCabe

Andrew McCabe was the deputy director of the FBI, the second-highest official serving under FBI Director James Comey during the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. He briefly held the post of acting director of the FBI for three months, following Comey’s May 2017 firing. McCabe was also fired from the FBI in March 2018, following a report from the Department of Justice Inspector General that found McCabe had both authorized a media leak regarding an FBI investigation of the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation and then “lacked candor — including under oath — on multiple occasions” when questioned about it. [169]

In December 2016, as deputy director of the Bureau, McCabe was the FBI official who argued strongly for including the Steele dossier information in the main body of January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment regarding Russian efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election. The Steele information was later attached as an appendix, rather than main body material in the report. [170]

Following the firing of Comey, McCabe opened an FBI investigation into whether the firing of Comey constituted obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump. [171] McCabe further claimed he was part of discussions with officials within the Department of Justice regarding how and whether to recruit Trump cabinet members to invoke a provision in the 25th Amendment whereby cabinet members can declare a President unfit to serve and set in motion a process for the president’s removal after Comey’s ouster. [172] [173]

McCabe claimed then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was also involved in the 25th Amendment discussion, an assertion Rosenstein denies. McCabe alleged that Rosenstein offered to wear a wire to record incriminating discussions with President Trump. Rosenstein, who authored the memo used by Trump to fire Comey, has said the offer to wear the wire was a sarcastic joke, meant to illuminate the absurdity of the entire discussion. [174] [175]

McCabe’s wife, Jill McCabe, was a 2015 Democratic candidate for the Virginia State Senate. According to The Hill, her campaign received “almost $500,000 in political donations from a group affiliated with then-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D),” a close and long-term political ally of Bill and Hillary Clinton. While McCabe recused himself from a corruption investigation targeting the Virginia government, citing a conflict of interest with his wife’s political campaign, he did work the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s handling of her State Department emails. Shortly afterward, he was involved in the leaking of information regarding the Bureau’s investigation of the Clinton Foundation, conduct that would later lead to his dismissal from the FBI. [176]

Peter Strzok and Lisa Page

Peter Strzok was the former chief of the FBI’s counterintelligence division and directly supervised the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. Lisa Page, with whom Strzok was having an extra-marital affair during the investigation, was the legal counsel for FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe. (Lisa Page is no known relation to Carter Page, once a major target of the investigation). [177] [178]

During the 2016 election cycle and into the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, the pair exchanged highly partisan text messages disparaging Donald Trump. The Department of Justice Inspector General’s (IG) report on Crossfire Hurricane showed them to be very strong advocates of using the Steele dossier to obtain FISA warrants targeting Carter Page. [179] [180]

A June 2020 report from Real Clear Investigations (RCI) summarizes and analyzes the findings of the Inspector General’s report on Crossfire Hurricane. It shows Strzok and Lisa Page collaborating to promote use of the Steele dossier against internal resistance from Stu Evans, the Deputy Assistant Attorney General whose job it was to scrutinize FISA applications submitted to the court. [181] [182]

The Crossfire Hurricane team, led by Strzok, attempted to obtain a FISA surveillance warrant targeting Carter Page in August 2016, almost immediately after opening the investigation, according to the IG. But FBI lawyers who demanded more substantive probable cause denied this request. After the FBI obtained the Steele dossier, Department of Justice and FBI officials collectively determined the probable cause for the FISA warrant existed, but not before an internal dispute occurred. [183] [184]

The main obstacle was Deputy Assistant A.G. Evans, who questioned Steele’s motives and the validity of the dossier’s information. According to RCI, “Strzok sent a series of messages to the FBI general counsel’s office complaining that Evans was slowing things down.” Strzok’s messages said Evans was “nervous” and that Strzok was “worried” about what Evans would say to the court officer receiving the FISA request. [185] [186]

Strzok also kicked his concerns over to Lisa Page, complaining to her that the FISA “probably will not go forward” without a call from Page’s direct boss, Andrew McCabe, the FBI deputy director. Page responded with a text to McCabe: “This might take a high-level push.” [187] [188]

Many of the text messages between Strzok and Page, starting as soon as mid-2015, indicated strong animosity toward Trump. Exchanges included Lisa Page calling Trump a “loathsome human” and an “idiot,” Strzok agreeing Trump was “awful,” and both texting “F Trump.” [189] [190]

During the summer of 2017 Strzok had moved from directing Crossfire Hurricane to become the highest-ranking FBI official assisting the special counsel investigation by Robert Mueller. Mueller removed Strzok from the probe in July 2017, after discovery of the partisan exchanges, and Strzok was reassigned to the “human resources” division of the FBI. [191]

Strzok was fired from the FBI in August 2018. [192] Lisa Page left the Bureau in May 2018. [193]

Steele Leaks to Media

Christopher Steele was a CHS (confidential human source) for the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation and other FBI matters–an officially sanctioned status that involved the FBI paying him for his insights and information. Steele’s CHS status ended abruptly and with cause in November 2016, after he leaked both his status as a source for the Crossfire Hurricane probe and the existence of the probe itself to reporter David Corn of the left-leaning opinion journal Mother Jones. [194]

Corn’s report for Mother Jones, posted shortly before the conclusion of the 2016 presidential election, was titled “A Veteran Spy Has Given the FBI Information Alleging a Russian Operation to Cultivate Donald Trump.” Corn cited information from what would later become known as the “Steele dossier,” and quoted Steele anonymously saying that an FBI probe of Trump or his campaign was likely occurring. [195]

Steele later told the Department of Justice Inspector General that he told the story to Mother Jones because he believed the FBI was “being deceitful” by making public the re-opening of a previously-closed email investigation regarding Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, but not similarly disclosing the Crossfire Hurricane probe targeting the Trump campaign. [196]

The IG report states: “According to Steele, the FBI’s conduct compelled him to choose between his client and the FBI, and he chose his client because he believed that the FBI had misled him.” Though a paid confidential informant for the FBI, Steele’s primary employer related to the investigation was Fusion GPS, which in turn had been hired through the Perkins Coie law firm to conduct opposition research on Donald Trump for the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson arranged the October 2016 media interview with Mother Jones. [197]

After learning of Steele’s behavior, FBI senior officials decided on what they characterized as a “non-negotiable” decision to close Steele as a source and discontinued delivery of a $15,000 payment to him. The IG report found that cancelling Steele’s status as a source did not cause the FBI to cease using his information as a basis for FISA applications targeting Carter Page. [198]

Peter Strzok, the FBI agent leading Crossfire Hurricane, characterized Steele’s leak as “horrible and it hurt what we were doing, and no question, he shouldn’t have done it.” However, Strzok told the IG that Steele was not believed to be a “fabricator,” even after the decision to close him as a source. [199]

FBI policy imposes restrictions regarding contact between agents and sources that have been closed for cause. Citing the policy guide on this point, the Inspector General wrote that “a handling agent must not initiate contact with or respond to contacts from a former CHS [confidential human source] who has been closed for cause absent exceptional circumstances that are approved by an SSA [supervisory special agent],” and that reopening a closed source “requires high levels of supervisory approval, including a finding that the benefits of reopening the CHS outweigh the risks.” [200]

But even after Steele had been “closed for cause” as a source, the FBI continued to receive information from Steele until November 2017 with the assistance of Bruce Ohr, a third-party intermediary working in the Department of Justice. The IG wrote that this “created a relationship by proxy that should have triggered, pursuant to FBI policy, a supervisory decision about whether to reopen Steele as a CHS or discontinue accepting information indirectly.” [201]

Ohr terminated his employment with the DOJ on September 30, 2020, prior to a disciplinary review decision regarding his conduct. According to DOJ statement: “Mr. Ohr retired after his counsel was informed that a final decision on a disciplinary review being conducted by senior career officials was imminent.” A CBS News report, citing a “person familiar with the matter” declared that Ohr “resigned the day before he was going to be terminated by DOJ over his conduct cited in IG Horowitz report.” [202]

Michael Flynn Prosecution

The special counsel report investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election did not reveal evidence of conspiracy between any Trump campaign officials and the Russian government. [203] However, Trump administration National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general, was one of six Americans prosecuted for offenses triggered by the special counsel’s investigation. In December 2017, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, a decision the Washington Post reported was heavily influenced by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecutors threatening to also indict Flynn’s son. [204] The special counsel initially recommended against Flynn serving jail time of his guilty plea. [205]In May 2020, as Flynn was still awaiting sentencing, the U.S. Department of Justice dropped its case against him, citing concerns regarding improper conduct by the government. [206]

The Department of Justice had turned investigation memos over to Flynn’s lawyers that showed the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigators may have tried to trap Flynn into committing offenses. Notes written by FBI Assistant Director Bill Priestap questioned the motive for the interrogation his subordinates would be conducting with Flynn. “What’s our goal?” Priestap asked. “Truth/admission or to get him to lie, so we can prosecute him or get him fired?”[207]

In a December 2018 interview, former FBI Director James Comey stated he had personally sent “a couple of guys [FBI agents] over” to the White House to interview Flynn in January 2017, taking advantage of what Comey believed would be disorganization in the then-days-old Trump administration. Comey stated that Flynn—the new president’s National Security Advisor—was not told what the interview would be about, and that the FBI did not try to inform Flynn what it would be about. [208]

The offense Flynn originally pleaded guilty to was lying about his discussion one month earlier (late December 2016) with then-Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak. A member of the transition team for the incoming administration, Flynn was widely expected to be the new National Security Advisor. Flynn and Kislyak discussed sanctions recently imposed by the Obama Administration against Russia, following the Russian government’s attempt to interfere in the 2016 election. According to the FBI, Flynn was not truthful about the substance of this discussion when Comey sent agents to interview him at the White House on January 24, 2017. [209]

Glenn Greenwald, co-founder of The Intercept, a left-wing website, wrote in May 2020 that the FBI appeared to have ambushed Flynn into lying when he had done nothing worth lying about:[210]

. . . [T]here was no valid reason for the FBI to have interrogated Flynn about his conversations with Kislyak in the first place. There is nothing remotely untoward or unusual — let alone criminal — about an incoming senior national security official, three weeks away from taking over, reaching out to a counterpart in a foreign government to try to tamp down tensions. As the Washington Post put it, “it would not be uncommon for incoming administrations to interface with foreign governments with whom they will soon have to work.” [211]

In a related controversy, a U.S. intelligence agency had been electronically monitoring Kislyak’s communications, and in this endeavor had recorded the December 2016 discussion with Flynn. More than two dozen senior officials requested access to this information, a process known as “unmasking” the identity of an American citizen who had not been the target of counterespionage surveillance. [212]

Rumors of Flynn’s call with the Russian ambassador, and his identity, were later leaked to media. Comey, former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and former Vice President Joe Biden are among the senior officials known to have asked for Flynn’s unmasking. [213]

CIA Director John Brennan

John Brennan was the director of the Central Intelligence Agency until the end of the Obama administration in January 2017. Brennan played an undisputedly significant role in what left-leaning investigative journalist Aaron Maté characterized as the “unfounded allegations of conspiracy and treason” that “engulfed” the first years of the Trump administration. However, as of August 2020, some of the important details of precisely what Brennan did—and when he acted—remained in dispute. [214]

Assessing for a Real Clear Investigations report the impact of Brennan in relation to other participants, Maté wrote: “Brennan stands apart for the outsized role he played in generating and spreading the false narrative.” [215]

Dispute over Origins of FBI Investigation

Brennan has said the CIA unearthed the important information that caused the FBI to open its counterintelligence investigation of the Trump presidential campaign. This statement was directly contradicted by numerous senior FBI officials. Writing of this discrepancy for Rolling Stone in December 2019, left-leaning journalist Matt Taibbi concluded: “The [Department of Justice Inspector General] Horowitz report is not kind to former CIA chief John Brennan.” [216]

Testifying to the U.S. House Intelligence Committee in May 2017 about his behavior during the 2016 presidential election, Brennan stated: “I encountered and am aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign that I was concerned about because of known Russian efforts to suborn such individuals and it raised questions in my mind, again, whether or not the Russians were able to gain the cooperation of those individuals.” [217]

Brennan told the House investigators he had been personally responsible for getting that information to the FBI and setting in motion the Bureau’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation:[218]

I was aware of intelligence and information about contacts between Russian officials and U.S. persons that raised concerns in my mind about whether or not those individuals were cooperating with the Russians, either in a witting or unwitting fashion, and it served as the basis for the FBI investigation to determine whether such collusion — cooperation occurred. [219]

Discussing the 2016 events in August 2018 during an MSNBC interview, Brennan continued to assert the CIA had been “picking things up that was of great relevance to the FBI” and had “put together a fusion center at CIA that brought NSA and FBI officers together with CIA to make sure that those proverbial dots would be connected.” [220]

When the Department of Justice’s Inspector General later tried to verify Brennan’s recounting of his and the CIA’s role in these events, none of the top FBI officials involved backed up Brennan. From its interviews with FBI officials, the IG reported that the investigation of Trump and associates was opened in July 2016, following the FBI receiving information that “just days after its receipt of information from a Friendly Foreign Government (FFG) reporting that, in May 2016, during a meeting with the FFG, then Trump campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos ‘suggested the Trump team had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that it could assist this process with the anonymous release of information during the campaign that would be damaging to Mrs. Clinton (and President Obama).’”[221]

IG investigators said that they asked “FBI officials involved in the decision to open Crossfire Hurricane whether ‘the FBI received any other information’ besides the ‘FFG’ tip that had been ‘relied upon to predicate Crossfire Hurricane.’” The IG specifically asked about information that may have come to the Bureau “from members of the USIC [United States Intelligence Community].” The FBI officials unanimously told the IG that “no such information” was provided and that the Crossfire Hurricane “case was based solely on the FFG information.” [222]

The IG investigators also asked former FBI Director James Comey, former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, and FBI Counterintelligence Director Bill Priestap specifically about “then CIA Director John Brennan’s statements reported in several news articles that he provided to the FBI intelligence on Russian contacts with U.S. persons that predicated or prompted the opening of Crossfire Hurricane.” Each of the top FBI officials replied that Brennan did not provide information that led to the opening of the investigation. [223]

Wrapping up this analysis of FBI officials commenting on Brennan’s role, the Inspector General’s report concludes: “We did not find information in FBI or Department electronic communications, emails, or other documents, or through witness testimony, indicating otherwise.” [224]

Steele Dossier

Brennan’s knowledge and use of the allegations in the now-discredited Steele dossier has been a matter of considerable dispute and controversy. One of his final acts as CIA director was contributing to the production of a document assessing the allegations that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 Presidential election. Colloquially known as the “Intelligence Community Assessment” (ICA), it reached the following conclusion:[225]

We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election.  Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.  We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.  We have high confidence in these judgments. [226]

In his May 2017 testimony to the U.S. House Intelligence Committee regarding the ICA, Brennan stated that the dossier was “not in any way used as the basis for the intelligence community’s assessment.” [227] Brennan elaborated in an August 2018 interview on MSNBC, stating the dossier was “not taken into account at all” when the ICA was compiled and that he hadn’t “put eyes on the so-called Steele dossier” until December 2016. [228]

A February 2018 report from Real Clear Investigations, written by reporter Paul Sperry and titled “CIA Ex-Director Brennan’s Perjury Peril,” quoted sources claiming the former spy chief was both aware of the dossier far earlier than December 2016 and had promoted its allegations:[229]

Several Capitol Hill sources say Brennan, a fiercely loyal Obama appointee, talked up the dossier to Democratic leaders, as well as the press, during the campaign. They say he also fed allegations about Trump-Russia contacts directly to the FBI, while pressuring the bureau to conduct an investigation of several Trump campaign figures starting in the summer of 2016. [230]

Similarly, in his November 2019 research for Real Clear Investigations, left-leaning journalist Aaron Maté concluded that “a great deal of evidence” showed that a government investigation of the Trump campaign began earlier than the July 2016 date cited by the FBI, with Brennan as a “driving force.” [231]

“While Russiagate’s exact starting point is murky,” wrote Maté, “it is clear that Brennan placed himself at the center of the action.” [232]

Maté writes that in August 2016 Brennan began personally giving intelligence briefings to eight “high-ranking U.S. senators and members of Congress regularly apprised of state secrets.” But according to Maté, Brennan violated a tradition of meeting the so-called “Gang of Eight” as a group and instead “met them individually,” with the “most consequential private meeting” given to then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). [233]

In his Real Clear Investigations report, Paul Sperry recounts that one Brennan-Reid private meeting occurred on August 25, 2016, and Brennan passed along news that “Russians were backing Trump,” and that the FBI would be investigating because the Bureau (as opposed to Brennan’s CIA) had the legal authority to conduct surveillance against U.S. citizens. [234]

Two days later, writes Sperry, “Reid fired off a letter to then-FBI director James Comey demanding he open an investigation.” Reid wanted the Bureau to investigate “individuals tied to Trump,” and specifically alluded to a subsequently debunked allegation about Trump advisor Carter Page that originated in the Steele dossier. [235]

Then in late October 2016, in the waning days of the 2016 election, Reid sent another letter to Comey, demanding the public release of the “explosive information” possessed by the Bureau regarding “close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors and the Russian government.” [236]

Brennan’s first briefing of Reid in August was at least three months before the December 2016 period when the former CIA director claimed he had first “put eyes on” the Steele dossier. [237]

In his analysis of these events, Aaron Maté wrote: [238]

Reid’s letters show the extent to which Brennan maneuvered behind the scenes to funnel collusion to a public audience. In their book “Russian Roulette,” Michael Isikoff and David Corn report that Reid “concluded the CIA chief believed the public needed to know about the Russia operation, including the information about the possible links to the Trump campaign.” [239]

Anti-Trump Views

Brennan has written that in a briefing with then-President-elect Trump shortly after the election, the then-CIA director refused to share the incoming president the full details regarding the how the CIA had discovered what it believed to be Russian election interference. Explaining his rationale in 2020, Brennan wrote: “I had serious doubts that Donald Trump would protect our nation’s most vital secrets.” [240]

Brennan, a political appointee of the Obama administration, was replaced as CIA director after Trump was sworn into office. Afterward, Brennan became a severe public critic of the Trump administration generally and President Trump in particular. In a March 2019 assessment of prominent elected and government officials who promoted the now-debunked conspiracy theory that the Trump campaign had conspired with Russian state actors, Washington Post columnist Marc Theissen singled out Brennan for exceptional criticism:[241]

These comments by people with access to intelligence were shameful. But the most sinister of all is John Brennan, who used his authority as former CIA director to suggest that Trump was a traitor and a compromised Russian asset. After Trump’s Helsinki summit, Brennan declared “he is wholly in the pocket of Putin.” When challenged by Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press,” Brennan stood by his assessment. “I called [Trump’s] behavior treasonous, which is to betray one’s trust and aid and abet the enemy, and I stand very much by that claim.” [242]

This month, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell told Brennan this investigation was “developing while you were still on the job” and asked, “Did you see enough at that stage to believe . . . that that would result in indictments?” Brennan replied, “I thought at the time there was going to be individuals who were going to have issues with the Department of Justice. Yes.” In a New York Times op-ed, he wrote that “Trump’s claims of no collusion are, in a word, hogwash.” Now, Brennan feigns contrition. “I don’t know if I received bad information, but I think I suspected there was more than there actually was,” he said, adding, “I am relieved that it’s been determined there was not a criminal conspiracy with the Russian government over our election.” [243]

Past Support for Communist Party

In early September 2016, during what New York reported was “panel discussion on diversity in the intelligence community,” Brennan revealed that he had voted for Communist Party USA (CPUSA) presidential candidate Gus Hall during the 1976 Presidential election. The New York profile was titled “CIA Director Reveals He Was Once a Communist Sympathizer.” [244]

Brennan’s revelation occurred during the period when he states he was learning of evidence of Russian government bias toward then-candidate Donald Trump and briefing elected officials regarding this intelligence.

Brennan said that the 1976 vote for the CPUSA became a concern for him four years later in 1980 when he was seeking his first job with the CIA and took a polygraph examination in which one question asked if he had ever associated with an organization seeking the overthrow of the U.S. government: [245]

I said I was neither Democratic or Republican, but it was my way, as I was going to college, of signaling my unhappiness with the system, and the need for change. I said I’m not a member of the Communist Party, so the polygrapher looked at me and said, ‘OK,’ and when I was finished with the polygraph and I left and said, ‘Well, I’m screwed.’ [246]

However, Brennan said the revelation did not prevent him from obtaining a security clearance and did not preclude him from becoming a CIA employee and thus eventually rising to the top of the Agency. [247]

The Communist Party USA was a reliable ally of the Soviet Union’s foreign policy up until the end of the Cold War. Using Soviet archives released after the fall of the Soviet Union, historians revealed the CPUSA to have been a cover for Russian espionage against the United States up through the early days of the Cold War. [248] Gus Hall became the CPUSA leader in 1959 and was until the fall of the Soviet Union itself a reliable supporter of the policies of its leaders, with his favorite reportedly being Leonid Brezhnev. [249] Soviet archives unveiled after the Cold War also revealed that between 1971 and 1990 Hall and the CPUSA had received subsidies of $40 million from the Soviet government. [250]

Promotion by Clinton and Allies

2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and many close allies of her campaign were instrumental in the creation of the Steele dossier and aggressive promoters of the debunked conspiracy theory that the Trump campaign conspired in Russian election interference. The Washington Post revealed in October 2017 that attorney Mark Elias of the Democratic Party-aligned Perkins Coie law firm hired Fusion GPS to conduct the opposition research that led to the Steele dossier. According to the Post, Elias was “representing the Hillary Clinton campaign and the DNC [Democratic National Committee]” when he hired Fusion GPS for the work, meaning both political entities “helped fund research that resulted in a now-famous dossier.” [251]

According to a November 2017 report from Reuters, Fusion GPS disclosed receiving $1 million from Perkins Coie for opposition research targeting Trump and in turn paid $168,000 to Steele’s firm for the dossier. [252]

George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley noted the irony of this in July 2019:[253]

Certain subjects are rarely visited by CNN or other networks, at least not substantively. Media largely dismisses the fact that the Clinton campaign also solicited political dirt from foreign intelligence sources, including Russian intelligence, through investigator and British ex-spy Christopher Steele and the research firm Fusion GPS. [254]

Similarly, in April 2019, left-leaning journalist Glenn Greenwald observed: “One can debate whether it’s unethical for a presidential campaign to have dirt about its opponent released by a foreign government, though anyone who wants to argue that has to reconcile that with the fact that the DNC had a contractor working with the Ukrainian government to help Hillary Clinton win by feeding them dirt on Trump and Manafort, as well as a paid operative named Christopher Steele (remember him?) working with Russian officials to get dirt on Trump.” [255]

Hillary Clinton

Beginning when she was the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, and then in increasingly strident fashion after losing that election, Hillary Clinton repeatedly promoted the conspiracy theory that Donald Trump had conspired with Russian government-directed election interference. During an October 2016 presidential debate, while arguing with Trump over whether Russian President Vladimir Putin respected Clinton as a leader, Clinton claimed Putin preferred Trump because the Russian dictator would rather have a “puppet” win the election. She elaborated on the point, saying Trump had “encouraged espionage against our people,” was “willing to spout the Putin line” and had endorsed Putin’s “wish list.” Clinton resurrected a video of this exchange on her personal Twitter account in January 2019, underneath the statement: “Like I said: A puppet.” [256]

During the 2016 campaign, Clinton and her campaign promoted allegations from the now-discredited Steele dossier. One discredited rumor in the dossier asserted a secret line of communication between the Trump Organization and Russia’s Alfa Bank. Though the rumor was repeated in the mainstream media during October 2016, the Department of Justice Inspector General report found that the “FBI investigated whether there were cyber links between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank, but had concluded by early February 2017 that there were no such links.” Left-leaning journalist Glenn Greenwald awarded the Alfa Bank rumor with fifth place on his list of “The 10 Worst, Most Embarrassing U.S. Media Failures on the Trump-Russia Story.” [257] [258]

On October 31, 2016, just over a week away from the 2016 election, the Clinton campaign put out a news release featuring quotes from the campaign’s senior policy advisor Jake Sullivan parroting the rumor: “This could be the most direct link yet between Donald Trump and Moscow. Computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank.” [259]

Hillary Clinton made at least two statements on Twitter that day promoting the allegation:

“Computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank.” [260]

“It’s time for Trump to answer serious questions about his ties to Russia.” [261]

For their 2017 book, Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign, political reporters Jonathan Allen of NBC News and Amie Parnes of The Hill report the observations of a “longtime ally” of Clinton who said she was “not being particularly self-reflective” after losing to Donald Trump, was failing to take responsibility, and wanted blame shifted to alleged meddling in the race by Russia. Allen and Parnes identify campaign chairman John Podesta and campaign manager Robbie Mook as carrying out this request:[262]

That strategy had been set within twenty-four hours of her concession speech. Mook and Podesta assembled her communications team at the Brooklyn headquarters to engineer the case that the election wasn’t entirely on the up-and-up. For a couple of hours, with Shake Shack containers littering the room, they went over the script they would pitch to the press and the public. Already, Russian hacking was the centerpiece of the argument. [263]

During an October 2019 interview, Clinton implied Trump was being blackmailed by the Russian government and added two left-leaning women to the list of presidential aspirants she believed were being influenced or promoted by Russia. [264]

An October 2019 Washington Post article was titled “Hillary Clinton suggests Putin has kompromat on Trump, Russia will back Tulsi Gabbard third-party bid,” and reported the following: [265]

Clinton suggested the Russians are leveraging a number of top U.S. politicians. She suggested Russia had kompromat, or compromising information, on Trump. She accused 2016 Green Party nominee Jill Stein of being a “Russian asset.” And she suggested Russia might back [then-Democratic primary candidate and U.S. Representative Tulsi] Gabbard as a third-party candidate. [. . .] “They’re also going to do third-party again,” Clinton said. “I’m not making any predictions, but I think they’ve got their eye on someone who’s currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate. She’s the favorite of the Russians.” [266]

Speaking of Trump specifically, Clinton said: “I don’t know what Putin has on him, whether it’s both personal and financial. I assume it is.” [267]

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) was at that time a Democratic candidate for president. She responded to the accusation by posting a sarcastic “Thank you” message for Clinton on Twitter, and went on to state Clinton was “the queen of the warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long.” [268]

John Podesta

John Podesta was the chairman of the 2016 Clinton campaign, a former Clinton White House Chief of Staff, and the founder of the Center for American Progress, a Clinton-aligned left-leaning think tank. Beginning with Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump, he became a prominent public proponent of the Trump-Russia collusion conspiracy theory. [269]

In December 2016, one month after Election Day, Podesta declared the Russia concern “did not receive the attention it deserved” and said the Clinton campaign would support a group of Electoral College members who were seeking an intelligence briefing before casting the formal electoral votes. According to Politico, this was the “first public statement from the Clinton campaign raising questions about the legitimacy of Donald Trump’s victory.” [270]

Appearing on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” in February 2018, Podesta declared Russian interference could have “tilted the election in Donald Trump’s favor.” [271]

In an April 2019 Washington Post commentary, Podesta stated Trump had teamed up with a “hostile foreign power to undermine an election” and that the Trump campaign had been “in regular contact” with the Kremlin. [272]

When he began working for the Obama administration in 2014, Podesta declared he had jettisoned his investment stake in Joule Unlimited, a biodiesel firm that in 2011 acquired both Podesta as a board member and a $35 million investment from a Russian government-backed firm. It was later revealed Podesta had transferred his Joule investments to his children prior to 2014, leaving the appearance the Podesta family had an intact ownership interest in the fate of the Russian-backed firm while Podesta worked directly for President Barack Obama on energy and environmentalist policy. Podesta declined to be interviewed about the matter by the Wall Street Journal when the newspaper investigated during October 2016. [273]

In October 2016, during the final month of the U.S. Presidential election, the website Wikileaks posted a searchable database of what is purportedly Podesta’s private email correspondence over several years. U.S. intelligence reports have stated the Russian government was behind the hack, while Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has denied the information came from the Russians. [274]

Center for American Progress

The Center for American Progress (CAP) is a Clinton-aligned left-leaning think tank that was founded by John Podesta, a close Clinton ally of Bill and Hillary Clinton and chairman of the 2016 Clinton campaign. As of August 2020, Podesta was a board member of CAP and its president was Neera Tanden, another close confidante of Podesta and both Clintons. The Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAP Action) is the political advocacy arm of CAP. [275]

Shortly after Hillary Clinton’s loss in the 2016 election, CAP Action launched “The Moscow Project,” a website dedicated to spreading and amplifying claims of a Trump-Russia conspiracy, including the now-discredited Steele dossier, much of which is reproduced in full on the website. [276] Research chapters such as “Chapter 3: Cultivating and Asset” and “Chapter 4: The Election” specifically cite the alleged authority of the debunked dossier to accuse the Trump campaign of colluding with the Russian government. [277] [278]

All six chapters of The Moscow Project’s “Case for Collusion” series were still available on the website as of August 2020. However, the final chapter, “Chapter 6: The Investigation,” showed the last update was April 17, 2019, the day before the U.S. Department of Justice publicly released the Mueller Report, in which Special Counsel Robert Mueller reported finding no evidence to support claims of criminal conspiracy between the Russian government and anyone working for the Trump campaign. [279]

The Democracy Integrity Project

The Democracy Integrity Project (TDIP) funds and promotes the work of people and organizations linked to the discredited “Steele dossier.” A March 2019 report from Real Clear Investigations stated TDIP had hired both Fusion GPS and Christopher Steele as part of TDIP’s “ambitious goal” of “continuing the Clinton-funded investigation into alleged Trump/Russia ties that began in 2016, and then sharing findings with news outlets, congressional investigators and federal agents.” [280]

Real Clear Investigations reported TDIP was engaged in an “elaborate media-influence operation that includes driving and shaping daily coverage of the Russia collusion theory, as well as pushing stories about Trump in the national media that attempt to tie the president or his associates to the Kremlin.” One favored TDIP tactic was giving rumors and tips to the FBI and then quickly claiming to media that federal law enforcement was aware of the TDIP-fueled information and investigating it. TDIP summarized and pushed out its work in a daily email—headlined “TDIP Research”—that was sent to Congressional Democrats and political journalists. [281]

TDIP aggressively promoted the Steele dossier allegation that a secret computer line of communication tied Trump Tower to a Russian bank. The Department of Justice Inspector General report later found that the FBI had investigated and debunked the allegation in February 2017. Left-leaning journalist Glenn Greenwald awarded the Alfa Bank rumor with fifth place on his list of “The 10 Worst, Most Embarrassing U.S. Media Failures on the Trump-Russia Story.” [282] [283]

After the election, according to Real Clear Investigations, TDIP president Daniel Jones hired a new and larger team of computer experts to look into the Alfa claim. He sent this new research to the FBI in March 2017, but federal law enforcement officers discovered the allegedly incriminating “evidence” was merely spam emails sent through a Pennsylvania company that housed a Trump Organization server but was not otherwise connected to the Trump Organization or presidential campaign. [284]

Starting in January 2019, according to Real Clear Investigations, TDIP used its daily newsletter to promote to Washington, D.C. reporters the since-debunked rumor that one-time Trump lawyer Michael Cohen traveled to Prague, Czech Republic, to plot computer hacking against the Hillary Clinton campaign with Russian government representatives. [285] According to the New York Times, the 2019 report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller later “found that Mr. Cohen never traveled to Prague.” [286] Similarly, the Department of Justice Inspector General’s report discusses this allegation in three places, each time clarifying that the FBI investigated and found the assertions about Cohen “not true” or “inaccurate.” [287]

“Although the Cohen-in-Prague story appears to be fiction,” noted the Real Clear Investigations report in March 2019, “TDIP keeps pushing it through its bulletins.” [288]

According to a May 2020 report from Real Clear Investigations, citing witness testimony from a Congressional investigation, several top aides and allies from Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign held meetings just weeks after the inauguration of President Donald Trump that led to the creation of The Democracy Integrity Project (TDIP). [289]

In December 2017, Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and former Hillary Clinton foreign policy advisor Jake Sullivan separately told a U.S. House committee that that in February 2017 they met with Fusion GPS co-founders Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch and future TDIP president Daniel Jones. Podesta stated Jones and the Fusion GPS team “were interested in trying to raise money to continue their efforts to investigate the Russian interference in the campaign.” [290]

According to Real Clear Investigations, “Podesta said he agreed to help the trio open doors to big Democratic fund-raisers and sit down for press interviews and documentaries regarding any ‘new developments’ uncovered by dossier author and former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele,” and that Podesta’s assistance led to TDIP raising more than $7 million in 2017. [291]

In its March 2019 report Real Clear Investigations reported TDIP had raised “more than $9 million,” with major support coming from major left-leaning donors such as billionaires Tom Steyer ($2.1 million) and George Soros ($1 million). [292]  A report from the Daily Caller News Foundation quoted TDIP president Daniel Jones boasting to FBI investigators that he had raised $50 million from fewer than a dozen donors in California and New York. [293]

Promotion by Congress

Many members of the U.S. Congress promoted without evidence the veracity of the discredited Steele dossier and the later-debunked rumors of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. This included numerous examples of elected officials in leadership positions and on committees appointed to investigate allegations that the Russian government had interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

U.S Rep. Adam Schiff

U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) was the ranking minority member on the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, and later became the chairman of the committee after Democrats won control of the U.S. House following the 2018 mid-term elections. As the top Democrat on this committee, he was regularly interviewed by media regarding collusion conspiracy theories and often promoted them. A May 2020 editorial from the Boston Herald summarized Schiff’s behavior:[294]

Just a year ago, Adam Schiff was on CNN, MSNBC, ABC, Fox News — anyone who would have him — talking about Trump/Russia collusion “in plain sight.” Even after the Mueller report clearly indicated that there was no provable collusion or coordination between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, Schiff continued to propagate the lie. [. . .] We found out this week that Schiff always knew there was no evidence of collusion. By day he would interview former Obama administration officials [. . .] who would tell him there was nothing, and by night he’d jump on a newscast assuring Americans that he’d seen evidence of something. [295]

In a March 2017 U.S. House hearing, Schiff promoted a Steele dossier rumor regarding an alleged bribe offered to Trump campaign aide Carter Page. [296] The Department of Justice Inspector General later interviewed Steele’s primary sub-source for this claim regarding Page, the secondary source, and the text messages allegedly documenting the incident, and “did not find any discussion of a bribe.” [297]

In an October 2017 interview on CNN Schiff challenged skeptics of the Steele dossier to investigate its claims rather than criticize them, and praised Steele as a “well respected former British, former MI6 officer.” [298]

In January 2018, Schiff sent a ten-page memo to “All Members of the House of Representatives” that defended the FBI’s surveillance practices targeting Carter Page. Titled “Correcting the Record – The Russia Investigation,” Schiff’s memo asserted the Bureau had given the FISA courts “carefully outlined” reasons and “multi-pronged” rationale for the electronic surveillance of the Trump campaign aide during an election. Schiff further asserted the FBI made only “narrow use” of the Steele dossier in seeking the surveillance warrants. [299]

The Department of Justice Inspector General (IG) investigating the FBI’s use of the Steele dossier would later conclude that the dossier played a “central and essential role” in the Bureau’s ability to obtain the warrants and that the FBI “specifically focused on Steele’s reporting” when seeking those warrants. The IG cited “extensive compliance failures” and “many basic and fundamental errors” in the Bureau’s FISA effort targeting Page, including numerous instances of the FBI failing to inform the courts of evidence that might exonerate Page of suspicion. [300]

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) was the ranking minority member on the Senate Intelligence Committee who was regularly interviewed by media regarding collusion conspiracy theories and often promoted them. In a March 2019 interview on NBC, Warner claimed he had seen “enormous amounts of evidence” of collusion between the 2016 Trump presidential campaign team and the Russian government. Weeks later, the report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller stated that the extensive investigation “did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” [301] [302]

U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell

U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) was a member of the House Intelligence Committee who frequently promoted collusion conspiracy theories.

In a January 2019 exchange on MSNBC, Swalwell repeatedly asserted President Trump was an agent of the Russian government. Then-MSNBC show host Chris Matthews asked Swalwell to clarify: “An agent like in the 1940s where you had people who were ‘reds,’ to use an old term, like that? In other words, working for a foreign power?” Swalwell responded: “He’s working on behalf of the Russians, yes.” [303]

In a February 2018 Twitter statement, Swalwell defended the propriety of the FISA surveillance warrant targeting Trump campaign aide Carter Page, asserting that Page “for years had been a suspected Russian target.” [304] In listing multiple “compliance failures” and “fundamental errors” in the federal government’s surveillance of Carter Page, the Department of Justice Inspector General’s report noted that Page had been a known and cooperating informant for the CIA regarding the Russian government, rather than the other way around, and that his assistance to the CIA was improperly used against him when the FBI asked for spying permission targeting him. [305] [306]

Swalwell sent an accusatory private message via Twitter to former Trump advisor Michael Caputo, following Caputo’s August 2018 appearance in a U.S. House committee hearing, at which Caputo had answered Swalwell’s questions. [307]

“Nice to see you again,” said Swalwell, in a message exchange he initiated at 12:18 AM. “I hope you told the OSC [Office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller] the truth. They don’t [expletive deleted] around.” Caputo replied: “I lied to no one and you know it so go [expletive deleted] yourself.” Swalwell countered: “Don’t sound so scared bro.” [308] [309]

Caputo made the exchange public in May 2020, with the message: “Good morning all! I’m just having coffee, remembering that 2018 twitter direct message after midnight on a Saturday night from a tipsy Congressman contacting me, a represented party, in clear violation of House Ethics rules.” [310]

U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi

U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was the Democratic leader and subsequently was elected Speaker of the House after Democrats won control of the U.S. House following the 2018 mid-term elections. As the leader of House Democrats, she was regularly interviewed by media regarding collusion conspiracy theories and often promoted them. In July 2018, she made a statement on Twitter claiming the Department of Justice had released documents that “provide clear evidence of Trump campaign official Carter Page’s coordination w/ Russia to ‘undermine… & illegally influence’ the 2016 election.” [311]

The Investigator General’s December 2019 report stated that “the FBI was unable to corroborate any of the specific substantive allegations against Carter Page” provided in the Steele dossier. Page was the only Trump advisor known to have been put under electronic surveillance authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). But despite this scrutiny, which the IG report defined as “among the most sensitive and intrusive investigative techniques,” he was not charged with wrongdoing on any matter, let alone a concern connected to the Russian government or its alleged allies. [312]

U.S. Rep. Denny Heck

U.S. Rep. Denny Heck (D-WA) was a Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee who promoted collusion conspiracy theories. Speaking of President Trump in January 2019, Heck said “We are full blown into Manchurian Candidate territory” and that there was “an avalanche of evidence that Trump’s campaign and the candidate himself were sympathetic to Russian positions, and were open to working with Russian affiliates and representatives, and frankly communicated very directly with very powerful oligarchs and Russian figures close to Vladimir Putin.” [313]

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) was a Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee who promoted collusion conspiracy theories.

A report in the Washington Examiner credited Castro with endorsing the credibility of the discredited Steele dossier:[314]

t a 2017 House hearing with Comey, Rep. Joaquin Castro began his assessment of the dossier by proclaiming his reliance on “the reputation of the author.” According to the Texas Democrat, the fact that “Christopher Steele is a former accomplished British intelligence officer with a career built on following Russia is important. This is not someone who doesn’t know how to run a source and not someone without contacts.” [315]

In a March 2017 hearing, according to the Washington Times, Castro said: [316]

Well, the dossier definitely seems right on these points. A quid pro quo relationship seems to exist between the Trump campaign and Putin’s Russia. [317]

In a January 2018 interview with MSNBC, Castro endorsed the credibility of Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that paid for the discredited Steele dossier:[318]

When asked whether he has heard testimony that revealed evidence of crimes committed by members of the administration on MSNBC’s All In, Representative Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) said “yes.”

“I think many Americans, if they were able to listen to the testimony of Glenn Simpson from Fusion GPS would be very troubled about a lot of the things they hear,” Castro said.

“I can’t talk about what I heard in the interview, but what I can tell you is that my impression, after sitting through those hours of that interview is that the president should be concerned about issues of money laundering, of collusion and of obstruction of justice,” Castro added. [319]

Promotion by Media

The Department of Justice Inspector General’s report released in December 2019 discredited the substantive information in the Steele dossier and also demonstrated that the deeply flawed dossier had been a central reason for the approval of FISA surveillance warrants targeting Trump campaign aide Carter Page. [320]

Soon thereafter, left-leaning journalist Matt Taibbi, writing in Rolling Stone, argued that the American media needed to learn a serious lesson from the debunked collusion claims:[321]

As a result, a “well-developed conspiracy” theory based on a report that Comey described as “salacious and unverified material that a responsible journalist wouldn’t report without corroborating,” became the driving news story in a superpower nation for two years. [. . .] Anybody who touched this nonsense in print should be embarrassed.[322]

The collusion conspiracy theory was advanced by both print and broadcast journalists. [323]

Washington Post – New York Times Pulitzer Prize

Reporting teams from the Washington Post and New York Times were awarded a shared Pulitzer Prize in 2017 in the National Reporting category. The specific citation read: “For deeply sourced, relentlessly reported coverage in the public interest that dramatically furthered the nation’s understanding of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and its connections to the Trump campaign, the President-elect’s transition team and his eventual administration.” [324]

Combined, the two newspapers accounted for one “dishonorable mention” and two of the winning entries on left-leaning journalist Glenn Greenwald’s list of “The 10 Worst, Most Embarrassing U.S. Media Failures on the Trump-Russia Story.” [325]

CNN

CNN reporters Jake Tapper, Carl Bernstein, Evan Perez, and Jim Sciutto were awarded what the network stated was the White House Correspondents’ Association’s “Merriman Smith Award in the broadcast category for their January 2017 report on how the intelligence community believed Russia had compromising information on then President-elect Trump.” [326]

The Department of Justice Inspector General found no corroboration for this allegation in the Steele dossier. Noting this in a January 2020 story, Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple wrote: “The findings create a problem for many media figures, including CNN, whose anchors and guests repeatedly defended the Steele dossier on the grounds that it had been corroborated in some fashion.” Wemple specifically referenced the four award-winning reporters in his criticism, titled “Dear CNN: What parts of the Steele dossier were corroborated?”[327]

In an April 2020 critique, Wemple wrote that “media outlets such as CNN, MSNBC and others “touted” the dossier with flimsy corroboration in the early months of the Trump presidency” and that a “CNN anchor, for instance, went so far as to assert in December 2017 that the U.S. intelligence community has “corroborated all the details” of the dossier.” [328]

A June 2017 CNN report claimed that Anthony Scaramucci, then recently a member of the Trump administration transition team, was involved with a Russian investment fund under investigation by the U.S. Senate. Scaramucci had no such ties. CNN retracted the story and apologized to Scaramucci. The three journalists involved in producing the story resigned from CNN. Left-leaning journalist Glenn Greenwald ranked this as the seventh-place entry on his list of “The 10 Worst, Most Embarrassing U.S. Media Failures on the Trump-Russia Story.” [329]

According to the New York Times, the three journalists who resigned were “Thomas Frank, a veteran reporter who wrote the story; Lex Haris, executive editor of investigations; and Eric Lichtblau, an investigative editor and reporter hired from The New York Times in April.” [330]

A September 2017 CNN report asserted the FBI had wiretapped 2016 Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort before and after the 2016 election. The story was reported by Evan Perez, Shimon Prokupecz, and Pamela Brown, and recited on-air by anchor Erin Burnett. The Department of Justice Inspector General later reported it could find no evidence of such surveillance targeting Manafort, and no evidence the FBI attempted it. CNN issued a retraction on its website in late 2019, which stated the IG report “contradicts what CNN was told in 2017.” [331] [332]

CNN was credited with three of the ten winning entries on left-leaning journalist Glenn Greenwald’s list of “The 10 Worst, Most Embarrassing U.S. Media Failures on the Trump-Russia Story.” Sciutto was a contributor to one of them. [333]

MSNBC / NBC

In an April 2020 critique, Washington Post media critic Eric Wemple wrote that “media outlets such as CNN, MSNBC and others “touted” the dossier with flimsy corroboration in the early months of the Trump presidency.” [334]

A December 2019 essay from the Washington Post media critic was titled “Rachel Maddow rooted for the Steele dossier to be true. Then it fell apart.” The critique stated that the host of the eponymous “Rachel Maddow Show” had become “a clearinghouse for news increments regarding the dossier.” [335]

One of many examples cited was a March 2017 broadcast: [336]

The “baseline” claim of the dossier — that the Trump campaign and Russia participated in a towering election conspiracy — hadn’t yet borne out, conceded Maddow. “But even if that is as yet in itself uncorroborated and undocumented,” she said, “all the supporting details are checking out, even the really outrageous ones. A lot of them are starting to bear out under scrutiny. It seems like a new one each passing day.” [337]

In August 2019, MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell led off his show with an allegation that President Trump had obtained a bank loan that had been co-signed by “Russian oligarchs.” He then engaged in a discussion of the rumor with MSNBC national affairs reporter John Heilemann. The story was unverified, and the president’s attorneys demanded a retraction from the network; a retraction was issued the next day along with an apology from O’Donnell. Washington Post media critic Wemple characterized the incident as “uncorroborated, wish-fulfillment garbage that O’Donnell presented to his viewers” and said O’Donnell “was mocking the core idea of journalism.” [338]

Natasha Bertrand is a national security reporter for Politico and an MSNBC analyst. In February 2020, Washington Post media critic Eric Wemple analyzed her contribution: “With winks and nods from MSNBC hosts, Bertrand heaped credibility on the dossier . . . in repeated television appearances.” [339] Wemple produced what he referred to as a “highlight reel” of Bertrand’s MSNBC appearances in which he said she gave a “great deal of thumb-on-scale speculation” regarding the Steele dossier. The examples Wemple provided included Bertrand’s on-air speculation that there was proof of the rumor that one-time Trump lawyer Michael Cohen had traveled to Prague to discuss with Russian agents how to hack Democratic and Hillary Clinton campaign emails—a rumor fully debunked as “not true” by the report of the Department of Justice Inspector General. [340]

As of August 2020, Nicolle Wallace was the host of “Deadline: White House,” one of the MSNBC’s most successful shows. According to a Washington Post report, she is a “former GOP strategist” who had “risen to acclaim as a strident critic of President Trump” and provided “confirmation for the network’s more liberal viewers that even some on the political right have broken with the president.” [341]

In a March 2018 Twitter statement, Wallace said that President Trump’s disputes with the FBI and the FISA courts regarding the surveillance warrants targeting Carter Page proved Trump was “very worried about his criminal exposure.” [342]

Wikileaks Rumor

In early December 2017, both CNN and MSNBC reported that Donald Trump, Jr., son of the president, had received early access to the hacked emails from DNC and John Podesta that were later published by Wikileaks. This revelation would have been strong evidence that the Trump campaign had been colluding with either Wikileaks or the person or entity that had hacked the emails and was reported as such by both networks. [343]

Both networks were incorrect, having relied upon a communication to that was supposedly dated September 4, 2016 (a date preceding Wikipedia’s release of the email trove), informing Trump’s son how to access the email archive. This communication had in fact occurred on September 14, after publication of the emails. What had been reported as evidence of advanced knowledge was—in proper chronological context—evidence of a campaign supporter hoping to point Donald Trump, Jr., to information already widely accessible to the public. [344]

Both networks retracted their allegation. Glenn Greenwald, writing for The Intercept, a left-wing news source, characterized the Wikileaks mistake as “one of the most humiliating spectacles in the history of the U.S. media,” and awarded both networks shared credit for the first place ranking on his list of “The 10 Worst, Most Embarrassing U.S. Media Failures on the Trump-Russia Story.” [345]

Greenwald wrote:

Rather than some super secretive operative giving Trump, Jr. advanced access, as both CNN and MSNBC told the public for hours they had confirmed, it was instead just some totally pedestrian message from a random member of the public suggesting Trump, Jr. review documents the whole world was already talking about. All of the anonymous sources CNN and MSNBC cited somehow all got the date of the email wrong. [346]

Buzzfeed

In April 2019, Buzzfeed reporters Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier jointly reported Special Counsel Robert Mueller had uncovered evidence that President Donald Trump had ordered his former attorney, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congressional investigators about a Russian real estate deal. This led Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office to issue a rare public rebuttal, stating that “BuzzFeed’s descriptions of specific statements to the special counsel office and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony, are not accurate.” The story was awarded the second-place ranking on left-leaning journalist Glenn Greenwald’s list of “The 10 Worst, Most Embarrassing U.S. Media Failures on the Trump-Russia Story.” [347]

On January 10, 2017, at the direction of then-editor-in-chief Ben Smith (who as of August 2020 worked as media columnist for the New York Times[348]) Buzzfeed became the first news outlet to publish the now-discredited Steele dossier. Ken Bensinger, Miriam Elder, and Mark Schoofs were the reporters credited with the story. [349]

One year later, in a January 2018 opinion piece in the New York Times, Smith boasted that he was proud of the decision to publish the dossier. [350]

New Yorker

In March 2018, New Yorker magazine reporter-at-large Jane Mayer wrote an extensive profile of Steele dossier author Christopher Steele. Sub-titled “How the ex-spy tried to warn the world about Trump’s ties to Russia,” the largely favorable piece included a comparison of Steele to George Smiley, protagonist of John le Carré spy novels. In another New Yorker piece posted in November 2019, Mayer reviewed a book written by the Fusion GPS co-founders in which the authors defended the discredited Steele dossier that they produced. [351] [352]

ABC News

Former ABC News investigative correspondent Brian Ross reported in November 2017 that prior to the 2016 election, Donald Trump had sent advisor Michael Flynn to communicate with Russian government officials. The contacts in fact occurred after Trump had won the 2016 election and the then-President-elect could reasonably be expected to establish relations with officials from important foreign governments. The network apologized for the “serious error” and suspended Ross. [353]

Slate

In late October 2016, left-leaning online outlet Slate posted a report from journalist Franklin Foer stating that a secret line of communication existed between the Trump Organization and Russia’s Alfa Bank, a rumor also contained in the Steele dossier. Foer’s report was circulated and amplified by both Hillary Clinton and her campaign during the last two weeks of the 2016 election. [354]

The Department of Justice Inspector General report found that the “FBI investigated whether there were cyber links between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank but had concluded by early February 2017 that there were no such links.” Left-leaning journalist Glenn Greenwald awarded Foer’s Alfa Bank story with fifth place on a list of “The 10 Worst, Most Embarrassing U.S. Media Failures on the Trump-Russia Story.” [355] [356]

Washington Post Opinion Page

Opinion columnists writing for the Washington Post frequently promoted collusion conspiracy theories.

Author Max Boot is an opinion columnist for the Washington Post and a foreign affairs analyst for CNN. He wrote a January 2019 opinion for the Washington Post titled: “Here are 18 reasons why Trump could be a Russian asset.” Boot was unable to come up with a countering argument: “I can’t think of anything that would exonerate Trump aside from the difficulty of grasping what once would have seemed unimaginable: that a president of the United States could actually have been compromised by a hostile foreign power.” [357] [358]

Novelist David Ignatius is also an opinion columnist for the Washington Post. In a September 2018 commentary he asserted that “much” of the now-discredited Steele dossier had “been confirmed.” [359]

In January 2020, Washington Post media critic Eric Wemple asked Ignatius if—since the Department of Justice Inspector General report had discredited much of the dossier—he would like to amend or change his statement from September 2018. Ignatius replied in an email that he was still reading the IG report and “trying to decide what, if anything, is still credible in the Steele dossier.” [360]

Jennifer Rubin is a Washington Post opinion columnist and MSNBC contributor. [361] In a series of February 2018 Twitter statements, Rubin asserted Trump campaign aide Carter Page was “a Russian spy” and “a suspected spy for 3 years.” [362]

New York Magazine

Jonathan Chait is a writer for New York magazine, a contributing guest for MSNBC, and was a strong purveyor of the most outlandish rumors in the Steele dossier.

In July 2018 New York published a long essay by Chait titled “Will Trump Be Meeting With His Counterpart — Or His Handler? – A plausible theory of mind-boggling collusion.” The commentary retold assertions from the dossier as supporting evidence for a theory that Russian intelligence had compromised Donald Trump over several decades and turned him into a Russian asset. Shortly afterward, Chait repeated this claim in interviews on MSNBC. [363] [364]

In a series of Tweets in February 2018, Chait asked, “Why are Republicans betting on Carter Page’s innocence” and implied Page had “passed documents to Russian spies.” [365]

In April 2018 Chait wrote a shorter New York essay titled “I’m a peeliever and you should be too” which retold and endorsed the veracity one of the most outlandish discredited rumors from the dossier. Chait wrote: “Christopher Steele is credible.” [366]

Promotion by Activists

David Corn

As the Washington bureau chief of the left-leaning magazine Mother Jones, David Corn was responsible for posting one of the first media accounts sourced to the now-discredited Steele dossier and its author, Christopher Steele. Steele also revealed to Corn the existence of an FBI investigation targeting the 2016 Trump presidential campaign. Corn’s October 31, 2016, story referenced Steele anonymously and cited allegations from the dossier, such as that “Russian intelligence had “compromised” Trump during his visits to Moscow and could “blackmail him.”” [367] [368]

In 2018, FBI general counsel James Baker told Congressional investigators that Corn, a friend of Baker’s, had actively and eagerly tried to get the FBI to pay attention to the dossier before the 2016 election. A 2019 report from the Daily Caller News Foundation quoted Baker’s 2018 testimony to Congress:[369]

“I don’t remember specifically the date of these conversations, but I know that David was anxious to get [the dossier] into the hands of FBI. And being the person at the FBI that he knew the best, he wanted to give it to me,” Baker told lawmakers Oct. 3, 2018, according to a testimony transcript released Tuesday. [370]

Ben Wittes

Lawfare Blog is a joint project of the left-of-center Brookings Institution and the Lawfare Institute. The editor-in-chief and co-founder is Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at Brookings. Wittes is a friend of former FBI Director James Comey and has been prominent promoter of collusion conspiracy theories. [371] In a 2017 ranking of 50 people “blowing up American politics,” Politico ranked Wittes in 15th place and said he was “the man behind what’s become the one-stop shop for making legal sense of the Trump era.” [372] [373]

In July 2016, Wittes co-authored a so-called “legal analysis” of whether then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump was a “Russian agent.” The final, presumably “legal analysis,” was that Trump was probably just a “useful idiot” of the Russians. [374] Days after the 2016 election, Wittes wrote another Lawfare essay arguing the President-elect was a threat to national security. [375]

A May 2020 essay co-authored by Wittes was posted by The Atlantic. Taking into account the revelations from the Department of Justice Inspector General that had exposed serious flaws in the FBI’s investigation of Trump campaign officials, Wittes and his Lawfare co-author argued it was President Trump and Republicans who had become “obsessed” with the Russia investigation. [376]

Rick Wilson

Rick Wilson is a one-time Republican political consultant who co-founded The Lincoln Project, an allegedly right-leaning SuperPAC that worked to defeat President Trump and promote the 2020 campaign of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

In December 2019, Wilson wrote an essay for Rolling Stone titled “The Traitors Among Us,” in which he accused Trump supporters of being “traitors” repeating “Kremlin-approved propaganda messages” and said the President was guilty of “grotesque subservience to the Russian leader who helped elect him.” [377] In November 2017, the Daily Beast posted a Wilson essay titled “The Strange Pleasure of Seeing Carter Page Set Himself on Fire,” in which he wrote “Page didn’t just talk the pro-Russian talk; he threw himself into the eager arms of SVR [Russian intelligence] operatives.” [378]

The Department of Justice Inspector General report showed that Carter Page had been giving assistance to the CIA over many years as the American intelligence agency sought to monitor the behavior of Russian government and intelligence officials. In August 2020, an FBI lawyer who had concealed and misrepresented Page’s assistance to the CIA in an official legal memo pleaded guilty to a criminal offense related to the incident. [379]

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