The Facts Behind The Christopher Steele Memos
Update to this story – Feb 10, 2017
BREAKING: US investigators have confirmed that some of the conversations detailed in Steele’s dossier did take place between the same people, on the dates, and at the same locations as detailed in the memos the former MI6 agent sent to US intelligence.
Reporting of the story on the Christopher Steele memos has been confusing and controversial. The veracity of its contents have been disputed, and many false claims made. So lets look at the facts behind the Christopher Steele memos, and dispel the fiction and confusion. Let’s correct the main two talking point from the right first: Uncorroborated evidence is not fake news. It is simply evidence from a trusted source that has not been verified by US intelligence; Secondly, much of the conflicting information has been the result of people, and some of the press, confusing the 35 pages of memos published by Buzzfeed, and the two page addendum attached to the classified briefing. Any of the allegations you read about are coming from the 35-page dossier published by Buzzfeed. We don’t know the contents of the 2-page addendum because it is classified Top Secret. The only general information we have is that it may contain some of the some of the same allegations in the 35 page dossier that US intelligence trusted the most or had additional information which supported it.
The 35 pages, which is often referred to by the media as a dossier, is a compilation of individual memos, and are raw work product. They were compiled by an ex-MI6 British intel officer, Christopher Steele, who now runs a private intelligence company in the UK called Orbis Business Intel. After Buzzfeed published the memos, Steele went into hiding, and the British government issued a D-Order. This is a gag order on media publishing prohibiting them from publishing details about Steel’s time as an active MI6 operative in Russia. What we do know is that he was stationed at the British embassy in Moscow as a diplomat in the 1980s, and a few days ago the former British Ambassador who served with him in Russia publicly vouched for him as a professional “who doesn’t make stuff up.”
In September 2015 Fusion GPS was hired by Republican opponents of Trump tied to the Jeb Bush campaign, to do opposition research. In June 2015 they hired the services of Steele. In July 2016, Trump won the Republican nomination and the Democrats became the new employers of Steele and Fusion GPS. According to BBC reporting, when they stopped funding the project, Steele was so concerned by what he had found that he continued the work without payment after Trump was elected. Glenn Simpson, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who runs the firm Fusion GPS, felt the same way, and also continued with the Trump case without payment.
But Steele’s first contact with the FBI was much earlier than has been reported in the American media. The BBC reports that four days before Trump stated that he would recognize Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, Steele sent a memo to the FBI. That memo stated that Trump’s campaign team had agreed to a Russian request to dilute attention on Putin’s intervention in Ukraine. A month later, officials involved in his campaign asked the Republican party’s election platform to remove a pledge for military assistance to the Ukrainian government.
By late July, MI6 were also receiving information about Trump. In September, Steele compiled a set of his memos into one document and passed it to his contacts at the FBI. Steele decided to pass on the information to both British and American intelligence officials because he believed such material should not just be in the hands of political opponents of Trump, who had hired his services, but was a matter of national security for both countries.
When the FBI took no action, commenting on Clinton’s emails instead, Steele became increasingly frustrated and began to believe there was cabal within the FBI who were blocking a thorough inquiry into Trump, and engaging in a cover up. Steele then went to the media, sending the memos to various news outlets in the United States. Most news outlets who saw it did not publish, as they could not verify the information. The one exception was David Corn at Mother Jones.
Although he did not identify the source, or publish the individual allegations, he published an article in October of his interview with a former Western counter intelligence official We now know that unnamed former spy was Steele. Corn reported in October that the former spy had sent memos to the FBI with troubling allegations related to Donald Trump. indicating that Russian intelligence had mounted a years long operation to co-opt or cultivate Trump and had gathered secret compromising material on Trump. They also alleged that Trump and his inner circle had accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin. The former spy told him it started off as a fairly general inquiry about Trump’s business ties in Russia for an opposition research project. He then contacted his network of sources in Russia and elsewhere and soon received what he called “hair-raising” information.
Steele’s sources told him that Trump had been “sexually compromised” by Russian intelligence in 2013 while he was in Moscow for the Miss Universe contest, and that there was an established exchange of information between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. A few days ago Corn reported that Steele had since told him that the FBI had recently asked him for information on his sources and their reliability, and on how he had obtained his reports. He was also asked to continue to send copies of his later reports to the bureau. Steele also told Corn that he gave the memos to the FBI because he thought “This was something of huge significance, way above party politics.” Steele also told him that he believed Russian intelligence’s efforts aimed at Trump were part of Vladimir Putin’s campaign to “disrupt and divide and discredit the system in Western democracies.”
CNN reported the same allegations about communications between the Trump campaign and the Russians, were in classified briefings for congressional leaders last year, before the election. At that time Mitch McConnell blocked them from going public, prompting Harry Reid to send a letter to FBI Director Comey in October, in which he wrote, “It has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government — a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States.”
The BBC reported that Senator John McCain, concerned about the reports about Mr Trump and the Kremlin, met Sir Andrew Wood, a former British ambassador to Moscow, at a security conference in Halifax, Canada. Andrew stressed to Senator McCain that he had not read the dossier, but vouched for Mr Steele’s professionalism and integrity. McCain then sent someone to London who picked up the dossier. The Senator personally took the material to FBI Director Comey. Although McCain did not know it at the time, Comey already had the memos and had been sitting on them since September.
After Buzzfeed published the 35-page dossier, and intelligence sources disclosed the existence of the two-page addendum to Trump’s classified briefing by US intelligence chiefs, Trump’s response was to send out a series of tweets calling the allegations fake news, and denying he had been briefed on the memos. In his most troubling tweet, he not only attacked US intelligence services, but compared them to Nazi’s.
FAKE NEWS – A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2017
Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to "leak" into the public. One last shot at me.Are we living in Nazi Germany?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2017
James Clapper called me yesterday to denounce the false and fictitious report that was illegally circulated. Made up, phony facts.Too bad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 12, 2017
His White House adviser, Kellyanne Conway, also denied the claims during an appearance on Late Night With Seth Meyers, adding that “nothing has been confirmed.” She also said Trump was “not aware” of any briefing on the matter.
Trump supporters also pitched in, starting a misinformation campaign about the dossier. They circulated doctored images on 4chan and Reddit that included passages not contained in the original document. They claim the entire dossier is made up, and that it was sent to a Republican strategist, Rick Wilson, last year. On Twitter they claimed it was all a fake news scam put out by 4chan.
The next day Clapper confirmed he had in fact told Trump the leaked documents had been circulated widely before US intelligence received it, that it was not their product, and the leak did not come from within the US intelligence community. Comey also confirmed at a Senate hearing that he had told Trump after the briefing about the memos and what was in the 2-page addendum.