Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s March “Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election” contains a glaring omission: Not once in the 448-page tome does Mueller mention an investigation into whether Russia interfered with the U.S. presidential election by feeding dossier author Christopher Steele misinformation.
But Mueller also did not charge Steele with lying to the FBI, or refer a criminal case against Steele to federal prosecutors, as he did when the special counsel uncovered evidence of criminal misconduct unrelated to the 2016 election. Given Mueller’s conclusion that no one connected to the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to interfere with the election, one of those two scenarios must be true—either Russia fed Steele disinformation or Steele lied to the FBI about his Russian sources.
Steele Openly Said He Got Info from Russians
The Steele dossier, which consisted of a series of memorandum authored by the former MI6 spy, detailed intel purportedly provided by a variety of Vladimir Putin-connected sources. For instance, Steele identified Source A as “a senior Russian Foreign Ministry figure” who “confided that the Kremlin had been feeding Trump and his team valuable intelligence on his opponents, including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.”
Other supposed sources identified in the dossier included: Source B, identified as “a former top-level Russian intelligence officer still active inside the Kremlin”; Source C, a “Senior Russian Financial Officer”; and Source G, “a Senior Kremlin Official.” Steele also described a smattering of unlettered sources as a FSB Cyber Operative; a former Senior Intelligence Officer; a Senior Government Figure; “well-placed and established Kremlin source 1”; “well-placed and established Kremlin source 2”; a Kremlin official involved in U.S. relations; a Senior Russian leadership figure; and a Kremlin insider with direct access to leadership.
Steele first provided a summary of the Kremlin-supplied “intel” on Trump to the FBI in June or July 2016, when he met with his reputed handler, Rome-based FBI agent Mike Gaeta. In September 2016, Gaeta provided the dossier to agents working on the Russia collusion investigation at the FBI headquarters in Washington D.C.
The following month, the U.S. Department of Justice included details from the dossier in an application submitted to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court and obtained a court order to surveil former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page. That FISA court order gave the Obama administration and career DOJ and FBI agents access to Page’s communications with Trump campaign officials prior to Page’s departure.
Using Leaks to Seed News Stories
Leaks propelled the claimed collusion into the news. Steele shared details from the dossier with Michael Isikoff. Citing a “Western intelligence source,” Isikoff reported at Yahoo! News that “Page met with Igor Sechin, a longtime Putin associate and former Russian deputy prime minister,” and discussed the lifting of sanctions.
Government sources told Isikoff that Page’s activities in Russia had “been discussed with senior members of Congress during recent briefings about suspected efforts by Moscow to influence the presidential election.” “After one of those briefings,” Isikoff wrote, “Senate minority leader Harry Reid wrote FBI Director James Comey, citing reports of meetings between a Trump adviser (a reference to Page) and ‘high ranking sanctioned individuals’ in Moscow over the summer as evidence of ‘significant and disturbing ties’ between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin that needed to be investigated by the bureau.”
The DOJ later cited Isikoff’s article to support its FISA application to surveil Page. The application also detailed some of the impact this news story had on the Trump campaign: “Based on statements in the September 23, [Yahoo!] News Article, as well as in other recent articles published by identified news organizations, Trump’s campaign repeatedly has made public statements in an attempt to create the appearance of distance between Page and [Trump’s] campaign.”
Mueller’s report also acknowledged that the Steele dossier, and leaks about it, affected the Trump campaign. For instance, Mueller noted that “on October 11, 2016, Podesta stated publicly that the FBI was investigating Russia’s hacking and said that candidate Trump might have known in advance that the hacked emails were going to be released.” Additionally, Mueller highlighted the media’s questioning of vice presidential candidate Mike Pence concerning “whether the Trump Campaign was ‘in cahoots’ with WikiLeaks in releasing damaging Clinton-related information.”
Although Pence shot down the suggestion, responding, “nothing could be further from the truth,” the narrative dragged the Trump campaign up to election day—and a rabid portion of the populace continues to believe and peddle the Russian hoax. Yet Trump still solidly defeated Hillary Clinton.
It Appears Russia Used Steele to Meddle in U.S. Elections
But Trump’s victory does not negate the reality that, assuming Steele truthfully relayed to the FBI and the media the intel his Russian sources provided, Russia interfered in the election by feeding Steele false intel about Trump.
Yet in the special counsel report, Mueller identified only two principal ways Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election: “First, a Russian entity carried out a social media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaged presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Second, a Russian intelligence service conducted computer-intrusion operations against entities, employees, and volunteers working on the Clinton Campaign and then released stolen documents.”
Surely, a plot by Kremlin-connected individuals to feed a known FBI source—Steele had helped the FBI uncover an international soccer bribery scandal—false claims that the Trump campaign was colluding with Russia would qualify as a “principal way” in which Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. The Russia social media campaign to disparage Hillary Clinton wasn’t a patch on the plot the Kremlin launched to destroy Trump: It resulted not only in bad press, but also an investigation into the Trump campaign and the use of court-approved surveillance exposing campaign communiques.
Even though Mueller was authorized, as he put it in the special counsel report, to investigate “the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election,” the report is silent of efforts to investigate Russia’s role in feeding Steele misinformation.
Only the Senate Has Raised This Possibility
Little notice was made of Mueller’s apparent failure to investigate whether Russia interfered in the election by peddling phony intel to Steele that Steele relayed to the FBI, until Sen. Chuck Grassley raised the issue with Attorney General William Barr last week. During questioning before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Grassley pitched the issue as follows:
The Clinton campaign and the Democrat National Committee hired Fusion GPS to do opposition research against candidate Trump. Fusion GPS then hired Christopher Steele, former British intelligence officer, to compile what we all know as the Steele dossier, that reportedly used Russian government sources for information. The Steele dossier was central to the now-debunked collusion narrative.
Now here’s the irony: The Mueller report spent millions investigating and found no collusion between Trump campaign and Russia but the Democrats paid for a document created by a foreign national with reported foreign government sources. Not Trump, but the Democrats. That’s the definition of collusion. Despite the central status of the Steele dossier to the collusion narrative, the Mueller report failed to analyze whether the dossier was filled with disinformation to mislead U.S. intelligence agencies and the FBI.
“My question,” Grassley continued: “Mueller spent over two years and 30 million dollars investigating Russia interference in the election. In order for a full accounting of Russia interference attempts, shouldn’t the special counsel have considered whether the Steele dossier was part of a Russian disinformation and interfere campaign?”
Barr responded that he had “not yet had anyone go through the full scope of [Mueller’s] investigation to determine whether he did address or look at all into those issues,” before adding, “one of the things I’m doing in my review is to try to assemble all the existing information out there about it, not only for the Hill investigations and the OIG, but also to see what the Special Counsel looked into. So I really couldn’t say what he looked into.”
Later during the four-hour hearing, Sen. John Cornyn asked the attorney general, “how do we know that the Steele dossier is not evidence of a Russian disinformation campaign? Knowing what we know now that the allegations are unverified? Can we state with confidence that the Steele dossier was not part of the Russian disinformation campaign?” Barr responded: “No, I can’t state that with confidence, and that is one of the areas that I’m reviewing. I’m concerned about it, and I don’t think it is entirely speculative.”
If Barr is concerned about it, why wasn’t Mueller? Any competent prosecutor would have investigated whether Russia peddled false intel to Steele.
Or Maybe Mueller Investigated and Omitted the Results
Or did Mueller investigate this question? It’s possible, maybe even likely, given this acknowledgement in the special counsel report: “From its inception, the Office recognized that its investigation could identify foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information relevant to the FBI’s broader national security mission.” “During the Special Counsel investigation,” Mueller then explained, the FBI had embedded personnel “whose purpose was to review the results of the investigation and to send-in writing-summaries of foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information to FBIHQ and FBI Field Offices.”
Here’s the clincher: Not all of the intelligence and counterintelligence information derived from the special counsel investigation was included in the report. Rather, as Mueller explained, the report contains only the “information necessary to account for the Special Counsel’s prosecution and declination decisions and to describe the investigation’s main factual results.”
This assertion is laughable given the special counsel’s report unnecessarily opined on whether Trump obstructed justice, but then failed to reach a “prosecution or declination decision,” as required by regulation. The more likely answer? Political expedience. After all, evidence that Russia interfered in the election by feeding the false collusion narrative to Steele would vindicate Trump, who has been screaming “Witch hunt” from day one.
Of course, there is another possibility: Steele could have invented his Russian sources and the “intel” they supposedly provided him. If so, Steele should have been charged with lying to the FBI. Yet Steele remains a free man, showing either Mueller is incompetent or a political hack.