One of the first things former special counsel Robert Mueller said during his testimony on Wednesday is that he would not answer questions about the origins of the Russia investigation or the Christopher Steele dossier. This did not stop Republican after Republican from asking about it.
Rep. Matt Gaetz asked Mueller if he could state with certainty that the Steele dossier was not part of the Russian disinformation campaign. When Mueller said he couldn’t comment on that aspect of the investigation because it pre-dated his appointment, Gaetz pointed out that Mueller charged others with crimes that predated his investigation.
Rep. Greg Steube also brought up the Steele dossier. He asked Mueller when he first came to the conclusion that the claims in the dossier were unverified. Mueller was not willing to answer questions regarding the basis of his investigation.
The truth is that Mueller cannot assure anyone that the Steele dossier didn’t play a major role in starting the Russia investigation; however, some on the left are still holding out hope that Steele and his infamous dossier will be vindicated. This is a pipe dream. Mueller’s silence does not change the fact that the basis of the Russia investigation was flawed from the start.
In a recent interview on “Face the Nation,” Rep Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the final special counsel report demonstrates that President Donald Trump “embraced help from a hostile foreign power.” This from the same man who in February 2018 defended the Carter Page FISA warrant in a memo that stated, “FBI and DOJ officials did not ‘abuse’ the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act process, omit material information, or subvert this vital tool to spy on the Trump campaign.” That statement was debunked by later evidence.
More recently, Schiff decried Trump’s statement that he was not opposed to listening to information from a foreign government during a campaign; however, he defended the Clinton campaign’s use of a dossier compiled by a foreign national and sourced from Russians.
Ever since the Mueller report came out in April and declared no one in the Trump campaign had coordinated with Russia, liberals have been scrambling to find a way to save face. Every new story about the 2016 election gets so contorted in the media that a whole new investigation has to be opened to set the record straight.
A recent example of this took place after Reuters reported on July 9 that three Justice Department lawyers interviewed Steele in June while Trump was on an official state visit to London. The DOJ’s interview with Steele took place over two days, lasted a total of 16 hours, and delved into Steele’s collection methods and findings.
This interview was part of an investigation led by Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz into the FBI’s handling of the Russia investigation. The Horowitz team has “reviewed over one million records and conducted over 100 interviews, including current and former DOJ and FBI personnel,” the inspector general wrote in a recent letter. The probe’s chief aim is to figure out how influential the Steele dossier was in jumpstarting the Russia investigation.
According to Reuters, “Horowitz’s investigators appear to have found Steele’s information sufficiently credible to have to extend the investigation.” Some media outlets have taken this statement to mean that the Steele dossier itself might still be credible. For example, Natasha Bertrand at Politico recently wrote, “But the extensive interview with Steele, and the investigators’ sense that he offered new and important information, may dampen expectations among the president’s allies who’ve claimed that Steele’s sensational dossier was used improperly by the bureau to ‘spy’ on the campaign.”
The website Think Progress published an article titled, “Trump’s attempts to smear Christopher Steele just hit a roadblock.” The article stated, “Steele’s lengthy interview tamped down on claims that he acted improperly. It also apparently offered further leverage for those defending Steele’s intelligence collection methods.”
Both Politico and Think Progress seem to be forgetting that the Mueller report dismissed key claims within the Steele dossier. The report states the investigation “did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” According to the Wall Street Journal, after nearly two years, hundreds of interviews, and dozens of indictments, Mueller found no evidence that Trump had been cultivated by the Russians or that any Russians possessed lewd tapes of Trump in a Moscow hotel, as the Steele report claimed.
Further, the Mueller report explicitly contradicts Steele’s assertion that in 2016, former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen met Russian officials in Prague, that Trump campaign advisor Page had secret meetings with top Russian officials on his July 2016 visit to Russia, and that Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, led an intelligence exchange between the campaign and Russian leadership. According to Byron York at the Washington Examiner, “None of Steele’s charges were confirmed in the Mueller report. Some were specifically debunked. Others were ignored. In short, the report’s release was not good news for Christopher Steele.”
Politico cites claims that the dossier wasn’t far off about Page and his meetings with high-level Russian officials in summer 2016. This statement leaves out the fact that Page never met with a Russian official in order to coordinate an attack on U.S. elections, as the dossier claimed. If that’s not far off, then what is?
The dossier is wrong in the particulars—Page denies meeting with either Igor Sechin or Igor Diveykin—and it is wrong in its key claim: Page was not betraying his country by acting as an agent for Russia.
A September 2016 Politico article actually alluded to how ludicrous some of the public charges against Page were. In a deeply researched article, Julia Ioffe concluded that for all of his bravado, Page was not actually important enough in Russia to have had meetings with high-level officials.
When Ioffe asked Mikhail Leontiev, a spokesman for Sechin, if the two had met, Leontiev replied, “It’s bullshit. Just bullshit. You need to understand who Sechin is to even ask this question. It’s hard to have a meeting with him at all. It’s absurd.” What many other news organizations missed, Ioffe saw: the Page conspiracy theory just never added up. She states the Page question well here:
Was Page the shadowy messenger between the Kremlin and Trump Tower, or was he the nebbishy, not-very-successful man trying to profit from the arbitrage between what Trump said—he’s my adviser—and what his associates said—‘Who?’ Maybe I wasn’t doing this right, and maybe everyone was lying to me, but it was hard not to come to the conclusion that, regardless of whatever game the Russians were running, Page was firmly in the latter camp.
It is important to remember that after two years of investigations, Mueller never charged Page with a crime. As the report clearly states on page 95, “[T]he investigation did not establish that Page coordinated with the Russian government in its efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.”
According to Eric Felton’s article on National Review, “Carter Page Is Mr. Clean,” Few could have or did survive such in-depth scrutiny from Mueller. In fact, Page told the House Intelligence Committee in November 2017 that he had never “done anything wrong in Russia” and that there were no documents, records, emails, communications, recordings, or tangible things that “could reasonably lead to the discovery of any facts within the investigation’s publicly announced parameters as it relates to actions by the Russian government.”
Felton argues that with such a broad statement it would have been easy for Mueller to charge Page with lying had even one email or one document been found to suggest Page was involved in untoward dealings with Russia.
A New York Times article on the recent Steele interview is wary about putting renewed hope in the Steele dossier. In fact, the article criticizes the FBI’s FISA warrant because it didn’t explicitly say that the dossier was opposition research funded by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party. The Times also states that the FBI continued to renew the wiretap application and to use the Steele dossier as their justification even after the FBI interviewed one of Steel’s sources and found his claims dubious.
According to Margot Cleveland of The Federalist, while the FISA application repeatedly stated that Steele was a reliable source it never said anything about the reliability of his sub-sources. This gets it backward: What matters is the reliability of informants, not of the investigator, says Andrew McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor.
The dossier is still an embarrassment for many liberals. For example, Democratic Indiana Rep. Andre Carson once said, “There is a lot in the dossier that has yet to be proven, but, increasingly, as we will hear throughout the day, allegations are checking out. And this one seems to be as accurate as they come.” Texas Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro also once stated, “The dossier definitely seems right… A quid pro quo relationship seems to exist between the Trump campaign and Putin’s Russia.” In April 2018, Vox stated, “a new report…claims that special counsel Robert Mueller has evidence that Cohen did, in fact, enter Prague through Germany at the height of the 2016 campaign…”
With such blatant and public errors in judgement, it is no wonder that some liberals are struggling to relinquish hope that the Steele dossier might check out after all. Yet this is a delusional fantasy that will continue to dog the credibility of journalists and politicians who simply can’t let it go.