Yesterday, Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell declassified a slew of footnotes from Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report on Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act abuse. In a cover letter to Sens. Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson, the Republican senators who had pushed for the declassification, Grenell noted that “transparency is now needed more than ever.” Grenell added that Attorney General William Barr concurred in the declassification decision as it relates to DOJ interests.
Wednesday’s declassification follows the release last week of newly declassified information in three footnotes: 302, 334, 350. Those footnotes revealed that the FBI had received information that the Steele dossier included Russian disinformation and that Steele’s primary sub-source did not have a “network of sources.” The additional information released this week builds on those revelations and adds some new ones. Here are nine key points.
1. The U.K. Consented to Steele’s Cooperation
Christopher Steele, the man behind the Steele dossier that formed the basis of several FISA surveillance applications, cooperated with the IG’s investigations “with the consent of his government,” according to the newly declassified information. (We also now know that although Steele had suggested to the FBI that he had a “high-ranking” position, his former employer pegged him as holding only a “moderately senior” position.)
Whether Steele’s cooperation was complete and forthright, however, is another question. And whether MI6 and other elements of British intelligence are cooperating with Barr and U.S. Attorney John Durham’s probe into the targeting of the Trump campaign and administration likewise remains to be seen.
2. There Was Potentially A Lot More Spying on the Trump Campaign
It was clear even before yesterday’s additional declassifications that the “Obama Administration Spied on the Trump Campaign Big Time.” But now we know that in addition to the electronic surveillance of Trump campaign associate Carter Page, the FBI conducted “physical searches targeting Carter Page,” which could include “physical premises or personal property,” and that the FISA court authorized “overseas surveillance” of Page.
So, in addition to the FBI intercepting Page’s communications, including ones with members of the Trump campaign, the FBI also had access to any confidential campaign material that Page maintained at his residences or in hotel rooms, including on computers or thumb drives. We remain in the dark, however, concerning the breath of this intrusion into Trump campaign materials because Horowitz noted that his team did not review all of the material searched—just that information pertinent to his narrow inquiry related to FISA abuse.
This revelation concerns not just Trump and his campaign, but the constitutional rights of an innocent American citizen—Carter Page—who we now know suffered an even greater infringement of his Fourth Amendment rights than previously known, including physical searches of his property as late as July 13, 2017.
3. U.S. Intelligence Lacked Derogatory Information on Joseph Mifsud
The purported predicate for the launching of Crossfire Hurricane was comments from George Papadopoulos to an Australian diplomat, Alexander Downer, that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Papadopoulos later revealed that Joseph Mifsud was the source of that information.
The IG report had reported that a search of the FBI’s database for Mifsud did not reveal any records indicating Mifsud was an FBI source. From yesterday’s declassification, we now know “that the FBI requested information on Mifsud from another U.S. government agency and received a response from the agency indicating that Mifsud had no relationship with the agency and the agency had no derogatory information on Mifsud.”
That’s quite the revelation: Our intelligence community lacked any derogatory information on the supposed Russian asset who fed Papadopoulos the inside skinny on the Kremlin’s machinations to dump dirt on Hillary right before the election.
The declassification raises even more questions: When did the FBI reach out to the other U.S. government agency? Was it shortly after launching Crossfire Hurricane? If not, why not? Wouldn’t that be the first step in any investigation into Papadopoulos’ concerning comments?
And while there was no derogatory information on Mifsud, what about favorable information on him? Was there any intel on Mifsud?
4. More Questions About the Predicate
The IG report provided a sketch of how Papadopoulos’ comments to Downer—that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton—made their way to the FBI. But the sketch remains sketchy.
The report stated that Downer spoke with a U.S. government official on July 26, 2016, and that that official then called the FBI’s legal attaché to share that information during an in-person meeting. We now know that there was a “senior intelligence official” at that meeting and that it was the “senior intelligence official” who suggested Papadopoulos’ comments “sounds like an FBI matter.”
Who was that “senior intelligence official?” And why did he think it “sounds like an FBI matter?”
5. More Evidence That Steele Colluded With Russians Than That Trump Did
The declassifications also revealed extensive contacts between Steele and Eurasian oligarchs—something that concerned the FBI’s Transnational Organized Crime Intelligence Unit. A 2015 report, the declassification revealed, “noted that from January through May 2015, 10 Eurasian oligarchs sought meetings with the FBI, and 5 of these had their intermediaries contact Steele.” The footnote further added “that Steele’s contact with 5 Russian oligarchs in a short period of time was unusual and recommended that a validation review be completed on Steele because of this activity.”
Of course, we know that didn’t happen until much later—and after Steele already prompted the FISA warrants.
6. More Evidence of Russia Disinformation
That Steele had such close connections with five Russian oligarchs also raises questions concerning whether the oligarchs were feeding Steele disinformation on behalf of Putin. The three footnotes declassified last week revealed that “the Crossfire Hurricane team had received reporting ‘indicating the potential for Russian disinformation influencing Steele’s election reporting.’”
Now knowing that Steele had served as a liaison for five different Russian oligarchs, one must ask what, if anything, did the FBI or the intelligence community do to assess whether any of those oligarchs were feeding Steele disinformation?
And what about the fact that Steele’s primary sub‐source told the FBI “that the subsource who provided the information about the Carter Page‐Sechin meeting had connections to Russian Intelligence Services (RIS)?” That seems a pretty strong suggestion that Russia disinformation permeated the Steele dossier.
Why did the FBI ignore that warning? And why did Special Counsel Robert Mueller ignore the possibility that Russia was interfering in the 2016 election by feeding Steele disinformation?
Footnotes 342 and 347, added to the release last week of details in footnote 350, further suggest Russia disinformation. In footnote 342 we learn for the first time that the Crossfire Hurricane team received information that Russian intelligence services “may have targeted Orbis,” which was Steele’s firm.
That footnote also indicates that while the FBI knew of that fact, there was no concern because the FBI “had no information as of June 2017 that Steele’s election reporting source network had been penetrated or compromised.” That conclusion seems to contradict the primary sub-source’s statement that one sub-source had connections to Russian intelligence.
The “as of June 2017” date becomes significant, as footnote 347 reveals, because that was when the FBI received information suggesting “personal and business ties between the sub-source and Steele’s Primary Sub-source” and “contacts between the sub-source and an individual in the Russian Presidential Administration in June/July 2016.” Footnote 347 adds that the sub-source “voic[ed] strong support for candidate Clinton in the 2016 U.S. elections.” These details suggest both the possibility of Russia disinformation and politically-motivated disinformation were fed to Steele.
Finally, footnote 347 ends with an interesting tidbit—a statement “that the FBI did not have Section 702 coverage on any other Steele sub-source.” That statement suggests the FBI had Section 702 FISA surveillance on the sub-source with the connection to the Russian presidential administration.
7. Did Russian Oligarch 1 Know of Steele’s Work for Clinton?
A one-sentence footnote declassified yesterday further strengthens the case of possible Russia disinformation, as well as raising several additional serious questions. “Sensitive source reporting from June 2017 indicated that a person affiliated to Russian Oligarch 1 was possibly aware of Steele’s election investigation as of early July 2016,” the footnote reads.
Recall that Russian Oligarch 1 was the moniker Horowitz used to refer to Vladimir Putin’s close confidant, aluminum oligarch Oleg Deripaska. According to the IG report, Deripaska’s attorney had hired Steele “to work on Russian Oligarch 1’s litigation matters.” The IG report also noted Steele, who passed his “intel” to DOJ attorney Bruce Ohr, was “advocating on behalf of one of Russian Oligarch 1’s companies regarding U.S. sanctions.”
If an affiliate of Deripaska knew of Steele’s investigation into Trump, one must wonder if Deripaska knew of this fact as well. If so, one must wonder whether he fed Steele any Russian disinformation.
This new detail also raises the question of the identity of the “person affiliated” with Deripaska. We know from “secret, encrypted text messages” between Deripaska’s attorney Adam Waldman and U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), that during the height of the post-election Russia collusion hoax Waldman attempted “to broker access to Steele” to the senator.
Might Waldman have known about Steele’s “election investigation as of early July 2016?” If so, how? If not, who else did that was connected to Deripaska?
8. Bill Priestap Pinkie-Promised To Keep Steele’s File Clean
In obtaining the FISA surveillance orders on Page, the FBI swore that Steele was reliable. One of the many problems with the handling of the Page FISA applications the IG found was that Steele’s CHS file omitted information agents had gathered in late 2016 when they spoke with individuals “who previously had professional contacts with Steele or had knowledge of his work.”
These individuals reported that Steele “[d]emonstrates lack of self-awareness, poor judgment,” “pursued people with political risk but no intelligence value,” “didn’t always exercise great judgment,” and it was “not clear what he would have done to validate” his reporting.
The IG report noted that none of these negative assessments was “memorialized in Steele’s Delta file and therefore not considered in a validation review conducted by the FBI’s Validation Management Unit.”
Now we know one possible reason for that omission: FBI Counterintelligence Division Assistant Director Bill “Priestap told the OIG that he recalled that he may have made a commitment to Steele’s former employer not to document the former’s employer’s views on Steele as a condition for obtaining the information.”
That’s quite a promise when agents must rely on the official file to accurately swear out a surveillance application!
9. No, Your Beer-Drinking Buddies Aren’t a Network of Sources
Yesterday’s declassification added a little more detail as well to footnote 334, which had been released last week. That footnote reveals that “when interviewed by the FBI, the Primary Sub‐source stated that he/she did not view his/her contacts as a network of sources, but rather as friends with whom he/she has conversations about current events and government relations.”
That the sub-source didn’t have a “network of sources,” but a group of friends is significant because the FISA application falsely presented Steele as having a network of sources based on his prior UK intelligence work. But now we know his primary sub-source didn’t even have a network of sources to rely upon—just a bunch of beer drinking buddies. Or maybe Russian vodka?