On Monday, George Stephanopoulos’s “worldwide exclusive interview” with Christopher Steele aired on Hulu. Over the course of an hour, “Out of the Shadows: The Man Behind the Steele Dossier,” there was one key takeaway: Hulu pours a ton of money into its amazing production team.
Aside from that, the interview consisted of but a handful of interesting tidbits sprinkled throughout the heavily produced and marketed profile on the author of the Steele dossier.
1. At Least the Media Came Out of the Shadows
The most striking detail from Monday’s release of the Steele interview concerned, not the former British intelligence agent, but the media. Stephanopoulos’s show opened with a collage of the coverage of the Steele dossier when the story first broke. It was breathtaking to hear now, some five years later, how the corrupt media at the time panted over the story, with full knowledge that President Trump was right—it was fake news.
Even more gasp-inducing were comments by ABC reporter Martha Raddatz showcased during the Hulu episode suggesting she still buys the bunk Steele was selling, including the pee-tape claim.
“We don’t know everything that happened in those 36 hours that Donald Trump was in Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant. But the questions around what may have happened there have become hugely consequential,” Raddatz says in the documentary while staring down the camera.
Raddatz was not the only ABC personality interviewed during the program, and in this respect the media’s penchant for becoming the story reached a pinnacle, so much so that Hulu followed Stephanopoulos from his New York apartment en route to the airport and then to England. Once there, Steele’s screen time paled in comparison to the time Stephanopoulos devoted to interviewing his colleagues.
Besides Raddatz, the documentary featured ABC News contributor Sara Isgur, a former Justice Department spokesperson; ABC News’ London-based reporter, Julia MacFarlane; Pierre Thomas, who serves as the senior justice correspondent at ABC News; and Matt Mosk, a producer and writer for ABC “Evening News.”
While a documentary focusing on the corrupt media and its willful promotion of the Russia conspiracy hoax—well-funded production teams, I’m available—would prove both educational and fascinating, Steele should have been the star of this story.
2. Steele Selected Stephanopoulos For a Reason
Of course, Steele couldn’t have really taken the lead in the story because he remains in legal jeopardy and subject to potential civil liability. Steele needed to thread a needle: saying enough to create sympathy and shore up a legal defense while ensuring he stayed silent on anything of substance. Stephanopoulos served his purpose.
President Clinton’s former White House communications director promised the publicity Steele needed and provided a surface of seriousness to sell the story as a true piece of journalism. And Stephanopoulos was willing to travel to England, most definitely a requirement for Steele to avoid the subpoena power of the John Durham special counsel’s office.
In “Out of the Shadows: The Man Behind the Steele Dossier,” Stephanopoulos delivered. With photographs showing a young Steele and his future wife, Stephanopoulos presented a picture of a dedicated public servant and family man who tragically lost his young wife and then needed to juggle raising their three children while attempting to launch his private investigative firm, Orbis Business Intelligence.
Stephanopoulos began the interview, not with a question, but by gently placing atop a figurative tee-ball stand a fill-in-the-blank opener: “Give me a declarative sentence. ‘Christopher Steele is.’”
“A patriot. Somebody who has professional integrity and expertise,” Steele replied, with a tone of seriousness absent from the dossier he crafted for Hillary Clinton.
The Hulu exclusive then added more of the personal touch, dotting throughout sterile clips of media personalities soundbites from friends and family—the friend who introduced Steele to his first wife, his brother-in-law, his step-daughter. Steele also welcomed Stephanopoulos into his home, relaying how his second wife screamed from the bedroom upon seeing the dossier online.
A “gilded cage,” Steele quipped about his brother-in-law’s extravagant home where Steele holed up after being publicly outed as the author of the dossier. One wonders whether Carter Page’s life in hiding had such luxuries.
3. Christopher Steele Stands By His Dossier
While Stephanopoulos’ painting of Steele as a patriotic and sympathetic character did not quite descend to the Jane Mayer level of propaganda, the generous profile of Steele nonetheless laid the groundwork necessary to soften the more serious questions that would end the show. The Hulu special’s biographical focus also served to elevate Steele, suggesting a more substantial role in British intelligence than likely and bolstering his credibility by highlighting his connection to the FBI’s investigation into the World Cup soccer bribery scandal.
Against this backdrop, a viewer unacquainted with the depth of the Spygate scandal, such as Stephanopoulos and ABC’s regular audience, might find Steele’s assurances that his sources and their stories are credible, even against the backdrop of the U.S. inspector general’s “devastating” report that “eviscerated” Steele’s reporting, according to one of the few non-ABC figures interviewed, former New York Times reporter Barry Meier.
“With respect to your work,” Stephanopoulos noted, the IG report concluded that “certain allegations were inaccurate or inconsistent with information gathered by the Crossfire Hurricane team; and that the limited information that was corroborated related to time, place and title information, much of which was publicly available.”
When asked whether he accepted that conclusion, Steele demurred, instead claiming the IG was putting “too much store” into “what the FBI knew early on in the campaign.” Then, after speaking of his view of the FBI as a “generally effective organization,” Steele suggested the problem wasn’t his reporting, but that the FBI might lack “good coverage” “of Moscow, Moscow politics and Moscow operations.”
Stephanopoulos next asked Steele about the dossier’s claim that Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen had met with Russians in Prague. The inspector general found that claim false, the host noted, asking Steele: “Do you accept that finding that it didn’t happen?”
“No, I do not,” the former MI6 member replied. When pushed on why Cohen would lie after having turned completely on Trump, Steele suggested Cohen feared incriminating himself for treason, or he fears the consequences of acknowledging that trip.
“Doesn’t this refusal to acknowledge the inaccurate reporting on Cohen detract from your credibility?” Stephanopoulos then countered, to which Steele replied, “I’m prepared to accept that not everything in the dossier is 100 percent accurate. I have yet to be convinced that that is one of them.”
Steele also maintained that his collector, whom the production team branded “a Washington-based analyst,” had the necessary connections to obtain the intelligence information included in the dossier. But when interviewed by the FBI, Stephanopoulos countered, the primary source claimed the intel was just talk over beers or things repeated in jest about Trump, such as the “golden showers” story.
Yet Steele remained firm, maintaining that the supposed “pee tape” probably does exist, although he “wouldn’t put 100 percent on it.” As for his source, Steele explained, “If you have a confidential source, and that confidential source is blown, or is uncovered, the confidential source will often take fright and try to downplay and underestimate what they said and done. And I think that’s probably what happened here.”
To bolster this point, Steele also spoke of the risk his sources were in, indicating one had been harmed in some way but was still alive. Here came one of the only revelations in the entire hour-long drama, as Glenn Simpson, who hired Steele to compile opposition research on Trump, had previously refused to name any sources. When pushed on what his firm had done to verify their credibility, his lawyer interjected: “He wants to be very careful to protect his sources. Somebody’s already been killed as a result of the publication of this dossier.” (A one-question interview with Simpson exploring this inconsistency would be more enlightening than the entire Steele interview.)
Not only did Steele refuse to acknowledge any specific false reporting on his part, but he also disclaimed any responsibility for the illegal spying on Page. “It had nothing to do with us,” Steele said, noting he didn’t know they were using his materials for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant and that if there were any problems, they weren’t his problems, but problems with the people responsible for obtaining the FISA warrant.
Steele, however, also seemed to stand by that reporting, saying that in his mind, his reporting on the pee tape, the Cohen in Prague meeting, and the Carter Page-Russia connection, had not been disproven. Steele did blame himself for one thing: talking to Mother Jones’ D.C. Bureau Chief David Corn, as that eventually led to his outing as the author of the dossier. In other words, Steele regrets one thing only—the move he made that caused his own pain.
4. He’s Crazy Like a Fox
Those well-versed in the entire Russia-collusion hoax likely watched Steele in disbelief, wondering how delusional he must be to sit calmly before a worldwide audience and defend the unbelievable. But the interview served a purpose, because the few times Stephanopoulos challenged Steele, it works to his own benefit as it provided the dossier author the opportunity to counter claims that he peddled knowingly false information to the FBI
While Steele professed in the interview that he had done nothing wrong and did not fear being charged and extradited to the United States, sometimes the best defense is an offense. What better way to counter a potential charge of making false statements to the FBI than to profess you believe the information passed on was true? Well, that, and the defense colloquially known as Orange Man Bad, which Steele seemed to also hide behind, speaking of Trump as a continuing threat to the United States and United Kingdom’s national security.
Steele may be right about one thing, though, when he said in the final minutes of the interview that he “think[s] this book is not finished by a longshot.” Hopefully, however, it will be Durham writing the final chapter.