Democrats on in­tel com­mit­tee still back anti-Trump dossier de­spite de­bunk­ing

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

Democrats tak­ing over the House Per­ma­nent Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence and its Rus­sia-Trump probe have stayed doggedly loyal to the Hil­lary Clin­ton-fi­nanced dossier that Re­pub­li­cans say is a hoax.

At times, in­com­ing Chair­man Adam Schiff, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, and col­leagues have hailed dossier writer Christo­pher Steele for pre­dict­ing events. A close ex­am­i­na­tion showed his as­ser­tions al­ready had ap­peared in the press. Other Steele al­le­ga­tions em­braced by Democrats re­main un­proven pub­licly more than two years after he started sub­mit­ting memos to his Demo­cratic han­dlers.

Mr. Schiff de­scribes the di­men­sions for his up­com­ing probes this way: There are so many Trump scan­dals, he says, “our cau­cus will need to ruth­lessly pri­or­i­tize the most im­por­tant mat­ters first.”

The com­mit­tee’s fi­nal re­port by its Re­pub­li­can ma­jor­ity in April ac­quit­ted the Trump cam­paign of col­lu­sion with Moscow in its elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence via com­puter hack­ing and fake so­cial me­dia ac­counts. To date, no Trump per­son has been charged by spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller on such al­le­ga­tions.

Mr. Schiff re­jected the GOP re­port, say­ing he be­lieves a con­spir­acy ex­isted be­tween Moscow and Mr. Trump.

“Through­out the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, com­mit­tee Re­pub­li­cans chose not to se­ri­ously in­ves­ti­gate — or even see, when in plain sight — ev­i­dence of col­lu­sion be­tween the Trump cam­paign and Rus­sia, in­stead adopt­ing the role of de­fense coun­sel for key in­ves­ti­ga­tion wit­nesses,” he said.

Mr. Schiff has stated that he wants to launch com­pletely new lines of in­quiry, such as sup­posed Rus­sian mon­ey­laun­der­ing through the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion — an al­le­ga­tion that hasn’t been broadly dis­cussed pub­licly. Re­pub­li­cans say they heard no such ev­i­dence dur­ing their in­quiry.

Democrats also have men­tioned a num­ber of Trump as­so­ciates they want to bring back for more ques­tion­ing. Can­di­dates may in­clude Don­ald Trump Jr., who or­ches­trated the June 2016 Trump Tower meet­ing with a Rus­sian lawyer promis­ing dirt on Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton, and cam­paign ad­viser Michael Ca­puto.

A big ques­tion is whether Mr. Schiff will again try to prove Mr. Steele’s al­le­ga­tions. An FBI wit­ness told the com­mit­tee in a closed-door hear­ing that none of the British ex-spy’s core col­lu­sion charges had been proven.

“Schiff pushed the dossier al­le­ga­tions as long as they were use­ful to him. But now the dossier has been dis­cred­ited and has ac­tu­ally boomerange­d back on the Democrats since it be­came pub­lic that they’re the ones who funded these lies and fed them to the press and to the FBI,” said a Re­pub­li­can con­gres­sional staffer. “So Schiff is mov­ing on to his next inane con­spir­acy the­ory, which ap­pears to be Trump-Rus­sia money-laun­der­ing.”

The dossier’s was re­leased to the pub­lic on Jan. 10, 2017, when Buz­zFeed posted its en­tire 35 pages.

On the po­lit­i­cal front, a sub­se­quent March hear­ing be­fore the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee marked the point where Democrats fully pro­moted the writer and his charges.

The hear­ing is seen to­day as some­what his­toric in the two-plus years of the Rus­sia nar­ra­tive. It re­vealed a deep chasm be­tween Rep. Devin Nunes, Cal­i­for­nia Re­pub­li­can and in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee chair­man, and the Demo­cratic mi­nor­ity led by Mr. Schiff. The hear­ing fea­tured two high­pow­ered wit­nesses, then-FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey and then-Adm. Michael S. Rogers, Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency di­rec­tor.

Democrats spent blocks of time try­ing to get the two to bol­ster and praise Mr. Steele, but they mostly de­clined.

“The rep­u­ta­tion of the author, Christo­pher Steele is a for­mer ac­com­plished British in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer with a ca­reer built on fol­low­ing Rus­sia is im­por­tant,” said Rep. Joaquin Cas­tro, Texas Demo­crat. “This is not some­one who doesn’t know how to run a source and not some­one with­out con­tacts. The al­le­ga­tions it raises about Pres­i­dent Trump’s cam­paign aids con­nec­tions to Rus­sians, when over­laid with known es­tab­lished facts and time­lines from the 2016 cam­paign are very re­veal­ing.”

Un­known pub­licly at the time, and per­haps by com­mit­tee mem­bers, is that the dossier Democrats were prais­ing was paid for — by Democrats.

Mr. Steele re­ceived at least $160,000 from the Hil­lary Clin­ton cam­paign and the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee for op­po­si­tion re­search on Mr. Trump. As their agent, Mr. Steele col­lected all sorts of anti-Trump al­le­ga­tions from Krem­lin fig­ures and put them into a se­ries of memos for his han­dler, the in­ves­tiga­tive firm Fu­sion GPS. He briefed his al­le­ga­tions to the Wash­ing­ton lib­eral me­dia and the FBI, which ac­cepted his sup­po­si­tions as a ma­jor part of the bureau’s Trump in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

But none of that was known to the pub­lic on March 20, 2017, as Democrats touted the dossier as true.

‘An­tifa in suits’

Mr. Schiff bought into Mr. Steele’s charge that Trump cam­paign vol­un­teer Carter Page met se­cretly with two op­er­a­tives for Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and dis­cussed bribes for re­mov­ing eco­nomic sanc­tions.

Mr. Page was on a pub­li­cized trip in July 2016 to de­liver a col­lege speech. He has de­nied re­peat­edly that he ever met with the two men. The FBI wire­tapped him for a year largely based on the dossier. He has not been charged.

Said Mr. Schiff at the hear­ing: “Ac­cord­ing to Christo­pher Steele, a for­mer British in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer who is re­port­edly held in high re­gard by U.S. in­tel­li­gence, Rus­sian sources tell him that Page has also had a se­cret meet­ing with Igor Sechin, CEO of the Rus­sian gas gi­ant, Ros­neft. Sechin is re­ported to be a for­mer KGB agent and close friend of Putin’s.”

Mr. Schiff gave Mr. Steele credit for re­port­ing that Mr. Page and for­mer Trump cam­paign man­ager Paul Manafort worked as a team to fa­cil­i­tate the Rus­sian elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence.

Since March 20, 2017, there has been no pub­lic ev­i­dence that the Mr. Page and Mr. Manafort knew each other or ever spoke, much less con­spired with Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence.

After Mr. Comey and Adm. Rogers de­clined to con­firm the Steele charge that Mr. Trump main­tained a long re­la­tion­ship with Krem­lin in­tel­li­gence, Mr. Cas­tro said, “OK. Well, the dossier def­i­nitely seems right on these points. A quid pro quo re­la­tion­ship seems to ex­ist be­tween the Trump cam­paign and Putin’s Rus­sia.”

Mr. Cas­tro gave Mr. Steele credit for pre­dict­ing Wik­iLeaks role in re­leas­ing the Rus­sia-stolen Demo­cratic emails, say­ing “three days after this en­try” by the ex-spy the anti-se­crecy group be­gan dump­ing the ma­te­rial.

In fact, Mr. Steele’s first ref­er­ence to Wik­iLeaks was in the past-tense. It al­ready had re­leased the emails.

(Mr. Cas­tro sug­gested Oct. 20 on CNN that the White House has given Saudi Ara­bia a hit list of dis­si­dents it wants as­sas­si­nated. White House press sec­re­tary Sarah Huck­abee Sanders dis­missed the charge. Mr. Schiff said his com­mit­tee will in­ves­ti­gate Mr. Trump and Saudi Ara­bia’s killing of jour­nal­ist Ja­mal Khashoggi, who crit­i­cized the Saudi gov­ern­ment.)

Mr. Schiff gave Mr. Steele credit for pre­dict­ing in an Oc­to­ber dossier memo that Rus­sia-owned Ros­neft petroleum com­pany would sell a 19 per­cent stake to pri­vate bid­ders.

“Is it a co­in­ci­dence that the Rus­sian gas com­pany, Ros­neft, sold a 19 per­cent share after for­mer British in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer Steele was told by Rus­sian sources that Carter Page was of­fered fees on a deal of just that size?” Mr. Schiff said.

Ac­tu­ally, the size of the pend­ing pri­vate sale, 19 per­cent, was an­nounced by the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment the pre­vi­ous July, three months be­fore Mr. Steele’s Oc­to­ber dossier memo.

In the more than 20 months since the March hear­ing, Mr. Steele’s core col­lu­sion charges, the Democrats’ en­dorse­ments notwith­stand­ing, re­main un­proven pub­licly.

They in­clude: a Manafort/Page con­spir­acy with Moscow, a Trump long-term work­ing re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence, Mr. Trump’s ac­tive sup­port of Krem­lin com­puter hack­ing, an “ex­ten­sive con­spir­acy” be­tween the Krem­lin and Trump cam­paign, and a se­cret trip to Prague by Mr. Trump’s then-at­tor­ney Michael Co­hen to plot a coverup with Putin aides.

What struck Re­pub­li­cans in that March 20 hear­ing was a pro­nounce­ment by Mr. Comey that the en­tire Trump cam­paign was un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion to see if it co­or­di­nated with Rus­sia on elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence. The state­ment was so broad it put sus­pi­cion on scores of peo­ple whose hopes of land­ing an ad­min­is­tra­tion job van­ished.

“It feels like may col­leagues and I have been un­der siege from an­tifa in suits and skirts for the past cou­ple of years,” said a for­mer cam­paign worker who wished to main­tain a “low pro­file,” re­fer­ring to anti-fas­cism ac­tivists noted for vi­o­lence.

This per­son ex­pressed fears that Democrats will restart their se­lec­tive leak cam­paign to CNN and other sym­pa­thetic out­lets, con­tend­ing that pre­vi­ous leaks were highly mis­lead­ing.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Rep. Adam Schiff, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat who sits on the in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee, gave Christo­pher Steele credit for pre­dict­ing in an Oc­to­ber dossier memo that Ros­neft, a petroleum com­pany that Rus­sia owns, would sell a 19 per­cent stake to pri­vate bid­ders.

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