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