Trump-Rus­sia col­lu­sion claims in Steele dossier now called ‘likely false’

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

Ya­hoo News’ Michael Isikoff, an early pub­lic con­duit for Christo­pher Steele’s anti-Trump dossier, now says the for­mer British spy’s sen­sa­tional Rus­sia col­lu­sion charges lack ap­par­ent ev­i­dence and are “likely false.”

As Elec­tion Day loomed in Septem­ber 2016, Mr. Isikoff was the first Wash­ing­ton jour­nal­ist to write about Mr. Steele’s me­mos. He fo­cused on Mr. Steele’s con­tention that Trump cam­paign vol­un­teer Carter Page met with ne­far­i­ous op­er­a­tives of Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin dur­ing a pub­licly an­nounced trip to Moscow in July 2016.

As re­ported by the Daily Caller, Mr. Isikoff this month told Me­di­aite colum­nist John Ziegler: “When you ac­tu­ally get into the de­tails of the Steele dossier, the spe­cific al­le­ga­tions, we have not seen the ev­i­dence to sup­port them, and in fact, there is good grounds to think that some of the more sen­sa­tional al­le­ga­tions will never be proven and are likely false.”

Mr. Isikoff is best friends with Fu­sion GPS co-founder Glenn Simp­son, who hired Mr. Steele in May and June 2016 with money fun­neled through a law firm from the Hil­lary Clin­ton cam­paign and the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee. Mr. Isikoff was one of a hand­ful of main­stream jour­nal­ists who met with Mr. Steele in Wash­ing­ton as ar­ranged by Mr. Simp­son.

Mother Jones mag­a­zine’s David Corn wrote the sec­ond Wash­ing­ton dossier story based on an in­ter­view with Mr. Steele, who ac­knowl­edged he was des­per­ate to stop the Trump cam­paign and prompt the FBI to ratchet up its in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Mr. Isikoff and Mr. Corn would team up on a March 2018 best-sell­ing book, “Rus­sian Roulette.” It told Mr. Steele’s story in a fa­vor­able light amid a nar­ra­tive on Moscow’s di­rect elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence by hack­ing Demo­cratic Party com­put­ers.

The book helped Mr. Steele at­tract a large lib­eral fol­low­ing on so­cial me­dia that loy­ally at­tested to the dossier’s ac­cu­racy.

Mr. Steele also had a big fan in Rep. Adam B. Schiff, Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat, who read his charges at a March 2017 hear­ing of the House Per­ma­nent Select Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence. Mr. Schiff as­sumes the com­mit­tee’s chair­man­ship in Jan­uary. Repub­li­cans spec­u­late that he will con­tinue to col­lect and re­search Fu­sion GPS’s anti-Trump me­mos.

It has been 31 months since Mr. Steele sub­mit­ted his first dossier memo in June 2106 to Fu­sion GPS; 30 months since the FBI opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion that came to rely heav­ily on his work; 27 months since Mr. Isikoff wrote the first dossier story; 24 months since Buz­zFeed posted the en­tire dossier; 24 months since the House and Se­nate in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tees opened their sep­a­rate probes; and 19 months since spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller took charge of the Trump-Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The Wash­ing­ton Times looked at Mr. Steele’s core col­lu­sion charges to see how they have stood up:

Ac­cu­sa­tion: The Trump cam­paign was a part­ner in an “ex­ten­sive con­spir­acy” with the Krem­lin to in­ter­fere in the 2016 elec­tion.

To­day: There is no con­firmed pub­lic ev­i­dence. No Trump per­son has been charged in such a con­spir­acy. Mr. Mueller’s of­fice in­formed Pres­i­dent Trump that he isn’t a tar­get.

Ac­cu­sa­tion: Then-Trump at­tor­ney Michael Co­hen se­cretly trav­eled to Prague in Au­gust 2016 and met with Putin aides to or­ga­nize cash pay­ments to hush up hack­ers who in­fil­trated Demo­cratic Party com­put­ers.

To­day: There is no con­firmed pub­lic ev­i­dence. Co­hen, who has pleaded guilty to tax eva­sion charges and is co­op­er­at­ing with Mr. Mueller, still ve­he­mently de­nies he ever went to Prague. No court fil­ings in­di­cate he has any knowl­edge of Trump col­lu­sion, and he has said he doesn’t.

McClatchy news ser­vice has pub­lished two sto­ries as­sert­ing that Mr. Mueller has ev­i­dence Co­hen went to Prague.

Fu­sion’s Mr. Simp­son told Congress that Co­hen could have trav­eled to Prague by way of a yacht and Rus­sian air­craft.

Daniel Jones, a for­mer Se­nate Demo­cratic aide, told the FBI in 2017 that he had amassed $50 mil­lion from wealthy donors to keep in­ves­ti­gat­ing Mr. Trump. He said he hired Fu­sion GPS and Mr. Steele.

Ac­cu­sa­tion: Carter Page met with two Putin op­er­a­tives and dis­cussed a bro­ker­age fee in re­turn for push­ing an end to U.S. sanc­tions on wealthy Rus­sians and busi­nesses.

To­day: Pro-Rus­sia en­ergy in­vestor Mr. Page em­barked on per­haps the most sus­pi­cious course of ac­tion when he trav­eled to Moscow to de­liver a pub­lic col­lege speech in July 2106. He once worked in Moscow as a Mer­rill Lynch banker.

The FBI wire­tapped him for one year based largely on the dossier. No ev­i­dence has emerged pub­licly that he ever met with Putin peo­ple or dis­cussed bribes. He has told the FBI and Congress that he didn’t. He has not been charged.

Ac­cu­sa­tion: Mr. Page and cam­paign man­ager Paul Manafort worked as a team to co­or­di­nate elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence with the Krem­lin.

To­day: No pub­lic ev­i­dence to sup­port this sce­nario. The two say they don’t know each other and have never spo­ken. Manafort stands con­victed of tax fraud and other charges. Mr. Mueller has made no court fil­ing that in­di­cates he is in­volved in a Rus­sian elec­tion con­spir­acy.

Manafort at­tor­ney Kevin Down­ing filed a court pa­per say­ing he asked Mr. Mueller for any ev­i­dence of his client talk­ing to Rus­sian gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials. There was none, the at­tor­ney said.

Ac­cu­sa­tion: Mr. Trump ac­tively sup­ported on­go­ing com­puter hack­ing. To­day: No pub­lic ev­i­dence.

Ac­cu­sa­tion: The Trump “team” paid Rus­sian hack­ers. To­day: No pub­lic ev­i­dence. Mr. Mueller brought in­dict­ments against the Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers who did the hack­ing and stole emails re­leased by Wik­iLeaks. There is no in­di­ca­tion that the fund­ing came from Trump peo­ple.

Ac­cu­sa­tion: Mr. Trump main­tained an eight-year re­la­tion­ship with Krem­lin op­er­a­tives in quid pro quo in­tel­li­gence-shar­ing. To­day: No pub­lic ev­i­dence.

Ac­cu­sa­tion: Rus­sian en­tre­pre­neur Alek­sej Gubarev, owner of com­puter server provider XBT Hold­ing, hacked the Democrats un­der pres­sure from Moscow in­tel­li­gence.

To­day: No pub­lic ev­i­dence. Mr. Gubarev’s at­tor­neys say no U.S. au­thor­ity has asked to in­ter­view him. The Mueller in­dict­ment against Rus­sian hack­ers doesn’t men­tion XBT.

A U.S. Dis­trict judge dis­missed Mr. Gubarev’s li­bel law­suit against Buz­zFeed but not be­cause the dossier is true. The judge ruled that Buz­zFeed, which had pub­lished the un­ver­i­fied me­mos, was pro­tected from li­bel be­cause the FBI and in­tel­li­gence agen­cies were us­ing the dossier in their probes.

Mr. Gubarev is su­ing Mr. Steele for defama­tion in a Lon­don court. Mr. Steele has signed dec­la­ra­tions say­ing his al­le­ga­tions needed to be in­ves­ti­gated fur­ther.

‘Ab­so­lute dy­na­mite’

In “Rus­sian Roulette,” Mr. Isikoff and Mr. Corn paint a fa­vor­able por­trait of Mr. Steele and his Or­bis Busi­ness In­tel­li­gence in Lon­don.

“Steele was the heart of the op­er­a­tion. … Steele, who pos­sessed a phe­nom­e­nal mem­ory, was a master of vac­u­um­ing up huge amounts of in­for­ma­tion and an­a­lyz­ing ma­te­rial,” they wrote.

The book says Mr. Steele re­lied heav­ily on a Rus­sian “col­lec­tor” who trav­eled to Moscow and learned sup­posed dirt on can­di­date Trump.

“Two weeks or so later, Steele flew to meet his chief col­lec­tor in a Euro­pean city,” the book says. “As Steele lis­tened and took notes, he could scarcely be­lieve what he was hear­ing. His col­lec­tor, re­lay­ing what he had been told by his con­tacts, in­formed Steele that the Rus­sians had been tar­get­ing and cul­ti­vat­ing Trump for years and had even gath­ered kom­pro­mat on him, specif­i­cally tales of weird sex­ual in­dis­cre­tions that the col­lec­tor said ‘were an open se­cret’ in Moscow.

“Steele was hor­ri­fied. ‘I thought I had heard and seen ev­ery­thing in my ca­reer,’ he told as­so­ci­ates. Steele im­me­di­ately no­ti­fied Simp­son. He had ‘ab­so­lute dy­na­mite,’ Steele said, men­tion­ing the sex­ual kom­pro­mat,” the book says.

Mr. Steele would in­clude in the dossier’s June 20 memo a tale of Mr. Trump en­gag­ing in sex with Rus­sian pros­ti­tutes at Moscow’s Ritz-Cart­lon ho­tel. Mr. Trump has de­nied this and told The Wash­ing­ton Times in April 2017 that the FBI’s re­liance on Mr. Steele was a “dis­grace.”

“Rus­sian Roulette” was some­what guarded in en­dors­ing Mr. Steele’s sex charge: “As with Steele’s first re­port, none of the sources in the me­mos were iden­ti­fied. Steele later told as­so­ci­ates one of the sources for the in­for­ma­tion was the paramour of a Krem­lin in­sider. In short, it was pil­low talk.”

In an in­ter­view this month, Me­di­aite’s Mr. Ziegler asked Mr. Isikoff whether the Steele dossier “has been some­what vin­di­cated.” Mr. Isikoff said, “No.”

The Times asked Mr. Isikoff which Steele al­le­ga­tion he has come to doubt. He de­clined to an­swer, say­ing he was wait­ing for Mr. Mueller’s re­port “like every­body else.”

Mr. Trump tweeted: “Michael Isikoff was the first to re­port Dossier al­le­ga­tions and now se­ri­ously doubts the Dossier claims. The whole Rus­sian Col­lu­sion thing was a HOAX, but who is go­ing to re­store the good name of so many peo­ple whose rep­u­ta­tions have been de­stroyed?”

Five Trump cam­paign fig­ures have been con­victed of crimes not di­rectly re­lated to any Rus­sia elec­tion col­lu­sion, which was Mr. Mueller’s main task as­signed by the Jus­tice De­part­ment. Each re­port of a plea deal has spurred spec­u­la­tion among lib­eral pun­dits and politi­cians that Mr. Trump is doomed.

Ge­orge Pa­padopou­los, a Trump cam­paign vol­un­teer, pleaded guilty to ly­ing to FBI agents about when he joined the cam­paign and met with a Mal­tese pro­fes­sor in Lon­don. The pro­fes­sor told him he heard that Moscow owned thou­sands of Hil­lary Clin­ton emails. It may have been a ref­er­ence to 30,000 emails dur­ing her ten­ure as sec­re­tary of state that she or­dered de­stroyed.

Pa­padopou­los has said he never acted on the gos­sip and never met any Rus­sians. He said he be­lieves the FBI wire­tapped him and as­signed at least one spy to try to en­trap him.

Paul Manafort was con­victed in a fed­eral court in Alexan­dria, Vir­ginia, of tax fraud, bank fraud and fail­ure to dis­close for­eign bank ac­counts. He pleaded guilty in a D.C. fed­eral court to wit­ness tam­per­ing and con­spir­acy to de­fraud the United States.

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