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Friday, July 21, 2017
FBI RELIES on DISCREDITED Dossier in Russia Investigation
The FBI is routinely asking witnesses in its Russia investigation about the accusations in a dossier against Donald Trump, further expanding the reach of a discredited opposition research paper sourced from the Kremlin and financed and distributed by Democrats.
A source close to the investigation described the dossier as a checklist agents tick off as they go over numerous unverified charges denounced as fabrications by President Trump and his aides.
The source called it strange that a gossip-filled series of memos is guiding the way the bureau is conducting the investigation.
The memos were used not only to try to surreptitiously influence the November election, but congressional Democrats also used them to attack the president.
The FBI is using the checklist approach even though former Director James B. Comey referred to the memos from ex-British spy Christopher Steele as “some salacious and unverified material” when he testified in June on his firing by Mr. Trump.
He was describing the time on Jan. 6 that he provided the dossier, a loosely sourced bundle of charges, at a closed briefing for the president-elect. Leaks from the meeting became news media’s rationale to detail a document that reporters could not confirm. That month, BuzzFeed posted all 35 pages online.
Mr. Comey has refused in public to answer questions about the bureau’s relationship with Mr. Steele or its bid to pay him to continue investigating Mr. Trump.
The president told The Washington Times that any payment bid would be a “disgrace.”
Some senior policymakers have publicly distanced themselves from Mr. Steele’s work.
When asked at a hearing of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence whether he relied on the dossier to investigate Russian hacking, former CIA Director John O. Brennan replied, “No.”
“It wasn’t part of the corpus of intelligence information that we had,” he said. “It was not in any way used as a basis for the intelligence community assessment that was done.”
Mr. Brennan is the Obama administration official who helped persuade the FBI to investigate the Trump team during the presidential campaign by providing a list of Russians who he said had contacts with Trump insiders. He testified that he did not know what was said.
Next week, at least three Trump associates are scheduled to testify on Capitol Hill, likely assuring that the dossier gets further discussion.
Jared Kushner, a close Trump adviser and his son-in-law, is to testify in a closed session to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. He is sure to be asked about the dossier’s charge that campaign aides and Russian intelligence plotted and executed the hacking of Democratic Party computers.
The Trump team denies such a conspiracy.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hear Wednesday from Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s summertime campaign manager, and Donald Trump Jr.
The theme: “Oversight of the Foreign Agents Registration Act and Attempts to Influence U.S. Elections: Lessons Learned from Current and Prior Administrations.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, has been investigating the dossier, its creation and its use. He has been stonewalled in his attempt to get Fusion GPS and its founder, former Wall Street Journal reporter Glenn R. Simpson, to provide information on its hiring of Mr. Steele to search for dirt on Mr. Trumpand his team.
The Russian-sourced dossier levels serious charges against at least six people, as well as a technology firm and a bank. It also asserts that Mr. Trump has had a long-term information-sharing relationship with Russian intelligence. The targeted people have all called the charges fabrications.
• Michael Cohen, Mr. Trump’s attorney, was accused by Mr. Steele’s Russian sources of plotting with Kremlin agents in Prague to cover up the hacking. Mr. Cohen proved that he had never been to Prague and said he had nothing to do with hacking.
• Paul Manafort, accused of organizing the hacking, denies it.
• Carter Page, an energy investor who lived and worked in Moscow, signed on as a campaign volunteer. Mr. Steele’s Russian sources leveled a number of charges, including that he orchestrated the hacking with Mr. Manafort, that he met with two Kremlin figures in Moscow in July 2016 to negotiate sanctions relief and that in return he would receive a commission on the equity sale of an energy company.
Mr. Page has told The Washington Times that he has never met Mr. Manafort, that did not know about the hacking until after it happened, that he never met with the two Kremlin men and that he never discussed any type of commission.
• Aleksej Gubarev, a technology entrepreneur known for Webzilla, was accused by Mr. Steele’s Russian sources of creating a botnet to flood Democratic computers with porn and spyware.
Mr. Gubarev’s attorneys sued BuzzFeed and Mr. Steele for slander. Mr. Steele filed a document in a London court acknowledging that he did not verify the charges he leveled against Mr. Gubarev. Mr. Steele said the dossier should not have been made public nor should Fusion’s Mr. Simpson have spread it around Washington.
• Mikhail Kalugin, economics section chief at the Russian Embassy in Washington, who was whisked out of the U.S. capital after the hacking became public, according to Mr. Steele’s sources. Mr. Steele said Mr. Kalugin was a spy and was involved in laundering Russian veterans’ pension funds to finance the hacking.
Diplomatic sources told The Washington Times that Mr. Kalugin told his American friends that he planned to leave Washington a year before he departed as part of normal rotation. He is back at the Foreign Ministry, where spokespeople said he is a diplomat, and not part of the Federal Security Service, Russia’s spy agency.
A former State Department official told The Times that there was never any discussion at Foggy Bottom about Mr. Kalugin being a spy and that he was well-versed in economics.
• Alfa-Bank, which Mr. Steele’s Russian sources said paid bribes to President Vladimir Putin. The Moscow bank is suing BuzzFeed.
As a backdrop, Mr. Steele’s Kremlin sources assert that Mr. Trump and Russian intelligence have a long relationship and that dirt on Mrs. Clinton has been passed.
Mr. Comey seemed to dispel this charge when he testified before the Senate intelligence committee in June. He said that a New York Times story claiming Mr. Trump’s team had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials was almost 100 percent wrong.
Meanwhile, Mr. Page, a former Navy officer who runs an energy investment firm in New York City, has repeatedly asked the House and Senate intelligence committees to let him testify.
This week, he sent the same offering to the Senate Judiciary Committee. He complimented Mr. Grassley for his willingness to investigate how the dossier has been used to sully people’s reputations.
“First, the realities of my case can help explain why the FBI’s and intelligence community’s reliance on the 2016 ‘Dodgy Dossier’ reveals both an alarming ignorance about Russia and the willful, unlawful harassment of innocent American citizens for political purposes,” Mr. Carter wrote. “The latter represents one of the most horrendous abuses of power and complete disregard for the civil rights of several U.S. citizens, including myself, during any election in the past 50 years.”