Former top FBI officials pointed to an order from President Barack Obama to explain an effort to include British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s salacious and unverified dossier in the 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment on Russian election interference during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The new revelations were contained in the heavily redacted 158-page bipartisan report released by the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, which concurred with the January 2017 assessment by the FBI, National Security Agency, and CIA that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential contest to help then-candidate Donald Trump and to harm former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
But also contained within the mostly blacked-out tome were new details about the effort by the FBI’s leadership to use Steele’s unproven allegations in the Russian interference assessment. The revelations are especially relevant days after declassified footnotes from a Justice Department watchdog report strongly suggested the FBI was warned in 2016 and 2017 about the possibility of Russian intelligence services compromising Steele’s work through a Kremlin disinformation campaign. Although officials stressed that Steele’s research was not used as a basis for the 2017 Russian meddling assessment, at least some of the dossier claims made their way into a still-classified, two-page annex attached to the spy community report.
The Senate report revealed the Intelligence Community Assessment began at the behest of Obama himself in early December 2016 during a meeting of the National Security Council, with the president instructing then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to prepare a comprehensive report on Russian interference. The report stated Obama “directed that the report include everything the IC knew about Russian interference in the 2016 elections.”
Clapper told the committee, “I don’t think we would have mounted the effort we did, probably, to be honest, in the absence of presidential direction, because that kind of cleared the way on sharing all the accesses.”
The Senate report noted that Obama asked for the intelligence assessment to cover a wide range of Russia-related topics and be completed by the end of his second term in late January 2017. The report notes, “There was no document memorializing this presidential direction.”
The committee found that the information Steele gave to the FBI “was not used in the body of the ICA or to support any of its analytic judgments.” However, “a summary of this material was included in Annex A as a compromise to FBI’s insistence that the information was responsive to the presidential tasking.” What exactly that summary says is classified.
The Senate investigators found that the so-called Annex A “includes qualifiers for the Steele material, but does not mention the private clients who paid for Steele’s work.” The senators said they “found no evidence that analysts working on the ICA were aware of the political provenance of the Steele material.”
DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report, which was released with redactions in December, criticized the Justice Department and the FBI for at least 17 “significant errors and omissions” related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants against Trump campaign associate Carter Page and for the bureau’s reliance on Steele’s dossier, put together at the behest of Glenn Simpson’s opposition research firm Fusion GPS and funded by Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee through the Perkins Coie law firm.
The Senate report noted, “The ICA did not attempt to address ongoing investigations, to include whether Russian intelligence services attempted to recruit sources with access to any campaign.” Senate investigators said everyone they interviewed “stated that the Steele material did not in any way inform the analysis in the ICA — including the key judgments — because it was unverified information and had not been disseminated as serialized intelligence reporting.”
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr asked James Comey whether he had “insisted that the dossier be part of the ICA in any way, shape, or form” during the former FBI chief’s closed-door testimony before the committee in June 2017.
Comey appeared to be somewhat flippant about the dossier.
“I insisted that we bring it to the party, and I was agnostic as to whether it was footnoted in the document itself, put as an annex,” Comey said. “I have some recollection of talking to John Brennan, maybe at some point saying: I don’t really care, but I think it is relevant and so ought to be part of the consideration.”
When intelligence community leaders briefed Trump on the intelligence community assessment at Trump Tower in January 2017, Comey stayed behind to tell Trump about some of the most salacious allegations in the dossier and made Trump’s reaction to the news part of the bureau’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation.
Bill Priestap, the former assistant director for the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, told the Senate committee in April 2017 that the bureau believed Obama’s directive compelled them to include the Steele dossier in the intelligence assessment, claiming that “the FBI didn’t want to stand behind [the dossier].” Other FBI officials told Senate investigators that it “would have had a major problem if Annex A had not been included” and that the bureau thought they “had to put everything in.”
Horowitz found that both Comey and then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe pushed for the Steele dossier to be included, but the CIA “expressed concern” about using the former MI6 agent’s salacious and unverified allegations. The CIA believed Steele’s dossier “was not completely vetted and did not merit inclusion in the body of the report.” The agency also dismissed Steele’s allegations as “internet rumor.” Comey, McCabe, and the FBI were ultimately overruled, and Steele’s claims did not make an appearance in the body of the text of the main assessment of Russia’s activities during the 2016 election.
Former CIA Director John Brennan said in February 2018 that the dossier “did not play any role whatsoever in the intelligence community assessment that was done and that was presented to then-President Obama and then-President-elect Trump.”
Brennan said: “There were things in that dossier that made me wonder whether they were, in fact, accurate and true.” He added, “It was up to the FBI to see whether or not they could verify any of it.”
The Senate report concluded the “NSA played no role in the debate over the Steele reporting and the ICA” and quoted an official from a May 2017 NSA panel who told the senators that the agency had “no role in drafting, nor role in its inclusion, no role in reviewing the source material” and “became aware of it as it was appended.” The Senate report said that an NSA official, whose identity was redacted, first heard of the Steele information on Dec. 29, 2016, and that the person had “no insights into Steele’s source network” and that Steele’s material “had no effect on NSA’s views of the Key Judgments of the ICA.”
Retired Adm. Michael Rogers, who was then the chief of the NSA, told investigators in March 2018 that he also only heard of the Steele claims at the end of December 2016 “while reviewing a draft of the ICA to which this material had been appended.” Rogers said his first reaction was that the Steele information shouldn’t be in the intelligence assessment but told the Senate committee he thought, “Let’s put it in the appendix.”
Steele’s claims were labeled “Additional Reporting From an FBI Source on Russian Influence Efforts.” The specific reports by Steele are labeled “company reports,” and the FBI’s Letter Head Memorandum dubbed the Steele claims “CROWN” material.
Fiona Hill, the former top Russia expert on the NSC and a Ukraine impeachment witness, testified last year that Steele’s dossier was a “rabbit hole” that “very likely” contained Russian disinformation and that Steele “could have been played” by the Russians.
» Source » by Jerry Dunleavy