- Robert Muellers finding of no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia undercuts the Steele dossiers core claim of a “well-developed conspiracy” to influence the 2016 election.
- Intelligence experts said the dossier should be investigated as possible Russian disinformation.
- “The intelligence community was misled,” an intelligence expert said.
In a deposition for a lawsuit related to the dossier in June 2018, former British spy Christopher Steele acknowledged his infamous report could be the product of Russian disinformation.
But Steele, a former MI6 officer who worked in Moscow, dismissed the possibility he was hoodwinked by Russian operatives who planted anti-Trump dirt.
“All material contained this risk, but that any information that was actually provided would have been subject to scrutiny in respect of this risk,” Steele said in a June 18, 2018, deposition for a lawsuit against BuzzFeed, the original publisher of the dossier. (RELATED: Judge Unseals Portions Of Christopher Steele Deposition)
In other words, Steele believed he had enough experience dealing with Russian sources that he could spot Kremlin attempts to provide him disinformation.
But the prospect that Steele did fall victim to a Russian hoax became more likely in the wake of special counsel Robert Muellers finding that the Trump campaign did not conspire or coordinate with the Kremlin to influence the 2016 election.
“The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” reads a letter Attorney General William Barr sent Congress summarizing Muellers findings. (RELATED: Mueller Found No Evidence Of Collusion)
Special counsel Robert Mueller (L) arrives at the U.S. Capitol for closed meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee June 21, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Muellers finding would seem to undercut the “well-developed conspiracy” between Trump associates and Kremlin officials Steele describes in the dossier. Steele relied on nearly three dozen sources, including numerous Kremlin officials, insiders and advisers, as well as current and former Russian intelligence officers to compile the 17 memos that make up the dossier.
There are other theories for how Steele wound up publishing what appears to be false information.
One possibility floated by some Trump supporters, but that has no evidence, is that Steele or his paymaster, Fusion GPS, fabricated information in the dossier. A more charitable theory is that the dossier is based on half-baked rumors and innuendo provided to Steele through his network of sources within the Russian government.
But intelligence experts said the intelligence community should be on the lookout for a more nefarious scenario.
“Any time in the counterintelligence business you believe the U.S. intelligence community was duped by foreigners, that is a prima facie reason a counterintelligence investigation,” said David B. Rivkin Jr., a constitutional attorney and intelligence expert who served in the Regan and Bush administrations.
“By definition, since there was no collusion, the dossier was disinformation, so the intelligence community was misled.”
Daniel Hoffman, a 30-year CIA veteran, said he believes the intelligence community has likely done an assessment of whether the dossier was the product of Russian disinformation, known as dezinformansiya or deza, for short.
“I would hope the intelligence community is doing that,” Hoffman told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Hoffman was a lone voice among former intelligence community officials to question the premise of the dossier.
In an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal in January 2018 entitled “The Steele Dossier Fits the Kremlin Playbook,” Hoffman theorized that Russian intelligence knew in 2016 that Steele was investigating Trump and planted false information with the former British spy.
“There is a third possibility, namely that the dossier was part of a Russian espionage disinformation plot targeting both parties and Americas political process,” Hoffman wrote.
“If there is one thing I have learned, its that Vladimir Putin continues in the Soviet tradition of using disinformation and espionage as foreign-policy tools.”
Hoffman asserted Russians could easily have learned about Steeles efforts to collect intelligence on Trump, especially if Russian intelligence had hacked into the computer systems of the DNC, as Mueller has alleged.
The DNC and Clinton campaign hired opposition research firm Fusion GPS during the spring of 2016. Fusion hired Steele in June 2016. During the run-up to the election, Steele and Fusion GPS executives briefed DNC lawyers, reporters and government officials on the Trump investigation. Any emails or documents referring to the Steele project in the DNC computer systems would have been vulnerable to Kremlin-backed hackers.
Steele was also likely on Russias radar because of his past work as MI6s Moscow station chief. Though Steele left British intelligence in 2009 and has not visited Russia since, his private intelligence firm, Orbis Business Intelligence, has handled Russia-related issues. He also provided dozens of private intelligence reports to the State Department, and investigated Russian efforts to bribe FIFA officials to host the 2018 World Cup.
Steele also has a murky business relationship with Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Deripaska had long done business with Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman.
Deripaska was spotted at an economic forum in St. Petersburg in June 2016 with Sergei Millian, a businessman who has been identified as a major source for the dossier. Millian was also in contact with George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign aide who was the FBIs catalyst for opening its counterintelligence investigation. Papadopoulos is not mentioned in the dossier.
The bureau relied heavily on Steeles allegations to obtain Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants against Page. In the dossier, Steele alleges Page was the Trump campaigns liaison to the Kremlin for the purposes of collusion. He is also accused of meeting secretly with two Kremlin insiders to discuss blackmail material on Hillary Clinton and then-candidate Donald Trump.
Page, who testified before Muellers grand jury in November 2017, has vehemently denied the allegations. Like all other Trump associates, he has not been charged with conspiracy in the Mueller probe or any other.
Carter Page, former foreign policy adviser for the Trump campaign, speaks to the media after testifying before the House Intelligence Committee on November 2, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
The dossiers most specific allegation of collusion involves Michael Cohen, the former Trump attorney. Citing his sources, Steele claimed Cohen visited Prague in August 2016 to meet with Kremlin officials to arrange payments to Russian hackers.
Cohen has disputed the claim ever since the dossier was published in January 2017. His denials were taken with a grain of salt until Feb. 27, when he testified under oath to Congress that he has never visited Prague.