In 2016, Hillary Clinton presidential candidate hired an ex-intelligence officer and foreign national, British subject Christopher Steele, to use Russian sources to find dirt (“opposition research”) on her then political opponent Donald Trump. So much for the worry about “foreign interference” in U.S. elections.
The public would take years to learn of the funding sources of Steele, because Clinton camouflaged her role through three firewalls: the Democratic National Committee; the Perkins-Coie legal firm; and Glenn Simpson’s Fusion GPS opposition-research firm.
Steele had collected rumor and gossip from mostly Russian sources in an effort to tar Trump as a Russian colluder and asset. We know now that his sources were either bogus or deliberately warped by Steele himself.
Almost everything in the dossier was unverified and later was proved fanciful. Yet with the help of high Obama administration and elected officials, the dossier’s gossip and rumor were leaked throughout the top echelons of Washington politics and the media. Its lies spread because its chief message — Donald J. Trump was a fool, dangerous, should never be elected, and once elected had no business as president — was exactly what the establishment wished to hear. In other words, the dossier was infectious because it was deemed both welcome and useful.
The inspector general of the U.S. Department of Justice, Michael Horowitz, after an exhaustive study, found that the Steele dossier not just unverifiable but unethically and unprofessionally used to delude federal judges to issue warrants to surveil an American citizen.
Horowitz simply confirmed what a number of journalists had already discovered, namely, that Steele was both a pathological liar and an inveterate hater of Donald Trump who acted to ensure that Trump would not be president. Although the befuddled special counsel Robert Mueller, in sworn testimony before Congress, seemed to have amnesia about the Steele dossier and its chief purveyor Fusion GPS, his own investigation was de facto repudiation of the entire Steele dossier in its conclusion that Donald Trump did not engage in collusion with the Russians to warp the 2016 election.
As a result, all who trafficked in the infectious dossier as if it were factual and disinterested have lost all credibility. Many are now seeing their careers demolished and in ruins. Here is a small sampling of reputations that were marred or destroyed.
Rachel Maddow. She is a Stanford graduate, Rhodes scholar, and MSNBC host — and she is emblematic of how academic progress often accompanies ethical and intellectual regress. Many of her 2016–19 evening cable news commentaries focused on the supposed dangers that candidate and then president Trump posed to the republic. She cited the Steele dossier chapter and verse as factual in making her arguments that Trump was dishonest and amoral and therefore an illegitimate president who should be removed. It will be difficult for any audience to take Maddow’s on-air assertions seriously in the future. She rose to high ratings promoting the dossier, and she will likely suffer the consequences in reverse.
James Comey and the FBI. It is no exaggeration that James Comey, the former director of the FBI, knew intimately of the dossier, approved its use to spy on American citizens and to launch an investigation into Donald Trump’s purported Russian connection, and then serially lied about both the dossier’s authenticity and his own agency’s use of its author Christopher Steele, who at times was a paid informant for the FBI.
More than a dozen top FBI agents, investigators, and lawyers who worked for Comey in the FBI’s Washington’s office have now either been fired, disgraced, reassigned, demoted, or they quit or have abruptly retired. The common denominator to all their fates is that in some fashion they either leaked false information to the media, knowingly broke the law, lied to federal investigators, altered documents, deluded federal judges, or were afraid that something they had done would surface. Trace the origins of such misbehavior, and at its font will be the sensational Steele dossier and the nearly religious belief that it either was true or should be true or somehow could be made to be true.
The late Senator John McCain. McCain was tipped off about the dossier by a British intelligence official, who apparently in turn had been prepped by the ubiquitous Steele in an effort to promulgate his work among high American officials. McCain, who had engaged in a well-publicized feud with Trump, almost immediately met with federal officials and sent his former associate David Kramer to the UK to talk with Steele. McCain himself then gave the dossier to FBI Director Comey. Kramer made sure that the unverified dossier was leaked to media sources before the 2016 election and well after it also. In McCain’s final memoir, he and his coauthor were defiant about the senator’s role in spreading the unsubstantiated gossip around Washington: “I would do it again. Anyone who doesn’t like it can go to hell.” By January 2019, almost all sane and informed people did not like the idea of deliberately spreading false information to destroy a presidential candidate and later president, and most certainly they did not feel they should “go to hell” for voicing such outrage.
James Clapper and John Brennan. James Clapper, the former director of National Intelligence under Barack Obama, and John Brennan, the former CIA director, both previously had been caught lying under oath to Congress. Both then apologized, and their illegal behaviors were excused without legal consequences. But both once again have not told the full truth about their own knowledge of the Steele dossier, its unverified and mostly false information, and the role they both played in circulating and promulgating the dossier to the media and high government officials. That both directors were deeply involved in spreading the dossier around Washington, leaking its comments, and then denying their roles while they worked as paid television commentators on CNN and MSNBC only ensured the rapid erosion of their beltway careers and reputations. And both still may have a rendezvous with federal prosecutors in regard to the dossier.
The United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. A number of federal judges approved FBI and DOJ requests to surveille Carter Page both before and after the 2016 presidential election, supposedly as a way to learn of Trump-Russia collusion.
None of the judges seriously probed government lawyers about the dossier before their court. Although they were told in a footnote that it was a product of opposition research, apparently none asked the nature of such sponsorship.
Yet if a judge is apprised that the evidence before him to support a federal surveillance warrant is based on political opposition research, and the dossier was related to candidate and then president Donald Trump, would it not be prudent to ask attorneys to name who had paid the dossier’s author? Worse still, in winter and late spring 2018, Representative Devin Nunes (R., Calif.) had twice warned the eleven-justice FISA court that the Steele dossier was unreliable and had not been a sound basis to authorize surveilling an American citizen. Nunes and his House colleagues were essentially ignored and dismissed by the court.
It was only after the issuance of the Horowitz report that the FISA court’s presiding justice, Rosemary Collyer, blasted the FBI for deluding her court. Fairly or not, the impression remains that FISA judges either were incompetent or simply did not wish to learn evidence that might have discredited their decision to allow the FBI to surveille a former Trump official, as part of a larger effort to discredit Donald Trump. And like it or not, the entire reputation of the FISA court is now in shreds, both for being so easily or willingly fooled, and for so opportunistically and belatedly criticizing those who deluded them.
Hillary Clinton. There are complex federal election laws governing the role of foreign nationals and their U.S. handlers interfering in an American election. The public became more aware of such statutes paradoxically because Hillary Clinton, almost immediately after losing the November 2016 election, claimed that she was defeated only because Donald Trump had colluded with Russians.
Ironically, the origins of that claim were the Steele dossier, which Clinton herself had paid for and then hidden her sponsorship. In other words, while the dossier swept through the media, helped to prime FISA warrants, played a key part in launching FBI investigations, and ultimately kick-started the Robert Mueller special-counsel investigation, Hillary Clinton remained immune from scrutiny.
Think of the paradox: While Clinton pounded president Trump for supposedly using Russians to win an election, she herself had used fraudulent Russian sources to obtain political advantage by smearing her opponent, apparently in the expectation that she would win the election and her modus operandi would never be discovered, or, even if Steele’s work were publicized and thus discredited, her own fingerprints would never appear — or no one would dare to question President Clinton.
There were certainly lots of firewalls. Anonymous Russians gave their scurrilous stories to Christopher Steele who exaggerated and collated them for Fusion GPS, which was hired by Perkins-Coie, which in turn had been assigned the task by the Democratic National Committee, which in turn was ultimately working on the direction of and in cahoots with Hillary Clinton. One unspoken reason that Hillary Clinton remains persona non grata among liberal circles is the suspicion that the entire truth about her role in “collusion” with foreign actors will eventually emerge and her presence will become at last toxic.
Adam Schiff. Adam Schiff’s reputation hit rock bottom in recent years. He lied about his relationship to the so-called whistleblower. His minority-report memo was discredited by Inspector General Horowitz. He read a bogus version of the Trump-Ukraine phone call into the congressional record, and when called out, begged off by claiming it was merely “parody.” And he began the impeachment inquiry in a basement without either transparency or bipartisan rules of cross-examination and disclosure. But Schiff’s two-year insistence that Steele’s research was reliable and that it nonetheless did not provide the chief basis for FISA warrants was demonstrably untrue. (How paradoxical that Steele’s promoters both defended the dossier and yet denied that it was pivotal.) Schiff may remain a hero to the Never Trump fringe for his any-means-necessary efforts to destroy Trump, but even the media now distrust him. His own party will come to see him as a transiently useful dishonest prevaricator whose utility is already waning.
The Steele dossier resembles some sort of bacillus. Anyone who put currency into it was infected, and the contagion was passed on as the dossier made its rounds throughout the media and government. Those who were infected by it are now in the end-stages of career decline. And the only antidote to the infection — honest admission that the dossier was bogus and used for unethical and often illegal purposes — is apparently seen by the stricken as worse than the terminal disease.