Christopher Steele learned he was being paid by Democrats soon after beginning work on his unverified anti-Trump dossier, a timeline element that may contradict the FBI’s warrant application to spy on Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page.
The FBI’s Oct. 21, 2016, application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge said Mr. Steele didn’t know who was paying him, thus giving him the aura of objectivity, but a House Republican intelligence memo shows that he was an acknowledged partisan.
A New Yorker magazine article by Jane Mayer this week says Mr. Steele learned he was paid by the Democrats several months after he was hired by the investigative firm Fusion GPS.
The Mayer article offers a flattering portrayal of Mr. Steele. It casts him as a man trying to expose a Trump-Russia conspiracy in the face of unfair attacks from Republicans. Ms. Mayer does not quote him directly. In Washington, liberals generally praise Mr. Steele, a former British intelligence officer, while Republicans accuse him of writing fabrications.
Various reports have noted that Mr. Steele was retained by Fusion in the spring of 2016. His first memo to Fusion is dated June 20.
This means there is a likelihood that Mr. Steele knew the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign were paying him before the FBI decided to wiretap Trump volunteer Carter Page months later based largely on the Steele dossier.
This chronology could mark another instance in which Republicans say the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge was misled.
The FBI submitted to the judge information from a Yahoo News article as corroboration for the Steele dossier that said Mr. Page met with two Kremlin figures in Moscow and discussed bribes for U.S. sanctions relief
The FBI cited the story, Republicans say, because Mr. Steele assured the bureau that he had not spoken with journalists. In fact, he had. He met with a number of reporters in September 2016 in Washington, including Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff.
Rather than being corroboration, the dossier and news story came from the same source: Mr. Steele.
In another application flaw, an FBI footnote said it speculated that Mr. Steele’s work could be partisan. But the bureau knew at that time that the Democrats had financed it, said Rep. Devin Nunes, California Republican and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Mr. Nunes’ investigation has turned up what he considers FBI abuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Some Republicans are calling for a special counsel to investigate.
A parallel investigation into the FISA warrant also is being conducted by Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He and Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, sent a referral to the Justice Department asking it to investigate Mr. Steele for lying to the FBI about having no press contacts when the bureau was writing its warrant presentation.
Mr. Nunes’ memo on the FISA warrant said, “Steele improperly concealed from and lied to the FBI about those contacts.”
The FBI fired Mr. Steele as a source days before the Nov. 8 election when a Mother Jones magazine article quoted Mr. Steele, but not by name, about his dossier and the FBI investigation.
The Nunes probe showed that the FBI had approved payments to Mr. Steele but had not yet paid him to continue investigating Mr. Trump, perhaps into his presidency. During the election season, Mr. Steele told a Justice Department contact that he was “desperate” to sink the Trump campaign.
‘Level of delusion’
The New Yorker article contains at least one glaring error, based on a reading of Mr. Page’s testimony to the House intelligence committee in November.
One of the dossier’s central charges is that Mr. Page, on a July 2016 trip to Moscow to deliver a public speech, met with two Kremlin officials: the CEO of state-owned Rosneft oil company and an aide of President Vladimir Putin. Mr. Page discussed bribes for reduced U.S. sanctions, Mr. Steele reported.
Mr. Page has consistently denied under oath that he met the two men or ever discussed bribes.
Mr. Page said he did talk at a bar during a televised soccer match with an “old friend,” Andrey Baranov, a Rosneft investor relations official whom he knew from his time living in Moscow in the 2000s.
In The New Yorker, Ms. Mayer writes: “Steele may have named the wrong oil-company official, but, according to recent congressional disclosures, he was correct that a top Rosneft executive talked to Page about a payoff. According to the Democrats’ report, when Page was asked if a Rosneft executive had offered him a ‘potential sale of a significant percentage of Rosneft,’ Page said, ‘He may have briefly mentioned it.’”
That quote is not contained in a “Democrats’ report.” It comes from a House intelligence committee transcript of Mr. Page’s testimony, an analysis of which shows Ms. Mayer’s report is a distortion.
The question Rep. Adam B. Schiff, California Democrat, asked was whether Mr. Page and Mr. Baranov discussed the publicized pending sale of Rosneft assets. The sale had been in the news that summer, including in a Bloomberg News article. It would not be odd for two people in the energy business to discuss it.
Mr. Page answered, “He may have briefly mentioned it when we were looking up from this [soccer match].”
The question was not about if Mr. Baranov had offered him a percentage of the sale, or “payoff,” as Ms. Mayer put it, but whether the sale itself, which was in the news, had been discussed. Mr. Page said it may have been.
At a public hearing last spring, Mr. Schiff gave Mr. Steele credit for predicting in the dossier the exact amount, 19 percent, that Rosneft ended up selling to private investors. But that figure, 19 percent, had been in the media for months before Mr. Steele wrote that section of the dossier.
Mr. Page told The Washington Times: “I really can’t believe we’re still talking about this, almost two years later. The level of delusion amongst the witch hunters is quite extraordinary.”
In February 2017, The New York Times wrote a bombshell. “Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials,” The Times said, as it seemed to prove collusion.
Months later, former FBI Director James B. Comey, when asked about the article at a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing, agreed with a senator that the story was almost completely wrong. He said that after he read it, he warned congressional leaders away from the story. The intelligence community did not have such intercepts.
The New Yorker article offered a new intercept narrative — that the British own them: “Robert Hannigan, then the head of the U.K.’s intelligence service the G.C.H.Q., had recently flown to Washington and briefed the C.I.A.’s director, John Brennan, on a stream of illicit communications between Trump’s team and Moscow that had been intercepted. (The content of these intercepts has not become public.)”
The New Yorker article does not mention reporting that says the FBI has failed to verify any of Mr. Steele’s core collusion charges. He has admitted in a London libel case that he did not verify much of his work and that some parts were unsolicited.
Three people and a group of Russian bankers have filed a total of seven libel lawsuits because of Mr. Steele’s charges against them.