Christopher Steele, dossier author, led anti-Trump media push after 2016 election
Dossier creator Christopher Steele had a far greater role in trying to sell his anti-Trump charges to Washington’s journalism establishment than previously known, a court filing shows.
It was public knowledge through Mr. Steele’s previous declarations in two libel lawsuits that he had met with the powerhouses of D.C. journalism before the presidential election to brief his Trump-Russia conspiracy allegations.
But with the March 14 unsealing of testimony from an aide of the late Sen. John McCain, it is now known that Mr. Steele also adopted a postelection strategy to damage or perhaps stop the Trump presidency.
Mr. Steele worked in tandem with David Kramer, the McCain aide. Mr. Kramer obtained from Mr. Steele via a middleman copies of the dossier on Nov. 29, 2016. From there, Mr. Kramer testified in a libel case, and he and Mr. Steele worked to saturate reporters with dossier material.
Mr. Steele’s dossier was financed by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Thus, Mr. Kramer, a Republican, became an unwitting Democratic Party operative.
His deposition came in a defamation lawsuit filed by Russian entrepreneur Aleksej Gubarev. Mr. Steele accused him of hacking Democratic Party computers. Mr. Gubarev, a Cypress-based developer of computer servers, says it never happened. Special counsel Robert Mueller has indicted Russian intelligence operatives in Moscow for the hacking.
The Washington Times has broken down Mr. Steele’s 35-page dossier into eight key collusion charges. None has been proved publicly. No Trump associate has been charged with conspiring with Russia.
Mr. Steele alleged, for example, that Mr. Trump was a Russian informant for eight years. Mr. Mueller recently informed the White House that Mr. Trump isn’t a target of the investigation.
Before the election, Mr. Steele had two sets of meetings with reporters in September and October. The former British intelligence officer came to Washington at the behest of his handler, Glenn R. Simpson, co-founder of the private investigative firm Fusion GPS.
More than two years later, those publications have generally taken neutral positions on his allegations. Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff, who first reported on Mr. Steele’s dossier, though not by name, broke from the pack by saying in January that some of his assertions are “likely false.”
On Nov. 28, three weeks after the election, Mr. Kramer met with Mr. Steele at his home in Surrey, England, to review dossier material. The next day, Mr. Steele sent two sets of dossier copies to Mr. Simpson, who provided them to Mr. Kramer on Nov. 29.
Shortly thereafter, reporters started contacting Mr. Kramer.
Mr. Kramer said he doesn’t know who tipped off the reporters. Mr. Simpson has connections with a number of Washington journalists.
“How they knew my role, I don’t know,” he said. “But I did not reach out to them.”
On Dec. 9, McCain gave a copy to then-FBI Director James B. Comey. His bureau had received data and copies from Mr. Steele and from Bruce Ohr, the associate deputy attorney general whose wife worked at Fusion. She and Mr. Simpson provided Mr. Ohr with two thumb drives of anti-Trump information, which Mr. Ohr gave to the FBI.
Mr. Steele’s role postelection? According to Mr. Kramer’s deposition, Mr. Steele specifically urged him to brief Ken Bensinger of BuzzFeed, which he did over the Christmas holidays.
BuzzFeed published that copy on Jan. 10, 2017. It forever changed the Trump transition and presidency, as the sensational charges permeated the news media and were endorsed by some Democrats.
Mr. Steele also urged Mr. Kramer to brief CNN’s Carl Bernstein. This meeting also was consequential: CNN broke the story that Mr. Comey had briefed President-elect Trump on the dossier, adding weight to the document.
“Both of the meetings occurred at Mr. Steele’s request,” Mr. Kramer said.
Mr. Steele also endorsed providing a dossier copy to The Washington Post.
Besides BuzzFeed and CNN, Mr. Kramer briefed and/or provided dossier copies to Mother Jones’ David Corn, The Washington Post’s Tom Hamburger and Fred Hiatt, NPR’s Bob Little, McClatchy news service’s Peter Stone and Greg Gordon, ABC News reporter Brian Ross, The Wall Street Journal’s Alan Cullison and The Guardian newspaper.
Mr. Kramer testified that the BuzzFeed posting shocked him.
“This wasn’t supposed to happen this way,” Mr. Steele told him.
Mr. Kramer admitted that he lied to Mr. Steele by saying he had played no role.
“Initially, I panicked, and then I felt I could try to do more good and by maintaining contact with Mr. Steele, which I thought might end if I had told him,” he testified.
He said he continued communicating with Mr. Steele for two more months.
Mr. Kramer, a Russia analyst who worked at the McCain Institute in Washington at the time, also made sure that the Obama administration knew about the dossier.
He provided a copy to Celeste Wallander, senior director of Russian affairs at the White House National Security Council. He also met with Victoria Nuland, an assistant secretary of state.
“She vouched for Steele’s bona fides,” Mr. Kramer said.
Mr. Steele previously provided his insights to the State Department on Ukraine and its political turmoil and threats from Russia.
According to a 2017 declaration in a London court, Mr. Steele came to Washington in September and October 2016 and met with reporters from The New York Times, The Washington Post, Yahoo News, The New Yorker and CNN.Only Yahoo produced a story that September.
Mr. Steele spoke with Mr. Corn via Skype days before the election. As an unidentified spy source, he expressed frustration in the story that the FBI had not moved against Mr. Trump.
The big difference between the pre- and postelection press briefings is that after the election reporters received the actual dossier.
His dossier told of an “extensive conspiracy” between the Trump campaign and Moscow.
In his court declaration, he spoke only of “possible coordination.”
A federal judge in Florida dismissed Mr. Gubarev’s libel lawsuit against BuzzFeed, ruling that the news website had a right to publish because the government was using the dossier.
The Steele declaration came in Mr. Gubarev’s lawsuit against him in London.Val Gurvits, Mr. Gubarev’s U.S. attorney, said one thing is clear from Mr. Kramer’s testimony.
“My surprise stems from the fact that Steele claims that it was not his intent to publish the dossier,” he told The Washington Times. “While at the same time he admits to meeting with every reporter under the sun and discussing the dossier with them. It is obvious to me that his intent was to make the allegations public by any means possible.”
Mr. Steele is likely still investigating Mr. Trump. Daniel Jones, a former aide to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, told the FBI that he had raised $50 million from liberal donors to continue investigating the president. Among those he hired were Fusion GPS and Mr. Steele.