Ron Johnson and Chuck Grassley want more answers from FBI on failed efforts to corroborate Steele dossier claims

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Two top Senate Republicans leading a joint inquiry into the Trump-Russia investigation called on the leaders of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the FBI to declassify further information related to an FBI spreadsheet that shows the lack of corroboration for the biggest allegations in British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s dossier.

Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Ron Johnson and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley sent a letter to Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and FBI Director Christopher Wray this week calling for an unredacted version of the FBI spreadsheet to be released along with the names and positions of everyone who worked on it and the dates for when it was created, edited, and finalized, pushing for further answers related to the FBI’s unsuccessful efforts to verify the former MI6 agent’s election reporting that was used to justify bureau surveillance of a former member of the Trump campaign.

“Based on this spreadsheet and other information, the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General determined in its December 2019 report that the FBI concluded, among other things, that although consistent with known efforts by Russia to interfere in the 2016 U.S. elections, much of the material in the Steele election reports, including allegations about Donald Trump and members of the Trump campaign relied upon in the Carter Page FISA applications, could not be corroborated; that certain allegations were inaccurate or inconsistent with information gathered by the Crossfire Hurricane team; and that the limited information that was corroborated related to time, location, and title information, much of which was publicly available,” Johnson and Grassley wrote. “This spreadsheet clearly shows that the FBI failed to corroborate key information in the discredited, DNC-funded, Steele dossier yet continued to use it to justify surveillance against Carter Page.”

Johnson and Grassley also argued that “the version of the document that has been made public contains redactions which raises questions about how the FBI interpreted some of the information in the Dossier” and said that, although the spreadsheet “falls squarely within the scope” of an August subpoena from Johnson’s committee, “the FBI has failed to produce the original version.”

The heavily redacted 94-page spreadsheet released this week showed the FBI’s reliance on what it termed “open source” information, including from websites, public speeches, YouTube videos, and news articles. It also showed that many of the biggest claims, including those related to the dossier’s salacious allegations and its uncorroborated claim of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians in 2016, showed no independent corroboration by the bureau. Some of the dossier’s claims listed no corroboration beyond the FBI talking to Steele’s main source, who had originally allegedly passed along the claims from a variety of his subsources in Russia.

The bureau listed the Steele dossier’s unverified claim that the “Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting, and assisting Trump for at least 5 years.” The bureau’s “Corroboration / Analyst Notes” for this seemingly relied on news articles.

“Trump was in St. Petersburg in 1987 working on a real estate deal, and in 2008 Trump claimed to have been to Russia six times in 18 months. Though he did not mention St. Petersburg, the real estate deal he was negotiating included a hotel in St. Petersburg,” the FBI spreadsheet said. “In 2013, Trump hosted a pageant in Moscow, and according to the Washington Post, Aras Agalarov served as a liaison between Trump and Putin. At the pageant and its after party, Trump claimed, ‘Almost all of the oligarchs were in the room.’ In the same article, the Washington Post reported that in 2008, Donald Trump, Jr., claimed, ‘Russians make up a disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.’” The FBI also said that Steele claimed that Trump “accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin.” The “Corroboration / Analyst Notes” for that section were blank.

Steele’s dossier claimed there was “a well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” between the Trump campaign and the Russians, which was “managed” by former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort by “using” Page and others as “intermediaries” with the Russians.

But former special counsel Robert Mueller’s 2019 report noted that his investigation found that Russia interfered in a “sweeping and systematic fashion” but “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government.”

DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report criticized the DOJ and the FBI for at least 17 “significant errors and omissions” related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants against Page and for the bureau’s reliance on the Democrat-funded dossier compiled by Steele. Declassified footnotes from Horowitz’s report indicate that the bureau became aware that Steele’s dossier may have been compromised by Russian disinformation, and FBI interviews show Steele’s primary subsource undercut the credibility of the dossier.

Horowitz’s report said that Steele’s “Primary Sub-source made statements during his/her January 2017 FBI interview that were inconsistent with multiple sections of the Steele reports.” Horowitz said that Steele’s main source “contradicted the allegations of a ‘well-developed conspiracy’ in” Steele’s dossier. Recently declassified documents also show the FBI had previously investigated Steele’s main source as a possible “threat to national security.”

Johnson and Grassley also said that “according to the spreadsheet, it appears that the FBI opened an investigation into Paul Manafort on January 13, 2016” related to “money laundering and tax evasion” and that the senators asked if the FBI opened a case against Manafort then and, if not, when it did open such an inquiry. The senators also asked about “what steps, if any,” the FBI took “to alert the Trump campaign about its investigation into Manafort when he joined the Trump campaign in March 2016.”

A bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report concluded in August that Manafort posed a “grave counterintelligence threat” as Trump’s campaign manager because of his contacts with Russians connected to Kremlin intelligence, noting his connection to Russian national Konstantin Kilimnik, whom the senators concluded “is a Russian intelligence officer.” The Senate report also detailed Manafort’s lengthy business relationship with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and for whom Steele had also worked to recover money allegedly stolen by Manafort.

U.S. Attorney John Durham is investigating the origins and the conduct of the Trump-Russia investigation.

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