During yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on FBI oversight, FBI Director James B. Comey repeatedly refused to answer questions about his agency’s ties to the controversial, partially discredited 35-page dossier alleging collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
The dossier reportedly served as the FBI’s justification for seeking court approval to clandestinely monitor Carter Page, who has been identified as a foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump.
In March, the BBC reported the document also served as a “roadmap” for the FBI’s investigation into claims of coordination between Moscow and members of Trump’s presidential campaign.
The document was drafted by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, who worked for a firm that was reportedly paid by Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans to investigate Trump.
The line of questioning about the dossier came in exchanges between Comey and Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley.
In one case, Grassley referred to a letter that he sent to the FBI on March 6, requesting information and documents about the FBI’s ties to Steele, including whether the agency utilized Steele for its investigation into Trump and whether the FBI paid Steele or intended to pay him.
At the hearing yesterday, Grassley referred to his letter and pointed out that “most of these questions have not been answered, so I’m going to ask them now.”
He continued: “Prior to the Bureau launching the investigation of alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, did anyone from the FBI have interactions with Mr. Steele regarding the issue?”
Comey replied, “That’s not a question that I can answer in this forum. As you know, I briefed you privately on this and if there’s more that’s necessary then I’d be happy to do it privately.”
Grassley continued: “Have you ever represented to a judge that the FBI had interaction with Mr. Steele whether by name or not regarding alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia prior to the Bureau launching its investigation of the matter?”
“I have to give you the same answer Mr. Chairman.”
Grassley asked several more questions about Steele, drawing a similar response from Comey.
Here is a partial transcript:
GRASSLEY: Did the FBI provide any payments whatsoever to Mr. Steele related to the investigation of Trump Associates?
COMEY: I’m back to my first – I can’t answer this forum.
GRASSLEY: Was the FBI aware – was the FBI aware that Mr. Steele reportedly paid his sources who in turn paid their sub sources to make the claim in the dossier?
COMEY: Same answer sir. …
GRASSLEY: Question – next question, according to a complaint filed with the Justice Department, the company that oversaw dossiers creation was also working with the former Russian intelligence operate – operative on a pro-Russian lobbying project at the same time. The company Fusion GPS allegedly failed to register as a foreign agent for his work to undermine the Magnitsky Act, which is a law that lets the president punish Russian officials who violate human rights.
Before I sent you a letter about this, were you aware of the complaint against Fusion was acting as a registered agent for Russian interest?
COMEY: That’s not a question I can answer in this forum.
GRASSLEY: You can’t answer that?
COMEY: No. No I can’t.
At one point, Comey did say that he would address some of Grassley’s concerns about the dossier “in a classified setting.”
That exchange went thusly:
GRASSLEY: The FBI and the Justice Department have provided me material inconsistent answers in closed setting about its reported relationship with Mr. Steele, will you commit to fully answering the questions from my March 6 and April 28 letter and providing all requested documents so that we can resolve those inconsistencies, even if in a closed session, being necessary?
COMEY: Because as I sit here I don’t know all the questions that are in the letters. I don’t want to answer that specifically. But I commit to you to giving you all the information you need to address just that challenge, because I don’t believe there’s any inconsistency. I think there’s a misunderstanding but in a classified setting I’ll give you what you need.
The questions about alleged FBI payment to Steele stem largely from a February Washington Post article reporting that after being paid to compile opposition research on Trump by the billionaire’s opponents during the election, Steele “reached an agreement with the FBI a few weeks before the election for the bureau to pay him to continue his work, according to several people familiar with the arrangement.”
Ultimately, the FBI did not pay Steele, the Post reported.
The Post continued:
Communications between the bureau and the former spy were interrupted as Steele’s now-famous dossier became the subject of news stories, congressional inquiries and presidential denials, according to the people familiar with the arrangement, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.
The dossier, meanwhile, continues to lose credibility. In recent court documents, Steele conceded that part his work still needed to be verified.
The dossier contains wild and unproven claims about Trump and sordid sexual acts, including the widely-mocked claim that Trump hired prostitutes and had them urinate on a hotel room bed.
Steele’s work has been questioned by former acting CIA director Michael Morell, who currently works at the Hillary Clinton-tied Beacon Global Strategies LLC. Beacon was founded by Phillippe Reines, who served as communications adviser to Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state. From 2009-2013, Reines also served in Clinton’s State Department as the deputy assistant secretary of state for strategic communications. Reines is the managing director of Beacon.
NBC News reported on Morell’s questions about Steele’s credibility:
Morell, who was in line to become CIA director if Clinton won, said he had seen no evidence that Trump associates cooperated with Russians. He also raised questions about the dossier written by a former British intelligence officer, which alleged a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia. …
Morell pointed out that former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said on Meet the Press on March 5 that he had seen no evidence of a conspiracy when he left office January 20.
“That’s a pretty strong statement by General Clapper,” Morell said.
Regarding Steele’s dossier, Morell stated, “Unless you know the sources, and unless you know how a particular source acquired a particular piece of information, you can’t judge the information — you just can’t.”
Morell charged the dossier “doesn’t take you anywhere, I don’t think.”
“I had two questions when I first read it. One was, How did Chris talk to these sources? I have subsequently learned that he used intermediaries.”
And then I asked myself, why did these guys provide this information, what was their motivation? And I subsequently learned that he paid them. That the intermediaries paid the sources and the intermediaries got the money from Chris. And that kind of worries me a little bit because if you’re paying somebody, particularly former FSB officers, they are going to tell you truth and innuendo and rumor, and they’re going to call you up and say, “Hey, let’s have another meeting, I have more information for you,” because they want to get paid some more.
I think you’ve got to take all that into consideration when you consider the dossier.
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.
With research by Joshua Klein.