NEW YORK — New details presented in an extensive New Yorker magazine profile of former British spy Christopher Steele, the author of the largely discredited anti-Trump dossier, raise immediate questions about a key representation inside the FISA application to obtain a warrant to conduct surveillance on Carter Page.
Page briefly served as a volunteer foreign policy adviser to Trump’s campaign. The FISA application was signed by then-FBI Director James Comey, a four-page House Intelligence Committee memo previously revealed.
Last month, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee released a purported rebuttal to the House Republican memo. A portion of the Democrats’ document quotes directly from the mostly classified FISA application, revealing that Comey claimed to the FISA court that Steele was not aware of the political motivations for Fusion GPS hiring him to conduct research into Donald Trump’s alleged ties to Russia.
That representation was clearly aimed at providing credibility to claims made by Steele that were utilized in the FISA application to monitor Page’s communications.
Fusion GPS is headed by Glenn Simpson. The company was paid for its anti-Trump work by Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign and the Democratic National Committee via the Perkins Coie law firm. Simpson’s Fusion GPS hired Steele’s company, Orbis Business Intelligence, to do the anti-Trump work that resulted in the compilation of the infamous dossier. However, Comey certified to the FISA court that Steele didn’t know Simpson’s “motivation” for wanting to know about Trump and Russia.
According to the Democrats’ memo, the FISA application states: “The identified US person (Simpson) never advised Source #1 (Steele) as to the motivation behind the research into candidate #1’s ties to Russia. The FBI speculates that the identified US person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit Candidate #1’s campaign.”
The FISA application, signed by Comey, was seemingly claiming that Simpson was not aware he was being paid to do his work on behalf of political actors who had an anti-Trump agenda. When CNN.com reported on this portion of the memo, the news network interpreted the phraseology in the FISA memo that way. “The memo notes that when the FISA application was first filed, Steele was not told by Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson that Clinton’s campaign and the DNC were paying Fusion GPS for his research,” CNN.com reported.
If Steele had been aware that his research was ultimately being subsidized by the DNC and Clinton’s campaign, the obvious motivation of Trump’s main political opponents in a presidential election would become clear.
The FISA application’s representation of Steele as being unaware of his patrons’ motivations may be called into question by the following paragraph in the New Yorker profile (emphasis added):
In the spring of 2016, Orbis Business Intelligence—a small investigative-research firm that Steele and a partner had founded, in 2009, after leaving M.I.6, Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service—had agreed to do opposition research on Trump’s murky relationship with Russia. Under the arrangement, Orbis was a subcontractor working for Fusion GPS, a private research firm in Washington. Fusion, in turn, had been contracted by a law firm, Perkins Coie, which represented both Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Several months after Steele signed the deal, he learned that, through this chain, his research was being jointly subsidized by the Clinton campaign and the D.N.C. In all, Steele was paid a hundred and sixty-eight thousand dollars for his work.
The New Yorker piece does not give a specific date for when Steele first learned his research was being subsidized by Clinton’s campaign and the DNC beyond saying that be became aware “several months” after first being hired in “the spring of 2016.” Reuters previously cited “sources familiar with Steele’s work” saying he started working for Fusion GPS in May 2016.
The House Republican memo documents that on October 21, 2016, the FBI and Justice Department sought and received the FISA order against Page, and that the agencies sought the renewal of the order every 90 days in accordance with court requirements.
According to the memo, Comey “signed three FISA applications in question on behalf of the FBI, and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe signed one.” Sally Yates, then-Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein signed one or more of the applications on behalf of the Justice Department.
A footnote in the Democrats’ memo states that the sentence “FBI speculates that the identified US person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit candidate #1’s campaign” was repeated in “subsequent renewal applications.” The footnote seems to pertain to the preceding sentence that Steele was “never advised” about the motivations for being hired by Simpson.
The footnote relating that the phraseology was repeated in subsequent renewals was put outside the quotation marks for this entire paragraph:
was approached by an identified U.S. Person, who indicated to Source #1 (Steele) that a U.S.-based law firm had hired the identified U.S. Person to conduct research regarding Candidate #1’s ties to Russia. (The identified U.S. Person and Source #1 have a longstanding business relationship.) The identified U.S. Person hired Source #l to conduct this research. The identified US Person (Simpson) never advised Source #1 (Steele) as to the motivation behind the research into candidate #1’s ties to Russia. The FBI speculates that the identified US Person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit Candidate #1’s campaign.
There seems to be a five month gap between when Steele started working for Fusion GPS and when Comey filed the first FISA application. The statement that Steele was “never” informed about the motivations of his patrons seems to have been repeated for months in subsequent FISA application renewals, according to the footnote in the Democrats’ rebuttal.
After reviewing all FISA warrant applications on the matter, the Republican memo itself confirms the FISA court was never informed that Steele was working on behalf of Perkin Coie, the DNC or Hillary’s campaign. However, the New Yorker reported that Steele became aware of his patrons “several months” after being hired for his anti-Trump work.
The GOP memo relates:
Neither the initial application in October 2016, nor any of the renewals, disclose or reference the role of the DNC, Clinton campaign, or any party/campaign in funding Steele’s efforts, even though the political origins of the Steele dossier were then known to senior DOJ and FBI officials.
The initial FISA application notes Steele was working for a named U.S. person, but does not name Fusion GPS and principal Glenn Simpson, who was paid by a U.S. law firm (Perkins Coie) representing the DNC (even though it was known by DOJ at the time that political actors were involved with the Steele dossier). The application does not mention Steele was ultimately working on behalf of — and paid by — the DNC and Clinton campaign, or that the FBI had separately authorized payment to Steele for the same information.
Further clarification from Steele is necessary to determine exactly when he knew that his work was commissioned on behalf of Trump’s political opponents and whether he related that key detail to Comey’s FBI before Comey and Obama-era officials seem to have repeatedly certified that Steele was unaware of the motivations of his patrons.
Steele could not be reached for comment.
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.
Joshua Klein contributed research to this article.