NEW YORK — Amid reports that U.S. investigators secretly wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort before and after the 2016 presidential election, it is instructive to investigate what role, if any, the controversial, largely discredited 35-page dossier on President Donald Trump played in the matter.
In April, CNN reported that the dossier served as part of the FBI’s justification for seeking the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court’s reported approval to clandestinely monitor the communications of Carter Page, the American oil industry investor who was tangentially and briefly associated with Trump’s presidential campaign.
The dossier alleged ties between Moscow and Trump associates like Manafort and Page.
Senior Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have reportedly requested that the FBI and Department of Justice turn over applications for any warrants to monitor the communications of U.S. citizens associated with the investigation into alleged Russia interference in the 2016 presidential election. They specifically want to know about the possible role of the dossier in the Russia probe.
The dossier in question was authored by former intelligence agent Christopher Steele, who was reportedly paid by Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans to investigate Trump. Steele recently conceded in court documents that part of his work still needed to be verified.
The dossier contains wild and unproven claims that the Russians had information regarding Trump and sordid sexual acts, including the widely mocked claim that Trump hired prostitutes and had them urinate on a hotel room bed.
On Monday, CNN cited “three sources familiar with” the Russia investigation as revealing that the government utilized a FISA court warrant to snoop on Manafort, including during periods when Manafort was known to have communicated with Trump.
A warrant was first reportedly obtained in 2014 as part of another government investigation into consulting work done by Manafort and others for Ukraine’s former ruling party, according to the sources. That warrant was discontinued last year over a lack of evidence, the sources said.
The sources said that another FISA warrant was obtained earlier this year as part of the investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the presidential election.
CNN reported on the FBI’s likely involvement in obtaining second warrant on Manafort:
Sources say the second warrant was part of the FBI’s efforts to investigate ties between Trump campaign associates and suspected Russian operatives. Such warrants require the approval of top Justice Department and FBI officials, and the FBI must provide the court with information showing suspicion that the subject of the warrant may be acting as an agent of a foreign power.
CNN further cited sources saying that Manafort and Trump spoke during the period that spanned the second FISA order:
The conversations between Manafort and Trump continued after the President took office, long after the FBI investigation into Manafort was publicly known, the sources told CNN. They went on until lawyers for the President and Manafort insisted that they stop, according to the sources.
It’s unclear whether Trump himself was picked up on the surveillance.
The report noted that Manafort maintains a residence in Trump Tower in New York, but it is unknown whether his communications were monitored while he was in that building.
Trump claimed last March that President Obama had his “wires tapped” in Trump Tower.
Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
The FBI and Justice Department under the Obama administration denied that charge.
CNN did not report on the contents of the government basis for obtaining the FISA warrant against Manafort, whose name repeatedly appears among the unsubstantiated charges in the Steele dossier.
In April, CNN reported the government used the “dossier of allegations of Russian ties to Donald Trump’s campaign” as part of its justification to obtain the court warrant on Page. Page has repeatedly publically petitioned for the U.S. government to release information on his justification for the FISA warrant.
Like the two warrants on Manafort, there are reports that Page’s communications were monitored in 2014, raising the possibility of two separate FISA warrants.
Page had been the subject of a secret intelligence surveillance warrant since 2014, earlier than had been previously reported, US officials briefed on the probe told CNN.When information emerged last summer suggesting that the Russians were attempting to cultivate Page as a way to gain an entrée into the Trump campaign, the FBI renewed its interest in him. Initially, FBI counterintelligence investigators saw the campaign as possible victims being targeted by Russian intelligence.Page denies working with any Russians as part of the Kremlin’s election meddling, though he admits interacting with some Russians during the campaign.
Page was involved as a witness in a 2013 case that resurfaced in news media reports on April 4 when ABC News and BuzzFeed both verified with Page that he was the U.S. citizen identified as “Male-1” in a 2015 court filing regarding the case of three Russian men identified as Russian intelligence agents.
The spy ring was accused of seeking information on U.S. sanctions as well as methods of developing alternate sources of energy.
The filing references a “Male-1” working “as a consultant in New York City” and meeting with Victor Podobnyy, one of the accused Russian spies, who was posing as an executive with the Russian development bank Vnesheconombank, which has a branch in New York.
Page denies any wrongdoing and charges that the documents deliberately framed “Male-1” in a way that would easily identify him.
The FBI court filings describe “the attempted use of Male-1 as an intelligence source for Russia,” but Page was not accused of having been successfully recruited or spying. The court document cites no evidence that “Male-1” knew he was talking with alleged Russian agents.
Page said that he fully cooperated with the FBI probe, saying that he met with the agency at the Plaza Hotel in New York in June 2013 in support of the investigation. Page was never charged with any crime; rather, he says he was regarded as a witness.
“Consistent with the politically motivated unmasking standards seen in the Obama administration which have recently been exposed, my personal identity and earlier assistance of federal authorities in the 2015 case of USA v. Buryakov, Sporyshev and Podobnyy was framed in an easily identifiable way that amplified the reputational damage against me,” Page told ABC News.
CNN previously reported on the FISA warrant for Page that spanned parts of the 2016 presidential campaign:
To obtain court permission to target Page, the FBI and Justice Department would have to present probable cause that he was acting as an agent of a foreign power, including possibly engaging in clandestine intelligence gathering for a foreign government. Comey and other top Justice Department officials would have to sign off on the application, which government officials say involves a rigorous review process.
The network also cited sources familiar with closed door testimony given by then-FBI Director James Comey to Congress in which Comey allegedly pointed to the dossier as one of his sources of information on the Russia probe.
According to the BBC, the dossier served as a “roadmap” for the FBI’s investigation into claims of
In testimony in May, Comey repeatedly refused to answer questions about his agency’s ties to the dossier.
In June testimony to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Comey admitted he pushed back against a request from President Donald Trump to possibly investigate the origins of “salacious material” that the agency possessed in the course of its investigation into alleged Russian interference.
Major questions have been raised as to the veracity of the dossier, large sections of which have been discredited.
In July, Breitbart News reported that information contained in a Washington Post article may disprove perhaps the most infamous claim made in the already discredited dossier.
One of the most widely reported claims in the document was that while Trump was staying in the presidential suite at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Moscow in 2013, he hired “a number of prostitutes to perform a ‘golden showers’ (urination) show in front of him.”
The dossier claims that Trump wanted to “defile” the bed because he learned that President Obama had used the same suite during a trip to Russia.
The document states that the hotel “was known to be under FSB control” and there were concealed cameras and microphones throughout the property, suggesting Russia possessed damaging photos or videos on the current U.S. president. The FSB is the principal Russian security agency.
Trump reportedly stayed at the Ritz Carlton when he was in Moscow to judge the Miss Universe contest, which he partially owned at the time.
Also in July, the Washington Post reported that while he was in Russia, Trump spent time with Aras Agalarov, a Russian billionaire real estate tycoon, and Argalorov’s son, singer Emin. Trump was reportedly discussing the possibility of building a tower in Moscow with the elder Argalorov. The Argalorovs attended the Miss Universe contest.
Buried inside the article, the Post quoted “a person with knowledge” of Trump’s 2013 trip saying that Trump’s bodyguard rejected an offer from Emin Agalarov to send prostitutes to Trump’s hotel room.
Meanwhile, numerous other aspects of the dossier have been discredited. Citing a “Kremlin insider,” the dossier, which misspelled the name of a Russian diplomat, claimed that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen held “secret meetings” with Kremlin officials in Prague in August 2016.
That charge unraveled after Cohen revealed he had never traveled to Prague, calling the story “totally fake, totally inaccurate.” The Atlantic confirmed Cohen’s whereabouts in New York and California during the period the dossier claimed he was in Prague. Cohen reportedly produced his passport showing he had not traveled to Prague.
Citing current and former government officials, the New Yorker reported the dossier prompted skepticism among intelligence community members, with the publication quoting one member saying it was a “nutty” piece of evidence to submit to a U.S. president.
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.
Author and journalist Paul Sperry reported in the New York Post that the Senate Judiciary Committee threatened to subpoena Fusion GPS, the secretive firm that hired Steele to produce the dossier, because the firm reportedly refused to answer questions about who financed the dossier.
Sperry raised further questions regarding possible connections between Fusion GPS and Hillary Clinton:
Fusion GPS was on the payroll of an unidentified Democratic ally of Clinton when it hired a long-retired British spy to dig up dirt on Trump. In 2012, Democrats hired Fusion GPS to uncover dirt on GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. And in 2015, Democratic ally Planned Parenthood retained Fusion GPS to investigate pro-life activists protesting the abortion group.
Moreover, federal records show a key co-founder and partner in the firm was a Hillary Clinton donor and supporter of her presidential campaign.
In September 2016, while Fusion GPS was quietly shopping the dirty dossier on Trump around Washington, its co-founder and partner Peter R. Fritsch contributed at least $1,000 to the Hillary Victory Fund and the Hillary For America campaign, Federal Election Commission data show. His wife also donated money to Hillary’s campaign.
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.
This piece was written with additional research by Joshua Klein.