TEL AVIV — David Kramer, a long-time advisor to late Senator John McCain, revealed that he met with two Obama administration officials to inquire about whether the anti-Trump dossier authored by former British spy Christopher Steele was being taken seriously.
In one case, Kramer said that he personally provided a copy of the dossier to Obama National Security Council official Celeste Wallander.
In a deposition on Dec. 13, 2017 that was recently posted online, Kramer said that McCain specifically asked him in early December 2016 to meet about the dossier with Wallander and Victoria Nuland, a senior official in John Kerry’s State Department.
“Senator McCain asked me to meet with both of them to see if this was being taken seriously in the government,” Kramer said.
“And Senator McCain asked you to meet with them?” Kramer was asked to clarify.
“Yes, just to see if this was being taken seriously. I think he wanted to do — this was his kind of due diligence before he went to Director Comey.”
Kramer testified that in his conversations with Nuland and Wallander he was told by both of them that each were aware of the dossier and that Nuland “thought Steele was a serious person.”
Kramer revealed that he gave a copy of the dossier to Wallander, who was familiar with the contents but did not have a copy.
“I had a subsequent conversation with Ms. Wallander in which I gave her a copy of the document. That was probably around New Year’s,” he said.
“She had not seen it herself until I had shown it to her,” Kramer added. “She had heard about it. And she didn’t know the status of it.”
In the same testimony, the McCain associate revealed that he held a meeting about the dossier with a reporter from BuzzFeed News who he says snapped photos of the controversial document without Kramer’s permission when he left the room to go to the bathroom. That meeting was held at the McCain Institute office in Washington, Kramer stated.
BuzzFeed infamously published Steele’s full dossier on January 10, 2017 setting off a firestorm of news media coverage about the document.
Prior to his death, McCain admitted to personally handing the dossier to then-FBI Director James Comey but he refused repeated requests for comment about whether he had a role in providing the dossier to BuzzFeed, including numerous inquiries sent to his office by this reporter.
In his book published last year, McCain maintained he had an “obligation” to pass the dossier charges against Trump to Comey and he would even do it again. “Anyone who doesn’t like it can go to hell,” McCain exclaimed.
Kramer, meanwhile, also said that he briefed others reporters on the dossier contents, including CNN’s Carl Bernstein, in an effort to have the anti-Trump charges verified.
The same day BuzzFeed released the full dossier, CNN first reported the leaked information that the controversial contents of the dossier were presented during classified briefings inside classified documents presented one week earlier to then-President Obama and President-elect Trump.
Kramer said that he believed McCain was sought out in order to provide credibility to the dossier claims.
“I think they felt a senior Republican was better to be the recipient of this rather than a Democrat because if it were a Democrat, I think that the view was that it would have been dismissed as a political attack,” Kramer stated.
The controversial Fusion GPS firm hired Steele to do the anti-Trump work that resulted in the compilation of the dossier. Fusion GPS was paid for its anti-Trump work by Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign and the Democratic National Committee via the Perkins Coie law firm.
Kramer’s testimony sheds a new light on the role of the Obama administration in disseminating the largely-discredited dossier that was reportedly involved in the FBI’s initial investigation into the Trump campaign and unsubstantiated claims of Russian collusion. Also Comey cited the dossier as evidence in a successful FISA application to obtain a warrant to conduct surveillance on Carter Page, a former adviser to President Trump’s 2016 campaign. The testimony also revealed how McCain was utilized to give the wild dossier charges a credibility boost.
Nuland and dossier
Nuland’s specific role in the dossier episode has been the subject of some controversy for her.
In their book, “Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump,” authors and reporters by Michael Isikoff and David Corn write that Nuland gave the green light for the FBI to first meet with Steele regarding his dossier’s claims. It was at that meeting that Steele initially reported his dossier charges to the FBI, the book relates.
Steele sought out Rome-based FBI Special Agent Michael Gaeta, with whom he had worked on a previous case. Before Gaeta met with Steele on July 5, 2016, the book relates that the FBI first secured the support of Nuland, who at the time was assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs specializing in Russia.
Regarding the arrangements for Steele’s initial meeting with the FBI about the dossier claims, Isikoff and Corn report:
There were a few hoops Gaeta had to jump through. He was assigned to the U.S. embassy in Rome. The FBI checked with Victoria Nuland’s office at the State Department : Do you support this meeting ? Nuland, having found Steele’s reports on Ukraine to have been generally credible, gave the green light.
Within a few days, on July 5, Gaeta arrived and headed to Steele’s office near Victoria station . Steele handed him a copy of the report. Gaeta, a seasoned FBI agent, started to read . He turned white. For a while, Gaeta said nothing . Then he remarked, “I have to report this to headquarters.”
The book documents that Nuland previously received Steele’s reports on the Ukrainian crisis and had been familiar with Steele’s general work.
Nuland faced confirmation questions prior to her appointment as assistant secretary of state over her reported role in revising controversial Obama administration talking points about the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attacks. Her reported changes sought to protect Clinton’s State Department from accusations that it failed to adequately secure the woefully unprotected U.S. Special Mission in Benghazi.
Nuland’s name surfaced in a flurry of news media reports last year about the dossier and Kerry’s State Department.
An extensive New Yorker profile of Steele named another former official from Kerry’s State Department for alleged involvement in circulating the dossier. The magazine reported that Kerry’s chief of staff at the State Department, John Finer, obtained the contents of a two-page summary of the dossier and eventually decided to share the questionable document with Kerry.
Finer received the dossier summary from Jonathan M. Winer, the Obama State Department official who acknowledged regularly interfacing and exchanging information with Steele, according to the report. Winer previously conceded that he shared the dossier summary with Nuland.
After his name surfaced in news media reports related to probes by House Republicans into the dossier, Winer authored a Washington Post oped in which he conceded that while he was working at the State Department he exchanged documents and information with Steele.
Winer further acknowledged that while at the State Department, he shared anti-Trump material with Steele passed to him by longtime Clinton confidant Sidney Blumenthal, whom Winer described as an “old friend.” Winer wrote that the material from Blumenthal – which Winer in turn gave to Steele – originated with Cody Shearer, who is a controversial figure long tied to various Clinton scandals.
Nuland, Winer Give Conflicting Accounts
There are seeming discrepancies between Winer and Nuland about actions taken involving the dossier.
Nuland described in a Politico podcast interview what she claimed was her reaction when she was presented with Steele’s dossier information at the State Department.
She said that she offered advice to “those who were interfacing with” Steele, immediately telling the intermediary or intermediaries that Steele “should get this information to the FBI.” She further explained that a career employee at the State Department could not get involved with the dossier charges since such actions could violate the Hatch Act, which prevents employees in the executive branch of the federal government from engaging in certain kinds of political activities.
In a second interview, this one with CBS’s Face The Nation, Nuland also stated that her “immediate” reaction was to refer Steele to the FBI.
Here is a transcript of the relevant section of her February 5 interview with Susan B. Glasser, who described Nuland as “my friend” and referred to her by her nickname “Toria”:
Glasser: When did you first hear about his dossier?
Nuland: I first heard — and I didn’t know who his client was until much later, until 2017, I think, when it came out. I first heard that he had done work for a client asserting these linkages — I think it was late July, something like that.
Glasser: That’s very interesting. And you would have taken him seriously just because you knew that he knew what he was talking about on Russia?
Nuland: What I did was say that this is about U.S. politics, and not the work of — not the business of the State Department, and certainly not the business of a career employee who is subject to the Hatch Act, which requires that you stay out of politics. So, my advice to those who were interfacing with him was that he should get this information to the FBI, and that they could evaluate whether they thought it was credible.
Glasser: Did you ever talk about it with anyone else higher up at the department? With Secretary Kerry or anybody else?
Nuland: Secretary Kerry was also aware. I think he’s on the record and he had the same advice.
Nuland stated that Kerry “was also aware” of the dossier, but she did not describe how he was made aware. She made clear that she told “those who were interfacing” with Steele to go to the FBI since any State Department involvement could violate the Hatch Act.
Her Politico podcast interview was not the only time she claimed that her reaction was to refer Steele to the FBI.
On Face The Nation on February 4, Nuland engaged in the following exchange in which she stated her “immediate” reaction was to refer Steele to the FBI (emphasis added):
MARGARET BRENNAN: The dossier.
VICTORIA NULAND: The dossier, he passed two to four pages of short points of what he was finding, and our immediate reaction to that was, “This is not in our purview. This needs to go to the FBI, if there is any concern here that one candidate or the election as a whole might be influenced by the Russian federation. That’s something for the FBI to investigate.”
And that was our reaction when we saw this. It’s not our — we can’t evaluate this. And frankly, if every member of the campaign who the Russians tried to approach and tried to influence had gone to the FBI as well in real time, we might not be in the mess we’re in today.
Nuland gave the two interviews after her name started surfacing in news media reports involving Kerry’s State Department and the dossier. Her name also came up in relation to a criminal referral of Steele to the Justice Department in the form of a letter authored last year by Sen. Chuck Grassley, who at the time chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
The Grassley-Graham criminal referral contains redacted information that Steele received information from someone in the State Department, who in turn had been in contact with a “foreign sub-source” who was in touch with a redacted name described as a “friend of the Clintons.”
Numerous media reports have since stated that the source of information provided to the State Department that was in turn passed on to Steele was Cody Shearer, a controversial figure tied to the Clintons who is also an associate of longtime Clinton friend Sidney Blumenthal. According to sources who spoke to CNN, Shearer’s information was passed from Blumenthal to Winer, who at the time was a special State Department envoy for Libya working under Kerry. Winer says that Kerry personally recruited him to work at the State Department.
It is Winer’s version of events that seems to conflict with Nuland’s.
In an oped published in the Washington Post, Winer identified Nuland as the State Department official with whom he shared Steele’s information. Winer writes that Nuland’s reaction was that “she felt that the secretary of state needed to be made aware of this material.” He does not relate any further reaction from Nuland.
Winer wrote in the Washington Post (emphasis added):
In the summer of 2016, Steele told me that he had learned of disturbing information regarding possible ties between Donald Trump, his campaign and senior Russian officials. He did not provide details but made clear the information involved “active measures,” a Soviet intelligence term for propaganda and related activities to influence events in other countries.
In September 2016, Steele and I met in Washington and discussed the information now known as the “dossier.” Steele’s sources suggested that the Kremlin not only had been behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign but also had compromised Trump and developed ties with his associates and campaign.
I was allowed to review, but not to keep, a copy of these reports to enable me to alert the State Department. I prepared a two-page summary and shared it with Nuland, who indicated that, like me, she felt that the secretary of state needed to be made aware of this material.
That was the extent of Winer’s description of Nuland’s reaction upon being presented with Steele’s dossier claims. Nuland’s public claim that her “immediate” response was to refer Steele to the FBI since State involvement could violate the Hatch Act seems to conflict with the only reaction that Winer relates from Nuland – that she felt Kerry should be made aware of the dossier information.
In Winer’s Washington Post oped, he writes that Steele had a larger relationship with the State Department, passing over 100 reports relating to Russia to the U.S. government agency through Winer. Winer wrote that Nuland found Steele’s reports to be “useful” and asked Winer to “continue to send them.”
In 2013, I returned to the State Department at the request of Secretary of State John F. Kerry, whom I had previously served as Senate counsel. Over the years, Steele and I had discussed many matters relating to Russia. He asked me whether the State Department would like copies of new information as he developed it. I contacted Victoria Nuland, a career diplomat who was then assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, and shared with her several of Steele’s reports. She told me they were useful and asked me to continue to send them. Over the next two years, I shared more than 100 of Steele’s reports with the Russia experts at the State Department, who continued to find them useful. None of the reports related to U.S. politics or domestic U.S. matters, and the reports constituted a very small portion of the data set reviewed by State Department experts trying to make sense of events in Russia.
Kramer and the dossier
In his book, “The Restless Wave,” McCain provided an inside account of how he says he came across the dossier.
He wrote that he was told about the claims in the document at a security conference in Canada in November 2016, where he was approached by Sir Andrew Wood, a former British ambassador to Moscow and friend of ex-British spy Christopher Steele, the author of the dossier.
McCain wrote that Wood told him Steele “had been commissioned to investigate connections between the Trump campaign and Russian agents as well as potentially compromising information about the President-elect that Putin allegedly possessed.”
McCain, however, did not address the obvious question of whether he was told exactly who “commissioned” Steele to “investigate” the alleged Russian ties. The dossier was paid for by Clinton’s campaign and the DNC.
McCain goes on to describe Wood as telling him Steele’s work “was mostly raw, unverified intelligence, but that the author strongly believed merited a thorough examination by counterintelligence experts.”
The politician says the dossier claims described to him were “too strange a scenario to believe, something out of a le Carré novel, not the kind of thing anyone has ever actually had to worry about with a new President, no matter what other concerns.”
Still, McCain says he reasoned that “even a remote risk that the President of the United States might be vulnerable to Russian extortion had to be investigated.”
McCain concedes Wood told him he had not actually read the dossier himself, and writes that he wasn’t sure if he ever met Wood before and couldn’t recall previously having a conversation with Wood. Still, McCain took Wood’s word for it when Wood vouched for Steele’s credibility. “Steele was a respected professional, Wood assured us, who had good Russian contacts and long experience collecting and analyzing intelligence on the Kremlin,” McCain wrote.
Present at the meeting with Wood and McCain was Kramer, who McCain writes agreed to “go to London to meet Steele, confirm his credibility and report back to me.”
McCain doesn’t detail Kramer’s visit to London beyond simply writing, “When David returned, and shared his impression that the former spy was, as Sir Andrew had vouched, a respected professional, and not to outward appearances given to hyperbole or hysteria, I agreed to receive a copy of what is now referred to as ‘the dossier.’’’
McCain leaves out exactly where Kramer obtained his dossier copy.
The Washington Post reported last February that Kramer received the dossier directly from Fusion GPS after McCain expressed interest in it. Those details marked the clearest indication that McCain may have known that the dossier originated with Fusion GPS, meaning that he may have knowingly passed on political material to the FBI.
Also, in a New York Times oped in January, GPS co-founders Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritch wrote that they helped McCain share their anti-Trump dossier with the Obama-era intelligence community via an unnamed “emissary.”
In his own testimony, Kramer relates conversations with Simpson about 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.
Joshua Klein contributed research to this article.