Kimberley Strassel: Who Is Christopher Steele?
[WSJ] The man who revealed a vast international conspiracy but didn’t know his own client.
America has been inundated by the words dossier, memo, collusion, FISA, Carter Page. They all come back to the actions of one man: Christopher Steele. Which is why the only news that matters this week is that the former British spy’s credibility has been dismantled.
To the extent the U.S. press has focused on Mr. Steele, it has been to portray him in heroic epic style. A Washington Post profile told how Mr. Steele, a former MI6 agent who left in 2009 to start his own firm, felt "professional obligations" to take his dossier to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. That’s how "worried" and "rattled" and "alarmed" he was about the Trump -Kremlin "plot." The FBI welcomed this "well-trusted" source, who had provided information in the past, as a "peer"‐only later to let our hero down.
This is the narrative put forward by Mr. Steele and his paymaster, Fusion GPS. They and their press friends have an obvious interest in propagating it. But the new facts about Mr. Steele’s behavior destroy this tale, and show how badly the FBI got snookered.
To be sure, the FBI should have known better. Even if Mr. Steele had previously been helpful, the bureau had every reason to be wary in 2016. This wasn’t like prior collaborations. He was coming to the FBI as a paid political operative, hired by Fusion, as a subcontractor for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Opposition researchers are not retained to present considered judgment. They are retained to slime an opponent and benefit a client.
The FBI also had reason to view his research with skepticism‐on grounds of its tabloid-like allegations, and also on the near-fantastical claim of skill that underlay it. To wit, that a man who had been out of official spy rings for seven years was nonetheless able, in a matter of weeks and with just a few calls from London, where he lives, to unravel an international conspiracy that had eluded the CIA, FBI, MI6 and every other Western intelligence agency, all of which have access to the globe’s most sophisticated surveillance tools.
But rather than proceed with caution, the FBI swallowed the whole package. According to Sen. Chuck Grassley’s declassified criminal referral, former Director James Comey testified that the bureau couldn’t meaningfully corroborate the dossier, but used it in Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court proceedings anyway because Mr. Steele had previously provided "reliable" information.
Mr. Steele and Fusion GPS’s Glenn Simpson immediately proceeded to use the bureau to advance their client’s interests. They went to the press with a stream of briefings about the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign. Thanks to the FBI, Mr. Steele didn’t have to present the media with crazy-sounding oppo research about sexual perversion; he got to point to a full-on government investigation. The resulting stories were awesome for the Clinton campaign‐but not so much for the FBI, since the Fusion crew had publicly tipped off the targets of its probe.
There is no excusing these actions. The FBI had expressly told Mr. Steele not to speak to anybody outside the bureau about the dossier. And Mr. Steele failed to disclose these briefings, or perhaps lied about them, since the FBI assured the FISA court that he was not talking to the press.
Mr. Simpson has claimed he never told Mr. Steele that Fusion was working for Mrs. Clinton, and maybe the ex-spy didn’t know. Though this requires us to believe that the man who unraveled an international conspiracy could not discover the identity of his own ultimate paymaster‐or didn’t care. Our super sleuth also didn’t bat an eye over sucking up information from two notorious Clinton political operators, Sidney Blumenthal and Cody Shearer. Either Mr. Steele knew and actively worked to help the Clinton campaign, or he didn’t and was nonetheless willing to undercut the FBI at Mr. Simpson’s behest.
Some Steele supporters have suggested that the motive for his press briefings was his worry that the FBI was not taking his claims seriously enough. Yet by Mr. Simpson’s own sworn testimony, that disillusion didn’t hit until a few days before the election, when the FBI reopened its probe into Mrs. Clinton’s negligent handling of classified emails. At the time of his September and October press blabbings, Mr. Steele was still working with the FBI and even talking to the bureau about a financial arrangement.
Is a reliable and credible source one who defies FBI orders, meets with the press, undercuts a probe, and lies about it? Is a professional someone who refuses to answer questions from congressional investigators, but is happy to spin a tale to friendly journalists?
Watch for the House Democrats, in their memo, to continue defending Mr. Steele despite all this. They have to. No credible Steele, no credible dossier. And no credible dossier means even more reason to worry that the FISA court and surveillance authority were abused in the election.
Posted by: Besoeker 2018-02-09