WASHINGTON — The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was aware that ex-MI6 agent Christopher Steele’s dossier was “politically motivated,” but the bureau’s leadership, namely Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe and FBI Director James Comey, relied on it anyway to obtain FISA warrants, according to the Department of Justice Inspector General report released on Monday.
The FBI also did not press Steele on the funding sources of his dossier, the report stated.
“Steele himself was not the originating source of any of the factual information in his reporting. Steele instead relied on a Primary Sub-source for information, who used his/her network of sub-sources to gather information that was then passed to Steele,” read the Executive Summary from the “Review of Four FISA Applications and Other Aspects of the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane Investigation,” which refers to the 2016 Russian investigation involving Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
“With Fusion GPS’s authorization, Steele directly provided more than a dozen of his reports to the FBI between July and October 2016, and several others to the FBI through [Bruce] Ohr and other third parties,” the report stated.
DOJ IG Michael Horowitz, who assumed his position during the Obama administration, and his team reported that “Steele’s handling agent” in the FBI “told us that when Steele provided him with the first election reports in July 2016 and described his engagement with Fusion GPS, it was obvious to him that the request for the research was politically motivated.”
In addition, the “supervisory intelligence analyst who supervised the analytical efforts for the Crossfire Hurricane team (Supervisory Intel Analyst) explained that he also was aware of the potential for political influences on the Steele reporting.”
The Horowitz report explained that the FBI was still able to use the Steele dossier even if it was clear that it contained opposition research connected to the Hillary Clinton campaign.
“The fact that the FBI believed Steele had been retained to conduct political opposition research did not require the FBI, under either DOJ or FBI policy, to ignore his reporting,” the Horowitz report stated. “The FBI regularly receives information from individuals with potentially significant biases and motivations, including drug traffickers, convicted felons, and even terrorists. The FBI is not required to set aside such information; rather, FBI policy requires that it critically assess the information.”
The Horowitz team “found that after receiving Steele’s reporting, the Crossfire Hurricane team began those efforts in earnest.”
However, the report noted that “as the FBI obtained additional information raising significant questions about the reliability of the Steele election reporting, the FBI failed to reassess the Steele reporting relied upon in the FISA applications, and did not fully advise NSD or 01 officials.”
The Horowitz team also “found that the FBI did not aggressively seek to obtain certain potentially important information from Steele. For example, the FBI did not press Steele for information about the actual funding source for his election reporting work.”
Despite the concerns with the validity of the information in Steele’s dossier, it played a “central” role in the FISA order for former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor Carter Page, who was ultimately not charged with a crime in the Russia probe.
“We determined that the Crossfire Hurricane team’s receipt of Steele’s election reporting on September 19, 2016 played a central and essential role in the FBI’s and Department’s decision to seek the FISA order. As noted above, when the team first sought to pursue a FISA order for Page in August 2016, a decision was made by OGC, 01, or both that more information was needed to support a probable cause finding that Page was an agent of a foreign power,” the report read.
“We found that the FBI did not have information corroborating the specific allegations against Carter Page in Steele’s reporting when it relied upon his reports in the first FISA application or subsequent renewal applications,” the report stated.
Horowitz concluded that “FBI leadership supported relying on Steele’s reporting to seek a FISA order on Page after being advised of, and giving consideration to, concerns expressed by Stuart Evans, then NSD’s Deputy Assistant Attorney General with oversight responsibility over OI, that Steele may have been hired by someone associated with presidential candidate Clinton or the DNC, and that the foreign intelligence to be collected through the FISA order would probably not be worth the ‘risk’ of being criticized later for collecting communications of someone (Carter Page) who was ‘politically sensitive.”
The report specifically mentions McCabe as one of the FBI leaders who thought the bureau should rely on the dossier despite Steele’s political bias.
“According to McCabe, the FBI ‘felt strongly’ that the FISA application should move forward because the team believed they had to get to the bottom of what they considered to be a potentially serious threat to national security, even if the FBI would later be criticized for taking such action,” the report read. “McCabe and others discussed the FBI’s position with NSD and ODAG officials, and these officials accepted the FBI’s decision to move forward with the application, based substantially on the Steele information.”
The Horowitz team noted that their “review did not independently seek to determine whether corroboration existed for the Steele election reporting; rather, our review was focused on information that was available to the FBI concerning Steele’s reports prior to and during the pendency of the Carter Page FISA authority.”