Two Russian intelligence operatives knew that former British spy Christopher Steele was investigating the Donald Trump for President campaign as early as July of 2016. The information was in a footnote to a Justice Department report on FBI actions relating to the FISA warrant.
Another footnote reveals that Steele’s company, Orbis Business Intelligence, was penetrated and targeted by Russian intelligence. The declassified footnotes were revealed by Sens. Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson on Wednesday.
Judging from other “footnotes” from that report that have recently been declassified, they paint a picture of a highly sophisticated Russian intelligence agency effort to plant disinformation not only during the campaign, but afterward during the FBI investigation of the Trump for President organization.
Where speculation about this has been rampant, this is the first evidence — from the FBI itself — that the Steele dossier was a classic Russian disinformation campaign.
A Justice Department inspector general’s report laid out a series of “significant”errors and omissions that the FBI made in its applications to spy on Page. Many of those errors involved failures to disclose evidence that undercut Steele’s allegations of a “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The footnotes declassified on Wednesday say that in late January 2017, an investigator on the Crossfire Hurricane team received information that Russian intelligence “may have targeted Orbis” and researched the company.
Another footnote says that a June 2017 report from the U.S. intelligence community “indicated that two persons affiliated with RIS were aware of Steele’s election investigation in early July 2016.”
How this will play in the investigation of how and why U.S. intelligence and law enforcement began to investigate the Trump campaign for collusion with the Russians is unknown. The John Durham investigation — unlike the Mueller investigation — has not been a font of leaks, so we’re in the dark about where he is as far as criminal investigations. But evidence is accumulating that some in the FBI knew full well the Steele dossier was bogus — perhaps even Russian disinformation — and may have used it to wiretap Carter Page to get real dirt on Trump.
The footnotes declassified on Wednesday say that the FBI’s Transnational Organized Crime Intelligence Unit sought a validation review of Steele as an FBI source in 2015 because of his links to five Russian oligarchs.
The footnote says that the FBI unit found that five Russian oligarchs who sought meetings with the FBI that year had intermediaries who contacted Steele.
“The report noted that Steele’s contact with 5 Russian oligarchs in a short period of time was unusual and recommended that a validation review be completed on Steele because of this activity,” the footnote says.
Either the FBI knowingly accepted Steele as an important source despite his association with Russian oligarchs and their connections to Russian intelligence, or they’re amazingly stupid and dense. Either way, the FBI doesn’t come off looking so good.
Durham, from what little we know of his investigation, appears to be on the right track. But ferreting out the whole story will be enormously difficult when the targets of his investigation operate so much in the shadows.