Washington WhodunIt: Who Pushed the Dossier, Brennan or Comey?

From left, FBI Director James Comey, CIA Director John Brennan, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper sit together in the front row before President Barack Obama spoke about National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance.

Former FBI Director James Comey and former CIA Director John Brennan continue to be at odds over whose idea it was to include the unverified Steele dossier in the Intelligence Community Assessment of January 2017 (ICA).

The high-level dispute erupted after news broke that Attorney General William Barr appointed a U.S. attorney to examine the origins of the Russia investigation and to determine whether the FBI and DOJ's actions were "lawful and appropriate."

"This is very serious business and for the first time, I now believe that some of these guys are going to go to prison," Washington attorney Joe diGenova told Fox News host Laura Ingraham on Tuesday.

According to Fox News' Catherine Herridge, sources familiar with the records say that "a late-2016 email chain indicated then-FBI Director James Comey told bureau subordinates that then-CIA Director John Brennan insisted the dossier be included in the intelligence community assessment on Russian interference, known as the ICA."

This would be the same email chain former congressman Trey Gowdy referred to in a Fox News interview with Martha MacCallum on Tuesday, when he said, "In 2016, well after it [the Steele dossier] had been used, it was still unverified and the people responsible for it were referring to it as unverified and one or the other demanded that it be included in the intelligence assessment ..."

Gowdy, who viewed the records when he was chairman of the Republican-led House Oversight Committee, noted: "Comey has a better argument than Brennan, based on what I've seen."

The former congressman first highlighted the email chain on Monday, telling Fox News' Sean Hannity, "Whoever's investigating this, tell them to look for emails between Brennan and Comey in December of 2016."

Fox News was told that the email chain – not yet public -- referred to the dossier as "crown material," but it was not clear why this apparent code was used.

By "crown material," the writer may have been referring to intelligence gathered through Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which allows the intelligence community to target the communications of non-U.S. persons located outside the United States for foreign intelligence purpose.

Senator Rand Paul first drew attention to the scandal in March, when he tweeted: "A high-level source tells me it was Brennan who insisted that the unverified and fake Steele dossier be included in the Intelligence Report," He added, "Brennan should be asked to testify under oath in Congress ASAP."

Respected journalist Bob Woodward echoed those same accusations during an appearance on Fox last month.

But in a statement to Fox News, a former CIA official [John Brennan?] put the blame squarely on Comey.

"Former Director Brennan, along with former [Director of National Intelligence] James Clapper, are the ones who opposed James Comey’s recommendation that the Steele Dossier be included in the intelligence report," the official said.

"They opposed this because the dossier was in no way used to develop the ICA," the official continued. "The intelligence analysts didn't include it when they were doing their work because it wasn't corroborated intelligence, therefore it wasn't used and it wasn't included. Brennan and Clapper prevented it from being added into the official assessment. James Comey then decided on his own to brief Trump about the document."

In September of last year, another intel source told the Washington Times: “The ICA was corroborated intelligence that involved what the intelligence community agreed with,” the source said. “The dossier was a totally separate thing that had not gone through that type of process, so it should not be included. That was the decision that was made.”

CIA officials told the Washington Times in September of 2018, that the FBI pushed to include the discredited dossier into the official intelligence community assessment.

The officials told The Washington Times that as the historic ICA, as it is known, was being drafted, the FBI wanted to fold in allegations and observations from dossier writer Christopher Steele.

One source said then-FBI Director James B. Comey directly advocated inclusion. A second source said FBI officials definitely wanted Mr. Steele’s charges on Kremlin behavior included but could not single out Mr. Comey as the main driver.

The sources said James R. Clapper, then director of national intelligence, and John O. Brennan, then director of the CIA, objected on grounds that the dossier remained largely unconfirmed information from a former British spy, not vetted U.S. intelligence.

According to Fox News, "Clapper previously testified that the dossier was not ultimately used in the ICA."

But according to a New Yorker report citing three former government officials in March 2018, the ICA included a two-page appendix that dealt with the dirty dossier.

The appendix did not name Steele but summarized information supplied by a former intelligence officer who had worked with the FBI and who had offered "troubling information."

Comey briefed then-President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on the intelligence assessment on Jan. 5, 2017.

"Comey laid out the dossier’s allegations that there had been numerous contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, and that there may have been deals struck between them," NYM's Jane Mayer wrote. "Comey also mentioned some of the sexual details in the dossier, including the alleged golden-showers kompromat."

He briefed then-President-elect Trump only on the most salacious parts of the anti-Trump dossier on Jan.7, 2017. Comey told lawmakers in December of 2018 that it was Clapper’s idea to focus only on the salacious details because they thought that was the part that had leaked to the press.

Comey told lawmakers that because he knew reporters already had that information, it would become public soon if journalists could find a “news hook” -- [like an intelligence briefing].

According to Fox News, in its FISA application, the FBI "repeatedly and incorrectly assured the court in a footnote that it 'does not believe' British ex-spy Christopher Steele was the direct source for a Yahoo News article implicating Page in Russian collusion, and instead asserted that the Yahoo article provided an independent basis to believe Steele."

Steele, however,  testified in a British court that "he briefed multiple news organizations during the fall of 2016 -- including Yahoo News."

In September of last year, an intel source told the Washington Times: “The ICA was corroborated intelligence that involved what the intelligence community agreed with,” the source said. “The dossier was a totally separate thing that had not gone through that type of process, so it should not be included. That was the decision that was made.”

One source said then-FBI Director James B. Comey directly advocated inclusion. A second source said FBI officials definitely wanted Mr. Steele’s charges on Kremlin behavior included but could not single out Mr. Comey as the main driver.

Meanwhile, in recent media appearances, Comey has not helped himself by publicly defending the discredited dossier.

During a CNN town hall on Thursday, host Anderson Cooper reminded Comey of an April 2018 interview in which he appeared to lend credence to the most salacious of the unverified claims in the Steele dossier.

When asked by Stephanopoulos whether he believed Trump’s denials, Comey said, “I honestly never thought these words would come out of my mouth, but I don't know whether the current president of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013. It's possible, but I don't know.”

Cooper, noting that special counsel Robert Mueller's final report did not corroborate the dossier's allegations about tapes and prostitutes, asked Comey if he regretted making comments "which some would see as sort of stoking the fires or leaving as an open question."

Comey stood by what he said. “No, I was trying to give an honest answer, and my answer would be the same today," he responded.

Comey also told Cooper that "the bureau began an effort after we got the Steele dossier to see how much of it we could replicate. That work was ongoing when I was fired.”

"Some of it was consistent with our other intelligence, the most important part," Comey said, adding, “the Steele dossier said the Russians are coming for the American election.”

Cooper, of course, failed to ask the obvious follow-up question. If the FBI was unable to verify the anti-Trump parts of the dossier, why on earth did they use it to obtain a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to spy on the Trump campaign?

That question and others are now being examined in U.S. Attorney John Durham's new probe, the ongoing review by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, and U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber, who has been conducting his own investigation separately.