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Will The FISA Report Address Whether Christopher Steele Lied To The FBI, As GOP Senators Said?

Chuck Ross on December 4, 2019

  • One of the mysteries looming over the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation is whether dossier author Christopher Steele lied to the bureau regarding his contacts with journalists. 
  • Two GOP senators, Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham, referred Steele for investigation in January 2018, but there have been no updates about the status of the probe.
  • That could change Monday when the Justice Department’s inspector general releases a report that will detail the FBI’s relationship with Steele. 

Two Republican senators leveled a bombshell allegation nearly two years ago that Trump dossier author Christopher Steele may have lied to the FBI about his contacts with journalists before the 2016 presidential election.

Whether Steele indeed lied to the bureau is one of the many unresolved questions looming over the Russia probe. But it could be settled Monday, when the Justice Department’s inspector general releases a much-anticipated report that will dive into the FBI’s relationship with Steele.

Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina referred Steele on Jan. 4, 2018 to the Justice Department for investigation into whether he falsely denied sharing details of his Trump investigation with journalists.

The Republicans pointed to the FBI’s Oct. 21, 2016 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) application against former Trump aide Carter Page, which said Steele said he only shared his Trump-related information with the bureau and his client, Fusion GPS.

“Source #1 provided the results of his research to the business associate, and the FBI assesses that the business associate likely provided this information to the law firm that hired the business associate in the first place,” reads the FISA application footnote.

“Source #1,” or Christopher Steele, “told the FBI that he/she only provided this information to the business associate and the FBI,” it said.

A footnote is pictured from the FBI’s Oct. 21, 2016 application for a FISA warrant against Carter Page. (via Justice Department)

The claim is false, asserted Grassley and Graham. They pointed to a May 17, 2017 court filing Steele submitted in the United Kingdom in which he said he had contacts with multiple journalists in September 2016.

It is not clear how many times Steele met with FBI agents in 2016 or when he would have told the FBI he did not have contact with the press.

It is known that Steele had his first meeting regarding his investigation of President Donald Trump in London on July 5, 2016. He met with his FBI handler, Michael Gaeta, in Rome on Oct. 3, 2016, according to a book Fusion GPS’s founders released on Nov. 26. Gaeta had contacted Steele in mid-September 2016 to arrange the Rome meeting, the Fusion GPS founders wrote.

Grassley and Graham argued in their referral that Steele’s potential lie is important because the FBI’s main rationale for including the former spy’s information in the FISA application was that he was considered a credible source.

“Mr. Steele’s apparent deception seems to have posed significant, material consequences on the FBI’s investigative decisions and representations to the court,” Grassley and Graham wrote to FBI Director Christopher Wray and former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

“Mr. Steele’s information formed a significant portion of the FBI’s warrant application, and the FISA application relied more heavily on Steele’s credibility than on any independent verification or corroboration for his claims,” they said.

“The Department of Justice has a responsibility to determine whether Mr. Steele provided false information to the FBI and whether the FBI’s representations to the court were in error,” the senators added.

The Justice Department released heavily redacted versions of the Page FISAs months after the referral, on June 21, 2018.

The FBI included the same footnote in FISA applications even after Steele acknowledged in British court filings that he had contact with journalists at The Washington Post, The New York Times, The New Yorker, ABC News and Yahoo News.

The FISA applications refer to a Sept. 23, 2016 article that Yahoo’s Michael Isikoff wrote about Page. The FBI wrote in the applications that the bureau “does not believe that Source #1 directly provided this information to the press.”

But it is now known that Steele did meet with Isikoff. The FBI has yet to explain how investigators were unable to figure that out.

Fusion GPS founders Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch wrote in a book published in November that they shepherded Steele around Washington, D.C., in mid-September 2016 to share information from his Trump investigation with a hand-picked group of journalists.

“Fusion laid the ground rules. Steele would speak only on background, meaning any information the reporters wished to quote could only be attributed to a ‘former senior Western intelligence official,’” Simpson and Fritsch wrote. “In the meetings, Steele ran through his key findings.”

Simpson and Fritsch said that of the reporters, only Isikoff was able to get Steele to say that he had provided information to the FBI about Page. Isikoff used that tidbit of information — that U.S. law enforcement officials were looking at Page — as the hook for his story. He then introduced Steele’s specific allegations that Page met secretly with two Kremlin insiders, Igor Sechin and Igor Diveykin, in Moscow in July 2016.

Page has vehemently denied meeting with either Sechin or Diveykin. He was also not accused of wrongdoing in the special counsel’s investigation.

Steele’s firm, Orbis Business Intelligence, did not respond to a request for comment. The Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General also did not reply to a comment request.

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