Emails: State Department Officials Grappled With How To Handle Christopher Steele’s Intelligence Reports
Chuck Ross on January 6, 2020
- State Department emails from 2014 show that officials deliberated how best to handle information from Christopher Steele, who would go on to write the infamous Trump dossier.
- The emails show that officials decided that one official, Jonathan Winer, would send Steele’s reports from his personal email account to an assistant, who would then forward them to the department’s classified system.
- The emails were obtained through a lawsuit that the Daily Caller News Foundation filed together with Judicial Watch.
Two years before Christopher Steele gained notoriety for the Trump dossier, State Department officials grappled with how to handle the former British spy’s private intelligence reports, which he provided pro bono to officials at Foggy Bottom.
The officials were concerned about security problems with the State Department’s unclassified computer network, and so they came up with a solution, according to emails the Daily Caller News Foundation and Judicial Watch obtained through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
Jonathan Winer, an aide to former Secretary of State John Kerry and longtime Steele friend, would send the reports from his personal email account to a State Department contractor, the emails show. The contractor, Nina Miller, would then strip identifying information from the documents and send them to a small group of State Department officials on “the high side,” or the agency’s classified network.
“Given our ongoing concerns about security of opennet, [then-State Department official Victoria Nuland] and I wonder if it would be possible for you to flip orbis reports to this system before sending them to us,” Paul Jones, who then served as principal deputy assistant secretary of state for European affairs, wrote to Winer on Dec. 8, 2014. Orbis is the name of Steele’s London-based private intelligence firm.
“Understand that’s yet another step in the process for you. We just want to be sure we don’t inadvertently undermine a very good source of info or worse,” Jones continued.
Winer replied three days later to say that sending the reports to State’s classified system “will result in delays” if he was not at his State Department office.
Nuland weighed in and said the reports needed to be submitted on the “high side,” an apparent reference to the State Department’s classified computer network.
“The best solution I can come up with is to have Nina Miller send hem to you on my behalf high side,” said Winer. Miller was a State Department contractor for the firm OBXtek, Inc.
“I will send them to her from my non-State email account, not copying myself. She will then send them to us,” Winer said. “You know who they are coming from, so even high side from here I will just refer to them as ‘O Reports,’ and strip out any other identifying information as to sourcing.”
Winer would go on to serve as Steele’s main conduit to the State Department, providing dozens of intelligence reports from 2014 to 2016 regarding Ukraine and Russia. In summer 2016, Steele began sharing information with Winer regarding President Donald Trump’s possible ties to Russia.
Winer disseminated the Trump-related information to other State Department officials and also arranged a meeting between Steele and State Department official Kathleen Kavalec on Oct. 11, 2016. Winer also served as a background source for at least two reporters who wrote stories hyping Steele’s allegations about Trump.
The Obama State Department’s interactions with Steele have been a source of intrigue for Republican lawmakers as well the State and Justice Departments’ inspectors general.
GOP Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin revealed in a letter to the State Department’s inspector general in October that the watchdog had reviewed “whether Jonathan Winer complied with Department policy and regulation on intelligence gathering” and whether Winer “violated classification protocol” in his email usage.
They noted that the inspector general had failed to interview Winer and other State Department officials who dealt with Steele.
The Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General was also unable to interview Winer regarding his interactions with Steele. A report from that office released on Dec. 9 said that Winer declined requests for an interview.
The report found significant problems with Steele’s dossier, as well as the FBI’s handling of the unverified document. The report said the FBI was unable to corroborate any of Steele’s allegations that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to influence the 2016 election, but still used information from the ex-spy in applications to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. The report also said that Steele’s main source of information disputed many of the claims in the dossier.
“No wonder Jonathan Winer, Steele’s ally at the State Department, refused to talk to the [Department of Justice inspector general] DOJ IG, he seems to have circumvented the rules in pushing Steele’s unreliable reports to his Obama State Department colleagues,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement regarding the emails.
“Our lawsuits have documented that the Obama-Kerry State Department was a hotbed of anti-Trump activity. [Attorney General] AG [William] Barr and U.S. Attorney [John] Durham would do well to focus like a laser on the State Department,” he added.
The State Department Office of the Inspector General declined to comment about whether it is currently investigating issues related to the Steele dossier. Winer has not responded to multiple requests for comment.
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