Christopher Steele’s longtime FBI handler called him ‘completely untrustworthy’ over media contacts
Chuck Ross, DCNF
- Christopher Steele was ‘completely untrustworthy,’ according to his longtime FBI handling agent, Michael Gaeta.
- The Senate Judiciary Committee released a transcript of an interview Gaeta gave last year as part of an investigation into the FBI’s probe of the Trump campaign.
- Gaeta cut off ties with Steele as an FBI source in November 2016 after the former MI6 officer spoke to the media about his work on the Trump dossier.
- Gaeta said that he warned Justice Department official Bruce Ohr about continuing a relationship with Steele.
The veteran FBI agent who served as handler for Trump dossier author Christopher Steele told a Senate panel that he viewed the ex-British spy as “completely untrustworthy,” according to a Senate transcript of the interview released on Friday.
Steele’s handling agent is not identified in the Senate transcript, but he has been identified elsewhere as Michael Gaeta, an organized crime specialist who retired from the FBI in 2019.
Gaeta served as a liaison between Steele and the Crossfire Hurricane team that investigated possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian government. He was the first FBI agent to receive copies of a dossier that Steele compiled on Donald Trump as part of an investigation funded by the Clinton campaign and DNC.
The Senate Judiciary Committee interviewed Gaeta on March 3, 2020 as part of a GOP-led investigation into Crossfire Hurricane, the name of the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign.
Sen. Lindsey Graham released transcripts of 11 interviews conducted as part of the oversight investigation on Friday.
Gaeta offered a harsh assessment of Steele in the interview, according to the transcript. Gaeta’s ire stemmed from Steele’s unauthorized contact with a journalist from the liberal magazine Mother Jones, which published details from the dossier in a story on Oct. 31, 2016.
Gaeta testified that he cut Steele off as an FBI confidential human source (CHS) in a conversation after the Mother Jones story was published.
“It told me that he was completely untrustworthy at that point as a source and could not be handled and would not be reliable,” Gaeta testified.
Steele alleged in the dossier that the Trump campaign was engaged in a “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” with the Kremlin. The FBI relied heavily on Steele’s information to obtain surveillance warrants against Carter Page, a former Trump campaign named throughout the dossier.
The dossier has come under intense scrutiny as many of its allegations have either been debunked or remain uncorroborated.
A report from the special counsel’s office significantly undermined Steele’s core allegation by revealing that investigators found no evidence of a conspiracy between the Russian government and Trump campaign.
Republicans have since sought to find out how Steele compiled the dossier, and what sources he used.
Gaeta, who was first introduced to Steele by now-former Justice Department official Bruce Ohr in 2010, said that until Crossfire Hurricane, Steele had been a “productive professional source.”
“Nothing up until this whole thing went bad in 2016 was there any reason to believe that he was anything other than professional and productive,” Gaeta said.
Steele began meeting with journalists regarding information from his dossier in September 2016. Fusion GPS, the firm that hired Steele on behalf of the Clinton campaign and DNC, arranged the briefings with reporters from The New York Times, Washington Post, New Yorker, Mother Jones and Yahoo! News.
Steele did not tell the FBI about his media contacts until Gaeta confronted him after publication of the Mother Jones article.
One FBI agent told the Justice Department inspector general that Steele “clearly” hadn’t been truthful with FBI agents regarding his contacts with journalists.
Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham referred Steele to the FBI and Justice Department in January 2018 for possible criminal investigation into whether he made false statements to the FBI regarding his contacts with journalists.
Gaeta also told the Senate panel that he warned Bruce Ohr, the Justice Department official, about Steele during a conversation just after the election in 2016.
“And I said you need to know going forward we’re not going — we’re not working with him. I’m not going to talk to him again and you have to be careful when you talk to him,” Gaeta told Senate investigators.
Gaeta said that Ohr, whose wife worked as a contractor for Fusion GPS, apologized for introducing him to Steele.
“He goes I didn’t realize that when you called me about the article, I didn’t realize the extent of it. And then he apologizes for introducing me to Christopher Steele,” Gaeta said in the interview.
Despite Gaeta’s warning and Ohr’s apology, Ohr continued serving as a conduit between Steele and the FBI, filling a role left open by Gaeta.
Gaeta said that he was “surprised” to learn through media reports in 2017 that Ohr and Steele had remained in contact.