Biden nom skates through confirmation hearing without facing questions about handling of Steele Dossier
Chuck Ross, DCNF
- A State Department nominee who approved meetings for dossier author Christopher Steele in 2016 avoided questions on the matter during her Senate confirmation hearing Thursday.
- Victoria Nuland was not asked about her authorization of meetings with Steele or her role disseminating information from the ex-spy’s infamous dossier.
- Nuland, who served in the Obama State Department, is up for nomination for undersecretary of state for political affairs.
State Department nominee Victoria Nuland coasted through her Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday without facing any questions about her role disseminating information from former British spy Christopher Steele during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Nuland, who is nominated for undersecretary of state of political affairs, authorized two meetings during a previous stint at the State Department between government officials and Steele, a former British spy who compiled a dossier alleging collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian government.
She also pressed the FBI in the weeks before the 2016 election to investigate Steele’s allegations, according to government documents released last year.
House and Senate Republicans who investigated the origins of the Trump-Russia probe have since 2017 asked questions about the State Department and Nuland’s contacts with Steele, who investigated Donald Trump on behalf of the Clinton campaign and DNC.
The topic did not come up during a drama-free hearing for her confirmation before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday. Not even Republicans who took part in the hearing — Sens. Jim Risch, Ted Cruz and Bill Haggerty — asked Nuland about her knowledge of Steele or the dossier.
Before Steele began his investigation of Trump, he provided more than 100 intelligence reports to Nuland and a small group of State Department officials regarding Russia and Ukraine.
After Steele began working for the DNC and Clinton campaign, Nuland, who served as secretary for European and Eurasian affairs through January 2017, authorized a meeting in early July 2016 between Steele, who was also an FBI confidential source, and his FBI handler, Michael Gaeta.
She also approved a meeting between her deputy, Kathleen Kavalec, and Steele at State Department headquarters on Oct. 11, 2016.
During the meeting, Steele presented the findings of his investigation of Trump.
The FBI relied heavily on Steele’s information to obtain surveillance warrants against Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
Key aspects of the dossier have since been debunked. The special counsel’s office and congressional investigators found no evidence to support Steele’s allegations of a “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” between the Trump campaign and Kremlin.
Nuland downplayed her connection to Steele and the dossier during previous congressional testimony, though government documents released last year suggest she played a more intricate role than she has let on.
She told the Senate Intelligence panel in 2018 she “was not aware” of Steele’s meeting at the State Department until after it took place. She also said she kept at arm’s length from Steele and his dossier out of concerns that her contact would violate the Hatch Act, which prohibits government officials from engaging in political activity.
But Nuland actively pressed the FBI to investigate Steele’s claims. She also directed other State Department officials to provide a summary of the dossier to John Kerry, who served as secretary of state under President Obama.
Jonathan Winer, who served as Steele’s main conduit to the State Department, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Nuland spoke directly with people at the FBI about Steele’s information.
“Nuland had some conversation with the FBI and became convinced their wires were not fully integrated, that there were different people in the Bureau who didn’t have access to the same information, and that they needed to be brought together so they could deal with it as an institution,” Winer told the committee, according to a report released last year.
Nuland also directed Winer to provide a summary of the dossier to Jonathan Finer, who served as chief of staff to Sec. of State John Kerry.
Nuland was also criticized by an FBI official who believed she was asking too many questions about a meeting between agents and Steele that was held on Oct. 3, 2016.
“I also don’t know how its [sic] State’s business or how they think it appropriate to ask about a potential FBI source meet on such a politically charged subject,” the official wrote in an Oct. 7, 2016, email referring to Nuland.
“That is sending flags up,” the official added.
Steele testified about Nuland during a defamation case he faced in the United Kingdom over the dossier.
Steele said in a deposition on March 18, 2020, that either Nuland or Susan Rice told Strobe Talbott, who then served as president of Brookings Institution, about the dossier.
Talbott obtained a copy of the dossier and shared it with others at the Brookings Institution before the document was published in January 2017.
Nuland, who is currently a senior fellow at Brookings, has not responded to questions about whether she spoke with Talbott about the dossier.
Igor Danchenko, who was Steele’s lone source for the dossier, worked as an analyst at Brookings until 2010.