As the investigation being conducted
by Special Counsel Robert Mueller moves forward, it seems apparent that the intelligence report on Donald Trump and the Trump campaign, known as the “Steele Dossier” is gaining in credibility.
Experts in the field of investigating criminal operations are widely of the opinion that the Steele Dossier, compiled by former MI6 British intelligence officer, Christopher Steele, is a rough blueprint for much of the focus of Mueller’s investigation. That appears evident by the overall picture that is forming of intrigue between Trump campaign operatives and Russian agents and officials.
In this, the first of a two-part series on the dossier, which has been consistently associated with the overall investigation of the Trump campaign, we will examine the persistent but false claims that the report is tainted because it was the product of opposition research.
Initially, when reports of the file surfaced, Trump media surrogates and the president himself, scrambled to discredit the information and its sources. Trump himself, has been angrily grousing on Twitter, off and on since the dossier became public knowledge. The first from Trump, was on January 14, before his swearing in as president:
INTELLIGENCE INSIDERS NOW CLAIM THE TRUMP DOSSIER IS "A COMPLETE FRAUD!" @OANN
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 14, 2017
Here is another from October 21st:
Officials behind the now discredited "Dossier" plead the Fifth. Justice Department and/or FBI should immediately release who paid for it.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 21, 2017
And then, more recently, he lashes out at the FBI:
Workers of firm involved with the discredited and Fake Dossier take the 5th. Who paid for it, Russia, the FBI or the Dems (or all)?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 19, 2017
At the point in which it came to light that the Clinton campaign had taken up funding of the dossier, the Trump media industrial complex virtually declared victory, advancing the incompetent conclusion that the material collected in the Dossier was false merely because it was being collected as opposition research and was indelibly tainted with the stain of partisanship. Trump tweeted in January of this year that the “phony allegations” were compiled by his political opponents and a “failed spy afraid of being sued.”
The GOP narrative on the dossier
Whereas Trump’s tweets are the bumper sticker editions of the Trump apologists line of arguments about the dossier’s illegitimacy, GOP Representative Jim Jordan (OH) brought out the narrative in elevator speech length at the most recent appearance of Attorney General Jeff Sessions before the House Judiciary Committee:
“a major political party was working with the federal government to then turn an opposition-research document, the equivalent of a National Enquirer story, into an intelligence document, take that to the fisa court, so that they could then get a warrant to spy on Americans associated with the Trump campaign. That’s what it looks like.”
A recitation of the facts regarding the dossier is valuable for context here. Number one, the FBI was already examining in detail and gathering evidence about Trump’s campaign dealings with the Russians in the fall of 2016, while the election was still underway – as a DHS memo compiled by the U.S. intelligence community demonstrates. .
The Dossier first came to the attention of Arizona Senator John McCain, who received a copy from an ex-British diplomatic official, Andrew Wood, during attendance at the annual Halifax International Security Forum on November 18, 2016. McCain submitted it to former FBI Director James Comey in January 2017. Other accounts of the acquisition and surfacing of Steele’s report place the submission to Comey closer to the days just following the election on November 9.
Critics of the dossier would have you believe that the dossier originated at the behest of the Clinton campaign and the DNC. Actually it evolved from research contracted by a GOP mega-donor. More on that, in a moment.
Opposition research – it’s a bi-partisan thing
The not so subtle arguments advanced by Trump’s mouthpieces, that the provenance of a report renders the material illegitimate, is logically incompetent. Both parties have employed operatives to unearth information on opponents (“oppo research”) for as long as the political game has existed. It has been going on for centuries informally – the earliest notable example was the election of 1800, in which operatives in the Adams and Jefferson camps fed discrediting material to the nation’s news journals about each candidate.
The next milestone was the presidential election of 1988, between George H.W. Bush and Massachussetts Governor Michael Dukakis – in which RNC operative Lee Atwater dredged up information on Dukakis’ tragic role in furloughing convicted murderer Willie Horton (see above video – the original attack ad). The rest was history. But to listen to Trump’s surrogates making the rounds of the cable shows, you would think that Republicans are lily white and have never heard of oppo research.
Colin Reed, executive director of America Rising PAC – who dispatched an army of operatives turning over every rock to discover harmful information on Hillary Clinton, puts lie to that notion, telling reporters, “Our focus is driving negative news narratives against [Hillary Rodham] Clinton.”
The Republican origins of the Steele Dossier
Getting back to the Steele Dossier, it was the eventual result of Republican hedge fund billionaire, Paul Singer – contracting Washington D.C. based political research firm Fusion GPS. While Singer and the media entity he financially sponsors, the Washington Free Beacon, deny any direct connection to or use of the Steele Dossier; there is no doubt that material developed from the Beacon’s contract with Fusion, gave momentum to the ultimate emergence of the dossier.
Also of interest is that Singer and the Washington Beacon ordered up opposition research on Hillary Clinton, known as the “Hillary Papers“ and the material was organized and published by the Beacon’s Alana Goodman. There was no questioning by Republican media functionaries of the veracity of the source material or who provided it, at any time.
The timeline of the DNC’s involvement with Fusion GPS is overlapped with that of the Free Beacon. Singer had Fusion GPS on retainer until May, when Trump’s nomination appeared to be a fait accompli – but the Democrat party began employing Fusion GPS’ services in April.
The Steele Dossier – or alternately described as the ‘Russia Dossier’, was the product of Fusion GPS having subcontracted a third investigative firm, London based, Orbis Business Intelligence, a provider of commercial intelligence for government and private-sector clients.
Steele was one of the principals in the firm – and the partner that had extensive contacts from the Soviet era all the way through to Putin’s reign.
Trump and the disinformation apparatus he has at his disposal, has attempted to characterize Steele as a tool of Trump Inc.’s enemies and his intel gathering as speculative, contrived and unreliable. One of them, Paul Gregory, writing a guest opinion post in The Hill, asks:
“As someone who follows Russia closely, my own first reaction to the Christopher Steele dossier back in January was incredulity. How could anyone take this combination of gossip and trash talk seriously?”
Answer – a 30 year veteran of MI6’s sister agency, the CIA, does. John Sipher notes:
“Well before any public knowledge of these events, the [Steele dossier] identified multiple elements of the Russian operation including a cyber campaign, leaked documents related to Hillary Clinton, and meetings with Paul Manafort and other Trump affiliates to reportedly discuss the receipt of stolen documents.”
In the follow up report, we will look at Steele and the dossier he authored at greater length and assess whether Steele is credible as a gatherer of intel and whether the dossier has so far shaped up as accurate.