You may well remember when the Inspector General of the DOJ, Michael Horowitz, claimed that the FBI acted correctly in opening an investigation into Donald Trump. Now, it appears that Special Counsel John Durham does not agree with that assessment, and for good reason. It seems that Durham dug deeper and found that the dossier that was paid for by the Hillary campaign and the DNC was being promoted by the campaign.
Durham has been carefully documenting the role the Hillary campaign played in promoting the false allegations against President Trump. At the same time, he is disputing how and why its counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign began. The FBI maintains that they did not know about the fake dossier at the time they opened their investigation.
Horowitz claimed that the fake dossier did not figure into the opening of the investigation of then-candidate Trump. Durham’s office notified the office of Michael Horowitz that they disagreed with his conclusion that the investigation was started in good faith. That is because Horowitz depended on information gleaned from within the DOJ, whereas Durham used sources from outside the department and even outside the country.
Even though the Durham investigation has not revealed specifically what they disagree with Horowitz about, the FBI claims that the Steele Dossier did not play a large role in the decision to open the investigation known as Crossfire Hurricane, but there is a copious trail that reveals it played a huge part in the opening of the probe.
- Numerous officials received Steele’s allegations – some meeting with the ex-British intelligence officer himself – and discussed sending them up the FBI chain weeks before July 31, 2016, the Horowitz-endorsed date when the bureau claims it opened the Russia-Trump “collusion” investigation. These encounters call into question the FBI’s claim that Steele played no role in triggering Crossfire Hurricane and that its team only received the dossier weeks after their colleagues, on Sept. 19.
- The FBI’s own records belie its claims that it decided to launch the Russia probe not because of the dossier, but instead on a vague tip recounting a London barroom conversation with a low-level Trump campaign volunteer, George Papadopoulos. Australian diplomat Alexander Downer’s tip, recorded in bureau records, was that Papadopoulos had merely “suggested” that Russia had made an unspecified “suggestion” of Russian help – a thin basis upon which to investigate an entire presidential campaign.
- Upon officially opening Crossfire Hurricane on July 31, FBI officials immediately took investigative steps that mirrored the claims in the Steele dossier even though they were supposedly unaware of it. In August, the FBI team opened probes of Trump campaign figures Carter Page, Michael Flynn, and Paul Manafort – all of whom are mentioned in the dossier – based on predicates that are just as flimsy as the Downer-Papadopoulos pretext.
- The FBI’s claim that Steele played no role in sparking the Trump-Russia probe is further called into question by top bureau officials’ previous false claims about the investigation, including Steele’s role. They not only lied to the public and Congress, but to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
What really pointed to the importance of the dossier was Durham’s indictment of Igor Danchenko, Steele’s main source.
Charlie Savage of the New York Times wrote an article, “Why the Discredited Dossier Does Not Undercut the Russia Investigation.” His contention is that the FBI did not know about the dossier at the time they opened the investigation. But, if the team leading the investigation did not know of the dossier, then they were about the only high-ranking officials in the FBI that didn’t.
The investigation opened on September 19th, 2016. The first time the FBI became aware of the dossier was on July 5th, 2016, over two months before the launch of the probe. Christopher Steele reached out to an FBI official he had worked with before, Michael Gaeta. Gaeta flew to London the very next day and met with Steele, receiving part of the report that was to be known as the Steele Dossier.
Steele’s allegations did not stay in London, as Gaeta quickly shared them with FBI colleagues. “I couldn’t just sweep it under the rug, couldn’t discount it just on its face,” he told Congress, adding that Steele “was an established source.” On July 12, Gaeta told a colleague in the FBI’s New York field office, the then-assistant special agent in charge, about Steele’s allegations. According to Horowitz — the IG who concluded that Steele “played no role in the Crossfire Hurricane opening” – this agent then informed his superior about the Steele allegations “the same day.” The Steele material, Horowitz’s team was told, was seen by these FBI officials as “something that needs to be handled immediately” and “definitely of interest to the Counterintelligence folks.”
On July 28, at his FBI colleague’s request, Michael Gaeta passed along copies of the two reports he had received from Steele. As Horowitz later found, the first one (dated June 20, 2016) provided by Steele to Gaeta, would later become “one of four of Steele’s reports that the FBI relied upon to support” its surveillance applications for Carter Page.
Steele’s conspiracy theories quickly made their way up the FBI chain. According to the inspector general’s report, Gaeta heard from a colleague that high-level officials were already “aware of the reports’ existence,” including at the “Executive Assistant Director (EAD) level” at FBI headquarters in Washington. This occurred, Gaeta told Congress, “on maybe the 1st of August, right around then,” or “either the 31st of July.”