Some people have a favorite music artist or novelist that inspires them, that speaks truths in ways others simply don’t.
I’m a political geek, so my tastes tend to run a bit differently. Instead of obsessing over Beyoncé or Thomas Pynchon (although, in fairness, I do come close to obsessiveness on Pynchon), my choice in this department would be investigative journalist John Solomon.
If you haven’t heard of Solomon, well, then, shame on you. While the media was fixated on whether the Trump campaign had merely colluded with Russia or really, really colluded with Russia, Solomon was churning out report after report about the sausage-making aspect of the collusion investigation, including one of the first pieces alleging that the investigation had begun before the FBI had acknowledged it had.
Recently, Solomon’s turned his sights on the hive of villainy that is Ukraine’s farcical anti-corruption agencies and the possibility that the Obama administration may have pressured them to revive and/or drop cases that might have had political implications for the administration.
And now, Solomon has turned his critical eye toward Christopher Steele’s Trump dossier. Not that the compendium of paid hearsay from a corpus of dodgy intelligence figures funded by the Clinton campaign hasn’t come under enough deserved scrutiny, particularly over the fact that it was used to obtain a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court warrant against a Trump campaign individual.
However, Solomon notes that one part of that warrant application — the assertion that Steele’s intelligence was reliable and that no one had raised doubts about it — is “fraying faster than a $5 souvenir T-shirt bought at a tourist trap.”
“Newly unearthed memos show a high-ranking government official who met with Steele in October 2016 determined some of the Donald Trump dirt that Steele was simultaneously digging up for the FBI and for Hillary Clinton’s campaign was inaccurate, and likely leaked to the media,” Solomon wrote in a piece published Thursday.
“The concerns were flagged in a typed memo and in handwritten notes taken by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kathleen Kavalec on Oct. 11, 2016.
“Her observations were recorded exactly 10 days before the FBI used Steele and his infamous dossier to justify securing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to spy on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page and the campaign’s contacts with Russia in search of a now-debunked collusion theory.”
As Solomon notes, the FISA warrant vouchsafed that Steele’s “reporting has been corroborated and used in criminal proceedings,” was “reliable” and the FBI was “unaware of any derogatory information pertaining” to his work.
“That’s a pretty remarkable declaration in Footnote 5 on Page 15 of the FISA application, since Kavalec apparently needed just a single encounter with Steele at State to find one of his key claims about Trump-Russia collusion was blatantly false,” Solomon writes.
Kavalec’s notes describe Steele talking about how there was a “technical/human operation run out of Moscow targeting the election.” It worked by cultivating immigrants to “do hacking and recruiting” for them.
Her summary notes that Steele said the following: “Payments to those recruited are made out of the Russian Consulate in Miami.”
In brackets, Solomon wrote, Kovalec noted something that should have alerted the FBI to just who it was dealing with:
“It is important to note that there is no Russian consulate in Miami.”
That’s a big whoopsie. So is the fact, according to Kavalec’s notes, that Steele was possibly leaking the information to the press.
State Department handwritte… by on Scribd
“June — reporting started,” a note read, mentioning The New York Times and Washington Post as potential outlets that had the information.
“Those same notes suggest Steele spun some wild theories to State, including one that the Russians had a ‘plant in DNC’ and had assembled an ‘HRC dossier,’ apparent references to the Democratic National Committee and Clinton,” Solomon wrote.
“She expounded in her typed memo. ‘The Russians have succeeded in placing an agent inside the DNC,’ she quoted Steele as saying.”
Other dodgy conspiracy theories involved the Russians meeting with Page, one-time Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort owing over $100 million to Russia and therefore being malleable, and the oft-repeated fictions that the Russians and Trump communicated through a computer system and that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen had traveled to Prague.
Solomon says these could have “easily could have been debunked before the FISA application.”
Solomon also lists other damning information we know about Steele: He was fired from the FBI for leaking, the court wasn’t notified about his firing until long after Election Day, senior Justice Department official Bruce Ohr had known Steele was “desperate” to nail Trump, etc.
Solomon acknowledged that the recipients of the Kavalec memo are classified, but wrote that it was “unlikely that her concerns failed to reach the FBI.”
He also made it clear that even if it didn’t, there’s little doubt bureau knew how weak Steele was:
“Even if the FBI didn’t get Kavalec’s memo, it is just as implausible that the bureau couldn’t figure out, during the many hours that its agents spent with Steele, what Kavalec divined in a few short minutes: He was political, inaccurate, spinning wild theories and talking to the media. “
And there is one particular paragraph from Solomon, that I think we all ought to meditate on — even if it’s not new information:
“Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, released last month, dispelled all those wild theories while hardly mentioning Steele, except for a passing reference to his dossier being ‘unverified.’ That’s significant, because the FISA request from October 2016 that rested heavily on Steele’s information was marked ‘verified application’ before the FBI submitted it to the court,” he wrote.
The FISA warrant — and by extension, the dossier — is what really kicked two-and-a-half years of investigations and wild, Oliver Stone-level conspiracy theorizing into high gear.
When Mueller finally issued his report, after assumedly looking into all of the leads Steele had provided, all he could say was that the former MI5 agent’s work was “unverified.”
That’s damning for Steele, but even more so for the people who used his work to get a FISA warrant even though they knew that part of the report involved alleged payments from a consulate that didn’t exist.
Yet again, Solomon gets it: This flimsy piece of opposition research isn’t going to die. Except now, it’s not going to be an investigation into whether the dossier was factual.
It’s going to look into the people who either thought — or pretended to think — that it was true.
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