Politics & Policy

The Steele Dossier Is Still Absurd

President Trump at a White House news conference in August. (Reuters photo: Carlos Barria)
The central allegations of the Never Trumpers about Russia remain ridiculous.

It is with great reluctance that I must take issue with my very esteemed friend Andy McCarthy, in this case with his treatment of the Steele Dossier, which makes a lot of sensational allegations against President Trump of compromising past relations with Russia and its leaders. The dossier is named after retired British MI-6 Russian specialist Christopher Steele, was compiled initially at the request of the shady political-interference and espionage operation Fusion GPS, was paid for by anti-Trump Republicans, and then, after Trump had secured the Republican nomination, was financed by the Clinton campaign.

Andy has suddenly determined that this dossier might amount to something because Trump controls the administration and he is allowing special counsel Robert Mueller and deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein to stonewall congressional demands for testimony from FBI witnesses about the Bureau’s participation in producing the dossier and related events. If there were nothing to it, Andy reasons, Trump would tell the Justice Department to give Congress what it wants. With the utmost respect for Andy, this is spurious. The Democratic senators were screaming for a special counsel, and now they are upset because the counsel won’t let them near his only remaining witnesses, and it is somehow Trump’s fault. If he overruled Mueller and Rosenstein, he would be accused by them, the media, and the Democratic hypocrites of obstruction.

Steele furnished his intelligence in a series of memos from June to December 2016. He tried to interest both British and U.S. intelligence in his findings, acting only out of patriotic and Alliance concern for Western security, he claims, and gave the dossier to a number of people, including David Kramer, a former State Department officer and protégé of Trump enemies George W. Bush and Senator John McCain, in December 2016. Steele eventually believed that he was being sandbagged by the New York office of the FBI. But with the election over, the FBI allegedly began paying Steele for his work and for the identity of his sources, who were generally not direct contacts, but people whose views were reported by intermediaries, who also transmitted the money paid to the sources — always a pretty shaky method of intelligence collection. Steele fled into hiding for weeks out of fear of Russian reprisals when his name was publicly released, but has spoken to Mueller’s investigators.

Steele also gave his report to Mother Jones, a controversialist left-wing magazine, in December 2016. His dossier had been floating around all the media for months, and became the subject of lawsuits in Britain and the United States by Alexei Gubarev, a Cyprus resident accused by Steele of assisting Russia in cyber-hacking the Clinton campaign. All respectable media having declined to publish it, Buzzfeed, a rather scurrilous site, ran it on January 10, 2017, but still no reputable news source would touch it. CNN, whose standing on Trump matters is not reputable, referred to the existence of such a document, through the late autumn, titillating its viewers, but splashed it around the world after Buzzfeed took the plunge. CNN claimed to have conducted a Homeric feat of investigative reporting, when all they did was pick it up from the Internet. CNN even exhumed Carl Bernstein, inextinguishable these 45 years since his Watergate enormities, to profess to find it all credible, even as his Watergate co-conspirator, Bob Woodward, called it “a garbage document.” (When Woodward says that, it is the foulest of refuse.).

Congressional committees have demanded to hear from FBI witnesses about the Bureau’s collaboration in this activity, but Mueller, with Rosenstein’s support, has required that the FBI not allow its witnesses to testify. Both President Obama and President-elect Trump were briefed about the Steele dossier, and Senator McCain gave it to thenFBI director James Comey in November 2016. There appears to have been a joint task force including the CIA and the FBI investigating the Steele dossier since last December, and former director Comey confirmed three times to Trump — between January 27 and early May —  that he was not a suspect.

The Steele dossier is best remembered for the allegation about prostitutes being synchronized by Trump to urinate in a Moscow hotel bed because the Obamas had once slept there. It also had one of Trump’s counsel engaged in skullduggery in Prague, even though he was in Los Angeles at the time and has never been in the Czech Republic. It is admitted that even though the Russians tried to entice Trump into doing business in Russia, he did not do so. Even allowing that the rest of the dossier’s contents may be more relevant and plausible, this is still an unimaginably flimsy pretext for the continuing campaign of innuendos about collusion between Trump and Russia.

Let us keep in mind the immense fanfare with which the collusion story was launched, as the reason for the defeat of Hillary Clinton, with confident predictions from week to week that the whole immense story of corruption and national betrayal would burst and engulf the new administration. It now appears that this was connected to the questionable surveillance in the Trump Tower and the “unmasking” of Trump campaign officials, as Trump alleged to great mirth and mockery eight months ago. Trump’s tax returns would reveal the skullduggery with Russia (according to Senator Christopher Coons of Delaware), and the meeting of Trump’s son, son-in-law, and a campaign official with a Russian woman to receive nasty information about Mrs. Clinton, but really to hear an appeal about the adoption of Russian children, would reveal the proportions of Trump’s wrongdoing or even treason (according to Senator Tim Kaine, already a trivia question though he was the Democratic vice-presidential candidate last year).

A scandal as immense as that alleged by Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, that General George C. Marshall had masterminded a plot to give Eastern Europe and China to the Reds, was regularly suggested against Donald Trump with obscene irresponsibility by much of the media for months, even when this dossier was universally dismissed as scurrilous, and that even by Trump-haters.

Robert Mueller, Comey’s friend and benefactor (who has packed his staff with notorious Clintonians), is reduced to a shakedown operation on former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, including a Gestapo-style dawn raid on his home with armed men in his bedroom and Mrs. Manafort in night attire (as people often are when asleep at night), followed by hours ransacking the home. This is not the conduct of a serious investigation getting warm in a chase for evidence of monstrous improprieties. The leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Richard Burr (R., N.C.), who all but asked for the Medal of Freedom for not going to lunch at the White House with other Republican senators during the health-care struggle in the Senate (showing his independence), and Senator Mark Warner (D., Va.), who has been announcing for months with tedious antagonism that they have “lots of smoke” but not yet a fire, acknowledged last week that they have nothing because the whole argument is in the Steele Dossier, hearsay of hearsay commissioned by Trump enemies and riddled with salacious and scatological fatuities.

And the Resistance, the Never Trumpers, are also reduced to the Steele Dossier. The hackneyed Carl Bernstein, worn down by the disingenuousness of years, is urging them out of the trenches one more time. Senator Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) is warning of “chaos” and “World War III” as he departs the Senate, and Max Boot (winner every month of the Gabe Schoenfeld Award for reflexive Trump derangement) is raising again the pathetic squeak of impeachment. What must be almost the last charge of this decimated brigade of mudslingers approaches again, carrying with them like a Kathy Griffin icon the utter imbecility of the Steele accusations.

No sane person could really imagine that after a year of intensive investigation by officials who leak information on a scale that has had the administration searching for Mount Ararat, in all of which time there has not been a peep that Mr. Trump has not been cooperative, we would not have heard by now if there were anything to it.

What is happening now is a disgraceful charade.

Let us face the facts. Trump’s war on both parties is stalled as the Republicans in Congress try to decide whether they are defenders of the swamp they have inhabited and that their party’s nominee has pledged to drain, or will join their putative leader and, aglow with the grace of conversion, climb ashore and advance the cause. Corker has made his choice, but he is fleeing. Either the Republicans will rally, put through the administration’s tax program, and tackle the rest of the agenda, or there will be skirmishing right through the mid-terms next year, when the country can either drop the other shoe or vote again for gridlock.

But what is happening now is a disgraceful charade: Burr and Warner are waiting for the author of the fable of the Muscovite Golden Shower to bring down the U.S. government in what would be the greatest scandal in the history of the nation-state, except that it — the trade of anti-Clinton election interference by the Russian government in exchange for changes of U.S. policy by Trump in favor of Russia — could not possibly have happened and could never be proved. And if everything else in the dossier were somewhat accurate (an interplanetary leap of the imagination), none of it is impeachable. This was the original “fake news” eight months ago, and is just a pastiche of malicious nonsense now. Contrary to widespread belief, America has not gone mad, but the conduct of the detritus of its failed political establishment, including the media and commentariat in this case, could not be cited as evidence of that.


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