Brian Stelter, CNN’s media reporter, claimed Monday that he had no knowledge of the recently unveiled evidence showing that the “primary sub-source” for Christopher Steele’s infamous dossier was suspected by the FBI of being a “threat to national security” for suspected ties to Russian intelligence.
Stelter, appearing on radio host Hugh Hewitt’s show to discuss his recently released book on Fox News, was forced to address questions about his reporting on the Trump-Russia collusion theory. Hewitt pushed the CNN host over his criticisms of Fox’s coverage of the Mueller investigation, pointing to new information that adds credence to the network’s skepticism.
Last week, a declassified footnote in Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz’s report showed that the primary sub-source for Steele’s claims “was the subject of an FBI counterintelligence investigation from 2009 to 2011 that assessed his/her documented contacts with suspected Russian intelligence officers.” The Ukrainian-born Igor Danchenko worked at the Brookings Institution from 2005 to 2010 and, during that time, tried to recruit two people connected to “an influential foreign policy advisor in the Obama administration,” telling the pair that if they “did get a job in the government and had access to classified information,” he had a way for them “to make a little extra money.” The investigation into Danchenko only ended because he left the country.
A summary of the intelligence released by Attorney General William Barr adds that the FBI knew in December 2016 of the information, but made no mention of it in subsequent FISA applications to surveil the Trump campaign.
Upon pressing from Hewitt over the story and its significance, Stelter pleaded ignorance.
“I’m a media reporter, and I’m not a Steele dossier reporter,” he stated. “ . . . I literally do not know, because I’m a media reporter. I hate to disappoint you. I just, I don’t cover the dossier over the air.”
Stelter’s own network defended the Steele dossier for years, as repeatedly noted by Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple — who has devoted a series of columns to reexamine prior credulous reporting on the dossier. And despite his claims to the contrary, Stelter himself has discussed Steele and his claims on numerous occasions. In a November 2017 interview with then-White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway, Stelter accused Conway of spreading “misinformation” for calling the dossier “completely unverified.”
“Pieces of the dossier have been verified, and when you say it’s ‘unverified’, you mislead the American people,” Stelter told Conway.
When Conway asked in response if Stelter was “comfortable” defending Steele’s claims, Stelter replied: “I am comfortable with an ongoing investigation into what’s true and what’s false.”
"Simpson has bristled at the idea that the dossier is some kind of liberal fever dream. Its broad conclusions — once outlandish themselves — have already proved prescient, the firm has argued. Sometimes the conspiracy is true." https://t.co/NmKocMzIMK
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) January 9, 2018
"I haven't had a single person approach me to say, 'I wish I hadn’t read the dossier, and wish I had less insight into the forces at play in America.' Do you feel that way? Does anyone?" https://t.co/wDACxZRhAf
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) January 10, 2018
Our daily reminder that "Fox and Friends" has a serious responsibility. And yet… this morning Fox told the prez that the dossier was "made up" 🤔 https://t.co/AS9AzzM69G
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) January 11, 2018
But the Horowitz report, published in December 2019, offered a markedly different assessment:
The FBI concluded, among other things, that although consistent with known efforts by Russia to interfere in the 2016 U.S. elections, much of the material in the Steele election reports, including allegations about Donald Trump and members of the Trump campaign relied upon in the Carter Page FISA applications, could not be corroborated; that certain allegations were inaccurate or inconsistent with information gathered by the Crossfire Hurricane team; and that the limited information that was corroborated related to time, location, and title information, much of which was publicly available.
In his interview with Hewitt, Stelter also pushed back on exposing Russiagate, calling criticism of the Trump-Russia collusion theory “a fantasyland.”
“All of that that distracts from the key questions about Trump’s ties with Russia. We now know from the New York Times hundreds of millions of dollars of loans. Who does the President owe money to? We need to know,” Stelter said, referencing the recent New York Times coverage of the president’s tax returns.
The CNN host was apparently oblivious to the fact that the Times stated in its own report that the records do not show “any previously unreported connections to Russia.”