When Shifty Schiff loved the dossier

The Washington Examiner (Byron York’s Daily Memo):

WHEN ADAM SCHIFF LOVED THE DOSSIER. March 2017 was a heady time for Trump-Russia conspiracy theorists. The collapse of their enterprise lay two years in the future, when Robert Mueller, the special counsel in whom they placed their hopes of bringing down President Donald Trump, announced that after an intensive investigation he could not establish any conspiracy or coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 election. Their total embarrassment lay more than four years away when another special counsel, John Durham, would release findings showing that their theory was not only wrong but laughably wrong — if a theory that did so much damage to the American polity could be called laughable.

But in March 2017, all that lay ahead. It was a time for Democrats to celebrate the hottest “intelligence” on everyone’s mind: the Steele dossier , the collection of anti-Trump allegations compiled by the former British spy Christopher Steele, commissioned and paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

On March 20, the House Intelligence Committee held a hearing on Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential race. The witnesses were James Comey and Michael Rogers, then the chiefs of the FBI and NSA, respectively. Much of the questioning that day — from Democrats — focused on the dossier.

What Democratic lawmakers said seems surreal today, given everything that has happened. But led by Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking minority member — the committee was still controlled by Republicans and Rep. Devin Nunes at the time — Democrats repeatedly lent credibility to the dossier. They took it very, very seriously. And these were not anchors and commentators at MSNBC or CNN. They were members of the U.S. House of Representatives who had special clearances to deal with the nation’s secrets. And they were spreading disinformation left and right.

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The disinformation began with Schiff’s opening statement, referencing a theory from the dossier involving the former low-level Trump campaign adviser Carter Page and former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort. “According to Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer who is reportedly held in high regard by U.S. intelligence,” Schiff said, “Russian sources tell [Steele] that Page has … had a secret meeting with Igor Sechin, CEO of the Russian gas giant Rosneft. Sechin is reported to be a former KGB agent and a close friend of Putin’s. According to Steele’s Russian sources, Page is offered brokerage fees … on a deal involving a 19% share of the company. According to Reuters, the sale of a 19.5% share of Rosneft later takes place with unknown purchasers and unknown brokerage fees. Also, according to Steele’s Russian sources, the [Trump] campaign was offered documents damaging to Hillary Clinton which the Russians would publish through an outlet that gives them deniability, like WikiLeaks. The hacked documents would be in exchange for a Trump administration policy that de-emphasizes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and instead focuses on criticizing NATO countries for not paying their fair share … According to Steele, it was Manafort who chose Page to serve as a go-between for the Trump campaign and Russian interests.”

First, do not believe anyone who says Democrats did not make a big deal of the Steele dossier. They did, starting with the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. And second, it was all false. There was no Rosneft deal. There was no 19%. There was no agreement to trade dirt on Clinton for an easy-on-Russia policy. And Manafort did not choose Page as the “go-between” for these nonexistent deals.

But Schiff did not stop there. “Is it a coincidence,” he asked a moment later, “that the Russian gas company, Rosneft, sold a 19% share after [Steele] was told by Russian sources that Carter Page was offered fees on a deal of just that size? Is it a coincidence that Steele’s Russian sources also affirmed that Russia had stolen documents hurtful to Secretary Clinton that it would utilize in exchange for pro-Russian policies?” None of it was true.

Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier also cited the nonexistent Rosneft-Carter Page deal, specifically referencing the dossier. But her colleague, Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro, really took the ball and ran with it. “I want to take a moment to turn to the Christopher Steele dossier,” Castro said. “My focus today is to explore how many claims within Steele’s dossier are looking more and more likely as though they are accurate.” Claiming that Russia traded compromising information with the Trump campaign, Castro continued, “The dossier definitely seems right on these points. A quid pro quo relationship seems to exist between the Trump campaign and Putin’s Russia.” Castro went on to quote from multiple entries from the dossier. He cited them one after the other.

Democratic Rep. Andre Carson was on board, too. “The dossier written by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele alleges that Trump agreed to sideline Russian intervention as a campaign issue, which is effectively a priority for Vladimir Putin,” Carson said. “There’s a lot in the dossier that is yet to be proven, but increasingly, as we’ll hear throughout the day, allegations are checking out. And this one seems to be as accurate as they come.” Except that it wasn’t.

Comey and Rogers refused to comment on any of the Democrats’ dossier speculation. Had Comey spoken up, he could have told the lawmakers that at that very moment FBI investigators were desperately trying — and failing — to corroborate the dossier’s allegations. They were finding out what Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz and, later, John Durham, would discover: Steele’s “sources” were mostly one man, Igor Danchenko, working at the liberal Washington think tank Brookings Institution, in some cases passing on allegations from a Democratic activist in the Clinton circle, Charles Dolan, who passed on gossip and stuff he read in the newspaper as intelligence from sources close to Trump.

This week, in light of the Durham revelations, Schiff faced a rare public questioning about his promotion of the dossier. It came, of all places, on The View , in which guest host Morgan Ortagus, a former Trump administration official, said to Schiff, “You defended and promoted and even read into the congressional record the Steele dossier. And we know the main source was indicted by the FBI for lying about most of the key claims in that dossier. Do you have any reflections on your role in promoting this to the American people?”

It turned out Schiff did have some reflections, and they were that he did nothing wrong. “At the beginning of the Russia investigation, I said that any allegations should be investigated,” he said. “We couldn’t have known, for example, people were lying to Christopher Steele.”

Schiff argued that the dossier’s lack of credibility should not be used “as a smokescreen to somehow shield Donald Trump’s culpability” in the Trump-Russia matter. “None of that serious misconduct is in any way diminished by the fact that people lied to Christopher Steele,” Schiff said.

In the end, it is too simple to dismiss the dossier affair by saying, “people lied to Christopher Steele.” Yes, Steele’s “sources” fed him made-up allegations. But why did Steele, supposedly the master spy, accept them so uncritically? Because they might help bring down Donald Trump. That was more important than whether they were true or not. The important thing to remember is that the sources told Steele what he wanted to hear. And then Steele, through the dossier, told his bosses at the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee what they wanted to hear. And then the dossier told some key FBI officials what they wanted to hear. And then it told Schiff what he wanted to hear. And then it told Rachel Maddow and many others in the media what they wanted to hear. And so on. The dossier was so important because it seemed to fulfill the wishes of so many people.

As bad as it is, it’s likely the public still does not know all the ins and outs of the dossier story. More could be on the way from Durham. But we do know the most important thing to know about the dossier: Dig down deep, and there’s nothing there. That’s why the Adam Schiff of 2021 does not like to be reminded of the Adam Schiff of 2017, who tried to sell the public a document even he can no longer defend.

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