This morning, New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer published a summation of Christopher Steele and his investigation into Donald Trump that culminated in BuzzFeed leaking his dossier to the press shortly before Trump’s inaugural last year. It is the most thorough article that I have read on the subject, and I suspect it will put Mayer in contention for a Pulitzer come 2019. For those who don’t have the time to look through the entire piece for themselves, here are the most important revelations from the piece, saving the best for last.
1. Steele’s allies vouch for his good character.
Although he has been denounced by the Fox News commentariat as a “partisan” (Tucker Carlson), and his dossier rejected as “claptrap” (Sean Hannity), Steele’s friends praise him as a good-natured man with strong values. Graham Davies, a friend since their Cambridge days, describes him as “a quiet guy who listens more than he talks,” and “a pragmatic thinker,” not unlike Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Seniors officers from MI6, as well as clients with his firm Orbis, offer similar plaudits, with one client saying, “I don’t know anyone who’s been critical of his work.” So much for Devin Nunes.
2. Four secondhand sources revealed the existence of the pee-pee tape.
Steele and his firm collect their intelligence from person-to-person communication, something he learned from his work with MI6. From this, they learned from four people that the Russians had a tape of Trump hiring prostitutes to urinate on a bed that Obama had used at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton Hotel. None had direct communication with either the President or the prostitutes, but two of them worked in the hotel. The other two were an associate of Trump’s, and a former Russian intelligence officer with ties to the Kremlin.
3. Despite this, the tape was almost left out of the reports.
Orbis co-founder Christopher Burrows argued that revealing the tape would overshadow the rest of their intelligence, but Steele was insistent that they couldn’t cherry-pick information to put in their memos. A friend of his calls this “Classic Steele…He’s so straight.”
4. The State Department refused to intervene on Steele’s behalf.
The Hatch Act of 1939 prohibits unelected government employees from speaking out in favor of one candidate over another. As a result, when the State Department first learned of the dossier’s existence in September 2016, their hands were tied. They ended up doing nothing, thus putting to rest any idea that the “Deep State” was involved in an attempt to stop Trump from assuming the presidency.
5. James Comey declined to release a public statement on Russian interference.
By October 2016, the existence of the dossier was an open secret among members of the press, many of whom (including Mayer herself) had been briefed by Steele at a confidential meeting that fall. The first weekend of that month, director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson released a joint statement condemning Russian interference. Comey had planned on releasing a statement of his own, but at the last minute decided against it, claiming it was “too close to the election” to make such a call. Let the irony of this sink in for a moment.
6. Steele was not “dumped” by the FBI as a source – their breakup was mutual.
Believing he couldn’t pursue his investigation without alerting them, Steele first met with an FBI agent on July 5th, 2016, less than two weeks after Fusion’s intelligence had gotten into his hands and on the same day that Comey exonerated Clinton in the email investigation. The Bureau began investigating Trump on July 31st, but as the election grew closer, Steele grew more and more disconcerted that they weren’t more serious about it, keeping the American public in the dark about the claims. He was told by friends that the Bureau rarely came out with such intel right before an election – but then Comey reopened the email investigation. Steele then told Mother Jones reporter David Corn that he had provided intel to the Bureau, and the two forces severed ties.
7. Despite their inaction, the FBI had possessed a copy of the dossier since that summer.
To paraphrase Ricky Ricardo, “Comey, you’ve got some ‘splainin to do!”
8. Obama was the proverbial last to know about the dossier’s existence.
Obama and Biden were first briefed on the dossier’s existence on January 5th, 2017, when Comey came to the White House with a document laying out all of Steele’s allegations. By this point, the dossier had circulated among DC political reporters for a while. Their reaction to it was worrisome but calm and measured. The next day, when Comey alerted Trump of its existence, the president-elect reacted with characteristic anger, poisoning their relationship.
9. Most importantly, the Kremlin itself may have prevented Mitt Romney from becoming Secretary of State.
After his contract with Fusion GPS ended, Steele authored another memo that was left out of the BuzzFeed leak. Based on a talk with an anonymous Kremlin official, it said that the Kremlin had asked Trump:
“To appoint someone who would be prepared to lift Ukraine-related sanctions, and who would coöperate on security issues of interest to Russia, such as the conflict in Syria. If what the source heard was true, then a foreign power was exercising pivotal influence over U.S. foreign policy—and an incoming President.
Romney, who was famously harsh on Russia in his 2012 campaign, would have been anathema to the Kremlin since their intervention in our election was revenge against the sanctions imposed on them by the US and the EU following their 2014 invasion of Crimea. Tillerson, whose ties to Putin and various Russian oligarchs have been well-documented, was much more acceptable, especially since he and Trump have refused to enact the latest round of sanctions, despite both houses of Congress passing them with an overwhelming majority last summer. (Romney, now a candidate for Senate from Utah, declined to comment for Mayer’s article.)
These revelations may not please Trump’s defenders or the Steele dossier’s detractors. But they prove that Trump’s actions on behalf of a foreign nation, who have made their intents to meddle in our affairs very clear, represents the most heinous act of treason in the history of this country.
Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.