By Gregg Re
Published December 18, 2018
The salacious and unverified opposition research dossier cited by the FBI as its main justification to surveil a top Trump aide contains several claims that are "likely false," according to the Yahoo News reporter who was among the first to break the news of the dossier's existence.
Michael Isikoff's statements on John Ziegler's Free Speech Broadcasting podcast came a day before Michael Cohen adviser Lanny Davis reiterated that Cohen has never been to Prague -- where, according to the dossier, he traveled to arrange a payment to Russian hackers during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The dossier was created by British ex-spy Christopher Steele and funded by the firm Fusion GPS -- which was retained by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.
"In broad strokes, Christopher Steele was clearly onto something, that there was a major Kremlin effort to interfere in our elections, that they were trying to help Trump's campaign, and that there was multiple contacts between various Russian figures close to the government and various people in Trump's campaign,” Isikoff said.
But he added: “When you actually get into the details of the Steele dossier, the specific allegations, we have not seen the evidence to support them, and, in fact, there's good grounds to think that some of the more sensational allegations will never be proven and are likely false."
On four occasions, the FBI told the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court that it "did not believe" Steele was the direct source for Isikoff's Sept. 23, 2016 Yahoo News article implicating former Trump aide Carter Page in Russian collusion.
Instead, the FBI suggested to the court, the article by Michael Isikoff was independent corroboration of the salacious, unverified allegations against Trump in the infamous Steele dossier. Federal authorities used both the Steele dossier and Yahoo News article to convince the FISA court to authorize a surveillance warrant for Page.
But London court records show that contrary to the FBI's assessments, Steele briefed Yahoo News and other reporters in the fall of 2016 at the direction of Fusion GPS -- the opposition research firm behind the dossier. The revelations were contained heavily-redacted documents released earlier this year after a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the organization Judicial Watch.
"The FBI does not believe that Source #1 [Steele] directly provided this information to the identified news organization that published the September 23rd News Article," the FBI stated in one of the released FISA documents. "Source #1 told the FBI that he/she only provided this information to the business associate and the FBI."
The documents describe Source #1 as someone "hired by a business associate to conduct research" into Trump's Russia ties -- but do not mention that Fusion GPS was funded by the DNC and Clinton campaign.
Instead, the documents say only: "The FBI speculates that the identified U.S. person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit [Trump's] campaign." Fox News believes that the U.S. person is Glenn Simpson, co-founder of Fusion GPS.
Page announced in October he is filing a defamation lawsuit against the DNC over the dossier's claims. He is also suing Perkins Coie and its partners, the law firm that represented Clinton’s campaign and hired Fusion GPS.
Page told Fox News’ “Hannity” at the time that his lawsuit goes “beyond any damages or any financial aspects."
“There have been so many lies as you’re alluding to and you look at the damage it did to our Democratic systems and our institutions of government back in 2016. And I’m just trying to get some justice,” he said.
Meanwhile, ex-Cohen attorney Lanny Davis laughed off a suggestion during an MSNBC interview on Sunday that his former client had ever made a trip to Prague to pay Russian hackers.
“No, no Prague, ever, never,” Davis said.
While Cohen's team has long denied he made the trip, the latest denial comes after Cohen pleaded guilty in two separate prosecutions linked to his work for President Trump. Cohen has pledged to cooperate with federal authorities, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team has said he has largely done so.
Fox News reported in August that embattled Justice Department official Bruce Ohr had contact in 2016 with then-colleague Andrew Weissmann, who is now a top Mueller deputy, as well as other senior FBI officials about the controversial anti-Trump dossier and the individuals behind it.
The sources said Ohr's outreach about the dossier – as well as Steele; the opposition research firm behind it, Glenn Simpson’s Fusion GPS; and his wife Nellie Ohr's work for Fusion – occurred before and after the FBI fired Steele as a source over his media contacts. Ohr's network of contacts on the dossier included: anti-Trump former FBI agent Peter Strzok; former FBI lawyer Lisa Page; former deputy director Andrew McCabe; Weissmann and at least one other DOJ official; and a current FBI agent who worked with Strzok on the Russia case.
Weissmann was kept "in the loop" on the dossier, a source said, while he was chief of the criminal fraud division. He is now assigned to Mueller’s team.
Ohr's broad circle of contacts indicates members of FBI leadership knew about his backchannel activities regarding the dossier and Steele.
Congressional Republicans are still trying to get to the bottom of Ohr's role in circulating the unverified dossier, which became a critical piece of evidence in obtaining a surveillance warrant for Page in October 2016.