The Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday released newly declassified documents that they say “significantly undercut” the “reliability” of the infamous Steele dossier from the Russia probe, as well as the accuracy and reliability of the factual assertions in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants against former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
The first document, which the committee said spanned 57 pages, is a summary of a three-day interview with ex-British intelligence officer Christopher Steele’s primary sub-source. Steele authored the unverified anti-Trump dossier of claims about alleged ties between Donald Trump and Russia that served as the basis for FISA warrants obtained against Page.
The source, according to the committee, told the FBI in interviews in January and March of 2017 that the information contained in the anti-Trump dossier was unreliable.
The document revealed that the dossier was “unsubstantiated and unreliable,” according to sources who reviewed it, and showed that the FBI was on notice of the dossier’s credibility problems, yet continued to seek further FISA warrant renewals for Page.
The document revealed that the primary “source” of Steele’s election reporting was not a current or former Russian official, but a non-Russian-based contract employee of Steele’s firm, according to the committee.
Moreover, the document demonstrated that the information Steele’s primary sub-source provided him was “second and third-hand information and rumors at best.”
The document also revealed that Steele’s primary sub-source “disagreed with and was surprised by” how information he gave Steele was then conveyed by Steele in the dossier.
For instance, the source told the FBI he “did not recall” where some of the information attributed to him or his sources came from; was never told about or mentioned to Steele certain information attributed to him or his sources; said that Steele “re-characterized” some of the information to make it more substantiated and “less attenuated” than it really was; and that he would have described some of his sources differently.
The sub source also told the FBI, according to committee sources, that Steele “implied direct access to information where the access to information was indirect.”
The document, according to the committee, further demonstrates that the dossier “which played a central and essential role” in obtaining a FISA against Page.
Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee also obtained a second declassified document containing type-written notes by former FBI special agent Peter Strzok disagreeing with assertions made in a New York Times article published on Feb. 14, 2017, about alleged Russian intelligence ties to the Trump campaign.
The article was titled “Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts with Russian Intelligence.”
Strzok’s notes stated that the “recent interviews and investigation, however, reveal Steele may not be in a position to judge the reliability of his sub-source network.”
The second document, according to the committee, also indicates that “the FBI may have been using foreign intelligence gathering techniques to impermissibly unmask and analyze existing and future intelligence collection regarding U.S. persons associated with the Trump campaign.”
“Both the CIA and NSA are aware of our subjects and throughout the summer we provided them names and selectors for queries of their holdings as well as prospective collection,” the document said, according to sources who reviewed it.
“The quote does not provide enough information to fully understand exactly what the FBI was doing but impermissible unmasking and analysis of existing and future incidental intelligence collection of U.S. persons would be troubling,” according to the committee.
Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he was “very pleased the investigation in the Senate Judiciary Committee has been able to secure the declassification of these important documents,” and thanked Attorney General Barr.
“What have we learned from the release of these two documents by the Department of Justice? Number one, it is clear to me that the memo regarding the FBI interview of the primary sub-source in January 2017 should have required the system to stop and reevaluate the case against Mr. Page,” Graham said. “Most importantly after this interview of the sub-source and the subsequent memo detailing the contents of the interview, it was a miscarriage of justice for the FBI and the Department of Justice to continue to seek a FISA warrant against Carter Page in April and June of 2017.”
“Secondly, the comments of Peter Strzok regarding the February 14 New York Times article are devastating in that they are an admission that there was no reliable evidence that anyone from the Trump Campaign was working with Russian Intelligence Agencies in any form," Graham explained. “The statements by Mr. Strzok question the entire premise of the FBI’s investigation of the Trump Campaign and make it even more outrageous that the Mueller team continued this investigation for almost two and a half years."
He added: "Moreover, the statements by Strzok raise troubling questions as to whether the FBI was impermissibly unmasking and analyzing intelligence gathered on U.S. persons."
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz revealed last year in its review of alleged abuses of the FISA system that there were at least 17 "significant inaccuracies and omissions" in the Page FISA applications. Horowitz also found that the applications also omitted information regarding the reliability of one of Steele's key “sub-sources."
Horowitz also noted in his report that the key Steele “sub-source” raised questions about the reliability of Steele’s reporting, which was omitted.
But Steele’s attorneys, who also represent Orbis Business Intelligence where Steele worked, fired back, complaining they were “never given an opportunity to respond to the claims” regarding the sub-source.
In addition to the lack of corroboration of allegations contained in the dossier, Horowitz found that the FBI’s interviews of Steele and his sub-sources “revealed potentially serious problems with Steele’s description of information in his election reports.”
Horowitz said that the FBI “failed to notify” the Office of Investigations, which was working on the Page FISA applications “of potentially serious problems identified with Steele’s election reporting that arose as early as January 2017.”
Meanwhile, last month, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe transmitted a declassified footnote of the 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) on Russian election interference to Capitol Hill, which noted that Steele had only “limited corroboration” and that he used “identified and unidentified subsources” which volunteered “highly politically sensitive information from the summer to the fall of 2016 on Russian influence efforts aimed at the presidential election.”
“We have only limited corroboration of the source’s reporting in this case and did not use it to reach the analytic conclusions of the CIA/FBI/NSA assessment,” the declassified annex stated.
But the annex noted that Steele's reporting was "not developed by the layered subsource network.”
"The FBI source caveated that, although similar to previously provided reporting in terms of content, the source was unable to vouch for the additional information's sourcing and accuracy," the annex stated. "Hence this information is not included in this product."
Another footnote, which was previously redacted in its entirety, further raised doubt on the credibility of Steele’s main sources.
"When interviewed by the FBI, the Primary Sub-source stated that he/she did not view his/her contacts as a network of sources, [REDACTED] with whom he/she has conversations about current events and government relations," one of the previously hidden footnotes reads.
Horowitz, though, had asserted that Steele’s primary sub-source “used his/her network of sub-sources to gather information that was then passed to Steele.”