The central mystery involving what has become known as Russiagate is the lack of any real understanding of what exactly took place. It is alleged in some circles that Moscow somehow interfered in the 2016 Presidential election and might even have tilted the result in favor of candidate Donald Trump. Others suspect that the tale is politically motivated in an attempt to exonerate Hillary Clinton and find Donald Trump or his associates guilty of collusion with an unfriendly foreign government.
Caught in between are those who are not completely convinced by either narrative and are demanding evidence to confirm that there was a sequence of events involving Russia and various American individuals that demonstrates both intent and actual steps taken which would lend credibility to such a hypothesis. So far, in spite of a year and a half of highly intrusive investigation, there has been remarkably little evidence of anything apart from the unchallengeable fact that someone took files from John Podesta as well as the Democratic National Committee (DNC) computers and the stolen information wound up at WikiLeaks.
One of the most damaging revelations made regarding Donald Trump consisted of the so-called “Dossier,” which had been compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. Initial reports suggested that Steele’s investigation was commissioned initially by a Republican opponent of Trump, possibly Jeb Bush, and later it was possibly continued by someone connected to the Democratic Party. This genesis of the document was widely reported at the time but no “names” were attached to the claims even though the identities of those who had commissioned the work were known to some journalists who had uncovered additional details relating to the investigation.
The drafts of some parts of the document itself began to make the rounds in Washington during the summer of 2016, though the entire text was not surfaced in the media until January. The dossier was reportedly still being worked on in June by Steele and by one account was turned over to the FBI in Rome by him in July. It later was passed to John McCain in November and was presented to FBI Director James Comey for verification, which he agreed to do.
The Steele Dossier contained serious but largely unsubstantiated allegations about Trump’s connection to the Vladimir Putin regime as a businessman who sought and obtained significant, and possibly illegal, favors on real estate transactions from the Russian government. On a more personal level, it also included accounts of some bizarre sexual escapades with prostitutes at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Moscow. Few of the allegations could be verified as the report relied on mostly unnamed, unidentifiable sources. On a more serious note, the dossier concluded with an assessment that Donald Trump was compromised by the Russian intelligence services and could be blackmailed.
At roughly the same time the Clinton campaign began a major effort to connect Trump with Russia as a way to discredit him and his campaign and to deflect the revelations of her own campaign malfeasance coming from WikiLeaks. In late August, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid wrote to FBI head James Comey and demanded that the “connections between the Russian government and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign” be investigated. In September Senator Diane Feinstein and Representative Adam Schiff of the Senate and House intelligence committees respectively publicly accused the Russians of meddling in the election “based on briefings we have received.”
The linkage between the dossier and the timing of the Democratic Party attempt to tie Trump to Moscow is significant given what has been revealed over the past several days. As it turns out, it has been confirmed that Steele’s firm Fusion GPS was indeed paid not only by the DNC, but also by the Clinton Campaign itself. A Washington lawyer named Marc Elias, whose firm Perkins Coie worked for both the DNC and Hillary, was the go-between on the arrangement, which began in April 2016 and continued until the election.
As a former intelligence officer who has seen numerous overseas investigations done for clients, I can say with some confidence that the Steele Dossier is a composite of some fact, a lot of speculation, and even occasional fiction. Some indisputable and confirmable information is inevitably used to provide credibility for a lot of speculation and false stories that were intended to sow doubt and confusion. Gossip and rumors are reported as fact, with the whole product being put together in such a fashion as to appear credible to satisfy a client interested in exploitable information rather than the truth. Including some proper names, which the dossier does occasionally, provides credibility and the FBI’s ability to confirm some of the dates and places regarding travel and meetings provided bona fides for the entire document and resulted in the launching of a top-level law enforcement investigation.
The dossier was designed to dig up “dirt” on Trump and his associates, but, more to the point, it was clearly intended from the start to do so by manufacturing and nurturing a Russian angle. It sought to discredit Donald Trump and to deceive the public, which suggests that Trump has been right all along regarding something like a conspiracy against him which included the active participation of the FBI and possibly other national security agencies.
The president also comes across as credible vis-à-vis his critics because of what has become evident since the dossier was surfaced. The clearly politically motivated multiple investigations carried out so far in which no rock has been unturned have come up with absolutely nothing, either in the form of criminal charges or in terms of actual collusion with a foreign government. And, one might add, there has been little in the way of evidence to sustain the charge that Russia sought to influence the election and might even have succeeded in doing so. But there is one thing new that we do know now: Russiagate began within the Clinton Campaign headquarters.
Phil Giraldi is a former CIA Case Officer and Army Intelligence Officer who spent 20 years overseas in Europe and the Middle East working terrorism cases.
Perspectives expressed in op-eds are not those of The Daily Caller.
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