by Chuck Ross
U.S. intelligence officials are close to declassifying four footnotes from the Justice Department inspector general’s report on the Trump-Russia probe, with a Justice Department official telling the Daily Caller News Foundation that the release of the documents is “imminent.”
Sens. Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson, the chairmen of the Senate Finance and Senate Government Affairs Committees, respectively, asked the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and Justice Department on Jan. 28 to declassify the footnotes.
The Republican senators sent a follow up letter to Amb. Richard Grenell, the acting director of ODNI, on April 2 urging him again to declassify the information. They said they had had “fruitful” discussions with the Justice Department but that career intelligence officials were hesitant to declassify the footnotes.
The letter seemingly spurred on the decision to declassify the documents.
The website Just the News first reported that the footnotes will soon be declassified. Two sources confirmed to the DCNF that the information will be released soon.
The senators have not publicly identified the four footnotes in question, but sources have previously told the DCNF that they dealt with information related to dossier author Christopher Steele’s interactions with Russian oligarchs, and information from Steele’s sources for the dossier.
One of the footnotes refers to evidence that Steele, a former MI6 officer, may have published Russian disinformation in his dossier, the source familiar with the situation told the DCNF.
Lawmakers and other government officials have long questioned whether Russian sources intentionally misled Steele as he was investigating Donald Trump in 2016 on behalf of the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee.
That theory has gained its footing as more and more of Steele’s claims have been debunked in the three-plus years since BuzzFeed News published the dossier.
Fiona Hill, who served as a top Russia expert in the Trump administration, testified as part of the congressional impeachment hearings on Oct. 14 that she believed that Russians may have exploited Steele.
“Christopher Steele going out and looking for information. He’s obviously out there soliciting information,” said Hill, who knows Steele well. “What a great opportunity to, basically, you know, present him with information that he’s looking for that can be couched some truth and some disinformation.”
Steele, who served in Moscow when he was with MI6, relied on a primary source who collected information from a network of sub-sources in Russia and the West. He produced 17 memos as part of the investigation, and met multiple times with the FBI as part of its investigation into a possible conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The FBI relied heavily on information from Steele to obtain warrants to wiretap Carter Page, the former Trump campaign adviser. Steele alleged in the dossier that Page was part of the Trump campaign’s “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” with the Kremlin.
The special counsel’s report and IG report ultimately debunked many of Steele’s allegations about the campaign and Carter Page. The special counsel’s report said investigators failed to establish that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia. The IG report said the FBI failed to validate Steele’s allegations before using the dossier to surveil Page.
Steele’s primary source also told FBI agents in January 2017 that Steele mischaracterized information that ended up in the dossier.
FBI officials told the IG that investigators considered whether Steele was tricked by Russian disinformation, but the IG report said that investigators did not determine one way or the other whether that happened.
“We understood that information could be embellished or exaggerated. We also understood that the information could have been provided by the Russians as part of a disinformation campaign,” Bill Priestap, who served as chief of the FBI’s counterintelligence division during the Trump investigation, told the IG.
An FBI agent who worked on the probe told the IG that Steele’s handling agent did not disclose that Steele had a prior business relationship with a Russian oligarch. According to the IG report, the agent “would have wanted to know that information because it could have indicated that Steele was being used in a Russian ‘controlled operation’ to influence perceptions (i.e., a disinformation campaign).”
Steele told investigators with the IG’s office that he did not believe his dossier was “polluted” with disinformation.
Steele had previously worked for Oleg Deripaska, a Russian aluminum magnate close to Vladimir Putin. Some lawmakers have openly questioned whether Deripaska somehow fed inaccurate information to Steele.
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Chuck Ross is a reporter for the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Photo “E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse” by AgnosticPreachersKid. CC BY-SA 3.0.