The FBI issued a statement Wednesday refusing to confirm or deny the existence of records reflecting payments made between the FBI and Christopher Steele, the British spy who compiled the unverified opposition research dossier on then candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election.
The FBI’s statement was issued in response to a FOIA lawsuit filed by the conservative advocacy organization Cause of Action Institute (CoA). The suit, filed on April 17, requests the release of all “records relating to the relationship between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) and Christopher Steele.”
CoA requested the release of the records after The Washington Post reported the FBI made an agreement with Steele in October of 2016 to continue his research into Trump in exchange for payment. Steele began his compilation of the salacious Trump dossier while employed by the Washington, D.C. based opposition research firm Fusion GPS.
The Washington Post report, published in February, indicates Steele allegedly made an arrangement with the FBI after the Fusion GPS client who originally requested the dossier pulled their funding. Steele’s agreement with the FBI later fell through after the dossier was leaked and the former MI6 agent was outed as its author.
In their response to the FOIA suit, the FBI argued they could not acknowledge the existence of any records linking the Bureau to Steele as doing so “would, in and of itself, harm national security interests and reveal intelligence sources and methods.”
CoA Institute President and CEO John Vecchione criticized the FBI’s refusal to comply with the FOIA suit, arguing the FBI has a responsibility to explain their relationship with Steele.
“Regardless of whether a payment was ever made, the FBI’s affiliation with a political opposition researcher in the midst of a presidential election deserves scrutiny,” Vechione wrote in a CoA statement released Monday. “The FBI should be forthcoming about whether and how the agency was relying upon a former foreign spy who, in the pay of private parties, compiled a report of salacious accusations intended to harm the reputation of then-candidate Donald Trump.”
The FBI claimed their refusal is covered by a FOIA exemption which allows law enforcement agencies to refuse to reveal records “compiled for law enforcement purposes when disclosure would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations.”
CoA Director of Communications Zachary Kurz told the Daily Caller News Foundation he was surprised by the FBI’s response.
“We were optimistic the FBI would comply, at least in part, because it appeared that the FBI-Steele connection had been revealed to the public,” Kurz wrote in reference to the Washington Post report. “As it stands now, however, there is no FBI statement admitting the relationship. We are considering our options as to how we will proceed.”
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