The Daily Caller News Foundation and Judicial Watch are teaming up to sue the Department of State for documents related to Christopher Steele, the former British spy who authored the unverified anti-Trump dossier.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, seeks the fulfillment of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed by both TheDCNF and Judicial Watch.
The State Department’s close relationship to Steele was only recently revealed in the unfolding dossier saga. The former MI6 agent has provided more than 100 reports about Russia and Ukraine to the agency over the last several years. His dossier, which alleges that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government, also ended up in the hands of top State Department officials.
The new lawsuit seeks numerous records about how the dossier and other Steele reports made their way through the State Department.
TheDCNF submitted a FOIA request to the State Department on Jan. 23 for research documents handled by Jonathan M. Winer, a former State Department official who was Steele’s direct contact at the agency. TheDCNF submitted a second FOIA request on Feb. 10 for reports that Steele provided to the State Department since Jan. 1, 2014.
Judicial Watch filed two separate FOIA requests of its own.
The watchdog group filed a request on Jan. 19 for any records of communications between Steele and his firm, Orbis Business Intelligence, and State Department officials, including former Secretary of State John Kerry, former assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Judicial Watch filed a request on Feb. 9 for “any and all reports, memoranda, notes, emails and other records” that the State Department provided to Steele or his firm.
The time frame for the requested records is Jan. 20, 2009 through the present.
The State Department’s handling of the dossier has piqued the interest of congressional Republicans exploring the dissemination of the dossier within the Obama administration. The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has made the deepest dive so far into the State Department’s involvement with the dossier.
California Rep. Devin Nunes, the chairman of the Intelligence panel, said on Sunday that his investigators have uncovered “major irregularities” in the State Department’s handling of information regarding the Trump campaign. (RELATED: Nunes: ‘Major Irregularities’ In State Dept.’s Handling Of Trump-Russia Info)
Winer is of significant interest. It was only revealed in December, nearly a year after the dossier was published, that he was in contact with Steele in Summer 2016. Winer, who served as special envoy to Libya until 2017, passed Steele’s reports to others at the State Department, including Nuland and Kerry. (RELATED: Former State Dept. Official Emerges At Center Of Dossier Drama)
Winer was also a middleman for Sidney Blumenthal, the political operative and longtime friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s.
Blumenthal provided Winer with a second dossier containing unverified allegations about Trump that were similar to what Steele wrote in his report. Winer passed Steele the document, which was originally compiled by Cody Shearer, another Clinton insider of dubious reputation. Steele then shared the Shearer report with the FBI. (RELATED: Clinton ‘Hatchet Man’ Shopped Trump Dirt Earlier Than Previously Believed)
Winer and Nuland, the former assistant secretary of state, have downplayed the State Department’s role in handling the dossier. Both say that after a review of Steele’s reports, the agency decided that the matter was best handled by the FBI. But a newly published book undercuts some of that narrative.
The book, “Russian Roulette,” revealed that Nuland approved a meeting that would be Steele’s first contact with the FBI regarding the dossier.
After Steele finished his first dossier memo, dated June 20, 2016, he contacted Michael Gaeta, a Rome-based FBI agent who worked with Steele on an investigation into FIFA, the international soccer organization.
Steele asked Gaeta to travel to London to meet to discuss his initial findings regarding Trump. To make the trip, Gaeta had to get approval from Nuland.
Nuland okayed the meeting, and Steele and Gaeta met on July 5, 2016. According to “Russian Roulette,” Gaeta was so shocked by Steele’s allegations that he decided to share the memo with FBI headquarters.
The dossier would wind its way through the bureau and eventually be used to obtain surveillance warrants against Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser who is accused in the dossier of masterminding a collusion conspiracy with the Kremlin. Page has vehemently denied the allegations.
“Russian Roulette” also revealed that Winer was a source for two articles published before the 2016 election that relied on Steele’s information. Book authors Michael Isikoff and David Corn, who separately wrote the articles after meeting with Steele, revealed that they contacted Winer in order to vet the former British spy. (RELATED: ‘Fifty-fifty’: Steele Unsure About Salacious Claim In Dossier)
Winer told both journalists that Steele was a credible source.
“We are seeking information about whether the FBI and State Department were misused by the Obama administration to target President Trump,” said Neil Patel, the co-founder and president of TheDCNF. “The information we have requested is fully in line with the terms of the freedom of information statute and we are thankful that Judicial Watch is helping us force the release of these basic facts.”
“When it came to trying to destroy Donald Trump, it was all hands on deck for the Obama administration, particularly for the leadership of the FBI and State Department,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement. “Judicial Watch and The Daily Caller News Foundation are being stonewalled on key documents that could break open this scandal, which is why we are now in federal court to try to get the truth and accountability.”
Judicial Watch is representing TheDCNF in another FOIA case filed in federal court Wednesday. That lawsuit seeks records of communications between former FBI Director James Comey and President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Arizona Sen. John McCain.
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