- President Donald Trump backtracked on an order Friday to declassify and release documents related to the FBI’s collusion investigation
- Trump claimed that two foreign allies expressed concerns over releasing the documents
- The New York Times reports that the British government was one of the allies. According to The Times, the Brits were concerned about releasing information about Christopher Steele, the former MI6 officer who wrote the unverified dossier
The British government asked President Donald Trump not to release a trove of documents from the Russia investigation, according to The New York Times.
Trump ordered Monday the release of a slew of documents from the Russia probe, including a June 2017 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) application granted against former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. But the Republican suddenly backtracked Friday, saying that he would refer declassification issues to the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General.
Trump said the Justice Department and two foreign allies had raised concerns about declassifying and releasing the documents.
“We are moving along, we are also dealing with foreign countries that do have a problem,” Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Thursday, before reneging on the declassification order.
“I got called today from two very good allies saying, ‘Please, can we talk.’ It is not as simple as all of that,” he said. “We do have to respect their wishes. But it will all come out.” (RELATED: Trump Claims Foreign Allies Don’t Want Him To Declassify Russia Documents)
The Times identified the British government as one of the two allies.
The British government “expressed grave concerns” over the release of materials that make “direct references to conversations between American law enforcement officials and Christopher Steele,” according to a former American and former British government official.
Steele, a former MI6 agent, is the author of the infamous and unverified anti-Trump dossier. He worked as a confidential human source for the FBI for years before the relationship was severed just before the election because of Steele’s unauthorized contacts with the press.
He shared results of his investigation into Trump’s links to Russia with the FBI beginning in early July 2016.
The FBI relied heavily on the unverified Steele dossier to fill out applications for four FISA warrants against Page. Page has denied the dossier’s claims, which include that he was the Trump campaign’s back channel to the Kremlin.
Trump also called for the declassification of FBI notes of interviews used in the Page investigation as well as notes of interviews with Bruce Ohr, the Justice Department official who met frequently with Steele before and after the 2016 election.
It is unclear why the British government would express such deep concerns about Steele’s contacts with the FBI. For one, he has not worked for the British government since 2009. And his work on the Democrat-funded dossier has been public knowledge for 20 months, since BuzzFeed News published it on Jan. 10, 2017.
Steele has also acknowledged in court filings in London that he wrote the dossier and met with reporters prior to the election to discuss it.
The British government could also want to protect information related to various activities that took place on British soil during the campaign.
An FBI informant named Stefan Halper made contact with Trump adviser Carter Page in July 2016 at a political forum held at the University of Cambridge. The pair remained in contact through September 2017, the same month that the fourth and final FISA warrant against Page expired.
Halper, a veteran of four Republican administrations, reached out to Trump aide George Papadopoulos in September 2016 with an offer to fly to London to write an academic paper on energy exploration in the Mediterranean Sea.
Papadopoulos accepted a flight to London and a $3,000 honorarium. He claims that during a meeting in London, Halper asked him whether he knew anything about Russian hacking of Democrats’ emails.
Papadopoulos had other contacts on British soil that he now believes were part of a government-sanctioned surveillance operation.
He met with Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud and former Australian diplomat Alexander Downer in London at points during the campaign.
Mifsud told Papadopoulos during an April 26, 2016 meeting that he had learned that the Russian government had “dirt” on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands” of her emails. Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about the timing of his contacts with Mifsud, has said he does not believe he told anyone on the Trump campaign about Mifsud’s claims.
But Downer claims that during a May 10, 2016 meeting, also in London, Papadopoulos made reference to Russia having derogatory information on Clinton.
Downer claims he passed the information on to other Australian government officials, who eventually shared it with the FBI. The bureau opened its investigation into the Trump campaign on July 31, 2016 based on the information.
It is unclear when the British government learned of Mifsud, Downer and Halper’s activities.
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