- Christopher Steele told a State Department official a former Russian spy chief and a top Kremlin adviser were involved in an operation to collect compromising information on Donald Trump.
- The State Department official’s notes also indicate Steele claimed the Russians, Vyacheslav Trubnikov and Vladislav Surkov, were “sources” for the dossier.
- There is no evidence the compromising material mentioned in the dossier actually exists, raising questions about whether Steele was given disinformation.
- Trubnikov, the former head of the SVR, also has links to Stefan Halper, an FBI informant who had contact with the Trump campaign.
Dossier author Christopher Steele identified a former Russian spy chief and a top adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin as being involved in handling potentially compromising information about President Donald Trump, State Department notes show.
In her notes, State Department official Kathleen Kavalec also referred to the two Russians — former Russian foreign intelligence chief Vyacheslav Trubnikov and Putin aide Vladislav Surkov — as “sources.”
The references to Trubnikov and Surkov, which have not previously been reported, are not definitive proof that either were sources for Steele’s dossier or that they were involved in an effort to collect blackmail material on Trump.
But the notes are significant because they are the first government documents that show Steele discussing potential sources for the information in his dossier, which the former MI6 officer provided to the FBI.
Trubnikov also has links to Stefan Halper, an FBI informant who collected information from Trump campaign aides George Papadopoulos and Carter Page. Halper arranged for Trubnikov to visit intelligence seminars at the University of Cambridge in 2012 and 2015. He also tapped Trubnikov to contribute to a Pentagon study published in 2015. (RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: A London Meeting Before The Election Aroused George Papadopoulos’s Suspicions)
Kavalec took the notes during an Oct. 11, 2016, meeting with Steele at State Department headquarters. The documents, which were released earlier in May by Citizens United and first reported on by The Hill, show Steele laid out many of the same allegations about Trump and his advisers that are found in the infamous dossier.
The notes contain several inaccuracies, including that Russia was running operations out of its consulate in Miami. As Kavalec pointed out, Russia does not have a consulate in Miami.
Trubnikov and Surkov are not identified by name in Steele’s dossier, which the FBI used as part of its investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. But the information that the former British spy attributed to the two Russians involves the dossier’s most salacious allegation: that the Russian government had sexually compromising material on Trump.
Kavalec’s notes said Steele claimed Trump was “filmed engaged in compromising activities” with Russian prostitutes in 2013, but that “the Russians have not needed to use the ‘kompromat’ on [Trump] as he was already in cooperation.”
Steele, who operates a private intelligence firm in London, told Kavalec that Putin and some of his top advisers were running the Trump operation.
“Presidential Advisor Vladislov Surkov and Vyasheslov Trubnikov (former head of Russian External Intelligence Service — SVR) are also involved,” wrote Kavalec, who served as deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian issues.
Kavalec’s handwritten notes also contain a reference to Trubnikov and Surkov as “sources,” but with no additional explanation.
Trubnikov served as head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service, SVR, from 1996 to 2000. He went on to serve as first deputy for foreign affairs and ambassador to India.
The unverified allegations of sexual blackmail material on Trump are included in the June 20, 2016, memo from Steele’s dossier. Steele had been hired that same month by Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm the DNC and the Clinton campaign paid to investigate Trump.
Citing “a former top level Russian intelligence officer still active inside the Kremlin,” Steele claimed Russian authorities had gathered a substantial amount of “embarrassing material” on Trump and would “be able to blackmail him if they so wished.”
Steele may have also discussed the information from Trubnikov with Justice Department official Bruce Ohr.
Ohr told Congress last year that Steele told him during a July 30, 2016 meeting that a former head of the SVR had told someone that the Russian government “had Donald Trump over a barrel.” Ohr did not identify Trubnikov in his congressional testimony, but the description of the information provided by Steele matches up with Kavelec’s notes.
It is difficult to know how to interpret Steele’s claims about Trubnikov and Surkov, given the numerous problems that have emerged with the former British spy’s reporting.
The special counsel’s report all but debunked Steele’s core claim of a “well-developed conspiracy” between the Trump campaign and Kremlin. The report also said Michael Cohen did not visit Prague, which is where Steele claimed the former Trump lawyer met with Kremlin insiders to pay off computer hackers. (RELATED: Mueller Report Undercuts Several Steele Dossier Claims)
Public evidence has not backed up other allegations, including about “kompromat” on Trump. The president has vehemently denied the sex tape claim, and individuals who were with Trump during his Moscow trip have cast doubt on the allegation, saying Trump had virtually no time to take part in the steamy activities described by Steele.
But questions remain about who provided the information to Steele and what his sources’ motives were if the information is false.
Steele, who operated in Moscow through 2009 before leaving MI6, relied on a network of sources and sub-sources, some of whom are said to have worked in Russia. Virtually nothing is known about Steele’s collectors, but it has been reported that some of the sources who Steele cited in the dossier unwittingly provided information that ended up in the 35-page document.
A former CIA station chief in Moscow, Daniel Hoffman, said discerning how Steele obtained and used information from Trubnikov and Surkov is “tricky.”
“Was [Steele] collecting intelligence on Trubnikov, or was he using Trubnikov to collect intelligence? Those are two different things,” Hoffman told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Hoffman said Trubnikov remains a “trusted guy in the Russian national security bureaucracy,” despite not having an official title in Russian government for over a decade.
“They never stop,” Hoffman said of Russian intelligence operatives. “There’s no such thing as a former intelligence officer. The guy is going to be reporting back to the SVR or Putin.”
Hoffman has been a leading proponent of one theory about the dossier that has gained traction in the wake of the special counsel’s report. The former CIA officer has argued Steele likely fell victim to a Russian disinformation campaign.
A growing number of experts in Russian intelligence operations have embraced the theory, and Attorney General William Barr testified to Congress on May 1 that he is concerned about the prospect and is looking into it. (RELATED: Investigate The Steele Dossier As Russian Disinformation, Intel Experts Say)
Hoffman has written that if the Russian government hacked Democrats’ computer systems, they could have figured out that Steele was trying to gather information on any connections between the Kremlin and Trump. Steele is also likely known to Russian intelligence given his covert work in Moscow, making it easier for Russian operatives to uncover his intelligence-gathering operation.
Hoffman said it’s difficult to determine whether Trubnikov and Surkov were involved in a disinformation campaign — saying “it’s a hall of mirrors” — but that it can’t be ruled out. He said he could envision a scenario in which Trubnikov could sniff out Steele’s operation and spin the dossier author’s collector with false leads.
Ohr, the Justice Department official who met with Steele, also told Congress about the difficulties in assessing information from Russian sources. In his congressional interview, he indicated that he was skeptical of the information that Steele provided from the former SVR chief.
“What I should say in addition, though, is that whenever you are dealing with information from Russia, you have to be careful, because it is a very complicated place. And so even information from a good source has to be looked at carefully,” Ohr testified.
Steele’s firm, Orbis Business Intelligence, did not respond to requests for comment. The Russian embassy also did not respond to a request for comment. The State Department declined comment.
Trubnikov’s links to Halper, the FBI informant, are also a source of intrigue.
Halper tapped Trubnikov to contribute to a study he did in 2015 for the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment (ONA) titled “The Russia-China relationship: The Impact on the United States’ Security Interests.” Halper, who served in three Republican presidential administrations, was paid over $1 million from 2012 through 2018 for reports from ONA, which is led by Pentagon officials Andrew May and James Baker.
Halper established contact with Papadopoulos, the Trump campaign aide, under the guise of contributing to a study on energy security issues in the Mediterranean and Middle East.
Halper paid $3,000 to Papadopoulos to write a paper on the topic. During meetings in London, Halper and a covert government investigator, Azra Turk, plied Papadopoulos for information on any contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. While no evidence has emerged that Halper paid Papadopoulos out of ONA funds, a source familiar with Halper’s work for ONA told TheDCNF that $3,000 was a sum he often paid contributors. (RELATED: Who Was ‘Azra Turk’ Working For?)
Halper also cozied up to Page in the midst of the 2016 campaign. The pair met for the first time July 10, 2016, at a political event hosted at Cambridge University. They remained in contact through September 2017, which is the same month the FBI ended its electronic surveillance on Page.
Halper might also have had a role in sharing information about Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser.
The Washington Post and The New York Times have reported Halper and Sir Richard Dearlove, the former chief of MI6, expressed concerns about interactions between Flynn and a Russian-British researcher at Cambridge named Svetlana Lokhova.
Flynn visited the Cambridge Intelligence Seminar in February 2014, when he served as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Several news outlets published stories in 2017 about Flynn and Lokhova, with the thinly veiled suggestion that the pair had a romantic fling and that Lokhova was trying to compromise Flynn. Lokhova has vehemently denied allegations of any impropriety with Flynn, and no evidence has emerged to suggest that there was any. (RELATED: Cambridge Academic Reflects On Interactions With ‘Spygate’ Figure)
Halper and Dearlove publicly raised concerns about possible Russian infiltration of the Cambridge Intelligence Seminar. In December 2016, Halper was quoted in a Financial Times article saying he was resigning from the seminar due to “unacceptable Russian influence on the group.”
According to two sources for the FT piece, Halper and Dearlove feared “that Russia may be seeking to use the seminar as an impeccably-credentialed platform to covertly steer debate and opinion on high-level sensitive defence and security topics.”
Despite his concerns about possible infiltration at Cambridge, Halper twice provided a platform for Trubnikov at the Cambridge Intelligence Seminar. Trubnikov spoke at the university May 4, 2012, and May 11, 2015. The latter appearance was rescheduled because Trubnikov had issues with his visa, according to a program for the event.
Christopher Andrew, who convened the intelligence seminar with Halper and Dearlove, took Halper to task over the FT article, according to an email obtained by TheDCNF.
“I am somewhat shocked by the comments attributed to you in today’s FT. I can well imagine that you’ve been misquoted but do need to know as a matter of urgency what you actually told the FT,” wrote Andrew, who serves as official historian for MI5, the British domestic intelligence service.
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