Two Russian intelligence operatives were aware as early as July 2016 that former British spy Christopher Steele was investigating Donald Trump, according to newly declassified information in footnotes from a Justice Department report on FBI surveillance of the Trump campaign.
Footnotes from that report also said a member of the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane team investigating the Trump campaign received evidence in January 2017 that Russian intelligence might have targeted and collected information on Steele’s firm, Orbis Business Intelligence.
The footnotes, released by Sens. Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson on Wednesday, provide further indications that Russian operatives fed disinformation to Steele that ended up in his infamous anti-Trump dossier.
The FBI relied on Steele’s salacious report to obtain authorization to wiretap Carter Page, a former Trump campaign aide.
A Justice Department inspector general’s report laid out a series of “significant”errors and omissions that the FBI made in its applications to spy on Page. Many of those errors involved failures to disclose evidence that undercut Steele’s allegations of a “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The footnotes declassified on Wednesday say that in late January 2017, an investigator on the Crossfire Hurricane team received information that Russian intelligence “may have targeted Orbis” and researched the company.
Another footnote says that a June 2017 report from the U.S. intelligence community “indicated that two persons affiliated with RIS were aware of Steele’s election investigation in early July 2016.”
Steele, a former MI6 officer, began investigating the Trump campaign on behalf of the DNC and Clinton campaign in June 2016. He was hired directly by Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm based in Washington, D.C.
It was not previously known that Russian intelligence operatives knew of Steele’s investigation at the time it took place. But as it has become more clear in recent years that Steele’s dossier contained inaccuracies, speculation has built among lawmakers and former intelligence officials that the ex-spy was duped by Russian disinformation.
Orbis, Steele’s firm, declined the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment this week.
Steele, who is based in London, relied on a lone source for information that ended up in the dossier. The source allegedly collected information from a network of sub-sources. But one of the most significant revelations in the IG report, released on Dec. 9, was that Steele’s primary source disputed how information in the dossier was characterized. The source, who has not been identified, said that Steele misrepresented or embellished allegations in the dossier.
CBS News first reported the footnotes. The Daily Caller News Foundation confirmed their accuracy with sources familiar with the declassification process.
Additional information released on Wednesday shows exactly when in 2017 the FBI received evidence that Russian intelligence operatives fed Steele with disinformation.
The FBI obtained information on Jan. 12, 2017, two days after BuzzFeed News published the dossier, Steele’s allegation that former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen visited Prague in August 2016 was likely the product of Russian disinformation.
The FBI received evidence on Feb. 27, 2017 that Russians may have fed disinformation to Steele regarding his most explosive claim: that Donald Trump used hookers during a 2013 trip to Moscow. (RELATED: The FBI Knew The Steele Dossier Contained Russian Disinformation Three Years Ago — And Somehow That Never Leaked)
The footnotes declassified on Wednesday say that the FBI’s Transnational Organized Crime Intelligence Unit sought a validation review of Steele as an FBI source in 2015 because of his links to five Russian oligarchs.
The footnote says that the FBI unit found that five Russian oligarchs who sought meetings with the FBI that year had intermediaries who contacted Steele.
“The report noted that Steele’s contact with 5 Russian oligarchs in a short period of time was unusual and recommended that a validation review be completed on Steele because of this activity,” the footnote says.
Another footnote of the IG report said that the FBI received information in early June 2017 about “personal and business ties between” Steele’s primary source of information for the dossier and sub-source. The sub-source, who has not been identified, also had contacts with “an individual in the Russian Presidential Administration in June/July 2016.”
The “sub-subsource” also voiced “strong support” for Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign, one footnote says.
The lead supervisory intelligence analyst on the FBI investigation told the IG’s office he did not know as of June 2017 that Steele’s source network “had been penetrated or compromised.”
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