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‘Flaky’: State Department Officials Cast Doubt On Christopher Steele’s Early Reports, Emails Revealed By DCNF Lawsuit Show

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Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter
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  • State Department officials described information from Christopher Steele as “flaky” and “extreme” in emails obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation.
  • The officials provided the commentary in emails discussing intelligence reports that Steele passed the agency in the years before he began working on the Trump dossier. 
  • Judicial Watch sued for the documents on behalf of the DCNF. 
  • DCNF President Neil Patel said it is becoming clearer there were “unprecedented levels of collusion” to harm the Trump campaign, with Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton adding that the emails show that the Obama administration continued relying on Steele despite “multiple warning signs” that he “was unreliable.”

State Department officials cast doubt on the credibility of several intelligence memos that former British spy Christopher Steele provided the agency in the years before he began investigating Donald Trump, according to emails the Daily Caller News Foundation obtained through a lawsuit.

One State Department official, an ambassador to Ukraine, described Steele’s reporting as “flaky.” Another official said that a Steele report sounded “extreme,” and that others “do not ring true.”

Despite the potential red flags regarding Steele’s work, the ex-MI6 officer was granted a meeting at Foggy Bottom in the weeks before the 2016 presidential election. During the meeting, Steele shared details later found in a dossier that accused the Trump campaign of conspiring with the Kremlin to influence the election.

Many of Steele’s allegations have been disputed or outright debunked in the years since the dossier was published.

The State Department handed over the latest documents as part of a lawsuit that Judicial Watch filed on behalf of The Daily Caller News Foundation on April 25, 2018.

The lawsuit sought several categories of records, including all of the reports that Steele provided to State Department officials prior to his investigation of Trump.

Steele, who is based in London, had reportedly shared more than 100 intelligence reports about Russia and Ukraine from 2014 to 2016 with Jonathan Winer, who then served as the State Department’s special envoy to Libya.

Winer, a longtime aide to then-Sec. of State John Kerry, passed Steele’s memos to a small group of State Department officials, including Victor Nuland, Paul Jones and Geoffrey Pyatt.

The State Department had released heavily redacted versions of Steele’s report through the lawsuit. The officials’ commentary was also largely redacted. The agency disclosed some of the officials’ assessments of Steele’s reports in response to an appeal from Judicial Watch.

The email traffic shows initial enthusiasm for Steele’s reports. Nuland, who served as assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, and the other officials said that the reports contained valuable insights into Russia and Ukraine. (RELATED: ‘O Reports’: State Department Provides First Glimpse At Steele’s Pre-Dossier Reports)

“Credible, useful – tx as always!” Jones, who served as principal deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, wrote to Winer and Nuland on Sept. 4, 2014, after receiving one of Steele’s reports.

The email traffic indicates that the officials increasingly spotted problems in the reports.

“This is one of those industry intel reports. Rings a bit extreme to me,” Nuland wrote in a Dec. 29, 2014, email responding to a Steele report about the coal industry in Ukraine. 

“Some of this rings true, some not,” Nuland wrote in a March 23, 2015, email responding to a report about political instability in Ukraine.

Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, also cast doubt on a series of reports regarding Ukraine security.

“So I would put this in the same category as their other flaky reports,” he wrote in a Nov. 9, 2015, email.

DCNF President Neil Patel said, “The sad truth is due to the over-redactions by a government intent on hiding the truth from its own people, it’s not really easy to make out what’s fully going on from this newest batch of documents.”

“It is becoming clearer that there were unprecedented levels of collusion between Obama administration officials and outside partisans in an effort to harm Trump, even though some government officials recognized that Christopher Steele’s intel was questionable at best,” he added.

“Our lawsuit with Judicial Watch will keep going until we get all the truth out to the American people.”

Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch, said that the emails show that the Obama administration relied on Steele’s dossier despite “multiple warning signs that Steele was unreliable.”

“Christopher Steele had a willing partner with the Obama State Department – despite top officials having little confidence in his work,” Fitton said.

The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.

Other documents from the Judicial Watch-DCNF lawsuit have revealed Winer’s role as the State Department’s primary link to Steele and Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that commissioned the dossier on behalf of the DNC and Clinton campaign.

Winer exchanged emails on Sept. 22, 2016 with Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson, according to documents obtained through the lawsuit.

The day after the email, Yahoo! News published a story based on Steele’s allegations that Trump aide Carter Page had secret meetings in Moscow months earlier. The author of that article, Michael Isikoff, later reported in a book that Winer was a background source for the article about Page.

Simpson had arranged a briefing for Steele and several reporters, including Isikoff, on Sept. 22, 2016.

Winer also arranged a meeting for Steele at the State Department on Oct. 11, 2016. In the meeting, Steele shared details from his dossier with Kathleen Kavalec, who served as a deputy to Victoria Nuland.

According to a Senate Intelligence Committee report, Winer gave Steele a dossier on Trump that was compiled by Cody Shearer, a longtime ally of the Clintons. Winer had obtained the document from Sidney Blumenthal, another Clinton crony who works closely with Shearer. (RELATED: Clinton Fixer’s ‘Second Dossier’ Was Met With Skepticism)

Winer provided the Shearer dossier to Steele, who in turn passed it to the FBI.

Both Steele and Shearer allege in their dossiers that the Kremlin had a videotape of Trump with prostitutes in Russia. Trump has vehemently denied the allegation, and investigators have not turned up any evidence to support it in the four-plus years since the information was given to the FBI.

Winer told the Senate Intelligence Committee that he deleted his correspondence with Steele in January 2017 at the former spy’s request.

The Senate report said that Winer revised his testimony about setting up Steele’s meeting at the State Department. According to the report, Winer said in a deposition in 2017 that he did not set up the meeting, but he admitted to doing so in a deposition in 2018.

Other documents from the State Department lawsuit show that Winer helped Steele drum up business in the U.S.

Emails show Winer arranged meetings for Steele during trips to Washington, D.C. In one, Winer set up a meeting for Steele and a lawyer at APCO, an international law firm where Winer worked prior to his most recent stint at the State Department.

Several government reports have undermined the Steele dossier while raising questions about whether some of the allegations are the product of Russian disinformation.

The special counsel’s report said that there was no evidence that Trump associates conspired with Russia.

The special counsel’s report and IG report also discredited Steele’s most specific allegation of Trump-Russia collusion: that former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen visited Prague in August 2016 to meet with Kremlin insiders to pay off Russian hackers.

Steele relied on a single contractor, Igor Danchenko, to collect information for the dossier. Danchenko, a Russia analyst, told the FBI in January 2017 that Steele embellished several pieces of information that appeared in the dossier.

Danchenko’s role as Steele’s source has come under scrutiny in recent weeks following the release of an FBI memo that said that the bureau opened a counterintelligence investigation against Danchenko in 2009.

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