GOP senators release referral in Russia probe
Two influential Republican senators have injected new information into the partisan dispute over the government’s secret surveillance of a former campaign adviser to President Donald Trump, revealing more details about how the FBI and Justice Department used research compiled by a former British spy whose work was funded by Democrats.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley of Iowa and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina late Tuesday released a criminal referral they had sent to the Justice Department earlier this year asking for an investigation into the former spy, Christopher Steele.
The senators say they’ve found evidence that either Steele lied to the FBI or classified documents supporting the surveillance contain false statements.
They also appear to agree with their House GOP colleagues, who have accused the FBI and Justice Department of not telling the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court enough about Steele’s anti-Trump sentiments or that his work was funded in part by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
Here are a few key takeaways.
WHY ARE THEY SPECIFICALLY AFTER STEELE?
Grassley and Graham are scrutinizing Steele’s contacts with the press in the fall of 2016 and what the FBI knew about them. They want the FBI to investigate whether Steele lied to federal agents.
Specifically, they point to a British court filing in which Steele says he briefed several news outlets in September 2016 on a collection of memos he wrote detailing allegations, including some salacious claims, of ties between Russia, Trump and Trump associates. The memos have become known as the Trump-Russia “dossier” after they were published by Buzzfeed last year.
According to the senators, the media contact in September wasn’t disclosed by the FBI and the Justice Department in its application to obtain a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, to spy on former Trump adviser Carter Page.
The senators say they believe Steele may have misled the FBI about his media contacts, which should have led the FBI to question his credibility and disclose concerns about it to the court.
The FBI did cut ties with Steele after they learned he had provided information to news outlets in October 2016, a matter that was disclosed to the court. But it’s unclear from the documents made public to date what exactly the FBI asked Steele about his contact with media outlets and what he told agents.
A KEY FOOTNOTE
Since the release of the GOP memo from the House intelligence committee, the burning question has been: Did the FBI and Justice Department tell a federal judge enough about Steele’s political bias and Democratic funding?
Republicans say no. Democrats say yes. According to Grassley and Graham, the answer likely will come down to the footnotes, and possibly one in particular, No. 8 on the Oct. 21, 2016, FISA application for Page.
“The FBI noted to a vaguely limited extent the political origins of the dossier,” they say in the Steele criminal referral. The senators cite “footnote 8” as saying that the dossier was compiled at the “direction of a law firm who had hired an ‘identified U.S. person.’” The senators identify the person as Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS, the firm that hired Steele.
It’s unclear what else was disclosed. The FBI redacted the rest of the sentence.