The anticipation around Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s full report has overshadowed another Justice Department report on the Russia probe that could land as soon as next month, and which will likely take direct aim at the former British spy behind an infamous “dossier” on President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia, Politico reported.
The Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, has been examining the FBI’s efforts to surveil a one-time Trump campaign adviser based in part on information from Christopher Steele, a former British MI6 agent who had worked with the bureau as a confidential source since 2010.
Several people interviewed by the Inspector General’s office over the past year told POLITICO that Horowitz’s team has been intensely focused on gauging Steele’s credibility as a source for the bureau. One former U.S. official left the interview with the impression that the Inspector General’s final report “is going to try and deeply undermine” Steele, who spent over two decades working Russia for MI6 before leaving to launch his own corporate intelligence firm.
Thursday’s planned release of the full Mueller report by the Justice Department could shed new light on Steele’s role, and the veracity of the controversial dossier he assembled in 2016, featuring explosive—and in some cases sexually lurid—charges of Kremlin influence over Trump and his associates.
And once the Mueller report is out, conservatives will look forward to the results of the Horowitz probe, launched in March 2018 while Jeff Sessions was attorney general. President Donald Trump had been calling for a parallel investigation into alleged FBI “spying” that would somehow undermine Mueller’s investigation.
Steele was hired by the opposition research firm Fusion GPS in 2016 to research Trump’s Russia ties, with funding from a law firm that represented the Democratic National Committee. He has become a villain to Trump allies who claim that anti-Trump Justice Department officials conspired to undo the results of the 2016 election, and conservatives have seized on Mueller’s conclusion that no criminal conspiracy existed between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin as evidence that Steele’s sensational dossier was a fraud, Politico adds.
With his reputation on the line, Steele, who has not commented publicly on the Trump-Russia investigation, intends to rebut the Inspector General’s characterizations, if necessary, in the form of a rare public statement, according to people familiar with his plans. He declined to be interviewed by the inspector general, citing, among other things, the potential impropriety of his involvement in an internal Justice Department investigation as a foreign national and former British intelligence agent. Steele’s allies have also repeatedly noted that the dossier was not the original basis for the FBI’s probe into Trump and Russia.
The President and other critics of the Russia investigation have long maintained that the bureau inappropriately “spied” on the Trump campaign using unverified information provided by Steele. The FBI’s decision to seek a surveillance warrant against Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page, a warrant they applied for and obtained after Page had already left the campaign, is the chief focus of the probe by Horowitz, a Harvard-educated former federal prosecutor who has held his post since 2012.
Attorney General Bill Barr poured gasoline on those complaints last week, telling lawmakers that he believes “spying did occur” on the campaign in 2016. He also said that Horowitz’s report “will be complete in probably May or June, I am told,” and confirmed that he is conducting his own review, parallel to the inspector general, of the FBI’s conduct in 2016, Politico adds.