After it was revealed on Tuesday that the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee in part helped finance the Steele dossier for opposition research purposes last year, President Trump seized on the opportunity to further discredit the infamous report.
“What I was amazed at [was that] it’s almost $6 million that they paid,” Trump told Fox’s Lou Dobbs on Wednesday. “And it’s totally discredited, it’s a total phony, I called it fake news.”
Much of what the Steele Dossier alleges, however, has already been independently verified. It’s also already been reported that Steele’s project was funded by Democrats, as well as other donors critical of Trump.
The dossier was produced by the London-based firm Orbis Business Intelligence, a company started by former British MI6 agent Christopher Steele. It was leaked to reporters and published by BuzzFeed News in January.
The dossier makes a series of explosive allegations against Trump. It charges that Russia has been “cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump” for five years, that his inner circle has accepted regular help from the Kremlin and, most shockingly, that there were a number of unsubstantiated encounters between Trump and Russian prostitutes. Trump, unsurprisingly, has refuted the story completely.
The dossier alleges that several key figures close to Trump helped shuttle information between the campaign and Moscow. Among them was Trump operative Carter Page, who the dossier alleges held “secret meetings in Moscow” with Putin ally Igor Sechin, where they discussed “[releases] of Russian dossiers of ‘kompromat’ on Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton.” In September 2016 it was reported that Page had visited Moscow for three days in 2016 and met with Igor Sechin in a move personally approved by Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski.
The Steele dossier also claims that Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chief, was in charge of gathering information on Hilary Clinton in return for information about Russian oligarchs and an agreement to “sideline” any talks on Ukraine. In February, The New York Times reported that Manafort had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials, and in June 2017 he registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, partly due to his work as a consultant for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine.
But the “evidence of extensive conspiracy between [the Trump] campaign team and [the] Kremlin, sanctioned at the highest levels” didn’t just end with Page and Manafort. A number of current law enforcement, intelligence and administration officials confirmed in February that other several high level advisers, including former National Security adviser Michael Flynn, were “regularly communicating” with Russian nationals — drawing the concern of U.S. intelligence and law enforcement . The FBI has also said it believes that Trump campaign associates coordinated with Russian officials to release information damaging to Hillary Clinton.
Trump may be right that Steele dossier was designed in part to discredit him, but political groups order opposition research on opponents all the time — and we’ve also known for some time that the Steele dossier was in part financed by those who wanted to dig up dirt on Trump. “This was for an opposition research project originally financed by a Republican client critical of the celebrity mogul,” Mother Jones reported last October, adding that before Steele was obtained as a researcher, “the project’s financing switched to a client allied with Democrats.”
What hasn’t changed, however, is the fact that the multiple meetings between Trump surrogates, which are outlined in the dossier, were later confirmed by media intelligence sources, pointing to a suspiciously high degree of communication and coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.
“Many of my former CIA colleagues have taken the Orbis reports seriously since they were first published,” former member of the CIA’s Senior Intelligence Service John Sipher over at Slate. “They understand the potential plausibility of the reports’ overall narrative based on their experienced understanding of both Russian methods and the nature of raw intelligence reporting.”