For months, President Donald Trump and his allies have tried to smear Christopher Steele, the author of the infamous Steele Dossier, as someone bent on bringing down the president through lies and deceit.
But after this week’s revelations, they might have to try a new strategy.
As Reuters first reported, attorneys from the Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General’s Office grilled Steele early last month in the U.K. A report in Politico added that the two-day interview took a total of 16 hours.
These investigators queried Steele, a former British intelligence agent, about his sources and methodology in putting together the Steele Dossier, which alleged that Russian officials maintained compromising material on Trump. The dossier, first commissioned by conservative opponents of Trump’s 2016 primary campaign, also offered details about Russia’s broader interference campaign. It also noted that former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page specifically acted as a conduit for the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
The dossier was eventually cited as part of an FBI warrant to monitor Page’s communications, a point that Trump’s allies have cited time and again as evidence of some kind of plot to derail Trump’s presidency. Calls for an investigation into the dossier’s origins and its role in the warrant on Page grew so pronounced that, in March 2018, DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz launched an investigation into the matter.
However, Steele’s lengthy interview tamped down on claims that he acted improperly. It also apparently offered further leverage for those defending Steele’s intelligence collection methods.
As Reuters noted, one of the sources familiar with the Steele interview “said Horowitz’s investigators appear to have found Steele’s information sufficiently credible to have to extend the investigation.” The DOJ investigation was originally slated to conclude in May, and its new projected completion date is unclear.
Steele has largely refrained from public comment on the dossier, although he submitted written testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee last August. Former special counsel Robert Mueller’s team also interviewed Steele in September 2017 as part of Mueller’s report on Russian interference efforts in 2016.
While certain details of Steele’s dossier haven’t borne out — there’s still no evidence that the Kremlin maintains compromising material on Trump, for instance — it’s proven largely in line with what other investigations and reports have uncovered. Page, for instance, admitted in 2017 that a 2016 trip to Russia wasn’t simply to deliver a keynote speech, but to also meet with Kremlin officials.
Mueller is scheduled to testify before Congress next Wednesday, and may be asked about his views on the Steele Dossier. But at the moment, it appears that the DOJ investigation into Steele’s research may be a dead end for the president and his supporters — and may actually keep the Trump campaign’s links with Russia in the headlines even longer than the White House would like.