Trump won’t stop pushing this easily debunkable lie about the Russia investigation

It didn't start with the Steele dossier.


Nearly a week into his “working vacation” at a private New Jersey club he still owns and profits from, President Donald Trump deployed a blatant lie to rail against special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

“This is an illegally brought Rigged Witch Hunt run by people who are totally corrupt and/or conflicted,” Trump tweeted on Thursday. “It was started and paid for by Crooked Hillary and the Democrats. Phony Dossier, FISA disgrace and so many lying and dishonest people already fired. 17 Angry Dems? Stay tuned!”

Trump and his legal team have frequently insisted the FBI’s investigation of his campaign beginning with a partially unverified intelligence dossier put together by a former British spy named Christopher Steele. During an appearance on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show on Wednesday evening, the claim was literally the first words out of the mouth of Trump’s lead attorney, Rudy Giuliani.


“This is a totally illegitimate investigation based on a report, a dossier, that was paid for by Hillary Clinton and the Democrats,” Giuliani said. “Probably the biggest illegality so far, the biggest collusion so far — completely made up.”

There’s one big problem: Trump and Giuliani’s talking point is transparently false. The FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign did not begin with the Steele dossier. It actually started in July 2016, when WikiLeaks published emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee. That prompted an Australian diplomat to come forward and report that a Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, bragged to him months earlier about having advanced knowledge that Russia “had political dirt on Hillary Clinton.”

The diplomat’s report raised concerns that the Trump campaign had nefarious connections with a foreign adversary, and prompted the FBI to open up a counterintelligence investigation. Two years later, it’s abundantly clear federal agents had good reason to be suspicious.

The New York Times first broke news about Papadopoulos’ central role in triggering the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign last December. Trump and his allies in Congress haven’t disputed it. But that hasn’t stopped them from repeatedly lying and insisting that the investigation actually began with the dossier.

It’s not just Trump and Giuliani. During a press briefing earlier this month, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders also falsely claimed the Mueller investigation “is based on a dirty, discredited dossier.”

Team Trump keeps repeating this lie because they want the public to believe the FBI had it out for Trump for unspecified political reasons. The conspiracy theory they’ve been pushing has glaring holes they’ve never been able to account for — for instance, if the FBI had it out for Trump, it makes no sense that agents didn’t leak that his campaign was under investigation sometime between July 2016 and the election, as that revelation could have derailed his candidacy.

But even if it was true that the investigation began with the Steele dossier, it still wouldn’t follow that Trump is the victim of a “Rigged Witch Hunt.”


Trump’s hand-picked deputy attorney general, lifelong Republican Rod Rosenstein, is the Department of Justice official who appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel. Rosenstein appointed Mueller after Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey, another lifelong Republican. Mueller is another lifelong Republican who was appointed FBI director by Republican President George W. Bush.

It’s also not unusual for the FBI to use information that may have its origins in political research. The warrant application the FBI used to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page in October 2016, after Page left the Trump campaign, noted that some information in it came from political research conducted by Steele “that could be used to discredit [Trump’s] campaign.” But Steele was regarded as a reliable source, and the FBI relied on several other sources of information about Page’s suspicious ties to Russia.

The Carter Page warrant application was publicly released last month. As he’s now doing with regard to the investigation’s origins, Trump responded to the release of the Page documents with blatant lies and gaslighting.