By Chuck Ross –
- James Comey, the former FBI director, downplayed his awareness of problems with the Steele dossier during a Senate hearing Wednesday.
- Comey testified that he was never briefed on the details of an interview that dossier source Igor Danchenko gave the FBI in January 2017.
- He also said he was unaware until recently that Danchenko was the subject of a prior FBI investigation.
Former FBI Director James Comey pleaded ignorance throughout a Senate hearing on Wednesday regarding significant problems with the Steele dossier, which the bureau used as part of its investigation of the Trump campaign.
Comey repeatedly told Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee that his staff at the FBI did not notify him of issues pertaining to Igor Danchenko, the primary source for dossier author Christopher Steele.
“Not that I recall,” he said when asked if he knew about Danchenko’s statements in FBI interviews in January 2017.
Comey also said he could not recall the details of a briefing he received in October 2016 regarding a Justice Department official’s concerns about Steele’s political bias against Donald Trump. Comey was also fuzzy on details of the CIA’s concerns about using the dossier in an Intelligence Community Assessment regarding Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have followed up on the findings of a Justice Department inspector general’s (IG) report which said that the FBI made 17 “significant” errors and omissions in applications for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants against Carter Page.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the panel, said he wants to find out who was the highest-ranking official at the bureau who knew of the dossier’s problems. Andrew McCabe, who was Comey’s deputy at the FBI, will testify before the committee on Oct. 6.
While Comey acknowledged he was ultimately responsible for the errors in the Page FISA warrants, he asserted that as the head of the FBI, he would not have been provided all of the details of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation and the dossier.
The FBI relied heavily on information from Steele to obtain the FISA warrants. The bureau first sought a spy warrant in August 2016, but lawyers determined that there was not enough evidence at the time to show probable cause that Page was working as a Russian agent.
That assessment changed on Sept. 19, 2016, when the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane team obtained several Steele memos that alleged a vast conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russian government.
The IG report said that the FBI obtaining the dossier was “central and essential” to the bureau’s decision to seek a FISA warrant on Page. The first warrant was granted on Oct. 21, 2016.
A majority of the errors committed in the FISA process involved the Steele dossier, according to the IG report.
The FBI’s FISA applications did not disclose that Danchenko, a Russia analyst, undermined the credibility of the dossier during interviews with the FBI in January 2017. The applications also did not mention that the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane team learned that Danchenko was investigated as a possible Russian asset in 2009.
The FBI team also left out evidence that Russian intelligence operatives may have fed disinformation to Steele through his network of sources.
Comey said he was not aware of any of the derogatory information about the dossier until the release of the IG report. He also said he did not know that Danchenko was the subject of an earlier FBI investigation until last week, when the Judiciary committee released a declassified FBI memo detailing the probe.
“I don’t remember anything about the facts that have been revealed recently about the sub-source. I don’t know how the people running the investigation thought about it,” Comey testified.
Comey told the committee that he could not recall receiving warnings from other agencies about the dossier in 2016. The IG report said that CIA analysts considered the dossier akin to “internet rumor,” but Comey said he was not aware of that assessment while the Trump probe was underway.
“I don’t recall being informed of that.”
A Senate Intelligence Committee report released in July said that top CIA officials pushed back on Comey’s efforts to include the dossier in the Intelligence Community Assessment of Russia’s election interference.
John Brennan, the CIA director under President Obama, said that Comey and other FBI officials lobbied aggressively to incorporate information from the dossier in the ICA. The Senate report said that a CIA analyst recalled there being a “bitter argument” between the spy agency and FBI over whether to include the dossier in the intelligence assessment.
Comey told Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley that he did not recall being briefed on Oct. 12, 2016 that a top Justice Department official had concerns about Steele. The IG report said that the official, Stuart Evans, wanted to assess Steele’s potential bias against Trump.
According to the IG report, FBI counterintelligence officials Bill Priestap and Peter Strzok learned in December 2016 that some of Steele’s former colleagues in the U.K. questioned his judgement.
According to the IG report, Priestap told investigators that he withheld the negative information about Steele from the Crossfire Hurricane team as part of an agreement with the British government.
The IG report said that the FBI received evidence in January and February 2017 that Russian intelligence officers may have fed disinformation to Steele. The report also said that the U.S. intelligence community sent a report to the FBI in June 2017 that said two Russian intelligence officers knew in July 2016 that Steele was investigating Trump.
The IG report said that Danchenko’s statements in his FBI interviews “raised questions about the credibility” of Steele’s information.
Danchenko said that he did not verify any of the allegations that the Kremlin had a sex tape of Trump, or that members of the Trump campaign conspired with Russian operatives.
The dossier’s most specific allegation of Trump-Russia collusion has been debunked. Steele alleged that former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen visited Prague in August 2016 to meet with Kremlin insiders to pay off hackers.
The special counsel’s report and IG report said that Cohen did not visit the European city.
Danchenko told the FBI that a “key” sub-source provided the information about Cohen. The same source also gave Danchenko information about Carter Page that the FBI used in its FISA applications.
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