A newly-declassified Senate Intelligence Committee report makes clear top FBI officials invoked an order from President Barack Obama in an attempt to include claims drawn from former MI6 operative Christopher Steele’s now-infamous dossier in the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment on Russian election interference during the 2016 presidential race.
While extremely heavy on redaction, the report contains a number of new and tantalising details about efforts undertaken by Bureau chiefs leadership to use Steele’s unproven allegations in the ICA document - for while officials stressed Steele’s research “was not used in the body of the ICA or to support any of its analytic judgments”, at least some of the dossier’s claims still appeared in a classified, two-page annex attached to the report.
Obama did it. Reconfirmed in today's Senate "Intelligence" Committee cover-up attempt released today. Durham should question him about his sedition against the incoming president, @realDonaldTrump. https://t.co/X2vCGLVAeH— Tom Fitton (@TomFitton) April 22, 2020
The annex was a compromise, included due to the FBI's “insistence the information was responsive to the presidential tasking” - Senate investigators state the section “includes qualifiers for the Steele material, but does not mention the private clients who paid for Steele's work”. They also found no evidence “analysts working on the ICA were aware of the political provenance of the Steele material”.
In December, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report on the origins of the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation into the Trump campaign criticised the FBI for at least 17 “significant errors and omissions” related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants against Trump campaign operative Carter Page and for the bureau's reliance on Steele’s dossier in securing said warrants.
Moreover, Horowitz found Comey and then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe both advocated for the Steele dossier’s inclusion in the ICA, but the CIA “expressed concern” about referencing the document as it “was not completely vetted and did not merit inclusion in the body of the report”, and the allegations therein were comparable to “internet rumor”. Comey, McCabe, and the FBI were ultimately overruled, leading to the annex’s inclusion.
In June 2017, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr asked Comey whether he had “insisted the dossier be part of the ICA in any way, shape, or form”.
“I insisted we bring it to the party, and I was agnostic as to whether it was footnoted in the document itself, put as an annex. I have some recollection of talking to John Brennan maybe at some point saying: I don't really care, but I think it is relevant and so ought to be part of the consideration,” Comey claimed.
The Senate report also reveals the ICA was launched at the behest of the Obama administration early December 2016 during a meeting of the National Security Council, with the President instructing then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to prepare a report on Russian interference, including “everything [emphasis added] the IC knew about Russian interference in the 2016 elections”.
“I don’t think we would have mounted the effort we did in the absence of Presidential direction, because that kind of cleared the way on sharing all the accesses,” Brennan later told the Senate Intelligence Committee.