Christopher Steele, the ‘former' MI6 operative turned Orbis Intelligence chief who compiled the ever-dubious ‘Trump-Russia' dossier, has cancelled a scheduled appearance at the Reawakening the Spirit of Democracy conference in Baltimore, Maryland 14 March.
Steele would've taken part in a panel discussion moderated by Anne Applebaum, the Washington Post's journalist — she told Politico the ex-spy had gotten "cold feet" and backed out on advice of his counsel at the last minute. The discussion will still go ahead, featuring Evelyn Farkas, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia/Ukraine/Eurasia under Barack Obama, and Ed Lucas of the Center for European Policy Analysis and a key representative of the Integrity Initiative, a highly controversial UK government-funded military intelligence operation.
The conference, which "will examine and wrestle with the underlying threats to liberal democracy and propose strategies to reinvigorate it", would've been Steele's first public appearance since the dossier was published in January 2017.
While the dossier helped kickstart Robert Mueller's special counsel investigation, and powered endless hysterical conspiracy theorising in the Western media since release, many expressed grave doubts about its legitimacy ever since it was published by BuzzFeed. For instance, former British Ambassador to Russia Tony Brenton said its contents "look pretty shaky," and expressed doubts over Steele's ability to penetrate the Kremlin and Russian security agencies, given he's an outsider.
Former acting CIA Director Michael Morell also raised concerns about the dossier, due to Steele's intelligence gathering approaches — he gave money to intermediaries, who in turn paid sources for the information contained in the dossier. "Unless you know the sources, and unless you know how a particular source acquired a particular piece of information, you can't judge the information — you just can't," Morell said.
— Craig Murray (@CraigMurrayOrg) April 28, 2018
Former UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray went even further in his criticism of the dossier — and Steele, calling the Orbis chief "a charlatan who knocked up a series of allegations that are either wildly improbable, or would need a high-level source access he could not possibly get in today's Russia, or both. He told the Democrats what they wish to hear and his audience — who had and still have no motivation to look at it critically — paid him highly for it," Murray wrote March 2018.
Despite these criticisms, and subsequent developments raising serious doubts about virtually every aspect of the dossier, Steele has repeatedly stood by the various bizarre assertions in the dossier, claiming at least 70 — 90 percent of its content is accurate, bar the notorious 'golden showers' allegation, which suggested Trump hated then-President Barack Obama so much that when he stayed in the presidential suite of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Moscow in 2013, he employed "a number of prostitutes to perform a 'golden showers' show in front of him" in order to defile the bed used by the Obamas on an earlier visit. Nonetheless, Steele somehow remains convinced that the claim has a 50/50 chance of accuracy.
A similar case brought by Gubarev in the US failed, as under federal law the dossier being used as the basis of an FBI investigation was sufficient to prevent reporting of its contents being judged libellous. No such defence is available under British law.