The FBI failed to disclose crucial details about the political origins and dubious credibility of the claims included in an annex to the seminal Intelligence Community Assessment on Russia, according to a newly declassified record.
Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe on June 11 declassified Annex A of the January 6, 2017, Intelligence Community Assessment titled “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections.” Then FBI-Director James Comey personally briefed the “salacious” portion of the annex to President-elect Donald Trump on January 7, 2017. The annex consists of claims drawn from the infamous Steele dossier, as well as an assessment of the source of the dossier, Christopher Steele.
By the time the intelligence community published the assessment and the annex, the FBI was already aware that Steele’s research was paid for by a client with political motives. More than a month prior to the publication, the FBI learned that Steele’s research was going to the Hillary Clinton campaign and that Steele was “desperate” that Trump not be elected, according to the Department of Justice Inspector General. Four days after Comey briefed Trump, the FBI learned that the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee paid for Steele’s research.
In early November of 2016, the FBI cut ties with Steele after learning that he was leaking to the media in violation of FBI’s rules for confidential human sources. The bureau failed to include this detail in the annex despite mentioning that “the source’s reporting appears to have been acquired by multiple Western press organizations starting in October.”
The FBI was also aware, but failed to disclose, that one of Steele’s main sources was linked to Russian intelligence. According to a recently declassified footnote from the inspector general’s report, “in October 2016, FBI investigators learned that one of Steele’s main sources was linked to the Russian Intelligence Service (RIS), and was rumored to be a former KGB/SVR officer.”
The bureau was also aware that Russian intelligence was cognizant as early as July 2016 about Steele’s election research, but did not include the information in the annex.
Comey and FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe fought to include the dossier in the assessment despite opposition from the CIA, which was concerned that the claims in the dossier were not adequately vetted. The conflict was resolved by including the dossier information in the annex to the assessment.
The annex states that some of Steele’s claims aligned with the assessments of the intelligence community, including the assessment that Russian President Vladimir Putin interfered in the 2016 presidential election to help defeat Clinton.
The annex is not the first official record where the FBI knowingly omitted facts about the Steele dossier which would undermine its credibility. The dossier played a crucial role in the bureau’s decision to obtain a surveillance warrant to spy on Trump campaign associate Carter Page. The DOJ inspector general found that the FBI committed 17 serious errors and omissions in its applications, some of which were directly related to the dossier.