DNI Denies Intel Assessment on Russian Election Meddling Based on Steele Dossier

Obama said briefed on secret appendix in assessment based on former Brit spy's info

Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats
Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats / Getty Images
March 9, 2018

Information from the controversial dossier by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele was not part of the U.S. intelligence assessment of Russian election meddling, the office of the Director of National Intelligence says.

Responding to a report that disclosed the existence of a secret appendix to the classified intelligence assessment, DNI spokesman Tim Barrett insisted the assessment was not derived from the dossier or Steele's claims of Trump-Russian collusion.

The intelligence report, titled "Background to Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections: The Analytic Process and Cyber Incident Attribution", did not rely on information from the Steele dossier or from Steele, said Barrett, chief spokesman for DNI Dan Coats.

"Neither the classified nor the declassified versions of the intelligence community assessment were informed by Steele or by the contents of the dossier, either directly or indirectly," he said.

Barrett made the comment in response to a lengthy story in the latest issue of the New Yorker magazine that said former FBI Director James Comey briefed then-President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on the intelligence assessment on Jan. 5, 2017, at a secret meeting in the White House. The meeting was held a day before the release of an unclassified summary of the intelligence report.

The magazine reporter, Jane Mayer, wrote, "the highly classified report included a two-page appendix about the dossier." She cited three former government officials familiar with the secret briefing.

The appendix did not name Steele but summarized information supplied by a former intelligence officer who had worked with the FBI and who had offered "troubling information," she said.

"Comey laid out the dossier’s allegations that there had been numerous contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, and that there may have been deals struck between them," Mayer wrote. "Comey also mentioned some of the sexual details in the dossier, including the alleged golden-showers kompromat"—Russian for compromising intelligence information.

The story also quoted one of the participants in the classified White House meeting as calling the report "chilling."

Barrett declined to say whether the classified intelligence assessment contained the dossier-related appendix.

The Washington Post first reported in January 2017 that the intelligence assessment included a two-page summary of the Steele allegations.

Inclusion of the summary with the intelligence report, however, tainted the formal assessment. Former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell told the Post last year, "It would be extraordinary if not unprecedented to bring to the attention of a president and ­president-elect a private document for which you had no reason to believe the allegations made in it."

Mayer said "there's nothing really I can add" to the story.

If the classified assessment contained an appendix derived from the Steele dossier, it would contradict congressional testimony by former CIA director John Brennan.

Brennan told the House intelligence committee last May the dossier was not part of the intelligence used to produce the assessment.

The dossier, he said, "was not in any way used as a basis for the intelligence community assessment that was done," Brennan testified.

Brennan said last month on Meet the Press that he learned about the dossier in December 2016 and that "it did not play any role whatsoever in the intelligence community assessment that was done that was presented to then-President Obama and then-President elect Trump."

The Steele dossier initially became the centerpiece of explosive charges by Democrats and news media outlets that Donald Trump and his election campaign secretly colluded with Russia to defeat Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election.

None of the dossier's core collusion charges have been corroborated publicly.

A Steele memo from July 2016 quotes a Russian source as asserting evidence of an "extensive conspiracy between [Trump] campaign team and Kremlin, sanctioned at highest levels and involving Russian diplomatic staff based in the U.S."

In addition to the Trump-Kremlin conspiracy to win the election, the dossier alleged that Trump maintained an eight-year relationship with Russian intelligence, and that Trump and senior campaign aides were behind Russian hacking of Democratic Party computers to steal and release emails.

The dossier was produced by Steele under contract from the investigative firm Fusion GPS and paid for by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign. The Washington Free Beacon initially hired Fusion GPS for opposition research but had no role in the dossier.

The charges and media coverage of the dossier, however, eventually led to the appointment in May of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is continuing to investigate alleged collusion. The appointment followed Trump's firing of Comey.

So far, Mueller and his team of prosecutors have produced no indictments or guilty pleas related to political collusion. Most charges are related to process crimes, such as lying to the FBI.

The highest profile action by Mueller was the indictment of 13 Russians who engaged in a political influence operation using social media during the election. The indictment, however, said no Americans knowingly supported the operation.

Charges related to Russian hacking, however, could be made in the coming weeks as part of the probe.

The intelligence assessment was the product of three agencies—the FBI, CIA, and National Security Agency.

The report said its key judgments were made from a "body of reporting from multiple sources that are consistent with our understanding of Russian behavior."

The assessment also said the unclassified conclusions are the same as those in the secret version but that it did "not include the full supporting information, including specific intelligence on key elements of the influence campaign."

On the key question of whether the Russian government "aspired to help" Trump get elected, the CIA and FBI voiced high confidence while NSA said it had only moderate confidence.

Since the dossier became public last year, including its use in an FBI counterintelligence probe, support for the dossier's claims have diminished.

BuzzFeed, the liberal online outlet that published the 35-page dossier, is being sued for libel.

The dossier has produced a separate investigation into potential criminal abuses of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

Congressional Republicans investigating the collusion charges discovered instead what appear to be FBI abuses related to the dossier.

The FBI inspector general also is said to be investigating FISA abuses.

According to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the FBI misled a secret surveillance court by using the dossier to obtain a surveillance warrant of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page without telling the court that the dossier was funded by the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign during an election year.

Rules governing court-ordered surveillance of Americans require informing the secret court of any information that might be relevant to the surveillance.

The FBI surveillance of Page, for nearly a year, is significant because it allowed the FBI to spy on Trump presidential campaign aides and officials.

Published under: Donald Trump , Russia