Christopher Steele Court Case Exposes Shady New Spygate Dirt
A London court on Wednesday ruled in favor of two Alfa Bank principals in their lawsuit against Christopher Steele’s company, Orbis Business Intelligence, based on falsehoods the former MI6 spy peddled in his dossier.
The claimants in that case, gentleman of Russian and Ukrainian origin, had sued Orbis under the Data Protection Act of 1998, an English law designed to protect computerized personal information. In a 50-plus-page opinion, the court rejected many of the Alfa Bank executives’s arguments, but awarded the duo damages totaling approximately US$45,000 for Steele’s false assertion in the dossier that they had “deliver[ed] large amounts of illicit cash to the Russian president, at that time deputy Mayor of St. Petersburg.”
Along the way to the verdict, the court also revealed some interesting tidbits for Americans still seeking the truth about Spygate. Here’s what we learned:
1. Steele and the FBI Acted Unreasonably
To hold Steele liable under the Data Protection Act, the court needed to find that Steele had acted unreasonably in publishing Memorandum 112 of the dossier, which was dated Sept. 14, 2016, and which falsely accused the Alfa Bank owners of inappropriate relationships and activities with Vladimir Putin. The court first concluded that Steele took reasonable steps to ensure the accuracy of some of the dossier’s propositions, namely those that did not represent “grave allegation[s],” and thus were unlikely to result in anyone taking “any significant step adverse to any of the claimants … without further enquiry.”
But the assertion that the Alfa owners obtained “illicit cash” from Putin was a different matter, the court held, “because it is an allegation of serial criminal wronging over a prolonged period.” Here the court found that the steps Steele took “to verify that proposition fell short of what would have been reasonable.”
“Steele knew that his source did not have direct personal knowledge of the underlying facts, but could only be relying on hearsay,” the court explained, yet Steele “has failed to explain how that information would or could have come to the sub-source by virtue of his job.”
“The allegation clearly called for closer attention, a more enquiring approach, and more energetic checking,” the court continued, but “it is unclear what efforts Mr. Steele made to verify the allegation, other than the one relevant internet search to which he has referred.”
That internet search was “unimpressive,” according to the court. In fact, Alfa’s attorney illustrated “the inadequacy of the verification efforts,” the court explained, by easily demonstrating “that a key element of this allegation was contradicted by information readily available on the internet.”
Everything the British court said about Steele’s unreasonableness in handling the dossier’s allegations multiplies when the FBI’s position is concerned. Just as Alfa’s attorney quickly disproved aspects of the dossier, the FBI could have done so with equal ease. And just as the London court questioned Steele concerning the steps he took to verify the dossier and to explain to the court how his sub-sources obtained the supposed intel, the FBI should have quizzed Steele on these points. Further, it was obvious to the court in the Alfa case that Steele’s sources could only be relying on hearsay, yet this same defect seemed to go unnoticed by the FBI — and the FISA court.
Moreover, the British court believed the “grave allegations” of “illicit cash” payment required a searching inquiry, and the lack of one established that Steele acted unreasonably. How much more care, then, should the FBI and FISA court have taken when confronted with unverified allegations that Carter Page was a Russian agent.
If Steele acted unreasonably, the unreasonableness of the FBI and FISA court — which authorized surveillance of Page — reached an entirely different level of misconduct.
2. Who Were Steele’s Three Sources?
The inspector general’s report on FISA abuse noted that Steele had one primary source, but the opinion from earlier this week provided more insight on Steele’s sources. According to the court, Steele’s dossier “comprised intelligence obtained from 3 sources and approximately 20 sub-sources, all of whose identities were known to him.” The court wrote that “his contacts were with the sources.” Steele met with them, taking notes during the meetings, and then writing up the memoranda that became the dossier.
Who those sources were, the court did not know. Nor do we. Nor did the FBI when the court relied on the unknown sources and sub-sources’ supposed intel to swear out the FISA applications, again showing the outrageousness of the FBI surveilling Page, and in turn, the Trump campaign.
3. Steele Seems Kinda Shady
Also of interest was the court’s reference to the “two very different versions of events” Steele gave, “which are mutually inconsistent in a number of ways.” The court added that in addition to this fact, it faced some obstacles in deciphering the truth because witnesses who could have shed light on what happened did not testify, and “Steele kept few records, and most of these he did keep have been lost or destroyed.”
One must wonder if the Justice Department is also considering whether Steele’s statements to the FBI involved similar inconsistencies, possibly subjecting the dossier author to criminal liability.
4. Once a Swamp Creature, Always a Swamp Creature
Also of interest in Wednesday’s opinion were the many names dropped of people connected to the dossier or Steele. In addition to the FBI agents we already know of, in November 2016, Steele handed off a copy of the dossier to Strobe Talbott, a former U.S. deputy secretary of state. Talbott would later give a copy of the dossier “to Fiona Hill in January 2017 while she was serving in the Trump administration.”
During proceedings in the case, Steele also explained how it was that Talbott knew of his work. Steele testified that Talbott had called him over the summer and that while Talbott had “spoke in fairly cryptic terms,” he made clear he knew of Steele’s work. Steele further testified that either former national security adviser Susan Rice or former State Department official Victoria Nuland “had briefed [Talbott] on the work [Steele] had been doing.”
Steele explained that he personally provided a copy of the dossier to Talbott in early November. Steele explained that at the time, Talbott, then the president of the Brookings Institution, had approached Steele and said “he was due to meet a group of individuals at the State Department, and asked Mr. Steele to ‘share a copy of the Dossier with him, with a view to him being able to discuss the national security issues raised with these individuals.’”
Steele agreed and explained that “he did so on the understanding that Mr. Talbott had been speaking to the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Ms. Nuland who knew of the Dossier and its broad context; and that the individuals whom Mr. Talbott was due to meet included the then U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, Tony Blinken.”
Steele also provided a copy of his dossier to a “UK government national security official,” and David Kramer, who was a former U.S. assistant secretary of state. Kramer would later discuss the dossier with a senior U.S. national security official, Celeste Wallander, and eventually provided the dossier to BuzzFeed, which later made it public.
It’s starting to seem as if Steele provided a copy of the dossier to everyone other than Trump. He left that for James Comey to do in an abbreviated form.
5. Mysterious Origins of the Alfa Bank-Trump Tower Conspiracy
The British court opinion also renews questions about the Alfa Bank-Trump Tower debunked conspiracy theory. That theory went that the Trump campaign and Russia had established a back-channel to communicate by using the supposedly Putin-controlled Alfa Bank to funnel communiques. There was evidence of this plot, the conspiracy went, in increased communications between the Alfa Bank and Trump Towers computer systems.
In mid-September 2017, Michael Sussman, a partner at Perkins Coie (the same law firm that paid Steele for the dossier), had peddled that conspiracy theory to the media and to then-FBI general counsel James Baker. But following the special counsel’s office investigation of the claims, Mueller testified there was no merit in the claim.
What proves fascinating here is that the Alfa Bank conspiracy theory did not originate with Steele or his sources. Rather, according to the British court decision, “Perkins Coie were in possession of information that there had been server activity linking Alfa Bank with Trump Tower in New York, where Mr. Trump’s organization was based.”
“On the evidence, the source of that information is unclear,” the court said. In any event, by July 29, 2016, Steele was told the links between Alfa Bank and Trump Tower were suspicious and was further tasked “to facilitate an understanding of the extent to which Alfa worked with President Putin, given concerns about (i) potential interference by the Russian state in the U.S. Presidential election process and (ii) suspected communications between the servers of Alfa Bank and Trump Tower.”
So someone told Perkins Coie about these supposedly suspected communications, and then Perkins Coie directed Steele to investigate them. But who?
In his congressional testimony, Sussman said a client had presented him with evidence of communications between Alfa Bank and the Trump campaign. While Sussman did not identify the client, he testified it was not the DNC nor Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Sussman also testified he shared that information with multiple news outlets.
Those news outlets, in turn, presented the source of the claims of an Alfa Bank-Trump connection as a group of citizen-scientists seeking to protect the internet. For instance, a puff piece for the New Yorker suggests the source was a “John McCain Republican” type who discovered the connection by happenstance and then sought out legal counsel.
It’s quite a coincidence, isn’t it, that the attorney just happened to work for Perkins Coie? And it was surely pure happenstance that, according to Sussman’s testimony, his client directed him to push the story in the press and also to pass the information — supposedly showing a connection between Trump and Alfa Bank — on to Baker in mid-September, which coincided with Steele’s drafting of his memorandum on Alfa Bank.
We’ve long known the DNC and Hillary Clinton were behind the Steele dossier and had co-opted the FBI in their opposition-research campaign against Trump. But now we know there was another individual or entity tag-teaming with the DNC and Clinton campaign to push the Alfa Bank-Trump conspiracy theory both publicly and privately to the FBI.
The press, of course, is free to prostitute itself to the Democratic Party if it wants to, but enlisting the FBI for partisan political purposes is beyond the pale. Now we know that what Steele, the DNC, and Hillary Clinton did was not an isolated incident. Rather, at least one other anti-Trumper peddled bad intel to the FBI in hopes of thwarting his presidential hopes.
6. Hillary Prepared for a Loss
Even with all these efforts, Trump prevailed. And here there is at least one delicious final tidbit from the British case against Steele: Even with all the polls favoring Clinton, she still prepared for a defeat in the voting booth. “Steele understood that the intelligence he gathered would be used to advise the Ultimate Client on the prospect of legal proceedings and, if necessary deployed in such proceedings to challenge the eventual outcome of the Presidential Election,” the British court wrote.
Clinton, however, never took to the courts to challenge her defeat; instead, she’s been making excuses for the last three-plus years, while the Resistance continued its efforts to undermine the Trump presidency.
Those efforts continue still today and will only escalate as November nears. Every day between now and Election Day 2020 brings new revelations about the targeting of Trump. As the revelations grow, so too does the public’s cynicism of the press and politicians screaming scandal, for all but the most ardent anti-Trump Americans.
Margot Cleveland is a senior contributor to The Federalist. Cleveland served nearly 25 years as a permanent law clerk to a federal appellate judge and is a former full-time faculty member and adjunct instructor at the college of business at the University of Notre Dame.
The views expressed here are those of Cleveland in her private capacity.