Revelations about the status of the various investigations into whether the Trump campaign actively colluded with the Russian government are making increasingly little sense.
Yesterday, leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee said that they’d “hit a wall” in their efforts to verify the contents of the infamous “Trump dossier.”
As has been widely reported, the dossier - which contained several salacious allegations about Trump’s Russia ties - was commissioned by opposition-research firm Fusion GPS and assembled by a man named Christopher Steele, allegedly a former operative who spent time in Russia on behalf of British intelligence.
Until today, Steele had remained a cypher; unwilling to meet with investigators, and beyond the reach of their subpoena power.
Senator Richard Burr’s revelation that the committee’s investigators had effectively given up on the dossier further supported this impression.
Now, a day after Reuters reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had assumed control of the FBI’s inquiry into the dossier, CNN is reporting that Mueller and his team caught up with Steele over the summer.
However, the contents of their discussion remain a mystery.
CNN has learned that the FBI and the US intelligence community last year took the Steele dossier more seriously than the agencies have publicly acknowledged. James Clapper, then the director of national intelligence, said in a January 2017 statement that the intelligence community had "not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable."
The intelligence agencies, particularly the CIA, and the FBI took Steele's research seriously enough that they kept it out of a publicly-released January report on Russian meddling in the election in order to not divulge which parts of the dossier they had corroborated and how.
This contrasts with attempts by President Donald Trump and some lawmakers to discredit Steele and the memos he produced.
The implication, CNN asserts, is that investigators have corroborated some of the dossier’s claims.
But even if this does turn out to be true, CNN’s reporters were unable to confirm this with their sources. They also were unable to ascertain what Steele had said or whether he provided any useful information to help investigators corroborate the dossier’s claims. None of this stopped Jeff Zucker’s propaganda machine from venturing an educated guess:
“Specifically that some of the communications among foreign nationals mentioned in the memos did actually take place.”
In a notable divergence from its previous investigation "scoops", CNN left the most confusing and contradictory assertions for the end of its report. In this section, it reported that sources told the agency about an internal debate among the intelligence agencies about whether to include select allegations from the Trump dossier in a January report presenting the agencies’ conclusion that Russia tried to interfere in the election.
Ultimately, the agencies decided against publishing details from the dossier after concluding that revealing what US intelligence has, or hasn’t, confirmed could jeopardize sources or reveal secret intelligence collecting methods, and this information remains classified. Trump was instead privately briefed on the allegations by then-FBI Director James Comey.
But if some of the dossier’s allegations have been corroborated, then why hasn’t anything been done?
Given the steady trickle of leaks from the intelligence agencies and the various investigations, we imagine these details would’ve been revealed by now.
Which prompts us to ask: Was the Steele interview a dud?