It's not every day that investigative journalists discover their work was cited in a controversial warrant application that has become a flashpoint of partisan conflict in the US. So, it's telling that, rather than being honored to see his work having such a profound impact, Yahoo News reporter Michael Isikoff said he was "stunned" to see a story he published more than a year ago cited in the "FISA memo" as one of the justifications in a FISA warrant application for former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
As Isikoff explains, his story was almost entirely based on information from the Steele dossier, which was passed to him by an intermediary. Therefore, citing it would be redundant. The revelation, which was made in a memo released by the House Intelligence Committee on Friday, “stuns me,” Isikoff said in an episode of his podcast, “Skullduggery.”
The four-page memo alleges that the DOJ and FBI relied on the "unverified and salacious" (in the words of former FBI Director James Comey) dossier in their initial application for the Page warrant, as well as in the applications for renewal. The article, which was published by Yahoo on Sept. 23, 2016, was "cited extensively" in the application, which also notes that most of the information contained in the story was derived from the dossier. Isikoff's story was largely ignored when it was published as the media was hyper focused on the fallout from the "Access Hollywood" tape and few people believed Trump would prevail.
Check out the new episode of our podcast Skullduggery -- "The Spy, the Reporter and the Memo" -- in which @dklaidman and I discuss my strange appearance in the House Republican memo and what it means. https://t.co/RtzFahh19L— Michael Isikoff (@Isikoff) February 3, 2018
Isikoff said it was “a bit beyond me” that the FBI would use his article in the FISA application.
“Obviously the information that I got from Christopher Steele was information the FBI already had,” he said, noting that Steele began sharing information from his dossier in July 2016.
“It’s self-referential,” he said of the article and its reliance on the dossier.
“My story is about the FBI’s own investigation,” he continued.
"So it seems a little odd that they would be citing the Yahoo! News story about the matter that they are investigating themselves based on the same material that had been separately presented to the FBI before I was ever briefed by Christopher Steele."
The Republican spy memo makes a similar argument.
"This article does not corroborate the Steele dossier because it is derived from the information leaked by Steele himself to Yahoo! News," it reads.
It also asserts that the Page FISA application "incorrectly assesses" that Steele was NOT a source for Isikoff.
According to the memo, that corroboration of the dossier was in its “infancy” at the time the FISA application was submitted. An FBI unit that tried to verify Steele’s research had determined that it was only “minimally corroborated” at the time the FISA warrant was granted.
Isikoff said on his podcast that he met Steele at a Washington hotel in September 2016. They were joined by his “old friend” Glenn Simpson, the founder of opposition research firm Fusion GPS.
Fusion hired Steele to investigate Donald Trump’s ties to Russia. The firm was working for the Clinton campaign and DNC, a fact which Isikoff was not aware of at the time of the meeting with Simpson and Steele.
He said on “Skullduggery” that he was aware that Simpson and Steele were working for Democrats, though he did not know it was the campaign and DNC.
Still, Isikoff wondered aloud whether the Republican memo accurately characterized the FISA application or whether the FBI/DOJ were trying to “dress up” the document. The latter scenario would be “embarrassing” for the US, he said.
Isikoff’s article revealed for the first time that investigators were scrutinizing Page’s contacts in Russia. It also provided the most extensive reporting on Page’s alleged activities in Russia up to that point in the campaign.
Isikoff reported that Page may have met secretly with two Kremlin insiders during a trip to Moscow in July 2016.
The dossier - and the Isikoff report - identified the two individuals as Igor Sechin and Igor Diveykin. Page has denied ever meeting the men. He is also suing Yahoo! News for publishing the article.
Page denies other allegations made by Steele in the dossier. Steele claims in the document that Page worked with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort to collude directly with Russian operatives. Page says he has never met or spoken with Manafort. The dossier also asserts that it was Page’s idea to provide hacked DNC emails to Wikileaks in order to push Bernie Sanders supporters away from the Democrats’ camp.
Isikoff’s article also uses a quote from a senior US law enforcement official. The unidentified official told Isikoff that Page’s contacts in Russia were on investigators’ “radar screen.”
The identity of that source remains a mystery, and Isikoff did not disclose who it was. But he did rule out that the source was Bruce Ohr, a Justice Department official who met with Steele and Simpson before and after the election, and whose wife briefly worked for Fusion GPS, the oppo research firm that produced the dossier.
According to the memo, Ohr passed information from Steele to the Justice Department.
Isikoff's comments were published around the same time that Trey Gowdy, an outgoing Republican Congressman who helped author the dossier, said it wouldn't derail the Mueller probe.
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Furthermore, as the Daily Caller's Chuck Ross points out, Isikoff said during an interview with MSNBC's Chris Hayes last summer that it's "not unreasonable" to assume the dossier played an important role in launching the investigation.
Interesting exchange in June between Michael Isikoff and Chris Hayes, seemingly when Democrats had more confidence in dossier. Isikoff said it wasn't unreasonable to think dossier triggered Russia probe. pic.twitter.com/R3JgZrdYhe— Chuck Ross (@ChuckRossDC) February 4, 2018