ON OCTOBER 17 Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer who now runs a private research consultancy, appeared on ABC News. Mr. Steele was being questioned about a brief he provided to the Democratic Party and the FBI in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. He reported on Donald Trump’s business interests in Russia and his team’s relations there -low. But most explosively, he also alleged that he may have been captured on video indulging in curious sexual tastes in the presidential suite at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Moscow in 2013. Mr Steele, asked if he believed this video exists, said: “I think it probably is.
It seems less and less likely. On November 4, John Durham, the Special Counsel for the Department of Justice, who was appointed by William Barr in 2019 to investigate the FBI’s investigation into his alleged ties to Russia, indicted Igor Danchenko, a Russian expert national and professional based in America. . Mr. Danchenko allegedly lied about how he collected information for the Steele case (knowingly lying to FBI agents is a crime). According to the indictment, Mr. Danchenko obtained some of the rumors he sent Mr. Steele from an American Russophile public relations official, appointed by the New York Times like Charles Dolan, who previously worked on the Clinton campaigns. Mr Danchenko allegedly kept this from the FBI when he was questioned (he denies it).
The right-wing media in America turned this into a storm. Kimberley Strassel, columnist on the the Wall Street newspaper, wrote that the indictments show that the Steele File should be called the “Clinton File”, and in fact argued that Mr. Trump was the victim of a giant orchestrated plot to make it appear he was in the reads with Russia. Others, like Fox News, made much of Mr. Danchenko’s work from 2005 to 2010 for the Brookings Institution, a centrist think tank in Washington, DC. Many also suggest that the Mueller Inquiry, a federal inquiry that examined the links of Mr. Trump’s teams to Russia, began with the Steele case. Mr Trump himself said in a TV interview that the results “will get deeper and deeper” and involve Democrats.
In reality, the plot is not that deep. An earlier investigation by Michael Horowitz, the Inspector General of the Department of Justice, revealed many shortcomings in the Steele case. But it also showed that was not what triggered the FBI’s investigation into the former president’s ties to Russia. An Australian government denunciation in July 2016 did. The Mueller investigation, which emerged from the original FBI investigation, made almost no mention of the Steele case allegations. Instead, he focused on the activities of various Trump associates, who have certainly met Russian officials, and also contacted WikiLeaks about the publication of hacked Democratic National Committee emails. by the Russian state. A bipartisan Senate report released last year found Mr. Trump aware of this. In April, the Treasury Department sanctioned an associate of Paul Manafort, one of Mr. Trump’s campaign directors, for providing information to Russian intelligence services.
Mr Durham therefore did not exonerate Mr Trump from having shady relations with Russia. But he stressed that the more sinister allegations were unfounded rumors at best. This is embarrassing for the FBI, which used the Steele file in part to justify a wiretap by Trump adviser Carter Page.
But it is also overwhelming for many journalists and Democrats. The Steele dossier has been presented by many in the more left-wing media as a highly credible investigation by a highly respected former British spy, involving “secret sources inside Russia” (in the words of a MSNBC). In fact, it was contracted out to people outside of Russia, like Mr Danchenko, who apparently gathered information by reading newspapers and drinking with friends.
What happens next? Mr Durham’s investigation has been going on for over two years and so far has produced only three indictments: Besides Mr Danchenko there is Michael Sussmann, a cybersecurity attorney who is said to have also made false statements to the FBI, and a young FBI lawyer who admitted to altering a document to strengthen a wiretap request. There may well be more. Yet the main outcome of the investigation will be to help Mr. Trump shift the conversation about his ties to Russia from his own actions to the tendency of liberal journalists to believe the worst about him. For the former president, this is a pretty good result.