British ex-spy Christopher Steele defended his discredited anti-Trump dossier in a new interview, excerpts of which were released on Sunday.
Among the salacious allegations he stands by are claims about former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen meeting with Russians in Prague and the so-called “pee tape,” despite the evidence-free assertions being largely shot down by special counsel Robert Mueller and the FBI.
The former MI6 agent — who compiled the dossier after being hired by opposition research firm Fusion GPS, which itself had been hired by Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016 — spoke with George Stephanopoulos a couple of weeks ago for the first episode of the Good Morning America host’s new documentary series. The full episode, “Out of the Shadows,” will air Monday.
Early clips show that Stephanopoulos asked Steele if he accepted the finding by Mueller and the FBI that the Cohen in Prague claims were false.
“No, I don’t,” Steel replied.
Stephanopoulos noted Cohen turning on Trump and said it defied logic that Cohen would continue to deny the meeting if it were true.
“I don’t agree with that. It’s self-incriminating to a very great degree,” Steele insisted.
When pressed further, Steele said he believes Cohen still denied it “because I think it’s so incriminating and demeaning, and the other reason is, he might be scared of the consequences.”
Stephanopoulos asked Steele if he thought it hurt his credibility that he would not accept the findings of the FBI, to which Steele said, “I’m prepared to accept that not everything in the dossier is 100%. I have yet to be convinced that that is one of them.”
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released a report in December 2019 about the FBI’s Russia investigation, which discussed Steele’s work.
“The FBI determined that some of the allegations in the Steele reporting, including that Trump attorney Michael Cohen had traveled to Prague in late summer 2016 to meet with Kremlin representatives and that ‘anti-Clinton hackers’ had been paid by the ‘Trump team’ and Kremlin, were not true,” the report said.
Mueller, whose special counsel inquiry rose out of the FBI investigation, wrote in his April 2019 report, “Cohen had never traveled to Prague and was not concerned about those allegations, which he believed were provably false.”
Cohen testified before the House in February 2019 and denied the Prague allegations.
“I’ve never been to Prague. I’ve never been to the Czech Republic,” he said.
In his dossier, Steele claimed a “Kremlin insider” provided him with a dramatic tale of Cohen’s meetings in Prague with Putin-linked operatives and foreign hackers.
Mueller and the FBI concluded this was not true.
According to a DOJ review in 2020, declassified footnotes show that a 2017 report relayed information “outlining an inaccuracy in a limited subset of Steele’s reporting about the actions of Michael Cohen.” The redacted source of this information “stated that it did not have high confidence in the subset of Steele’s reporting and assessed that the referenced subset was part of a Russian disinformation campaign to denigrate U.S. foreign relations.”
Cohen sarcastically told ABC News, “I eagerly await his next secret dossier which proves the existence of Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and that Elvis is still alive.”
Horowitz’s lengthy December 2019 report criticized the Justice Department and the FBI for at least 17 “significant errors and omissions” related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act abuse warrants against Trump campaign associate Carter Page and for the bureau’s reliance on Steele’s dossier.
Steele put his research together at the behest of Fusion, funded by Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee through the Perkins Coie law firm. Horowitz concluded Steele’s discredited dossier played a “central and essential” role in the FBI’s wiretap effort.
Declassified footnotes from Horowitz’s report made public in 2020 indicate the bureau became aware that Steele’s dossier may have been compromised by Russian disinformation.
Mueller’s report said the Russians interfered in the 2016 election in a “sweeping and systematic fashion,” but it “did not establish” any criminal conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
Steele’s decision to sit down with Stephanopoulos for the Hulu series follows last month’s indictment of Democratic lawyer and cybersecurity expert Michael Sussmann in special counsel John Durham’s criminal inquiry into the Russia investigation’s origins and conduct.
The grand jury indictment centers on a September 2016 meeting between Michael Sussmann and then-FBI General Counsel James Baker in which Sussmann passed along allegations of a secret backchannel between Russia’s Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization.
Although Durham said Sussmann told Baker he was not working for any specific client, the special counsel contends he was secretly doing the bidding of Clinton’s campaign and billing his work to the campaign, as well as working on behalf of a technology executive named Rodney Joffe.
Sussmann denies he misled the FBI and has pleaded not guilty.
Both Mueller and Horowitz also cast doubt on the existence of the so-called “pee tape” — an alleged recording that Steele said Russians possessed. The video supposedly depicted Trump with prostitutes at a hotel in 2013 during a Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and could be used as blackmail.
Stephanopoulos asked Steele if he still believed the tape exists.
“I think it probably does, but I wouldn’t put 100% certainty on it,” Steele replied.
When asked why the tape, if it exists, has never been released, Steele contended, “Well, it hasn’t needed to be released … because I think the Russians felt they got pretty good value out of Donald Trump when he was president.”
In his December 2019 report, Horowitz wrote that Steele’s main source “explained that he/she reported to Steele that Trump’s alleged unorthodox sexual activity at the Ritz Carlton hotel was ‘rumor and speculation’ and that he/she had not been able to confirm the story.”
Mueller indicated in a footnote that his team investigated the tape and found no evidence it exists. Mueller recounted a similar claim about “tapes from Russia” brought to the attention of Cohen by Russian businessman Giorgi Rtskhiladze in 2016. But, according to Mueller, what Rtskhiladze didn’t tell Cohen was that he’d also been “told the tapes were fake.”
Trump reportedly told a Republican conference in Palm Beach this month, “I’m not into golden showers.” Trump also reportedly said former first lady Melania Trump told him, “That one. I don’t believe that one.”
FBI investigators received information in 2017 “indicating the potential for Russian disinformation influencing Steele’s election reporting” and seemingly related to Steele’s “pee tape” claims. Declassified footnotes show that a report from a still-classified source in 2017 “contained information about an individual with reported connections to Trump and Russia who claimed that the public reporting about the details of Trump’s [redacted] activities in Moscow during a trip in 2013 were false.” That report concluded the allegations “were the product of [Russian intelligence services] ‘infiltrating a source into the network’ of a [redacted] who compiled a dossier of information on Trump’s activities.”
It was eventually revealed that Steele’s main source was a Russian-trained but U.S.-based lawyer named Igor Danchenko.
FBI notes of a January 2017 interview with Danchenko showed he told the bureau he “did not know the origins” of some of Steele’s claims and “did not recall” other dossier information. He told the FBI that Steele mischaracterized at least one of his Russian source contacts and noted much of what he gave to Steele was “word of mouth and hearsay,” some of which stemmed from a “conversation that [he] had with friends over beers,” and the most salacious allegations may have been made in “jest.”
Horowitz said Danchenko “contradicted the allegations of a ‘well-developed conspiracy’” in Steele’s dossier.
Steele indicated Danchenko may have lied to the FBI because he was scared, telling Stephanopoulos, “If you have a confidential source and that confidential source is blown or uncovered, that confidential source will often take fright and try and downplay and underestimate what they’ve said and done, and I think that’s probably what happened here … I think anybody that’s named in this context, particularly if they’re Russian, has every reason to be afraid.”
Steele previously said there’s no way he was fooled by Russian disinformation when compiling his Trump-Russia dossier.
“These people simply have no idea what they are talking about. I’ve spent my entire adult life working with Russian disinformation,” Steele told Fusion co-founders Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch in their 2019 book.
But Ukraine impeachment witness Fiona Hill, the Trump administration’s onetime Russia expert on the National Security Council, testified behind closed doors in October 2019 that Steele’s dossier “very likely” contained Russian disinformation.
“The ultimate Russian goal was to prevent Hillary Clinton from becoming president, and therefore, the idea that they would intentionally spread embarrassing information about Trump — true or not — is not logical,” Steele claimed in the Fusion book.
In contrast, Hill told the House in November 2019 that the Russians targeted both candidates in 2016. Hill testified that Steele’s dossier was a “rabbit hole” and Steele “could have been played” by the Russians. She said, “It’s very likely that the Russians planted disinformation” in the dossier.
The Fusion GPS authors wrote that Steele “remains confident that at least 70 recent of the assertions in the dossier are accurate,” while he acknowledged the allegations about Cohen in Prague could’ve been “misinformation fed to Steele to discredit him.”
Steele told Stephanopoulos, “I stand by the work that we did, the sources we had, and the professionalism we applied to it.”
Steele’s partner at Orbis Business Intelligence, Christopher Burrows, said in the documentary that “it’s worth bearing in mind that this was raw intelligence — raw intelligence in the sense that what we sent over was the initial findings.”