McCain associate shared unverified Steele dossier with Buzzfeed, court filing says
An associate of the late Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain shared with Buzzfeed News a copy of the unverified, salacious opposition research dossier alleging that Russians had compromising material on President Trump, according to a bombshell federal court filing Wednesday.
McCain had strenuously denied being the source for Buzzfeed after it published the dossier, which was funded by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. In recent days, the dossier’s credibility has increasingly come under question, as the Yahoo News investigative reporter who broke news of its existence said many of its claims were “likely false,” and an adviser to ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen said Cohen never went to Prague to pay off Russian hackers, as alleged in the dossier.
Nevertheless, the FBI extensively relied on the dossier in its warrant applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court in seeking to surveil Trump aide Carter Page. On four occasions, the FBI also incorrectly suggested to the FISA court that the Yahoo reporter, Michael Isikoff, had written an article that provided an independent basis to surveil Page — even though London court records revealed Isikoff was, in fact, relying on the leaks from the dossier’s author. (Page, who has not been charged with wrongdoing, is now suing the DNC for defamation.)
Earlier this year, Fox News reported that a top McCain associate, David Kramer, had been briefed on the dossier written by British ex-spy Christopher Steele in late November 2016 in Surrey, England. Kramer invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to avoid testifying before House Republicans about his handling of the dossier.
McCain has acknowledged giving the dossier to the FBI. But, until Wednesday, it remained a mystery what role, if any, his associates might have played in the dossier leaking to the media shortly afterwards.
The new revelations were contained in an opinion authored by U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro. The opinion granted Buzzfeed’s motion for summary judgment in a defamation action brought by a global corporation based in Luxembourg, XBT Holdings, which alleged that Buzzfeed had recklessly spread misinformation in the dossier about XBT’s purported involvement in cyberwarfare against Democratic Party officials.
Ungaro cleared Buzzfeed of liability for defamation on the basis of the “fair report privilege,” which broadly protects media outlets from defamation actions when they publish official reports, as long as they clearly indicate that the reporting is not their own. The statements about Kramer and McCain’s activities were contained in Buzzfeed’s unsealed motion for summary judgment, which Ungaro cited extensively in his ruling.
In November 2016, according to the filing, McCain sent Kramer, a director at the McCain Institute for International Leadership, to London to meet with Steele.
McCain had learned from Sir Andrew Wood, the former British Ambassador to Russia, that Steele had collected damaging information about Trump, according to the filing. Wood was an informal adviser to Orbis, which was retained by Fusion GPS, the firm behind the dossier. Fox News previously reported on Wood’s involvement.
On Nov. 28, 2016, Kramer met with Steele and later obtained copies of the dossier from Glenn Simpson, the head of Fusion GPS, the filing states. Kramer then met with Buzzfeed reporter Ken Bensinger on Dec. 29, 2016 at the McCain Institute.
There, “Kramer reviewed with Bensinger what he knew about the dossier and explained that he took the allegations seriously.” Then, Kramer showed Bensinger the dossier and purportedly informed him that “some of the information was unverified.”
Bensinger left his meeting “with copies of all seventeen memos” authored by Steele, and promptly took the compiled dossier to Mark Schoofs, BuzzFeed’s senior editor in charge of investigative reporting.
The McCain Institute did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment.
Buzzfeed published an article entitled “These Reports Allege Trump Has Deep Ties to Russia” that included the 35-page dossier on January 10, 2017, shortly after a CNN report revealed the dossier’s existence.
Judge Ungaro remarked in a footnote: “The parties dispute whether Kramer gave Bensinger a copy or whether Bensinger took photos of the Dossier when Kramer was not looking. Kramer testified that Bensinger took photos of the Dossier when Kramer was out of the room, even though he asked Bensinger not to.”
However, in a later declaration, “Kramer stated that he had no objection to Bensinger taking a hard copy and had provided hard copies to other journalists,” Ungaro wrote.
According to the documents, Steele shared a report from the dossier written on Dec. 13 with an unnamed British security official, GOP Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., Senior Director for Russian Affairs at the National Security Council (NSC) Celeste Wallender, and House Speaker Paul Ryan’s chief of staff, John Burks.
But, in a statement to Fox News, Ryan’s team denied that assertion.
“Burks has never met Christopher Steele nor received any document directly from him,” Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong told Fox News. “However, he was aware of and had read the dossier prior to its publication.”
The FBI eventually fired Steele as a source after he was discovered to have leaked to the media. However, Fox News reported in August that embattled Justice Department official Bruce Ohr had contact in 2016 with then-colleague Andrew Weissmann, now a top deputy to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, as well as other senior FBI officials about the dossier and the people behind it.
The sources said Ohr’s outreach about the dossier occurred before and after the FBI fired Steele as a source over his media contacts. Ohr’s network of contacts on the dossier included: anti-Trump former FBI agent Peter Strzok; former FBI lawyer Lisa Page; former deputy director Andrew McCabe; Weissmann and at least one other DOJ official; and a current FBI agent who worked with Strzok on the Russia case.
Weissmann was kept “in the loop” on the dossier, a source said, while he was chief of the criminal fraud division. He is now assigned to Mueller’s team.
Ohr’s broad circle of contacts indicates members of FBI leadership knew about his backchannel activities regarding the dossier and Steele.
In a report last week, the Justice Department Inspector General revealed that government-issued phones belonging to Strzok and Page were wiped completely soon after they were terminated from the Mueller probe over anti-Trump bias.
#FBI Dir. Wray completed his visits to all 56 FBI Field Offices. Beginning at @FBIKnoxville in 9/2017 & ending yesterday at @FBITampa, Dir. Wray has had the honor of seeing the great work the men & women of the FBI are doing every day throughout the country & world.
Donald Trump’s Telling Change to the Oval Office
The president is returning to a freshly renovated White House—and it includes an unusual display.
Here’s a little quiz. Take a look at the picture of the photo above, which shows the newly redecorated Oval Office that is occupied by Donald Trump. What’s unusual in this scene?
As a helpful hint, here’s a close-up of the area you should be looking at:
Is it the Remington bronze statue known as “The Bronco Buster” on the right, which many presidents have displayed? No. The portrait of Andrew Jackson just above the statue, which has survived the departure of Jackson-fan Steve Bannon? No. The bust of Lincoln, on the left? Beneath the portrait of Jefferson? No, and no—although it would be instructive to know the thoughts of the third and the 16th presidents as they gaze on the 45th.
Might it be additional gold in the decor? No, not even that.
Here are a few additional compare-and-contrast clues, based on photos of the same office in different eras.
Let’s start with an extreme case, the Oval Office of FDR:
Maybe too many points of contrast here—black and white versus color, the ship on the desk (for a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy), the very different aesthetics of patrician spareness and Trumpian glitz.
Let’s skip ahead to Dwight Eisenhower, whose office looked this way (via a recreation at his museum):
And how about JFK:
And Lyndon Johnson with his advisers, getting news in 1968 about the assassination of Martin Luther King:
Most previous presidents contented themselves with two large flags behind their desk. One, naturally, is the stars-and-stripes American flag. The other is the blue flag bearing the presidential seal. Trump has at least tripled that: In the photos of the new Oval Office, we see three U.S. flags and three presidential ones.
The mainly white flag nearest his desk is the Army’s; the red one is the Marine Corps’s. (I can’t tell from this photo whether the other three service banners are there as well.)
Democratic operatives created fake Russian bots designed to link Kremlin to Roy Moore in Alabama race
Democratic operatives, backed by a liberal billionaire and facilitated by a former Obama official, created thousands of fake Russian accounts to give an impression the Russian government was supporting Alabama Republican Roy Moore in last year’s election against now-Sen. Doug Jones.
The secret project, which had a budget of just $100,000 and was carried out on Facebook and Twitter, was revealed after the New York Times obtained an internal report detailing the efforts.
“We orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet,” the internal report said. It also took credit for “radicalizing Democrats with a Russian bot scandal” after experimenting “with many of the tactics now understood to have influenced the 2016 elections.”
Jones said Thursday he is “outraged” over the report and wants a federal investigation over the project.
“I’d like to see the Federal Election Commission and the Justice Department look at this to see if there were any laws being violated and, if there were, prosecute those responsible,” he said. “These authorities need to use this example right now to start setting the course for the future to let people know that this is not acceptable in the United States of America.”
“We orchestrated an elaborate ‘false flag’ operation that planted the idea that the Moore campaign was amplified on social media by a Russian botnet.”— Internal report
One participant in the project reportedly was Jonathon Morgan, the chief executive of New Knowledge, a firm that wrote a report – released by the Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this week – about Russia’s social media operations in the 2016 election and its efforts to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump.
He reportedly contacted Renée DiResta, who later joined his company and became the leading author of the report about the Russian interference efforts for the firm, asking for suggestions of online tactics that are worth testing.
In a statement on Twitter, he denied the project was aimed at influencing the election, which the Democrat won by 22,000 votes. “I did not participate in any campaign to influence the public,” he wrote, saying the project goals weren’t about supporting the Jones campaign.View image on Twitter
The Senate Intelligence Committee did not respond to a request for comment.
The Alabama project was funded by liberal billionaire and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman who gave $100,000 to the cause, according to the Times. Hoffman is one of Silicon Valley’s top donors to the Democrats, donating $7 million to various groups and campaigns in the last election cycle.
The money trickled down through American Engagement Technologies, a firm run by Mikey Dickerson who was appointed by former President Barack Obama to lead the newly-created United States Digital Service.