The Significance of the December 13 Trump Dossier Report

John Brennan and Donald Trump are in a fight.

In his press conference last week, Trump called out the intelligence community for “allowing … information that turned out to be so false and fake” out, likening the leak to something that would happen in Nazi Germany.

I think it was disgraceful, disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out. I think it’s a disgrace. And I say that and I say that.

And that’s something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do. It’s a disgrace. That information that was false and fake and never happened got released to the public, as far as BuzzFeed, which is a failing pile of garbage, writing it, I think they’re going to suffer the consequences.

Over the weekend, Brennan went on Fox News to scold Trump for the Nazi analogy. At that appearance, he said this about the release of the dossier.

I think as the Director of National Intelligence said in his statement, this is information that’s been out there, circulating, for many months. So it’s not a question of the intelligence community leaking or releasing this information. It was already out there.

[snip]

There is no basis for Mr. Trump to point fingers at the intelligence community for leaking information that was already available publicly.

In response to Brennan’s appearance (and his suggestion Trump didn’t know what the fuck he was doing in Syria and Russia), Trump insinuated that Brennan may have leaked the dossier.

Let’s unpack this. Because while I have no idea who leaked the document (though I highly doubt Brennan would have done so personally), the intelligence community’s claims are really suspect.

As I noted last week, the James Clapper statement rather bizarrely claimed the IC was the last to know about the document. The dossier, according to Clapper, was “widely circulated in recent months among the media, members of Congress and Congressional staff even before the IC became aware of it.”

That (as some people have pointed out) cannot be true.

The stories about what Christopher Steele did when have been evolving. But David Corn’s description, based off a conversation that occurred before the IC started making public claims, strongly suggests that Steele started sharing documents with the FBI “soon” after “the end of June.”

By the end of June, he was sending reports of what he was finding to the American firm.

The former spy said he soon decided the information he was receiving was “sufficiently serious” for him to forward it to contacts he had at the FBI. He did this, he said, without permission from the American firm that had hired him. “This was an extraordinary situation,” he remarked.

Some other reports, based off claims made after the Clapper statement, put this date later — maybe August — even while the implication has always been that the FBI request for a FISA warrant in June stems from these reports.

Even if that information sharing dates to August, however, it would mean the FBI — a member of the IC — had regular updates from the dossier at least by then, if not by June. Sure, you might claim that FBI investigative teams are not part of the IC, but given that this would be a counterintelligence investigation, that’d be a laughable claim.

In other words, even assuming the claims about where the dossier came from and who paid for it are true, the IC was not the last to know, but one of the first.

There are two other dates of note that go into the claim the dossier was widely circulated before it got briefed to Trump this month. We know that the IC briefed the Gang of Eight on this dossier in October. Shortly thereafter, Corn received a copy of the dossier and wrote about it (though he has not revealed who gave it to him). Then in December, John McCain got a copy from Sir Andrew Wood. According to a Guardian article published around 9AM on the same day as the Clapper statement, McCain had not only received the dossier, but handed it over — yet another copy — to the FBI on December 9.

Senator John McCain, who was informed about the existence of the documents separately by an intermediary from a western allied state, dispatched an emissary overseas to meet the source and then decided to present the material to Comey in a one-on-one meeting on 9 December, according to a source aware of the meeting. The documents, which were first reported on last year by Mother Jones, are also in the hands of officials in the White House.

McCain, in a statement released midday on the day of the Clapper statement, is more vague about the hand-off date, describing it only as “late last year.”

I’m working on the specific times, but it is significant that the Guardian with the exact date came out in the morning on January 11, the vague McCain statement came out mid-day sometime, and Clapper’s statement came out that evening.

That’s significant because some people assume that McCain is the one who released the dossier — the dossier he received on December 9.

If that date is correct, the dossier couldn’t have come from McCain, because the last report in the dossier is dated four days later, December 13.

Very significantly, this last report, which talks about the Russian cover-up of the hack, alleges “the operatives involved had been paid by both TRUMP’s team and the Kremlin.” This is, in my opinion, one of the most incendiary claims in the entire dossier — that Trump not only encouraged Russia’s campaign, but paid operatives involved in it.

Just as significantly, the date completely undermines the substance of Brennan’s defense. When he says, “this is information that’s been out there, circulating, for many months. … It was already out there. … There is no basis for Mr. Trump to point fingers at the intelligence community for leaking information that was already available publicly,” he’s wrong. The full set of information released to BuzzFeed — including the allegation Trump paid for this operation — actually hasn’t been out there, because it post-dates all known circulation of the document.

Also remember that journalists have suggested they got copies of the dossier that redacted all the sources. This one didn’t. At least one likely source named in the report has died in curious circumstances since the release of the report.

I really have no idea where the dossier got leaked from — that is one reason I’m so interested in artifacts in the document that may raise questions about the provenance of the released dossier. I also wouldn’t, at this point, be surprised if Trump were getting his own stream of intelligence, possibly even from Russia, about where and how it got released.

But thus far, the IC’s claims about the dossier are even more dodgy than Trump’s, which is saying something.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

40 replies
  1. b says:

    For Clapper/Brennan claiming it wasn’t the IC also note what the NYT correctly noted:
    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/11/us/politics/trump-intelligence-report-explainer.html

    “What exactly prompted American intelligence officials to pass on a summary of the unvetted claims to Mr. Obama, Mr. Trump and Congress? Officials have said they felt the president-elect should be aware of the memos, which had circulated widely in Washington. But putting the summary in a report that went to multiple people in Congress and the executive branch made it very likely that it would be leaked.
    (emphasis in original!)

    No one would publish the obvious bullshit paper but when the IC made it an “official” and thereby news worthy paper it was clear that it would be published and written about. It was 100% intent behind this.

    • Peterr says:

      If the IC doesn’t put it into a briefing, and it then gets published somewhere, and Trump finds out that the IC knew and didn’t tell him, what do you suppose his reaction would be? Suppose McCain (to pick one name) tries to followup with the FBI — “what happened with the report I gave you?” — and word begins to get around about that, rather than the IC briefing?

      This is a no-win situation for the IC. They are damned if by including it in a briefing they give some kind of “we’re taking this seriously” imprimatur, and they are damned if they don’t include it and President Trump later finds out they knew and didn’t tell him about it.

      • k says:

        Doesn’t that just mean they should have standards?  If McCain gave them a “dossier” that said Trump’s youngest son was a Russian agent and hacked Debbie Wasserman Schulz, would the intelligence agencies have to investigate it and report it to Trump?  There must be loads of crackpot “dossiers” sent to the FBI and intel agencies.

        • jerryy says:

          Absolutely they should investigate and report to whomever is supposed to receive the reports, even if the nonsense dossier comes from a sitting Senator. Sure there are lots of crackpot dossiers tossed on their desks, but that is what they are there to do — make sure those reports have no merit. And doing that in such a way as holds true to our values.

          You may recall a while back (around the year 2000 or so) they were told of groups of people wanting to take flying lessons without learning how to do take-offs or landings.  They ignored those reports and we know how that turned out. Since then we have been paying such steep price — losing civil liberties and staring facism in the face by those that want the IC agencies to do other things.

      • b says:

        – It was the IC that “leaked” that it was including the two page summary in its official briefing.

        – It is the IC that still claims it can not verify the OBVIOUSLY false report.

        – There were certainly other ways to inform Trump of the fake report (he btw likely knew about it as every reporter in Washington already had it). Why a need to officially brief Congress?

        You are full of it …

         

  2. k says:

    Trump has survived a lot of coup plots. This sure looks like something hatched up by Jeb Bush’s $150 million SuperPac donors and then handed off to Clinton’s. They have access to FBI and intel heads. Theres the “credibility;” its not whether former MI-6 person Steele is credible to intel chiefs but whether intel chiefs could refuse to do the bidding of Bushes and Clintons.

  3. Peterr says:

    Just as significantly, the date completely undermines the substance of Brennan’s defense. When he says, “this is information that’s been out there, circulating, for many months. … It was already out there. … There is no basis for Mr. Trump to point fingers at the intelligence community for leaking information that was already available publicly,” he’s wrong. The full set of information released to BuzzFeed — including the allegation Trump paid for this operation — actually hasn’t been out there, because it post-dates all known circulation of the document.

    Everyone is talking about “the” dossier, but it is clear to me that “the” dossier is actually an evolving document that has gone through numerous iterations, revisions, and versions. Throughout the last six months, different people saw (or were given) different versions of “the” dossier, as Steele continued adding to it and shaping it.

    Reading about all this reminds me of biblical studies research that looks at the different ancient manuscripts of various biblical texts, and tries to make sense of the differences that are found. Why does document A include a particular phrase in a given story of Jesus but document B and document C do not use that phrase? They examine the documentary history of the manuscripts of the various gospels (canonical and gnostic), to see what the documentary links between them might be. The Greek critical edition of the New Testament is filled with footnotes laying out all these differences and similarities in the manuscript tradition, and I suspect that if you had printed versions of Steele’s work for the last six months to lay side by side, you could trace a similar path from version to version. Be careful about discounting what people said they saw if it does not agree in some fashion with what emerged from BuzzFeed. It is entirely possible that they saw what they saw, and it reflects a different part of the “manuscript tradition”.

    The dossier that was put in public view by Buzzfeed may be the “final” version of the dossier, post-Dec 13, but Brennan is right that the information has been out there, circulating, for many months – cf David Corn, Richard Engel, and other journalists who have said that they’ve been trying to verify any part of it for several months (for instance, see Engel’s interview with Rachel Maddow for more on this pre-BuzzFeed journalistic work). The “full set of information released to BuzzFeed” is one thing; the number of iterations it went through, and who saw what versions, is something else indeed.

    Engel’s question at the 4:00 mark about the timing of the IC briefing about this information (“Why would the IC then, today, boil it down to two pages and drop it like a bomb on President-elect Trump, on many senior leaders in Washington, and on the President himself’s lap?”) is a good one. His answer is that his IC sources tell him it is pushback from the IC against Trump, which then predictably gets Trump’s itchy twitter finger going, and now gets Brennan publicly pushing back again.

    I think it is not just possible that Trump is getting intelligence on this from Russia, but highly likely — perhaps starting like this: “Donald Ivanovitch, we would not dream of doing the things that these scurrilous reporters and spies have fabricated! Hillary surely has her own people in the CIA, and while you have beaten her, they are still in place.” Putin would love to see Trump start his presidency at war with his own intelligence service, and might even be willing to burn some Russian assets by revealing their existence to Trump if their workproduct got Trump to doubt and disbelieve what the DNI and others bring him. There is also the likelihood of Trump being fed disinformation, along with a word that “Your IC will likely call this untrue, but that’s because they are trying to bring you down.” When the IC declares it to be disinformation, then, it only confirms in Trump’s head that his spy friends live in Moscow, not DC.

  4. bevin says:

    “I think it is not just possible that Trump is getting intelligence on this from Russia, but highly likely ..”

    It seems very unlikely to me. And even more unlikely that he could get the information without the CIA knowing about it and monitoring its flow. Or do you think that Trump has private couriers between himself and Moscow?

    What seems likely to me is that, as this story becomes less and less credible and more and more extreme in the charges being ‘hesitated’- it being a long leap from Trump approving the Wikileaks publications to the incredible idea that the incoming President is acting in cooperation with foreign (non British, non Israeli) Secret Police- those who have espoused this conspiracy theory refuse to agree that the likelihood is that Trump is not a foreign agent, that the Russian government is not very skilled in intervening in US elections and that it is time to wind this nonsense up and get down to reality.

    And all of us should be grateful for this because even investments in Lockheed won’t be worth much if the idiots playing with fire (and fascists) in Eastern Europe fire off another missile, this time aimed at Kaliningrad not a Malay airliner. War against powers in the same league is not fun.

    • Peterr says:

      do you think that Trump has private couriers between himself and Moscow?

      Let’s just say that there are plenty of well-placed people in Trump’s entourage that have contacts in Moscow, starting with Michael Flynn:

      Michael Flynn, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for national security adviser, held five phone calls with Russia’s ambassador to Washington on the day the United States retaliated for Moscow’s interference in the U.S. presidential election, three sources familiar with the matter said.

      The calls occurred between the time the Russian embassy was told about U.S. sanctions and the announcement by Russian President Vladimir Putin that he had decided against reprisals, said the sources. They spoke on condition of anonymity, citing internal U.S. government deliberations about the issue.

      The calls raised fresh questions among some U.S. officials about contacts between Trump’s advisers and Russian officials at a time when U.S. intelligence agencies contend that Moscow waged a multifaceted campaign of hacking and other actions to boost Republican Trump’s election chances against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

      [snip]

      The three sources stressed to Reuters that they did not know who initiated the five calls between Flynn, a former three-star Army general who headed the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency under Obama, and Kislyak. Nor did they know the contents of the conversations, and declined to say how they learned of them.
      [snip]

      After the Nov. 8 election, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the state-run Interfax news agency that the Russian government was in touch with members of Trump’s political team during the U.S. election campaign and knew most of his entourage.

      If information has been shared between Putin and Trump, there are no doubt a number of connections that could have been used to pass it along. Not necessarily documents, but verbal communications would have been much more easily arranged.

      Note as well that Flynn has his own beefs with the IC, and Clapper in particular:

      On August 7, 2014, clusters of well-dressed men and women filed into the gleaming metal and glass superstructure of the Defense Intelligence Agency at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, just across the river from Reagan National Airport, for the retirement ceremony of Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn, the agency’s director. Among those present to honor Flynn were James Clapper, the nation’s top intelligence officer—who was a master of ceremonies for the event—and Michael Vickers, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence.

      It wasn’t an easy moment. Together, Clapper and Vickers had forced Flynn out as the head of DIA. . .

  5. LP says:

    Sechin’s treasurer got killed as Sechin’s Rosneft was getting privatized, Russia’s single biggest political ordeal of that year. That dirtbag has literally billions of reasons to kill off former associates who were privy to the sleazy shit. Concluding that it could only have been due to the spy drama and omitting the privatization is a little hasty IMO.

    P.S.:The deal was apparently closed Jan 4
    http://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-rosneft-privatisation-idUSKBN14O1XP

  6. JerryN says:

    Along the lines of Peterr’s thoughts, right now it’s tough to tease out a proper timeline. Steele has said that he continued working on the “dossier” so we can be quite certain that what was initially turned over to the FBI doesn’t match the December version. He also said that he was frustrated by what he saw as inaction by the FBI. What we don’t know is what he did as a result of that frustration. Did he provide a later version of the document to other contacts in the US IC? Did he shop the info to other western intelligence agencies? We do know that the copy BuzzFeed released was unredacted, so we can assume that it originated within an intelligence organization. We just don’t know which one.

    All of this is not to say that the source wasn’t the CIA or the FBI, just that there are other possibilities. Also, in case it’s not clear, I agree that Clapper’s claim is obvious bullshit and Brennan’s are suspect.

    • bmaz says:

      We do know that the copy BuzzFeed released was unredacted, so we can assume that it originated within an intelligence organization.”

      Maybe! Maybe not though. Steele could have kept passing on updates to the Dem oppo groups he had been being paid by, and/or to others. May be a fair guess to say an IC source, but that is certainly not clear.

    • SpaceLifeForm says:

      “We do know that the copy BuzzFeed released was unredacted, so we can assume that it originated within an intelligence organization.”

      Do NOT assume that at all.

      Also, definitely do not assume that secure fax is actually secure.

  7. JerryN says:

    I’m making an assumption that Steele would have redacted PII from what he provided to press contacts. I could be wrong about that.

    • bmaz says:

      Is a completely logical working assumption. But he might not have done so for his original end user, the Dem PAC/Group. Assuming he kept copying them, which (I think) we also do not really know. All this is an excellent area for inquiry and discussion though. Will be fascinating to see what, and how, info dribbles out over time.

      • JerryN says:

        Agreed. This is such an odd case, in part because what’s under discussion is not intel produced by the IC but a work-for-hire that was contracted by a private party. If we assume that the IC knew the history of how it came into existence, they would also know that other, non-government parties had possession of the information. Did that affect their handling of it and, if so, how?

        • SpaceLifeForm says:

          You have an assumption in your second sentence. In other words, you may have already assumed facts not in evidence.

          • JerryN says:

            Well yeah, I did say “If we assume ..”. However, I’m pretty comfortable with this one. Steele said he turned an early version over to his contacts at the FBI. What did he say to them, “Hi there. I decided to do some oppo research on Trump just for the hell of it and here’s what I’ve got”? They know him and what his firm does. Even if they didn’t know who he was doing the work for, they knew that the dossier was being compiled for a third party.

            • SpaceLifeForm says:

              I was referring to your actual second sentence. “.. not intel produced by the IC but a work-for-hire”

              It may have been work product by IC in reality, but I believe we can safely eliminate one of the 17 agencies. As I said before, until any of them prove their worth, we can trust none of them. But at this point, we can say with strong certainty there is one that can’t be trusted.

              • JerryN says:

                Ah sorry for the snark, I miscounted. But let me see if I understand what you’re mean by “It may have been work product by the IC in reality”. Do you mean that the entire dossier is US IC work product and Steele is just fronting for them? Or is it that they were behind the commission and the Republican candidate / Democratic funder are either cutouts or fictions? Or is it that they were providing the source intel through intermediaries? Or am I misunderstanding your point?

                • SpaceLufeForm says:

                  It may be the canary thing.

                  IC has lots of ‘outsourced’ ops.

                  We just don’t know which parts of IC is
                  doing what to other parts of IC.

                  But, at this time, I would want to look at this in a positive fashion.

  8. martin says:

    emptywheel said:
    “At least one likely source named in the report has died in curious circumstances since the release of the report.”

    Holy shit. Tom Clancy couldn’t make this shit up. Thanks for the link. Amazing how deep this story is leading. One thing is blindingly obvious though. The USG knows a hell of lot more than it’s letting on. That is.. if the CIA isn’t as dumb as they sound.

    http://katehon.com/article/purging-russia-evil-rothschild-money-changers

    Looks to me as though there’s some big shit happening behind the curtains. The dossier is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Meanwhile, Trump is shuffling deck chairs on his own ethical Titanic.

    • Bob In Portland says:

      The CIA has historically made lemonade out of its “failures”, or more accurately, it’s lies. I call it the “Whoopsy Daisy” method. When the CIA is caught with its pants down it pleads two things: 1.) If they hadn’t been so hamstringed by the budget they would have found out about it; or, 2.) If they hadn’t been so hamstringed by imposed Congressional illegalities they would have found out about it.

      This okeydoke has been used for most of my adult life. It would be nice if someone else noticed. I cannot ever recall the intelligence budget going down for failing to do its job.

      • SpaceLifeForm says:

        “Whoopsy Daisy” used to work but does not seem to any more. They have been caught in their own mess.

        They can’t use the but, woulda, coulda, the “Whoopsy Daisy” excuse that they ‘would have found out about it’, if, if, if, *BECAUSE* they already knew about it, and Brennan knows that others can prove it.

        Pants down, and pants on fire.
        And ‘hoist with his own petard’.

      • martin says:

        quote”The CIA has historically made lemonade out of its “failures”, or more accurately, it’s lies”unquote

        Lies are it’s mandate.

        “This okeydoke has been used for most of my adult life. It would be nice if someone else noticed”

        Noticed? Bob ..meet Col. Fletcher Prouty.  However, you might take some time swallowing the elephant bite by bite.

        http://bilderberg.org/st/

        Welcome to the real world.

         

         

    • Tom says:

      I feel the same way. I think there’s something they’re just not letting out into the public. “Russian interference” by way of hacking the dnc and leaking non forged emails and spreading BS on the internet just doesnt seem significant enough. We know they didnt literally rig the election but what else did they do besides leaking emails and spreading fake news? Something is just off about all of this. Waiting until the election is over then basically saying “wait guys the election was BS cause someone leaked emails on the internet and put lies on the internet too”. Ridiculous.

      • bmaz says:

        Seeing as how that material, combined with the July 5 rogue press conference by Comey fed the entire summer of Clinton bashing by Trump and the press leading up to Comey’s October 28 rogue letter, it is not ridiculous in the least.

        • LP says:

          Comey makes the whole affair looks like an IC coup d’état. Tank one candidate then ensnare the other one with your kompromat.

  9. Tom says:

    @bmaz Im not saying its altogether insignificant or ridiculous, Im saying that blaming the russian stuff by itself is ridiculous. Now combined with comey and everything else you may have a point….however that is not what I intended to focus on. It was the russian interference by itself that I wanted to focus on. When you combine comey, of course the cumulative effects were damaging but then the excuses for losing just look absurd. How many different excuses are we going to use? Now if someone could definitively prove that one or the other or one by itself cost hillary the election, then id be willing to buy it. Clintons polling was dropping in october and accelerated after comey letter, but was it russian wikileaks that caused that?

    • bmaz says:

      I understood what you are saying, and it is a fair question. By the same token, at least from my view, the way Trump and press played it, I don’t think you can so easily separate WL and Comey, they fed each other. Which is not to say there were not other structural factors that also can be seen as causing the loss, obviously they are. But I do think the Comey/WL combo, by itself, was likely enough. But that is me. There are also other factors that alone could have been sufficient.

  10. WalkerB says:

    From the Christo’s Blog link in the OP:

    Three months later, in October 2016 Steele followed up with his alleged source to provide more details from the July 2016 meeting with Carter – arguably from the same source close to Sechin. In this more detailed section, it becomes clear that the original source – “a close associate of Sechin” – is confiding details to “a trusted compatriot”, and not directly to Steele. Here is the relevant section from the October 19 report:

    October 12 corresponds with the time rumors of the FISA warrant started to surface.

    Odds “a trusted compatriot”  is American ?

  11. Mitchell says:

    I’d still love to see a deep analysis of Trump’s Russian connection based on what’s known and undisputed over parsing the smoke here.

    Also, a simpler explanation of what Putin’s goal is. (Spoiler: The usual: Weaken the West, get to do what he wants for a greater Russia. Is there any better tool for that than Trump?)

  12. Hieronymus Howard says:

    The hyphen police are here:

    no hyphen in midday
    no hyphen in coverup
    no hyphen in postdate, postdates, postdated, postdating

    (& from the comments)
    newsworthy (adj.) is one word
    no hyphen in takeoff, takeoffs
    pushback is unlikely to pass a spell-check
    Thank you for not putting a hyphen in multifaceted
    timeline is not a valid compound word (maybe next decade)

    :-P

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