Donald Trump’s journey in and out of the Oval Office was marked by xenophobia, conspiracy theories – and xenophobic conspiracy theories. Trump started his political career by spreading the “birth lie” about President Obama and then became Obama’s unlikely successor with a presidential campaign against immigrants and Muslims. After losing the White House four years later, Trump blamed his overthrow for a massive election fraud conspiracy that – according to Flunkies Rudy Giuliani and Sydney Powell – “communist money, “”VenezuelanVoting machines as well as Chinese and Iranian hackers. The right-wing mob that attacked the Capitol last week to thwart the confirmation of Joe Biden’s victory was the apotheosis of Trump’s awkward bigotry.
Trump’s troubled coda was apt for another reason: during his tenure, Democratic Party activists and their allies in the media questioned the legitimacy of Trump’s 2016 victory with their own xenophobic conspiracy theory. Russia, it was alleged, not only installed Trump in the White House, but did so as part of an elaborate conspiracy with its campaign. While Russiagate did not incite the hatred, violence and harm of Trump’s MAGA and “Stop the Steal” movements, it was not without its own dangerous consequences.
A “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation”
The first rumble from the Manchurian candidates about Trump surfaced in the summer of 2016. But the pivotal incident that turned into an all-consuming Russian mania happened exactly four years ago this month, just days before Trump’s inauguration. On January 10, 2017 BuzzFeed News published the “Steele Dossier,” a collection of DNC-funded reports alleging a high-level conspiracy between Trump and Moscow. The catalyst had come four days earlier when the then FBI director Jim Comey personally informed Trump of the existence of the dossier. Their meeting was then immediately leaked to the media and gave up BuzzFeed the news hook to fully publish the Steele material.
Despite his outlandish claims and partisan origins, Steele’s work product somehow became a roadmap for democratic leaders, media, and most importantly, intelligence officials conducting the Russia investigation.
According to Steele, Trump and the Kremlin have engaged in a “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation”. Steele claimed Russia had “cultivated, aided, and aided Trump for at least five years,” dating back to when Trump was just the host of Trump The Apprentice. Russia, Steele claimed, gave Trump “a regular flow of information”, including through “political rivals”. The conspiracy allegedly escalated during the 2016 campaign, when then Trump attorney Michael Cohen slipped into Prague for “secret talks with Kremlin officials and associated operators / hackers”.
This alleged conspiracy was based not only on mutually shameful interests but, worse, on outright coercion. Steele claimed the Russians videotaped Trump in a hotel room in Moscow’s Ritz-Carlton to watch prostitutes “perform a show of golden showers (urinating)”. These “Kompromat”Meant that the leader of the free world was not only a traitor but also a victim of extortion from his Kremlin leaders.
Steele’s perfect timing
If the far-fetched claims in the Steele dossier weren’t reason enough to ridicule it, another obvious marker should have set off the alarm. Reading the Steele dossier chronologically reveals a blatant pattern: Steele has no prior knowledge of anything that was later proven to be true, and equally significant, many of his most explosive claims appear only after an approximate prediction is publicly released.
Despite his alleged high-profile sources in the Kremlin, Steele didn’t mention them until after Wikileaks released the DNC emails in July 2016. When Steele made the headline-heavy claim that “the TRUMP team had agreed to override Russian intervention in Ukraine as an election issue,” he did so after a meaningless platform change in connection with Ukraine at the RNC reported (and wrongly characterized) in the The Washington Post. When Steele claimed that former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page would have been offered up to 19 percent of the shares in Russian state oil company Rosneft if he could get Trump to lift Western sanctions, it was only after that Media had reported Visit of Page in Moscow.
In short, Steele and his “sources” had no access to high-level information, only access to news outlets and their own ideas. For this reason, the key characters and incidents of Russiagate do not appear in Steele’s dossier. In the absence of George Papadapolous and Joseph Mifsud, their conversations triggered the FBI’s collusion probe. MIA is also the infamous Trump Tower meeting with Russian nationals over possible “filth” on Hillary Clinton. The reason is obvious: these events were only reported publicly after Steele wrote his last secret “intelligence report”.
“A Real James Bond”
All of this was lost to the many gullible media outlets that de facto stenographers served for Steele, his clients and a number of unknown intelligence agents who, behind the safe mask of anonymity, assured the public of his credibility.
David Corn, the veteran Mother jones Reporter who broke the Steele story In October 2016, he approvingly cited an official’s assurance that Steele “has been a credible source of evidence to provide reliable, sensitive, and important information to the US government.” The Corn dossier was not only made public, but later published personally made available the FBI with a copy.
“Former C.I.A. official described [Steele] as an expert on Russia who is highly valued in the espionage world ”. The New York Times wrote on the day the dossier was published in January 2017. Steele that Times added, “is considered a competent and reliable employee with extensive experience in Russia.” Steele, a headline on NBC News, stated, “Is a real James Bond. ”
When vouching for Steele’s craft, anonymous officials also fed media contacts a false image that Steele’s dossier had been factually checked. “US investigators confirm certain aspects of the Russia dossier,” a CNN headline proclaimed in February 2017, weeks after the dossier was published. The FBI “continues to hunt things out of the dossier, and at its core is pulling a lot out of it,” an unidentified “intelligence agent.” told The New Yorker later this month.
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow was an early and passionate believer in Steele’s brawl. Days before Trump’s inauguration, Maddow speculated that Putin might use the pee tape to Blackmailing Trump to withdraw US forces near the Russian border. Weeks later, after no such withdrawal had occurred and no underlying conspiracy between Trump and Russia had been exposed, Maddow assured her audience that “all the supportive details” in Steele’s reports “are being checked, including the really outrageous ones under the microscope. It seems to be new every day. ”
Guardian Reporter Luke Harding, who served as Steele’s unofficial media spokesman, repackaged the ex-spy’s allegations for his bestselling book. Consultation. “One employee described him as sober, cautious, highly regarded, professional, and conservative,” wrote Harding. “‘He’s not the kind of person to pass on gossip. When he puts something on a report, he thinks there’s enough credibility in it.”
Even the Revelation, October 2017that Steele’s “intelligence” was paid by the Democratic National Committee and that the Clinton campaign did nothing to stop media advertising.
In a glow Profile March 2018 from “the ex-spy [who] tried to warn the world of Trump’s ties to Russia, ”said Jane Mayer of The New Yorker assured readers that “a number of Steele’s main claims were supported by later disclosures”.
The media’s trust in Steele became so profound that even his most eccentric claim was not only spoiled but actively accepted. During the April 2018 rollout for the first of his two Trump-era books, former FBI director Jim Comey said ABC News that it is “possible” that the pee tape exists. Comey’s innuendo was enough for new York Jonathan Chait from the magazine declares himself a “Peeliever”. Chait urged readers to join the club, writing, “I’ve always doubted this episode really happened. I now believe that it probably was. ” Come over, New York Times Columnist Michelle Goldberg explained“Has started a long overdue national conversation about whether the pee tape is real.”
This long-overdue national conversation was most warmly received in the news media boardrooms, where editors devoted valuable journalistic resources to the pee-tape Pied Piper. Just before the Steele saga begins publishing his dossier, BuzzFeed sent a reporter to Prague to check this out. After there was a libel suit from Russians named in the document, BuzzFeed supposedly paid a private company $ 4.1 million Review parts of its content.
Running to find a window where the pee tape might have occurred Bloomberg news considered Flight logswhile The daily beast checked trumps Time in Moscow. Your efforts, if not dispositive, were obviously convincing. “Trump’s pee tape alibi is falling apart, ” Vanity Fair proclaimed. “It’s further evidence of the Peelievers,” said an increasingly confident Jonathan Chait explained.
According to Greg Miller from The Washington PostColleagues at the newspaper “literally spent weeks and months losing material” in the dossier, including Cohen’s alleged visit to Prague to pay off Russian hackers. “We sent reporters through every hotel in Prague, everywhere to find out if he was ever there, and we got away empty-handed.”
Other reporters said they were more successful. In April 2018 McClatchy reported that Mueller’s team has “evidence” that Cohen visited Prague in 2016, just as Steele claimed. In December of that year, McClatchy doubled in size reports that Cohen’s cell phone has sent signals that associated with telephone towers in Prague. Cohen eventually denied the affidavit, and the Muller Report agreed that Cohen “never went to Prague”. More than two years later, McClatchy has since added a lukewarm note from the editor rather than a retraction.
Coupled with near-uniform journalistic gullibility, top Democrats and former intelligence officials used their positions of authority and media to improve Steele’s public image. Representative Adam Schiff went so far as to include some of Steele’s claims Congress report. Schiff and his colleagues also invoked a standard of evidence that did not survive a trial but was widely welcomed in the lengthy media campaign promoting Steele’s claim. John Brennan, former director of the CIA, reported on the predominant epistemological coverage of the Steele dossier Meet the press“Just because they haven’t been verified doesn’t mean they weren’t true.”
“Not a single revelation in the Steele dossier has been refuted,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein explained. Democratic Senator Mark Warner was more prudent, stating that none of the claims in the dossier had been “proven or, conversely, disproved”. Speaking to Maddow in May 2018, James Clapper shared his view “that more of this has been corroborated by the following developments and what we have learned.” When asked by Maddow whether “anything in the dossier has been refuted,” Clapper replied confidently – although he had not been in office for more than a year: “No.”
“Source # 1”
While the media and political promotion of the Steele dossier has been contemptuous, its FBI acceptance is an even bigger scandal. Instead of rejecting Steele’s work as a political hit, the FBI used it as raw material.
The FBI’s interest in Steele’s dossier was great. The office lasted a long time Spreadsheet to document his efforts to corroborate Steele’s fanciful claims. And when agents first requested the now infamous surveillance warrant on Carter Page in October 2016, they looked directly to Steele’s pages.
The FBI said the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) that it “believes that [Russia’s] Efforts will be coordinated with Page and possibly other people associated with the Trump campaign. His source for this absurd “belief” was Steele, whom he called “Source No. 1” and “believable”. In one act of circular reporting, the FBI also cited a Yahoo News Article by journalist Michael Isikoff, who had also relied on Steele as a source. Although the FBI told the court that Steele had been paid to conduct opposition research, it did not disclose that Trump’s Democratic political opponents had settled the bill.
Notably, the FBI not only relied on Steele’s information, they even gave him its own information. At a meeting in Rome in October 2016, FBI officials revealed highly sensitive and even classified material to Steele. A damnation Justice Department investigationThe FBI, overseen by Inspector General Michael Horowitz and released in December 2019, found that FBI agents were giving Steele a “general view” of the Crossfire Hurricane, including its specific – and at the time secret – probes by Paul Manafort, Carter Page and Michael Flynn. The Washington Post reported in February 2018, Steele “later told the staff” that he found out from the meeting that the FBI was “particularly interested in George Papadopoulos,” the Trump campaign advisor who served as the predicate for the entire investigation. The post Office noted that “Papadopoulos hadn’t appeared in Steele’s research” – not surprising because media like that post Office hadn’t written any stories about him when Steele’s “research” was invented.
According to the Horowitz report, the FBI was so keen to win Steele that it offered him $ 15,000 “just to attend the October meeting” in Rome. A “significantly” larger amount was also pledged if he could gather information for the investigation.
That agreement was broken just a month later after the FBI discovered that Steele was still speaking to the media. But that didn’t stop the FBI’s trust in him. The FBI continued to gather information from Steele through an intermediary, former DOJ official Bruce Ohr. Worse, it continued to cite the Steele dossier in subsequent requests to renew Carter Page’s surveillance and never informed the FISC of Steele’s conflict of interest.
Worse, the FBI kept quoting Steele even after finding his claims to be unfounded. According to the Horowitz report, Steele’s so-called “primary sub-source” Igor Danchenko personally informed the FBI in January 2017 that the “confirmation” of the Steele dossier’s allegations was “null”.
When Danchenko’s identity was revealed That July it was clear why he was evaluating his own information so badly. Danchenko was not in Russia with access to Kremlin springs, but was a Russian expat based in DC with better access to Capitol Hill. Danchenko had previously worked for Brookings Institution, a prominent think tank in Beltway. According to an investigation by The Wall Street Journal, one of the most important sources of Danchenko turned out to be Another Russian expat, PR manager Olga Galkina. Galkina, based in Cyprus, was credited with the claim about Cohen in Prague. An argument with her employer, a web service provider, apparently inspired Steele’s claim that one of his objects, Webzilla, was implicated in the alleged Russian hacking of the DNC.
Even after the FBI learned all of this, it returned to the FISC and received two more renewals of the Foreign Intelligence Investigation Act’s permissions to spy on Page. In its posts, the FBI mentioned speaking with Danchenko but left out the inconvenient discovery that its confirmation was “zero”.
The April 2019 release of the Mueller report, which found no Trump-Russia conspiracy, was a heavy blow to Steele’s credibility. It also put an end to breathless media advertising for its fanciful claims. The publication of the Horowitz report in December 2019 was even more damaging. The revelation that the FBI misled the FISC about Steele’s claims sparked high-profile calls for reform and a $ 75 million lawsuit from Carter Page. The Justice Department also has invalidated the last two side orders citing “material misrepresentation” by the FBI.
While the Steele Affair has sparked at least some government regret and nominal reform, the same cannot be said of the prominent media and political figures who promoted its ridiculous claims with equal credulity. In particular, a small number of corporate media voices Erik Wemple from The Washington Postcriticized the journalists who acted as stenographers for Steele. But Wemple’s columns are one of the few signs of accountability emanating from the media that led audiences to believe in the fictional Trump-Russia conspiracy.
Lessons from the farce
If there is no honest self-reflection from the elite personalities spreading Steele’s inventions, there may still be some lessons to be learned for those exposed to the farce. For many liberals, Russiagate offered a comforting explanation for Trump’s unlikely, painful victory. If Steele’s spy thriller could be proven true, the Trumpian nightmare would surely come to an end. Not only was this a welcome conviction for anyone against Trump, it was almost a requirement: day after day, the anti-Trump audience was inundated with constant allusions to Trump’s treasonous behavior and the false hope that Müller would be one step closer to proof came. Questioning Steele’s claims and other tenets of Russian Orthodoxy has long been an act of heresy against “resistance”.
Much like a suspenseful novel or TV show, the Steele story has also freed many liberals from the daily pain of having such a stupid, hateful character in the Oval Office. But even if Trump is now almost gone, the conditions that produced him and the dangerous tendencies that he represented remain very present. Just like the corporate apologists within the Democratic Party who opened up an opening for his advancement. In order to finally defeat Trumpism, at least some of those who embraced it as a discharge into the “swamp” must be reached.
A start could be to recognize in ourselves similar traits that we have deplored in our political opponents. As dismayed as it was to find MAGA supporters clinging to Trump’s election fraud lies, even when they violently assault the Capitol, perhaps we can glimpse their mindset by looking at our own malleability. Trump voters heard liberals relentlessly claim that Russia had tricked the country into voting for their candidate – a Kremlin asset that has been jeopardized by massive videotape, financial leverage and other unknowns Kompromat. Even in response to Trump’s attack on Congress, some did liberal be rightincluding House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, right away brought it back to Putin.
Steele himself personally believed that the aim of his work was to reverse the election. Fusion GPS, Steele said a London court in August 2018 it was stopped “in order to obtain the necessary information” about “the possible impact of Russian participation on the legal validity of the result of the US presidential election in 2016”. On that basis, Steele said, the Clinton campaign could “consider steps they are legally entitled to take to challenge the validity of the election result.”
Ultimately, Steele’s absurdities and the related Russian Russiagate campaign did nothing to undermine Trump. If anything, Trump was presented with the permanent gift of a conspiratorial opposition – and his own ultimate discharge based on the core collusion allegations fueled by Steele. Equally dangerous was the widespread belief that Trump was a Russian puppet had significant geopolitical implications: it contributed to the stigmatization of diplomacy with the world’s other leading nuclear power and motivated liberal supporters to adopt the diverse, Hawkish Trump strategies of the real world ignoring the escalation of tensions. Far more Americans heard of Trump’s fictional conspiracy with the Kremlin than, for example, that he had undermined two important nuclear weapons treaties, the INF and New START, because of Russian objections.
Now, when we see MAGA supporters consumed by their own electoral conspiracy theories, we must remember that while there is no equivalent to “stop the steal” mob violence, there are many liberals throughout the four years from Trump to theirs were misled in their own way. Aside from our mutual propensity to embrace comforting delusions, we could acknowledge that we have something else in common with Trump supporters: party elites, Democrats, and Republicans who have turned to crazy, xenophobic fantasies rather than taking responsibility for their own election failures. For both party leaderships and their allied media, Russiagate and its successor “Stop the Steal” were extremely profitable. In addition to the immediate financial rewards and rating boosts, both “scandals” offer an even deeper institutional payoff: they divert the public from systemic dysfunction in favor of fantastic conspiracy theories.
If the Steele dossier has an enduring role in fighting what Trump represents, it would be an honest reflection on whose interests it served. And whose it hurt.