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Did FBI get bamboozled by multiple versions of Trump dossier?
By John Solomon
Like dandelions in an untreated lawn, the now infamous Russian dossier apparently multiplied in numbers - and emissaries delivering it to the FBI - the closer Donald Trump got to the White House.
We know from public testimony that dossier author and former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele shared his findings with the FBI in summer and fall 2016 before he was terminated as a confidential source for inappropriate media contacts.
And we learned that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) provided a copy to the FBI after the November 2016 election - out of a sense of duty, his office says.
Now, memos the FBI is turning over to Congress show the bureau possessed at least three versions of the dossier and its mostly unverified allegations of collusion.
Each arrived from a different messenger: McCain, Mother Jones reporter David Corn, Fusion GPS founder (and Steele boss) Glenn Simpson.
That revelation is in an email that disgraced FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok wrote to FBI executives around the time BuzzFeed published a version of the dossier on Jan. 10, 2017.
"Our internal system is blocking the site," Strzok wrote of the document posted on BuzzFeed. "I have the PDF via iPhone but it's 25.6MB. Comparing now. The set is only identical to what McCain had. (it has differences from what was given to us by Corn and Simpson.)"
The significance of Strzok's email is obvious to investigators who reviewed it in recent days. The FBI is supposed to be immune to manipulation by circular information flows, especially with sensitive investigations such as evaluating whether a foreign power tampered with an American election.
Yet, in this case, the generally same information kept walking through the FBI's door for months - recycled each time by a new character with ties to Hillary Clinton or hatred for Trump - until someone decided they had to act.
That someone was Strzok, whose own anti-Trump bias was laid bare by his personal text messages. He first opened a case on Russia-Trump collusion on July 31, 2016 after the first flow of information, then escalated to get a warrant targeting a former Trump adviser in October after a second flurry of allegations.
The pattern is so troubling that one investigator said this to me: "The dossier and its related dirt was on a circular flight path aboard a courier service called 'Air Clinton,' and the FBI kept signing for the packages."
Here is the evidence that supports those concerns.
Simpson and his firm were paid by Clinton's campaign to hire Steele to find dirt on Trump in Russia during the 2016 election.
Oddly - and perhaps contradicting Strzok's email - Simpson testified he was unaware of any version of the dossier being given to the FBI. "I don't know that there was a version provided to the FBI," he testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In his House Intelligence Committee testimony, Simpson acknowledged he "acceded" to letting Steele talk to the FBI but insisted he himself never talked to the FBI about the dossier. "Did you meet with intelligence officials regarding the dossier?" he was asked. "No," Simpson replied. Pressed if he ever talked to the FBI, Simpson added: "I didn't approach the FBI."
In light of the new emails, investigators will want to determine if Simpson misled Congress or if Strzok misstated the source of one of the versions.
The chief courier of the Trump dirt was Steele, a former MI6 agent respected for past collaborations with the FBI on intelligence matters. But we now know he was "desperate" to defeat Trump, according to sworn testimony.
The first time Steele met the FBI on July 5, 2016, he got a lukewarm reception.
Then Australian diplomat Alexander Downer in late July recalled a May 2016 conversation he had with Trump adviser George Papadopoulos about possible Russian hacks of Clinton emails, and relayed that to U.S. authorities.
Downer - another "courier" in some investigators' minds - has his own ties to the Clintons. As Australia's foreign minister in 2006, he arranged one of the largest-ever foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation, a $25 million grant to fight AIDS.
Strzok quietly opened an investigation of possible Trump-Russia collusion on July 31, 2016, based in part on Downer's information.
A few weeks later, Clinton allies Sidney Blumenthal, who was paid for years by the Clinton Foundation, and Cody Shearer sent the government dirt on Trump that mirrored the Steele dossier, Congress has been told.
Then, in mid- to late September, the FBI re-engaged with Steele. Yet, soon after, agents were forced to part ways with Steele when they caught him having contacts with the media, a prohibition for confidential FBI sources.
In October, the FBI submitted and won a request for a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant against Carter Page, another Trump adviser. In support of the request, it cited a Yahoo News article that, officials admit, was influenced by the Steele dossier.
Around the same time, in late October, Corn wrote an article in Mother Jones about Steele's Trump-Russia allegations.
In an email to me, Corn said he told the FBI about the dossier before writing that article. After Trump won the election, he shared a version of the document with the bureau in hopes of furthering his reporting. "I tried the FBI again after the election. On my own accord, I shared a copy of the dossier with the FBI in order to see if the bureau would authenticate the documents and now comment on them. Once again, it would not," he wrote me.
Corn dismissed any suggestion that made him an FBI source: "To characterize me as a source of the document is inaccurate. I was merely doing what a journalist does: trying to get more information on a story I was pursuing."
Corn's opposition to Trump is well documented in his articles, a book he wrote, and on Twitter where, this month, he declared: "Trump has a far greater affinity for the leader of a corrupt and repressive autocracy than he does for any leader of a liberal Western democracy. That should concern Democrats and Republicans."
In November, the world was mostly unaware the FBI was investigating the unproven Russia-Trump allegations when McCain sent the FBI a copy of the dossier. McCain had his own animus toward Trump, dating to when the future president dissed the former GOP presidential nominee's record as a war hero.
More important to investigators is where Team McCain got the dossier. In his congressional testimony, Simpson all but acknowledged he and Steele provided the information to McCain ally David Kramer, who provided it to the Arizona senator to forward to the FBI.
"I don't remember whether I called David or David called me, I just don't remember, but we got in touch," Simpson testified about his dossier-related contact with Kramer. Simpson's lawyer stopped him from answering more.
When asked why he'd talk to Kramer about the Trump dirt, Simpson gave an insightful answer: "We were concerned about whether the information that we provided previously had ever, you know, risen to the leadership level of the FBI."
In other words, it was a ploy using a Republican critic of Trump as the courier.
It's all the sort of recycling that, in another context, might make an environmentalist happy. But it's exactly the sort of circular intelligence-gathering and political pressure that the FBI is supposed to reject.
John Solomon is an award-winning investigative journalist whose work over the years has exposed U.S. and FBI intelligence failures before the Sept. 11 attacks, federal scientists' misuse of foster children and veterans in drug experiments, and numerous cases of political corruption. He is The Hill's executive vice president for video.
The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill.