Nunes says he’s 'sure' top Obama adviser knew about Steele dossier

Nunes says he’s 'sure' top Obama adviser knew about Steele dossier
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House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesDemocratic lawmaker dismisses GOP lawsuit threat: 'Take your letter and shove it' House Democrats release second batch of Parnas materials Democratic lawmaker says Nunes threatened to sue him over criticism MORE (R-Calif.) said Wednesday that he believes former President Obama’s foreign policy adviser Ben Rhodes was aware of a dossier about President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rails against impeachment in speech to Texas farmers Trump administration planning to crack down on 'birth tourism': report George Conway on Trump adding Dershowitz, Starr to legal team: 'Hard to see how either could help' MORE that circulated during the 2016 presidential campaign.

In an interview on conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt's talk radio show, Nunes was asked if Rhodes had seen the infamous dossier compiled by British spy Christopher Steele, which was funded by Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonNYT editorial board endorses Warren, Klobuchar for Democratic nomination for president Sanders v. Warren is just for insiders Alan Dershowitz: Argument president cannot be impeached for abusing power a 'strong one' MORE’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

“You’d have to be a fool to think that he did not,” Nunes responded.

“As you see all the places where this dossier was ran into, plus all the media had it, how is it possible that Ben Rhodes, who dealt with the media every day, didn’t know about it?” Nunes added. “I’m sure he knew about it.”

Nunes’s claim about Rhodes is part of a new effort by Republicans to tie the Obama administration to the controversy over the dossier. They're claiming that senior officials in the previous administration helped spread the opposition research memo throughout the government in an effort to spark the Russia probes that have cast a shadow over Trump’s presidency.

Republicans claim that the FBI relied too heavily on the dossier in obtaining a warrant to spy on Carter Page, a former adviser to the Trump campaign. 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has referred Steele to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation, alleging that he lied to the FBI about his contacts with the media.

Grassley and other Republicans say the FBI did not reveal to the surveillance court that his findings were the result of opposition research paid for by Trump’s political opponents. They also allege that the FBI ignored several red flags about Steele’s work because they needed his findings to continue obtaining warrants to spy on Page.

Democrats say there was ample existing evidence to spy on Page, who had known ties to the Kremlin. And they say the surveillance courts were informed that Steele’s work was political in nature, even if it didn’t specify that it was paid for by Clinton and the DNC.

But the allegations about Rhodes are the latest effort to draw attention to whether the Obama administration had a hand in spreading the dossier.

Grassley’s criminal referral claim that Steele was freelancing for the State Department under former Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryThe Memo: Sanders-Warren battle could reshape Democratic primary Bring on the brokered convention 18 progressive groups sign unity pledge amid Sanders-Warren feud MORE, while, Grassley says, Steele was a paid informant for the FBI.

Steele produced monthly reports for the State Department about political conditions in Russia and Ukraine but was not on their payroll.

According to Grassley, a foreign source alerted a “friend of the Clintons” about allegations of collusion between Trump officials and the Russians. That information was passed on to a contact at the State Department, who allegedly alerted Steele to the allegations, according to Grassley.

GOP lawmakers have told The Hill that they suspect two longtime Clinton confidants — Sidney Blumenthal and Cody Shearer — are the likely sources of information that they believe reached Steele through his contact at the Obama State Department, Jonathan Winer.

Nunes would not confirm to Hewitt that Blumenthal was the Clinton confidante in question, but his colleague, Rep. Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyGreen says House shouldn't hold impeachment articles indefinitely Trump golfs with Graham ahead of impeachment trial Trey Gowdy returns to Fox News as contributor MORE (R-S.C.), signaled in a Fox News interview on Tuesday night that he is the person they suspect.

Nunes said the House Intelligence Committee has begun an investigation into the Obama State Department.

“We are looking into discrepancies or irregularities at the State Department and how information came into the State Department, what was done with that information, how that was processed and where it went,” Nunes said Wednesday.

Speaking Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” former Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said that Steele had initiated contact with the State Department. Nuland added that they passed his findings along to the FBI, where officials were already aware of his findings.

“Chris had a friend at the State Department and he offered us that reporting free so that we could also benefit from it,” Nuland said. “It was one of, you know, hundreds of sources that we were using to try to understand what was going on.”

“He passed two to four pages of short points of what he was finding, and our immediate reaction to that was, 'This is not in our purview,'” she continued. “'This needs to go to the FBI if there is any concern here that one candidate or the election as a whole might be influenced by the Russian Federation. That's something for the FBI to investigate.' And that was our reaction when we saw this.”