The Trump dossier — compiled by Christopher Steele, commissioned by Fusion GPS and paid for by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee — has tied up U.S. politics for more than two years with its accusation that an elected U.S. president colluded with Russia.
Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerAn unquestioning press promotes Rep. Adam Schiff's book based on Russia fiction Senate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG MORE’s “no collusion” finding destroys the dossier’s multiple charges of a deep Trump-Russia conspiracy, shows that the dossier should not have been used to obtain Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants (if that is the case) and may go down as one of the most elaborate hoaxes in history.
Much of the attempted verification of the dossier focused on pinning down details, such as travel dates of Trump campaign associates, stamps in passports and whether parties to purported meetings could have been present. Such verifiable details are rare and do not yield useful results.
In fact, the dossier seems unverifiable, and efforts to do so are in vain. As long as Steele refuses to name his sources, there is no way to test the dossier’s credibility.
Steele’s generic descriptions of his unnamed sources, however, raise the most fundamental question of all. Steele claims to have informants from the highest levels of the Kremlin; some reportedly even worked within listening distance of Russian President Vladimir Putin himself.
With such lofty positions in the Russian kleptocracy, any one of Steele’s sources would be a millionaire many times over. As such, they would not risk their careers by revealing the Kremlin’s most intimate secrets for a few bucks from Steele’s puny budget.
So why would Putin’s inner circle supply information to Steele, as he claims? The only conceivable answer is that they were passing on to Steele a Kremlin fake-news narrative tailored to influence the U.S. election. In that case, the dossier becomes an instrument of Kremlin disinformation yielded by Putin’s inner circle.
If Steele and other fans of the dossier disseminated it to U.S. politicians, intelligence agencies and the press, it is they who would have unwittingly colluded with the Russians, not Trump.
Steele’s claim about his high-level Kremlin informants leaves three options that already should have been obvious in January 2017:
- Steele made the whole thing up;
- Steele’s informants were low-level posers passing on worthless gossip;
- Steele’s informants were high-level Kremlin insiders passing on Russian disinformation to pass on to Trump’s opponents.
But wait a minute, is there not a flaw in this argument? The consensus of the U.S. intelligence community was that Putin wanted Trump to win; would this not rule out the dossier’s anti-Trump charges as Kremlin disinformation?
Why would Putin allow the release of Russian disinformation that could have easily cost his favorite candidate the election?
My answer is that any intelligence expert who claims to know what Vladimir Putin is thinking should have his or her brain examined. Putin is a master of disinformation; what he says publicly and even privately may be far from what is on his mind.
We do, however, know one simple fact: Putin’s overarching objective is to portray Russia’s “managed democracy” as superior to America’s muddled, crooked democracy. Disrupting the U.S. election was his chance to make Russia’s orchestrated elections look less bad.
During the primaries, Russian propaganda portrayed Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) as the “people’s choices” fighting valiantly against the rotten establishment. Clinton’s villainous steamrolling of Sanders with superdelegates was described in detail on Russian TV news.
During the general election, Russian media continued to favor Trump as the people’s underdog waging a losing battle against the establishment-backed Clinton. After Trump’s shocking underdog victory, Putin had to move swiftly to anti-Trump propaganda to blunt the dangerous rise in America’s “rating” in public opinion polls.
There is no doubt that Russia did everything in its power to discredit the 2016 election, and the Steele dossier may have been its most powerful weapon. One thing is sure: Vladimir Putin is a winner from the paralysis in U.S. politics.
With a divided and suspicious America, Putin has been able to act with impunity in the Black Sea, the Arctic and Syria, and his agents are threatening the March 31 Ukrainian presidential election with an avalanche of disinformation.
Victory has many mothers; defeat is an orphan. The Steele dossier is now officially an orphan. It served its purpose and must disappear from the scene.
In the tens of thousands of words that the New York Times devoted in the past few days to the history of the collusion investigation, the words “Steele” and “dossier” do not appear once.
The Steele dossier resides in the ash heap of history, unless Republican investigators wish to retrieve it to test whether a Russian Trojan horse made its way into the U.S. political system.
Paul Gregory is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and the author or coauthor of 12 books on economic history, the Soviet economy, transition economies, comparative economics and economic demography. Follow Hoover on Twitter: @DefiningIdeas.