Disgraced ex-FBI Director James Comey, former CIA Director turned anti-Trump activist John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence and Trump critic James Clapper are the subjects of a dispute over which top Obama administration officials advocated for the infamous Steele dossier to be utilized as evidence in the Russia collusion investigation.
The argument erupted into the open with surrogates being quoted in the news media not long after Attorney General William Barr appointed a U.S. attorney to investigate the origins of the Russia collusion claims.
The fiasco was kicked into high gear after Fox News cited “sources familiar with the records” pointing to an email chain from late-2016 showing Comey allegedly telling FBI employees that it was Brennan who insisted that the anti-Trump dossier be included in a January 6, 2017 U.S. Intelligence Community report, known as the ICA, assessing Russian interference efforts.
A former CIA official, clearly defending Brennan, shot back at the assertion, instead claiming that it was Brennan and Clapper who opposed a purported push by Comey to include the dossier charges in the ICA.
The dossier was also cited as evidence in three successful FISA applications signed by Comey to obtain warrants to spy on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. The first was signed in October 2016; the second and third were renewal applications since a FISA warrant must be renewed every 90 days.
The dossier, authored by former British spy Christopher Steele, was produced by the controversial Fusion GPS firm. Fusion was paid for the dossier work by Trump’s main political opponents, namely Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) via the Perkins Coie law firm.
“Former Director Brennan, along with former [Director of National Intelligence] James Clapper, are the ones who opposed James Comey’s recommendation that the Steele Dossier be included in the intelligence report,” the official told Fox News.
“They opposed this because the dossier was in no way used to develop the ICA,” the official added. “The intelligence analysts didn’t include it when they were doing their work because it wasn’t corroborated intelligence, therefore it wasn’t used and it wasn’t included. Brennan and Clapper prevented it from being added into the official assessment. James Comey then decided on his own to brief Trump about the document.”
The official was addressing the reported email from Comey fingering Brennan as insisting that the dossier be utilized in the ICA report on Russian interference.
Discussing the issue during a segment on Fox News, former GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy said on “The Story with Martha MacCallum” that “Comey has a better argument than Brennan, based on what I’ve seen.”
One day earlier, Gowdey stated on Fox News, “Whoever is looking into this, tell them to look into emails” from December 2016 concerning both Brennan and Comey.
Gowdy told Fox News, where he is now a contributor, that his comments on the matter were based on sensitive documents that he reviewed while he served as chairman of the Republican-led House Oversight Committee.
Contrary to the ex-CIA official’s assertion that the dossier was not included in the intel community’s ICA Russia report, there have been testimony and media statements involving key players saying that it was part of the overall assessment.
Last December, Comey outright contradicted Brennan’s own testimony that the anti-Trump dossier was, as Brennan put it, “not in any way used as the basis for the intelligence community’s assessment” that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
In testimony before the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees, Comey stated that material from the Steele dossier was indeed utilized in the IC report. Internally, the FBI referred to the dossier as “crown material.”
“So do you recall whether any quote, crown material or dossier material was included in the IC assessment?” Gowdy asked Comey at the time.
“Yes,” Comey replied. “I’m going to be careful here because I’m talking about a document that’s still classified. The unclassified thing we talked about earlier today, the first paragraph you can see of exhibit A, is reflective of the fact that at least some of the material that Steele had collected was in the big thing called the intelligence community assessment in an annex called annex A.”
Annex A in the report was titled, “Russia—Kremlin’s TV Seeks To Influence Politics, Fuel Discontent in US.”
The annex, like the rest of the report, contains the following disclaimer:
This report is a declassified version of a highly classified assessment; its conclusions are identical to those in the highly classified assessment but this version does not include the full supporting information on key elements of the influence campaign.
Comey went on to describe a conversation that he said he had with Brennan about how to include the dossier material in the IC assessment:
Gowdy: Do you recall the specific conversation or back and forth with then-Director Brennan on whether or not the material should be included in the IC assessment?
Comey. Yes. I remember conversation — let me think about it for a second. I remember there was conversation about what form its presentation should take in the overarching document; that is, should it be in an annex; should it be in the body; that the intelligence community broadly found its source credible and that it was corroborative of the central thesis of the intelligence community assessment, and the discussion was should we put it in the body or put it in an attachment.
I’m hesitating because I don’t remember whether I had that conversation — I had that conversation with John Brennan, but I remember that there was conversation about how it should be treated.
Comey’s descriptions are at direct odds with a statement Brennan made during May 2017 testimony before the House Intelligence Committee in which Brennan claimed the dossier was “not in any way used as the basis for the intelligence community’s assessment” on alleged Russian interference. Brennan repeated that claim during numerous news media interviews.
Comey is not the only former top official involved in the IC report to say that the dossier played a role in the report’s conclusions.
As RealClearPolitics.com documents, former NSA Director Rogers wrote in a classified letter that the dossier played a role in the IC’s assessment and a dossier summary was included in an initial draft appendix:
In a March 5, 2018, letter to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, Adm. Rogers informed the committee that a two-page summary of the dossier — described as “the Christopher Steele information” — was “added” as an “appendix to the ICA draft,” and that consideration of that appendix was “part of the overall ICA review/approval process.”
Meanwhile Clapper, who served as director of National Intelligence under the Obama administration, conceded during a previous CNN interview that the IC assessment was able to corroborate “some of the substantive content of the dossier,” implying that the dossier itself was a factor.
“I think with respect to the dossier itself, the key thing is it doesn’t matter who paid for it,” Clapper said. “It’s what the dossier said and the extent to which it was — it’s corroborated or not. We had some concerns about it from the standpoint of its sourcing which we couldn’t corroborate.”
“But at the same time, some of the substantive content, not all of it, but some of the substantive content of the dossier, we were able to corroborate in our Intelligence Community assessment which from other sources in which we had very high confidence to it,” he added.
It was Clapper’s agency that released the Intelligence Community report.
The purported inclusion of the dossier may help to explain why Rogers’ NSA assessed the conclusion that Russian President Vladimir Putin favored Trump and worked to get him elected only with a classification of “moderate confidence,” while the FBI and CIA gave it a “high confidence” rating.
The dispute comes as U.S. Attorney John Durham has been charged by Barr with conducting a probe of the origins of the Russia investigation. In addition to ICA report tactics, Durham’s probe is likely to also focus on the use of the dossier in obtaining a FISA warrant to spy on Page.
John Brennan Fueled the Trump-Russia Conspiracy Theory
Regardless of his role in the ICA assessment and the dossier, Brennan was still a central player in fueling the anti-Trump dossier that spread unsubstantiated, conspiratorial claims of collusion with Russia.
As Breitbart News previously documented, Brennan helped lead official classified briefings to then-President Obama and President-elect Trump on the discredited dossier even though the questionable document was funded by Trump’s primary political opponents.
Those two classified briefings were subsequently leaked to the news media and set in motion an avalanche of anti-Trump news media coverage on the dossier’s wild allegations.
Brennan’s CIA also co-authored the questionable ICA report saying Russia’s intentions for allegedly interfering in the 2016 presidential election included the goal of ensuring Trump was victorious over Hillary Clinton. An extensive House report later accused the CIA and the two other agencies that co-authored that report of politicizing intelligence and other analytical failures.
And, as Breitbart News documented, Brennan reportedly convened a highly compartmentalized unit of CIA, FBI and NSA analysts to conduct operations related to what eventually became the allegations of Russian interference and controversial claims that Putin worked to elect Trump. The secretive unit was reportedly housed in the CIA’s headquarters.
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.
Joshua Klein contributed research to this article.