FBI Plan to Pay Ex-Spy for Trump Intel during Campaign Sparks Questions of Obama Admin’s Use of Federal Authorities for Political Gain
Mar 06, 2017
Author of unsubstantiated dossier was also researching Trump for Clinton campaign associates when FBI sought to hire him
WASHINGTON – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley today is seeking details on the FBI’s reported plans to hire former British spy Christopher Steele to investigate Donald Trump during the presidential campaign, even though the FBI was aware that he was being paid by Democrat political operatives to conduct opposition research on Trump. Steele is the author of the controversial dossier that includes unsubstantiated claims alleging ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
In a letter today to FBI Director James Comey, Grassley is requesting a briefing on the agreement as well as the FBI use of the material in Steele’s memos. Grassley also wants to know whether the FBI ever independently verified the memos’ claims.
“The idea that the FBI and associates of the Clinton campaign would pay Mr. Steele to investigate the Republican nominee for President in the run-up to the election raises further questions about the FBI’s independence from politics, as well as the Obama administration’s use of law enforcement and intelligence agencies for political ends. It is additionally troubling that the FBI reportedly agreed to such an arrangement given that, in January of 2017, then-Director Clapper issued a statement stating that ‘the IC has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable, and we did not rely upon it in any way for our conclusions,’” Grassley said in the letter.
In the letter, Grassley is requesting records related to the reported agreement. He is also seeking answers to a number of questions, including who was involved in decisions related to hiring Steele and using his memos, whether the FBI used materials in the memo as the basis for seeking warrants and other investigative tools, and if the FBI has been able to independently verify allegations made in the memos.
Full text of Grassley’s letter to Comey follows:
March 6, 2017
VIA ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION
The Honorable James B. Comey, Jr.
Federal Bureau of Investigation
935 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20535
Dear Director Comey:
On February 28, 2017, the Washington Post reported that the FBI reached an agreement a few weeks before the Presidential election to pay the author of the unsubstantiated dossier alleging a conspiracy between President Trump and the Russians, Christopher Steele, to continue investigating Mr. Trump. The article claimed that the FBI was aware Mr. Steele was creating these memos as part of work for an opposition research firm connected to Hillary Clinton. The idea that the FBI and associates of the Clinton campaign would pay Mr. Steele to investigate the Republican nominee for President in the run-up to the election raises further questions about the FBI’s independence from politics, as well as the Obama administration’s use of law enforcement and intelligence agencies for political ends. It is additionally troubling that the FBI reportedly agreed to such an arrangement given that, in January of 2017, then-Director Clapper issued a statement stating that “the IC has not made any judgment that the information in this document is reliable, and we did not rely upon it in any way for our conclusions.” According to the Washington Post, the FBI’s arrangement with Mr. Steele fell through when the media published his dossier and revealed his identity.
The Committee requires additional information to evaluate this situation. Please provide the following information and respond to these questions by March 20, 2017. Please also schedule a briefing by that date by FBI personnel with knowledge of these issues.
- All FBI records relating to the agreement with Mr. Steele regarding his investigation of President Trump and his associates, including the agreement itself, all drafts, all internal FBI communications about the agreement, all FBI communications with Mr. Steele about the agreement, all FBI requests for authorization for the agreement, and all records documenting the approval of the agreement.
- All records, including 302s, of any FBI meetings or interviews with Mr. Steele.
- All FBI policies, procedures, and guidelines applicable when the FBI seeks to fund an investigator associated with a political opposition research firm connected to a political candidate, or with any outside entity.
- All FBI records relating to agreements and payments made to Mr. Steele in connection with any other investigations, including the reported agreements relating to his investigation of FIFA.
- Were any other government officials outside of the FBI involved in discussing or authorizing the agreement with Mr. Steele, including anyone from the Department of Justice or the Obama White House? If so, please explain who was involved and provide all related records.
- How did the FBI first obtain Mr. Steele’s Trump investigation memos? Has the FBI obtained additional memos from this same source that were not published by Buzzfeed? If so, please provide copies.
- Has the FBI created, or contributed to the creation of, any documents based on or otherwise referencing these memos or the information in the memos? If so, please provide copies of all such documents and, where necessary, clarify which portions are based on or related to the memos.
- Has the FBI verified or corroborated any of the allegations made in the memos? Were any allegations or other information from the memo included in any documents created by the FBI, or which the FBI helped to create, without having been independently verified or corroborated by the FBI beforehand? If so, why?
- Has the FBI relied on or otherwise referenced the memos or any information in the memos in seeking a FISA warrant, other search warrant, or any other judicial process? Did the FBI rely on or otherwise reference the memos in relation to any National Security Letters? If so, please include copies of all relevant applications and other documents.
- Who decided to include the memos in the briefings received by Presidents Obama and Trump? What was the basis for that decision?
- Did the agreement with Mr. Steele ever enter into force? If so, for how long? If it did not, why not?
- You have previously stated that you will not comment on pending investigations, including confirming or denying whether they exist. You have also acknowledged that statements about closed investigations are a separate matter, sometimes warranting disclosures or public comment. Given the inflammatory nature of the allegations in Mr. Steele’s dossier, if the FBI is undertaking or has undertaken any investigation of the claims, will you please inform the Committee at the conclusion of any such investigations as to what information the investigations discovered and what conclusions the FBI reached? Simply put, when allegations like these are put into the public domain prior to any FBI assessment of their reliability, then if subsequent FBI investigation of the allegations finds them false, unsupported, or unreliable, the FBI should make those rebuttals public.
I anticipate that your responses to these questions may contain both classified and unclassified information. Please send all unclassified material directly to the Committee. In keeping with the requirements of Executive Order 13526, if any of the responsive documents do contain classified information, please segregate all unclassified material within the classified documents, provide all unclassified information directly to the Committee, and provide a classified addendum to the Office of Senate Security. Although the Committee complies with all laws and regulations governing the handling of classified information, it is not bound, absent its prior agreement, by any handling restrictions or instructions on unclassified information unilaterally asserted by the Executive Branch.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this important matter. If you have any questions, please contact Patrick Davis of my Committee staff at (202) 224-5225.
Charles E. Grassley
Committee on the Judiciary
The Honorable Dianne Feinstein
Senate Committee on the Judiciary
 Tom Hamburger and Rosalind Helderman, FBI Once Planned to Pay Former British Spy Who Authored Controversial Trump Dossier, The Washington Post (Feb. 28, 2017).