Grassley Seeks Explanation for FBI’s Inconsistent Info in Dossier Inquiry
Bureau’s Scant Responses to Judiciary Probe Raise More Questions on Steele ties
WASHINGTON – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley today pressed the FBI director ahead of next week’s oversight hearing for details of the FBI’s involvement with Christopher Steele, the British ex-spy who authored the unsubstantiated anti-Trump dossier on behalf of opposition research firm Fusion GPS. In the limited details provided to the committee on the matter, the FBI’s description of its relationship with Steele appears to be materially inconsistent with Justice Department documents later revealed to the committee.
Grassley and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein first raised questions in mid-February about the resignation of National Security Advisory Michael Flynn and the leaks of classified information involving him. Grassley then sought details from the FBI on reports that it offered to pay Steele in connection with the unsubstantiated dossier. As a result of the FBI’s failure to respond to the Flynn letter, Grassley publicly pledged to suspend action on the nomination for the Deputy Attorney General position pending a response to his questions. FBI Director James Comey briefed Grassley and Feinstein the following day. While the briefing substantially addressed questions in the Flynn inquiry, it covered only a few the questions in the Steele inquiry. The FBI attempted to claim after the briefing that it had adequately responded to the Steele questions, yet many remain unanswered. Importantly, portions of Comey’s description of the FBI’s relationship with Steele appear to be in conflict with Justice Department documents reviewed by the committee following the briefing.
“Whether those inconsistencies were honest mistakes or an attempt to downplay the actual extent of the FBI’s relationship with Mr. Steele, it is essential that the FBI fully answer all of the questions from the March 6 letter and provide all the requested documents in order to resolve these and related issues,” Grassley said today in a letter to Comey.
Grassley is also asking the FBI to explain whether it was aware that Fusion GPS was allegedly working as an unregistered agent for Russian interests at the same time it was working on the unsubstantiated dossier, and whether such information was included in documents describing or relying on materials in the dossier.
Comey is scheduled to testify before the Judiciary Committee at an FBI oversight hearing on May 3.
Full text of Grassley’s letter follows:
April 28, 2017
VIA ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION
The Honorable James B. Comey, Jr.
Federal Bureau of Investigation
935 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20535
Dear Director Comey:
On March 6, 2017, I wrote to you requesting information about the FBI’s relationship with Mr. Christopher Steele, the author of the political opposition research dossier alleging collusion between associates of Mr. Trump and the Russian government. Although that letter asked for a response by March 20, the FBI has failed to provide one.
Ranking Member Feinstein and I had previously written to the FBI on February 15, 2017, asking for a briefing and documents relating to the resignation of Mr. Flynn and the leaks of classified information involving him. After a startling lack of responsiveness from the FBI, I was forced to delay Committee proceedings on the nomination for Deputy Attorney General in order to obtain DOJ’s cooperation. In response, on March 15, 2017, you did provide a briefing about the FBI’s Russia investigation to Ranking Member Feinstein and me. While a few of the questions from my March 6 letter were also addressed in that briefing, most were not. Nor was there any indication from the FBI before or during the briefing that the FBI considered it to be responsive to the March 6 letter.
Nonetheless, on April 19, 2017, the FBI sent Ranking Member Feinstein and me a four-sentence letter purporting to be in response to both the February 15 and March 6 letters. Two of those sentences are merely the standard closing boilerplate language in all FBI letters. The letter did not answer any questions and instead incorrectly claimed that the briefing addressed the concerns raised in both the February 15 and March 6 letters. That is incorrect. The FBI has failed to provide documents requested in the March 6 letter or to answer the vast majority of its questions.
There appear to be material inconsistencies between the description of the FBI’s relationship with Mr. Steele that you did provide in your briefing and information contained in Justice Department documents made available to the Committee only after the briefing. Whether those inconsistencies were honest mistakes or an attempt to downplay the actual extent of the FBI’s relationship with Mr. Steele, it is essential that the FBI fully answer all of the questions from the March 6 letter and provide all the requested documents in order to resolve these and related issues.
Also, more information has since come to the Committee’s attention about the company overseeing the creation of the dossier, Fusion GPS. Namely, Fusion GPS is the subject of a complaint to the Justice Department, which alleges that the company violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act by working on behalf of Russian principals to undermine U.S. sanctions against Russians. That unregistered work was reportedly conducted with a former Russian intelligence operative, Mr. Rinat Akhmetshin, and appears to have been occurring simultaneous to Fusion GPS’s work overseeing the creation of the dossier. I wrote to the Justice Department about this issue on March 31, copying you, and I have attached that letter here for your reference. The Justice Department has yet to respond.
In addition to fully answering my March 6, 2017 letter, please also provide the following documents and information:
1. Documentation of all payments made to Mr. Steele, including for travel expenses, if any; the date of any such payments; the amount of such payments; the authorization for such payments.
2. When the FBI was in contact with Mr. Steele or otherwise relying on information in the dossier, was it aware that his employer, Fusion GPS, was allegedly simultaneously working as an unregistered agent for Russian interests? Please provide all related documents.
3. If so, when and how did FBI become aware of this information? Did it include this information about Fusion GPS’s alleged work for Russian principals in any documents describing or relying on information from the dossier? If not, why not?
4. If the FBI was previously unaware of Fusion GPS’s alleged unregistered activity on behalf of Russian interests and connections with a former Russian intelligence operative, does the FBI plan to amend any applications, reports, or other documents it has created that describe or rely on the information in the dossier to add this information? If so, please provide copies of all amended documents. If not, why not?
Please provide all the requested documents and full answers to all the question by May 12, 2017. I hope that this matter can be resolved without additional holds on nominees. These are important issues that require public transparency. 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
cc: The Honorable Dianne Feinstein
Senate Committee on the Judiciary