Lost in the hubbub over the origins of Christopher Steele’s dossier and its role in obtaining a FISA warrant to monitor suspect spy Carter Page is the degree to which many of its allegations have proved to be entirely correct. Revelations subsequent to the dossier allow us to recognize just how accurate Steele’s assessment, largely completed before the 2016 election, really was.
Former CIA official John Sipher has observed:
Mr. Steele did not have the benefit of knowing Mr. Trump would win the election or how events might play out. In this regard, does any of the information we have learned since June 2016 assign greater or less credibility to the information? Were the people mentioned in the report real? Were their affiliations correct? Did any of the activities reported happen as predicted?
To a large extent, yes.
What did Steele uncover that only later was confirmed by news reports? Sipher reminds us:
The most obvious occurrence that could not have been known to [Steele] in June 2016, but shines bright in retrospect is the fact that Russia undertook a coordinated and massive effort to disrupt the 2016 U.S. election to help Donald Trump, as the U.S. intelligence community itself later concluded. Well before any public knowledge of these events, the [Steele] report identified multiple elements of the Russian operation including a cyber campaign, leaked documents related to Hillary Clinton, and meetings with Paul Manafort and other Trump affiliates to discuss the receipt of stolen documents. Mr. Steele could not have known that the Russians stole information on Hillary Clinton, or that they were considering means to weaponize them in the U.S. election, all of which turned out to be stunningly accurate. The U.S. government only published its conclusions in January 2017, with an assessment of some elements in October 2016. It was also apparently news to investigators when the New York Times in July 2017 published Don Jr’s emails arranging for the receipt of information held by the Russians about Hillary Clinton. (Emphasis in the original.)
This does not mean that everything in the Steele dossier was accurate, but Steele indisputably got the big picture right, at a time no one publicly had a bead on the Russian plot.
Steele’s allegations match up with subsequent reporting (Page’s trip to Moscow and meetings with Russian officials; Michael Cohen’s role in pursuing opportunities for Trump in Russia, such as the Moscow Trump Tower deal, revealed in press accounts in 2017) or the allegations in the Mueller indictments (“Manafort’s ‘off-the-books’ payments from ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s pro-Russian party”).
It is in this context that Robert S. Mueller III’s plea deal with Rick Gates, Paul Manafort’s right-hand man, becomes so important. Steele alleges in one of the dossier memos (likely dating from July 2016) that there was a “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation … managed on the TRUMP side by the Republican candidate’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort.” We have yet to see evidence corroborating this allegation. Gates, however, could be precisely the person one would need to determine whether Manafort was actually the orchestrator of collusion.
Gates, for example, should be able to confirm whether Steele’s allegation that the Russian plan to “sideline” Ukraine was the genesis for the change in the RNC platform. (“The Trump platform committee changed only a single plank in the 60-page Republican platform prior to the Republican convention. Of the hundreds of Republican positions and proposals, they altered only the single sentence that called for maintaining or increasing sanctions against Russia, increasing aid for Ukraine and ‘providing lethal defensive weapons’ to the Ukrainian military.”)
In sum, the Mueller investigation and more recent press reports have confirmed one critical finding of the dossier, the existence of a well-developed Russian plan to affect the U.S. elections. As Mueller proceeds, we will see whether those he has already “flipped” can corroborate whether Trump’s campaign, at least for a time, was coordinating with the Kremlin operation. That’s the holy grail for the Mueller investigation.
Here’s the thing, though: Considering how much evidence Mueller has collected on Gates and others, would he be striking very favorable deals with them without their proffer of compelling information that goes to the Trump campaign-Russia connection? Possible, but not all that likely. Stay tuned.
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