Jonathan M. Winer, a Washington lawyer and consultant, is a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for international law enforcement and former special envoy for Libya.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) announced last week that the next phase of his investigation of the events that led to the appointment of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III will focus on the State Department. His apparent area of interest is my relationship with former British intelligence professional Christopher Steele and my role in material that Steele ultimately shared with the FBI.
Here’s the real story: In the 1990s, I was the senior official at the State Department responsible for combating transnational organized crime. I became deeply concerned about Russian state operatives compromising and corrupting foreign political figures and businessmen from other countries. Their modus operandi was sexual entrapment and entrapment in too-good-to-be-true business deals.
After 1999, I left the State Department and developed a legal and consulting practice that often involved Russian matters. In 2009, I met and became friends with Steele, after he retired from British government service focusing on Russia. Steele was providing business intelligence on the same kinds of issues I worked on at the time.
In 2013, I returned to the State Department at the request of Secretary of State John F. Kerry, whom I had previously served as Senate counsel. Over the years, Steele and I had discussed many matters relating to Russia. He asked me whether the State Department would like copies of new information as he developed it. I contacted Victoria Nuland, a career diplomat who was then assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, and shared with her several of Steele’s reports. She told me they were useful and asked me to continue to send them. Over the next two years, I shared more than 100 of Steele’s reports with the Russia experts at the State Department, who continued to find them useful. None of the reports related to U.S. politics or domestic U.S. matters, and the reports constituted a very small portion of the data set reviewed by State Department experts trying to make sense of events in Russia.
In the summer of 2016, Steele told me that he had learned of disturbing information regarding possible ties between Donald Trump, his campaign and senior Russian officials. He did not provide details but made clear the information involved “active measures,” a Soviet intelligence term for propaganda and related activities to influence events in other countries.
In September 2016, Steele and I met in Washington and discussed the information now known as the “dossier.” Steele’s sources suggested that the Kremlin not only had been behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign but also had compromised Trump and developed ties with his associates and campaign.
I was allowed to review, but not to keep, a copy of these reports to enable me to alert the State Department. I prepared a two-page summary and shared it with Nuland, who indicated that, like me, she felt that the secretary of state needed to be made aware of this material.
In late September, I spoke with an old friend, Sidney Blumenthal, whom I met 30 years ago when I was investigating the Iran-contra affair for then-Sen. Kerry and Blumenthal was a reporter at The Post. At the time, Russian hacking was at the front and center in the 2016 presidential campaign. The emails of Blumenthal, who had a long association with Bill and Hillary Clinton, had been hacked in 2013 through a Russian server.
While talking about that hacking, Blumenthal and I discussed Steele’s reports. He showed me notes gathered by a journalist I did not know, Cody Shearer, that alleged the Russians had compromising information on Trump of a sexual and financial nature.
What struck me was how some of the material echoed Steele’s but appeared to involve different sources.
On my own, I shared a copy of these notes with Steele, to ask for his professional reaction. He told me it was potentially “collateral” information. I asked him what that meant. He said that it was similar but separate from the information he had gathered from his sources. I agreed to let him keep a copy of the Shearer notes.
Given that I had not worked with Shearer and knew that he was not a professional intelligence officer, I did not mention or share his notes with anyone at the State Department. I did not expect them to be shared with anyone in the U.S. government.
But I learned later that Steele did share them — with the FBI, after the FBI asked him to provide everything he had on allegations relating to Trump, his campaign and Russian interference in U.S. elections.
I am in no position to judge the accuracy of the information generated by Steele or Shearer. But I was alarmed at Russia’s role in the 2016 election, and so were U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials. I believe all Americans should be alarmed — and united in the search for the truth about Russian interference in our democracy, and whether Trump and his campaign had any part in it.