WASHINGTON – Newly released material raises the possibility that Russian disinformation made its way into a dossier of opposition research that the FBI relied on when applying for warrants to eavesdrop on a former campaign adviser to President Donald Trump.
The new material, contained in footnotes to a Justice Department watchdog report that were recently declassified by the Trump administration, indicates the FBI was advised even as it sought the warrants that some of the information included in the dossier was not accurate or was potentially influenced by Russian disinformation.
It may add to accusations that the FBI did not take seriously enough concerns that were raised about the dossier's reliability as it investigated ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. A Justice Department inspector general report from December that included the blacked-out footnotes faulted the FBI for failing to reassess the credibility of the dossier after receiving information that called into question some of its reporting.
The FBI did not rely on the dossier when it opened the Russia investigation in July 2016, instead using other information about possible Trump campaign links to Russia.
But it did rely in part on the document a couple months later when it applied for a warrant to monitor the communications of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. The fact that the dossier was used at all is one of the main points of contention Trump supporters cite in challenging the legitimacy of the probe.
The footnotes were released by two Republican senators, Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who said in a joint statement that the information makes clear that the FBI's justification in targeting Page “was riddled with significant flaws.”
On Thursday, the senators asked FBI Director Christopher Wray to provide all intelligence records received and reviewed by the FBI team that conducted the Russia investigation.
“These recently declassified footnotes raise another issue of significant concern: what other parts of the FBI’s investigation were infected by Russian disinformation?" they wrote.
One of the footnotes says the FBI was alerted in 2017 that a particular allegation included in the dossier was “part of a Russian disinformation campaign to denigrate U.S. foreign relations.”
It also cites a February 2017 U.S. intelligence report saying that an individual with reported ties to Trump and Russia had cautioned that certain allegations related to Trump's behavior during a trip to Moscow four years earlier were false and the product of Russian intelligence “infiltrate(ing) a source into the network."
An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment Thursday. The FBI has acknowledged problems during the Russia investigation and has instituted a series of changes designed to make its surveillance applications more accurate and thorough.
The dossier of information was compiled during the course of the 2016 presidential campaign by Christopher Steele, a former British spy whose research into ties between Trump and Russia was financed by Democrats.
The FBI relied in part on information from the dossier during multiple applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in 2016 and 2017 to monitor the communications of Page on suspicion that he was an agent of a foreign power. Page has denied any wrongdoing and was never charged.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz said in his report that, though there was no evidence that the FBI was motivated by political bias during the investigation, the bureau made serious errors during the application process, including by omitting information that called into question the reliability of certain reporting included in the dossier.
The inspector general report said the FBI had contemplated the possibility “that Russia was funneling disinformation to Steele, and the possibility that disinformation was included in his election reports."
But, Horowitz said, more should have been done by the FBI to determine if that was the case.
One footnote says a January 2017 report identified an inaccuracy in the dossier's reporting on Michael Cohen, Trump's former personal lawyer. It does not detail the inaccuracy, but it could be a reference to a claim in the document that Cohen met with Kremlin representatives in Prague in the summer of 2016. Cohen has long denied that.
The footnotes also say a June 2017 intelligence report indicated that two people affiliated with Russian intelligence “were aware of Steele's election investigation in early July 2016." That assertion raises the prospect that Steele's reporting could have been influenced by disinformation from the Kremlin.
“The Supervisory Intel Analyst told us he was aware of these reports, but that he had no information as of June 2017 that Steele’s election reporting source network had been penetrated or compromised," the footnote states.
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