Peter Strzok messaged an unknown FBI official in September 2016 that he thought Christopher Steele’s now-discredited dossier was meant to “influence” as well as to “inform” and indicated he believed the British ex-spy was the source for a story published the day of his text.
Despite this admission, Steele’s reporting went on to play a central role in justifying the bureau’s pursuit of secretive electronic surveillance against Trump campaign associate Carter Page, and the bureau would insist to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that it didn’t believe the former MI6 agent was a source for the Yahoo story (which referred to Steele only as “a well-placed Western intelligence source”) — contradicting the now-fired special agent’s stated suspicions.
“Looking at the Yahoo article, I would definitely say at a minimum Steele’s reports should be viewed as intended to influence as well as to inform,” Strzok's message said.
Steele was eventually removed as a confidential human source after the FBI concluded he was leaking information to the media. The Yahoo article, written by Michael Isikoff, contained a host of claims related to Page and two Russians — Igor Sechin and Igor Diveykin. The allegations in the article were nearly identical to those in Steele’s dossier. DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz's FISA abuse report noted the FBI did not determine that Page had met with either of the Russians mentioned in the article or the dossier and criticized the bureau for concealing Page’s repeated denials from the FISA court. Isikoff said of the dossier in 2019, “I think it’s fair to say that all of us should have approached this, in retrospect, with more skepticism, particularly when we didn’t know where it was coming from.”
Strzok’s memoir, Compromised, does not mention the Yahoo story controversy and claims that “later in the fall of 2016, media reports surfaced about Steele’s material having been provided to the FBI” and “we closed Steele as a result.”
But the FBI agent’s text was from the first day of the fall in 2016, and Strzok seemed to believe Steele was a source even then — suspicions acknowledged in private at the bureau, but not his book.
An FBI document from 2017 showed the bureau’s unsuccessful efforts to confirm the dossier’s claims of collusion between the Kremlin and President Trump. The heavily redacted, 94-page spreadsheet showed the FBI’s reliance on what it termed “open source” information and also listed the Yahoo article as corroboration at least twice.
Horowitz criticized the bureau’s handling of Steele and the Yahoo story at length last year. He included the Yahoo saga as among the 17 “significant errors and omissions” in the Page FISAs and noted that “none of these inaccuracies and omissions were brought to the attention of [the Office of Intelligence] before the last FISA application was filed in June 2017,” and so “these failures were repeated in all three renewal applications.”
The DOJ watchdog said his investigation “found no evidence that anyone from the FBI asked Steele in September 2016 or at any other time, if he had spoken with the Yahoo News reporter.” The FBI’s FISA application stated in a footnote that the bureau “does not believe that Source #1 [Steele] directly provided” information to the press.
Horowitz found that Steele met with journalists from Yahoo, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker, and CNN in Washington, D.C., in September 2016 and with Yahoo, the New York Times, and the Washington Post again the next month.
Horowitz said the “Supervisory Intel Analyst” said, “It was unclear to him in September 2016 whether Steele was briefing the press.” The “OGC Unit Chief” stated that “she and others assumed that Steele's clients, or others with whom the clients had shared the information, were responsible for the press stories, but that the Crossfire Hurricane team would not have been surprised if Steele's reporting was the basis.” And “Case Agent 1” sent messages indicating he thought Steele was the source and “was selling his stuff to others.” The same agent “told us that the Crossfire Hurricane team later assessed” that Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson “or someone else who had the Steele information … was responsible for furnishing the information” to the media, but Horowitz said that “the team had no factual basis to support this” claim.
“SSA 1” told Horowitz that “his first concern was that someone from inside the FBI had disclosed information to the media” and that it seemed “foreign” that Steele “would be involved in such a breach.” Yet SSA 1’s notes from a Sept. 30, 2016, meeting noted there were “control issues – reports acknowledged in Yahoo News.”
“Drafts of the Carter Page FISA application stated, until October 14, 2016, that Steele was responsible for the leak,” Horowitz wrote. “One of the drafts specifically stated that Steele ‘was acting on his/her own volition and has since been admonished by the FBI.’ In contrast, the final version of the first FISA application stated … the FBI does not believe that Source #1 directly provided this information to the Press.”
The “OI Attorney” told Horowitz that “at some point during the drafting process, the FBI assured him that Steele had not spoken with Yahoo News” because Steele was “a professional.” But “no one at the FBI or the National Security Division was able to explain to us the source of the information that resulted in, or supported, either the draft language that existed until October 14 or the final language” and “even after receiving additional information about Steele's media contacts, the Crossfire Hurricane team did not change the language in any of the three renewal applications regarding the FBI's assessment of Steele's role in the September 23 article.”
Horowitz said FBI interviews with Steele's primary sub-source “raised significant questions about the reliability of the Steele election reporting” and cast doubt on some of its biggest claims, noting Steele’s main source’s account “was not consistent with and, in fact, contradicted the allegations of a well-developed conspiracy” in Steele’s dossier. Declassified footnotes now show the FBI was aware that Steele’s dossier might have been compromised by Russian disinformation.
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