Christopher Steele, the author of the Russian collusion dossier, gave an extraordinary interview to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos this week where he stood by claims long debunked by past investigations. What was most striking about the interview was Steele effectively claiming that Michael Cohen, one of Trump’s most fierce critics, is still covering for Trump in denying a critical conspiratorial meeting with Russian intelligence.
The dossier alleged Cohen had “secret meeting/s with Kremlin officials in August 2016” in Prague. Cohen testified before the House Oversight Committee in 2019 that he had never been to Prague. The Special Counsel and the Justice Department were unable to confirm Steele’s claim despite exhaustive investigation. Indeed, American intelligence believed that Russian intelligence used Steele to pass along disinformation, including the use of a long suspected Russian agent as one of his critical sources.
In the interview, Stephanopoulos noted that “one big claim the dossier, the FBI, according to the Inspector General’s report … is not true, is the claim that Michael Cohen had a meeting with Russians in Prague.” He then asked “do you accept that finding that it didn’t happen?” Steele responded that he rejects the findings of Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz.
Now stop for a second and think about that. Cohen was given a deal by prosecutors and worked tirelessly to incriminate Trump in any way that he could. He even shilled for contributions based on that promise. This included an admission that he lied when he was still Trump’s lawyer. As part of his deal, Cohen could have easily confirmed the Prague allegation and said that he did meet with Russians. It would have been devastating to Trump. Instead, he continued to deny that it ever happened. He later wrote a book that called Trump every name in the book and said that he lied for him. However, he continued to maintain his long-standing denial that he has ever been to Prague or ever met with the Russians as alleged by Steele.
It is also worth noting that, if Cohen did travel to Prague, there would have been a record contradicting his sworn testimony. No such evidence was ever found in the form of customs records, passport stamps, tickets, or other easily obtainable sources. If it had, Cohen would have been charged with lying about that issue.
When confronted by the obvious disconnect, Steele just effectively shrugged and said Cohen is lying “because I think it’s so incriminating and demeaning and I think the other reason is he might be scared of the consequences.”
What? Cohen already incriminated himself. He pleaded guilty and went to prison. If he could substantiate this claim, he could likely have been given the deal of the century by Mueller. He would also have been heralded as a hero by Democrats. He would have been the John Dean figure that he always wanted to be in the scandal.
Notably, American intelligence warned the FBI that Steele was not viewed as a reliable source and noted that there was evidence that he was a dupe for Russian intelligence. This was brought out in the declassified footnote 350 of the intelligence assessment and addresses claims in the dossier regarding Cohen. Have a look at a key part of it:
[W]e identified reporting the Crossfire Hurricane team received from [REDACTED] indicating the potential for Russian disinformation influencing Steele’s election reporting. A January 12, 2017, report relayed information from [REDACTED] outlining an inaccuracy in a limited subset of Steele’s reporting about the activities of Michael Cohen. The [REDACTED] stated that it did not have high confidence in this subset of Steele’s reporting and assessed that the referenced subset was part of a Russian disinformation campaign to denigrate U.S. foreign relations. A second report from the same [REDACTED] five days later stated that a person named in the limited subset of Steele’s reporting had denied representations in the reporting and the [REDACTED] assessed that the person’s denials were truthful.
Steele’s explanation of Cohen’s denial borders on delusion and only further undermines his credibility.
Steele also stood by his account of the activities of Carter Page, who was never charged with any crime. Indeed, despite multiple investigations, no one could support Steele’s account of Page being a Russian agent or tool of Russian intelligence.
To the credit of Stephanopoulos, Steele was pressed on these contradictions. Unfortunately, there were no questions on aspects of the Durham investigation, including the alleged creation of the dossier as a vehicle of the Clinton campaign. Yet, it was lightyears beyond where the CNN left the recent interview with Clinton lawyer Marc Elias. Unlike CNN, Stephanopoulos did not ask Steele “what should we be doing differently?”
Steele was sued for defamation by individuals referenced in the Alfa Bank conspiracy theory. In July 2020, Steele was ordered to pay damages to bank officials who Steele claimed had delivered “large amounts of illicit cash” to Vladimir Putin. The court found that the claim was “demonstrably false.”