Andrew McCabe Opens Up About Steele Dossier, Origins Of Trump-Russia Probe

Chuck Ross on October 10, 2019

  • Andrew McCabe offered his most candid remarks to date on the FBI’s decision to open the Trump campaign investigation, as well as about the Steele dossier.
  • The former FBI deputy director was largely defensive of both, but he said dossier author Christopher Steele acknowledged he could not vouch for the accuracy of some parts of his report.
  • McCabe, a CNN analyst, is under Justice Department investigation. He spoke at an event hosted by his CNN colleague, Carl Bernstein.

Andrew McCabe, the embattled former FBI deputy director, said at a recent event that former British spy Christopher Steele disclosed to FBI investigators that his infamous anti-Trump dossier should not be taken as “gospel,” and that he could not vouch for the accuracy of some of the material in the infamous document.

McCabe, who spoke Oct. 3 at an event hosted by journalist Carl Bernstein, was defending the FBI’s handling of the Steele dossier by insisting investigators were aware of the document’s flaws during the Trump probe. The FBI’s handling of the dossier is the subject of a Justice Department inspector general’s investigation that began in March 2018.

McCabe, who was fired from the FBI on March 16, 2018, also described in the most detail to date how the FBI decided who to initially investigate as part of Crossfire Hurricane, the counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign.

McCabe said the FBI opened its case in late July 2016 based on information about Trump adviser George Papadopoulos.

“We open the case, and then we think, ‘OK, now who are we actually going to investigate?’” McCabe said at the event, which aired Tuesday on C-SPAN.

“Who do we know who is associated with the campaign who has known, significant ties to Russian intelligence?” he asked rhetorically. “We quickly come up with four names that will not surprise you.”

McCabe, who served as deputy director of the FBI during the investigation, defended the FBI’s decision to open the investigation, which initially focused on Papadopoulos, Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn and Carter Page.

He also sought to defend Steele and his salacious dossier, which the FBI used to obtain surveillance warrants on Page.

“It is raw source reporting,” McCabe said, “and Steele presented it as such.”

“We knew that Steele was working a number of different sources, some of which has sub-sources, and sub-sub-sources, and he would represent that in the reporting, as any good source should. It didn’t come with his imprimatur of, ‘this is all gospel.’ It was like, ‘this is what I’m hearing,’” said McCabe, who is under Justice Department investigation.

“That’s how good sources report.”

McCabe said Steele had “a very solid track record” of providing information to the FBI.

“Some of it he felt was pretty solid, others he made clear, like, ‘Hey, I’m getting this from one person, and I can’t vouch for this sourcing chain, and I’m just giving it to you for your information.’”

Republicans have accused the FBI of misleading the FISA court by relying on Steele’s unverified allegations to obtain the warrants. They’ve ramped up that criticism in the wake of the special counsel’s report, which undercut some of Steele’s most explosive allegations.

Steele, a former MI6 officer who worked in 2016 for the DNC and Clinton campaign, said the Trump campaign was involved in a “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election. Steele also said Page was directly involved in that operation.

But Robert Mueller, the former special counsel, said there was no evidence of a Trump-Russia conspiracy, or that any Trump associates worked as Russian assets. Page was not charged in the investigation.

Numerous questions remain about what Steele told the FBI about his investigation, and how the bureau sought to verify the document. And while McCabe and Bernstein defended Steele’s methods, they did not address the apparent inaccuracies related to Page.

Bernstein offered his own defense of Steele.

“Steele didn’t pretend that the information was definitive,” the veteran reporter said, briefly noting his own familiarity with the dossier.

Bernstein was one of four CNN reporters who worked on the Jan. 10, 2017, story that revealed intelligence officials briefed then-President-elect Donald Trump on the salacious allegations from the dossier.

That CNN piece prompted BuzzFeed News to publish the dossier in full.

It was revealed earlier this year that Steele directed David Kramer, a longtime associate of the late Sen. John McCain, to meet with Bernstein in early January 2017 to discuss his information regarding Trump.

“I met with Mr. Bernstein at Mr. Steele’s request,” Kramer said in a deposition in a lawsuit involving BuzzFeed. “And I believe Mr. Bernstein had been in touch with Mr. Steele and so Mr. Steele asked me if I would meet with him and talk with him about it. Since Bernstein was in the U.S. and Steele was in London.”

Before CNN’s report, McCabe sent emails within the FBI and to then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates saying the network was likely going to publish details about the dossier.

“Flood is coming,” read the subject line of McCabe’s Jan. 8, 2017, email to FBI leaders.

“CNN is close to going forward with the sensitive story,” he wrote, referring to the dossier. “The trigger for [CNN] is they know the material was discussed in the brief and presented in an attachment.”

It is unclear how McCabe knew that CNN was working on the story.

There is no evidence that McCabe provided the tip to CNN, though he was fired from the FBI for displaying a “lack of candor” to DOJ and FBI investigators about authorizing leaks to the media about an investigation of the Clinton Foundation. CNN hired McCabe as a law enforcement analyst Aug. 23.

McCabe also discussed at the event how FBI officials decided who from the Trump campaign to include in its counterintelligence investigation, Crossfire Hurricane.

He described how the Australian government provided a tip to the FBI in July 2016 regarding an Australian diplomat’s conversation with Papadopoulos. The diplomat, Alexander Downer, stated in a memo that Papadopoulos said Russia might help the Trump campaign closer to the election.

The Australians provided the information after WikiLeaks began releasing emails stolen from the DNC. The FBI opened the counterintelligence investigation, Crossfire Hurricane, on July 31, 2016.

McCabe indicated that investigators decided only after opening a case against Papadopoulos to add three other Trump officials to the investigation.

“We open the case, and then we think, ‘OK, now who are we actually going to investigate?’” he said.

“Who do we know who is associated with the campaign who has known, significant ties to Russian intelligence?” he asked rhetorically. “We quickly come up with four names that will not surprise you.”

McCabe identified Papadopoulos, Manafort, Flynn and Page.

He cited Manafort’s longstanding work for a pro-Russia Ukrainian political party, and Flynn’s “very public interactions with Vladimir Putin and other Russians,” as the rationale for investigating the two Trump advisers.

McCabe said Page was included because of the energy consultant’s past involvement in a counterintelligence investigation of a group of suspected Russian spies. Page was interviewed in 2014 and 2016 during an investigation and prosecution of a Russia intelligence agent who investigators claimed tried to recruit Page.

DCwire features investigative reporting syndicated with permission from the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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