A federal judge on Friday ordered the FBI to search for records of any contacts with dossier author Christopher Steele after the bureau cut ties with him as a confidential human source (CHS) in November 2016.
Judge Christopher Cooper issued the ruling in favor of Judicial Watch, which has sued the FBI and Justice Department for all of its records on Steele, a former British spy who investigated the Trump campaign on behalf of the Clinton campaign and DNC.
The FBI released two batches of Steele-related documents last year, but had resisted conducting searches for documents of any contacts that he had with the bureau after Nov. 1, 2016.
FBI officials severed a longstanding relationship with Steele after finding out that he had unauthorized contacts with members of the press.
But Cooper ordered the search, saying that any additional FBI-Steele documents have “the potential for illuminating the FBI’s activities” in the Trump-Russia probe.
The FBI relied heavily on Steele’s unverified allegations to obtain wiretap warrants against former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. Investigators also relied on Steele’s information as part of its overall counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia. Steele’s claims of a “well-developed conspiracy of co-operation” were all but debunked by the special counsel’s report.
“Communications post-dating Steele’s time as an informant might reveal a great deal about why the FBI developed him as a CHS, his performance as a CHS, and why the FBI opted to terminate its relationship with him,” said Cooper, who gave the FBI 60 days to conduct the search.
“Those records might either bolster or weaken Steele’s credibility as a source. That information, in turn, could provide a basis on which to evaluate the FBI’s performance of its law-enforcement duties, including its judgment in selecting and relying on confidential sources, especially in connection with such a politically sensitive subject.”
Cooper said that it is unclear whether any new documents exist, though other records that Judicial Watch has obtained show that both Steele and the FBI were interested in re-establishing contact in 2017.
Bruce Ohr, a Justice Department official who met repeatedly with Steele, told the FBI on Feb. 14, 2017 that Steele was “beginning to worry about his business and was preparing a [redacted] to broker a business relationship with the FBI.”
Steele had come under intense media scrutiny after BuzzFeed published his dossier a month earlier.
On May 8, 2017, Ohr told the FBI that “STEELE was interested in working with the FBI and had additional information if the FBI was interested.”
A May 15, 2017 interview transcript says that an FBI special agent asked Ohr to pass along the bureau’s request to have a conversation with Steele. After Ohr offered the proposal, “STEELE responded that the answer was an immediate yes,” according to the FBI notes.
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