- The State Department has started releasing intelligence reports that Christopher Steele sent to a top official at the agency in the years before he worked on the Trump dossier
- The so-called “O Reports” are heavily redacted, but they shed light on the topic that Steele investigated, and how they were circulated through the State Department
- State Department official Victoria Nuland classified at least three of the reports
- Judicial Watch sued for the documents on behalf of The Daily Caller News Foundation
Before he gained notoriety for the Trump dossier, Christopher Steele cultivated a relationship with a top State Department official who would later play a key role in distributing his unverified allegations about the Trump campaign through the U.S. government.
Steele, a former British spy, passed dozens of intelligence reports in 2014 and 2015 to the State Department official, Jonathan Winer. Winer also helped out Steele, arranging meetings for him with State Department officials, and with major international consulting firms.
The State Department has started releasing Steele’s “O Reports” (a reference to his firm, Orbis) in response to a lawsuit Judicial Watch filed on behalf of The Daily Caller News Foundation in April 2018.
The 80-plus reports are heavily redacted, but they shed light on the topics that Steele investigated, as well as how his work circulated through the State Department.
Winer, who served as special envoy to Libya, passed Steele’s reports through a State Department contractor to other high-ranking officials at the agency, including Victoria Nuland, the State Department’s top official on Russia issues.
Winer and Nuland have said that they took Steele’s dossier on Donald Trump seriously because of those early intelligence reports, which dealt with Russia and Ukraine. But their assessment of Steele’s work is hard to test because of heavy redactions for “trade secrets,” intra-agency correspondence, and personal privacy information in the State Department documents.
Winer appears to have first contacted Nuland regarding Steele on May 19, 2014.
He would continue sending in reports, sometimes three or four at a time. The documents focus almost entirely on Russia, Ukraine, the battle over Crimea, and U.S. sanctions against Russians. Steele, who served as an MI6 officer through 2009, also purported to have obtained information from the highest levels of the Russian government, much as he did with his Trump dossier.
Winer often gave Nina Miller, a State Department contractor who worked for OBTek Inc., instructions to pass the reports to “the usual three people”: Winer himself, Nuland, and Paul Jones, a career diplomat who worked in the European bureau under Nuland and current serves as the Chargé D’Affaires at the U.S. embassy in Pakistan.
In some correspondence with Miller, Winer instructed her to send the reports on the State Department’s “high side,” or its classified network.
Nuland designated at least three of the reports as having classified information. The State Department declassified those portions on April 29, but still redacted the underlying information.
Winer sometimes shared Steele’s reports with Geoffrey Pyatt, who then served as ambassador to Ukraine, John Heffern, then then-ambassador to Armenia, and Daniel Fried, who was coordinator for State Department sanctions policy.
One of Steele’s reports implied that then-Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko was an alcoholic and was having problems dealing with Ukraine’s oligarchs.
“Boozing POROSHENKO,” is the headline for Steele’s July 6, 2015, report.
Other reports indicated that Steele obtained his information from the top levels of the Russian government. He said his Aug. 29, 2014, report came “from within Russian leadership.” His July 1, 2014, report was sourced to the head of Russia’s presidential administration.
A July 22, 2014, report is entitled “High-Level Read Out on Russian Security Council.”
A Dec. 22, 2014 report, “Sechin’s Weakening Position,” is a reference to Igor Sechin, the CEO of Russian oil giant Rosneft and close ally of Vladimir Putin. Steele claims in his dossier that Sechin met secretly with Trump campaign adviser Carter Page in July 2016 as part of a conspiracy to influence the election. Page has vehemently denied the charge.
Steele also sent in reports regarding U.S. sanctions against Russian government officials and companies over the invasion of Ukraine. Steele reportedly worked at the time for Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who was hit with U.S. sanctions last year.
Winer arranged meetings between Steele and at least two other State Department officials.
He set up an Oct. 11, 2016, meeting between Steele and Kathleen Kavalec, the deputy assistant secretary of state under Nuland. Kavalec’s notes from the meeting show that Steele provided her with details of his investigation of Trump. Ten days later, the FBI obtained its first wiretap of Carter Page.
Winer also introduced Steele to State Department official Paul Jones during the former spy’s stateside swing in late 2014.
“Paul, if you are still free, does 3pm work to meet with Chris Steele?” Winer said in a Nov. 20, 2014, email to Jones.
The final report in the batch provided to TheDCNF and Judicial Watch is dated July 21, 2015.
It was nearly a year later that Steele began investigating Trump on behalf of Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm working for the Clinton campaign and DNC. Steele claims to have relied on a network of sources in the Russian government, though he had not operated in Russia since leaving MI6.
Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch, said in a statement that the reports show that Steele “had an outsized influence at the Obama State Department that came in useful when the Clinton campaign needed help smearing Trump in 2016 and beyond.”
“The more we dig, the more access we see the disgraced spy behind the ridiculous dossier had at State. And we’re going to keep on digging until we learn just how deep this went,” said Christopher Bedford, the DCNF’s editor in chief.
Winer has said that Steele shared some of his Trump research with him in Summer 2016. Nuland has said that she was made aware of Steele’s Trump work in mid-July 2016. Nuland was also the State Department official who approved Steele’s first meeting with the FBI regarding the Trump investigation. The former spy met on July 5, 2016 with Michael Gaeta, a FBI legal attaché in Rome.
Republicans have pressed the State Department and the FBI about the agencies’ contacts with Steele, and their handling of the dossier.
Sens. Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson said in a letter to the State Department’s inspector general last week that they had learned that the watchdog opened an inquiry into the meeting, but failed to interview Kavalec, Nuland or Winer. They also revealed in the letter that the State Department inspector general investigated whether Winer complied with the agency’s policies regarding intelligence gathering.
The Justice Department’s inspector general is also close to releasing a report of an investigation into the FBI’s handling of Steele and the dossier.
The special counsel’s report dealt a heavy blow to the dossier, which alleged a “well-developed conspiracy of co-operation” between Team Trump and the Kremlin. Republicans have aimed to find out why many of Steele’s claims were inaccurate, and Attorney General William Barr testified in the Senate on May 1 that he is “concerned” that Steele’s network of Russian sources provided him with disinformation intended to smear Trump.
On top of circulating Steele’s Trump allegations within State, Winer was also a source for two reporters, Michael Isikoff and David Corn, who published stories laying out Steele’s salacious allegations before the 2016 election.
On Sept. 22, 2016, a day before Isikoff published his article, Glenn Simpson, the founder of Fusion GPS, contacted Winer at his State Department email address seeking to speak by phone. Simpson had arranged meetings for Steele and numerous reporters, including Isikoff and Corn.
Winer also provided information about Trump to Steele. He gave the ex-spy two memos he had received from longtime Clinton associate Sidney Blumenthal. The memos were compiled by Cody Shearer, a friend of Blumenthal’s who was also a close Clinton ally.
The memos contained allegations similar to Steele’s reporting, including about an unverified sex tape of Trump in Russia. Steele provided the documents to the FBI.
Winer arranged other meetings for Steele during his November 2014 visit to the U.S., some of which appear aimed at helping Steele drum up business.
On Nov. 21, 2014, Winer set up a meeting between Steele and Ariuna Namsrai, a Russia consultant at APCO Worldwide, the consulting firm that Winer worked at before and after his most recent State Department stint.
Winer also tried to set up a meeting between Steele and Nelson Cunningham, a partner at McLarty Associates, an international consulting firm founded by longtime Clinton associate Mack McLarty.
Winer wrote that it “occurred to me there might be value for McClarty Global knowing him and his capabilities in terms of real time and longer term analysis of developments in that part of the world.”
Cunningham said he was unable to meet with Steele, but would be willing to do so in the future.
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