Christopher Steele is a hero. To read Jane Mayer’s New Yorker report on how the British national and former MI6 agent began assembling the now infamous dossier detailing links between Donald Trump’s orbit and the Russians, how concerned he became by what he was seeing, and his hair-on-fire effort to get someone in the U.S. government to warn the American people ahead of the election is to long for real leadership and loyalty to the precious ideals of our country.
Originally, Steele hadn’t expected to find much on Trump’s links to Russia other than some potentially shady business deals. But as his alarm grew over the connections he was turning up and the potential that Trump could be compromised by the Russians, he made successive attempts to warn the proper American authorities. First, in early July 2016, he reached out to an FBI agent he had worked with in the past, then several weeks later to the State Department, and then he sat and marveled, helpless, as American authorities seemingly did nothing.
We now know that the FBI did open an investigation into Trump’s links to Russia in late July 2016 after being tipped off that Trump aide George Papadopoulos had bragged to an Australian diplomat about Russia having “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. That information along with WikiLeaks’ publication of the first round of DNC emails during the Democratic National Convention prompted the FBI to act. Nonetheless, the American public never knew about the investigation because no one told us. By fall, Steele was practically having an aneurysm but he was assured that it was standard practice for the FBI to remain apolitical, especially in the run-up to an election. And then, just over a week before Election Day, then-FBI director James Comey held a press conference to alert Americans the FBI had discovered a new cache of Hillary Clinton emails that required review. Mayer writes:
As the election approached, the relationship between Steele and the F.B.I. grew increasingly tense. He couldn’t understand why the government wasn’t publicizing Trump’s ties to Russia. He was anguished that the American voting public remained in the dark. […] Steele was therefore shocked when, on October 28, 2016, Comey sent a letter to congressional leaders: the F.B.I. had come across new e-mails bearing on its previously closed investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server as Secretary of State. […] To Steele, the F.B.I., by making an incriminating statement so close to Election Day, seemed to be breaking a rule that he’d been told was inviolable. And, given what he—and very few others—knew about the F.B.I.’s Trump investigation, it also seemed that the Bureau had one standard for Clinton and another for her opponent.
A dismayed Steele ultimately decided to give a background interview about Trump’s Russia ties to Mother Jones reporter David Corn that ran on October 31, 2016. Unfortunately, Americans had so little context for that report, that it got lost in the shuffle of other campaign news. It didn’t help that the New York Times ran a story on the same day raising the prospect of an FBI investigation but effectively exonerating Trump. What now seems perfectly plausible given all the credible ties that have emerged between Trump and Russia seemed more like a potential conspiracy theory from the left at the time and the Times piece reinforced that perception.
But what’s so very striking about the entire New Yorker piece is the juxtaposition of Steele’s continued efforts to warn America with those of actual U.S. officials who are constitutionally charged with the responsibility of protecting and defending the Constitution. On one side, the Democrats were ever cautious—both weary of politicizing the information and of violating a federal statute known as the Hatch Act, which prohibits public officials from using their position to influence elections. At the State Department, both Sec. John Kerry and another high-ranking official concluded the information was out of their lane and literally locked it away in a safe after being assured that the FBI knew about it. From a legal standpoint, they were playing by the rules. And from a political standpoint, so was President Obama. He tried to get a bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers to sign off on a joint statement condemning Russian interference in early September. Here’s Mayer on how that effort got quashed.
But one Gang of Eight member, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, expressed skepticism about the Russians’ role, and refused to sign a bipartisan statement condemning Russia. After that, Obama, instead of issuing a statement himself, said nothing.
Steele anxiously asked his American counterparts what else could be done to alert the country.
Just think about that—McConnell refused to believe the intelligence estimate about Russian interference and killed Obama’s effort to alert American voters. This week, McConnell reaffirmed that he was “perfectly comfortable” with his effort to mute the warning Obama had wanted to send out to state election authorities. Meanwhile, a British national who was afraid for our country was thinking, what else can be done? Have I exhausted all my options? And now, guess which one of those two people has been referred to the Justice Department for criminal investigation? That’s right, Christopher Steele.
The guy who was doing everything he could think of to look out for our national security while GOP lawmakers gummed up the works has been officially referred to the Department of Justice for criminal investigation by, guess who—GOP lawmakers. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham have made the only congressional criminal referral to date stemming from the Russia investigation and it’s targeted at the guy who tried to save us from ourselves.
The Graham-Grassley hatchet job can only be properly viewed at this point as part of a Republican conspiracy to discredit Steele, the dossier he created, and hence the FBI investigation into Trump, which was partially informed by Steele’s research among many other pieces of evidence. In their inexplicable desperation to kneecap the Russia probe, Republicans have literally turned against and become enemies of the state. GOP members of the House Intelligence panel authored and released a deceptive memo that skewered the process by which the FBI obtained a warrant to surveil former Trump aide Carter Page. House Intelligence Republicans also sought to discredit the only credible congressional inquiry into Russia, led by the Senate Intelligence panel, by leaking texts exchanged between Democratic Sen. Mark Warner and a Russia-linked lawyer (Warner had contacted the lawyer as part of his duties on the panel). And just this week, Republican Reps. Trey Gowdy and Bob Goodlatte, who chair the House Oversight Committee and Judiciary Committee respectively, formally asked the Department of Justice to initiate a special counsel inquiry into “potential bias” within the FBI as it sought surveillance warrants for its investigation.
What the Republicans are mounting is nothing short of a breathtaking betrayal of the U.S. government and the systems that have been put in place to insulate us from a takeover by a self-interested, maniacal and, perhaps, blackmail-able leader. Congressional oversight was set up specifically to serve as a check on executive power; as was the power to appoint a special counsel so that impartial legal inquiries could be conducted.
Republicans are doing this all in support of Donald Trump, a man with so many personal exposures he could be blackmailed by Mr. Magoo, to name one of Trump’s favorite cartoon characters. Nothing has made that more clear than watching Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, bumble his way into a potential legal violation while trying to silence adult film star Stormy Daniels about her alleged affair with Trump. In fact, the more we learn about this entire debacle—which includes a $130,000 payment we’re supposed to believe was paid to a woman who’s fabricated the entire story—the more the most salacious part of the Steele dossier involving a golden showers scene in a Russian hotel room seems entirely plausible.
Simply put, Donald Trump is more than just intellectually and emotionally unfit to be president—he’s a danger to our republic and our sovereignty on every level. And Republicans’ continued efforts to insulate him from investigation is a betrayal of our country.