Debate heightens over whether James Comey or John Brennan is to blame for pushing Steele dossier

May 17, 2019

Debate heightens over whether James Comey or John Brennan is to blame for pushing Steele dossier Brookings Institution / CCL

Attorney General William Barr’s review of the Trump-Russia collusion hoax has set the stage for a clash between the FBI and CIA.

With accountability knocking, a rift is growing in the “Deep State” over whether James Comey or John Brennan deserves the blame for certifying the infamous Christopher Steele dossier, Fox News reported Wednesday.

Blame game

According to Fox, an FBI email chain from late 2016 shows that Comey, then director of the FBI, told his subordinates that Brennan was pushing for the dossier to be included in an intelligence assessment of Russian interference. Fox also reported that the dossier was referred to as “crown material” in the emails.

But a former CIA official fired back, telling Fox it was Comey, not Brennan, who pushed the dossier. The official said that Brennan and former national intelligence director James Clapper rejected the dossier, which Comey briefed Trump on at a meeting before his inauguration. The media’s reporting on that meeting introduced the dossier to the public.

“Former Director Brennan, along with former [Director of National Intelligence] James Clapper, are the ones who opposed James Comey’s recommendation that the Steele Dossier be included in the intelligence report,” a former CIA official said. They went on:

The intelligence analysts didn’t include it when they were doing their work because it wasn’t corroborated intelligence, therefore it wasn’t used and it wasn’t included. Brennan and Clapper prevented it from being added into the official assessment. James Comey then decided on his own to brief Trump about the document.

Interest in who pushed for the dossier to be included in the intelligence assessment has been high since Robert Mueller’s investigation concluded in March with no finding of collusion. The collusion blow-out all but proved that the two-year investigation was based on politically-funded Russian gossip, prompting demands for a reckoning by Republicans.

Citing a high-level source, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) claimed in March that it was Brennan who pushed for the dossier’s inclusion.

Fox’s report comes after Fox contributor and former congressman Trey Gowdy told investigators to look into the December 2016 emails in a Fox appearance Monday. On Tuesday, Gowdy said that “Comey has a better argument than Brennan, based on what I’ve seen.” Gowdy said he based his assessment on documents he had seen when he was chairman of the Oversight Committee.

Conflicting accounts

While Brennan has denied that the dossier was included in the January 2017 intelligence community assessment, or ICA, Comey told Congress last year that it was part of that assessment. Asked by Gowdy about the “crown material” email, Comey said that the dossier was included in an appendix. Comey also recounted a conversation with Brennan on whether to include the dossier in the body or the appendix of the ICA, which was prepared by Clapper’s agency.

Comey’s account contradicts what Brennan has told Congress and media outlets in interviews. Brennan has said that the dossier “did not play any role whatsoever” in the intelligence community assessment, and he has denied that he ever found the dossier credible or wanted it included in the ICA.

For his part, Comey has defended the bureau’s use of the dossier, telling CNN last week that “the most important part” of the dossier had to do with Russian election interference that has been proven.

Deep State scrambling

In fact, the “most important part” of the salacious dossier was its unverified allegations against Trump campaign official Carter Page. Republicans have long accused senior intelligence officials of using the dossier to justify spying on Page without disclosing to the FISA court that it was unverified political opposition research. The dossier was funded partly by the Democrats and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Comey signed off on three of four FISA applications that relied on circular reporting, including a Yahoo! News article that the FBI claimed independently verified the dossier. In fact, the article cited the dossier’s author, Christopher Steele.

In addition to U.S. Attorney John Durham’s new investigation, the Justice Department’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz has been conducting his own review of the FBI’s spying on the Trump campaign. A report on that investigation is expected in June. U.S. Attorney John Huber has also been investigating surveillance abuses.

Endless abuse

Whether it was Comey or Brennan or both who gave the unverified dossier their stamp of approval, both played a public role in promoting its claims in the media. Republicans have accused Comey, Brennan, Clapper, and others of abusing their credentials to make baseless accusations of treason and conspiracy against the president.

That abuse shows no sign of stopping. Comey and Brennan have continued to double down, with Comey justifying the bureau’s spying as “totally normal” on CNN last week, while Brennan accused Barr this week of looking for something to “misrepresent as being part of this deep state effort to try to undermine” Trump.

The tables are turning on the senior intelligence bureaucrats who spied on the Trump campaign. The investigation has hardly begun, and the Deep State is already bracing for what’s coming.

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Matthew Boose

Matthew Boose is a staff writer for Conservative Institute. He has a Bachelor's degree from Stony Brook University and has contributed to The Daily Caller and The Stony Brook Press.