DANIEL VAUGHAN: Mueller’s report disproves the Steele dossier and destroys the media’s credibility

April 22, 2019

The Wall Street Journal made an astute observation when placing the final report from Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation in the broader context of the Trump-Russia media narrative: The Mueller report dismisses many of the claims in the infamous Steele dossier.

This observation raises the question: How lousy is U.S. intelligence and the media that they kept peddling a dossier that no one, from journalists to spies, can verify?

We know why BuzzFeed’s News section ran the dossier — it hurt Trump. The dossier floated around an extensive circle of journalists and politicians, and none of them made it public because it was too salacious and unverifiable.

BuzzFeed skipped all those customs and hurled it into public view like a drunk through a barroom window.

We know that history well — we lived through it. The question after reading the Mueller report and then looking back at the dossier is why someone with the alleged expertise of Christopher Steele bought a single word he wrote in the dossier.

Fusion GPS, the firm that hired Steele to compile the dossier, said in a statement to the WSJ that Mueller’s report vindicated “the core reporting in Christopher Steele’s 2016 memoranda.” But we know that is utter nonsense. The dossier’s summary — its core reporting — makes brazen claims like that Trump was severely compromised by Russian intelligence, the Russians had cultivated Trump for five years as a secret plot, and that Trump’s campaign was receiving a steady flow of information from Russian intelligence.

Nothing in the Mueller report suggests those correct. And as the WSJ notes, the points in the dossier that are correct were things everyone in the West already knew:

[S]ome of its views proved prescient, including that Russia saw his election as an opportunity to seed discord between the U.S. and its Western allies.

But many of the validated assertions were already percolating in the press and Western intelligence agencies by the time Mr. Steele began compiling the dossier in the summer of 2016, including that Russia was trying to harm Mrs. Clinton.

The rest of the dossier remains either unconfirmed, after three years of all the journalists and intelligence agencies in the world trying to confirm just one word of it, or flatly invalidated by the Mueller report.

As an example, on page 139 of Volume II of the Mueller report, focusing in on the obstruction of justice allegations, Mueller’s team destroys the Michael-Cohen-in-Prague meeting assertion:

At that time, Cohen understood Congress’s interest in him to be focused on the allegations in the Steele reporting concerning a meeting Cohen allegedly had with Russian officials in Prague during the campaign. Cohen had never traveled to Prague and was not concerned about those allegations, which he believed were provably false.

The dossier also made wild accusations involving Carter Page, who, it was said, was holding top secret meetings with Russian intelligence and had developed a relationship. But when you look through the evidence that Mueller amassed, starting on page 95 of Volume I, all you see is Page working as a volunteer on the Trump campaign, and lying about his experience and abilities on his resumé.

Indeed, if you watch any news interview with Page, he continues to do the same thing — exaggerating his expertise and importance.

All of which brings us to Christopher Steele. Tom Clancy has a line in his first novel, The Hunt for Red October, that reads: “It is a principle of diplomacy that one must know something of the truth in order to lie convincingly.”

The Russians knew the truth of people like Page and Cohen. They also knew they wanted to derail the United States in any way possible. When Christopher Steele was compiling his dossier, U.S.-Russian relations were already sour again from the Obama administration’s disastrous eight years — ignoring Mitt Romney’s warning in the 2012 debates.

At its best, the dossier represents RUMINT — or rumor intelligence. And Steele, with a background in intelligence, uncritically repeated everything the Russians fed him. For a so-called professional spy, Steele acted more like a useful idiot than a sober analyst of intelligence.

And if Steele was a useful idiot, the media happily abandoned all journalistic standards to go along. The LA Times is still pushing the more salacious parts of the dossier as accurate. You have to scroll down to the end of their piece to find, “No evidence has surfaced to prove that the much-rumored tapes exist, and the Mueller report does not say that they do.”

When you combine that with the Mueller report’s revelation that many in the media were also pushing the Russian lies of WikiLeaks, DCLeaks, and other linked groups, you find the actual group that’s discredited: journalists.

The Mueller report revealed the media and Steele were nothing more than useful idiots for Russian attempts to destroy America. And on that count alone, it gives more credence to Trump’s charge that the media is an enemy of the American public.

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Daniel Vaughan

Daniel Vaughan is a columnist for the Conservative Institute and lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee. He has degrees from Middle Tennessee State University and Regent University School of Law. His work can be found on the Conservative Institute's website, or you can receive his columns and free weekly newsletter at The Beltway Outsiders. Connect with him on Twitter at @dvaughanCI.