British newspaper The Independent has published an exclusive report today claiming that members of the US Senate Intelligence Committee want former British MI6 spy Christopher Steele to testify about Trump’s covert links to the Russian government.
Christopher Steele was a former head of the Russian section of MI6 who retired in 2009 and set up an independent consultancy called Orbis. In June 2016 he was approached by a group of wealthy Republican backers called ‘Fusion GPs’ opposed to candidate Trump who wanted Steele to compile a dossier of negative information about him. When that funding dried up after Trump was confirmed as the GOP candidate for the 2016 election, Steele carried on working on the Trump dossier, initially with some funding from Democratic sources. When that dried up after Trump’s victory in November 2016, Steele carried on working on the Trump dossier at his own expense, and became so concerned at what was coming to light that he contacted both the UK government and the FBI to share his information.
According to a recent article in the Washington Post, the FBI actually considered paying Christopher Steele to continue his investigation However, say security sources, Mr Steele became increasingly frustrated that the FBI was failing to take action on the intelligence from others as well as him. He came to believe there was a cover-up, that a cabal within the Bureau that blocked a thorough inquiry into Mr Trump, focusing instead on the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.
The New York office, in particular, appeared to be on a crusade against Ms Clinton. Some of its agents had a long working relationship with Rudy Giuliani, by then a member of the Trump campaign, since his days as public prosecutor and then Mayor of the city.
As the election approached, FBI director James Comey made public his bombshell letter saying that Ms Clinton would face another email investigation. Two days before that Mr Giuliani, then a part of the Trump team, talked about “a surprise or two you’re going to hear about in the next few days. We’ve got a couple of things up our sleeve that should turn things around”.
In October a frustrated and demoralised Mr Steele, while on a trip to New York, spoke about what he had discovered to David Corn, the Washington editor of the magazine Mother Jones. On the 11 January CNN reported the existence of the dossier, leaked copies of which which had been doing the rounds of all the major news media for some months, before Buzzfeed took the controversial step of publishing the entire document.
In the furore that followed, Mr Trump personally attacked Mr Steele, declaring the report on the Kremlin connection by the former MI6 officer as a fabricated work, put together by a “failed spy”. Mr Steele himself vanished from his home and went into hiding for his own safety after it became known that one of his key sources Oleg Erovinkin (Source ‘E’), a high ranking KGB general and a close friend of former Russian deputy premier Igor Sechin had been found dead in the back of his car in Moscow on Boxing Day 2016.
In reality, Mr Steele was, and continues to be, held in high regard by British security and intelligence services as well as the American security officials who worked with him in the past. Initially sceptical of all the salacious detail about Trump’s supposed sexual indiscretions in Moscow and St Petersburg in 2013, American intelligence officials have been quietly sifting through the Steele dossier, checking the detailed claims against their own sources, intercepts and movement analysis, and they are apparently finding that more and more of this dossier is standing up as correct and factually based.
Mr Steele’s friends say it is currently unlikely he would be willing to travel to the US. But it is understood Democrats – as well as some Republicans – in Congress are prepared to facilitate discreet initial meetings in the UK or on other neutral territory.