Stage Two of Memogate

Last month Sen. Chuck Grassley, chair of the Judiciary Committee, referred Christopher Steele to the Justice Department for investigation. Yesterday he released a highly redacted copy of that referral and opened a whole new chapter in what we might call “memogate.” Here is the relevant portion:

One memorandum by Mr. Steele that was not published by BuzzFeed is dated October 19, 2016. The report alleges [redacted] as well as [redacted]. Mr. Steele’s memorandum states that his company ‘received this report from [redacted] U.S. State Department,’ that the report was the second in a series, and that the report was information that came from a foreign sub-source who ‘is in touch with [redacted], a contact of [redacted], a friend of the Clintons, who passed it to [redacted].’ It is troubling enough that the Clinton Campaign funded Mr. Steele’s work, but that these Clinton associates were contemporaneously feeding Mr. Steele allegations raises additional concerns about his credibility.

We already know who some of the players are in this story. Last week the Guardian was the first to break the story about a “second dossier” that was written by Cody Shearer. Apparently he gave his information to Jonathan Winer, the Obama State Department’s special envoy to Libya, and longtime Senate aide to John Kerry. Winer then passed it on to Christopher Steele. The two were friends and Winer had previously passed Steele’s Russia and Ukraine reports along to the State Department’s Europe bureau. Here is a breakdown of the path this information traveled:

Foreign sub-source > Shearer > Winer > Steele > FBI

Take a look at how this is being played on Fox News.

Carter takes several leaps of the imagination (otherwise known as lies) that are not included in any of the evidence. The first is that Steele is the one who put together a second dossier. Here are the facts:

According to a source familiar with the matter, however, Steele’s “memorandum” was actually a handwritten note on a copy of Shearer’s report that outlined its origin—the “foreign sub-source” who had been in touch with Shearer. The note identified Shearer as a contact of Sidney Blumenthal’s, a longtime associate of the Clintons. It also explained that Steele had obtained the document via Winer, who had gotten it from Shearer.

What Steele added to Shearer’s report were the names of sources, along with a note that the author had ties to Blumenthal. That’s it.

One can only assume that Carter invented the line about Steele using part of Shearer’s memo in his own dossier, because nowhere is that corroborated in the Grassley memo or in any other reporting. As a matter of fact, here is how the Guardian characterizes the handoff from Steele to the FBI:

The Shearer memo was provided to the FBI in October 2016.

It was handed to them by Steele – who had been given it by an American contact – after the FBI requested the former MI6 agent provide any documents or evidence that could be useful in its investigation, according to multiple sources.

The Guardian was told Steele warned the FBI he could not vouch for the veracity of the Shearer memo, but that he was providing a copy because it corresponded with what he had separately heard from his own independent sources.

As for the FBI’s take on the Shearer memo, here is where things stand:

…the Guardian has been told the FBI investigation is still assessing details in the “Shearer memo” and is pursuing intriguing leads.

One source with knowledge of the inquiry said the fact the FBI was still working on it suggested investigators had taken an aspect of it seriously.

It raises the possibility that parts of the Steele dossier, which has been derided by Trump’s supporters, may have been corroborated by Shearer’s research, or could still be.

In other words, the FBI is doing what law enforcement units always do with this kind of information, regardless of the source: investigating it. It is only in the fevered brains of Fox News reporters that doing so is somehow nefarious.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.