Donald Trump’s decision to declassify some documents related to the Russia investigation demonstrate that he continues to be obsessed about the Steele dossier. What is becoming increasingly clear is that he should be more worried about what we might call the “Brennan dossier.”
Today the Washington Post published an excerpt from Greg Miller’s book, The Apprentice: Trump, Russia and the Subversion of American Democracy. Here’s the relevant portion in which he discusses the office at the CIA known as “Russia House.”
In the months leading up to the 2016 election, senior Russia House officials held a series of meetings in a conference room adorned with Stalin-era posters, seeking to make sense of disconcerting reports that Moscow had mounted a covert operation to upend the U.S. presidential race.
By early August, the sense of alarm had become so acute that CIA Director John Brennan called White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. “I need to get in to see the president,” Brennan said, with unusual urgency in his voice.
Brennan had just spent two days sequestered in his office reviewing a small mountain of material on Russia…There were piles of finished assessments, but Brennan had also ordered up what agency veterans call the “raw stuff” — unprocessed material from informants, listening devices, computer implants and other sources. Clearing his schedule, Brennan pored over all of it, his door closed, staying so late that the glow through his office windows remained visible deep into the night from the darkened driveway that winds past the headquarters building’s main entrance…
Brennan’s review session occurred against the backdrop of these unsettling developments. But his call to the White House was driven by something else — extraordinary intelligence that had surfaced in late July and reached deep inside the Kremlin, showing that Putin was himself directing an “active measures” operation aimed not only at disrupting the U.S. presidential race but electing Trump.
What we know based on previous reporting from the Washington Post is that not only did Brennan request a meeting with Obama, at about the same time he sent the president a dossier that he had compiled.
Early last August, an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House. Sent by courier from the CIA, it carried “eyes only” instructions that its contents be shown to just four people: President Barack Obama and three senior aides.
Inside was an intelligence bombshell, a report drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race.
But it went further. The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives — defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.
We don’t know all of what was included in that Brennan dossier, but based on reporting by ABC News, we now know that in July 2016, as it was being compiled, Steele sent his dossier to an FBI contact in Rome, who passed it on to an agent in the FBI’s New York field office. It sat there until mid-September, when it was finally sent to the counterintelligence team investigating Russia at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C.
In summary, we know that while the Steele dossier was languishing in the FBI’s New York field office, CIA Director John Brennan had already informed critical players in the Obama administration that Russia was not only attempting to interfere in the 2016 election, they were doing so in order to elect Donald Trump. We also know what the administration did next.
Brennan convened a secret task force at CIA headquarters composed of several dozen analysts and officers from the CIA, the NSA and the FBI.
The unit functioned as a sealed compartment, its work hidden from the rest of the intelligence community. Those brought in signed new non-disclosure agreements to be granted access to intelligence from all three participating agencies.
They worked exclusively for two groups of “customers,” officials said. The first was Obama and fewer than 14 senior officials in government. The second was a team of operations specialists at the CIA, NSA and FBI who took direction from the task force on where to aim their subsequent efforts to collect more intelligence on Russia.
As I noted before, the mission of the CIA is to collect intelligence in order to assist government officials in policy making. It is the FBI where criminal investigations occur. That is why, by July 31st, Comey had opened a counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s interference in the election and a possible conspiracy with the Trump campaign.
I would note that, based on publicly available information, the Steele dossier has so far proven to be fairly accurate. But it is important to keep in mind that the entire intelligence community was on alert about this situation at least two months before it became part of the investigation.
Donald Trump and his enablers might think that they have scored some kind of victory if they tarnish Steele’s work with their lies and propaganda. But that’s like celebrating that you’ve bagged a minnow while the shark closes in.