Andrew McCabe, the embattled former FBI deputy director, said at a recent event hosted by CNN journalist Carl Bernstein, that the agency was fully aware of the flaws with the Steele dossier, and decided to proceed with it anyways.
McCabe said that former British spy Christopher Steele himself was open to the FBI investigators, saying that the anti-Trump dossier should not be taken as “gospel,” and that he could not vouch for the accuracy of some of the material in the infamous document.
The FBI’s handling of the dossier is the subject of a Justice Department inspector general’s investigation that began in March 2018.
McCabe also discussed at the event how FBI officials decided who from the Trump campaign to include in its counterintelligence investigation, Crossfire Hurricane.
He described how the Australian government provided a tip to the FBI in July 2016 regarding an Australian diplomat’s conversation with Papadopoulos. The diplomat, Alexander Downer, stated in a memo that Papadopoulos said Russia might help the Trump campaign closer to the election.
The Australians provided the information after WikiLeaks began releasing emails stolen from the DNC. The FBI opened the counterintelligence investigation, Crossfire Hurricane, on July 31, 2016.
McCabe indicated that investigators decided only after opening a case against Papadopoulos to add three other Trump officials to the investigation.
“We open the case, and then we think, ‘OK, now who are we actually going to investigate?’” McCabe said at the event, which aired Tuesday on C-SPAN.
“Who do we know who is associated with the campaign who has known, significant ties to Russian intelligence?” he asked rhetorically. “We quickly come up with four names that will not surprise you.”
McCabe was referring to the original four subjects of investigation, Papadopoulos, Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn and Carter Page.
McCabe attempted to defend their use of the dossier by saying even though Steele was unsure about the document, he had “a very solid track record” of providing information to the FBI.
“Some of it he felt was pretty solid, others he made clear, like, ‘Hey, I’m getting this from one person, and I can’t vouch for this sourcing chain, and I’m just giving it to you for your information.’”
Bernstein offered his own defense of Steele.
“Steele didn’t pretend that the information was definitive,” the veteran reporter said, prompting many to wonder why the FBI used it as if it were factual.
Bernstein was one of four CNN reporters who worked on the Jan. 10, 2017, story that revealed intelligence officials briefed then-President-elect Donald Trump on the salacious allegations from the dossier.
Before CNN’s report, McCabe sent emails within the FBI and to then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates saying the network was likely going to publish details about the dossier.
“Flood is coming,” read the subject line of McCabe’s Jan. 8, 2017, email to FBI leaders.
“CNN is close to going forward with the sensitive story,” he wrote, referring to the dossier. “The trigger for [CNN] is they know the material was discussed in the brief and presented in an attachment.”
It’s unclear exactly how McCabe knew that CNN was working on the story. While there’s no tangible evidence that McCabe provided the tip to CNN, after being fired by the FBI due to displaying a “lack of candor” McCabe was quickly snatched up by CNN as an analyst.