‘Russian regime has been cultivating and assisting TRUMP for at least five years.’
The Steele Dossier, Examined.
Part one of an original Reverb Press series examining the Christopher Steele dossier rationally, without the partisan spin. Learn how to read the salacious document; what it means, what it doesn’t, and why it matters.
In the politics of leaks, few documents are as controversial as Christopher Steele’s Trump dossier. The media is either ignoring or obsessing over the story—depending on whose colors you wear. And if you belong to a particularly degenerate political subculture, the whole affair is simply fake news.
Not that I can judge you for finding its contents hard to believe. After WikiLeaks published thousands of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee, millions of Americans believed they had just borne witness to the very worst of insider politics. Tellingly, the oft-repeated talking point that the documents were altered in some way is rarely parroted by Democratic politicians themselves. The few points of “evidence” supporting this claim fail to demonstrate a consistent pattern of altered metadata (itself a bright, red herring) corresponding with the documents featured most heavily in Russian-backed propaganda. We know, in other words, that the private conversations found in these documents are real.
The United States Intelligence community hasn’t been so quick to dismiss its contents. As I’ve reported previously, FBI investigators are using the document as a kind of road map. At question: did Donald Trump or his associates knowingly cooperate with the Russian government to influence, undermine, and subvert the 2016 presidential election?
Understanding the dossier is no easy task. Nor is comprehending the various subtleties of what it all means politically. Composed of raw intelligence data, the dossier contains notable errors. But it also doesn’t purport to be truth—only leads, useful for guiding an investigative body.
In this series, I will examine the Steele dossier line by line. We will mostly focus on parsing the specific language Steele employs, but also provide supplementary information regarding specific allegations.
So let’s begin with the first bullet. To improve readability, I’ve made some minor changes to grammar and punctuation.
“Russian regime has been cultivating and assisting TRUMP for at least five years. Aim, endorsed by PUTIN, has been to encourage splits and divisions in western alliance.”
“Speaking to a trusted compatriot in June 2016, sources A and B, a senior Russian Foreign Ministry figure and former top level Russian intelligence figure still active inside the Kremlin, respectively; the Russian authorities had been cultivating and supporting US Republican presidential candidate, Donald TRUMP, for at least five years. Source B asserted that the TRUMP Operation was both supported and directed by Russian President Vladimir PUTIN. Its aim was to sow discord and disunity […] within the US itself, but more especially within the Transatlantic alliance which was viewed as inimical to Russia’s interests. Source C, a senior Russian financial official, said the TRUMP operation should be seen in terms of PUTIN’s desire to return to nineteenth century “Great Power” politics anchored upon countries’ interests rather than the ideals-based international order established after World War II. S/he had overheard PUTIN talking in this way to close associates on several occasions.”
It isn’t immediately clear how to parse the first detail of the report, that the Russian regime had been “cultivating and assisting” Donald Trump for at least five years. Is Steele suggesting Russian intelligence not only assisted Trump, but did so with his full knowledge?
The suggestion of kompromat, found later in the dossier, gives us a clue. According to Steele, two sources confirm the lurid, urolagnia-filled evening at the Moscow Ritz Carlton, while a third (Source B) said Trump’s “unorthodox” behavior in Russia had provided authorities with “more than enough embarrassing material on the now Republican presidential candidate” to blackmail him “if they so wished”.
But it is impossible to conclude from Steele’s reporting, even if all of the details therein are independently verified, whether Trump worked directly with Russia on the plan to hack and release embarrassing Democratic National Committee emails—or if he was simply the subject of an exceptionally successful useful idiot operation. The kompromat, assuming it was collected as the sources describe, may have been retained for use at a future date—it isn’t necessarily the basis for Trump’s “cooperation” with them.
It is a myth that the Christopher Steele dossier, as salacious as it is, puts forward the case for direct cooperation between Trump himself and Russian operators, on the basis of Trump’s personal embarrassment over lurid sex acts. “Collusion” (to borrow the dominate cliché) remains a possibility, but the depth of now-President Trump’s involvement remains unclear.
Broadly, the dossier describes the act of “cultivating” Trump as an influence operation, primarily targeting Trump associates, campaign staff and donors through back-channels — eventually assisting his presidential bid through a disinformation campaign.
We’ve only scratched the surface. In the next piece, we’ll examine Vladimir Putin’s alleged efforts to “encourage splits and divisions in western alliance.”
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
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