April-September 2016: A closer look at the Shearer memos/dossier

In Email Timeline Post-Election 2016, Email/Dossier Investigations, Featured Timeline Entries by Katie Weddington

Cody Shearer (Credit: public domain)

“Rep. Nunes is not the first Republican to question what role the Shearer memo may have played in the FBI’s investigation into the Trump team and its possible role in securing the warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Chairman Charles Grassley and Sen. Lindsey Graham of the Senate Judiciary Committee alluded to the Shearer document in a memorandum attached to a Jan. 4, 2018 letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein referring Steele to the Department of Justice for a criminal inquiry. In their redacted classified memorandum, the two Republican senators hint at the possibility that the FBI’s probe into the Trump team’s possible ties to Russia is the result of an operation managed by the Clinton inner circle.

“One memorandum by Mr. Steele that was not published by BuzzFeed is dated October 19, 2016,” write Grassley and Graham. “Mr. Steele’s memorandum states that his company ‘received this report from [REDACTED] US State Department,’ that the report was 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’s allegations raises additional concerns about his credibility.”

Writing in his Feb. 8 Washington Post op-ed about getting the Shearer memo from Sidney Blumenthal in  September 2016, Obama State Department official Winer explained that soon after the Blumenthal meeting, he met with Christopher Steele. Winer had known Steele, a longtime associate who often used Winer as his point of contact at the State Department. Steele had shown Winer the memos he’d written on Trump’s possible ties to Russia.

Winer asserted that in reading Shearer’s memo, he was “struck … how some of the material echoed Steele’s but appeared to involve different sources.” He shared Shearer’s memo with Steele, who described it as “potentially ‘collateral’ information,” presumably to buttress his own findings. The FBI, as Winer explained, had asked Steele to provide any supporting information. From the Grassley-Graham letter, it appears that Steele gave the FBI the Shearer report titled “FSB Interview,” “the second in a series.” He either withheld the first, “The Compromised Candidate” report, or Winer never gave it to him.

During the same period, late summer and early fall, the FBI was seeking a FISA warrant on Carter Page. A Department of Justice spokesperson declined comment when RCI emailed to ask if the Shearer memo was used as part of the Steele dossier to secure the warrant on Page’s communications that was granted Oct. 21, 2016.

When news of the Shearer memo broke more than a year later, the Guardian reported in a Jan. 30, 2018 article that the FBI “is still assessing details in the ‘Shearer memo’ and is pursuing intriguing leads.” The memo, the Guardian explained, “was initially viewed with skepticism, not least because he had shared it with select media organizations before the election.”

Even as his FSB memo was provided to the FBI before the election,  it appears that Shearer was shopping his information to press outfits while also comparing rumors with leading journalists. Shearer’s first report, “The Compromised Candidate,” is a record of various journalists and media personalities explaining how they’ve heard the same rumors, and even tried, unsuccessfully, to report the story that Shearer is pushing in the second report.

Robert Baer (Credit: CNN)

(…) In the same report, Shearer quotes a conversation with former CIA officer Robert Baer, again hinting at another intermediary between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Shearer writes that Baer told him “the Russians had established an encrypted communication system with a cut out between the Trump campaign and Putin.”

Baer told RCI that “he’d heard that story from acquaintances at the New York Times who were trying to run the story down.”

Baer said he remembered speaking with Shearer about Trump and Russia in “March or April” of 2016. If Baer’s memory is correct then Shearer was investigating the Trump story at around the same time the Clinton campaign and the DNC hired Fusion GPS to compile opposition research on the Trump campaign.

Shearer writes in his first report that he was told by Alan Cullison of the Wall Street Journal that Fusion GPS principals and former Journal reporters, Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch (Shearer misspells both names in the memo) had been hired by the DNC to “rack [sic] down Trump compromised story.”

(…) The inaccuracies in Shearer’s account fuel suspicions that he misidentified the source of the information on who was funding the Steele dossier. What matters is that Shearer knew who was paying for Fusion GPS’s work on Trump. More important, if Steele received both of Shearer’s reports in September 2016, that would contradict the information in the FBI’s warrant application that said Steele didn’t know who was paying for his work. The source of the funding was right there in Shearer’s first memo. The FBI’s warrant application, however, says Simpson “never advised Source No. 1 [Mr. Steele] as to the motivation behind the research into candidate’s #1 [Mr. Trump’s] ties to Russia.” If Steele had both of Shearer’s reports, he knew he was being paid by the DNC.

This Washington Post Steele dossier timeline indicates Steele’s memo dated September 14, 2016, sounds very similar to Shearer’s FSB “pee-pee” memo that Jonathan Winer gave to Steele in the same month. (Credit: Washington Post)

The members of the press corps whom Simpson and Steele were briefing during that period almost certainly knew who was paying. Shearer’s notes, according to the Feb. 9, 2018 Journal article, “circulated in political and journalistic circles in Washington in late 2016.” Whoever saw both of Shearer’s reports would have known that the DNC was paying for the Fusion GPS campaign—long before the information became public a year later, in October 2017.

Cullison, who declined to comment for this story, was the Wall Street Journal’s Moscow correspondent for 20 years. The memo has him telling Shearer that since May 2016 he, too, had been looking into rumors of Trump’s activities in Moscow, including allegations of his sexual activities.

“Our reporter was unable to corroborate these allegations,” WSJ spokesperson Severinghaus said in the February Journal article, “and determined the information provided by Mr. Shearer did not meet our high standards for fair and accurate reporting.”

To this date, no journalist has been able to confirm on its own any of the incendiary allegations of Trump-Russia collusion story since the rumors surfaced during the 2016 presidential campaign. The first accounts of the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia were published by Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News (Sept. 23, 2016) and David Corn of Mother Jones (Oct. 31). Both were sourced to Steele’s research.

Shearer’s first report shows that the story was circulating through the press corps for months, and no one was able to confirm it.

Shearer tried to drum up interest in the collusion narrative but no one in the press was biting. No one was willing to sink time and prestige on material sourced to unnamed Russian intelligence officials that was provided by a Clinton political operative whose partner, Sidney Blumenthal, had an even more controversial reputation.

But it would be different if it came from someone else, an intelligence operative whose American handlers worked up a suitable legend of his exploits in a glamorous, allied clandestine service, and his deep knowledge of all things Russian. So what did it matter if Steele had become an executive in a corporate intelligence firm whose official cover had been blown a decade before and who hadn’t been to Russia in years? The byline of a former MI6 agent could credential a compendium of unsubstantiated rumors when the names of Clinton confederates Cody Shearer and Sidney Blumenthal could not.” (Read more: RealClearInvestigations, 4/26/2018)  (Archive)