“Crazy” was the term the FBI agent used to describe the behavior of Christopher Steele, author of the now-debunked Trump-Russia dossier. “I’ve seen crazy source-related stuff in 20 years in New York and this was one of the craziest,” the veteran agent testified to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Nevertheless, the FBI continued to rely on Steele’s allegations – that Donald Trump and his team were conspiring with Russians who possessed compromising information – to justify its surveillance of the Trump campaign. Without evidence to verify Steele’s claims, the FBI fell back on its assertion that the former British intelligence agent was reliable.
The previously unreported testimony [published August 18, 2020] of FBI agent Michael Gaeta is found on page 900 of the fifth and final volume of the Senate committee’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election. It raises new questions about the basis of the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign, Crossfire Hurricane, and the declarations it made to the FISA court in four separate applications submitted to spy on American citizens.
Gaeta had a long history with the London-based Steele, who had started his own firm, Orbis Business Intelligence, after leaving the British spy service MI6 in 2009. Between 2013 and 2016, the bureau had paid Steele $95,000 to pass along tidbits on Eurasian organized crime; Gaeta was his contact at the bureau. It was Gaeta whom Steele approached in July 2016 with wild and depraved stories of collusion and kompromat. Gaeta became the “handling agent” for Steele’s participation in Crossfire Hurricane. Among his tasks was to get Steele paid (a process that came along slowly) and to see to it that Steele didn’t violate the FBI’s rules on confidentiality.
Here’s how Gaeta recounted that conversation to the Senate: “Listen, is it about the money?” Gaeta asked Steele. “Because we have the money now. Is it about the money?” The FBI had promised but had yet to deliver to Steele, $15,000 for one meeting with Crossfire Hurricane agents. The bureau had further promised Steele he would be paid “significantly” for his Trump-Russia research.
Gaeta assumed at first a delay in payment had made Steele go rogue.
“Yes, I’m owed the money, but that’s secondary,” Steele told Gaeta. “I’m very upset about – we’re very upset – about the actions of your agency.” By the “we” in “we’re very upset” one can reasonably infer that Steele was speaking about himself and his client, Fusion GPS head Glenn Simpson (whose client, not counting cutouts, was Hillary Clinton’s campaign).
The handling agent was shocked: “I had no idea what he was talking about.” Before Gaeta could inquire further, Steele started railing about ”your Director” and his “reopening of the investigation.” This was an apparent reference to former FBI Director James Comey’s decision to reopen the probe into Hillary Clinton’s private email server after 340,000 copies of State Department emails between Clinton and her close personal aide, Huma Abedin, were discovered on a laptop used by Abedin and her husband, Anthony Weiner. He was a disgraced congressman under investigation by the bureau’s New York office for sending sexually explicit messages and photos to an underage girl.
At which point it all became clear to the handling agent: “I’m now understanding that he did this because he was upset that the Director’s reopening of the investigation was going to negatively affect the election for Hillary Clinton.”
The handling agent described his reaction to Steele’s behavior as “surprise and disbelief.” Gaeta told the Senate that Steele’s actions and attitude weren’t just “crazy source-related stuff,” but “one of the craziest” the veteran agent had seen in two decades of handling sources. The words are significant: Steele’s behavior with the FBI has been characterized as a sort of professional disagreement, uncomfortable perhaps but not unreasonable. Gaeta’s blunt assessment casts things in a much harsher light and undercuts subsequent efforts by the FBI’s top officials to rehabilitate Steele in order to justify using his “reporting.”
Although it has been downplayed until now, Steele’s acting out – and his overtly declared partisan motivations — constituted a crisis for the bureau, so much so that the handling agent describes it in violent terms: “After that point – after everybody digests what happened,” Gaeta told the Senate committee, “[p]hones were ringing at that point; people’s ears were bleeding.”
“Management said we were going to close him,” Gaeta told the Senate. “At that point it’s just obvious. That’s all you could do.” The “management” was Priestap, according to Inspector General Michael Horowitz. “Priestap decided that Steele had to be closed immediately.” Gaeta drew up the paperwork and Steele was removed from the list of official bureau sources on Nov. 17, 2016.” (Read more: RealClearInvestigations, 9/09/2020) (Archive)