Grading the Steele dossier 2 years later: what's been corroborated and what's still unclear

Grading the Steele dossier 2 years later: what's been corroborated and what's still unclear

trump putin

Thomson Reuters

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

  • Thursday marks two years since the so-called Steele dossier, an explosive collection of memos alleging collusion between President Donald Trump's campaign and Russia, was published.
  • The document was compiled by the former British spy Christopher Steele.
  • Many of the dossier's claims remain uncorroborated, but several allegations have held up.

Thursday marks two years since the so-called Steele dossier, an explosive collection of memos alleging collusion between President Donald Trump's campaign and Russia, was published by BuzzFeed News for public consumption.

The largely unverified document, compiled by the former British spy Christopher Steele, consists of 16 separate reports that total 35 pages.

The FBI and the Senate Intelligence Committee are both known to be using the dossier as a "roadmap" in their respective investigations into Russia's interference in the 2016 US election. The FBI also used the document to support, in part, its application for a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant targeting Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser who has drawn scrutiny over his Russia ties.

Trump dismissed the memos as a "pile of garbage," and he and his Republican allies frequently accuse the FBI of fabricating the information to oust Trump from office.


Two years later, many of the dossier's claim remain uncorroborated. But several allegations have proven, at least in part, to have held up over time.


WikiLeaks, Roger Stone, and the 2016 DNC hack

WikiLeaks, Roger Stone, and the 2016 DNC hack

The dossier said the "Russian regime had been behind the recent leak of embarrassing e-mail messages, emanating from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to the WikiLeaks platform."

"The reason for using WikiLeaks was 'plausible deniability' and the operation had been conducted with the full knowledge and support of TRUMP and senior members of his campaign team," the dossier said.

It added: "Over the period March-September 2016 a company called [redacted] and its affiliates had been using botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data and conduct 'altering operations' against the Democratic Party leadership. Entities linked to one [redacted] were involved and he and another hacking expert, both recruited under duress by the FSB, [redacted] were significant players in this operation."

What's been corroborated and what hasn't

  • The special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 Russian military intelligence officers last July on hacking and conspiracy charges related to the 2016 DNC hack and the subsequent dissemination of stolen emails via the Russian hacker Guccifer 2.0, the Russia-linked website DCLeaks, and the radical pro-transparency platform WikiLeaks.
  • The charging document alleged that beginning in March 2016, the conspirators "used a variety of means to hack the email accounts" of people working on the Hillary Clinton campaign.
  • In April, the defendants hacked into the computer networks of the DNC and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), according to the allegations.

Once they breached the network, the indictment said, the hackers "covertly monitored the computers of dozens of DCCC and DNC employees, implanting hundreds of files containing malicious computer code ... and stole emails and other documents from the DCCC and DNC."

In June, the Russians allegedly "staged and released" tens of thousands of hacked documents using Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks.

The indictment said the hackers also used Guccifer 2.0 to pass stolen emails along to WikiLeaks.

  • The charging document did not directly implicate any Americans. But it said that in August 2016, Guccifer 2.0 opened a channel of communication with "a person who was in regular contact with senior members" of the Trump campaign.
  • The longtime GOP strategist and informal Trump adviser Roger Stone is known to have communicated with Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks during the election. He has also publicly stated that he believes he is the unnamed American referred to in Mueller's indictment.

Additional emails between Stone and the far-right conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi, which are in Mueller's possession, shed light on the two men's murky ties to WikiLeaks. Three days after the first document dump, the two men discussed how to get "the pending [WikiLeaks] emails," and Corsi also later touched base with Stone to tell him about an upcoming dump.

"Word is friend in embassy plans 2 more dumps," Corsi reportedly wrote to Stone on August 8, according to NBC News. "One shortly after I'm back. 2nd in Oct ... Impact planned to be very damaging."

"Time to let more than [Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta] to be exposed as in bed w enemy if they are not ready to drop HRC," Corsi reportedly added, referring to Clinton. "That appears to be the game hackers are now about."

A little over two weeks later, on August 21, Stone tweeted that Podesta would "soon" be targeted.

On October 7, WikiLeaks published a damaging batch of emails belonging to Podesta.

Trump heaped praise on WikiLeaks on the campaign trail. His son, Donald Trump Jr., is also known to have been in contact with WikiLeaks via Twitter during the election, according to The Atlantic.

While media reports indicate that Trump, Stone, Trump Jr., and other members of the Trump campaign were interested in the WikiLeaks dumps, there is no evidence corroborating Steele's claim that the hacking operation was carried out "with the full knowledge and support of TRUMP and senior members of his campaign team."


NATO and Russia's intervention in Ukraine

NATO and Russia's intervention in Ukraine

The dossier said that in return for Russia's help in dumping hacked emails damaging to the Clinton campaign, the "TRUMP team had agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue and to raise US/NATO defence commitments in the Baltics and Eastern Europe to deflect attention away from Ukraine, a priority for PUTIN who needed to cauterise the subject."

The "well-developed conspiracy of cooperation between [the Trump campaign] and the Russian leadership was managed on the Trump side by the Republican candidate's campaign manager, Paul Manafort," the dossier added.

What's been corroborated and what hasn't

Manafort, who has a long history of working for pro-Russian Ukrainian interests, joined the Trump campaign in March 2016 and soon ascended to the role of campaign manager. In July 2016, while Manafort was still leading the campaign, a change was made to the Republican Party's platform on Ukraine.

The Washington Post reported in 2016 that "the Trump campaign orchestrated a set of events" in July 2016, just before the start of the Republican National Convention, to soften the language of an amendment to the Republican Party's draft policy on Ukraine.

The original language of the draft amendment proposed sending "lethal weapons" to Ukraine to fend off Russia's aggression. But following a meeting at the convention, the "lethal weapons" line was softened and changed to say the US would "provide appropriate assistance" to Ukraine.

As INSIDER has previously reported, the circumstances around this language change are controversial.

The Trump team denies playing any role in the language change. A member of the Republican National Committee present at the meeting, however, confirmed to INSIDER that the change "definitely came from Trump staffers."

Trump has also made several statements publicly and privately — both during the 2016 campaign and after becoming president — that appear to conflict with the dossier's claim that the Trump team agreed "to raise US/NATO defence commitments in the Baltics and Eastern Europe to deflect attention away from Ukraine, a priority for PUTIN who needed to cauterise the subject."

In 2018, Trump attacked other NATO allies for not spending enough on defense.

In June, the president sent letters to NATO countries including Canada, Norway, Germany, and Belgium, criticizing their defense spending and warning that the US would not continue supporting NATO if other member states didn't meet their spending commitments.


Trump's business dealings in Russia

Trump's business dealings in Russia

The dossier said, "The Kremlin’s cultivation operation on Trump also had comprised offering him various lucrative real estate development business deals in Russia, especially in relation to the ongoing 2018 World Cup soccer tournament. However, so far, for reasons unknown, Trump had not taken up any of these."

The document also touches on Aras Agalarov, a wealthy Azeri who works in Russian real estate and whose name has come up in connection to the Russia investigation.

"Two well-placed sources based in St. Petersburg … knew Trump had visited St. Petersburg on several occasions in the past and had been interested in doing business deals there involving real estate," the dossier said. "The local business/political elite figure reported that Trump had paid bribes there to further his interests but very discreetly and only through affiliated companies, making it very hard to prove."

What's been corroborated and what hasn't

A glimpse at Trump's actions over the last few decades shows a concerted effort by the real-estate mogul to lay a foundation for the Trump name in the heart of Moscow:

  • Trump has shown a particularly keen interest in building a Trump Tower in Moscow.
  • Last year, Michael Cohen, Trump's longtime former lawyer and fixer, admitted to prosecutors that the Trump Organization was actively pursuing the Trump Tower Moscow deal during the election.
  • He said the company sought direct assistance from the Russian government in pushing it through.
  • Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress and is now cooperating with Mueller.

Prosecutors said in Cohen's charging document that in addition to exploring traveling to Russia to discuss getting the Russian government's backing for the Trump Tower Moscow deal, Cohen also asked Trump and a "senior campaign official" about the possibility of Trump himself going to Russia for business.

According to Cohen's plea agreement, in May 2016, the Russian-born businessman Felix Sater and Cohen discussed whether Trump's trip to Moscow should happen before or after the Republican National Convention in July. Cohen responded that he would head to Russia before the convention, and Trump would go after.

Over the next few days, Cohen and Sater discussed an invitation to Cohen from a Russian official — believed to be Dmitry Peskov, an aide to Putin — to attend the St. Petersburg Forum in June, at which the official said he would introduce him to Putin or Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Cohen initially signaled that he was willing to go.

From June 9 to 14, Sater sent Cohen information about the event and travel, but Cohen met with Sater in the lobby of Trump Tower on June 14 and told him he would not go to Russia after all, the plea agreement said.

The deal eventually fell through, but not for a lack of effort on the Trump team's end — BuzzFeed News reported last year that Trump even considered gifting Putin the $50 million penthouse in Trump Tower Moscow.

Around the same time Cohen was considering traveling to Russia, other Trump campaign officials were arranging a separate meeting with two Russian lobbyists offering dirt on Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Trump Jr. — along with Manafort, then the campaign chairman, and Jared Kushner, a senior adviser — met the lobbyists at Trump Tower on June 9.

Trump Jr. initially said the meeting had nothing to do with campaign business, but it later emerged that the meeting was pitched to him as "part of Russia and its government's support" for Trump's candidacy.

The meeting was offered from Russia's end by the British music publicist Rob Goldstone, who was working on behalf of Aras Agalarov and his son, Emin.


Michael Cohen's purported trip to Prague

Michael Cohen's purported trip to Prague

The dossier alleges that Cohen was instrumental in maintaining the Trump campaign's "secret liaison" with Russian leadership.

  • "COHEN’s role had grown following the departure of Paul MANAFORT as TRUMP’s campaign manager in August 2016," the dossier said.
  • The document cited a "Kremlin insider" as saying that there were "clandestine meeting/s between Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's lawyer Michael COHEN and Kremlin representatives in August 2016."
  • "The Kremlin insider clearly indicated to his/her friend that the reported contact/s took place in Prague, Czech Republic," it said.

The main purpose of Cohen's alleged trip was to contain fallout resulting from damaging revelations about Manafort's Ukraine and Russia ties, as well as revelations about Trump campaign adviser Carter Page's trip to Moscow and "secret meetings with Russian leadership figures" in July 2016.

The dossier also alleged that Cohen, Russian government officials, and others, including Romanian hackers, discussed "how deniable cash payments were to be made to hackers in Europe who had worked under Kremlin direction against the Clinton campaign," and ways to "sweep it all under the carpet and make sure no connection could be fully established or proven."

What's been corroborated and what hasn't

Cohen's purported trip to Prague has been the subject of intense debate in the media.

McClatchy has published several recent reports that outline evidence investigators are said to have that corroborates some of the dossier's claims about Cohen's activities in the summer of 2016.

In December, McClatchy, citing four people with knowledge of the matter, reported that investigators have learned that a cell phone traced back to Cohen sent signals that ricocheted off cell towers in the Prague area in late summer 2016.

During that same period — around late August or early September 2016 — the report said an Eastern European intelligence agency picked up surveillance of a conversation among Russians, one of whom remarked that Cohen was in Prague.

The bombshell story shocked Washington. But questions soon emerged about the veracity of McClatchy's reporting, particularly after one of the reporters who wrote the story admitted that neither he, nor his sources, had seen any of the underlying intelligence supporting the article's main contention.

Earlier last year, McClatchy also reported that the alleged trip was a subject of focus for lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee. Their interest in Cohen's whereabouts in 2016 was said to be fueled by what they considered to be weak documentation Cohen provided to show them where he was — New York and Los Angeles — at the time of the alleged Prague visit.

After he was widely criticized last year for tweeting out a photo of his passport cover as proof that he didn't visit Prague in 2016, Cohen showed the inside of the document to BuzzFeed News. According to the publication, Cohen's passport did not contain a stamp for the Czech Republic.

Cohen, who is cooperating with prosecutors, has categorically denied that he ever traveled to Prague. But earlier, he told several media outlets that he had been to the city in the early 2000s.


Michael Flynn's Russia ties

Michael Flynn's Russia ties

Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is cooperating with Mueller, is a prominent player in the dossier.

The document cited a Kremlin official involved in US relations as saying that Russia worked to cultivate political figures in the US by "funding indirectly their recent visits to Moscow."

These figures allegedly included "a delegation from Lyndon LaRouche, presidential candidate Jill Stein of the Green Party, Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page, and former [Defense Intelligence Agency] director Michael Flynn."

Russia's efforts to cultivate those individuals, the dossier said, were "successful in terms of perceived outcomes."

What's been corroborated and what hasn't

Flynn began drawing scrutiny over his links to Russian interests before the election.

In December 2015, he traveled to Moscow and was paid $35,000 to speak at a gala celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Russian state news outlet, Russia Today, now known as RT. At the event, Flynn was photographed sitting next to Putin.

Flynn failed to disclose the payments he received from RT when he applied to have his security clearance renewed in January 2016.

Flynn's coziness with Russian interests on certain foreign-policy goals has also been well-documented.

In early 2017, it emerged that he had secretly discussed US sanctions on Russia with Sergey Kislyak, then the Russian ambassador to the US, during the presidential transition period.

US intelligence picked up surveillance of at least one phone call that took place in late December, on the same day that then-President Barack Obama announced that the US would impose new sanctions on Russia to punish the Kremlin for meddling in the 2016 race.

Flynn pleaded guilty in December 2017 to one count of lying to the FBI about his discussions with Kislyak during an interview with bureau agents in January 2017.

Flynn was also present at a controversial meeting with Kislyak and senior adviser Jared Kushner during the transition period, in which Kushner reportedly discussed setting up a secret back channel between the Trump team and Moscow using Russian diplomatic facilities.

The former national security adviser was also involved in efforts with Russia and Saudi Arabia to develop nuclear reactors in the Middle East, a project that would have benefited from the US lifting sanctions on Russia.

And he served as an adviser to the campaign when Kushner, then campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and Donald Trump Jr. met with two Russian lobbyists offering dirt on the Hillary Clinton campaign.


Carter Page's shadowy trip to Moscow

Carter Page's shadowy trip to Moscow

Page was an early foreign-policy adviser to the Trump campaign. Last year, it surfaced that he was a person of interest for the FBI and the Justice Department because officials believed the Russians had been working to recruit him as an unwitting foreign agent for years.

  • In 2013, two months after being warned that the Kremlin was trying to cultivate him as an asset, Page described himself in a letter as an "informal advisor to the staff of the Kremlin."
  • Prior to joining the Trump campaign, Page also acted as an adviser "on key transactions" for Gazprom, Russia's state owned energy giant.
  • Page later went on to set up his own energy investment fund, Global Energy Capital, with former Gazprom executive Sergey Yatesenko.

The dossier claimed Manafort used Page as an "intermediary" between the campaign and high-level Kremlin officials.

It also alleged that when Page traveled to Moscow in July 2016, he met with top Russian officials who raised the possibility of offering Page a 19% stake in the state-owned company Rosneft in exchange for the US lifting sanctions on Russia if Trump became president. One of the officials Page is alleged to have met with is Igor Sechin, the president of Rosneft.

The dossier said Page "expressed interest" in the offer but was "noncommittal." It also said Page promised that "sanctions on Russia would be lifted" if Trump were elected.

What's been corroborated and what hasn't

While the campaign has sought to distance itself from Page, the former adviser testified to the House Intelligence Committee in 2017 that he had several contacts with Russia-linked individuals, at times with the campaign's knowledge.

His testimony also appeared to corroborate key sections of the dossier.

Page told lawmakers he met with members of Russia's presidential administration and Sechin during the trip.

When Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff asked Page during his testimony whether Andrey Baranov, who is the head of investor relations at Rosneft, brought up "a potential sale of a significant percentage of Rosneft" during the July trip, Page replied, "He may have briefly mentioned it."

Page added that he did "not directly" express support for the idea of lifting sanctions in exchange for a stake in Rosneft.

The dossier also said that former Russian security official Igor Diveykin informed Page that the Kremlin had a dossier of dirt on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton that it wanted to give the Trump campaign.

Page wrote in a July 8, 2016, email to Trump campaign adviser J.D. Gordon that he had received "incredible insights and outreach ... from a few Russian legislators and senior members of the presidential administration here."

When he testified before the committee, Page denied meeting with Diveykin, adding that the encounter in question was "a brief, less-than-10-second chat with Arkadiy Dvorkovich," Russia's deputy prime minister.


Paul Manafort, Ukraine, and Russia

Paul Manafort, Ukraine, and Russia

Manafort is a significant player in the dossier.

In addition to alleging that he managed the Trump team's contacts with Russia while leading the campaign in 2016, the document also named Manafort in connection to Viktor Yanukovych, the former Ukrainian president and pro-Russian strongman whom Manafort helped win the presidency in 2010.

The dossier said Yanukovych "confided in Putin that he did authorize and order substantial kick-back payments to Manafort as alleged [in western media] but sought to reassure him that there was no documentary trail left behind which could provide clear evidence of this."

However, Putin was skeptical of Yanukovych’s assurances, the dossier said, and believed Manafort’s history of being "commercially active in Ukraine right up to the time (in March 2016) when he joined TRUMP’s campaign team” remained a "point of potential political vulnerability and embarrassment."

After Manafort was ousted from the Trump campaign, the dossier cited a US political figure associated with the Trump campaign as saying that several senior campaign officials close to Trump also wanted Manafort out to "loosen his control on strategy and policy formulation."

And Corey Lewandowski, who was campaign manager before Manafort, significantly influenced the campaign's decision to oust Manafort, the dossier said.

What's been corroborated and what hasn't

Manafort and his associate, former deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, were charged in 2017 with multiple crimes related to financial fraud and money laundering.

Manafort was charged with additional counts of conspiracy and obstruction of justice last year.

Many of the charges against him centered on the political consulting work he did for Ukrainian interests. Mueller's office charged Manafort with acting as an unregistered agent of pro-Russian interests in Ukraine from at least 2006 to 2015.

Indeed, Manafort raised eyebrows during the campaign when it surfaced just how intricately connected he was to Russian and Ukrainian interests, particularly Yanukovych and the pro-Russian Party of Regions.

Manafort was also deep in financial debt to Russian entities when he joined the Trump campaign.

When he offered to work as an unpaid volunteer for the campaign, it prompted speculation that Manafort was taking on the role so he could serve as a conduit between the campaign and Russia, in an effort to resolve some of his financial entanglements.

On Tuesday, Manafort's lawyers accidentally revealed in a new court filing that Mueller's team alleges that while he was campaign manager, Manafort shared confidential campaign polling data with Kilimnik. The data was intended for two Ukrainian oligarchs who owed him money.

In November 2016, Manafort was expecting a payment of $2.4 million for some of his political consulting work. A spokesperson for Manafort told CNN the money was meant to reimburse debts that predated the Trump campaign and was not a quid pro quo for the polling data.

Manafort spearheaded the Trump campaign during the most pivotal time in the 2016 election.

He was chairman when he offered Deripaska "private briefings" on Trump's bid via Kilimnik. He was one of three top Trump campaign officials to attend a meeting with two Russian lobbyists offering dirt on Clinton.

He was leading the campaign when WikiLeaks began dumping thousands of emails from the DNC that had been stolen by Russian operatives. And he was campaign manager when a change was made to soften the language of an amendment to the Republican Party's draft policy on Ukraine in 2016, which denounced Russia's "ongoing military aggression" in the region.


The most salacious allegation in the dossier

The most salacious allegation in the dossier

At the center of the dossier firestorm is the document's most salacious allegation against the president.

The dossier said Trump rented the presidential suite at the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow during a trip to Russia in 2013. While staying at the hotel, the document says, Trump hired Russian prostitutes to perform sexual acts in front of him which involved urination.

The hotel is said to be monitored by Russian intelligence, and the dossier alleged that Russian authorities obtained footage of the events which they then used as leverage over Trump.

What's been corroborated and what hasn't

There is no evidence that the allegation is true.

But Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee have indicated an interest in investigating the claim. Last year, they said in a status report outlining gaps in the panel's Russia investigation that they wanted to obtain records and documents from the hotel.

Meanwhile, investigative reporters Michael Isikoff and David Corn revealed last year that Trump visited a Las Vegas strip club in June 2013 — five months before the Miss Universe pageant — whose employees were known to perform similar sexual acts to those outlined in the dossier.

That month, Trump met with Aras and Emin Agalarov, according the book, "Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump."

Agalarov, known as "Putin's Builder," signed a contract with Trump during the Miss USA pageant in Las Vegas to bring the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow that November.

Later that night, Trump had dinner with the Agalarovs and a few others. Cohen and Ike Kaveladze, an associate of the Agalarovs, also joined.

After they had dinner, the group reportedly went to a Vegas strip club called The Act, which has since shut down amid legal troubles.