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Footnotes in watchdog report indicate FBI knew of risk of Russian disinformation in Steele dossier

The FBI was warned sections of the controversial Steele dossier could have been part of a "Russian disinformation campaign to denigrate U.S. foreign relations," according to newly declassified footnotes from a government watchdog report. 

The December report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz examined the FBI's investigation into alleged coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia as well as the FBI's four surveillance warrants for former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. 

Horowitz concluded the FBI was justified in launching the investigation, dubbed Crossfire Hurricane, although he found 17 "significant inaccuracies and omissions" in the FBI's handling of FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) applications to surveil Page.

But some of Horowitz's findings were disputed by U.S. Attorney John Durham, who is conducting a broader investigation. At the time, Durham said "we do not agree with some of the report's conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened." 

Several footnotes in Horowitz's report were redacted, and Republican Senators Chuck Grassley and Ron Johnson pushed for the declassification of four footnotes related to the Steele dossier, a collection of opposition research notes on the Trump campaign's ties to Russia compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer. 

The dossier was used, in part, by FBI investigators to secure four surveillance warrants for Page.

Footnote 350 in the IG report addresses the FBI's knowledge of Russian contacts with Steele and the potential for disinformation.  Steele had "frequent contacts with representatives for multiple Russian oligarchs, we identified reporting the Crossfire Hurricane team received from (redacted) indicating the potential for Russian disinformation influencing Steele's election reporting."

The footnote also indicates that warnings to the FBI's Russia probe became more pronounced over time.

"The (redacted) stated that it did not have high confidence in this subset of Steele's reporting and assessed that the referenced subset was part of a Russian disinformation campaign to denigrate US foreign relations."

Footnote 302 relates to the FBI's efforts to verify information contained in the Steele dossier, commissioned by the DNC through opposition research firm Fusion GPS. 

"According to a document circulated among Crossfire Hurricane team members and supervisors in early October 2016, Person 1 had historical contact with persons and entities suspected of being linked to RIS (Russian Intel)......In addition, in late December 2016, Department Attorney Bruce Ohr told SSA 1 that he had met with Glenn Simpson (Fusion GPS)  and that Simpson had assessed that Person 1 was a RIS (Russian intel) officer who was central in connecting Trump to Russia."

The third footnote also relates to the Steele source.

Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd, in a letter to Grassley and Johnson, wrote that the "fourth and final footnote presents unique and significant concerns. Specifically, the redacted information refers to information received by a member of the Crossfire Hurricane team regarding possible previous attempts by a foreign government to penetrate and research a company or individuals associated with Christopher Steele." 

In the December FISA report, Horowitz found "the FBI did not have information corroborating the specific allegations against Carter Page in Steele's reporting when it relied upon his reports in the first FISA application or subsequent renewal applications."

 The FBI declined to comment on the declassified footnotes, but said in an earlier statement of the ongoing audit into the bureau's surveillance applications to the national security court or FISC, 
"The FBI and NSD's filing with the FISC provides the Court with an update regarding some of the corrective actions that the FBI has made and continues to make to its FISA processes.  These steps are part of the 40-plus corrective actions that Director Wray ordered in December 2019. The FBI remains confident that these corrective actions will address the errors identified in earlier FISA applications that the IG reviewed in connection with its recent Woods Procedures audit as well as its review of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation." 

"Consistent with our duty of candor to the Court and our responsibilities to the American people, we will continue updating the FISC and the Department of Justice to ensure that our corrective steps are implemented in a timely manner and that our FISA authorities are exercised responsibly," the statement added. 

In a statement, Grassley said the declassified footnotes indicate the roots of the Russia investigation were flawed. 

"...beginning early on and continuing throughout the FBI's Russia investigation, FBI officials learned critical information streams that flowed to the dossier were likely tainted with Russian Intelligence disinformation. Despite later intelligence reports that key elements of the FBI's evidence were the result of Russian infiltration to undermine U.S. foreign relations, the FBI still pushed forward with its probe. It would eventually spill over into the years-long special counsel operation, costing taxpayers more than $30 million and increasing partisan divisions."

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Johnson said, "From the opening of the investigation, the FBI team kept accumulating exculpatory information. Yet rather than wind the investigation down, they ramped it up...Then it got worse. The FBI team excluded exculpatory information from its FISA application..."

U.S. Attorney John Durham has a broad mandate to investigate the origins of the FBI Russia probe, which officially opened in July 2016, as well as actions taken to secure four surveillance warrants for Trump campaign aide Carter Page.  Those warrants are under review, and the Justice Department has already determined two lacked probable cause.

Speaking to Fox News earlier this week before the declassified footnotes were public, Attorney General William Barr said of the Durham investigation, "...It takes some time to build a, to build the case. So he is diligently pursuing it. My own view is that the evidence shows that we're not dealing with just mistakes or sloppiness, there's something far more troubling here, and we're going to get to the bottom of it. And if people broke the law, and we can establish that with the evidence, they will be prosecuted."

Read the letter sent to Senators Grassley and Johnson below. 

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