Two senior Republican senators have reportedly urged the US Department of Justice to investigate former British spy Christopher Steele - claiming the author of the now famous Trump dossier lied to federal authorities.
In what many will be dismissed by Democrats as an attempt by Republicans to divert attention from the investigation into alleged collusion between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia, the chairman and a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee alleged Mr Steele was not truthful to federal authorities about his contacts with reporters.
“Attached please find a classified memorandum related to certain communications between Christopher Steele and multiple US new outlets regarding the so-called Trump dossier,” says a letter sent to the Director of the FBI and the Deputy Attorney General.
“Based on the information therein, we are respectfully referring Mr Steele to you for investigation of potential violations for statements the committee has reason to believe Mr Steele made regarding his distribution of information contained in the dossier.”
The letter from Republican Senator Charles Grassley, the committee’s chairman, and Senator Lindsey Graham, underscores what has become an increasingly politicised and toxic environment surrounding the various federal and congressional investigations into Russia’s alleged meddling and the Trump campaign.
In recent weeks, senior Republicans have sought to attack the FBI and question the independence of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller. There has been speculation, denied by Mr Trump, that the President may seek to fire Mr Mueller.
What seems certain is that Republicans are keen to have Mr Mueller’s investigation and those being carried out by committees on Capitol Hill, concluded as soon as possible. The White House has said it believes Mr Mueller is indeed reaching the end of his work and Mr Trump is said to have told friends he expects to be “cleared in writing”.
“I’m increasingly worried Republicans will shut down the House intelligence committee investigation at the end of the month,” congressman Adam Schiff, who is the leading Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said last month.
“Beyond our investigation, here’s what has me really concerned: the attacks on Mueller, the Department of Justice and FBI this week make it clear they plan to go after Mueller’s investigation.”
The Washington Post said people with knowledge of the investigation said it could actually continue for another year at least.
The role of Mr Steele, who worked as an undercover agent for MI6 in Russia and who now heads a consultancy group, Orbis Business Intelligence, has become increasingly controversial, amid allegations of bias.
The 53-year-old was hired to collect information about Mr Trump by GPS Fusion, a Washington research company founded by two former journalists, Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch.
Fusion GPS was initially contracted to dig up dirt on Mr Trump by the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative website that receives a large part of its funding from Paul Singer, a billionaire and hedge fund manager. After Mr Trump won the Republican nomination, the company was then paid by the Clinton campaign. It was at that point, they reached out to Mr Steele.
This week, in an article in in the New York Times, the founders of GPS, claimed Republicans were tying to smear their reputation.
“As we told the Senate Judiciary Committee in August, our sources said the dossier was taken so seriously because it corroborated reports the bureau had received from other sources, including one inside the Trump camp,” they wrote.
“The intelligence committees have known for months that credible allegations of collusion between the Trump camp and Russia were pouring in from independent sources during the campaign. Yet lawmakers in the thrall of the President continue to wage a cynical campaign to portray us as the unwitting victims of Kremlin disinformation.”
In addition to passing his finding to Fusion GPS, Mr Steele is understood to have shown his information to various journalists. A copy of what became known as the Steele Dossier also found its way to Senator John McCain, who passed it the FBI.
The dossier contained a series of unsubstantiated salacious claims about Mr Trump and who the Russian authorities had obtained compromising material about him. Most media organisations declined to publish it, but BuzzFeed did so. Mr Trump and then president Barack Obama were also briefed of the material by US intelligence.
Mr Trump called it a “Crooked Hillary pile of garbage”.
Recently, it was reproved that information from an Australian diplomat’s account of a conversation with former Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos triggered the FBI probe, not Mr Steele’s dossier.
Neither Mr Steele or his company immediately responded to questions.
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