• Donald J. Trump and his backers say revelations about the Steele dossier show the Russia investigation was a “hoax.” That is not what the facts indicate.

WASHINGTON — Former President Donald J. Trump and his allies have stepped up an effort to conflate the so-called Steele dossier with the Russia investigation following the indictment of a researcher for the document on charges that he lied to the F.B.I. about some of its sources.

Mr. Trump and his supporters have long sought to use the flaws of the dossier to discredit the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election — and the nature of numerous links between Russia and the Trump campaign — as a “hoax.”

But the available evidence indicates that the dossier was largely tangential to the Russia investigation. Here is a look at the facts.

What was the Steele dossier?

It was a series of memos about purported Trump-Russia links written by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence agent, during the 2016 campaign.

It cited unnamed sources who claimed there was a “well-developed conspiracy of coordination” between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and that Russia had a blackmail tape of Mr. Trump with prostitutes. In addition to giving his memos to his client, Mr. Steele gave some to the F.B.I. and reporters. Buzzfeed published 35 pages in January 2017.

Many things that were not immediately apparent about the dossier have since become clearer. It grew out of a political opposition research effort to dig up information about Mr. Trump funded by Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic Party. Their law firm, Perkins Coie, contracted with a research firm called Fusion GPS, which subcontracted research about Trump business dealings in Russia to Mr. Steele. Mr. Steele in turn hired Igor Danchenko, the recently indicted researcher, to canvass for information from people he knew, including in Europe and Russia.

What was the Russia investigation?

It was a counterintelligence and criminal inquiry into the Russian operation to manipulate the 2016 presidential election by hacking and anonymously dumping Democratic emails and by spreading propaganda using fake accounts on American social media platforms. The scrutiny of Russia’s activities included examining the nature of links between Trump campaign associates and Russians to see if there was any coordination.

The F.B.I. launched the investigation in July 2016, and a special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, eventually took over. His March 2019 report detailed “numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign” and established that “the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.” He did not charge any Trump associate with a criminal conspiracy.

Was the dossier a reliable source of information?

No. It has become clear over time that its sourcing was thin and sketchy.

No corroborating evidence has emerged in intervening years to support many of the specific claims in the dossier, and government investigators determined that one key allegation — that Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, had met with Russian officials in Prague during the campaign — was false.

When the F.B.I. interviewed Mr. Danchenko in 2017, he told the bureau that he thought the tenor of the dossier was more conclusive than was justified; for example, Mr. Danchenko portrayed the blackmail tape story as rumors and speculation that he was not able to confirm. He also said a key source had called him without identifying himself, and that he had guessed at the source’s identity. The indictment accuses Mr. Danchenko of lying about that call and of concealing that a Democratic Party-linked public relations executive was his source for a claim about Trump campaign office politics.


Did the F.B.I. take any investigative step based on the dossier?

Yes. The F.B.I. took the dossier seriously based on Mr. Steele’s reputation, and used some of it — without independent verification — for a narrow purpose that led to a dead end and became a political debacle. It included several claims from Mr. Steele’s memos in applications to wiretap Carter A. Page, a former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser with ties to Russia. In 2019, the Justice Department’s inspector general sharply criticized the F.B.I. for numerous flaws in those wiretap applications.

While the dossier-tainted wiretap of Mr. Page has received significant attention, it was a small part of the overall investigation, which issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, executed nearly 500 search-and-seizure warrants, obtained more than 230 orders for communications records, made 13 requests to foreign governments under mutual legal assistance treaties, and interviewed about 500 witnesses. Mr. Page was not charged with a crime, and only a handful of the 448 pages in the Mueller report focus on him.


What was the main impact of the dossier?

Beyond its narrow role in facilitating the F.B.I.’s wiretap of Mr. Page, the dossier’s publication had the broader consequence of amplifying an atmosphere of suspicion about Mr. Trump.

Still, the dossier did not create this atmosphere of suspicion. Mr. Trump’s relationship with Russia had been a topic of significant discussion dating back to the campaign, including before the first report that Russia had hacked Democrats and before Mr. Steele drafted his reports and gave some to reporters.

Among the reasons: Mr. Trump had said flattering things about Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, kept bringing on advisers with ties to Russia, had financial ties to Russia, publicly encouraged Russia to hack Mrs. Clinton, and at his nominating convention, the party dropped a plank that called for arming Ukraine against Russian-backed rebels. In March 2017, the F.B.I. publicly acknowledged that it was investigating links between Russia and Trump campaign associates.

Source: Charlie Savage, nytimes.com/2021/12/01/us/trump-russia-investigation-dossier.html