In Out of the Shadows: the Man Behind the Steele Dossier, available to stream on Hulu, George Stephanopoulos and ABC News do their level best to salvage the reputation of the ex-spy behind the infamous Steele Dossier at the root of the Russiagate hoax that obstructed Donald Trump’s campaign and presidency.
Christopher Steele, a former MI6 intelligence officer who turned to the private sector in order to “make a bit of money to retire on,” is likened to James Bond (not for the first time) and implausibly framed as a major antagonist of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Steele is desperate to be seen as “a patriot, someone who has professional integrity and expertise, and somebody who is a true friend and ally of the United States,” but he comes to light instead as, at best, an innocent dupe of the leftist opposition-research firm Fusion GPS and the FBI. At worst, he comes off as a cynical opportunist willing to throw sources and colleagues under the bus when backed into a corner.
The most illuminating moment in the production comes from Barry Meier, the former New York Times journalist and author of Spooked: The Trump Dossier, Black Cube, and the Rise of Private Spies (2021), who offers a glimpse of the role that denizens of the “intelligence community” play in our current regime:
“Most people think of spying as government spying — the CIA, MI6 — but there’s this huge hidden industry out there, a industry of private intelligence or private spying, folks who work for corporations, political parties digging up dirt on their adversaries,” Meier says. “It’s a tremendously lucrative industry.”
Here are some highlights from the interview.
On the mission of the company Steele co-founded, Orbis Business Intelligence:
Steele: We are an human intelligence gathering operation. We feed intelligence into private clients as a way of helping them make corporate decisions.
On his knowledge of Russian politics:
Stephanopoulos: You haven’t been to Moscow since when?
Steele: For a long time.
Stephanopoulos: Do you think that compromises your ability to do this work?
Steele: Absolutely not.
Stephanopoulos: Why not?
Steele: Because the people that we need to go there go there and they do the job that is required in a low-key fashion.
On his “sources”:
Stephanopoulos: Was there one key source you had for this report?
Steele: There wasn’t one key source; I would say, there was one key collector.
Stephanopoulos: What’s a collector?
Steele: A collector is somebody who obviously works for us directly, is paid for us directly, doesn’t necessarily have direct access to information but knows people who do.
As The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway reported more than a year ago, this “network” was the “social circle of an American-based former Brookings Institute junior staffer, recently identified for the first time as Igor Danchenko. The friends didn’t have well-documented claims so much as rumors, drunken gossip, and outright brainstorming, conjecture and speculation.”
Stephanopoulos: One of your main collectors who spoke to the inspector general said that especially the kompromat was word of mouth and hearsay conversations with friends over beers. It was just talk.
Steele: If you have a confidential source and that confidential source is blown, or is uncovered, that confidential source will often take fright and try and downplay and underestimate what they’ve said and done. And I think that’s probably what happened here.
- On the so-called “pee tape”:
Steele: We had no reason to disbelieve it; we had no reason strongly to believe it. We had to then try and evaluate it and validate it or whatever, and in an instance like that there were a limited range of things you could do which we did. We checked dates, people’s movements.’
Stephanopoulos: And [Trump] was there?
This “raw intelligence” refers, of course, to Trump’s presence at his own Miss Universe 2013 pageant. One of the more amusing moments in the “interview” is Martha Raddatz’s breathless report that: “After Donald Trump landed in Moscow [for the pageant], he had a room booked at the Ritz-Carlton hotel, which is adjacent to Red Square.”
Stephanopoulos: And today, do you still believe that that tape exists?
Steele: I think it probably does, but I wouldn’t put 100% certainty on it.
Stephanopoulos: So how do you explain if that tape does indeed exist it hasn’t been released?
Steele: Well, it hasn’t needed to be released.
Stephanopoulos: Why not?
Steele: Because I think the Russians felt they got pretty good value out of Donald Trump when he was president of the United States.
On the Mueller Report:
Stephanopoulos: Robert Mueller said [he] could not establish firm evidence of a criminal conspiracy.
Steele: Sure. But Robert Mueller was working to beyond reasonable doubt level of evidence in criminal cases and prosecutions and in much intelligence work you never get to the point where you’re 99% certain of the evidence and can secure a conviction.
On the improper use of his dossier in FISA applications:
Steele: It had nothing to do with us. We were not told of any use of our material in such a process, and therefore if there were problems with that process, they weren’t our problems–they were the problems of the people conducting them.
On whether Trump lawyer Michael Cohen colluded with Russians in Prague:
Stephanopoulos: One big claim in the dossier: the FBI, according to the inspector general’s report, and while it reinforces it is not true, the claim that Michael Cohen had a meeting with Russians in Prague. Do you accept that finding that it didn’t happen?
Steele: No, I don’t.
Stephanopoulos: Michael Cohen has completely turned on Donald Trump. He’s accused him of all kinds of things. He’s gone to jail. It defies logic that if he did this he wouldn’t say so now.
Steele: I don’t agree with that. It’s self-incriminating to a very great degree.
Stephanopoulos: What would he be incriminating himself in?
Steele: Treason, presumably.