- Comey declined to answer whether the FBI verified any of the criminal allegations in the Steele dossier in an open setting
- Experts say this may mean there’s truth to the document, though they caution against jumping to conclusions
- The dossier puts intelligence officials in a difficult situation
Former FBI director James Comey may have hinted during his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday that some of the allegations in the now-infamous Trump-Russia dossier may have been verified.
The dossier, compiled by former MI6 intelligence officer Christopher Steele, details several allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, among other salacious details. The FBI has an ongoing investigation into the explosive claims made in the dossier.
During his testimony, Comey was asked by Sen. Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, whether the FBI was able to “confirm” any criminal allegations contained in the document.
Comey replied that he couldn’t answer the question in an “open setting,” because it “goes into the details” of the FBI’s investigation.
Because Comey didn’t outright deny that the criminal allegations in the dossier were false, some experts say that it indicates some of the facts in the document could be verified.
BuzzFeed first published the full dossier in January.
Andy Wright, a professor at Savannah Law School and former associate counsel to President Barack Obama, said it was “striking” that Comey said he would need to answer questions about the veracity of the Steele dossier in a closed session.
“That could mean some dossier facts were verified,” Wright said. “It could also mean that the sources for his state of knowledge were classified.”
Claire Finkelstein, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s law school, told Business Insider Comey’s comments during his testimony wasn’t the first time “we’ve heard that there is actual intelligence,” in the dossier.
“On several occasions in his testimony, he has said ‘I could not answer that in an open session’ — indicating that there’s quite a bit more that he knows, of a classified nature, that he can’t discuss,” she said.
Finkelstein said Steele, the ex-British spy who compiled the document, is a “reputable” agent, even though the document came stripped of any information that could identify sources.
“So it is my expectation that the details of that dossier will be confirmed through the investigation of Mr. Mueller,” she added. Robert Mueller was appointed as a special counsel to investigate allegations that Russia colluded with the Trump campaign after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself.
Glenn Carle, a CIA veteran and former spy, said “virtually every point” of Steele’s dossier has been substantiated, “point after point after point.”
As a former intelligence officer, Carle said he’s “99.8%” confident in the Steele dossier. “It’s just glaring for a professional intelligence officer,” he added.
Carle pointed to what he says is a “perverse proof-by-murder,” when one of Steele’s “interlocutors” wound up dead after he was publicly named.
Oleg Erovinkin, a former KGB general who was suspected of helping Steele compile the dossier. Erovinkin was found dead in his car in Moscow in December under dubious circumstances, reports The Telegraph. Experts told The Telegraph that Erovinkin may have been the key source Steele referred to in his dossier.
Sergei Mikhailov, the head of the Federal Security Service, a Russian intelligence agency, was also arrested in January after American officials said they believed he was involved with election hacking, reports The New York Times. Novaya Gazeta, an independent Russian newspaper, reported that a bag was thrown over his head and he was marched to an undisclosed location.
Carle detailed what he said is the “excruciating dilemma” intelligence officers find themselves in regarding the allegations contained in Steele’s dossier.
“Comey is being careful,” Carle said. “The report is spot on.”
However, Robert Dietz, a former top lawyer at the CIA and National Security Agency, cautioned that he doesn’t think “one could take much” from Comey’s comments during the testimony. Dietz said he didn’t “share the view” that Comey implied that the FBI has confirmed allegations in the Steele dossier, based on the short exchange.
Comey said during his testimony he believes President Trump fired him on May 9 via a letter “because of the Russia investigation.” Comey continued his testimony in a closed session with Senators on Thursday.
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