Making sense of the Steele criminal referral

Yesterday, Scott discussed the referral of Christopher Steele to the Justice Department for criminal investigation. The referral was made by Senators Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham. The crimes Steele may (or may not) have committed are violations of 18 U.S.C. § 1001, based on “false statements investigators have reason to believe Steele made to them about the distribution of claims contained in the [anti-Trump Russia] dossier.”

Note that Sens. Grassley and Graham aren’t talking about false statements in the dossier, but rather false statement about the distribution of claims in the dossier. What statements might Steele have made to investigators regarding distribution of dossier material that there is reason to believe are false?

Byron York thinks the statements in question may well pertain to Steele’s briefing of reporters about the dossier:

One serious question is whether Steele told the FBI that he was telling reporters the same information – those explosive allegations about Trump and Trump associates – that he was bringing to bureau investigators. If the FBI knew that, would they have agreed to an arrangement to make Steele a paid FBI operative investigating the Trump-Russia affair? That would have been a most unorthodox arrangement, with Steele disseminating his allegations to the FBI and the press simultaneously.

In other words, it was in Steele’s interest for the FBI not to know that he was sharing claims from the dossier with reporters. Might he have lied to the FBI about this?

Grassley and Graham apparently have reason to believe he did. What is the basis for their belief? In their letter, they say it’s “inconsistencies in statements that Steele provided to authorities.”

Which authorities? The FBI, obviously. But are Grassley and Graham talking about inconsistent statements made to the FBI, or about inconsistencies between what Steele told the FBI and what he told some other “authority”?

Byron suspects the disparity is between what Steele told the FBI and what he represented during a proceeding in a London court. Steele’s lawyers told the London court in September 2016 that, pursuant to directions from Fusion GPS, Steele briefed reporters from the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, the New Yorker, Yahoo News, and, later, Mother Jones about the dossier.

Grassley and Graham seem to believe that this is inconsistent with what Steele told the FBI. Byron notes:

[T]he Senate Judiciary Committee has examined a lot of dossier-related material from the FBI under an agreement that allows the committee to view materials the bureau has originally produced to the House Intelligence Committee.

It appears that Grassley and Graham are pursuing inconsistencies between what Steele told the FBI and what Steele told the London court. If they conflict, which is true? If what Steele told the FBI was untrue, that’s a problem.

Indeed, it would be. Lying to the FBI is a crime — the same one Michael Flynn pleaded guilty too.

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