Former British spy Christopher Steele worked with Fusion GPS principal Glenn Simpson to get the contents of Steele’s dossier into the media before the 2016 election. Byron York reported that Steele personally briefed reporters from the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, the New Yorker, and Yahoo, all to little or no effect. Mother Jones’s David Corn gave the received version of Steele’s story on October 31 in “A veteran spy has given the FBI information alleging a Russian operation to cultivate Donald Trump.”
Corn’s account gave us the heroic version of the dossier. Howard Blum followed up in the credulous Vanity Fair article “How ex-spy Christopher Steele compiled his explosive Trump dossier.” Blum’s article is useful in helping us understand the line Steele and his employers were peddling to the FBI and to the media.
Blum’s starstruck article presented Steele and Simpson (but especially Steele) as the heroes of The Dossiad. Read how Christopher Steele and Glenn Simpson threw caution to the winds and selflessly gave their all to save the republic from Donald Trump. As I see it, this version of the story enacts an update on The Dunciad. I have called it The Dossiad. In this case, however, the satire is unintended. Only the Dullness remains.
The New Yorker’s John Cassidy painted a portrait of Glenn Simpson in this spirit in “The digger who commissioned the Trump-Russia dossier speaks.” I commented on Cassidy’s column in “Glenn Simpson: The New Yorker version.” Despite the New Yorker’s reputation for fact checking, Cassidy’s laughable error of fact about the Steele dossier — “his first memorandum, which was thirty-five pages long and dated June 20, 2016” — remains uncorrected. (Steele’s June 20 memo was three pages long. The entire Steele dossier posted on BuzzFeed is itself 35 pages long.)
Now comes the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer to give us the definitive version of The Dossiad in “Christopher Steele, the man behind the Trump dossier.” Subhead: “How the ex-spy tried to warn the world about Trump’s ties to Russia.”
Mayer’s article is 15,000 words long. Reading it is an ordeal. It’s not all Dullness. She mixes Dullness with Dishonesty. Indeed, in Mayer’s Dossiad, Dishonesty predominates.
The dishonesty permeates the article and it is infuriating. An article at least as long Mayer’s is needed to disentangle and rectify it. Mayer’s pretense of impartiality in adjudicating questions of fact and credibility must count as the article’s leading misrepresentation. If only she had a sense of humor, one might think surely she jests.
Mayer collects tributes to Steele from colleagues present and past. He is her hero. He is a super spy with impeccable Russian sources. Even so, the super spy had no idea for whom he was working when Simpson hired him in 2016. Behind Simpson — as we know now thanks only to Rep. Devin Nunes and his Republican colleagues — lay the law firm serving as counsel to the Clinton presidential campaign, the Clinton campaign itself, and the Democratic National Committee. Steele compiled his dossier in the service of the Clinton presidential campaign.
In his testimony before congressional committees, the incredibly devious Glenn Simpson insisted that Steele didn’t know the identity of his clients while also insisting that he had otherworldly powers to discern the veracity of his Russian informants. It didn’t add up.
Mayer is not completely dull. She depicts Steele as a super spy. She ignores Simpson’s testimony on this score and instead reports: “Several months after Steele signed the deal [with Fusion GPS], he learned that, through this chain, his research was being jointly subsidized by the Clinton campaign and the D.N.C.”
So it only took Steele “several months” to figure out for whom he was working. How did he learn it? When did it come to him? How did he arrive at the realization? What do you mean exactly by “through this chain”? What did Steele think about it? You can bet that nobody in the New Yorker’s editorial “chain” cut the answers to these questions for reasons of space. Mayer’s curiosity has predictable limits.
Mayer’s article should not be ignored. Mayer and the New Yorker mean to fix — repair and set — the Democrats’ story line. The article has not yet attracted the attention and commentary that it deserves from knowledgeable observers. As of this morning I recommend Chuck Ross’s Daily Caller post “6 revelations in that Christopher Steele puff piece” and George Neumayr’s American Spectator column “Jane Mayer’s publicity work for Christopher Steele.”
This is the first part of what I intend to be a series. I hope to keep the series short, useful, and readable. If you have any helpful comments, please direct them to me at powerlinefeedback@gmail com.
JOE adds: I look forward to Scott’s series. I listened in full to yesterday’s hour-long interview of Jane Mayer on NPR’s Fresh Air. Host Teri Gross practices a standard method in her interviews. When the story or issue is about conservatism or a member of the conservative movement, she interviews a liberal journalist who has written about that story or figure. When the story is about a liberal or a member of the liberal movement, she interviews the principal himself. This discredits her journalism comprehensively.
The interview with Mayer conforms to this practice. While listening to it, I encourage readers to recollect their college days. Most of us have spent a late night with someone who has had too much to drink. Such people like to invent movie ideas. Typically the movie ideas are both stupid and full of plot holes. The teller can sound grasping, or desperate, yet oddly self-amused. It is in this voice that Mayer speaks on Fresh Air.