Eric Felten: Pee tape confidential

Eric Felten is a meticulous and literate reporter as well as one of my favorite analysts of the mysteries of Russiagate. We have previously posted several of Eric’s RealClearInvestigations columns. Today Eric observes: “Watchdog: FBI Knew ‘Pee Tape’ Highly Dubious, Didn’t Tell Trump.” RCI authorizes the republication of its articles with attribution and we are happy to take advantage of the opportunity here. Eric writes:

The “pee tape” has been debunked by Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz. Further, his report released Monday makes clear, the FBI knew early in 2017 that it was a highly dubious story and kept Donald Trump in the dark.

The allegation that the Russians had recorded Trump watching prostitutes performing a “golden showers (urination) show” on a bed in a Moscow hotel room once occupied by President Obama and wife Michelle was perhaps the most salacious claim made in the Steele dossier, the Hillary Clinton-funded opposition research that falsely alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The IG report says the dossier’s named author, ex-British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, had embellished the story, peddling an unproven rumor as verified fact in statements to the FBI.

The IG report states that the FBI knew the story was unverified sometime in January 2017.

On Jan. 6 of that month, then-FBI Director James B. Comey told the president-elect about the pee tape in a Trump Tower meeting.

CNN used that meeting three days later as a news hook to report on the dossier, which it had been unable to verify.

Later in the month, as the tape was becoming a late-night punch line, President Trump told Comey he was worried the accusation would bother his wife, Melania. In a private White House dinner, Trump asked the director to disprove the “golden showers thing.” Comey begged off, telling the president he didn’t want to “create a narrative that we were investigating him personally.”

At no time, in fact, did the FBI state that it had good reason to conclude that Steele’s “pee tape” claims were false. There is also no evidence that it alerted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in applications that used the Steele dossier to secure warrants to spy on U.S. citizens.

The IG report states that by January 2017, the bureau had figured out whom Steele was getting most of his information from – his “Primary Sub-source.” That month, the FBI interviewed the source, who immediately “raised doubts about the reliability of Steele’s descriptions of information in his election reports,” including the pee tape.

This, Horowitz writes, contradicted Steele’s claim “that Trump’s alleged sexual activities at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Moscow had been ‘confirmed’ by a senior, Western staff member at the hotel.” But the Primary Sub-source told the FBI he/she had made it clear to Steele that the prostitute story was nothing but “rumor and speculation.”

Steele’s “Primary Sub-source” also told the FBI that Steele didn’t have the high-level contacts that he claimed were the ultimate sources of his allegations. According to the Horowitz report, the various “sub-sources did not have direct access to the persons they were reporting on,” but instead were trafficking in “multiple layers of hearsay upon hearsay.”

The Primary Sub-source remains anonymous. The individual told the FBI, in a series of interviews, that he/she “never expected Steele to put the Primary Sub-source’s statements in reports or present them as facts.” It wasn’t that the claims were as yet unverified — “the Primary Sub-source said he/she made it clear to Steele that he/she had no proof to support the statements from his/her sub-sources,” Horowitz writes. As the Primary sub-source succinctly put it, “It was just talk.”

What sort of talk? Steele’s source told agents that the information was nothing but “word of mouth and hearsay” and conversations “with friends over beers.” As for “allegations about Trump’s sexual activities,” those were merely statements Steele’s source admitted were “heard made in ‘jest.’”

Steele wasn’t the only one talking big. The Primary Sub-source told the FBI “that the other sub-sources exaggerated their access to information and the relevance of that information to his/her requests.”

How much trust did the Primary Sub-source put in what he or she was hearing? The FBI knew that Steele’s Primary Sub-source took what other sources were saying with “a grain of salt.”

For all the talk about how Steele’s Trump dossier had yet to be “verified,” the IG report documents that the FBI and DOJ had compelling evidence early on to dismiss Steele’s stories as fabrications.

Instead, that evidence has been buried for nearly three years.

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