We’ve been tracking this story since Politico broke it last week, but now it has reached the shore in the UK press, it becomes a mission for the Z’s London Office.
Chris Steele is a former British MI6 agent who now works freelance for various companies in the UK and in the US. Last summer, way before the US election, he was contracted via a company called Fusion GPS. The utterly hilarious irony is that Republicans commissioned the research into then-candidate Donald Trump and his ties to Russia. That it is now so damaging to their (admittedly lukewarm) Republican President makes it all the more fascinating. In the end, the research could not begin until after the primaries were over, so Democrats then happily picked up the tab. Which Democrats they were is not yet publicly known. When John McCain saw the dossier, he virtually ran all the way to FBI Director Jim Comey to show it to him. What happened next has already become legend.
This story however focuses on an under the radar, cloak and dagger, secret red-eye mission to London, just a few week ago. Trump ally and thorn in the establishment’s side for months, Devin Nunes, appears to be behind an astonishingly partisan jolly to Westminster. The man who signed the papers was Nunes’ ally, Damon Nelson, the House intelligence committee’s staff director.
The two men sent by Nunes were in fact looking for Chris Steele’s lawyer. It turns out the committee would rather like to talk to Chris Steele themselves, and the premise for the call seems to be to start the process which might lead to Chris Steele appearing in person in Congress. In another coincidence, the two Americans arrived at the lawyers office at the same time the lawyer was meeting with Chris Steele. This is now a source of embarrassment, as it looks like the two went behind the backs of everyone above them in Washington to hunt down Chris Steele. The truth is, they got lucky. Or possibly unlucky, judging from media reaction.
This is another strand that will run for months. Not least because there are other rumours that US allies in the so-called Five Eyes countries have been providing negative intelligence on Trump for a year or more. Not bound by the same rules as the US, they are undertaking surveillance and other work to help the US agencies. This happens all the time, but is particularly sensitive as calls for Trump’s impeachment or resignation grow even from Republicans. Were it not for the original GOP sponsors of this research, it would not exist.
We will leave you with our favourite quote from the story in today’s Guardian. The man doing the talking is John Sipher, a former senior CIA officer. We couldn’t resist highlighting the final sentence:-
“I find the fact that they presumably spent taxpayer money to undertake such a hyper-partisan and unprofessional effort extremely troubling. There are normal ways to do this through our existing institutions, and their relationships with our British partners. This is bad on many levels.”
“Republicans that are part of the House investigation should not be undertaking efforts without informing their Democratic colleagues. Not only is it unprofessional but it is impolite. Mr Steele was a professional who worked on important and compatible issues with the US. He deserves better than being ambushed by a bunch of hacks.”