New York Times News Service

House Dems subpoena full Mueller report

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena Friday demanding that the Justice Department hand over an unredacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report and the evidence underlying it by May 1, and pledged “major hearings” on its findings. The subpoena escalates a fight with Attorney General William Barr over what material Congress is entitled to see from the special counsel’s nearly two-year investigation. The chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, asked for all evidence obtained by Mueller’s investigators, including summaries of witness interviews and classified intelligence — and indicated he intended to air it to the public.

— From wire reports

WASHINGTON — The 35-page dossier, spiced up with tales of prostitutes and spies, sketched out a hair-raising story more than two years ago. Russian intelligence had used bribery and blackmail to try to turn then-candidate Donald Trump into a source and ally, it said, and the Kremlin was running some Trump presidential campaign aides practically as agents.

But the release Thursday of the report by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, underscored what had grown clearer for months: While many Trump aides had welcomed contacts with the Russians, some of the most sensational claims in the dossier appeared to be false, and others were impossible to prove. Mueller’s report contained more than a dozen passing references to the document’s claims but no overall assessment of why so much did not check out.

The dossier — financed by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee, and compiled by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele — is likely to face new, possibly harsh scrutiny from multiple inquiries.

Republicans in Congress have vowed to investigate. The Justice Department’s inspector general is considering whether the FBI improperly relied on the dossier in applying to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for a warrant to eavesdrop on Carter Page, a Trump adviser. The inspector general wants to know what the FBI learned about Steele’s sources and whether it disclosed any doubts about their veracity to the court.

And Attorney General William Barr has said he will review the FBI’s conduct in the Russia investigation.

Interviews with people familiar with Steele’s work on the dossier and the FBI’s scramble to vet its claims suggest that misgivings about its reliability arose not long after the document became public — and a preoccupation of Trump opponents — in early 2017. Steele has made clear to associates that he always considered the dossier to be raw intelligence — not established facts, but a starting point for further investigation.

By January 2017, FBI agents had tracked down and interviewed one of Steele’s main sources, a Russian speaker from a former Soviet republic who had spent time in the West, according to a Justice Department document and three people familiar with the events, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. After questioning him about where he’d gotten his information, they suspected he might have added his own interpretations to reports passed on by his sources, one of the people said. For the FBI, that made it harder to decide what to trust.

Agents did not believe that the source or Steele was deliberately inventing things, according to the former official. How the dossier ended up loaded with dubious or exaggerated details remains uncertain, but the document may be the result of a high-stakes game of telephone, in which rumors and hearsay were passed from source to source.

Another possibility — one that Steele has not ruled out — could be Russian disinformation.

That would mean that in addition to carrying out an effective attack on the Clinton campaign, Russian spymasters hedged their bets and placed a few land mines under Trump’s presidency, as well.