On 4 October 2017, leaders of a bipartisan committee appeared before reporters to discuss preliminary findings of a months-long Senate investigation into Russia’s efforts to influence American voters and sow chaos — efforts both in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election and that are ongoing.
During the early-afternoon press briefing on Capitol Hill, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence chair Richard Burr (R-North Carolina) and vice chair Mark Warner (D-Virginia) said the committee’s investigation had “hit a wall” in its efforts track down and verify claims made in a dossier compiled by a former British spy detailing alleged ties and collusion between President Donald Trump, his associates, and the Russian government, and the Kremlin’s efforts to “cultivate” him.
Burr declined to lend credibility to President Trump’s accusation that allegations of collusion and ensuing investigations are a “hoax”. When asked by a reporter whether the committee had seen evidence that would rule out the president having knowledge of contacts between his associates and the Russians, Burr responded:
Let me go back and say, because I thought I was pretty clear, that the issue of collusion is still open that we continue to investigate both intelligence and witnesses, and that we’re not in a position where we will come to any kind of temporary finding on that until we’ve completed the process.
Burr and Warner also used the briefing to ramp up pressure on former MI6 agent Christopher Steele, the author of a now-infamous dossier. Burr called on Steele to appear before the committee for questioning. In a strongly worded statement, Burr addressed Steele directly, cautioning that he could come before the committee voluntarily or he would be “compelled” to do so:
As it relates to the Steele dossier; unfortunately the committee has hit a wall. We have on several occasions made attempts to contact Mr. Steele, to meet with Mr. Steele, to include personally the vice chairman and myself as two individuals making that connection. Those offers have gone unaccepted. The committee cannot really decide the credibility of the dossier without understanding things like, who paid for it? Who were your sources and sub-sources? We’re investigating a very expansive Russian network of interference in U.S. elections, and though we have been incredibly enlightened at our ability to rebuild backwards the Steele dossier up to a certain date, getting past that point has been somewhat impossible. And I say this because I don’t think we’re going to find any intelligence products that unlock that key to pre-June of ’16.
My hope is that Mr. Steele will make a decision to meet with either Mark and I or the committee or both, so that we can hear his side of it, versus for us to depict in our findings what his intent or what his actions were. And I say that to you but I also say it to Chris Steele. Potential witnesses that we might ask to come in in the future. I strongly suggest that you come in and speak with us. If we believe that you have something valuable to bring to the committee, if you don’t voluntarily do it, I will assure you today, you will be compelled to do it. I can compel you to come, I can’t compel you to talk. But that will be done in a very public way if in fact you turn down the private offer.
The dossier that Steele compiled contains information alleging that Russian agents had been working to cultivate and compromise Donald Trump for five years, and it initially hit the news when Mother Jones published a story in October 2016. The story, written by Washington, D.C. bureau chief David Corn, paints the former British intelligence agent as being very cooperative with Federal Bureau of Investigation investigators, even turning his findings over to them unsolicited and without permission from his client (for whom he was performing opposition research on then-candidate Trump). However, Corn had kept Steele’s identity anonymous.
On 10 January 2017, BuzzFeed published the 35-page dossier compiled by Steele in its entirety. One day later, the Wall Street Journal revealed Steele’s identity. At that time, it was reported that Steele had hurriedly left his home in a town southwest of London and had gone into hiding. Steele is currently facing legal action in both the United States and Britain — Russian mogul Aleksej Gubarev is suing, claiming the dossier contains defamatory and false information about him.
The briefing can be viewed here: