by AARON KLEIN 14 Feb 2018
TEL AVIV – Seeming discrepancies between the claims of two former officials in John Kerry’s State Department about actions taken involving the infamous, 35-page largely discredited anti-Trump dossier raise immediate questions about the State Department’s possible role in the sordid affair.
The dossier, which contains wild and unproven claims about Trump’s campaign and Russia, was authored by ex-British spy Christopher Steele on behalf of the controversial Fusion GPS firm and was paid for by Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
The dossier was reportedly utilized by the FBI to launch its probe into Trump. According to House Republicans, the questionable document was used by Obama administration officials to obtain a FISA warrant to conduct surveillance on Carter Page, who briefly served as a volunteer foreign policy adviser to Trump’s campaign. The political origins of the dossier and issues relating to Steele’s credibility as a source were kept from the FISA court, a House Intelligence Committee memo documents.
Victoria Nuland, a career diplomat who worked under the Clintons and served as assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs under Kerry, described in a recent Politico podcast interview what she claimed was her reaction when she was presented with Steele’s dossier information at the State Department.
She said that she offered advice to “those who were interfacing with” Steele, immediately telling the intermediary or intermediaries that Steele “should get this information to the FBI.” She further explained that a career employee at the State Department could not get involved with the dossier charges since such actions could violate the Hatch Act, which prevents employees in the executive branch of the federal government from engaging in certain kinds of political activities.
In a second interview, this one with CBS’s Face The Nation, Nuland also stated that her “immediate” reaction was to refer Steele to the FBI.
Here is a transcript of the relevant section of her February 5 interview with Susan B. Glasser, who described Nuland as “my friend” and referred to her by her nickname “Toria”:
Glasser: When did you first hear about his dossier?
Nuland: I first heard — and I didn’t know who his client was until much later, until 2017, I think, when it came out. I first heard that he had done work for a client asserting these linkages — I think it was late July, something like that.
Glasser: That’s very interesting. And you would have taken him seriously just because you knew that he knew what he was talking about on Russia?
Nuland: What I did was say that this is about U.S. politics, and not the work of — not the business of the State Department, and certainly not the business of a career employee who is subject to the Hatch Act, which requires that you stay out of politics. So, my advice to those who were interfacing with him was that he should get this information to the FBI, and that they could evaluate whether they thought it was credible.
Glasser: Did you ever talk about it with anyone else higher up at the department? With Secretary Kerry or anybody else?
Nuland: Secretary Kerry was also aware. I think he’s on the record and he had the same advice.
Nuland stated that Kerry “was also aware” of the dossier, but she did not describe how he was made aware. She made clear that she told “those who were interfacing” with Steele to go to the FBI since any State Department involvement could violate the Hatch Act.
Nuland’s Politico podcast interview was not the only time she claimed that her reaction was to refer Steele to the FBI.
On Face The Nation on February 4, Nuland engaged in the following exchange in which she stated her “immediate” reaction was to refer Steele to the FBI (emphasis added):
MARGARET BRENNAN: The dossier.
VICTORIA NULAND: The dossier, he passed two to four pages of short points of what he was finding, and our immediate reaction to that was, “This is not in our purview. This needs to go to the FBI, if there is any concern here that one candidate or the election as a whole might be influenced by the Russian federation. That’s something for the FBI to investigate.”
And that was our reaction when we saw this. It’s not our — we can’t evaluate this. And frankly, if every member of the campaign who the Russians tried to approach and tried to influence had gone to the FBI as well in real time, we might not be in the mess we’re in today.
Nuland gave the two interviews after her name started surfacing in news media reports involving Kerry’s State Department and the dossier. Her name also came up in relation to a criminal referral of Steele to the Justice Department in the form of a letter released last week and authored by Sen. Chuck Grassley, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).
The Grassley-Graham criminal referral contains redacted information that Steele received information from someone in the State Department, who in turn had been in contact with a “foreign sub-source” who was in touch with a redacted name described as a “friend of the Clintons.”
Numerous media reports have since stated that the source of information provided to the State Department that was in turn passed onto Steele was Cody Shearer, a controversial figure tied to the Clintons who is also an associate of longtime Clinton friend Sidney Blumenthal. According to sources who spoke to CNN, Shearer’s information was passed from Blumenthal to Jonathan Winer, who at the time was a special State Department envoy for Libya working under Kerry. Winer says that Kerry personally recruited him to work at the State Department.
It is Winer’s version of events that seems to conflict with Nuland.
In an oped last week published in the Washington Post, Winer identified Nuland as the State Department official with whom he shared Steele’s information. Winer writes that Nuland’s reaction was that “she felt that the secretary of state needed to be made aware of this material.” He does not relate any further reaction from Nuland.
Winer wrote at the Washington Post (emphasis added):
In the summer of 2016, Steele told me that he had learned of disturbing information regarding possible ties between Donald Trump, his campaign and senior Russian officials. He did not provide details but made clear the information involved “active measures,” a Soviet intelligence term for propaganda and related activities to influence events in other countries.
In September 2016, Steele and I met in Washington and discussed the information now known as the “dossier.” Steele’s sources suggested that the Kremlin not only had been behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign but also had compromised Trump and developed ties with his associates and campaign.
I was allowed to review, but not to keep, a copy of these reports to enable me to alert the State Department. I prepared a two-page summary and shared it with Nuland, who indicated that, like me, she felt that the secretary of state needed to be made aware of this material.
That was the extent of Winer’s description of Nuland’s reaction upon being presented with Steele’s dossier claims. Nuland’s public claim that her “immediate” response was to refer Steele to the FBI since State involvement could violate the Hatch Act seems to conflict with the only reaction that Winer relates from Nuland – that she felt Kerry should be made aware of the dossier information.
In Winer’s Washington Post oped, he writes that Steele had a larger relationship with the State Department, passing over 100 reports relating to Russia to the U.S. government agency through Winer. Winer wrote that Nuland found Steele’s reports to be “useful” and asked Winer to “continue to send them.”
In 2013, I returned to the State Department at the request of Secretary of State John F. Kerry, whom I had previously served as Senate counsel. Over the years, Steele and I had discussed many matters relating to Russia. He asked me whether the State Department would like copies of new information as he developed it. I contacted Victoria Nuland, a career diplomat who was then assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, and shared with her several of Steele’s reports. She told me they were useful and asked me to continue to send them. Over the next two years, I shared more than 100 of Steele’s reports with the Russia experts at the State Department, who continued to find them useful. None of the reports related to U.S. politics or domestic U.S. matters, and the reports constituted a very small portion of the data set reviewed by State Department experts trying to make sense of events in Russia.
Last month, Nuland was appointed CEO of the Center for a New American Security, which describes itself as “an independent, bipartisan, nonprofit organization that develops strong, pragmatic, and principled national security and defense policies.” “As CEO, Ambassador Nuland will lead CNAS’s efforts to develop bold, innovative, and bipartisan solutions to the most pressing national security and defense issues,” the Center said in a statement.
She previously served as chief of staff to Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott under Bill Clinton’s administration, and then served as deputy director for former Soviet Union affairs.
Nuland faced confirmation questions prior to her most recent appointment as assistant secretary of state over her reported role in revising controversial Obama administration talking points about the 2012 Benghazi terrorist attacks. Her reported changes sought to protect Hillary Clinton’s State Department from accusations that it failed to adequately secure the woefully unprotected U.S. Special Mission in Benghazi.