The disgraced former British spy Christopher Steele has kept a low profile in recent years. Understand-ably so, given that investigations revealed his dossier – the collection of anti-Trump stories he compiled to try to undermine Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential candidacy – was filled with falsehoods and unverifiable claims. But now Steele has granted an interview to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. And if you were wondering whether Steele feels any remorse for being so wrong about something so important, wonder no more: He doesn’t.
Steele is standing behind the dossier, and standing by even its most preposterous, unsupported allegations. Let’s take one: the story that in August 2016, Trump fixer Michael Cohen met with Russian intelligence agents in Prague to arrange secret payments to the Russian hackers who hit the Clinton campaign.
Cohen has vigorously denied the story, and after extensive investigation by the FBI and special counsel’s office, no evidence has emerged that it ever happened. But when Stephanopoulos asked Steele, “Do you accept that finding, that it didn’t happen?” Steele responded, “No, I don’t.”
Cohen has since turned on Trump, accusing his former boss of all sorts of wrongdoing and even implicating himself in some of those allegations. So why, Stephanopoulos asked, if Cohen seems to want to get back at Trump in every way possible, would he lie about the Prague allegation? “It’s self-incriminating to a very great degree,” Steele answered. “It’s so incriminating and demeaning. And the other reason is, he might be scared of the consequences.”
It was classic hugger-mugger spy talk, which appears to be Steele’s specialty. In response, Cohen issued a statement saying, “I eagerly await [Steele’s] next secret dossier which proves the existence of Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and that Elvis is still alive.”
Stephanopoulos asked Steele whether his refusal to accept the findings of FBI and Justice Department investigators might hurt his credibility. “I’m prepared to accept that not everything in the dossier is 100% accurate,” Steele answered. “I have yet to be convinced that [the Cohen story] is one of them.”
Nor did Steele give an inch on another completely unproven allegation, the so-called “pee tape” story in which he claimed that in 2013, then-private citizen Trump watched as prostitutes performed a kinky sex act in a Moscow hotel room, with Russian spy cameras catching the whole thing on tape. A Justice Department inspector general’s report said the source for that tale told the FBI he warned Steele the story was “rumor and speculation” and had not been “confirmed” by anyone, as Steele claimed. Then, the source told the FBI “that some of the information, such as allegations about Trump’s sexual activities, were statements he heard made in ‘jest.’” It was bar talk, the source suggested – a joke.
But not to Christopher Steele. When asked why the source would admit that there was nothing to the hotel room story, Steele answered, “If you have a confidential source and that confidential source is blown or is uncovered, that confidential source will often take fright and try and downplay and underestimate what they’ve said and done. And I think that is probably what happened here.” When Stephanopoulos asked if Steele thought the source is afraid, Steele said, “I think anybody that is named in this context, particularly if they are Russian, has every reason to be afraid.”
So again, Steele will not admit anything. When asked if he believes the “pee tape” really exists, Steele said, “I think it probably does, but I wouldn’t put 100% certainty on it.” He even has an explanation for why, after all that has happened, the Russians have not released the tape. “It hasn’t needed to be released,” Steele said, “because I think the Russians felt they got pretty good value out of Donald Trump when he was president of the U.S.”
All of which brought Steele back to what he does best: speculate. The tape might exist. The source might be afraid. Cohen might be scared, too. It might all be true! Just because the highest levels of U.S. intelligence and law enforcement spent enormous resources looking for proof – anything – of Steele’s allegations and were unable to support them, they still might be true, right?
The big question is, why is Steele still pushing the dossier? First, it’s difficult for someone to admit that the accomplishment for which he is best known was a fraud. But second, it’s because Steele is still in the anti-Trump business, and Trump is still in politics. So business could pick up in the coming months and years. If so, Steele will be ready. “The problems we identified back in 2016 haven’t gone away and arguably have actually got worse,” Steele said. “And I thought it was important to come and set the record straight.”