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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

US senators demand probe into ex-British spy behind Trump dossier

Two senior Republicans are backers of a campaign to demonise Christopher Steele and his dossier

An address in Britain which has been linked by local media to former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, who has been named as the author of an intelligence dossier on President-elect Donald Trump. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls - RTX2YLZ0
An address in Britain which has been linked by local media to former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, who has been named as the author of an intelligence dossier on President-elect Donald Trump. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls - RTX2YLZ0

Two senior Republican US senators called for a criminal investigation into the former British spy who compiled a "dossier" in 2016 of allegations of financial and personal links between then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, his advisers and Russia.

Senators Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham, who respectively chair the Senate Judiciary Committee and one of its subcommittees, sent a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray and US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in which they said former spy Christopher Steele made "false statements" about his sharing information in the dossier with US media outlets.

Mr Grassley and MR Graham are supporters of a campaign by President Trump and some Republicans to demonise Steele and his dossier and cast doubt over the credibility of official US investigations, including one led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

The probes are looking into allegations that Russia meddled in the 2016 US election to help Republican Mr Trump. Moscow denies interference and Mr Trump denies any collusion.

In the letter released by the senators, Mr Grassley and Mr Graham neither identify anyone to whom they believed Steele lied nor do they identify any news outlet. The letter makes reference to a "Top Secret" memo that they said relates to "certain communications between Christopher Steele and multiple US news outlets" regarding the "dossier."

Mr Steele had no immediate comment.

After Mr Trump won the Republican nomination in July 2016, backers of Democratic Party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton started financing Mr Steele's work via Washington research firm Fusion GPS. The firm had also worked on "opposition research" for one of Trump's opponents in the Republican primary.

In an emailed comment, Joshua Levy, a lawyer for Fusion GPS, suggested that the senators' letter was an effort to undermine the special counsel's investigation.

"After a year of investigations into Donald Trump's ties to Russia, the only person Republicans seek to accuse of wrongdoing is one who reported on these matters to law enforcement in the first place," Mr Levy said. "We should all be sceptical in the extreme."

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Although several news organizations, including Reuters, were briefed on Mr Steele’s dossier before the November 2016 election, most decided not to report on the material because its inflammatory and sometimes salacious content could not be verified.

Congressional panels, including the Senate Intelligence Committee, set out to investigate US intelligence agency allegations that Russia conducted a campaign of hacking and disinformation to undermine U.S. democracy in the election, but some of the bipartisanship has eroded.

Mr Graham, Mr Grassley and some other Republicans have used official resources to investigate the Steele dossier, Trump critics and officials working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Mueller.

Two Trump campaign associates, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and aide George Papadopoulos have pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in Mueller's probe.

US Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, on Friday criticised the Republicans’ letter.

"This action was taken without any bipartisan cooperation, or even consultation," Mr Blumenthal said in a statement.

"These vaguely stated, secret allegations seem designed more to distract attention from the priority issues for investigation, and discredit the FBI and other law enforcement."