Thanks to the Washington Post’s Tuesday night scoop that the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee had funded the opposition research project that gave rise to the so-called Trump dossier, a major question has been answered about the origins and evolution of the document, which has been a focal point of Russia-2016 investigation.
Through that new report, other reporting, and the litigation now surrounding the dossier, we are getting a clearer a picture of how the dossier came to be, to whom it was disseminated and when top national security officials thought it was valuable enough to make then-President Obama and President-elect Trump aware of it.
President Trump and his allies have vehemently denied its claims — some of them salacious — of collusion between his campaign and Russia figures to meddle with the election. They have used the news of its DNC-Clinton campaign funding to smear it (though the project was initially funded by an unknown GOP donor). Yet federal investigators found its sourcing reliable enough to begin checking out its claims themselves.
The most colorful of its allegations have yet to be verified. But other more general claims made in the dossier about Russia’s efforts to interfere with the election have indeed panned out.
The dossier, first published by Buzzfeed in early January, has been the target of numerous lawsuits. A Russia tech exec named in the document has sued Buzzfeed here in the U.S., while mounting a parallel lawsuit in the U.K. against Christopher Steele (pictured above), the ex-British spy who assembled it. Fusion GPS, the private research firm that hired Steele for the oppo project has also faced legal actions, both in private lawsuits and from congressional investigators, for more information on the dossier.
There are still other big questions to be answered, like the identity of the GOP donor who first started the research project. But here is a timeline of what we know so far:
September 2015: A still unknown Republican donor who opposed Donald Trump hires Fusion GPS to research the candidate, according to the New York Times.
April 2016: After it becomes clear that Trump will be the GOP nominee, the DNC and the Hillary Clinton campaign take over the funding of the research project, through the intermediary of Democratic power attorney Marc Elias’ law firm Perkins Coie, according to the Washington Post.
June 2016: Steele’s company Orbis is hired by Fusion GPS for the project, per his court filings in a British lawsuit against him. He goes on to produce 16 versions of the dossier before November’s election, according to his court filings.
Summer 2016: FBI begins investigation into Trump associates’ alleged Russia ties.
“Near the start of July” 2016: Steele sends “a report he had written for that firm to a contact at the FBI,” according to an account of his research by Mother Jones’ David Corn.
End of September 2016: Journalists from New York Times, the Washington Post, Yahoo News, the New Yorker and CNN are verbally briefed in-person by Steele and Fusion GPS on some of his findings, per a filing in the U.K. lawsuit.
Mid-October: New York Times, Washington Post and Yahoo News journalists verbally briefed in-person.
October 2016: Last of the 16 pre-election memos is produced, according court docs in British case.
Late October 2016: Mother Jones reporter briefed by Steele via Skype, according to court documents.
End of October 2016: Democrats end their funding for Fusion GPS, according to the Washington Post.
October 30, 2016: Then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) writes letter to then-FBI Director James Comey in which he says that in their conversations and in conversations with other top national security officials, it had “become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government.” A former Reid spokesman would go on to Tweet, after the dossier became public, that dossier was what Reid was referring to when he wrote the letter.
October 31, 2016: Mother Jones’ David Corn publishes his major scoop on the dossier, presumably based on his conversations with Steele: “A Veteran Spy Has Given the FBI Information Alleging a Russian Operation to Cultivate Donald Trump.” In it, he says that a “former senior intelligence officer for a Western country” had told MoJo that it had provided the FBI “with memos, based on his recent interactions with Russian sources, contending the Russian government has for years tried to co-opt and assist Trump—and that the FBI requested more information from him.” The timeline offered by Corn in the story matches what has since been presented in court documents. Corn also writes that the ex-spy’s work was for an oppo project originally financed by a GOP client, but that the funding was taken over by a “client allied with Democrats” before the former spy was retained to work on it.
After November 8, 2016 election: The FBI agrees to pay Steele to continue his work on Russia-Trump ties, but then pulls out of the deal because the scrutiny that would grow around him and the document.
November 18, 2016: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) attends the annual Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia, where Andrew Wood, a former British ambassador to Russia, told McCain about the existence of material compromising to Donald Trump, according to Wood’s account to BBC4. Wood, an Orbis “associate,” goes on to set up a meeting between Steele and David Kramer, an associate of McCain’s who works at the McCain Institute, according to court filings in the U.K. case.
November 28: Steele meets with Kramer and tells him that what he’s learned through his research raises nation security issues. They agree that a hard copy of the research should be provided to McCain, per court filings.
Around December 13, 2017: Another version of the dossier is compiled, and it is shared with an unnamed U.K. security official and with Fusion, according to Steele’s filings in the U.K. case. According to the filings, Fusion was instructed to only provide the memo to Kramer, for him to pass on to McCain. Fusion has in court filings denied giving the memo directly to Buzzfeed.
Also around this time — December 9, according to CNN’s reporting, though that doesn’t entirely match up with the timeline laid out in the Steele lawsuit — McCain hands over a copy to Comey. The FBI, however, already had in its possession earlier versions of the memo dating up to August.
Late 2016: Buzzfeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith suggests to investigative reporter Ken Bensinger that he reach out to an unnamed “source,” per a Buzzfeed filing. The source shows Bensinger a copy of the dossier and allows him to photograph it.
January 6: Comey and other top national security officials brief President-elect Donald Trump on the dossier, using a two-page summary, at a meeting in Trump Tower, as first reported by CNN and later confirmed by Comey in Senate testimony. Then-President Obama and leaders in Congress were also briefed on the dossier.
January 10, 2017: CNN publishes its report on the briefing Trump and Obama received on the dossier, adding that U.S. national security officials had been examining Steele’s work and had found some of his sources credible enough to include in the presentation, even as many of the dossier’s claims are unverified. Buzzfeed later that day publishes the dossier in its entirety.
October 24, 2017: After a number of attempts, via lawsuits or otherwise, to get Fusion GPS to release the identity of its clients of the dossier project, the Washington Post reports that the Democrats funding it were the DNC and the Clinton campaign. Its report is partially based on a letter Elias sent to Fusion GPS that day releasing the firm from its client confidentiality agreement, as the House Intel Committee sought to subpoena the firm’s banking information.