“Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad.” So declared Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. But he was wrong. The gods don’t make them mad – they make them stupid.
Christopher Steele’s famous dossier, back in the news now that the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee has begun hearings on Russiagate, is a case in point. The FBI took the dossier oh-so-seriously back in 2016, sending out agents to double-check the ex-MI-6 agent’s informants and using it to obtain secret search warrants against alleged Russia go-between Carter Page. Nicholas Kristof pronounce the dossier “plausible” in a January 2017 New York Times column entitled, “Donald Trump: Kremlin Employee of the Month,” while Adam Schiff regaled a House Intelligence Committee hearing with its contents. Former FBI Director James Comey continued to insist that the dossier’s most notorious finding – the celebrated “golden showers” episode in the Moscow Ritz Carlton – was “possible” well into 2018.
But as we now know, it was all nonsense. Steele’s Russian sources began backing away from the dossier as soon as it came out, confessing in follow-up interviews that the Ritz Carlton incident was nothing more than “rumor and speculation” and that other stories that Steele passed along with a straight face were the sort of gossip that friends bat back and forth over beers. As for Steele himself, former intelligence colleagues told the bureau that, while enthusiastic, he suffers from “lack of self-awareness” and “didn’t always exercise great judgment.”
The stories were baseless while Steele himself was unreliable – which is no doubt why the FBI kept such interviews under wraps. After all, why let the facts get in the way of a good investigation that’s generating scads of headlines by the minute, especially since the target is an all-purpose whipping boy like Vladimir Putin? Indeed, under wraps is where they would have stayed if Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz hadn’t ferreted them out and published them in a stunning report last December.
But the question is not so much why such findings were covered up, but why things got so far to begin with. The problem with the Steele dossier is not merely that it’s uncorroborated and under-researched. The problem is that it’s ridiculous on its face, a tale told by an idiot that only another idiot could believe. Any normal person would give it a quick read and toss it in the wastebasket.
Why? Let’s begin with the opening line: “Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years.”
Since Steele began compiling the dossier in June 2016, that means that the Kremlin had been working with Trump since at least 2011. But this is absurd since 2011 was Trump’s annus horribilis, the year he fell flat on his face after putting out feelers about entering the upcoming presidential race. Pundits dismissed him as a reality TV star looking for cheap publicity, Barack Obama skewered him mercilessly at the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, while Republican strategist Karl Rove dismissed his candidacy as “a joke.” Writer Erik Hedegaard described Trump as “a Barnum-type showman” with hair a “patriotic shade of amber waves of grain” in a hilarious Rolling Stone profile that’s still a must-read.
Trump was a walking, talking, bouffant-wearing punch line, in other words, which is why Russian intelligence would have had to have been positively clairvoyant to pick him out as someone who would one day be in a position to “sow discord and disunity both within the U.S. itself, but more especially within the Transatlantic alliance,” as the dossier puts it.
A few pages later, however, Steele reports that the Kremlin has been cultivating Trump not for five years, but for eight, i.e. starting back in 2008, which is even more absurd since Trump, struggling to keep himself afloat amid the greatest financial crisis in eighty years, was threatening to default on a $40-million loan from Deutsche Bank. Smart as Putin may be, he’d have to be a super-Einstein to see a foundering businessman like his as presidential material.
Thus, Steele’s core thesis – that Trump and Putin had a working relationship going back years – doesn’t pass the most elementary smell test. From there, things only get worse. “So far,” he continues, “TRUMP has declined various sweetener real estate business deals offered him in Russia in order to further the Kremlin’s cultivation of him.” The implication is that Trump was playing hard to get. Yet Steele goes on to say:
“Finally, regarding TRUMP’s claimed minimal investment profile in Russia, a separate source with direct knowledge said this had not been for want of trying. TRUMP’s previous efforts had included exploring the real estate sector in St Petersburg as well as Moscow but in the end TRUMP had had to settle for the use of extensive sexual services there from local prostitutes rather than business success.”
TRUMP – intelligence agents are fond of capital letters – was turning down business while struggling unsuccessfully to drum it up.
As for those St. Petersburg prostitutes, Steele confesses that the details are elusive because “all direct witnesses to this recently had been ‘silenced,’ i.e. bribed or coerced to disappear.” This sounds dark, mysterious, and very Russian. But no such difficulties exist with regard to the “golden showers” episode at the Moscow Ritz Carlton because the hotel “was known to be under FSB [i.e. Russian Federal Security Service] control with microphones and concealed cameras in all the main rooms to record anything they wanted to.” Video and audio tapes would certainly make for impressive evidence except that the dossier gives no indication of actually listening to or viewing such material. The result is an evidence-free assertion that’s both unproven and incontrovertible — which is to say, trash.
Then there’s the curious matter of the Jews. In describing a vast Russian intelligence operation aimed at sabotaging Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, Steele accuses the Kremlin of making “heavy use” of “coercion and blackmail” to enlist “U.S. citizens of Russian (Jewish) origin.” The dossier continues:
“On the mechanism for rewarding relevant assets based in the U.S., and effecting a two-way flow of intelligence and other useful information, Source E claimed that Russian diplomatic staff in key cities such as New York, Washington DC and Miami were using the ‘emigre’ ‘pension’ distribution system as cover. The operation therefore depended on key people in the U.S. Russian emigre community for its success. Tens of thousands of dollars were involved.”
Not only had the Kremlin entered into a working relationship with Trump, evidently, but it had also entered into a working relationship with America’s large Russian-Jewish émigré community. Two kinds of paranoia, anti-Russian and anti-Jewish, thus merged to form a single great Russo-Judaic conspiracy stretching from Moscow to Miami Beach. Since the dossier provides nothing by way of back-up, this was another reason to throw it in the garbage. But the FBI, which collectively seems to have the cranial capacity of a brontosaurus, thought the theory was worth pursuing regardless.
An exchange between Lisa and Peter Strzok gives us an idea of the depths to which the bureau had sunk. Page was the FBI in-house attorney who texted in August 2016, “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” To which Strzok, the agent in charge of the Russia investigation, replied: “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.” Eyebrows went up all over Washington when that little exchange got out.
But a conversation a few weeks earlier is no less revealing. After Page mentioned a news item about Trump’s alleged Kremlin ties, Strzok texted that he’s “partial to any women sending articles about how nasty the Russians are.” To which Page replied that Russians “are probably the worst. Very little I finding redeeming about this. Even in history. Couple of good writers and artists I guess.” Strzok agreed: “f***ing conniving cheating savages. At statecraft, athletics, you name it. I’m glad I’m on Team USA.”
The exchange was racist, bigoted, and most of all stupid – painfully so. Couple of good writers and artists I guess? Does that mean Page has never read Tolstoy or Turgenev, Babel or Bulgakov? That she’s never heard of Tchaikovsky or Prokofiev? Never seen a movie by Eisenstein or an opera by Borodin?
The mind reels. But the conversation speaks volumes about how intellectual levels had fallen. Basically, intelligence agents would believe anything about Russia, no matter how ridiculous, as long as it put it in a negative light.
Undoubtedly, narrowness of this sort had something to do with twenty-five years of unipolarity, that belief that, with the fall of the Soviets, the United States was now “the indispensable nation,” as Madeleine Albright put it in 1998, able to “stand tall and … see further than other countries into the future.” Since America could do no wrong, it no longer had to think about whether it was following the right course or not. It no longer had to think, period, and the fact that pundits hailed Albright as inestimably wise and profound meant that it would only sink deeper and deeper into thoughtlessness.
The world’s sole remaining superpower thus plunged ever deeper into arrogance and idiocy, as the entire Russiagate disaster shows. Former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi was fond of pointing out that no country can be both rich and stupid for more than a generation. He meant it as a reproach to the Italians, but he could have been addressing America as well. Now that it’s crashing and burning from terminal stupidity, it’s proving him right yet again.