Robert Mueller’s Dossier Dodge
In her public order Tuesday, Presiding Judge Rosemary Collyer of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court didn’t mention Robert Mueller. But her stinging rebuke of the FBI for abusing the FISA process to obtain a warrant to spy on Carter Page invites the question: How could the special counsel have ignored the Steele dossier?
Inspector General Michael Horowitz confirms the FBI sought to verify the claims former British spy Christopher Steele made in his dossier. Yet during an appearance before the House Intelligence Committee on March 20, 2017, when Mr. Comey was asked directly if the bureau was investigating them, Mr. Comey answered: “I’m not gonna comment on that.”
He had good reason to dodge. By that time, the Horowitz report makes clear, the FBI knew that most of the Steele dossier’s claims were unreliable. Yet rather than take a hard look at it, Team Mueller made a deliberate choice to tiptoe around it. In his opening statement to Congress when he testified this July, Mr. Mueller declared he would not address “matters related to the so-called Steele dossier,” which he said were out of his purview.
This makes no sense. The Steele dossier was central to obtaining the Page warrant, and the leaks about the dossier fanned two years of media theories about Russian collusion that was one reason Mr. Mueller was appointed as special counsel. Mr. Mueller owed the public an explanation of how much of the dossier could be confirmed or repudiated.
Instead he abdicated, and the mystery is why. Perhaps as a former FBI director, Mr. Mueller wanted to protect the bureau’s reputation. But the best way to do that was to lay out the truth and explain any mistakes. A less generous explanation is that Mr. Mueller was more a figurehead as special counsel, and that the investigation was really run by his deputy Andrew Weissmann.
Remember that Justice official Bruce Ohr —who served as a conduit between Mr. Steele and the FBI—says Mr. Weissmann was among those at Justice he briefed that Mr. Steele hated Mr. Trump and that the dossier was opposition research. Before Mr. Mueller made him deputy, Mr. Weissmann also praised then Acting Attorney General Sally Yates in an email for refusing to implement a Trump executive order. This November he appeared on MSNBC to suggest that Mr. Trump had broken the law and that he didn’t have faith in Attorney General William Barr to honestly handle the work of career prosecutors.
Mr. Mueller’s dodge on the Steele dossier—and Mr. Weissmann’s partisanship—vindicates our view from 2017 that Mr. Mueller was the wrong man to be special counsel. On the evidence in the Horowitz report, the special counsel team had to know the truth about the Steele dossier and false FBI claims to the FISA court, but they chose to look the other way.