“I obviously presume that if it is on a CNN site that it may have some kind of CNN status.”
Former British spy Christopher Steele admitted that he referenced unverified internet posts to compile his dossier, which was used as a basis for the FBI’s investigation of Donald Trump.
In an except from a deposition that was made public Thursday, Steele said he relied on a 2009 report that he found on CNN’s iReport to verify his explosive allegations of Trump-Russia collusion. Asked if he was aware that the website comprises “nothing more than random individuals’ assertions” on the internet,” Steele said he was not.
“I do not have any particular knowledge of that,” he said.
CNN made clear at the time that the posts on the website were “user generated,” specifying: “That means the stories submitted by users are not edited, fact-checked, or screened before they post.” Direct posting to iReport has since been disallowed.
Steele, an ex-M16 officer, was deposed last July in London as part of a lawsuit over the Trump dossier brought by the Russian owner of Webzilla, a web server company thought to have been used by Russian operatives to hack Democratic Party leaders. Aleksej Gubarev sued Steele and Buzzfeed News for allegedly defaming him by making those claims in the dossier public. The lawsuit was dismissed in December, but Gubarev has appealed.
While Steele’s full 145-page testimony has remained sealed, 43 pages were disclosed as part of separate court filings. At one point in the deposition, Steele was asked if he discovered “anything of relevance concerning Webzilla” during the verification process.
“We did,” he replied. “It was an article I have got here which was posted on July 28, 2009, on something called CNN iReport.”
Steele was then asked if he understood that the content on the website came from people who are not CNN reporters and have “no connection to any CNN reporters.”
“I do not,” he responded on both counts.
“Do you understand that CNN iReports are or were nothing more than any random individuals’ assertions on the Internet?” the questioner then asked.
“No, I obviously presume that if it is on a CNN site that it may have some kind of CNN status,” Steele said. “Albeit that it may be an independent person posting on the site.”
Steele said that his methodology for researching Webzilla was “what we could call an open source search,” which he defined as “where you go into the internet and you access material that is available on the Internet that is of relevance or reference to the issue at hand or the person under consideration.”
Opposition research firm Fusion GPS hired Steele in 2016 to investigate then-Republican presidential candidate Trump. Fusion GPS’s work at the time was funded by a law firm representing Hillary Clinton’s Democratic campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
The resulting dossier alleged that the Trump campaign was engaged in a broad conspiracy with the Russian government and that the Kremlin held compromising information about Trump. It was cited by the FBI to obtain a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant to surveil Trump campaign associate Carter Page in October 2016.
In January 2017, Buzzfeed published the dossier in full without verifying the allegations.
Steele acknowledged in his deposition that the Trump dossier contained “raw intelligence” that could be untrue or even “deliberately false information.” He also said that Fusion GPS understood that the dossier might include “Russian disinformation.”
Asked why he offered such caveats, he said “because human intelligence is not a science. It is a complicated set of principles and information which have to be analyzed in an equally complicated and thorough way.”