Two pivotal dossier players, Christopher Steele and David Kramer, have provided strikingly different versions of how eight Washington news outlets were provided with the document’s anti-Trump charges during the presidential transition.
Mr. Steele, the dossier’s creator, said in a written, signed declaration in a London libel case that he instructed Mr. Kramer to jealously guard the document except for national security purposes tied to Sen. John McCain.
Mr. Kramer, a McCain associate, contradicts this account. He has testified that Mr. Steele told him to freely pass the information to media, specifically to CNN and BuzzFeed, which were the first to report the dossier’s existence in January 2017.
Republicans have challenged Mr. Steele’s credibility, using words such as “hoax” and “disinformation” to describe allegations that he obtained from Kremlin intelligence and injected into Washington’s political system.
The dossier emerged as one of the most important opposition research papers in modern U.S. politics. Its purpose was to destroy the Trump candidacy and presidency. Democrats and the FBI embraced it as agents targeted the Republican’s campaign.
Mr. Kramer received the dossier from Mr. Steele in late November 2016, with investigative firm Fusion GPS as the middleman. Both Fusion and Mr. Steele were paid by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
Mr. Steele asserted in court declarations in London that he instructed Mr. Kramer to use dossier information only in an official national security capacity tied to McCain, then chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. McCain provided a dossier copy to then-FBI Director James B. Comey, although the bureau received the same document by December 2016.
Mr. Kramer, in a deposition in a second libel case in Florida, tells a different story.
Mr. Steele accused President Trump of being in the middle of an “extensive conspiracy” with the Kremlin to interfere in the election. Special counsel Robert Mueller reported March 22 that his 22-month investigation failed to establish such a conspiracy. No Trump person was charged with collusion.
In his final memo in December 2016, Mr. Steele accused Russian entrepreneur Aleksej Gubarev of hacking Democratic Party computers under pressure from Russian intelligence. Mr. Gubarev, a Cyprus-based developer of web hosting services, filed a defamation lawsuit against Mr. Steele in London. A trial is expected this fall.
For example, Mr. Steele’s attorneys made this court declaration on his behalf: “The Defendants [Mr. Steele and his private business] understood that the contents of the memoranda would be treated in the strictest confidence and would only be used by Senator McCain in his official capacity for the sole purpose of analyzing, investigating and verifying their contents to enable such action to be taken as necessary for the purposes of protecting U.S. national security. The Second Defendant [Mr. Steele] expressly informed Mr. Kramer that the pre-election memoranda were only to be used for this exclusive purpose before he showed Mr. Kramer any of the memoranda.”
The declaration further states that Mr. Steele told Fusion GPS, “It was explicitly stated that the memoranda were only to be provided to Mr. Kramer only for the purpose of passing them on to Senator McCain.”
Mr. Steele also asserted that “no copies of any of the pre-election memoranda or the December memorandum were ever provided to journalists by, or with the authorization of, the Defendants.”
Months later, in December 2017, Mr. Kramer gave testimony that directly conflicts with those declarations. He testified that he pitched the dossier to reporters at the urging of Mr. Steele. Referring to sessions he had with BuzzFeed and CNN’s Carl Bernstein, Mr. Kramer testified, “Both of the meetings occurred at Mr. Steele’s request.”
At another point in the deposition in Mr. Gubarev’s libel lawsuit against BuzzFeed in Florida, Mr. Kramer was asked, “Did Mr. Steele know that you were going to be providing a copy of the memo to The Washington Post?”
“Yes,” he replied.
“It seems clear that Steele wasn’t telling the truth,” Val Gurvits, Mr. Gubarev’s U.S. attorney, told The Washington Times. “Basically, Steele was trying to push this nonsense on anyone who would listen, but until BuzzFeed came along, no one was willing to repeat his unverified tall tales.”
Mr. Kramer’s distribution proved momentous. A BuzzFeed reporter photographed the 35-page dossier, and Editor Ben Smith decided to post it on Jan. 10, 2017. CNN used its copy to report that Mr. Comey had briefed President-elect Trump, giving the document credibility.
Republicans accuse President Obama’s top intelligence official, James R. Clapper, of leaking the meeting to CNN, for whom he would become a paid analyst. Mr. Clapper denies the charge.
Mr. Steele worked the Washington press corps in two stages: He came to Washington in September and October before the election at the behest of Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn R. Simpson. He briefed The New York Times, The Washington Post, Yahoo News and others. After the election, Mr. Steele in London used Mr. Kramer as his surrogate to contact journalists.
Mr. Gubarev sued BuzzFeed in a federal court in Florida. The judge threw out the case, saying the news website had a right to publish the dossier under a legal principle known as fair reporting privilege. Mr. Gubarev, who flatly denies he had anything to do with computer hacking, filed an appeal.
Mr. Kramer’s transcript has been unsealed in a U.S. district court in Florida.