Republican lawmakers are examining whether the State Department was involved the creation of a dossier alleging ties between the Trump campaign and Russia -- but one of the figures now under investigation said the probe misses the point.
Jonathan Winer, a veteran State Department staffer, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post explaining that dossier author Christopher Steele and others probing those ties were genuinely concerned that the Republican presidential nominee had been compromised by a hostile foreign power.
"In the summer of 2016, Steele told me that he had learned of disturbing information regarding possible ties between Donald Trump, his campaign and senior Russian officials," Winer wrote. "He did not provide details but made clear the information involved 'active measures,' a Soviet intelligence term for propaganda and related activities to influence events in other countries."
He said Steele told him in September 2016 that his sources suggested the Kremlin had hacked the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign, and also compromised Trump and developed ties with his associates and campaign.
"In the 1990s, I was the senior official at the State Department responsible for combating transnational organized crime," Winer said. "I became deeply concerned about Russian state operatives compromising and corrupting foreign political figures and businessmen from other countries. Their modus operandi was sexual entrapment and entrapment in too-good-to-be-true business deals."
That's exactly what Steele reported in his now-infamous dossier about Trump and his associates, and Winer said he had trusted the former British spy's findings after seeing his work in the 2010s after returning to the State Department.
Winer wrote up a two-page summary of Steele's findings to show to then-Secretary of State John Kerry, and he spoke to old friend and longtime Clinton ally Sidney Blumenthal -- who had been hacked by Russia himself in 2013.
"While talking about that hacking, Blumenthal and I discussed Steele’s reports," Winer said. "He showed me notes gathered by a journalist I did not know, Cody Shearer, that alleged the Russians had compromising information on Trump of a sexual and financial nature. What struck me was how some of the material echoed Steele’s but appeared to involve different sources."
He shared a copy of Shearer's notes to Steele, who agreed the findings were similar but came from different sources, and the former British spy handed over that document to the FBI when asked to provide all the allegations against Trump.
Winer said he was unable to determine whether the findings by Steele or Shearer were indeed accurate -- but he said they were serious and alarming enough to warrant concern from everyone who saw them.
"I was alarmed at Russia’s role in the 2016 election, and so were U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials," Winer said. "I believe all Americans should be alarmed — and united in the search for the truth about Russian interference in our democracy, and whether Trump and his campaign had any part in it."