It covers just eight pages, misspells names, and relies on only one Russian intelligence source.
The so-called second dossier echoes many assertions about Donald Trump’s activities with Russians that former British spy Christopher Steele made in his reports, now called “the Steele dossier.”
And the “second dossier” is gaining increasing attention in Washington, where Republicans say it provides additional evidence of anti-Trump taint in the Trump-Russia investigation.
But to paraphrase the late Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, we’ve read the second dossier, and it’s no Steele dossier. It’s not even a dossier.
Written by Cody Shearer, a one-time journalist who became an activist in the 1990s and has close ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton, its 26 paragraphs are divided into two reports — one dated Sept. 24, 2016, the other, Oct. 12, 2016 — that summarize his interviews with people he solicited for dirt on Trump in Russia.
The main sources are two prominent American journalists said to have chased Trump sexcapade rumors in Russia; an unnamed Turkish businessman with “excellent contacts” in Russia’s Federal Security Service, and an unnamed member of the service.
Two-thirds of the reports cover Trump’s supposed sexual activities and add only a couple of details to the Steele dossier. The rest concerns Trump financial activities, with a focus on Azerbaijan, the former Soviet republic with a not-quite-completed Trump tower.
Some details enhance the reports’ credibility and others detract from it. Paul Manafort’s last name is spelled “Manniford,” even though Manafort had been a news fixture since being fired in August 2016 as Trump’s campaign chair. Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, founders of the research group that hired Steele, are “Glen Semper” and “Peter Fitch.”
The Wall Street Journal, whose reporter Shearer contacted, told BuzzFeed News that Shearer's account of his discussion contains "many inaccuracies." One, according to a Journal statement, is Shearer's assertion that the Journal reporter said Simpson and Fritsch were being paid by the Democratic National Committee for their research on Trump.
Although it was disclosed late last year that the DNC was paying for the research, the Journal reporter "had no such knowledge until it became public," the statement says.
If the Steele dossier evokes Russian literature with its endless cast and nuanced relationships, the Shearer reports are the CliffsNotes.
They would be of little interest were it not for their authorship and a series of exchanges that put them in the hands of the FBI just before the 2016 election.
Cody Shearer, 67, has long and personal ties to the Clintons. His late twin sister, Brooke, was director of the Clinton-era White House Fellowship program and was married to then-deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott. Shearer's investigation of Trump fit his interest in uncovering international scandals.
Republicans are focusing on a series of exchanges in the months before the 2016 election, which went as follows:
- Shearer shared his reports with longtime friend Sidney Blumenthal, a close associate of the Clintons.
- Blumenthal showed the reports to his longtime friend Jonathan Winer, who was the State Department’s special envoy to Libya when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state.
- Winer showed the reports to his longtime friend Christopher Steele, the former British spy who had been investigating Trump’s activities in Russia for months.
- And Steele gave the reports to the FBI in October 2016 as part of an arrangement developed months earlier, when Steele began telling the FBI about his own research into Trump and Russia. Steele received the Shearer reports after he’d written most of his Trump-Russia dossier.
It is not known what the FBI did with the reports or if they influenced the counterintelligence investigation the FBI started in July 2016 after receiving reports of contacts between Russians and Trump campaign officials.
The reports do not mention former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. That makes it unlikely that they were included in the disputed Justice Department request in October 2016 for secret court approval to monitor Page.
But Republicans are suspicious.
House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes said his committee is probing the State Department as “phase two” of its investigation, following an examination of the Justice Department’s application for the warrant to monitor Page. “We are looking into discrepancies or irregularities at the State Department and how information came into the State Department, what was done with that information, how that was processed and where it went,” Nunes said Wednesday in a radio interview with conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt. He did not respond to a request for comment from BuzzFeed News.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, a Republican on the intelligence committee, said Tuesday on Fox News that he was “pretty troubled by what I read in the documents with respect to the role the State Department played in the fall of 2016.”
Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham said in a letter released Monday that they were troubled that “Clinton associates” were “feeding” information to Steele. Grassley did not respond to a BuzzFeed News request for comment.
Shearer and Blumenthal have remained quiet since Shearer’s reports emerged, and efforts to reach them and Winer were not immediately successful.
In an opinion piece published Thursday night on the web by the Washington Post, Winer explained his actions.
Winer, now an expert at the Middle East Institute, a Washington think tank, said he’d known Steele since 2009, when both men were working in the private sector. After Winer returned to the State Department in 2013, he stayed in touch with Steele and received reports the former spy was writing about Russia. One batch of reports that Winer reviewed in the summer of 2016 was the Steele dossier.
Several months later, in late September 2016, Winer spoke with his “old friend” Blumenthal. As the conversation turned to ongoing news reports that Russians had hacked Democrats’ emails, Blumenthal showed Winer the Shearer reports. Struck by the reports’ similarity to the Steele dossier, Winer said he gave the reports to Steele “for his professional reaction.”
“He told me it was potentially ‘collateral’ information,” Winer writes in his op-ed. “He said that it was similar but separate from the information he had gathered from sources.”
Winer, knowing Shearer was not an intelligence officer, did not mention the Shearer reports to anyone in the State Department. Steele gave the reports to the FBI, Winer said, “after the FBI asked him to provide everything he had on allegations relating to Trump, his campaign and Russian interference in US elections.” ●
This post has been updated to include a statement from the Wall Street Journal.
Thomas Frank is an FBI reporter at BuzzFeed News. He is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Thomas Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.