WASHINGTON – A Justice Department inspector general’s report released Monday revealed Christopher Steele – the former British spy whose controversial reports alleged links between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives – was personal friends with a member of the Trump family that multiple media reports have identified as Ivanka Trump.
Steele was hired by a research firm that was working for the Clinton campaign to look into the Republican presidential nominee in 2016. His reports – collectively referred to as the “Steele dossier” – alleged Russians had been “cultivating” Trump for years and made a salacious, and unverified, claim that Trump could have been vulnerable to blackmail.
The inspector general’s report “determined that Steele’s reports played no role” in the opening of the FBI investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, though the report also faulted the FBI for relying on uncorroborated aspects of Steele’s reporting in its request for permission to wiretap Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
President Donald Trump and his supporters have argued the FBI gave Steele’s reporting too much weight and have used that claim as evidence that the investigation was a politically motivated “hoax.”
DOJ inspector general:FBI wiretap of Trump campaign aide was riddled with errors, but Russia probe was legally
Steele said the idea he was biased against Trump was “ridiculous.”
“He stated that if anything he was ‘favorably disposed’ toward the Trump family before he began his research,” the inspector general reported, “because he had visited a Trump family member at Trump Tower” and had “been friendly” with that person “for some years.”
“He described their relationship as ‘personal’ and said that he once gifted a family tartan from Scotland to the family member,” the report said.
The president’s eldest daughter and White House adviser Ivanka Trump was the family member whom Steele befriended, ABC News first reported.
Steele and Ivanka Trump met at a dinner in 2007 when Steele was headling the Russia desk for the British foreign intelligence agency MI6, according to ABC News. They began to exchange emails and stayed in touch after Steele left MI6 to open a private firm, Orbis Business Intelligence.
Steele and Ivanka Trump, who was then an executive vice president for the Trump Organization, discussed potential work his firm could do for her father’s company between 2010 and 2012. Though they never ended up working together, the two remained friends through 2015, The Washington Post reported.
The White House declined USA TODAY’s request for comment on the reported friendship.
In addition to his ties to the Trump family, Steele told the inspector general that another reason his reports had not been guided by any personal views, or tailored to please the Clinton campaign, was that “his firm would not be in business if it provided biased information.”
Investigators asked Steele about a statement from senior Justice Department official Bruce Ohr, who said Steele told him he was “desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being the U.S. President.”
Steele disputed Ohr’s version of his remarks and told investigators that while he was “concerned that Trump was a national security risk” he “had no particular animus against Trump otherwise.”
The FBI investigation eventually led to the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate the collusion allegations.
Mueller’s final report did not establish a criminal conspiracy between members of the Trump campaign and the Russian government. But it “identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump Campaign,” found that “the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome,” and determined the Trump campaign “expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.”