New details about the late Sen. John McCain’s role in distributing a salacious 2016 dossier involving President Donald Trump were revealed in recently unsealed court filings.
The reveal unleashed a new round of Trump fury against McCain seven months after the senator’s death.
McCain, R-Ariz., previously had acknowledged getting a copy of the dossier, which was a compilation of memos written by former British spy Christopher Steele, and delivering it to then-FBI Director James Comey. The explosive dossier contained unverified information and, among other things, claimed the Russians had compromising information on Trump.
David Kramer, who had known McCain since his days at the State Department, is an expert on Russia and is involved with the McCain Institute for International Leadership. He was deposed in December 2017 as part of a legal battle waged by a Russian businessman Aleksej Gubarev over BuzzFeed’s publication of the dossier.
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A judge for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida unsealed the records last week.
Over the weekend, Trump renewed his attacks on McCain, whom he remained locked in a public feud with until the senator's death last August following a battle with brain cancer. Trump hit McCain, a former prisoner of war, over his involvement with the dossier and his grades at the U.S. Naval Academy.
"So it was indeed (just proven in court papers) 'last in his class' (Annapolis) John McCain that sent the Fake Dossier to the FBI and Media hoping to have it printed BEFORE the Election," Trump tweeted on Sunday. "He & the Dems, working together, failed (as usual). Even the Fake News refused this garbage!"
One of McCain's highest-profile public defenders, his daughter Meghan McCain, called Trump's obsession with her father "pathetic."
"He spends his weekend obsessing over great men because he knows it, and I know it, and all of you know it: He will never be a great man,” said McCain, co-host of ABC's "The View."
Kramer’s deposition — which reads like a spy thriller and offers an extraordinary behind-the-scenes lead up to the publication of the dossier — reveals that he circulated the dossier to multiple news organizations, a revelation that until now, had not been disclosed.
Kramer's testimony also provides more complete details of key events from the time McCain learned of the dossier during the November 2016 Halifax International Security Forum. McCain had said he learned of the dossier after Kramer introduced him to a retired British diplomat who knew of the dossier. Kramer said that diplomat approached him presumably as a way to connect with McCain, who was deemed an influential conduit.
McCain addressed his role in the dossier drama in his 2018 memoir, "The Restless Wave: Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights, and Other Appreciations."
"I had an obligation to bring to the attention of appropriate officials unproven accusations I could not assess myself, and which, were any of them true, would create a vulnerability to the designs of a hostile foreign power," McCain and co-author Mark Salter wrote in the book. "I discharged that obligation, and I would do it again. Anyone who doesn't like it can go to hell."
In the deposition, Kramer said of McCain's views on the dossier: "... I don't think in the least that he viewed this in political terms."
Neither did Kramer, he said.
Kramer: Steele thought McCain could give dossier 'a little more oomph'
Kramer's deposition lays out what happened.
McCain directed Kramer to travel to London to meet with Steele. During that one-day trip in his "personal capacity," Steele met Kramer at the airport and identified himself via text message as the man wearing a blue coat, holding a Financial Times newspaper.
Steele drove Kramer to his home and Kramer read the dossier in his living room.
After lunch at a nearby pub, Steele told Kramer “that he thought having Senator McCain weigh in would be hopeful in terms of giving the FBI additional prod to take this seriously,” Kramer said.
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Kramer added later that "... I think he (Steele) felt that ... having Sen. McCain provide it to the FBI would give it a little more oomph than it had had up until that point."
It helped that McCain, a six-term senator and chairman of the influential Senate Armed Services Committee, "was better to be the recipient of this rather than a Democrat because if it were a Democrat, I think that the view was that it would have been dismissed as a political attack."
Back in Washington, D.C., Kramer obtained two versions of the dossier by Glenn Simpson, a former journalist and co-founder of Fusion GPS, a research firm. One was a copy with redactions, the other had no redactions. Steele was contracted by Fusion GPS to conduct opposition research on Trump for the Democratic National Committee and a law firm representing the campaign of Trump's then-Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
Kramer said Steele and Simpson knew he would be giving the dossier to McCain.
Kramer: McCain wanted to do 'due diligence' before giving dossier to FBI
During the hand-off in McCain’s office one evening in late November, Kramer recalled telling McCain and aide Chris Brose that he was couldn't verify the information but that the senator should share it with law enforcement.
McCain asked Kramer to share the report with a State Department official and a National Security Council official.
"Senator McCain asked me to meet with both of them to see if this was being taken seriously in The Government," Kramer said. "... This was kind of due diligence before he went to Director Comey."
A top McCain aide later told Kramer the senator shared the dossier with Comey, the then-FBI director.
Brose told him McCain went alone without staff to meet with Comey, Kramer said. Kramer said he kept Steele and Simpson “apprised” of McCain’s contact with the FBI about the dossier.
The McCain associate distributed dossier to BuzzFeed, other media
Kramer acknowledged during the deposition that he gave a copy of the memos to reporters at BuzzFeed News, McClatchy news service, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and National Public Radio. Kramer said Steele and Simpson were aware of some of his contacts with media outlets; he said Steele specifically asked him to meet with a BuzzFeed reporter and veteran journalist Carl Bernstein, which he did.
“I, you know, became aware that other journalists either had seen it or had it,” Kramer said in the deposition. “I stressed to every person I met the sensitivity of the document, the need to verify or refute it, and not to publish it. Unless or until that would be done. And if it was refuted, it was obviously no reason to publish it.”
Kramer met with a BuzzFeed reporter on Dec. 29 at the McCain Institute in Washington, D.C. The office was closed for the holidays, he said. They met for no more than an hour.
The reporter asked if he could take photos of the memos.
" ... He said he wanted to read them, he asked me if he could take photos of them on his — I assume it was an iPhone,” Kramer recalled. “I asked him not to. He said he was a slow reader, he wanted to read it. And so I said, you know, I got a phone call to make, and I had to go to the bathroom so I’ll let you be because I don’t read well when people are looking at me breathing down my neck, and so I left him to read for 20, 30 minutes.”
Kramer said he did not know photos had been taken, and that if he had known that the reporter was going to take photos — and that BuzzFeed would publish the memos — he would not have given the reporter access to the dossier.
Kramer learned from Simpson that BuzzFeed had posted the memos, and called the reporter.
"And my first words out of my mouth were, ‘You are gonna get people killed,'” he said in the deposition.
And, he recalled his reaction when he saw — while coincidentally meeting with a reporter from the Guardian — CNN’s reporting of the dossier.
“I believe my words were, ‘Holy s--t.’”
Kramer tried talking the Journal out of publishing Steele’s name in their reporting, but when that was unsuccessful, “Mr. Steele went into hiding,” Kramer said, adding, “He was shocked.”
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Former Sen. John McCain's role in Trump dossier intrigue detailed in deposition