President Trump says "it's a disgrace" for Democrats to embrace a discredited dossier by an ex-British spy to attack him and argue for Congress to create a special commission to investigate Russian intervention in the 2016 election.
The unverified 35-page series of memos by Christopher Steele accused the Trump campaign of an elaborate criminal conspiracy with Russia to hack Democratic Party computers. Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, read parts of the dossier into the hearing record on March 20, as did three other Democrats, as he argued for a commission.
In an exclusive interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Trump was asked about this Democratic tactic.
"I think it's a disgrace," the president said. "The dossier has been totally discredited, No. 1. No. 2, Adam Schiff is totally partisan, as partisan as you can get. And No. 3, the Russia story is a fake story. It was made up so that they can justify the fact that Hillary Clinton lost an election that a Democrat should not lose because it's almost impossible for a Democrat to lose the Electoral College. And not only did she lose, but she lost by a lot because I got 306 and [she got] 232."
Referring to Mr. Steele, the president said, "He made it up."
There has been no public official confirmation of any of the dossier's charges against Mr. Trump and his aides.
The dossier initially was shunned by the liberal media. Noted reporter Bob Woodward labeled it "garbage." But in recent weeks, sites such as CNN and CBS began to try to rehabilitate it, quoting unnamed sources as saying parts of it are true.
Some liberal news sites identify Mr. Steele simply as a former British MI6 intelligence officer. In his dossier role, he was not an objective intelligence analyst, but instead was on the payroll of a Hillary Clinton backer, through Fusion GPS, to produce information that would injure the Trump campaign.
The New York Times reported that the FBI offered Mr. Steele $50,000 last fall to continue investigating Trump aides, but the deal did not go through.
The Washington Times asked Mr. Trump his reaction to the FBI wanting to partner with an anti-Trump opposition research agent.
"I think if that's true with the FBI, that would be very disgraceful," the president said. "You understand that."
The dossier remained mostly an unpublicized gossip sheet circulating among Washington reporters and Democrats during the campaign. It burst into the public on Jan. 10, when the website BuzzFeed posted all 35 pages, complete with the names of those accused of lawbreaking.
Mr. Steele wrote the memos from June to December as a hired gun for a Clinton backer via the Washington-based opposition research firm.
At the time, Mr. Trump himself and his associates labeled the dossier as being fabricated and fiction.
For example, Michael D. Cohen, the attorney for the Trump Organization and now the president's personal attorney, was said by Mr. Steele to have attended a late-August meeting in Prague with Russian agents to cover up supposed payments to Russian hackers.
"He wasn't there," Mr. Trump told The Times. "He was in California [at] USC with his son and with the dean."
Mr. Cohen has showed his passport and travel documents to reporters to prove he did not go to Prague.
Mr. Trump himself was accused of salacious behavior in a Moscow hotel.
"My thing was horribly made up," he said. "That was disgusting."
Mr. Steele's sources also leveled scandalous charges against a prominent, high-tech venture capitalist. The dossier said Aleksej Gubarev, CEO of network solutions firm XBT Holdings, actively participated in the hacking of the Democratic Party by sending streams of pornography and bugging devices to its computers.
Mr. Gubarev denied all of this. He has sued BuzzFeed for libel in a Florida court and has sued Mr. Steele and his Orbis Business Intelligence firm in a London court, claiming great financial losses.
The Washington Times first reported on April 26 on a court filing by Mr. Steele and his two London attorneys that significantly changes the narrative on how the dossier was researched and passed around. It marked the first time Mr. Steele has spoken publicly about his work.
He said the section on Mr. Gubarev came from "unsolicited intelligence" and "raw intelligence" that "needed to be analyzed and further investigated/verified."
Fusion GPS circulated the dossier in Washington, but Mr. Steele said the document never should have been made public.
'Still largely unconfirmed'
"At all material times Fusion was subject to an obligation not to disclose to third parties confidential intelligence material provided," his court filing said.
Mr. Steele's defense is not based on the truthfulness of his charges but on the argument that Fusion and BuzzFeed are to blame.
Mr. Steele's filing focused on his description of how he wrote the Gubarev memo, not the other 16 memos that compose the dossier.
Six targets of Mr. Steele's allegations, including the president and a Russian diplomat once posted in Washington, have denied his allegations. They say they never met with the people with whom Mr. Steele said they conspired or associated.
The denials have not stopped Democrats, and some liberal news sites, from asserting the dossier is true.
At a much-watched March 20 House Intelligence Committee hearing, featuring the FBI and National Security Agency directors, Mr. Schiff quoted from the dossier as he argued his case for an investigative commission, as opposed to the ongoing probes in the House and the Senate.
After the hearing, The Times reached out to Mr. Schiff's office about his reliance on the dossier. A spokesman declined to comment.
Rep. Joaquin Castro, Texas Democrat, also referred to Mr. Steele as a stellar intelligence officer and attempted to get FBI Director James B. Comey and NSA Director Adm. Michael Rogers to confirm the dossier.
"My focus today is to explore how many claims within Steele's dossier are looking more and more likely, as though they are accurate," Mr. Castro said at the hearing. "The reputation of the author, Christopher Steele, as a former accomplished British intelligence officer with a career built on following Russia, is important. This is not someone who doesn't know how to run a source and not someone without contacts. The allegations it raises about President Trump's campaign aides' connections to Russians, when overlaid with known established facts and timelines from the 2016 campaign, are very revealing."
When Adm. Rogers said "it's a possibility" that Russia looks to trade information with Americans, Mr. Castro took that general statement as an affirmation of the Steele dossier.
"The dossier definitely seems right on these points," Mr. Castro said. "A quid pro quo relationship seems to exist between the Trump campaign and Putin's Russia."
Days after the hearing, another House Intelligence Committee Democrat, Rep. James A. Himes of Connecticut, told CBS News: "The work that he did, the dossier, is still largely unconfirmed, but the more time that passes, the more that dossier acquires credibility. I do think that we'll want to talk to Christopher Steele and at least understand where he got a lot of his information."
James R. Clapper, the nation's top intelligence officer until Jan. 20, said his people could not confirm Mr. Steele's charges or determine who his sources were.
Michael J. Morell, former acting CIA director, said Mr. Steele paid intermediaries to talk to former Russian intelligence officers who are noted for peddling "innuendo and rumor."
Several press reports have said the FBI used the Steele dossier, which it acquired during the summer, as a road map to investigate Mr. Trump and his associates on allegations they colluded with Russian intelligence on the hacking.
When Mr. Castro asked Mr. Comey about Mr. Steele, the FBI director said, "I'm not gonna comment on that."
Based on a recent letter sent by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, it now appears Mr. Comey is trying to distance the bureau from Mr. Steele.
The senator had sent a March 6 letter to Mr. Comey requesting specific information on Mr. Steele and the FBI. At a subsequent private March 15 meeting with Mr. Grassley, Mr. Comey sought to downplay the link.
This can be discerned from a followup letter Mr. Grassley sent to Mr. Comey on April 28 in which he said "there appear to be material inconsistencies" between the description the FBI director provided the senator compared with information contained in Justice Department documents.
"Whether those inconsistencies were honest mistakes or an attempt to downplay the actual extent of the FBI's relationship with Mr. Steele, it is essential that the FBI fully answer all of the questions from the March 6 letter and provide all the requested documents in order to resolve these and related issues," Mr. Grassley wrote.