Washington Post — January 5, 2018 by Devlin Barrett and Tom Hamburger

The Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee recommended Friday that the Justice Department investigate for possible criminal charges the author of the now-famous dossier alleging the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin during the 2016 election.

The move by Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) marks a major escalation in conservatives’ challenges to the FBI’s credibility as the agency investigates whether any Trump associates committed crimes. Another Republican, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), joined in the letter to the Justice Department.

Their letter makes what is called a criminal referral to the Justice Department, suggesting it investigate the dossier’s author, former British spy Christopher Steele, for possibly lying to the FBI. It is a crime to lie to FBI agents about a material fact relevant to an ongoing investigation.

The letter says Steele may have lied to the FBI “regarding his distribution of information contained in the dossier.” In response to a lawsuit filed in London, Steele has said he had off-the-record conversations with a handful of news organizations during that period, including The Washington Post. It was not immediately clear how conversations with reporters might be materially relevant to the investigation the FBI was conducting.

The move by Grassley and Graham was viewed skeptically by some Democrats and Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, as well as experts in criminal law.

Steele’s role has become a matter of increasingly heated debate, with the White House and Republicans on Capitol Hill suggesting his reports were biased, since he was hired with money that ultimately came from the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

Steele’s allegations — in addition to other information, including intelligence intercepts and an Australian diplomat’s account of a conversation with a Trump adviser in a London wine bar — prompted the FBI to open a counterintelligence investigation into Trump associates in July 2016, according to current and former officials. The Australian warning was first reported by the New York Times.

That investigation has since expanded into a special-counsel probe by Robert S. Mueller III, whose work has led to indictments of two former Trump campaign officials, as well as guilty pleas and cooperation deals from two others. As the Russia probe has heated up, some Republicans have amplified their attacks on Steele’s dossier, contending it was a weapon in a political smear campaign they claim was aided by the FBI.

Steele did not respond to a request for comment. But a lawyer for the consulting firm that hired him, Fusion GPS, had a strong reaction.

“After a year of investigations into Donald Trump’s ties to Russia, the only person Republicans seek to accuse of wrongdoing is one who reported on these matters to law enforcement in the first place,” the lawyer, Joshua A. Levy, said in a statement. “Publicizing a criminal referral based on classified information raises serious questions about whether this letter is nothing more than another attempt to discredit government sources, in the midst of an ongoing criminal investigation. We should all be skeptical in the extreme.”

A veteran prosecutor, Peter Zeidenberg, said he had never heard of anything like the Grassley-Graham complaint and labeled it “nonsense” designed to detract from ongoing inquiries into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Washington Post article continues at link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/senior-republican-refers-trump-dossier-author-for-possible-charges/2018/01/05/ead4585e-f0af-11e7-b390-a36dc3fa2842_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-top-table-main_dossier-205pm%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.e8d932ddc711