NEW YORKER: One subject that Steele is believed to have discussed with Mueller’s investigators is a memo that he wrote in late November, 2016, after his contract with Fusion had ended. This memo, which did not surface publicly with the others, is shorter than the rest, and is based on one source, described as “a senior Russian official.” The official said that he was merely relaying talk circulating in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but what he’d heard was astonishing: people were saying that the Kremlin had intervened to block Trump’s initial choice for Secretary of State, Mitt Romney. (During Romney’s run for the White House in 2012, he was notably hawkish on Russia, calling it the single greatest threat to the U.S.) The memo said that the Kremlin, through unspecified channels, had asked Trump to appoint someone who would be prepared to lift Ukraine-related sanctions, and who would coöperate on security issues of interest to Russia, such as the conflict in Syria. If what the source heard was true, then a foreign power was exercising pivotal influence over U.S. foreign policy—and an incoming President.
As fantastical as the memo sounds, subsequent events could be said to support it. In a humiliating public spectacle, Trump dangled the post before Romney until early December, then rejected him. There are plenty of domestic political reasons that Trump may have turned against Romney. Trump loyalists, for instance, noted Romney’s public opposition to Trump during the campaign. Roger Stone, the longtime Trump aide, has suggested that Trump was vengefully tormenting Romney, and had never seriously considered him. (Romney declined to comment. The White House said that he was never a first choice for the role and declined to comment about any communications that the Trump team may have had with Russia on the subject.) In any case, on December 13, 2016, Trump gave Rex Tillerson, the C.E.O. of ExxonMobil, the job. The choice was a surprise to most, and a happy one in Moscow, because Tillerson’s business ties with the Kremlin were long-standing and warm. (In 2011, he brokered a historic partnership between ExxonMobil and Rosneft.) After the election, Congress imposed additional sanctions on Russia, in retaliation for its interference, but Trump and Tillerson have resisted enacting them. MORE
PREVIOUSLY: ZERO DARK THIRTY: A Q&A W/ The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer
FRESH AIR: Although Trump and his allies have sought to portray the 35-page dossier as Democratic-funded propaganda, the work that led to its creation initially started with Republicans themselves. A GOP financier approached the private intelligence firm Fusion GPS to begin work researching Trump, but then discontinued that support. Later, after it was clear that Trump would be the Republican nominee, a law firm connected to the Clinton campaign began funding the work. Mayer says that Steele never knew precisely for whom he was ultimately working. “The argument being made by the Republicans these days in Congress is that it was a huge conspiracy of the Clinton campaign with Christopher Steele,” Mayer says. “But, in fact, if you really go back and look at the facts, Christopher Steele didn’t know for months that he was working for the Clinton campaign — and the Clinton campaign never learned that Christopher Steele was on their payroll until it was in the press.” MORE