An associate of late Arizona Sen. John McCain described in detail his contacts with a dozen journalists and several government officials regarding the infamous Steele dossier, according to a transcript of a court deposition unsealed Thursday.
David Kramer, a former State Department official, said in a deposition on Dec. 13, 2017 that he provided a copy of Christopher Steele’s dossier to reporters from McClatchy, NPR, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and BuzzFeed and CNN’s Carl Bernstein.
He also shared the report with State Department official Victoria Nuland, Obama National Security Counsel official Celeste Wallander and Illinois GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger.
Kramer’s deposition sheds new light on the campaign by Steele and his employer, Fusion GPS, to disseminate the dossier to the press and government officials.
In the deposition, Kramer suggests that Steele and Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson sought to use him and McCain as conduits to pass the dossier to the FBI.
Sir Andrew Wood, a former British diplomat, first briefed Kramer and McCain in November 2016 on the dossier, authored by Steele. Kramer flew to London on Nov. 29, 2016 to meet with Steele. The next day, in the U.S., he obtained a copy of the dossier from Simpson. On Dec. 9, 2016, McCain briefed then-FBI Director James Comey on the salacious report.
Kramer said he believed McCain was sought out in order to provide more “oomph” in terms of attracting the FBI’s attention.
“I think they felt a senior Republican 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,” said Kramer.
In some cases, according to the deposition, Kramer shared the dossier with reporters with Steele’s and Simpson’s knowledge.
Kramer said Steele asked him to meet with CNN’s Bernstein and BuzzFeed’s Ken Bensinger.
BuzzFeed published the dossier on Jan. 10, 2017. The website made the controversial decision hours after CNN, in a story co-authored by Bernstein, reported that then-President-elect Donald Trump had been briefed on the salacious allegations in the dossier on Jan. 6, 2017.
“I met with Mr. Bernstein at Mr. Steele’s request. And I believe Mr. Bernstein had been in touch with Mr. Steele and so Mr. Steele asked me if I would meet with him and talk with him about it. Since Bernstein was in the U.S. and Steele was in London,” said Kramer, who was an executive at the McCain Institute.
He said he met with Bernstein on Jan. 3 or Jan. 4, 2017.
Kramer said he also met Mother Jones’s David Corn, The Guardian’s Julian Borger, and Washington Post reporters Tom Hamburger and Rosalind Helderman. Kramer also said that ABC News’s Brian Ross showed him a copy of some of Steele’s memos.
Kramer’s contact at McClatchy was Peter Stone, a reporter who worked on two debunked stories about former Trump attorney Michael Cohen that are based on allegations from Steele’s dossier.
Kramer said that two of the reporters, Corn and Borger, appeared to have inside knowledge about McCain’s plans to meet with Comey regarding the dossier.
Fusion GPS attempted to plant the dossier with various news outlets prior to the 2016 election. Simpson, Fusion’s founder, met with New York Times reporters, as well as Yahoo! News reporter Michael Isikoff. Corn and Isikoff were the only two reporters to publish stories before the election sourced directly to Steele’s reports.
Kramer also revealed details of his fateful meeting with Bensinger, the BuzzFeed reporter.
During a meeting at the McCain Institute on Dec. 29, 2016, Kramer said that Bensinger took photos of all 35 pages of the dossier. Kramer said he did not permit Bensinger to photograph the dossier, but that he left the room for 30 minutes to allow the reporter to review the document.
Kramer also said he gave Bensinger the same warning he provided other reporters he spoke with about the dossier.
“I said to him what I had said to the others, which is I’m not in a position to verify or refute this, but that it seemed to me to be serious enough to be looked at in a professional way, and that professional journalists were arguably in a position to look into the matter,” said Kramer. “And I stressed to him the sensitivity of it; that it had to be handled very carefully. And he agreed.”
Kramer said Simpson informed him about BuzzFeed’s publication of the dossier. He said he immediately called Bensinger to request the report be taken down.
“My first words out of my mouth were you are gonna get people killed,” said Kramer.
Kramer also said that he spoke to Steele hours after BuzzFeed published the dossier and that the former spy was “shocked.” The longtime McCain associate also said he lied to Steele about providing the dossier to Bensinger.
“He did ask me subsequently, and I denied it,” Kramer said when asked what he told Steele about the Bensinger contact.
Kramer said he lied to Steele out of concern that admitting he was BuzzFeed’s source would end their relationship.
“Initially I panicked, and then I felt I could try to do more good and by maintaining contact with Mr. Steele which I thought might end if I had told him,” said Kramer, who is now a fellow at Florida International University.
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