According to Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence officer and author of the now famous Steele dossier authored a second memo. That second memo alleges that it was the Russian government that persuaded Donald Trump to not select former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney to be his Secretary of State at the beginning of his administration.
Mayer, who wrote a highly-detailed profile of Steele for this week’s edition of The New Yorker, writes that in a memo written in November 2016, Steele alleges that, based on a “senior Russian official,” the talk among the Russian Foreign Ministry was that the Kremlin had rejected Mitt Romney to be the nation’s top diplomat.
Romney had been notably tough on Russia during his 2012 presidential bid, memorably calling Russia, “without question our No. 1 geopolitical foe.”
“They fight for every cause for the world’s worst actors. The idea that he has more flexibility in mind for Russia is very, very troubling indeed,” Romney added.
He was speaking about a “hot mic” incident in which former President Barack Obama was overheard telling Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president at the time, at a summit in South Korea, that after the 2012 election, Obama’s last, he would have more “flexibility” to discuss certain issues, including global defense.
Romney was widely criticized for the remark, including by Obama, who, in one of the subsequent presidential debates accused Romney of focusing too closely on the past instead of present-day threats like Al-Qaeda. “The 1980s, they’re now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years,” Obama said at the time.
Steele’s memo alleges that the Kremlin, through backchannels, asked then President-Elect Trump to nominate someone who would be more cooperative on issues of interest to Russia, such as the lifting of Ukraine-related sanctions, and security coordination in Syria.
In December 2016, Trump would nominate former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson. Tillerson had, up until that point, had close ties with Russia broadly, and with current Russian President Vladimir Putin specifically.
Tillerson helped strike a deal with Rosneft, Russia’s state-owned oil giant in 2011, that gave Exxon the rights to develop oil fields in the Russian arctic. The deal was worth $3.2 billion but had the potential to grow to a staggering $500 billion over its life.
In 2013, Putin personally awarded Tillerson Russia’s Order of Friendship medal – the highest honor Russia can bestow on foreigners.
Mayer also contends, that Steele, through work at his London-based investigative-research firm that he a partner founded in 2009, Orbis Business Intelligence, performed work for a London law firm that was representing a Russian oligarch named Oleg Deripaska at the time. Deripaska is one of Putin’s closest associates, and figures prominently in the Robert Mueller special counsel investigation into Russian meddling, in that Paul Manafort, President Trump’s foreign campaign manager, is accused of defrauding Deripaska’s firm while working for it in Ukraine.
Manafort and an associate were indicted by Mueller last year for a litany of charges including money laundering and lying to the FBI.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, recently demanded more information from the London law firm on any financial ties between Steele and Deripaska. If financial connections are found, it could prove to be quite damaging for Steele’s credibility.