Analysis | The GOP’s very strange letter calling for an investigation of Christopher Steele
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) speaks to constituents at a town hall in Iowa Falls, Iowa on February 21, 2017. (Rachel Mummey for The Washington Post) A pair of GOP senators sent a letter to the Justice Department on Friday urging an investigation into Christopher Steele, the intelligence agent behind that famous dossier from the Russia investigation. And the whole thing is rather strange. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) sent the letter to the DOJ and FBI. In it, the pair says they have reason to believe Steele might have lied about disseminating information from the dossier. But while they make the allegation publicly in the letter, the details of Steele's potential lying are contained within an attached document marked classified. In other words, they are suggesting Steele may have lied, but don't say what he might have lied about. And indeed, it would be impossible for them to do so, given their accusation is apparently based upon his interviews with the FBI, which were recently shared with the Judiciary Committee and aren't public. But the point here is that they still made the allegation of Steele's lying public. As Devlin Barrett and Tom Hamburger note in their piece, that rubs some legal experts the wrong way. One former federal prosecutor, Peter Zeidenberg, called it "nonsense." He suggested it was a political effort intended to impact the Russia investigation -- in which Steele's dossier has become the focus of GOP allegations of improper conduct by federal law enforcement -- rather than a serious letter. He said that he had never heard of such a letter being released. Another reason it's strange is that Grassley and Graham are alleging that Steele may have lied using information the Justice Department already has and had shared with them. It's not clear why Grassley and Graham believe they see potential lies in Steele's interviews that the investigators haven't noticed. It's possible they have information from their own investigation that leads them to believe Steele lied, but they don't say as much in their cover letter. The backdrop against which this letter has suddenly emerged is extremely important here. There is an increasing effort among Republicans and the conservative-leaning media to question the legitimacy of the Russia investigation. Increasingly prominent in that effort are attempts to use the Steele dossier as the basis for a deep-state conspiracy against the president. The argument is basically that the dossier was used as the pretext for investigating the Trump campaign -- despite The Washington Post and others reporting that other things also factored into that decision -- and that it represents collusion between the Democrats who helped fund it and federal law enforcement.