CNN’s Erin Burnett Claimed That Steele Dossier Was First Funded by Republicans, An Allegation That Has Long Been Debunked
WASHINGTON – CNN anchor Erin Burnett made multiple false claims Friday about the Steele dossier, including the long-debunked assertion that the salacious anti-Trump report was first funded by Republicans.
During her show, Burnett also falsely claimed that a newly released report produced on behalf of BuzzFeed News supported allegations that dossier author Christopher Steele made about Aleksej Gubarev, a Russian tech executive. She also asserted, without citing evidence, that many of the claims made in the dossier have been verified.
“New tonight, President Trump slamming the Steele dossier on Twitter calling it the, quote, ‘fake dossier paid for by crooked Hillary,’” Burnett began, referring to a Trump tweet earlier on Friday.
“Let’s just make sure we share the facts with you,” said Burnett. “It was paid for, right, by a conservative website funded by a Republican donor. That was the firm that paid for the dossier to get it started. As far as it being fake, we have a lot we don’t know. We do know several allegations in the dossier are true and tonight we’re learning more.”
In reality, Steele was working for Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm that was hired by the Clinton campaign and DNC to investigate Donald Trump. Prior to being hired by Democrats, Fusion GPS worked for The Washington Free Beacon, a website funded by Republican billionaire Paul Singer. That contract ended when Trump won the Republican primaries.
And contrary to what Burnett claimed on her show, none of the dossier’s key allegations about collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia have been verified in the two-plus years since its publication. And one of its most serious claims — that Michael Cohen visited Prague to pay off hackers — was disputed by the former Trump attorney during a sworn congressional hearing in February.
During her show, Burnett touted a report produced by Anthony Ferrante, a former FBI agent who was hired by BuzzFeed as part of its legal battle with Gubarev.
Steele claimed in one of his dossier’s memos that Gubarev was recruited under “duress” by Russian spies and played a “significant” role in hacking Democrats’ computer systems. Gubarev sued Steele and BuzzFeed, which published the dossier Jan. 10, 2017, for defamation.
Ferrante’s final investigative report and deposition were unsealed Thursday along with a slew of other documents from the lawsuit.
Ferrante, who was paid $4.1 million by BuzzFeed, found no evidence supporting the key claim about Gubarev. Instead, he determined only that Gubarev’s companies “have provided gateways to the internet for cybercriminals and Russian state sponsored actors to launch and control large scale malware campaigns over the past decade.”
Ferrante, who joined CNN as a contributor in January, also dinged Gubarev for failing to “actively prevent cybercriminals from using their infrastructure.”
Gubarev’s lawyer, Evan Fray-Witzer, dismissed the BuzzFeed-funded report in a statement Thursday.
“Buzzfeed spent $4.1 million on a team of former FBI agents to try to prove that Gubarev and his companies did what was alleged in the Steele Dossier and came up empty-handed,” he said.
“The Dossier didn’t say: ‘hey, someone might have misused XBT’s networks as part of the hack of the DNC,’” said Fray-Witzer.
“The Dossier directly and unequivocally accused Alex Gubarev of having been corrupted by the FSB and having personally hacked (or directed others to hack) the DNC. And that defamatory statement was, and is, a lie, plain and simple.”
Fray-Witzer also noted Gubarev has not been approached by special counsel Robert Mueller. Gubarev and his companies have also not been mentioned in Mueller’s indictments of Russian nationals accused of hacking Democrats’ email systems.
While Burnett was quick to claim that parts of the dossier have been verified, CNN has generally avoided discussing a recent development that undercut one of the Steele report’s most startling claims: that former Trump fixer Michael Cohen visited Prague during the 2016 campaign to pay off hackers.
That allegation suffered a fatal blow Feb. 27, when Cohen denied during a congressional hearing that he has ever visited Prague or the Czech Republic.
CNN’s own Jake Tapper has also undercut the Cohen allegation. On Jan. 11, 2017, the day after BuzzFeed published the dossier, Tapper claimed on air that a U.S. government official told him a different Michael Cohen had visited Prague. Tapper and CNN have since not revisited that statement.
Cohen’s Prague denial was mentioned on Burnett’s show Friday, but it came at the tail end of the segment fluffing the dossier’s claims about Gubarev.