At virtually the same time that Steele told the F.B.I. about Russia’s interference in the 2016 Presidential campaign, the Kremlin was engaged—without his knowledge—in at least two other schemes to pass compromising information about Hillary Clinton to Trump’s inner circle.
The first scheme involved the Trump foreign-policy adviser George Papadopoulos. In April, 2016, over drinks with an Australian diplomat at a London bar, he divulged that Russia had access to thousands of Clinton e-mails. The diplomat informed his supervisors of this bizarre-sounding claim, but Papadopoulos was young and inexperienced, and the Australians didn’t give it much weight.
The second scheme unfolded at Trump Tower in New York. On June 9, 2016, top members of Trump’s campaign—including Donald Trump, Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner—had a private meeting on the twenty-fifth floor with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer. The attendees had been promised that she would present them with dirt Moscow had collected on Hillary Clinton. The meeting was set up after Donald, Jr., was approached by an emissary close to the Agalarov family—Azerbaijani oligarchs with whom Trump had partnered on the 2013 Miss Universe pageant, in Moscow. In an e-mail, the emissary promised Donald, Jr., that the documents “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” and described this gift as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Instead of going to the F.B.I., as Steele had, Trump’s older son responded giddily to the e-mail: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
Donald, Jr., and the other participants insist that nothing of consequence happened at the Trump Tower meeting: Veselnitskaya expressed frustration with U.S. sanctions on Russia, but offered no information on Clinton. A number of former intelligence officers, however, believe that the meeting, which happened soon after Papadopoulos’s encounter with the Australian diplomat, enhances the dossier’s credibility. John McLaughlin, the deputy director of the C.I.A. from 2000 until 2004, told me, “I haven’t formed a final thought, but clearly parts of it are starting to resonate with what we know to be true about the Russians’ willingness to deliver information harmful to Hillary Clinton.”