Two Republican senators have recommended that the FBI pursue a criminal investigation against Christopher Steele — the author of the disputed Trump-Russia dossier — for what they described as evidence that he made false statements to federal investigators.
"I don’t take lightly making a referral for criminal investigation. But, as I would with any credible evidence of a crime unearthed in the course of our investigations, I feel obliged to pass that information along to the Justice Department for appropriate review,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said in a joint statement with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
The senators did not provide public evidence to substantiate their request, but they noted they sent a "classified memorandum" to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray containing the basis of their request.
The request does not assess the validity of the Steele dossier, nor does it constitute a criminal allegation. "The referral is for further investigation only," according to the statement.
Even so, Democrats quickly responded in anger.
"I wasn’t consulted about this referral nor were any of my Democratic colleagues," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on Grassley's committee. "I think this referral is unfortunate as it’s clearly another effort to deflect attention from what should be the committee’s top priority: determining whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the election and whether there was subsequent obstruction of justice."
Steele, a former British intelligence officer, was commissioned in 2016 by research firm Fusion GPS to investigate President Donald Trump's ties to Russia. The dossier he produced, which Trump has derided as fiction, describes years of illicit connections between Trump, his business and the Kremlin.
Republicans have persistently questioned how the FBI handled the dossier after receiving it during the 2016 campaign, including whether it formed the basis of a surveillance warrant against a Trump campaign associate and whether the FBI independently verified any of Steele's information.
Republicans have also sounded the alarm over reports that Fusion was paid by the Clinton campaign for Steele's research, suggesting that Steele's work was the product of a partisan smear effort.
The two senators claim in their letter to have seen evidence of "potential violations" by Steele of a law prohibiting false statements to government officials. These potential violations, they say, occurred "regarding his distribution of information contained in the dossier."
Their letter was copied to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, as well as Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.), the top lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Reps. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the top lawmakers on the House Intelligence ommittee.