Secretive search for man behind Trump dossier reveals tension in Russia inquiry

Attempt by two congressional staffers to contact former MI6 officer highlights fight for control over House intelligence committee’s investigation

Former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele in London. The dossier contained explosive allegations about Trump and the Kremlin. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA

Two US congressional staffers who travelled to London in July and tried to contact former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, were sent by a longstanding aide to Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House intelligence committee and a close ally of the White House.

The trip has brought back to the surface a continuing struggle for control of the committee’s investigation into Moscow’s role in the 2016 US election. The reliability of a dossier compiled by Steele, containing explosive allegations of extensive secret collusion between Trump and the Kremlin, is a key part of that investigation.

The two staffers turned up unannounced at Steele’s lawyers’ offices while the former MI6 officer was in the building, according to a report by Politico on Friday. But the committee’s leading Democrat, Adam Schiff, said on Sunday neither he nor his Republican counterpart had been informed about the staffers’ London trip.

A congressional official insisted, however, that the staffers were in London on official committee business. He said they had been told to make contact with Steele’s lawyers, rather than Steele himself.

“It was an intelligence committee trip although going to meet with the lawyer was not the sole purpose of the trip. They were also there on other committee business,” the official said, but he added he could not describe what else the committee staffers were doing in London.

“Them being sent to meet with the lawyers was at the behest of the committee staff director,” the official added, speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of the subject.

The House intelligence committee’s staff director is Damon Nelson, who worked as deputy chief of staff for Devin Nunes from 2003 until 2014 and then as a senior adviser before moving in 2015 to the staff of the committee which Nunes chairs. Nunes was a member of Trump’s transition team on security and enraged Democrats by maintaining close contact with the president and making a secret visit late at night to the White House in March to view supposedly secret information without telling other committee members.

Nunes stepped aside from the committee’s Russia…

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