A Wall Street Journal investigative report this week underlines just how frivolous were the claims in the Steele dossier, and how nonexistent was the attempt by

Christopher Steele,

the vaunted British ex-spy, to verify or even vet them.

The sources for many of the Steele allegations consisted of three people “brought together over a minor corporate-publicity contract,” not one of whom had any inside knowledge of Kremlin politics or the Trump campaign: the itinerant Washington-based, Russia-born researcher

Igor Danchenko

; a childhood friend,

Olga Galina,

who was employed by a Cyprus-based internet company; and

Charles Dolan,

a U.S. public-relations executive from whom the Cyprus company was seeking unrelated advice.

As Ms. Galina and Mr. Dolan would later tell investigators, they were shocked to learn Mr. Danchenko had recorded their idle chitchat and speculation about the upcoming 2016 election and passed it along as “intelligence.” To be emphasized with extreme prejudice is Mr. Steele’s studious incuriosity about the sourcing of the garbage he passed on to the Clinton campaign, with the only interesting question being how cognizant was the Clinton campaign or did it also not care.

Because, unless you’re a coward like 90% of the media and 100% of the foreign-policy class in Washington, you realize now the furor that consumed the country for three years did not originate with

Donald Trump

or even Russia, but with a Clinton-sponsored hoax.

To the extent that it soiled our politics, damaged U.S. standing and foreign relations, or influenced the calculations and miscalculations of

Vladimir Putin,

the blame lies in one place only. Whatever the Kremlin’s own six-figure investment in

Facebook

and

Twitter

memes or even its trafficking in stolen Democratic emails, nothing in Vladimir Putin’s bag of tricks inflicted one-millionth the damage on American life that the Steele fabrications did.

As can also be seen now with perfect clarity, Mr. Trump’s own contributions to the collusion legend, which are still adduced by certain morons in the press as evidence, received whatever shaky valence they had only by association with the false Steele narrative. Mr. Trump’s joke about Russia releasing Hillary’s emails was just that, an inappropriate joke. And so on, right through to his unfortunate performance at the Helsinki summit and his ill-advised alighting on Ukraine policy for half a second. An unseasoned (and blowhardy) politician was flailing under an unprecedented assault from fabricated treason allegations and a press determined to paint his election as illegitimate.

Mr. Trump may be a compendium of human vices but he will always be the president who withstood the most insidious, organized slur in modern memory. His enemies did that for him, not least among them a largely cretinous media that showed its true colors, which turned out to have nothing to do with fearless and searching concern for the truth.

Worth noting, in light of recent events, is also the coterie of “experts,” in and out of government, upon whom we rely to shape attitudes and policy toward such places as Russia and Ukraine. Since America is likely to have a GOP president and Congress again, we might need an entirely new foreign-policy elite, untainted and uncorrupted by their participation in the collusion lie or their cowardice in not opposing it.

A conundrum in this regard is

Fiona Hill,

who worked in the Trump White House as a Russia expert and who also, amazingly, was the nexus for introducing Mr. Steele to Mr. Danchenko, and Mr. Danchenko to Mr. Dolan. If anybody was in a position to blow a whistle on the Steele hoax, it was Ms. Hill. However you slice it, for three-plus years all interests and equities involved in U.S.-Russia policy were subordinated to the collusion circus, and it’s hard to argue the consequences have been good.

Five years have passed since a column here on the Steele dossier titled “Anatomy of a Witch Hunt,” which began by citing

Timur Kuran

and

Cass Sunstein’s

invaluable 1999 law review article on “availability cascades,” as certain irresponsible media frenzies have come to be known.

Deserving mention in the same breath is the late Bob McClory of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, a former Catholic priest who thought deeply about the difference between the verbs “to believe” and “to know”—and why the discipline of news confines itself to the latter. From day one, had reporters focused on the one thing they knew to be indubitably true after talking to Mr. Steele, they would have found the real story: A paid foreign agent was circulating scurrilous tales whose truth he wouldn’t vouch for, whose sources he wouldn’t reveal, without any documentation, in a bet that some Washington journalist could be gulled into reporting them.

Potomac Watch (12/12/19): Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham tears apart the “Clinton” or “Steele” dossier, following the release of Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report. Image: Reuters/Erin Scott

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