The retired British spy who wrote an explosive dossier about President Donald Trump's alleged ties to Russia broke his silence to criticize Trump and the "distorted" state of US politics.
The former spy, Christopher Steele, wrote to Vanity Fair shortly after he was named to the magazine's "2018 New Establishment List." CNN reviewed a copy of Steele's email, which included his most political comments since his dossier gained international attention in January 2017.
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"In these strange and troubling times, it is hard to speak unpalatable truths to power, but I believe we all still have a duty to do so," Steele said. "I salute those on your list, and otherwise, who have had the courage to speak out over the last year, often at great personal cost."
Steele went on to say, "(A)t a time when governance is so distorted and one-sided, as I believe it currently is in the United States, the media has a key role to play in holding it accountable."
The ex-spy also lamented that due to "the present legal and political situation," he could not attend a Vanity Fair summit in Los Angeles featuring many of the newsmakers on the list. Despite global intrigue with his story, Steele has avoided public events out of fear for his safety.
"I sincerely hope and trust that these circumstances will change soon," Steele added.
The Vanity Fair list features business leaders, media moguls and other rising stars. Special counsel Robert Mueller was ranked at the top, despite the fact that he might be the least flashy person on the list, which includes social media maven Kylie Jenner and filmmaker J.J. Abrams.
Russian President Vladimir Putin also earned a spot, checking in at number 58. The magazine described Putin as an "election meddler" who "humiliated Donald Trump in Helsinki."
An official from Steele's private intelligence firm in London confirmed to CNN that Steele sent the email to Vanity Fair. Representatives from Vanity Fair did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment on Wednesday.
The winding saga of Steele and his dossier dates to the 2016 presidential campaign, when a law firm working for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton hired an opposition research company named Fusion GPS to dig up dirt about Trump. Fusion GPS then hired Steele, who tapped his sources in Russia to gather information about Trump's ties to the country.
Steele passed along his memos to the FBI before the election, and details from his research later circulated among US intelligence agencies and senior members of Congress. It wasn't until after Trump's victory that the public saw the 35-page dossier, which alleged widespread collusion between his campaign and the Russian government.
Trump and his associates who were named in the dossier deny any collusion. In the past, US intelligence agencies saw Steele as a valuable and trusted source of information. Mueller is currently investigating Russian election interference and possible collusion between Trump associates and Russians.
Since he became a key player in the Russia investigation, Steele has remained quiet, speaking publicly only once to thank his supporters. He was deposed in a lawsuit stemming from the publication of the dossier and was privately interviewed by Mueller's team in the summer of 2017.
His critics have been much more vocal. Trump called Steele a "failed spy" and said the allegations were "phony." Top Republicans on Capitol Hill have seized on Steele's ties to the Clinton campaign and the FBI to allege a far-reaching conspiracy to stop Trump's election. Two Republican senators asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Steele criminally lied to the FBI.