A former British spy has been named in the first criminal referral of the investigations looking into alleged Russian meddling in the US election.
Christopher Steele released a much-publicised dossier last January containing claims about Donald Trump that were said to show Moscow’s interference in the presidential race.
Despite claiming to expose the meddling, Mr Steele is being accused of potentially lying to federal authorities over his contacts with reporters.
Republican senators Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Lindsey Graham, a senior committee member, have referred the matter to the Justice Department.
They said the former MI6 officer may have made false statements about “the distribution of claims contained in the dossier”.
Part of the referral is classified, so the precise details and allegations are currently not being made public.
The unsubstantiated dossier was put together during the election campaign and was partially funded by Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democrats. It was also given to the FBI.
It claimed there was collusion between Mr Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia, and that the Russians have information that could be used to blackmail the President.
The senators’ referral states: “Based on the information contained therein, we are respectfully referring Mr Steele to you for investigation of potential violations… for statements the Committee has reason to believe Mr Steele made regarding his distribution of information contained.”
The part of the federal criminal code that Mr Steele is accused of violating relates to knowingly making false of misleading statements to authorities.
There are currently three ongoing congressional investigations into allegations of Russian interference in the election and complicity by Donald Trump’s campaign team.
Sky’s US Correspondent Greg Milam said many in Washington view it as a PR stunt from Republican senators loyal to the President who “want to put up a smoke screen about the investigation into his ties with Russia”.
However, he adds that some on Capitol Hill – as well as many of President Trump’s supporters – do believe the Russia story is a witch-hunt.
“They think a dossier of information from Russian sources, paid for by Mr Trump’s political opponents, is the real scandal that should be investigated.
“But one scandal doesn’t make the other go away and questioning the actions of one former British intelligence operative isn’t going to alter the seriousness of what Trump is facing from the investigation by former FBI director Robert Mueller.
“Trump fans will complain about Christopher Steele or Hillary Clinton, but Donald Trump is the most powerful man on the planet and the investigation into him is a long way from being over.”