What did the FBI know about the infamous “dossier” on Donald Trump, and when did they know it? Now that it has been established that the Hillary Clinton campaign and the DNC funded the efforts of former British spy Christopher Steele to dig up dirt on Trump, the spotlight should fall next on the FBI’s strange attempts to hire Steele for more, Byron York writes. Congress has tried to get answers from the FBI and Department of Justice about just how they used that information. Did their intercept warrants rely on what turned out to be unsubstantiated oppo research — and did they cooperate in digging it up?
Republican investigators had two big questions about the dossier. One was who paid for it, and that now seems answered. The other was: Did the FBI or other agencies use any information from the dossier as a basis for warrant requests before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court? In other words, did, say, the FBI use the dossier’s “salacious and unverified” information to make the case that the bureau should be granted the authority to conduct intercepts?
Nunes, as well as Grassley and Senate Judiciary Committee colleague Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have been pushing for months for the FBI to answer that question. So far, they’ve gotten nothing. …
But the importance of the Democrats’ involvement in the dossier is that it could be one step on the road to a bigger story. What did the FBI do with the dossier material? Did judges make surveillance decisions in the Trump-Russia investigation based in whole or in part on the dossier? To what degree is the “salacious and unverified” dossier the source of what we think we know about allegations of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign?
House Oversight chair Trey Gowdy wants answers to these questions as well. Gowdy tells Fox News that he’s much more interested in who relied on a document that “looks like the National Enquirer prepared it”:
— Fox News (@FoxNews) October 25, 2017
After yesterday’s revelation by the Washington Post, some dismissed this as either old news (everyone assumed this was the case) or no big deal (it’s just oppo research). The former ignores the denials that have come from Democrats about involvement in the dossier, while the latter ignores the involvement of foreign intelligence assets in the affair. “Oppo research” is usually assumed to be handled by domestic staffers and contractors, not retired spooks in foreign countries.
It’s true that Republican primary campaigns began this effort with Fusion GPS, but as Aaron Blake points out, Steele didn’t get involved until Team Hillary put significant money on the table:
Some of the pushback on the left has focused on the fact that a still-unidentified Republican client retained Fusion GPS to do research on Trump before the Clinton campaign and the DNC. Thus, they argue, it’s wrong to say the dossier was just funded by Democrats.
But the dossier’s author, Steele, wasn’t brought into the mix until afterDemocrats retained Fusion GPS. So while both sides paid Fusion GPS, Steele was only funded by Democrats.
He also reminds readers that Fusion GPS has its own ties to Putin regime, something that may play hob with Democrats’ attempts to stoke hysteria over Russian influence:
The firm that the Clinton camp and the DNC paid also has alleged ties to the Kremlin. In Senate testimony in July, Hermitage Capital Management chief executive William Browder accused Fusion GPS and its head, Glenn Simpson, of running a smear campaign against Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian whistleblower who in 2009 was tortured and killed in a Russian prison after uncovering a $230 million tax theft. Magnitsky worked for Browder, and he is the namesake of a law containing sanctions that was passed by Congress and is a sore spot between the U.S. government and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Browder said the smear campaign was run by Fusion GPS with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin. You might remember them from the meeting with Donald Trump Jr. that took place in June 2016. Veselnitskaya was the Russian lawyer with alleged Kremlin ties who arranged the meeting.
That meeting took place in about the same time frame as Fusion GPS’ efforts to put together the dossier, and long after they had begun oppo research on Trump. That raises some questions about just what Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin’s motives were in seeking the meeting — although it doesn’t do a thing to mitigate the stupidity of Trump Jr, Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort in agreeing to it. Was the meeting an attempt by Fusion GPS to entrap high-ranking Trump campaign officials? That might put the whole collusion argument in an entirely different direction.
The FBI and DoJ aren’t the only people on the hot seat, and the heat’s not just coming from Congress. Journalists who relied on sources within the Hillary campaign and DNC to report denials of having anything to do with the dossier lashed out on social media in the wake of the Washington Post report. The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman took special aim at their “sanctimony”:
When the Post story broke Tuesday night, some journalists noted that Democrats involved in the story had been lying about their role. “When I tried to report this story, Clinton campaign lawyer Marc Elias pushed back vigorously, saying ‘You (or your sources) are wrong,’” tweeted the New York Times’ Ken Vogel. “Folks involved in funding this lied about it, and with sanctimony, for a year,” added the Times’ Maggie Haberman.
Well … yeah, but then again, who’s surprised? Hillary Clinton and her campaign repeatedly combined false denials with sanctimony from March 2015 forward, even when the truth would have better suited them. Hopefully, journalists will learn a lesson from this.