Tuesday the NY Times published a piece by the founders of Fusion GPS. Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch spend most of the piece attacking Republicans (this seems to be their specialty). They claim the dossier which they hired Christopher Steele to produce for the DNC and the Clinton campaign was not what motivated the FBI’s investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia [emphasis added] and that they never told Steele who was paying the bills.
We don’t believe the Steele dossier was the trigger for the F.B.I.’s investigation into Russian meddling. As we told the Senate Judiciary Committee in August, our sources said the dossier was taken so seriously because it corroborated reports the bureau had received from other sources, including one inside the Trump camp…
Yes, we hired Mr. Steele, a highly respected Russia expert. But we did so without informing him whom we were working for and gave him no specific marching orders beyond this basic question: Why did Mr. Trump repeatedly seek to do deals in a notoriously corrupt police state that most serious investors shun?
What came back shocked us. Mr. Steele’s sources in Russia (who were not paid) reported on an extensive — and now confirmed — effort by the Kremlin to help elect Mr. Trump president. Mr. Steele saw this as a crime in progress and decided he needed to report it to the F.B.I.
We did not discuss that decision with our clients, or anyone else. Instead, we deferred to Mr. Steele, a trusted friend and intelligence professional with a long history of working with law enforcement. We did not speak to the F.B.I. and haven’t since.
This almost reads like a legal strategy. The authors claim Steele didn’t know who was ultimately paying the bills, that he went to the FBI on his own, and that word of his going to the FBI was never transmitted back to the clients, i.e. the DNC and the Clinton camp. In short, the Hillary camp is completely insulated from all of this.
What may be most interesting about this piece is what it leaves out. For instance, there is no mention of Fusion GPS paying journalists through the latter half of 2016. Even more conspicuous, the piece fails to mention the October surprise story by David Corn, the same journalist who did a last-minute hit-job on Mitt Romney in 2012. In case you’ve forgotten, Fusion GPS apparently gave Corn a copy of the Steele dossier and access to Steele himself who provided damning quotes for the article:
A former senior intelligence officer for a Western country who specialized in Russian counterintelligence tells Mother Jonesthat in recent months he provided the bureau with memos, based on his recent interactions with Russian sources, contending the Russian government has for years tried to co-opt and assist Trump—and that the FBI requested more information from him…
In June, the former Western intelligence officer—who spent almost two decades on Russian intelligence matters and who now works with a US firm that gathers information on Russia for corporate clients—was assigned the task of researching Trump’s dealings in Russia and elsewhere, according to the former spy and his associates in this American firm. This was for an opposition research project originally financed by a Republican client critical of the celebrity mogul. (Before the former spy was retained, the project’s financing switched to a client allied with Democrats.) “It started off as a fairly general inquiry,” says the former spook, who asks not to be identified. But when he dug into Trump, he notes, he came across troubling information indicating connections between Trump and the Russian government.
Steele is talking about what he thinks is a serious matter with a left-wing media outlet. He knows that this is oppo research and he also knows that, prior to his being hired, a Democratic group had taken over paying for the information. He clearly knew all of this before the election. Either he told David Corn about the arrangement himself or, at a minimum, he read the article he was featured in and learned it then. Here’s why I think he knew:
The former spy forwarded to the bureau several memos—some of which referred to members of Trump’s inner circle. After that point, he continued to share information with the FBI. “It’s quite clear there was or is a pretty substantial inquiry going on,” he says.
“This is something of huge significance, way above party politics,” the former intelligence officer comments. “I think [Trump’s] own party should be aware of this stuff as well.”
Notice how Steele frames this. He starts with “party politics” but then he adds the line about Trump’s own party needing to be aware of what he’s discovered “as well.” It’s hard to read that and not take from it that Steele assumes party politics are in play and that Democrats are already plenty interested in his findings.
Finally, just because Fusion GPS didn’t discuss Steele’s plan to go to the FBI with their client, doesn’t mean the client didn’t find out afterwards. Clinton’s campaign lawyer surely got a tip about this article and once he read it, he knew he was the person funding these salacious tips to the FBI. We’re supposed to believe he never spoke with Hillary or anyone in her campaign about any of this, i.e. this October surprise came out and no one in Clinton World had any idea that they were the people behind it. Even if that’s true, the evidence suggests Steele had a good idea, at least by October, that Democrats were funding it. If he told Mother Jones prior to the election, wouldn’t he have told his friends at the FBI as well?