Late Wednesday, the Justice Department
and FBI stopped their four-month old stonewall of subpoenas from
Congress for documents and witnesses related to the Steele dossier, the
infamous compilation of unverified and salacious material alleging
President Trump had improper dealings with Russia. All of the material
will now apparently be turned over.
The House Intelligence Committee had demanded that the Justice
Department and FBI explain how they came to become involved with former
British spy Christopher Steele, who compiled the dossier after being
paid by Fusion GPS. The company is a notorious Washington opposition
research firm that in turn was paid to dig up dirt on Donald Trump by
Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
The committee had demanded FBI and Justice Department compliance with
subpoenas it issued last August by the close of business Wednesday, or
the House could move to hold government officials in contempt of
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., the chair of the House Intelligence
Committee, says access to Justice Department officials and documents is
important because the Steele dossier may have been used by the FBI to
gain permission from a federal court to conduct surveillance on Trump
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who is no fan of President Trump, says that
after viewing key Justice Department documents in secret he is
“extremely concerned” about the department’s use of the Steele dossier.
He has called for a special counsel to investigate this.
For his part, Nunes says “it seems the DOJ and FBI need to be
investigating themselves.” Since they apparently won’t do that, Nunes is
happy to help out.
But it won’t be easy. Nunes and his fellow investigators have been
relentlessly attacked by Democrats and by Fusion GPS for insisting that
two things be probed: both the possible collusion between Russia and the
Trump campaign, and the possible misuse of federal intelligence agencies
during the 2016 election.
Nunes and his fellow panel members note that Bruce Ohr, a senior Justice
Department official, was demoted in December for not disclosing meetings
with Fusion GPS. Ohr is married to a former employee of the
Fusion GPS co-founders Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch went on the
attack this week in a New York Times op-ed they wrote, comparing Nunes
and his allies to the defenders of President Richard Nixon during the
Watergate scandal. They accused Nunes of trying “to tarnish our firm to
punish us for highlighting (Trump) links to Russia.”
Curiously missing from the op-ed by Fusion’s founders is the fact that
at the same time the firm was compiling the Steele dossier at the behest
of Democrats, it was working for a Russian oligarch. The oligarch had
ties to the Kremlin and was trying to undermine U.S. sanctions targeting
Russian officials who have engaged in human rights violations.
Bill Browder, a former investor whose Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky
was beaten to death in a Russian jail while facing bogus fraud charges,
was able to get Congress to pass the Magnitsky Act in 2012. The law
froze the Western financial assets of some Russian officials and
restricted their travel.
Russian interests have since furiously tried to smear Browder and
undermine the Magnitsky Act. They found Fusion GPS all too willing to
aid in the smear.
Browder told Congress last year that Fusion GPS actively tried to
discredit him. In July 2016 he filed a complaint with the Justice
Department charging Fusion GPS with working on behalf of the Russian
government and its interests. So far, no action has been taken by the
Fusion GPS has a long history of using ruthless tactics. Human rights
activist Thor Halvorssen testified before Congress that Fusion GPS had
“smear experts” and used “scorched earth methods” to discredit his work
against the authoritarian regime in Venezuela.
In 2012, Fusion GPS was paid to dig through the divorce records of a
Mitt Romney donor. Fusion may also have played a role in the infamous
meeting between Trump campaign officials and Russian lawyer Natalia
Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower in June 2016.
Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of Fusion GPS, met with Veselnitskaya
before and after the meeting. According to NBC News, the negative
information on Democrats she tried to peddle at the Trump Tower meeting
stemmed from research conducted by Fusion GPS.
Simpson and Fritsch end their New York Times op-ed with a stirring call
for congressional Republicans to release the transcripts of their
private interviews. They write that “three congressional committees have
heard over 21 hours of testimony from our firm.”
But Taylor Foy, a spokesman for the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on
Wednesday that “despite his public statements, Mr. Simpson and his
attorney demanded during the interview that the transcript be kept
The Judiciary Committee interview came after weeks of negotiation in
which Simpson refused an invitation, citing Fifth Amendment claims
against self-incrimination, to appear before the committee in an open
By not accepting that invitation, Simpson declined an “opportunity for
transparency,” Foy notes. Indeed, Foy claims that Fusion GPS “has failed
to provide the Committee with documents and responses to follow-up
questions after the interview.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee says it will release the full transcripts
of its interviews with Fusion GPS officials as soon as it concludes its
inquiry. In the meantime, the claims by Simpson that he wants “full
disclosure” ring hollow.
After all, Simpson and fellow Fusion GPS partner Thomas Catan both
invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to avoid
testifying in public on their firm’s activities. That kind of behavior
is the opposite of transparency and smacks of the Nixon-like tactics
that Fusion GPS is accusing its critics of engaging in.
By all means, let the investigation into possible collusion between the
Trump campaign and Russia go forward. Enough evidence has surfaced about
the connections that campaign had with sleazy players like former Trump
campaign manager Paul Manafort to justify further digging.
But let’s also have a real probe of the dirt-diggers at Fusion GPS and
the possible collusion they had with federal agencies to undermine the
Trump campaign. Now that the Justice Department is finally turning over
its records to the House Intelligence Committee we can do both.
John Fund is a columnist for National Review. Follow him on Twitter @JohnFund.