Well, it took a couple of days, but I finally managed to read through Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson’s 312-page testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Thank you to Sen. Dianne Feinstein for releasing this information last week over the objections of Republicans. Sen. Feinstein said the American public deserve to make up their own minds. Couldn’t agree more. You can find the testimony here.
So I thought I would pick things that jumped out at me from Simpson’s testimony:
1. An internal source in the Trump Organization was providing the FBI with information about Russian collusion.
Simpson learned this from Christopher Steele, the former British spy he had hired to investigate Trump’s links to Russia. Steele’s findings, including the scandalous scene in the Moscow Ritz, were so alarming that he took his findings to the FBI. The FBI told Steele, yes, we’ve heard something similar from our internal Trump source. Simpson refused to answer questions about who this source might have been, but this source was not one of Steele’s source. Huge bombshell. (p. 175)
2. Someone has been killed as a result of Steele’s reports.
Simpson’s lawyer, Josh Levy, drops this on p. 279. “Somebody’s already been killed as a result of the publication of this dossier and no harm should come to anybody related to this honest work,” he says. Curiously, nobody challenges this, which makes it seem an accepted fact. Maybe they were all just tired after 9 hours of questioning. The person is not named, but presumably it’s someone in Russia. Otherwise, it would be a bigger deal, right?
3. Felix Sater is connected to Russian organized crime kingpin Semion Mogilevich To me, this is pretty important because it comes from Simpson, who in my view is a credible source. This connection has been alleged in a Supreme Court petition filed in 2012 by lawyers Fred Oberlander and Richard Lerner to unseal Sater’s criminal case. The Website Deep Capture made the same claim, but the sourcing wasn’t very strong. Simpson has done some digging her and learned told him that Sater, the Mob-linked felon who helped Trump build Trump SoHo, was connected to the brainy Don, Semion Mogilevich. I don’t know how it’s not a national scandal that the president of the United States associated with a figure linked to both the American and the Russian Mafia. (p.69)
4. Chris Steele broke off talks with the FBI in part because of a story in The New York Times. This was the infamous Halloween 2016 story that reported that an FBI investigation of Trump found no ties to Russia. The Times story and FBI Director James Comey’s bizarre decision to reopen the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email made Steele concerned that the FBI was being manipulated for political ends by Trump’s people. (p. 178).
5. Bill Browder’s comical efforts to hide from Fusion GPS and Glenn Simpson.
This isn’t a single event. It’s more like a pattern. Maybe Simpson is a liar as Browder says or maybe Browder doesn’t like anybody nosing around in his business practices in Russia. Read it for yourself and see what you think pp 40-48.
Simpson and Fritsch penned an opinion piece in today’s New York Times. The purpose of the opinion piece was to let the public know what they spent 21 hours explaining to three congressional committees.
Most of the piece rebuts the many rumors surrounding Fusion GPS, including one big one — former British spy Christopher Steele’s sources were not paid for the information that he compiled about Trump, including the scandalous watersports-in-Moscow story. This is big because paying sources undermines their credibility.
Simpson and Fritsch note their “dismay” that Buzzfeed published the Steele dossier in January 2017. This bothers me because Fusion GPS was shopping Steele and this dossier to every major news outlet who would listen. I guess this is the Washington game, but washing your hands in dirty water is not how you stay clean.
For Trump-Russia investigators, they did offer up a few tidbits:
- Simpson and Fritsch told investigators to look into the bank records of Deutsche Bank and others that were funding Trump’s businesses.
- In Manhattan, Sunny Isles Beach, Florida; Toronto; and Panama, they found “widespread evidence” that Trump had worked with “dubious Russians in arrangements that often raised questions about money laundering.”
There is a lot of information packed in to those few sentences.
Simpson and Fritsch also note, as we did recently here, that Trump’s allies in Congress have dug through their bank records to tarnish the firm and punish them for bringing light into the darkness of Trump’s Russia dealings.
One person who lit up after reading this piece was Bill Browder, Putin’s self-styled enemy No. 1 who was once his biggest fan. Here he is, borrowing from the Devin Nunes “attack the client” strategy, as he vented his anger on Twitter today:
The Steele dossier, unfortunately, is a distraction. It is raw intelligence, not evidence, and was never intended to be used in a court of law. In the public’s mind, however, it has been impossibly conflated with the legitimate investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
It does Browder no credit that he stokes this confusion and allows his hatred of Fusion GPS to become grist for conservative media outlets that seek to undermine the Mueller inquiry. (“The dossier is the foundation on which the case for Russiagate, including Mueller’s investigation, is built.”)
As Browder surely knows, since he’s paid for many an investigation himself, who hired Fusion GPS doesn’t really matter. The bottom line is that if Fusion GPS didn’t dish up facts, it wouldn’t be in business. Period.
What are the limits of a congressional committee’s power?
That is the question posed by the actions of Rep. Devin Nunes who is using — abusing, some say — his power as chairman of the House intelligence committee to investigate Fusion GPS, the company that produce the Steele dossier.
In its purported investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, the committee has issued a single subpoena for financial records. That subpoena went to Fusion GPS’ bank and is now the subject of a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington D.C.
You’ll recall that Chairman Nunes worked on the Trump campaign and purportedly recused himself from his committee’s Russia investigation. But he is unable to restrain himself when it comes to Fusion GPS. The subpoena to the firm went out with his signature on it.
Fusion GPS says the subpoena, which demands years of records, is little more than a transparent effort by Chairman Nunes to expose its clients — even those that had nothing to do with Russia — and destroy the secretive company’s business model.
It’s worth noting that Deutsche Bank, which has all sorts of shady dealings with Russia and continued lending to Trump even after he sued them, got a pass from Chairman Nunes’ committee.
In a more recent court filing a few days ago, lawyers for Fusion GPS make the claim that Chairman Nunes is actively working to undermine his own committee’s investigation:
There is evidence that the Committee is coordinating with the President, his personal lawyers, and the Senate Judiciary Committee to misdirect attention to Fusion and its associates in an effort to punish and discredit Fusion, due to their perceived role in exposing the ties between the Trump campaign and the Russians. This coordinated effort includes the subpoena to Fusion’s bank and the apparent leaks from the Committee, and it has been amplified in recent days by attacks on the FBI and Justice Department by members of Congress, the President, and his lawyers.
In its pleadings to the court, Fusion GPS cites the Supreme Court ruling in Watkins v. United States. This case involved John Watkins, a labor organizer, who in 1954 was subpoenaed to testify before Sen. Joe McCarthy’s House Committee on Un-American Activities. Watkins answered questions about his own activities in the Communist Party but he refused to answer questions about other people. He was convicted of contempt of Congress, but appealed his conviction saying Congress had abused its powers.
The Supreme Court agreed, ruling 6-1, that Congress’ power to investigate was broad, but not unlimited. “No inquiry is an end in itself; it must be related to, and in furtherance of, a legitimate task of the Congress,” the court ruled. “Investigations conducted solely for the personal aggrandizement of the investigators or to ‘punish’ those investigated are indefensible.”
Indefensible seems an apt work to describe Chairman Nunes’ investigation of Fusion GPS.