Glenn R. Simpson, co-founder of the research firm Fusion GPS, arrives for a scheduled appearance before a closed House Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Yesterday I did a short take on the transcript of the testimony of Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson before the Senate Judiciary Committee. I had a chance to plow through more of it and read some other commentary and was left underwhelmed.
Mollie Hemmingway, writing at The Federalist, has a good rundown on the subject. On the whole, I think you can see that the release fell flat as it has virtually vanished from coverage today. Had it helped the Democrats at all, it would be the top item in today’s news cycle. But there are some interesting things in the transcript that, right now, seem to be baldfaced lies. Go to page 288 of the transcript and read along:
Q. Has Fusion GPS ever offered directly or indirectly to pay journalists to publish information?
Q. I’ll repeat the question. Are you aware of any of Fusion’s clients offering directly or indirectly to pay journalists to publish information from Fusion?
A. Not to my knowledge or recollection, no.
Now, based on what we know today, all or part of this answer is a lie. Billing records from Fusion GPS indicate payments made to at least three individual journalists and to at least one media company. Now that the House Intelligence Committee has all the relevant financial records, I expect we’ll soon find out who they are and why they were paid. It is hard to see how the first answer is anything short of a lie unless the payments are made for something like “detailing Glenn’s car” and “fetching Glenn’s laundry.” The second part may or may not be a lie depending upon the terms of the contract, the instructions given by the client to Fusion GPS, and how the payments to the journalists and media company were invoiced.
There is this masterpiece of non-answering:
MR. FOSTER (Jason Foster is Chief Investigative Counsel for the Judiciary Committee): What was the end date of the Trump engagement?
MR. LEVY (Joshua Levy is Simpson’s chief pettifogger): He told you he didn’t recall exactly.
MR. SIMPSON: That’s not correct. The election was the end date. I assume you’re asking about the general election? The election date would have been the end.
MR. FOSTER: So you didn’t do any work on the Trump matter after the election date, that was the end of your work?
MR. SIMPSON: I had no client after the election.
Notice how Simpson doesn’t answer Foster’s question about continuing to work on pushing the dossier after the election. Rather he says he didn’t have a client. Why is this significant? Because we know Simpson met with principal deputy attorney general Bruce Ohr about the dossier after the election.
From a chronology standpoint, we learn that Steele made initial contact with the FBI at the behest of Simpson:
Q. And do you recall when you — when you and Mr. Steele decided kind of that he could or should take this to the FBI, approximately the time frame of that?
A. I believe it was sometime around the turn of the month. It would have been in late June or at latest early July. That’s my recollection.
This is a critical factoid. Steele may have had a reputation within the FBI and he may have made later contact with the FBI of his own volition, but the idea of him contacting the FBI was Glenn Simpson’s idea. Steele and Simpson discussed the first meeting beforehand and Steele briefed Simpson on the meeting afterward.
And we learn that on July 5th (page 174, line 3) the FBI flew Steele to Rome for a full debriefing on what he’d found.
A. …So anyway, we were working on all of that and then he said, hey, I heard back from the FBI and they want me to come talk to them and they said they want everything I have, to which I said okay. He said he had to go to Rome, I said okay. He went to Rome. Then afterwards he came back and said, Glenn Simpson, you know, I gave them a full briefing…
Q. You said that he told you of the meeting with the FBI in Rome in mid or late September, that he “gave them a full briefing”?
A. A debrief I think is what he probably said, they had debriefed him. I don’t remember him articulating the specifics of that. You know, my understanding was that they would have gotten into who his sources were, how he knew certain things, and, you know, other details based on their own intelligence. Essentially what he told me was they had other intelligence about this matter from an internal Trump campaign source and that — that they — my understanding was that they believed Chris at this point — that they believed Chris’s information might be credible because they had other intelligence that indicated the same thing and one of those pieces of intelligence was a human source from inside the Trump organization.
Rome appears to have been chosen because there was an FBI agent in Rome who knew Steele. From that we can infer that this person was the lead investigator there on the FIFA corruption investigation in which Steele was involved as an FBI “asset”–whatever that may mean.
This appears to torpedo the improbable story that a drink-fueled conversation between campaign aide George Papadopoulos and Australian diplomat Alexander Downer kicked off the investigation. According to The Hill, Downer didn’t report his conversation until after the July 22 release of purloined DNC emails. He relayed it to Australia’s US ambassador, Joe Hockey, who in turn, relayed it to the FBI. This places the Papadopoulos story two weeks after Steele’s first FBI contact, a contact at which he was told there was already a “walk-in” source and which gives the impression that some kind of investigation into Russian links to the Trump camp was already underway. It also torpedoes Simpson’s attempt at damage control:
A source close to Fusion GPS tells me there was no walk-in source — that was a mischaracterization by Simpson of the Australian diplomat tip about Papadopoulis.
— Ken Dilanian (@KenDilanianNBC) January 9, 2018
So did the FBI discuss an ongoing investigation with Christopher Steele, who, in turn, told Glenn Simpson? If so, this is not good. Was Simpson just blowing smoke? Who knows. Did Steele just MSU (Army-ese for ‘make sh** up’) to feed to Simpson? What we know for a fact is that this was not a reference to Papadopoulos.
On the whole, this is not going to help the Democrats make the Trump dossier or Glenn Simpson less dodgy than they look right now. In the long run, the decision by Feinstein to release the documents in the manner she did is going to come back to haunt her and her Democrat colleagues in the House and the Senate. (See my story a little later today for details.)