This week Sen. Dianne Feinstein released the transcript of an August 22, 2017, Senate Judiciary Committee interview with Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson. The Washington Post said the committee has been probing charges that the Trump campaign “coordinated with the Kremlin,” escalating the issue from mere “collusion.” Readers of the 312-page transcript, available here, might form their own judgments.
Simpson was not under oath but the Fusion GPS founder still brought along attorney Joshua Levy. Simpson gave the names of Fusion partners but they are blacked out. There may be others, but Simpson could not recall their names.
Simpson said Fusion did provide information to journalists but did he ever tell clients Fusion could find or distribute information that would launch an investigation? Levy questioned whether this was within the scope of the interview and no answer emerged.
Was Fusion’s compensation based on whether they achieved an investigation? Simpson, formerly with the Wall Street Journal, could not answer that. Was Fusion’s oppo research in presidential elections accurate? “In a shorthand way, yeah,” Simpson answered.
In September or October of 2015 somebody wanted Fusion to take a look at Trump, but Simpson’s lawyer would not let him identify the client. Simpson did say he ordered all books about Donald Trump, explaining, “He was not a serious political figure that I ever had any exposure to. He’s a New York figure, really.”
That inquiry ended in the spring 2016 but then another client engaged Fusion to conduct research on Trump. Levy told the committee Simpson would decline to give any information on this client. Simpson would not answer whether payment came through an intermediary and did not agree that Fusion GPS was a Democrat-linked firm.
“We don’t hire people who have strong partisan affiliations,” Simpson said. “We prefer journalists who don’t see things through ideological prisms.”
The committee wanted to know why Fusion engaged Christopher Steele in May-June 2016. Simpson said “Chris” Steele was a leading Russia investigator at MI6, and a friend who could “share interests on Russian kleptocracy and organized crime issues.” Simpson said he had worked with Steele since 2009 and he is “basically a Boy Scout.”
“It was opaque what Donald Trump had been doing on those business trips to Russia,” Simpson said. “So we gave Chris a sort of assignment which would be typical for us which was pretty open-ended.” Did the clients know Fusion had hired Steele? Simpson could not answer that one.
Steele created 16 “memos” before the 2016 election and one after, but did Simpson take steps to verify the information? “We assessed it for credibility,” he said. “Chris has a sterling reputation as a person who does not exaggerate, does not make things up, doesn’t sell baloney.”
Simpson was advised not to answer whether his client knew what Steele was working on. According to Simpson, Chris thought the DNC hack was a serious national security matter and Fusion was obligated to tell someone in the U.S. government. Chris also thought a presidential candidate was being blackmailed, and the committee wanted to know who it was.
“Well, I don’t have any additional facts” said Simpson, who didn’t have a name for the person being blackmailed. He did say it was well known that the Russians have cameras in all the luxury hotels.
Simpson said he was dubious about Steele’s plan to tell the FBI it was a national security issue.
“He said don’t worry about that,” Simpson said. “I know the perfect person, I have a contact there, they will listen to me, they know who I am, I’ll take care of it. I said okay. You know, I agreed, it’s potentially a crime in progress.”
The committee wanted to know who Steele contacted at the FBI. “I did not know at the time,” Simpson said. “I believe I know now but I don’t have authoritative information on that. I didn’t know who it was in July.” Did he now know who it was? “I think I know but Chris never told me,” Simpson said. “I figured it out based on other sources.”
Simpson did identify Steele’s FBI contact but the transcript blacks out the name. Did Simpson share with others that Steele was going to the FBI? His lawyer would not let him answer. Simpson did say “the DOJ has rules against law enforcement getting involved in investigations in the middle of a campaign and this was obviously – you know this obviously became a huge issue.”
Steele had other meetings with the FBI but Simpson said “I didn’t ask who he met with. I didn’t ask, you know, much of anything.” He did know that “they,” presumably the Russians, “were hacking into computers of Democrats and think tanks. That’s a computer crime.”
Simpson also cited information from a Trump campaign source. He would not identify this source because “people who get in the way of the Russians tend to get hurt.”
Simpson said Fusion began getting questions from the press about whether the FBI was investigating Trump and “we encouraged them to ask the FBI that question.” Which journalists did he speak to about the dossier and what information did he reveal? “I remember some of them and some of the names,” Simpson said, but his lawyer would not allow him to provide the information.
“All we sort of wanted was for the government to do its job,” Simpson said, “and we were concerned whether the information we had provided previously had ever, you know, risen to the leadership level of the FBI. It was our belief that director Comey, if he was made aware of this information, would treat it seriously.”
Fusion did not pay Steele for his trip to Rome to meet with the FBI, so it “makes sense that he was reimbursed by them, not us.” Simpson was “encouraging the media to ask questions about whether the FBI was, in fact, investigating these matters,” but did not remember the first published article that made use of Steele’s memos. When asked what steps he took to verify the memos’ credibility, Simpson responded, “I’m going to decline to answer that question.”
At that point, attorney Joshua Levy said “somebody’s already been killed” as a result of the dossier’s publication. Nobody on the committee asked who had been killed and if Levy knew he wasn’t talking.
“It’s political rhetoric to call the dossier phony,” Simpson said. “The memos are field reports that Chris’s network conducted and there’s nothing phony about it. We can argue about what’s prudent and what’s not but it’s not a fabrication.”
Simpson’s attorney Joshua Levy said it was unfair to asked whether Simpson had been hired to produce opposition research on Trump. For his part, the Fusion GPS founder made it clear where he stood.
“I was opposed to Donald Trump,” he said. “I’m not going to pretend that that wouldn’t have entered into my thinking. I reached an opinion about Donald Trump and his suitability to be president of the United States, and I was concerned about whether he was the best person for the job.”
According to Simpson, “I think when you are doing research on any subject you are trying to find out what the truth is. So if Donald Trump’s got a good business record and he’s really worth billions of dollars, that’s important information. In fact, you shouldn’t be feeding stories how Donald Trump is not worth billions of dollars if he’s worth billions of dollars… So if Donald Trump turned out to be a great businessman that’s what I would have to tell people.”
That brought down the curtain on a remarkable performance, but like a bikini it was more interesting for what it concealed than what it revealed. Glenn Simpson did not show how the Trump campaign “coordinated” with the Kremlin to steal the 2016 election from Hillary Clinton. Steele’s FBI contact was blacked out but readers know that before the election James Strzok and lovebug lawyer Lisa Page, both of the FBI, were working three shifts planting anti-Trump stories with journalists, and eager to share news with “the team.”
Sen. Grassley protested Feinstein’s release of the transcript but the California Democrat may have paved the way for future revelations. The people could use public, sworn testimony from Strzok and Page and all members of their team. The people should also hear from demoted DOJ boss Bruce Ohr, who also met with Boy Scout “Chris” Steele, and Ohr’s wife Nellie, the Russophile Fusion hire with the new ham radio set.
Simpson’s testimony, meanwhile, left a key question unanswered. Did the FBI use the Fusion dossier to secure a FISA warrant to spy on candidate Trump? Maybe FBI boss Christopher Wray and the DOJ’s Rod Rosenstein can come out of their shell and shed enlightenment. The president, and the people who elected him, have a right to know.