Grass­ley to fol­low money to ‘dodgy dossier’ on Trump

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAN BOY­LAN

In Fe­bru­ary, Chuck Grass­ley looked out his Se­nate of­fice win­dow at Wash­ing­ton’s cold, un­for­giv­ing win­ter sky, then shook his head in dis­gust. The seven-term Repub­li­can from Iowa and Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee chair­man had hit a wall.

Spring would ar­rive soon and with it a tor­rent of ques­tions about the young pres­i­dency of Don­ald Trump and ex­actly what hap­pened with the Novem­ber elec­tion: What was the real ex­tent of Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence, and did Trump cam­paign of­fi­cials know about it? What was the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s role in in­ves­ti­gat­ing the ex­plo­sive charges? Were there il­le­gal and tar­geted leaks of sen­si­tive in­tel­li­gence? The ac­cu­sa­tions would fly so fast and fu­ri­ously that Wash­ing­ton would shake.

Mr. Grass­ley, who has played many a role in high-stakes probes on Capi­tol Hill, ramped up his in­volve­ment. He be­lieved one thread of the story needed a much more mus­cu­lar tug to see what would un­ravel — the “dodgy dossier.”

With Congress now re-en­gag­ing its mul­ti­ple in­ves­ti­ga­tions,

the 35 pages of un­sub­stan­ti­ated, sala­cious op­po­si­tion re­search by a for­mer Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer that al­most dis­rupted Mr. Trump’s cam­paign is get­ting a fresh look — and a new op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate mis­chief.

Mr. Grass­ley wants a more me­thod­i­cal in­quiry into how the dossier came to ex­ist. With law­mak­ers re­turn­ing to Wash­ing­ton from a two-week Easter break, “we want to slow this whole thing down,” one of Mr. Grass­ley’s staffers said.

The back­ground be­hind the anti-Trump re­port — parts of which have been dis­cred­ited but parts of which U.S. in­ves­ti­ga­tors are still work­ing to ver­ify and parts of which U.K. sources have par­tially ver­i­fied — is clas­sic Wash­ing­ton in­trigue, po­lit­i­cal dirty tricks and the in­dus­try that has been built up to sat­isfy the need for dirt on one’s po­lit­i­cal op­po­nent. Mr. Grass­ley’s ef­forts sug­gest that the dossier and those re­spon­si­ble for com­pil­ing and leak­ing its con­tents are re-emerg­ing at the heart of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The dossier

In Jan­uary, less than two weeks be­fore Mr. Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion, CNN de­tailed that the ex­is­tence of a graphic clas­si­fied re­port, in­clud­ing memos writ­ten be­fore and af­ter the Nov. 8 elec­tion with com­pro­mis­ing fi­nan­cial and per­sonal in­for­ma­tion on the pres­i­dent-elect, had been shared with Pres­i­dent Obama and Mr. Trump in pri­vate in­tel­li­gence brief­ings.

Essen­tially a data dump of neg­a­tive cam­paign re­search of Mr. Trump, the dossier con­tended that the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment might use the con­fi­den­tial de­tails to black­mail Mr. Trump and that there were links be­tween Rus­sian gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and the Trump cam­paign team.

It had been rais­ing eye­brows in Wash­ing­ton since last sum­mer. A hand­ful of the city’s top-shelf politi­cians, in­tel­li­gence chiefs and jour­nal­ists claimed it had been pri­vately cir­cu­lat­ing, but they shied away from air­ing the ac­cu­sa­tions be­cause of their un­ver­i­fied na­ture. CNN also passed on pub­lish­ing the con­tents of the dossier.

The web­site Buz­zFeed felt no need to hold back, post­ing its en­tire con­tents on Jan. 10. This un­leashed a me­dia rush to judg­ment on the ma­te­rial, which in­cluded de­tails on sex­ual acts, elu­sive real es­tate fi­nanc­ing schemes and a tan­gled web of uniden­ti­fied sources. In a press con­fer­ence, Mr. Trump im­me­di­ately dis­missed it as “a fail­ing pile of garbage.”

Its au­thor also quickly sur­faced as for­mer Bri­tish MI6 in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer and Rus­sia an­a­lyst Christo­pher Steele. Now in the pri­vate sec­tor, Mr. Steele’s Lon­don-based Or­bis Busi­ness In­tel­li­gence firm had been hired to re­search Mr. Trump.

The day af­ter Mr. Trump de­nounced the dossier, Mr. Steele went into hid­ing fear­ing for his life. Three weeks be­fore that, but un­re­ported for al­most a month, a for­mer KGB chief sus­pected of help­ing Mr. Steele turned up dead in the back seat of a black Lexus in Moscow.

Bat­tles over the dossier’s ve­rac­ity have sim­mered ever since, spark­ing a fu­ri­ous search for Mr. Steele’s Krem­lin sources. For­mer MI6 col­leagues vig­or­ously de­fended his rep­u­ta­tion as a cred­i­ble au­thor­ity on the Krem­lin. Sen. John McCain, Ari­zona Repub­li­can, said he passed the dossier to the FBI af­ter it was passed to him.

Other Repub­li­cans were out­raged and lined up to trash the doc­u­ment, in­clud­ing Trump cam­paign for­eign pol­icy ad­viser named in the dossier, Carter Page. Last week, Mr. Page told The Wash­ing­ton Times that the doc­u­ment is “com­pletely false” and “full of lies,” es­pe­cially re­gard­ing his sup­posed con­tacts with Rus­sian of­fi­cials to un­der­mine Hil­lary Clin­ton’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

“The mis­takes are so laugh­able and hu­mor­ous they’re be­yond words,” Mr. Page said.

On Mon­day, The Wash­ing­ton Times re­ported that Mr. Trump’s at­tor­ney, a cam­paign vol­un­teer and a tech com­pany CEO, also pub­licly said that the parts about him in the dossier were fic­tion.

All the while, Mr. Grass­ley held back judg­ment. He is 83 years old and has been in the Se­nate since 1981. His ca­reer in Wash­ing­ton be­gan in 1975 when he served in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Dur­ing 42 years in Wash­ing­ton, the Iowan has en­dured Water­gate, the Iran-Con­tra af­fair, the Clin­ton-Lewin­sky scan­dal, Va­lerie Plame and Beng­hazi. For him, the dossier pre­sented a Wash­ing­ton-style fol­low-the­money an­gle that in­ves­ti­ga­tors needed to pur­sue. The real ques­tion re­mains: Who paid Mr. Steele for the ma­te­rial?

Fu­sion GPS

Fu­sion GPS is Wash­ing­ton-based re­search firm started in 2009 by for­mer re­porter Glenn R. Simp­son. Ac­cord­ing to his LinkedIn pro­file, Mr. Simp­son grad­u­ated from Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity and worked five years at Roll Call news­pa­per.

He then served as a re­porter for The Wall Street Jour­nal for al­most 14 years. In 1996, he joined forces with Univer­sity of Vir­ginia po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Larry J. Sa­bato to write the book “Dirty Lit­tle Se­crets: The Per­sis­tence of Cor­rup­tion in Amer­i­can Pol­i­tics.”

The 430-page book ex­plores voter dis­gust with the Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal sys­tem. A New York Times re­view called it “top­i­cal, muck­rak­ing, highly opin­ion­ated — and some­times over­heated.” Iron­i­cally, the re­view also noted that Mr. Simp­son and Mr. Sa­bato, who equally blame Democrats and Repub­li­cans for cor­rup­tion, hoped to spark enough out­rage that peo­ple would push for cam­paign re­form.

At Fu­sion, Mr. Simp­son tended to work for Democrats. Nu­mer­ous re­ports said the firm ex­ploited weak­nesses within Mitt Rom­ney’s 2012 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign fundrais­ing ef­forts and de­fended an at­tack ac­cus­ing Planned Par­ent­hood of­fi­cials of sell­ing aborted fe­tal tis­sue to med­i­cal re­searchers.

Then came Rus­sia. Start­ing in 2015, ac­cord­ing to nu­mer­ous sources in­clud­ing Mr. Grass­ley’s of­fice, Fu­sion be­came in­volved in Rus­sian ef­forts to fight the Mag­nit­sky Act, a law cre­ated to pun­ish Rus­sian of­fi­cials re­spon­si­ble for the death of Rus­sian lawyer and whistle­blower Sergei Mag­nit­sky in a Moscow prison in 2009. Mr. Mag­nit­sky served as an at­tor­ney for Bri­tish-Amer­i­can busi­ness­man Bill Brow­der, who has called Mr. Simp­son a “pro­fes­sional smear cam­paigner.”

In Septem­ber 2015, Fu­sion was hired to con­duct op­po­si­tion re­search for Repub­li­cans bat­tling Mr. Trump in the pri­maries. Fu­sion re­port­edly helped cre­ate a search­able data­base of pub­lic in­for­ma­tion on Mr. Trump, in­clud­ing old news sto­ries and doc­u­ments — that can­di­dates could tap for op­po­si­tion re­search. The New York Times re­ported that an uniden­ti­fied wealthy Repub­li­can op­posed to Mr. Trump paid for the work.

Once Mr. Trump won the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion, uniden­ti­fied Demo­cratic sup­port­ers of Mrs. Clin­ton took over fund­ing Fu­sion’s work. In June, Mr. Simp­son hired Mr. Steele, who be­gan com­pil­ing the memos that be­came the no­to­ri­ous dossier.

Con­fi­den­tial­ity agree­ments

Mr. Grass­ley has a three-headed at­tack plan to learn more about Fu­sion. Late last month, he asked the Jus­tice Depart­ment to in­ves­ti­gate whether the firm prop­erly reg­is­tered un­der the For­eign Agents Reg­is­tra­tion Act when it worked in 2015 to kill the Mag­nit­sky Act.

Mr. Grass­ley also reached out di­rectly to Fu­sion and de­manded that its prin­ci­pals pro­vide him with de­tails of Mr. Steele’s hir­ing and who funded the op­po­si­tion re­search be­hind the dossier, in­clud­ing any FBI in­volve­ment.

Mr. Steele and the FBI en­joy a close re­la­tion­ship, for­mer Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials said, and have worked to­gether in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into in­ter­na­tional soc­cer’s govern­ing body, FIFA, which trig­gered the res­ig­na­tion of its top of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing Pres­i­dent Sepp Blat­ter in June 2015.

Mr. Grass­ley wants to know if Fu­sion knew of any FBI ar­range­ments to pay Mr. Steele.

He is also tar­get­ing the FBI di­rectly, ask­ing agents what they know about Mr. Steele, specif­i­cally if Deputy Direc­tor An­drew McCabe had deal­ings with the for­mer Bri­tish spy. In a let­ter from Mr. Grass­ley to the FBI late last month, the se­na­tor noted that Mr. McCabe’s wife re­ceived “nearly $700,000 from close Clin­ton as­so­ciates dur­ing her cam­paign for Vir­ginia state Se­nate” and that Mr. Grass­ley is con­cerned that “as the FBI’s sec­ond-in-com­mand, McCabe could have sig­nif­i­cant in­flu­ence over the on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion into al­le­ga­tions of col­lu­sion be­tween Trump cam­paign as­so­ciates and Rus­sia as well.”

In that let­ter, Mr. Grass­ley point­edly asked if Mr. McCabe was at all in­volved with Mr. Steele.

The Se­nate probe must be thor­ough and me­thod­i­cal, Grass­ley aides say, be­cause the dossier is still be­ing quoted and used across Wash­ing­ton.

“When po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion re­search be­comes the ba­sis for law en­force­ment or in­tel­li­gence ef­forts, it raises sub­stan­tial ques­tions about the in­de­pen­dence of law en­force­ment and in­tel­li­gence from pol­i­tics,” Mr. Grass­ley wrote in the March 24 let­ter to Fu­sion.

Just last week, CNN re­ported that the FBI par­tially re­lied on the dossier’s re­port­ing to jus­tify a re­quest to place sur­veil­lance on Mr. Page. FBI Direc­tor James B. Comey, has also cited the Steele doc­u­ment in re­cent con­gres­sional brief­ings, of­fi­cials told CNN.

Fu­sion of­fi­cials have de­clined to an­swer Mr. Grass­ley’s ques­tions. Ear­lier this month, lawyers from the Wash­ing­ton firm Cun­ning­ham, Levy, Muse LLP, which rep­re­sents Fu­sion, cited con­fi­den­tial­ity agree­ments as a rea­son not to di­vulge who paid for Mr. Steele’s work.

When Mr. Grass­ley’s staff fol­lowed up and asked if Fu­sion’s clients were will­ing to waive the con­fi­den­tial­ity agree­ments, the firm’s lawyers replied that the clients have opted not to be known.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

PUSH­ING BACK: Michael D. Cohen, a per­sonal at­tor­ney for Pres­i­dent Trump, was ac­cused of trav­el­ing to Prague in Au­gust to meet with Rus­sian agents.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man Chuck Grass­ley wants to slow down an in­quiry and take a more me­thod­i­cal ap­proach to an­swer a tor­rent of ques­tions about op­po­si­tion re­search on Don­ald Trump.

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