In the editorial “A moment of contempt,” the Wall Street Journal notes that today is the deadline set by the House Intelligence Committee for the Department of Justice and FBI to turn over documents related to the Steele/Trump dossier purporting to investigate ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. The Journal adds that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray have had the subpoenas since August 24, “but they have responded with excuses, delays and misdirection. The Justice Department has refused to provide Congress with the most basic documents demanded under the subpoenas. These include reports detailing the FBI’s interactions with sources such as Mr. Steele, who was hired by the opposition research firm Fusion GPS, which was funded by associates of the Hillary Clinton campaign.”
So it’s good that GPS Fusion’s Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch appear today in the New York Times to advise that Republicans are chasing rabbits down a hole. They are engaged in “fake investigations,” as the headline over their op-ed column has it. To put it another way, Simpson and Fritsch assure us that there is nothing to see here: “We don’t believe the Steele dossier was the trigger for the F.B.I.’s investigation into Russian meddling. As we told the Senate Judiciary Committee in August, our sources said the dossier was taken so seriously because it corroborated reports the bureau had received from other sources, including one inside the Trump camp.” We can therefore move along, though we will want to hear a little more about the FBI source inside the Trump camp.
Simpson and Fritsch serve up a grudging concession: “Yes, we hired Mr. [Christopher} Steele, a highly respected Russia expert. But we did so without informing him whom we were working for [i.e., the Clinton presidential campaign] and gave him no specific marching orders beyond this basic question: Why did Mr. Trump repeatedly seek to do deals in a notoriously corrupt police state that most serious investors shun?” They report:
What came back shocked us. Mr. Steele’s sources in Russia (who were not paid) reported on an extensive — and now confirmed [sic] — effort by the Kremlin to help elect Mr. Trump president. Mr. Steele saw this as a crime in progress and decided he needed to report it to the F.B.I.
We did not discuss that decision with our clients, or anyone else. Instead, we deferred to Mr. Steele, a trusted friend and intelligence professional with a long history of working with law enforcement. We did not speak to the F.B.I. and haven’t since.
Simpson and Fritsch present the heroic version of their work on the Steele/Trump dossier (embedded below via Scribd), the version I dubbed “The Dossiad.” They think it is to Steele’s credit and the credibility of his work that Steele’s Russian sources (the friends of Vladimir Putin such as “senior Foreign Ministry figure” and “former top Russian intelligence officer”) volunteered the stories they gave him. They’ve got what strikes me as a cover story and they’re sticking to it.
UPDATE: Andrew McCarthy demonstrates the deep duplicity of the Simpson/Fritsch column in “Beating a hasty retreat from the Steele dossier.”. Chuck Ross raises a different set of issues about the column here.