Having read the transcript of the interview that Fusion GPS head Glenn Simpson gave to investigators from the Senate Judiciary Committee, I have the following observations:
1) Simpson offered no meaningful support for the truth of the allegations in the Donald Trump dossier that he peddled to journalists. It was his subcontractor Christopher Steele who gathered the “human intelligence” in Russia that was the basis for the dossier. Simpson’s contributions consisted of searching public data sources in a manner that does not sound impressive. For example:
What we generally do at the beginning of a case if it’s possible is to order all the books about the subject from Amazon so we’re not reinventing the wheel and we know what’s been written and said before. So this was typical. We ordered every Donald Trump book and, to my surprise, that’s a lot of books. I was never very interested in Donald Trump. He was not a serious political figure that I’d ever had any exposure to. He’s a New York figure really.
So anyway, we read everything we could read about Donald Trump. Those books cover his divorces, his casinos, his early years dealings with labor unions and mafia figures.
To the extent that Simpson tried to verify the allegations in the dossier, his efforts were of the “there’s the bed” variety. (“I’ve got a bed that George Washington slept in. If you don’t believe me, there’s the bed!”) So, for example, if Steele claimed that the Trump presidential campaign was collaborating with a particular Russian, Simpson may have verified that the Russian exists. This description of how Simpson corroborated the claim that Carter Page may have been “compromised” would be funny in a different context:
Q. So beyond what is in the dossier, did you kind of find any evidence that he had actually been compromised? Now I’m speaking of Carter Page.
A. Well, the definition of compromised is someone who has been influenced sometimes without even their knowledge. We had reason to believe that he had, in fact, been offered business deals that were — that would tend to influence him, business arrangements.
Basically, Simpson’s story is that he considered Steele reliable, and Steele is responsible for the dossier. Simpson has little or nothing to add, if one’s concern is whether the dossier’s allegations are true. He refused to describe any efforts he may have made to determine whether Steele’s anonymous Russian sources were trustworthy.
2) Simpson appeared voluntarily, and his lawyers asserted numerous objections, so that Simpson failed to answer many relevant questions. (Like, for example, who paid him for his anti-Trump research.) The objections strike me as frivolous; I never learned about the “opposition researcher’s privilege” when I was in law school.
3) Simpson describes without embarrassment how he shopped Steele’s alleged dirt on Trump to various media outlets:
Q. So with the second one on page 8 of Exhibit 5, under the response to 18 Steele’s attorneys state “The journalists initially briefed at the end of September 2016 by the second Defendant and Fusion at Fusion’s instruction were from the New York Times, the Washington Post, Yahoo News, the New Yorker, and CNN. The second Defendant” — that would be Mr. Steele — “subsequently participated in further meetings at Fusion’s instruction with Fusion and the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Yahoo News which took place in mid-October 2016. … In addition, and again at Fusion’s instruction, in late October 2016 the second Defendant briefed the journalist from Mother Jones by Skype. … The briefings involved the disclosure of limited intelligence regarding indications of Russian interference in the U.S. election process and the possible coordination of members of Trump’s campaign team and Russian government officials.”
To the best of your knowledge, is that a full and accurate account of all the news organizations with which Fusion and Mr. Steele shared information from the memoranda?
A. I’d say it’s largely right.
Q. Are there any that have been omitted?
A. Maybe, yeah.
Simpson essentially admitted that he peddled the fictions about Trump at the behest of Hillary Clinton’s campaign (even though he never identified that campaign as his client):
Q. Was part of the purpose of your investigation to share information with journalists?
A. I think that’s a fair statement. … As I said earlier, in any project, and that would include this one, the objective is to gather relevant information, and some of that information was gathered for other purposes and some of it was gathered for the possibility that it might be useful to the press.
Q. Did your client instruct you to have these meetings?
MR. LEVY: The answer to that question might implicate privilege or obligations that we’ve set forth.
4) When it came to the FBI, Simpson once again passed the buck to Steele. Steele proposed contacting the bureau, simply as a matter of civic duty:
Q. To clarify, you were saying his interactions with the FBI were not part of your project?
A. They obviously grew out of the project, but as he explained it to me, you know, when you learn things in your daily life that raise national security considerations you’re obligated to report them. So that wouldn’t have anything to do with my client’s goals or project.
Simpson doesn’t seem to have participated in Steele’s meetings with the FBI, but he agreed with Steele that Steele should take his dossier to the Bureau and try to interest them in it. Simpson also was involved in lobbying media outlets to press the FBI for statements on whether the Bureau was investigating Trump’s purported connections with Russia. Steele and Simpson enlisted John McCain to make sure that the dossier reached the Bureau’s highest levels:
He says he wants information to give to Senator McCain so that Senator McCain can ask questions about it at the FBI, with the leadership of the FBI. That was essentially — all we sort of wanted was for the government to do its job and we were concerned about whether the information that we provided previously had ever, you know, risen to the leadership level of the FBI. We simply just didn’t know. It was our belief that Director Comey if he was aware — if he was made aware of this information would treat it seriously.
5) The lawyers representing Republicans on the Senate committee were very interested in another project that Fusion GPS carried out at the same time it was trying to smear Donald Trump on behalf of the Hillary Clinton campaign and the DNC. This project was the “Prevezon case,” where Simpson did research on behalf of a Russian company called Prevezon, through Prevezon’s lawyers in the lawsuit. What is interesting about this is that the Russian lawyer for Prevezon was Natalia Veselnitskaya. As such, she was responsible for paying Fusion GPS’s bills.
You may remember that Veselnitskaya was the Russian lawyer who met briefly with Donald Trump, Jr. and others in a conversation that Democrats have absurdly labeled as “treasonous.” It turns out that Glenn Simpson and Fusion GPS had a far closer relationship with Veselnitskaya than Trump, Jr. did:
Q. Was it your understanding that the research you provided to Baker Hostetler would then be passed on to Ms. Veselnitskaya?
A. To the extent that it was useful and interesting to her I’m sure they did, yes.
Simpson’s schedule for June 8 through 10, 2016, is interesting:
Q. You mentioned you had dinner with Ms. Veselnitskaya on June 8th and 10th of 2016.
Were you generally aware of her trip to the United States in June?
A. I was. She had trouble getting a visa and the lawyers — there was some drama over whether she could get a visa. … I remember that at the last minute she got a visa to come to this Appellate Court hearing on June 9th in New York….
Q. And that hearing was on June 8th; is that correct?
A. I believe it was June 9th.
Q. Did you have any other information about Ms. Veselnitskaya’s itinerary or intended activities on this trip?
A. No. I mean, I can tell you what I knew. I knew she was coming in I guess on the 8th. I don’t have a clear recollection of the dinner, but I know — I believe we had a dinner. The problem is I had more than one. So I don’t have a clear recollection of it.
Anyway, I saw her the next day in court at this hearing and I’m sure we exchanged greetings, but, as I say, she speaks Russian and I speak English. …
Q. So you had dinner the 8th, saw her in court on the 9th; is that correct?
Q. And dinner again on the 10th?
A. In D.C.
Ms. Veselnitskaya found time in her busy schedule to meet briefly with Donald Trump, Jr.:
Q. It has widely been reported Ms. Veselnitskaya and Mr. Akhmetshin and others met with Donald Trump, Junior, Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner on June 9th, 2016. Were you aware of this meeting beforehand?
Q. It didn’t come up at the dinner the night before?
Q. When did you first become aware of the meeting?
A. Around the time it broke in the New York Times. I was stunned.
No one asked why Simpson was stunned. He went on to acknowledge that Veselnitskaya may have wanted to convey to the Trump group “information from the Prevezon case,” in which case it could have come from him.
I don’t think one can tell from the Simpson transcript itself what significance his relationship with Veselnitskaya has, but if it is a coincidence, it is a pretty remarkable one.
Taken as a whole, Simpson’s statement is interesting, if you like that sort of thing. But it contains no earth-shaking revelations, and is consistent with what I believe to be true: that a Republican presidential contender, followed by the Clinton campaign and the DNC, paid Fusion GPS to try to dig up dirt on Donald Trump; that Fusion hired Christopher Steele to see what he could find in Russia; that Steele either concocted fables or was happy to pass on claims from anonymous (maybe non-existent) sources, some of which have proven indisputably false, while others are unverified; and that Simpson and Steele tried to help Hillary Clinton win the election by peddling their false stories to numerous left-leaning news outlets, and by trying to stimulate an FBI investigation, which they urged reporters to ask the FBI about. It is a sordid story, and one that deserves unequivocal condemnation from all points on the political spectrum.