Supplementing Kim Strassel’s Wall Street Journal column that I highlighted on Friday, Jonathan Turley reviews key moments in the greatest scandal in American political history in the Hill column “The Steele Dossier and the perils of political insurance policies.” As I did in the post on Strassel’s column, I want to offer an excerpt for the record (with Turley’s many links omitted; read the whole thing):
Throughout the campaign, and for many weeks after, the Clinton campaign denied any involvement in the creation of the dossier that was later used to secure a secret surveillance warrant against Trump associates during the Obama administration. Journalists later discovered that the Clinton campaign hid the payments to Fusion as a “legal fees” among the $5.6 million paid to the law firm. New York Times reporter Ken Vogel at the time said that Clinton lawyer Marc Elias had “vigorously” denied involvement in the anti-Trump dossier. When Vogel tried to report the story, he said, Elias “pushed back vigorously, saying ‘You (or your sources) are wrong.’” Times reporter Maggie Haberman likewise wrote: “Folks involved in funding this lied about it, and with sanctimony, for a year.” Even when Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta was questioned by Congress on the matter, he denied any contractual agreement with Fusion GPS. Sitting beside him was Elias, who helped devise contract.
Later, confronted with the evidence, Clinton and her campaign finally admitted that the dossier was a campaign-funded document that was pushed by Steele and others to the media.
In one of his answers to an interrogatory, Steele explained: “Fusion’s immediate client was law firm Perkins Coie. It engaged Fusion to obtain information necessary for Perkins Coie LLP to provide legal advice on the potential impact of Russian involvement on the legal validity of the outcome of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Based on that advice, parties such as the Democratic National Committee and HFACC Inc. (also known as ‘Hillary for America’) could consider steps they would be legally entitled to take to challenge the validity of the outcome of that election.”
Steele’s testimony suggests that the dossier was not just a political hit job but a type of insurance for a catastrophic political event.
The dossier ultimately found its way from a Fusion GPS employee, Nellie Ohr, to her husband, Justice Department official Bruce Ohr. From there, it became the basis of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants targeting figures like Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, signed off by the Obama administration with the involvement of later-fired FBI director James Comey and his deputy, Andrew McCabe. (Ohr was later demoted over his involvement.) Page was never charged with a crime while key players like Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson invoked the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination to refuse to answer further questions from Congress.
The FBI knew the dossier was part of a Clinton campaign operation but told the secret FISA court that it was only speculating about a possible political motive for the material. Notably, however, the FBI’s warrant application indicates that Steele denied knowing the purpose behind the dossier. In the 412-page application, the FBI buries the issue in a footnote, stating that Steele was hired by Fusion GPS to conduct research on Trump and that “The identified U.S. person never advised [Steele] as to the motivation behind the research into [Trump] ties to Russia. The FBI speculates that the identified U.S. Person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit Candidate #1’s campaign.”
We now know that Steele and Fusion GPS aggressively shopped the dossier with any reporter who would listen, while also pitching it to Ohr and the FBI. Notably, the dossier story was broken by investigative journalist Michael Isikoff who recently admitted, “When you actually get into the details of the Steele dossier, the specific allegations, we have not seen the evidence to support them, and, in fact, there’s good grounds to think that some of the more sensational allegations will never be proven and are likely false.”
Steele’s recent comments magnify the concerns. Ultimately, the dossier was used for precisely the purpose described by Steele: It led to the special counsel investigation, which quickly diverted to other criminal allegations unrelated to the dossier’s most sensational claims, like hacking or coordination with WikiLeaks and Russian trolling operations. Indeed, Democratic leaders’ new claims of a “massive fraud” in the election is the alleged violation of campaign finance laws to pay hush money to a porn star and former Playboy bunny….
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