by David Harsanyi · January 11, 2018
No sooner did Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, unilaterally release the testimony of Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson than liberals and their advocates in the media were claiming victory. Look, they argued, the Donald Trump investigation was completely justified because the infamous “dossier,” according to Simpson, had been corroborated by the FBI.
It was a dramatic moment. Also, as far as we know, untrue.
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What we do know is that in the middle of a contentious campaign for the presidency, Democrats paid Fusion GPS to dig up dirt on Trump. The resulting, largely fictitious “dossier,” was then used not only as fodder for the Obama administration’s investigation into its political opponents but also to spread unsubstantiated rumors about Trump to the press.
We also know Michael Steele, a former British spy, gathered information for the dossier from a hodgepodge of rumors from Russian sources that, according to Simpson’s own testimony, were never substantiated by the firm. Steele called the collection of rumors “raw” and “unverified.”
Simpson told Congress, in his prevaricating and often defensive testimony, that Steele allegedly went to the FBI because he believed the Kremlin had the goods on Trump. The Russians, he claimed, were blackmailing the candidate with evidence of sordid sexual escapades. More significant, the Trump team had colluded with the Russians in hacking e-mails of Democrats during the campaign and were working on a quid pro quo basis. It was like calling 911 when witnessing a potential crime, Steele noted.
Well, almost immediately, one of the most-repeated and significant claims backing this testimony had to be walked back.
Simpson told Congress “an internal campaign source,” a “whistle-blower” within the Trump organization, had corroborated some of the information in the dossier for the FBI. This was a bombshell (if true) because it meant that there was a legitimate source substantiating those assertions. So even the dossier’s most shocking tales could be treated seriously by the FBI and used as a pretext to investigate Trump’s organization in the middle of a political campaign.
Soon after the transcript was released, however, NBC News’ Ken Dilanian, who has a close relationship with Fusion, reported that sources in the firm were correcting Steele, who’d mischaracterized a meeting with a Trump source. No, there was no “walk-in” from the Trump campaign as Steele had maintained in his testimony.
This is hardly surprising. Those who bought, compiled and spread the Trump dossier’s rumors have been walking back its claims for a while. And that’s likely one of the reasons Democrats have been scrambling to retroactively diminish its importance in any investigation.
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In fact, Simpson’s description of Steele’s reasons for approaching the FBI aren’t even true. In the dossier, Steele alleges to be offering extensive evidence of a “conspiracy between Trump’s campaign team and the Kremlin.” In his deposition in a libel case late last year, however, the former spy says it was merely “possible” that collusion had taken place and the dossier reflects “limited intelligence.”
We see a similar downgrading of the dossier’s significance and veracity in Simpson’s own testimony. “The question that is asked generally is whether it’s credible,” he explained. “You don’t really decide who’s telling the truth.”
Well now that Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney, is filing a pair of lawsuits — one in federal court against Fusion GPS and the other in New York against BuzzFeed — the truth may take on some renewed importance. Add to that the fact that Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham asked the Department of Justice to open a criminal investigation into Steele’s inconsistencies, and surely we can look forward to more clarifications and walkbacks in the future.
This is likely what prompted Feinstein to release the transcripts — which, incidentally, excluded not only a number of important contextual exhibits from Simpson’s testimony but also redacted all sorts of relevant information about the players in the case.
It doesn’t matter. At some point, we’re going to learn the whole story. And if it turns out that the political party in power used a dossier filled with raw, unsusbstaintaed information to spy on its opponents, it’ll be a massive scandal.
David Harsanyi is a senior editor at The Federalist.