By Fred Barbash / The Washington Post
Fusion GPS, the research firm responsible for the “Steele dossier,” defended itself late Tuesday against what it called “mendacious conspiracy theories” spun by Republicans and President Donald Trump, saying its critics were simply “chasing rabbits” to punish it for exposing Trump’s links to Russia.
The two founders of the firm, Glenn R. Simpson and Peter Fritsch, made their first extensive public comments on the controversy surrounding the company in a commentary in The New York Times headlined “The Republicans’ Fake Investigations.”
They accused congressional Republicans of “selectively” leaking to far-right media outlets details of the firm’s testimony to congressional committees and called for full release of the testimony transcripts “so that the American people can learn the truth about our work and most, important, what happened to our democracy.”
But most of the commentary was devoted to refuting allegations by Trump allies that the dossier the firm procured provided the impetus for the investigation of connections between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Republican critics of the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into the Trump campaign’s links with Russia have repeatedly accused Fusion GPS of fomenting the probe in collaboration with the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign, using as bait the dossier of unsubstantiated allegations against Trump prepared by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele.
As White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at a news briefing on August 1, “The Democrat-linked firm Fusion GPS actually took money from the Russian government while it created the phony dossier that’s been the basis for all of the Russian scandal fake news.” Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, among others, has suggested that the dossier was “the basis” for government spying on the Trump campaign and called for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate.
In their commentary, Simpson and Fritsch said they did not believe the dossier “was the trigger for the FBI’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.”
The intelligence committees, wrote the Fusion GPS executives, “have known for months that credible allegations of collusion between the Trump camp and Russia were pouring in from independent sources during the campaign. Yet lawmakers in the thrall of the president continue to wage a cynical campaign to portray us as the unwitting victims of Kremlin disinformation.”
The New York Times reported on Dec. 30 that the Russia probe began when campaign adviser George Papadopoulos tipped off an Australian diplomat in May, 2016 that Russia had “political dirt on Hillary Clinton.” The Australians ultimately relayed that information to the FBI two months later, according to the Times account. Papadopoulos admitted in October that he made a false statement to FBI investigators about his contacts with foreigners claiming to have high-level Russian connections and made a plea agreement to cooperate with the probe.
“Yes, we hired Mr. Steele, a highly respected Russia expert,” the Fusion executives wrote. “But we did so without informing him whom we were working for 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 investors shunned?
“What came back shocked us,” they wrote. “Mr. Steele’s sources in Russia (who were not paid) reported on an extensive – and now confirmed – 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 FBI.”
After the election, they wrote, “Mr. Steele decided to share his intelligence with Senator John McCain via an emissary. We helped him do that. The goal was to alert the United States national security community to an attack on our country by a hostile foreign power.”
The dossier, as The Washington Post reported in December, alleged that the Russian government collected compromising information on Trump and that the Kremlin was trying to assist his campaign.
As previously reported by multiple news outlets, Fusion GPS was hired first in the fall of 2015 by The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative website funded in part by New York hedge fund operator Paul Singer to look into various Republican presidential candidates, including Trump. It has already been reported that the Free Beacon called off Fusion GPS in May 2016 as Trump was clinching the nomination, before Steele was hired by the firm, according to the Free Beacon.
The Washington Post reported in October that the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Committee then paid Fusion via a law firm for its work on the dossier.
Since publication of the dossier in BuzzFeed (Simpson and Fritsch said they did not leak the document to that publication) “the president has repeatedly attacked us on Twitter. His allies in Congress,” they wrote, “have dug through our bank records and sought to tarnish our firm to punish us for highlighting his links to Russia. Conservative news outlets and even our former employer, The Wall Street Journal, have spun a succession of mendacious conspiracy theories about our motives and backers.”
They said Fusion GPS has cooperated with Congress, handing over “our relevant bank records – while drawing the line at a fishing expedition for the records of companies we work for that have nothing to do with the trump case.”
“We’re extremely proud of our work to highlight Mr. Trump’s Russia ties,” they wrote. “To have done so is our right under the First Amendment.”