Yeji Lee looks at the important takeaways from the Fusion GPS Founder Glenn Simpson’s testimony.
Simpson’s interview with the Senate Judiciary Committee was significant for several reasons. Over the course of 10 hours, the committee questioned Simpson on a wide range of topics, from Mr. Simpson’s background to the kind of services Fusion GPS offers its clients, to Fusion’s connection to the Prevezon Holdings and the Magnitsky Act. The most significant takeaways from the 312-page transcript, however, are likely the following four points:
1. The FBI Already Had Evidence to Suspect A Collusion Before Steele
In contrast to speculation from Republicans that the Steele’s largely controversial and unverified dossier is what motivated the FBI to begin its investigation into a possible Trump-Russia collusion, Simpson revealed during his interview that when Steele went to the FBI in the summer of 2016 out of concern that the information he held in his possession posed “a security issue,” the FBI told Steele that they were already looking into the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia.
“They believed Chris’s information might be credible because they had other intelligence that indicated the same thing and one of those pieces of intelligence was a human source from inside the Trump organization,” Simpson told the Senate Judiciary Committee.
2. Simpson Defends The Legitimacy of the Dossier
When asked by the committee if he took any steps to verify any of the information in the dossier, Simpson said that he did assess it for credibility and felt that the dossier was credible based on two factors: the reliability of Christopher Steele and the fact that the events in the documents could be backed up and supported externally.
Noting that he had worked with Mr. Steele for eight or nine years, Simpson declared that Steele has a “sterling reputation as a person who doesn’t exaggerate, doesn’t make things up, doesn’t sell baloney.”
“This [the dossier] was alarming because Chris is a credible person,” Simpson continued. “He’s well respected in his field, and, as I say, everyone, I know who’s ever dealt with him thinks he’s quite good. That would include people from the U.S. government.”
But when the committee asked Simpson to provide some specific examples of how he took steps to try and assess the credibility of the sources, Mr. Simpson declined to answer, declaring that he was not “going to get into sourcing information” in an attempt to protect his sources.
The credibility of Steele’s dossier has been a huge point of debate since its publication last year. Supporters of the dossier claim that details which have already been confirmed in the document, such as former Trump adviser Carter Page’s meeting in Moscow, give credibility to the dossier as a whole. Opponents of the dossier, however, claim that the source of the funding for the information (the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee) make the document undeniably biased. They claim that the dossier was commissioned in an attempt to take down then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and as a result, is uncredible and too partial to be considered valid.
The possible political motivations of Glenn Simpson play into this debate as well. Simpson, an investigative reporter for the Wall Street Journal for years before founding Fusion GPS, admitted in his interview with the Senate Judiciary Committee that he opposed Trump’s election as president during the campaign.
“I think it’s safe to say that, you know, at some point probably early in 2016 I had reached a conclusion about Donald Trump as a businessman and his character and I was opposed to Donald Trump,” Simpson told the committee.
3. Somebody Has Reportedly Been Killed Over The Dossier’s Publication
It was when Simpson refused to go into detail in answering the committee’s questions about assessing the credibility of the sources that Mr. Levy, Simpson’s attorney, dropped the ball that somebody has already been killed as a result of the publication of this dossier.
“It’s a voluntary interview,” Levy said defending his client’s right to decline to answer the committee’s question. “And in addition to that, he wants to be very careful to protect his sources. Somebody’s already been killed as a result of the publication of this dossier and no harm should come to anybody related to this honest work.”
Later in the interview, Simpson declined once again to reveal a source affiliated with Steele’s dossier.
“I just don’t feel comfortable sharing because obviously it’s been in the news a lot lately that people who get in the way of the Russians tend to get hurt,” Simpson said.
Reading the transcript, it’s difficult to understand why the committee decided to refrain from pushing for details about the circumstances of the individual who was reportedly killed as a result of the publication of the dossier. Perhaps the committee members wanted to respect the privacy of the individual, or perhaps questioner Jason Foster, Chief Investigative Counsel for Grassley, was too focused on getting his original question answered by Mr. Simpson, or perhaps Foster thought that Simpson would refuse to answer questions concerning the details of the events even if asked.
No matter the reason, it is quite a shame that details of the crime weren’t brought up even once elsewhere in the whole of the August 22 interview transcript. The identity of the perpetrator would have likely given huge insight into the climate of the circumstances surrounding the dossier.
4. The Source Of The Funding For The Investigation Into Trump
In October 2017, an anonymous source familiar with the matter revealed that the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee helped to fund an investigation of Trump that resulted in the infamous Donald Trump-Russia dossier.
In the transcript of the August 2017 interview, Simpson said that he was commissioned by his client to do a “holistic examination of Donald Trump’s business record and his associations, his bankruptcies, his suppliers, you know, offshore or third-world suppliers of products that he was selling.” Simpson mentioned that the examination “evolved somewhat quickly into issues of his relationships to organized crime figures but, you know, really the gamut of Donald Trump.”
When the committee asked what he was specifically asked to do by his client, Mr. Simpson answered that there was no “specific tasking.” According to Simpson, his client had simply given him an “open-ended request” to “take a look at Donald Trump.”
Though Simpson never mentioned his clients by name, and in fact refused to “get into the identity of clients,” referring to the original conditions he had agreed to when consenting to the interview, he did confirm that they were “domestic [American] clients.”
Simpson’s August 2017 interview had caused so much speculation because the public thought that it would resolve once and for all the question of whether the Steele dossier was legitimate. However, the release of the transcript seems to have revealed very little new information.
You can read the whole transcript of the Senate Judiciary Committee interview here.