BCK FILE-Exactly one year after BuzzFeed first published what would become known as the Steele Dossier, our own Senator Dianne Feinstein released the Senate Judiciary Committee’s interview with Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn R. Simpson.
Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) was none too happy. Nor is Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen who has filed not one but two defamation suits Tuesday against Fusion GPS and BuzzFeed.
For a bit of backstory, Fusion GPS is the DC-based strategic research and intelligence firm that was hired mid-election year by an attorney for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the DNC to investigate Trump’s background.
Once the Dems were footing the bill, Fusion GPS hired Christopher Steele, a former officer with British intel service M16 to check into ties between the Kremlin, Trump, and his associates.
Steele assembled what would become a dossier, alleging that the Trump campaign had colluded with the Kremlin, which the President has scoffed at, despite at least one meeting held at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016 that was attended by three senior members of the Trump campaign (Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort, as well as at least five others, including Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.) The meeting was arranged by publicist Rob Goldstone.
Donald Trump Jr. played off the meeting as a discussion of Russian adoptions but a month later, tweeted that he had attended because he thought he’d be receiving damaging intel on Hillary Clinton. The Russian coincidences, as the Trump camp would like to refer to them, just kept rolling in -- from a long roster of Trump campaign stakeholders who met with Russian politico Sergey Kislyak to the Manafort and Flynn connections that led to indictments.
BuzzFeed powers that be made the decision to publish the dossier, which the Trump camp and conservative pundits characterized as the too familiar taunt, “Fake News.” But one year later, BuzzFeed stands its ground. Ben Smith, the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed wrote in a New York Times Op Ed piece published Tuesday that the publication helped to explain the investigation to readers.
At the time, BuzzFeed knew the dossier had been compiled by a leading expert on Russian espionage and that key Senate members, including Harry Reid and John McCain acted in response. Intel officers had briefed both President Obama and President-Elect Trump on the contents and the FBI was already on board.
However, since then the dossier has become a heated point of contention between Dems and the Republicans – as well as for its role in the Mueller investigation. The Senate committee has been doing a bit of PI work itself to determine how the FBI handled allegations from Steele.
The committee interviewed Simpson for ten hours back in August, which make up the 312-page transcript released by Feinstein on Tuesday. The GOP questioned whether Simpson’s motives behind hiring Steele were political. Though Steele says he wasn’t a Trump supporter, he says his job was to fact-find.
Steele contacted the FBI in early July about Russian interference. The FBI interviewed Steele again a month before the election. Simpson said officials found at least some of the info to be credible.
“My understanding was that they believed Chris at this point — that they believed Chris 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.” -- Glenn Simpson.
Trump, the Republicans, and Trump’s inner circle have been hard at work to discredit the dossier as politically motivated and too much a linchpin of the FBI investigation. Feinstein decided to release the transcripts in response.
“The innuendo and misinformation circulating about the transcript are part of a deeply troubling effort to undermine the investigation,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein.
What’s next? The Trump camp is still reeling from the release of Michael Wolff’s Fire & Fury, which describes a disorganized executive branch with plenty of infighting and no chain of command.
Trump attorney Cohen has filed for $100 million in damages against GPS Fusion in federal court and a separate suit against BuzzFeed at the state court level.
In the meantime, Feinstein has joined California Congressional Reps. Ted Lieu, Adam Schiff, and Maxine Waters as vocal opponents of the Trump Administration.
(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles writer and a CityWatch columnist.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.