Did the FBI Have a Spy in the Trump Campaign?
Something tells me Glenn Simpson did not make a mistake. Something tells me the co-founder of Fusion GPS was dead-on accurate when he testified that Christopher Steele told him the FBI had a “human source” — i.e., a spy — inside the Trump campaign as the 2016 presidential race headed into its stretch run.
The Justice Department’s inability, or at least unwillingness, to reveal exactly how, when, and why the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation has fueled suspicions that a spy who worked for both the FBI and the CIA was deployed against the Trump campaign, probably in Britain — where Papadopoulos had met with suspected agents of the Kremlin, and where Steele compiled the dossier via reports from his unidentified sources.
From painstaking research, Nunes and committee staff believe they have identified such a spy. When they demanded information about this person — whose name remains unknown to the public — the Justice Department’s response was not “No, you’re wrong, there was no spying.” It was first to bloviate that the department would not be “extorted” (Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s unusual understanding of what is more commonly known as congressional oversight) and then to claim that providing the information sought by the committee would risk “potential loss of human lives, damage to relationships with valued international partners, compromise of ongoing criminal investigations, and interference with intelligence activities.”
By now, Nunes has learned that if he is catching flak, he is over the target.
.. Simpson explained that Steele had met with at least one FBI agent in Rome in mid to late September 2016. The former British spy had provided the unverified allegations he had compiled to that point
.. Simpson explained to the Senate committee (my italics):
Essentially, what [Christopher Steele] told me was [the FBI] had other intelligence about this matter from an internal Trump campaign source, and that — that they — my understanding was that they believed Chris at this point — that 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 campaign.
.. Sounds like the FBI, with support from the CIA, had some cooperative intelligence venture with British authorities that enabled the Bureau to monitor Trump-campaign figures. That is significant because Papadopoulos has acknowledged meeting in Britain with people who claimed Kremlin ties and who told him Russia had thousands of Clinton’s emails. Did the FBI’s British operation involve using a spy to interact with Trump-campaign figures, such as Papadopoulos, on British soil? Brennan didn’t say.
.. Christopher Steele, the former British spy with extensive British intelligence and FBI connections, told his friend Glenn Simpson that the FBI had penetrated the Trump campaign with a “human source” who was helping corroborate the dossier.
Republicans have refused to release full transcripts of our firm’s testimony, even as they selectively leak details to media outlets on the far right.
.. 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 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.We told Congress that from Manhattan to Sunny Isles Beach, Fla., and from Toronto to Panama, we found widespread evidence that Mr. Trump and his organization had worked with a wide array of dubious Russians in arrangements that often raised questions about money laundering. Likewise, those deals don’t seem to interest Congress... Yes, we hired Mr. Steele, a highly respected Russia expert. 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 serious investors shun?.. After the election, 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... It is time to stop chasing rabbits. The public still has much to learn about a man with the most troubling business past of any United States president. Congress should release transcripts of our firm’s testimony, so that the American people can learn the truth about our work and most important, what happened to our democracy.
Before its emergence on the national stage, Fusion GPS was a low-profile firm made up of several ex-Wall Street Journal reporters.
The firm’s co-founder, Glenn Simpson, was a veteran investigative reporter who left the paper in 2009—citing declining support of investigative reporting by the newspaper industry.
One day after quitting the Journal, Mr. Simpson spoke at the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, describing his post-journalism career as an effort “to try and see if we can’t pioneer yet another new model to keep investigations going, keep doing things in the public interest.” Mr. Simpson said he hoped that people in the business world who saw corruption would come forward and be sources for his research.
Mr. Simpson formed a short-lived company called SNS Global LLC. In late 2010, Mr. Simpson founded a new firm called Fusion GPS with Peter Fritsch, a Wall Street Journal alumnus.
.. “It’s funny because this is probably a bit of what most folks think opposition research entails, but it’s really nothing like the kind of research typically employed on political campaigns these days,” said Mike Phillips, a former Democratic opposition researcher who now runs a company called Vigilant that provides political research and intelligence tools. “Opposition research is typically about combing through public records and identifying and vetting key issues, not hiring James Bond to poke around in Eastern Europe.”
.. He noted that the firm’s founder Glenn Simpson gave 10 hours of testimony to a Senate committee in August.
.. Messrs. Simpson, Fritsch and Catan are all former Wall Street Journal reporters.
For a time, this naming and shaming campaign worked remarkably well and led to less corruption and increased share prices in the companies we invested in. Why? Because President Vladimir Putin and I shared the same set of enemies. When Putin was first elected in 2000, he found that the oligarchs had misappropriated much of the president’s power as well. They stole power from him while stealing money from my investors. In Russia, your enemy’s enemy is your friend, and even though I’ve never met Putin, he would often step into my battles with the oligarchs and crack down on them.
.. After Khodorkovsky’s conviction, the other oligarchs went to Putin and asked him what they needed to do to avoid sitting in the same cage as Khodorkovsky. From what followed, it appeared that Putin’s answer was, “Fifty percent.” He wasn’t saying 50 percent for the Russian government or the presidential administration of Russia, but 50 percent for Vladimir Putin personally. From that moment on, Putin became the biggest oligarch in Russia and the richest man in the world, and my anti-corruption activities would no longer be tolerated... Sergei went out and investigated. He came back with the most astounding conclusion of corporate identity theft: The documents seized by the Interior Ministry were used to fraudulently re-register our Russian investment holding companies to a man named Viktor Markelov, a known criminal convicted of manslaughter. After more digging, Sergei discovered that the stolen companies were used by the perpetrators to misappropriate $230 million of taxes that our companies had paid to the Russian government in the previous year... I had always thought Putin was a nationalist. It seemed inconceivable that he would approve of his officials stealing $230 million from the Russian state. Sergei and I were sure that this was a rogue operation and if we just brought it to the attention of the Russian authorities, the “good guys” would get the “bad guys” and that would be the end of the story... However, instead of arresting the people who committed the crime, Sergei was arrested... Sergei’s captors immediately started putting pressure on him to withdraw his testimony. They put him in cells with 14 inmates and eight beds, leaving the lights on 24 hours a day to impose sleep deprivation. They put him in cells with no heat and no windowpanes, and he nearly froze to death. They put him in cells with no toilet, just a hole in the floor and sewage bubbling up... A week before he was due to have surgery, he was moved to a maximum security prison called Butyrka, which is considered to be one of the harshest prisons in Russia. Most significantly for Sergei, there were no medical facilities there to treat his medical conditions... After more than three months of untreated pancreatitis and gallstones, Sergei Magnitsky went into critical condition. The Butyrka authorities did not want to have responsibility for him, so they put him in an ambulance and sent him to another prison that had medical facilities. But when he arrived there, instead of putting him in the emergency room, they put him in an isolation cell, chained him to a bed, and eight riot guards came in and beat him with rubber batons… In his 358 days in detention, Sergei wrote over 400 complaints detailing his abuse. In those complaints he described who did what to him, as well as where, how, when, and why. He was able to pass his hand-written complaints to his lawyers, who dutifully filed them with the Russian authorities. Although his complaints were either ignored or rejected, copies of them were retained. As a result, we have the most well-documented case of human rights abuse coming out of Russia in the last 35 years.
.. As I thought about it, the murder of Sergei Magnitsky was done to cover up the theft of $230 million from the Russian Treasury. I knew that the people who stole that money wouldn’t keep it in Russia. As easily as they stole the money, it could be stolen from them. These people keep their ill-gotten gains in the West, where property rights and rule of law exist. This led to the idea of freezing their assets and banning their visas here in the West.
.. American families came with big hearts and open arms, taking in children with HIV, Down syndrome, Spina Bifida and other serious ailments. They brought them to America, nursed them, cared for them and loved them. Since the Russian orphanage system did not have the resources to look after these children, many of those unlucky enough to remain in Russia would die before their 18th birthday. In practical terms, this meant that Vladimir Putin sentenced his own, most vulnerable and sick Russian orphans to death in order to protect corrupt officials in his regime.
.. Information from the Panama Papers also links some money from the crime that Sergei Magnitsky discovered and exposed to Sergei Roldugin. Based on the language of the Magnitsky Act, this would make Putin personally subject to Magnitsky sanctions.
.. This is particularly worrying for Putin, because he is one of the richest men in the world. I estimate that he has accumulated $200 billion of ill-gotten gains from these types of operations over his 17 years in power. He keeps his money in the West and all of his money in the West is potentially exposed to asset freezes and confiscation.
.. The second reason why Putin reacted so badly to the passage of the Magnitsky Act is that it destroys the promise of impunity he’s given to all of his corrupt officials.
.. Before the Magnitsky Act, Putin could guarantee them impunity and this system of illegal wealth accumulation worked smoothly. However, after the passage of the Magnitsky Act, Putin’s guarantee disappeared.
.. Boris testified in front of the U.S. Congress, the European Parliament, the Canadian Parliament, and others to make the point that the Magnitsky Act was a “pro-Russian” piece of legislation because it narrowly targeted corrupt officials and not the Russian people. In 2015, Boris Nemtsov was murdered on the bridge in front of the Kremlin.
.. Boris Nemtsov’s protégé, Vladimir Kara-Murza, also traveled to law-making bodies around the world to make a similar case. After Alexander Bastrykin, the head of the Russian Investigative Committee, was added to the Magnitsky List in December of 2016, Vladimir was poisoned. He suffered multiple organ failure, went into a coma and barely survived.
The lawyer who represented Sergei Magnitsky’s mother, Nikolai Gorokhov, has spent the last six years fighting for justice. This spring, the night before he was due in court to testify about the state cover up of Sergei Magnitsky’s murder, he was thrown off the fourth floor of his apartment building. Thankfully he survived and has carried on in the fight for justice.
.. I’ve received many death threats from Russia. The most notable one came from Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in 2013. When asked by a group of journalists about the death of Sergei Magnitsky, Medvedev replied, “It’s too bad that Sergei Magnitsky is dead and Bill Browder is still alive and free.
.. last year when a group of Russians went on a lobbying campaign in Washington to try to repeal the Magnitsky Act by changing the narrative of what had happened to Sergei. According to them, Sergei wasn’t murdered and he wasn’t a whistle-blower, and the Magnitsky Act was based on a false set of facts.
.. Who was this group of Russians acting on behalf of the Russian state? Two men named Pyotr and Denis Katsyv, a woman named Natalia Veselnitskaya, and a large group of American lobbyists, all of whom are described below... Veselnitskaya, through Baker Hostetler, hired Glenn Simpson of the firm Fusion GPS to conduct a smear campaign against me and Sergei Magnitsky in advance of congressional hearings on the Global Magnitsky Act.
.. As part of Veselnitskaya’s lobbying, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, Chris Cooper of the Potomac Group, was hired to organize the Washington, D.C.-based premiere of a fake documentary about Sergei Magnitsky and myself. This was one the best examples of Putin’s propaganda.
The main headlines of the past week—Is Donald Trump attempting to undermine Mr. Mueller? Will Trump Fire Mueller?—all speak to the challenge a special prosecutor poses to the constitutional authority of the president.
Far less scrutiny has been devoted to the challenge Mr. Mueller poses to the authority of the legislative branch. In this case, ironically, the challenge stems less from the aggressiveness of the special prosecutor than from the meekness of Congress. In between their public tributes to Mr. Mueller’s sterling character, too many in Congress seem to worry more about how they might be affecting his investigation than about what his investigation might be doing to theirs.
.. Mr. Mueller, an unelected appointee, had the Trump memos written by former FBI Director James Comey even as the FBI was refusing to release them to the elected representatives of the American people.
.. Here a May 2017 review from the Congressional Research Service is illuminating. Although witnesses before a congressional committee do have the right to invoke the Fifth Amendment, the House can get a court order directing the witness to testify so long as the threat of prosecution for that testimony is removed. Mr. Mueller might not like this, but that shouldn’t stop Congress from using a power designed to extract information rather than punish.
.. Even more intriguing, sensitive or privileged client information is not exempt from congressional subpoena. This might prove especially fascinating in the case of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who has had business dealings with a pro-Russia Ukrainian political party. Ditto for Glenn Simpson, whose Fusion GPS commissioned what became the Christopher Steele Russian dossier on behalf of political clients.
.. Not to mention the many other powers of Congress, including impeachment and the purse. The point is, Congress has many ways to get to the bottom of the Russia story and hold people accountable—if it so chooses.
.. In Anderson v. Dunn (1821), the Supreme Court correctly noted that without the power to imprison those found in contempt, Congress would be “exposed to every indignity and interruption, that rudeness, caprice or even conspiracy may meditate against it.” Two centuries later, the different examples of Ms. Lerner and Mr. Mueller both point to a brand new indignity—which Congress inflicts on itself when it is too timid to assert its own powers.