Testimony paints picture of Trump probe

A controversial transcript has been made public.
A controversial transcript has been made public.
Testimony released yesterday details how an investigative firm's research into then-presidential candidate Donald Trump led to a broader probe of far-flung business dealings around the globe. 

     Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, released the Aug. 22, 2017, transcript of Glenn Simpson, whose company, Fusion GPS, did opposition research on candidate Trump during the 2016 presidential election.
    “After speaking with majority and minority committee staff for 10 hours, Glenn Simpson requested the transcript of his interview be released publicly. The American people deserve the opportunity to see what he said and judge for themselves,” Feinstein said in a statement released by her office. “The innuendo and misinformation circulating about the transcript are part of a deeply troubling effort to undermine the investigation into potential collusion and obstruction of justice. The only way to set the record straight is to make the transcript public.”
     The book-length transcript of Simpson's testimony before the committee's staff can be read on a link provided by the senator's office. It is 312 pages and provides an overview of how Simpson, formerly a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, works and how the Trump probe evolved. Here are excerpts, along with the page where each passage can be found:   

    Simpson described his investigation of then-candidate Trump this way:
    “It was, broadly speaking, a kind of 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. You know, it evolved somewhat quickly into issues of his relationships to organized crime figures but, you know, really the gamut of Donald Trump." [Page 62.]

    At the beginning of the investigation, Simpson ordered every book he could get on Trump, along with lawsuits in which Trump had been involved, to get an overview of information already available on the candidate:
    “Those books cover his divorces, his casinos, his early years, dealings with labor unions and mafia figures. I'm trying to think what else. His taxes certainly have always been a big issue. Again, it was sort of an unlimited look at his -- you know, his business and finances and that sort of thing.” [Pages 62-63.]

    The investigation involved puzzling questions about Trump's business record.
    "We looked at the bankruptcies, how could somebody go through so many bankruptcies, you know, and still have a billion dollars in personal assets.” [Page 71.]

    Fusion hired Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence agent, to conduct opposition research on Trump in May or June 2016.
     At this point “we'd done a lot of reading and research and we were drilling down on specific areas,” Simpson testified. Steele was asked “to see what he could find out about Donald Trump's business activities in Russia.” [Page 78.]
     Steele was given broad parameters. “It was opaque what Donald Trump had been doing on these business trips to Russia. We didn't know what he was doing there. So I gave Chris -- we gave Chris a sort of assignment that would be typical for us which was pretty open ended. We said see if you can find out what Donald Trump's been doing on these trips to Russia. Since Chris and I worked together over the years there's a lot that didn't need to be said. That would include who is he doing business with, which hotels does he like to stay at, you know, did anyone ever offer him anything, you know, the standard sort of things you would look at. I don't think I gave him any specific instructions beyond the general find out what he was up to.” [Pages 82-83.]

     Steele began his assignment.
     In June 2016, "no one was really focused on ... this question of whether Donald Trump had a relationship with the Kremlin. So, you know, when Chris started asking around in Moscow about this the information was sitting there. It wasn't a giant secret. People were talking about it freely. It was only, you know, later that it became a subject of great controversy and people clammed up, and at that time the whole issue of the hacking was also, you know, not really focused on Russia.  So these things eventually converged into, you know, a major issue, but at the time it wasn't one.”  [Pages 87-88]

     What is often referred to as a “dossier” -- a file that alleges the Russian regime had been cultivating Trump and had enough to blackmail him -- is a collection of memos about information Steele was gathering.
    “To be totally clear, you know, what people call the dossier is not really a dossier. It's a collection of field memoranda, of field interviews, a collection that accumulates over a period of months. You know, they came in intermittently, there was no schedule. You know, he'd reach a point in the reporting where he had enough to send a new memo; so he'd send one. So you won't find any real rhythm or chronological sort of system to the way they came in.” [Page 145.]

     Steele apparently became concerned that he had uncovered a national security threat: the potential that an American politician could be blackmailed.
     By the time the second memo was written, Steele “had already met with the FBI about the first memo. So he's -- if I can interpret a little bit here. In his mind this is already a criminal matter, there's already a potential national security matter here. ... You know, after the first memo, you know, Chris said he was very concerned about whether this represented a national security threat and said he wanted to -- he said he thought we were obligated to tell someone in government, in our government about this information. He thought from his perspective there was an issue -- a security issue about whether a presidential candidate was being blackmailed.” [Page 159.]

     Steele took his concerns to the FBI in late June or early July 2016. In mid-to-late September the FBI contacted Steele again.
     At this point, Simpson said, “it was obvious there was a crime in progress.”  Questioned about what sort of crime, Simpson responded, “Espionage. They were hacking into the computers of Democrats and think tanks. That's a computer crime.” [Page 173.]

    Another source corroborated Steele’s report.
    “My understanding was that they [the FBI] 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 organization."  [Page 175.]

    Simpson was questioned about attempts to discredit the work of his firm. Specifically, he was asked about White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ statement that, "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 Russia scandal fake news."
      That’s not true, Simpson said. “The allegation that we were working for the Russian government then or ever is simply not true. I don't know what to say. It's political rhetoric to call the dossier phony. The memos are field reports of real interviews that Chris [Steele]'s network conducted and there's nothing phony about it.” [Page 257.]  

    At one point, Simpson was asked whether he’d ever investigated a Democrat.
    “I did investigate Senator [Barack] Obama's campaign in 2008 when I was working for The Wall Street Journal and wrote an article that caused his campaign chair to resign. The record is replete -- or the public report of my work is replete with examples of investigations I've done of Democrats that resulted in them losing their elections and being prosecuted.” [Pages 287-288.]
    Later, he also said, “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. I'm not going to pretend that that wouldn't have entered into my thinking. You know, again, I was a journalist my whole life. So we were, you know, trained not to take sides and practiced in not taking sides.” [Page 291.]

    In discussion, Simpson declined to discuss a source.
    Joshua Levy, his lawyer, remarked, “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.” [Page 279.]
    That remark has not been explained as of this writing.


    Resources: Indictments, plea deals made public

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