Fusion GPS on the hot seat in closed Senate Judiciary hearing
Too bad C-SPAN won’t carry the testimony of Glenn Simpson, the former Wall Street Journal reporter who launched the oppo research firm Fusion GPS. Simpson finds himself at the center of the Russia scandal, thanks to a discredited dossier about Donald Trump that got floated after the election. Now Chuck Grassley wants to get to the bottom of the dossier, who ordered it, who paid for it, and what its purpose was, and he’ll get his chance in a closed session today:
Simpson, who will appear in a closed session on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, hired the former MI6 agent Christopher Steele to compile the now infamous “dossier,” which alleged that members of the Trump campaign had colluded with Russian agents to damage Hillary Clinton, Trump’s Democratic opponent.
Republicans in Congress are stepping up their efforts to uncover the funders of and sources for that controversial document and its, so far, largely unverified claims as special counsel Robert Mueller’s high-profile probe of those alleged ties heats up. …
As a reporter, Simpson specialized in coverage of money laundering and Russian organized crime. In an appearance on a panel at a film festival in 2016, Simpson explained that he started Fusion GPS after leaving journalism because he thought his investigative skills would be valuable to a range of wealthy clients.
“What I really like to do is gather documents and put things together in a way that they could be used to expose a crime or right a wrong,” Simpson said. “I call it journalism for rent.”
Want to bet that little quip comes up in today’s questioning? Simpson has to know that it won’t be pleasant, but at least it’s not in public. The closed session will give him some limited room to maneuver, depending on how much his testimony leaks afterward.
Simpson’s probably not the one with the biggest problem, though. His source, Christopher Steele, will have to face one or more depositions in defamation lawsuits brought by a Russian businessman against Steele and BuzzFeed for their allegations that his company took part in cyberwarfare against the US during the election campaign. That danger could cut both ways, McClatchy’s Kevin Hall notes:
Lawyers for Russian-born Internet mogul Aleksej Gubarev’s company, XBT Holdings, are advancing in a U.S. lawsuit against BuzzFeed, and a separate legal team for Gubarev is pursuing a lawsuit in London against Steele.
Gubarev sued BuzzFeed because the dossier alleged that Russia’s government had compromising information on him and coerced him into cyber efforts to manipulate the U.S. election via his U.S. companies XBT and Webzilla — claims that Gubarev denies. He contends that BuzzFeed didn’t give him the opportunity to refute the uncorroborated information.
Gubarev’s attorneys this week are expected to ask British courts to compel Steele to give a sworn deposition to be used in the defamation lawsuit in South Florida, where one of Gubarev’s companies Webzilla is located. A federal judge in Miami late Tuesday ruled against Steele in his bid to quash that request. …
The stakes are high for Christopher Steele. As it stands, he faces defamation lawsuits in England and the United States. And U.S. congressional committees and investigators want to talk to him about the contents of his dossier and who compensated him for his work.
But the stakes are also high for Trump, as Steele might be forced to provide corroborating evidence and even sources for the many charges in the dossier that allege collaboration between the Republican candidate and Russian operatives.
Eh, that seems unlikely by now. If Steele and Simpson had corroborating evidence for those claims, they could have presented it by now to get these lawsuits quashed, especially in the US. They’ve put their efforts mainly into preventing Steele from getting deposed, which suggests that they see a problem for themselves if Steele has to testify under oath. It’s possible that even more unsubstantiated allegations might emerge as part of the exploration of their work, but right now the dossier has largely been discredited, which means damage from further rumors will be limited at best (or worst, depending on your perspective).
This raises a question, though. Does Robert Mueller really have any further interest in the Fusion GPS thread of this investigation? Normally Congressional committees tread very carefully around potential material witnesses in special-counsel investigations. Perhaps Grassley’s efforts today also underscore the lack of credibility in journalism for rent.