Last week, Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson called on members of Congress to release the full transcripts of testimonies he gave last year before three congressional committees. Simpson and colleague Peter Fritsch have accused Republican lawmakers of selectively leaking portions of the interviews for maximum political impact.
Today, Simpson and Fritsch got exactly what they asked for.
Over the objections of her GOP colleagues, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which interviewed Simpson in August, released more than 300 pages of text with few redactions. Just as the researchers described, the transcript reveals a bevy of new details about the Russia investigation.
Fusion GPS is the private research firm close to the center of the multi-pronged Russia investigation ongoing in the House, Senate, and the offices of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller. On the behalf of conservative website Washington Free Beacon, and later the Clinton campaign, Fusion GPS funded research into Donald Trump that would later culminate in a series of documents popularly known as the “Steele dossier,” named after its author, former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele.
“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,” Simpson and Fritsch wrote in an op-ed for The New York Times.
The documents reveal Simpson explained that the FBI’s investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia was not, in fact, spurred by the Steele dossier, as Fox News has repeatedly—and apparently falsely—reported. Instead, the FBI reportedly told the Fusion GPS founders that the dossier merely corroborated previous reports the bureau had received. One of the bureau’s sources, Simpson was told, worked for then-candidate Donald Trump.
Simpson claimed that Steele approached the FBI to disclose his findings because he was concerned that Trump was susceptible to compromise. “The thought from his perspective, there was an issue—a security issue about whether a presidential candidate was being blackmailed,” Simpson said. “From my perspective, there was a law enforcement issue about whether there was an illegal conspiracy to violate the campaign laws, and then somewhere in this time the whole issue of hacking has also surfaced.”
Simpson repeatedly refused to name the sources who provided information to Steele. His lawyer claimed that at least one person had been killed as a result of the dossier’s publication and that other sources’ safety needed to remain a priority.
“The American people deserve the opportunity to see what [Simpson] said and judge for themselves,” Feinstein said in a statement. “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.”
Simpson described the investigation of Trump to the committee as an “unlimited look” at his business and finances; a “holistic examination of Donald Trump’s business record and his associations, his bankruptcies, his suppliers… offshore or third-world suppliers of products that he was selling,” he said.
“We did things like we looked at the golf courses and whether they actually ever made any money and how much debt they had,” Simpson said. “We looked at the bankruptcies, how could somebody go through so many bankruptcies, you know, and still have a billion dollars in personal assets.”
Simpson said the research focused, in part, on Trump’s ties to Russian organized crime—largely open source information, as it was previously reported by The New York Times. Fusion GPS also began collecting en masse paperwork from various lawsuits involving Trump from all over the world, including a libel case he brought against a journalist who had claimed he was no longer a billionaire.
Asked about the White House labeling the dossier a “phony” tool for the propagation of “fake news” aimed at discrediting the president, Simpson told the committee: “It’s political rhetoric to call the dossier phony. The memos are field reports of real interviews that Chris’s network conducted and there’s nothing phony about it. We can argue about what’s prudent and what’s not, but it’s not a fabrication.”
Steele, who was hired by Fusion GPS in early June 2015, approached Simpson about reporting his findings to the FBI, which is something he eventually did. “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 22 about this information,” Simpson said.
Simpson was initially hesitant about reporting the details, he said, because he didn’t know who to call or who at bureau would even believe them. But Steele promised to take care of it. “You know, I agreed, it’s potentially a crime in progress,” Simpson said.
Simpson also testified in August that Fusion had itself become a target for hackers. Asked when he became aware of the attacks, he said it happened after the election and “relatively recently.”