On Tuesday, California Senator Dianne Feinstein made the unilateral decision to release transcripts of Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Her Republican colleagues had previously refused to release the transcripts, despite calls from Simpson and his colleague, Peter Fritsch, for full transparency.
To back up: A year ago, BuzzFeed published an incendiary document compiled by a private firm, Fusion GPS, containing allegations about ties between various members of the Trump campaign and Russia (including, infamously, the existence of compromising video footage of then President-elect Donald Trump in a Moscow hotel suite). "The dossier," as it came to be known, was compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer hired by Fusion GPS to research Trump, and its contents had circulated for months among certain journalists, members of Congress, and employees of the FBI. The gist seemed to be there was reason to believe members of the Trump campaign were not only aware of the Russian government's attempts to influence the presidential election – they were happy to accept the help. Its existence was first made public by CNN – along with the news that both President Obama and Trump himself had been briefed on its findings. It was later reported that the FBI was investigating its claims, largely because many of its findings matched the agency's own independent investigation, begun in July 2016.
The revelations ultimately spawned three separate Congressional committee investigations and the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller. The founders of Fusion GPS testified before all three committees, for a total of 21 hours. Last week, after months of testimony, Republicans made their first recommendations. Rather than pursue what the firm's research revealed about the sitting president, Sens. Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham asked the Department of Justice to open an investigation into Steele, specifically whether the ex-spy lied about sharing the information he collected with journalists.
Feinstein published the entire transcript on her Senate website yesterday. Here are five of the key exchanges from Simpson's ten hours of testimony:
1. Christopher Steele insisted on contacting the FBI because he believed Donald Trump was being blackmailed.
SIMPSON: "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. 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. So he proposed to – he said we should tell the FBI, it's a national security issue. I didn't originally agree or disagree, I just put it off and said I needed to think about it. Then he raised it again with me. I don't remember the exact sequence of these events, but my recollection is that I questioned how we would do that because I don't know anyone there that I could report something like this to and be believed and I didn't really think it was necessarily appropriate for me to do that. In any event, he said don't worry about that, I know the perfect person, I have a contact there, they'll listen to me, they know who I am, I'll take care of it. I said okay. You know, I agreed, it's potentially a crime in progress."
2. The belief that Trump was being blackmailed stemmed in part from Steele's findings that a number of Trump properties didn't make money and the "valuations of the properties are questionable."
Q. You mentioned as well, you brought up Trump golf courses. What in particular were you looking into with regard to Donald Trump's golf courses?
SIMPSON: The original inquiry was into the value of the courses, whether he had to borrow money to buy them, whether they were encumbered with debt, how much money they brought in, what valuations he put on them, and property tax filings.
Q. And in general can you share what findings and conclusions you reached?
SIMPSON: A number of them don't make any money. His valuations of the properties are questionable. I guess those would be the main findings.
Q. You just mentioned broadly but didn't describe it, you mentioned research on Scotland. I don't know if it was particular properties or something with regard to Scotland. Can you just describe what that research was.
SIMPSON: Sure. He has golf courses in Scotland and Ireland and one of the facets of UK or anglo company law is that private companies have to file financial statements, public financial statements. So when you're looking at a guy like Donald Trump who doesn't like to share information about his company, it's useful to find a jurisdiction where he's required to share that information with the local government. So we went and ordered the records – the financial statements of the golf courses. There's also a long-running land use controversy – I think there's multiple long-running land use controversies over those properties.
3. The FBI took the information seriously because a source inside the Trump Organization had expressed similar concerns about Trump's connections to Russia.
Q. You said that he told you of the meeting with the FBI in Rome in mid or late September, that he "gave them a full briefing"?
SIMPSON: A debrief I think is what he probably said, they had debriefed him. I don't remember him articulating the specifics of that. You know, my understanding was that they would have gotten into who his sources were, how he knew certain things, and, you know, other details based on their own intelligence. Essentially what he told me was they 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 organization.
4. Christopher Steele cut ties with the FBI after a New York Times report in October suggesting the FBI did not believe there were credible connections between Trump and Russia.
Q. Now, with regard to – just to finish up on the interactions with FBI, do you know were there any additional interactions between Mr. Steele and the FBI?
SIMPSON: There was some sort of interaction, I think it was probably telephonic that occurred after Director Comey sent his letter to Congress reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails. That episode, you know, obviously created some concern that the FBI was intervening in a political campaign in contravention of long-standing Justice Department regulation. So it made a lot of people, including us, concerned about what the heck was going on at the FBI. So, you know, we began getting questions from the press about, you know, whether they were also investigating Trump and, you know, we encouraged them to ask the FBI that question. You know, I think – I'm not sure we've covered this fully, but, you know, we just encouraged them to ask the FBI that question. On October 31st the New York Times posed a story saying that the FBI is investigating Trump and found no connections to Russia and, you know, it was a real Halloween special. Sometime thereafter the FBI – I understand Chris severed his relationship with the FBI out of concern that he didn't know what was happening inside the FBI and there was a concern that the FBI was being manipulated for political ends by the Trump people and that we didn't really understand what was going on. So he stopped dealing with them.
5. Someone – perhaps one of Steele's sources – was apparently killed after the dossier was published.
Q. Earlier you talked about evaluating the credibility of the information in the memoranda that you were being provided by Mr. Steele and, by way of summary, you talked about your belief that he was credible and that you had worked with him before and the information he had provided you had been reliable in the past. Did you take any steps to try to assess the credibility of his sources, his unnamed sources in the material that he was providing to you?
MR. SIMPSON: Yes, but I'm not going to get into sourcing information.
Q. So without getting into naming the sources or anything like that, what steps did you take to try to verify their credibility?
MR. SIMPSON: I'm going to decline to answer that.
MR. LEVY [Simpson's attorney]: It's a voluntary interview, and in addition to that he wants to be very careful to protect his sources. 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.