Thank you, Sen. Feinstein for allowing us to the read the testimony about the Trump-Russian dossier for ourselves.
Last week, Americans who are paying attention watched Senators Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham vilify, libel, slander, and abuse criminal process to attack the integrity of the investigators behind the Trump Russian dossier. It was a smug and cynical trick, claiming the testimony of Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson could not be released for us to read, and then telling us to trust them when they characterized Christopher Steele, one of the subjects of that testimony and the author of the dossier, as dishonest to the point of being criminal.
It’s the political equivalent of beating a guy who is handcuffed and blindfolded.
Is this what we have come to?
Contrary to the odd mischaracterization by these two Republicans, Simpson’s actual testimony appears to have actually been cooperative and informative. Further, he makes a very credible case that his work was open-ended and nonpartisan — albeit in a mercenary sort of way. His reputation as a sleuth, investigator, private detective, opposition researcher depends on reliable intelligence. And while he expected to find further evidence of shady Trump business dealings with shady foreign “business people,” (air quotes, mine), he was shocked by Steele's findings that Trump's campaign may have actually colluded with the Russians.
I used to practice law every day. At first as a prosecutor, then as a defense attorney, I was always mindful—especially when defending the rights of the accused—that I was an officer of the court. And, even more fundamentally, that I have responsibilities as a citizen of the United States. On occasion, in discharging my duties as an attorney, I came across information of ongoing official wrong-doing that I felt a responsibility to report to the FBI. What they did with that information after receiving it was their responsibility. But reporting it was mine.
This would appear to be what compelled Steele, with Simpson's blessing, to report evidence he’d uncovered of Trump collusion with Russia to the FBI — before the election.
See conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin’s piece in The Washington Post for succinct and insightful analysis.
Reading this Fusion GPS testimony released Wednesday by Senator Feinstein proves, once again, that you have to read or see things for yourself and not depend upon what other people say about them. Senator Grassley said Fusion chief Glenn Simpson was “uncooperatve,” but, during ten hours of testimony (more than 300 pages, as transcribed), Simpson comes across instead as open and clearly willing to tell his story. The only questions he refused were questions every reporter, private investigator, or lawyer would refuse to answer — clients, sources, and methods.
Some of the Republicans on the committee asked those questions about clients, sources, and methods even though it had been agreed beforehand that such questions would be off limits. As Simpson’s attorney explained, Fusion’s business depends on confidentiality. The company is already the object of death threats, and at least one person in Russia has already been murdered as a result of the publication of the “dossier,” really a series of short reports or memoranda that former British intelligence officer and Russia expert Steele produced for Simpson’s company.
A former investigative reporter for The Wall Street Journal and Roll Call, Simpson — who I’d never heard of before — has a reputation as a dogged investigator who specializes in mining public documents. Like many former journalists who go into private investigative work, he does a lot of work for law firms. He also does some campaign opposition research. As he describes it, when he was hired (originally by Republicans) to do opposition research about Donald Trump, he first read everything that had ever been written about the candidate—which was extensive—and dug into public sources of information about Trump’s financials. One of his most disturbing findings was how poorly many of Trump’s international businesses were actually doing (a red flag for money laundering). The other was how closely associated Trump has always been—despite his denials during the campaign—with organized crime figures in many parts of the world.
Simpson explains why his work has always been necessarily nonpartisan, that he relies on friends and sources and clients on both sides of the aisle. As an example, he testified that at The Wall Street Journal he produced multiple stories unfavorable to Democrats, including a story that led to the resignation of an Obama campaign chair.
Simpson had hired Steele, whom he describes as a “Boy Scout,” because he wanted to know why Trump had spent so much time in Russia despite saying he had no business dealings there. He says he was greatly surprised by Steele’s findings of alleged collusion between Trump’s campaign and the Kremlin. “My expectation was of something a lot less interesting than this, more along the lines of a corruption investigation.”
Steele himself was so alarmed by the findings—and so worried that Trump was being blackmailed by the Russians—that he felt he had to report what he considered to be evidence of a crime in progress to the FBI. “[Steele] said he was professionally obligated to do it,” Simpson said. “This was, to me, this was like, you know, you’re driving to work and you see something happen and you call 911, right?”
Simpson explained that his research projects are always open-ended. “You’re just trying to figure out what’s true….I do my job well and I get rehired when I give them accurate information, when I give them the right information. So, if Donald Trump turned out to be a great businessman, that’s what I would have to tell people.”
Our democracy has been hacked — that much we know. Whether Trump and his campaign asked for that help, whether they knew and accepted it, or whether he was a totally uninvolved — though stable — genius who merely benefited from the Russian espionage, remains to be proven in a court of law.
But the circumstantial evidence continues to mount.
For the time being we still have a democracy. We should all be free to question the motives of witnesses. We should all be free to read their testimony. We should all take the responsibility to read their testimony. And our U.S. Senators — Republicans and Democrats alike — should pursue the facts wherever they lead.
Martin O’Malley is the former Governor of Maryland.