Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee helped fund an opposition research effort against Donald Trump that culminated in numerous damning allegations against him, The Washington Post reported on Tuesday.
Trump and his supporters quickly tried to use that revelation to shield the president from the explosive contents of the now-famous Steele dossier, named after Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence agent who compiled the research on Trump’s alleged connections to the Russian government.
On Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted out a quote from a Fox News commentator who said the Post’s report proved the president was a “victim.”
In reality, the provenance of the opposition research doesn’t necessarily say anything about what Steele claims to have dug up. And it certainly doesn’t prove that the entire affair is “phony,” as Trump has repeatedly insisted.
Furthermore, Republicans were widely reported to have initially funded the anti-Trump file now in question. The Post included that detail in its report on Tuesday, but it was missing from a version the Republican National Committee blasted out.
When Trump locked up the GOP primary, the Republican money dried up and Democrats stepped in, another fact that had already been reported.
Now we know that some of those funders were aligned with Clinton’s campaign and the DNC. Those parties retained Fusion GPS, the firm that had previously been brought on to oversee the contract, and a short time later, Fusion GPS hired Steele.
Much of the ensuing controversy over Tuesday’s report has focused on accusations that Fusion GPS had orchestrated a smear campaign against a prominent critic of the Russian government who was murdered in 2009, as well at the fact that the firm has pushed back against some GOP-led subpoenas into its Trump work.
Trump and his allies are clearly intent on portraying all of this as part of a broader nefarious plot to fabricate a scandal out of whole cloth. But there is nothing particularly unusual about this opposition research effort ― apart from the severity of the allegations it has produced.
Opposition research is a standard and unavoidable part of political campaigning. The search for damaging information can appear desperate at times ― so much so that the president’s son said it led him to take a highly criticized meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer at Trump Tower in New York last summer.
It's also a shady business. Opposition research often involves obscure funding sources and the use of dubious investigative practices. That said, it’s not uncommon for research dug up during these campaigns to be woven into law enforcement investigations. An FBI probe into the Clinton Foundation last year was reportedly driven in part by information published in a Breitbart editor’s book that critics had written off as a hit job. Apparently, FBI officials believed some of the book’s charges were worthy of a closer look.
Investigators with the FBI and special counsel Robert Mueller’s team have been far less dismissive of the contents of the Steele dossier than Trump has. The FBI had reportedly looked to the dossier as a “roadmap” for its probe into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, according to a BBC report in March. Just weeks ago, Mueller reportedly questioned Steele as part of his concurrent investigation into the matter.
None of this is direct confirmation of the dossier’s claims, some of which seem fantastical or downright bizarre. But a number of them also appear credible and consistent with what we’ve since learned about Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 election.
As former Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon said, if even a portion of the Steele dossier ends up being true, it won’t matter who paid for it.