Have you noticed that we are no longer talking merely about “the Trump Dossier”? Ever since the Washington Post’s startling revelation this week that the dossier was commissioned and paid for by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, there’s been a subtle tweak in the coverage. Now, reports allude to the research that led to the Trump dossier.
Why the shift in emphasis? Because the Democrats and their media accomplices are doing what they do best: controlling the terms of the public discussion in order to obfuscate.
In reality, only after this project was taken over by Democrats were new operatives hired and the dossier created. Still, Dems and their media allies figure the facts are vague enough that the early research can be conflated with the eventual dossier, thus implicating Republicans — and obscuring the Democrats’ singular culpability.
Clever, but it’s not going to work. After a year of Democrats pounding the Trump-Russia drum, it won’t help them to tee up the dossier (and, of course, the research!) as a bipartisan undertaking. Not when it turns out that collusion itself is a bipartisan undertaking.
On Friday evening, after we thought this column was put to bed, it was revealed that the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative publication, funded the original Fusion GPS project. As the Washington Examiner’s Byron York reported, the Free Beacon retained Fusion GPS to do research on several Republican candidates, not Donald Trump alone. The project had nothing to do with Russia or Christopher Steele. It ran from fall 2015 until Spring 2016, with the Free Beacon dropping it once Trump had the nomination sewn up.
That is when the law firm of Perkins Coie, counsel for the Clinton campaign and the DNC, retained Fusion GPS. Only then did Fusion hire former British spy Christopher Steele. It was not until two months later that Steele completed his first “Company Intelligence Report,” dated June 21. That began what became the so-called dossier — 35 pages of Steele’s sensational investigative summaries.
Some reporting (for example, by Business Insider’s Natasha Bertrand) suggests that parts of the dossier have been verified. But, Byron York notes, former FBI director James Comey has dismissively described it as “salacious and unverified.” Much of its significant content has been vigorously disputed. Whatever its quality, though, the dossier is a Democratic-party campaign and political-opposition screed, through and through.
The Clinton campaign and the Democrats never wanted this to be known.
The Clinton campaign and the Democrats never wanted this to be known. That’s why they took such pains to insulate themselves: The Perkins Coie law firm and Steele were their layers of deniability. That’s not just a theory. Two well-regarded New York Times reporters, Maggie Haberman and Ken Vogel, have told their Twitter followers that people complicit in funding the dossier vigorously denied any involvement.
And how’s this for Clintonian flair: During Senate Intelligence Committee testimony last month, Clinton campaign manager John Podesta insisted that he was unaware of any funding connection between the campaign, Fusion GPS, and the dossier. At that moment, sitting in silence next to Podesta was his lawyer, Marc Elias. If that name rings a bell, it is because Elias just happens to be the Perkins Coie lawyer who got the dossier rolling by hiring Fusion GPS in April 2016.
I’m sure we can all understand why Elias and Podesta didn’t fess up. After all, when Elias retained Fusion, it was in his role as counsel for the Clinton campaign that Podesta was running, whereas at the Senate hearing, he was in his very different role as counsel for Podesta regarding his running of the Clinton campaign. Surely the committee’s discerning members must appreciate so obvious a distinction, no?
In any event, you can see the problem here for Democrats who, for a year, have chanted the “Trump campaign collusion with Russia” mantra. Strip away the buffers (i.e., Steele and Perkins Coie) and the dossier is an exercise in Clinton-campaign collusion with Kremlin-connected sources to produce information that would cripple the Trump campaign and, failing that, undermine the Trump presidency.
Those of us who were convinced long before November 8, 2016, that Russia was a hostile power can only shrug our shoulders at the Democrats’ folly. On the stage, they’ve spent the months since Trump’s election depicting a villainous Russia indistinguishable from its Soviet forbears. Behind the scenes, they’ve been cozying up to Putin. So now, at every turn, they get tangled in their own “collusion” web.
With no solid collusion evidence against Trump himself (who was repeatedly told he was not a suspect by former FBI director Comey), Robert Mueller’s special-counsel investigation has focused intently on the troubling Russian business ties of Paul Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign chairman for four months. But if that is the grist for a collusion case, then — again — what about Clinton campaign manager John Podesta? As Power Line’s Paul Mirengoff explains, Podesta joined the board of an energy company, Joule Unlimited, on which sat two Putin chums, Anatoly Chubais and Ruben Vardanyan. Shortly after Podesta joined, an investment fund founded by Putin poured $35 million into Joule. (In yet another Clintonian flourish, Podesta told Fox Business’s Maria Bartiromo that, well yes, “the Russian company had a small investment” in Joule.)
This was in 2011, shortly after an Obama-administration committee on which then–Secretary of State Clinton sat green-lighted the acquisition of Uranium One (and its 20 percent of total U.S. uranium reserves) by Russia’s government-controlled energy conglomerate, Rosatom. The Clinton Foundation obtained tens of millions of dollars in “donations” from players in the Uranium One deal; Bill Clinton was paid a tidy $500,000 by a Kremlin-connected bank for a single speech while the transfer to Rosatom was under consideration. We now know that, at that very time, the Obama Justice Department and the FBI had a prosecutable racketeering and extortion case against Rosatom’s American subsidiary, but chose not to bring charges. (As I have outlined, indictments were delayed until 2014, after the Obama/Clinton “Russian Reset” policy imploded with Putin’s annexation of Crimea.)
Wittingly or not, then, top Democrats facilitated Russia’s muscling into the U.S. energy sector — the Putin initiative behind the racketeering scheme, the purchase of Uranium One, and “the small investment” (ahem) in Joule.
Meanwhile, Podesta’s brother, the prominent Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta, appears to have been joined at the hip with Manafort in a public-relations campaign for the Kremlin-backed party that ruled Ukraine until being ousted in 2014. After payments were reported by the media, Tony Podesta’s firm, like Manafort’s firm, amended its government filings to more accurately reflect its work as a foreign agent. For colluding in Manafort’s collusion, Podesta is now reportedly a subject of Mueller’s collusion investigation.
Critical to that investigation is the intelligence community’s conclusion that DNC computers were hacked by Putin-regime operatives. This finding may be right, but it is not compelling. In part, this owes to the intelligence agencies’ refusal to explain their investigation elaborately for fear of compromising methods and sources. That is understandable, but as we’ve previously observed, an intelligence community that was notoriously politicized throughout Obama’s tenure cannot expect the public to be moved when it says “trust us” — particularly when this hacking is foundational to the Democrats’ political narrative about collusion.
In addition, there is an even more significant proof problem: The DNC never permitted the FBI to conduct a physical examination of the servers that were hacked. Instead, its trusty Perkins Coie lawyers hired a private cybersecurity firm, CrowdStrike, to do the forensic testing. Rather than follow the standard investigative template in which the government acquires possession of critical physical evidence (whether by request, subpoena, or search warrant), the Obama Justice Department indulged the administration’s friends at the DNC. Thus, the hacking investigation is built on the work of CrowdStrike, not of the FBI. Which is to say: To accept the conclusion that Russia hacked the DNC, we must trust a DNC contractor.
What would the media and the Democrats say if the Republican National Committee declined to surrender vital physical evidence in a case with major political implications?
It is no slight against CrowdStrike, which seems to have a good reputation, to complain that this is tough to swallow. Put it this way: What would the media and the Democrats say if the Republican National Committee declined to surrender vital physical evidence in a case with major political implications? What if, rather than simply issuing a subpoena, the Trump Justice Department agreed to rely on an RNC contractor?
To come full circle, the dossier-based claims of Trump collusion with Russia present the same situation. On the dossier, as we’ve seen, the DNC contractor is Fusion GPS. Funny thing about that: As the Wall Street Journal’s Kimberley Strassel points out, the Clinton campaign, the Democratic party, and the Democrats’ Perkins Coie lawyers are not the only outfits for which Fusion GPS works. Its clients also include . . . wait for it . . . Russia!
I have previously related the Justice Department’s largely failed attempt — under the Magnitsky Act — to seize assets from Prevezon, a Russian holding company controlled by the son of Pyotr Katsyv, a Putin crony and top Russian railway official. The case involved the Putin regime’s detention, torture, and murder of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian investigator who uncovered a regime-orchestrated $230 million fraud scheme. To help mount their defense, Katsyv’s lawyers — like Clinton’s lawyers — hired Fusion GPS. In this capacity, Fusion GPS worked shoulder-to-shoulder with Natalia Veselnitskaya. You may remember her as the Russian lawyer who famously met with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Manafort at Trump Tower in June 2016.
So get this: Apart from working against a Magnitsky Act case, Veselnitskaya was supposed to be transmitting opposition research about Hillary Clinton from Kremlin-connected sources to the Trump campaign . . . just like her Fusion GPS friends, apart from working against a Magnitsky Act case, were transmitting opposition research about Donald Trump from Kremlin-connected sources to the Clinton campaign.
It’s not clear that there was Trump collusion with Russia, but Trump won, so we’re still hearing about it. Had Hillary won, there would still be collusion with Russia, but we’d be hearing that line that Clinton-administration scandals made an eight-year refrain: Everybody does it!
— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.
Editor’s note: This article has been emended since its original posting.