The Fusion Transparency Rap
California Senator Dianne Feinstein is getting media raves for flouting Judiciary Committee rules Tuesday and releasing the testimony of Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson without committee approval. Mrs. Feinstein’s disrespect for procedure aside, she has the right idea. Let’s make all of the Russian- Trump -FBI record public.
Democrats seem interested in revealing only what adds to their hope that Donald Trump canoodled with the Kremlin. This includes Mr. Simpson’s self-serving account of the origins of the infamous dossier about Mr. Trump that he hired British ex-spy Christopher Steele to compile. Mr. Simpson, a political gun for hire, spun a heroic tale of noble intentions and praise for Mr. Steele, calling him a “Boy Scout” with “quality” intelligence-gathering skills.
Yet Mr. Simpson couldn’t corroborate the dossier’s claims and had to backtrack on his newsiest allegation. Democrats and the media seized on his claim that the dossier supported information the FBI already had from “a human source from inside the Trump organization.” The Fusion CEO used the same language about a source “inside the Trump camp” last week in a New York Times op-ed.
Yet Fusion waited until after the testimony was released to inform its media friends that this was a “mischaracterization” by Mr. Simpson. Turns out he wasn’t referring to a confidential informant from within Team Trump, but to the fact the FBI had been tipped off by a foreign diplomat about a Trump staffer, George Papadopoulos. Mr. Simpson has a hard time telling a straight story.
The bigger point is that the public is in an evidence-free zone in which Democrats spin the dossier’s unproven claims, while Republicans speculate about the FBI’s partisan motives. The way out is to release to the public the documents the FBI used to justify spying on Trump officials during a presidential campaign. The good news is that Congressional investigators have finally obtained those documents from the FBI and Justice Department.
First up for declassification should be the eight-page memo Republican Senators Charles Grassley and Lindsey Graham last week sent to Justice. The Senators want Justice to begin a criminal investigation into whether Mr. Steele made false statements to the government. Mr. Steele has refused numerous requests to testify to Congress, so the Senators must be referring to his interactions with the FBI, to which he brought his dossier and for which he later worked as an informant.
Some media outlets have reported the FBI used the Steele dossier to get the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to issue a warrant to eavesdrop on Trump officials who were then private citizens. This is important to know because Mr. Steele has since claimed in court that he shared his dossier allegations with the media before the election—even as he was working with the FBI.
Such political maneuvering would surely give a FISA court pause. Did the FBI know? Did it ask? Did it tell the court? The question is whether Mr. Steele misled the FBI on this or anything else, and whether the FBI wittingly or unwittingly presented false information to the court. The Grassley-Graham memo suggests the answers.
Also in need of declassification are records the House Intelligence Committee has extracted from an unwilling FBI, including interview transcripts and reports filed by Mr. Steele’s FBI handlers about meetings with him. These can answer some pressing and straightforward questions.
Did the FBI know Mr. Steele was working with Fusion, which had been hired by associates of the Clinton campaign? Did it know the identity of Mr. Steele’s Russian sources? Did or does the FBI have solid evidence to corroborate the dossier’s claims? Did it share confidential information with Mr. Steele that was relayed back to Mr. Simpson and thus to the Clinton campaign? The fact that Mr. Simpson knew about the Papadopoulos tip suggests it did.
If the FBI has evidence that Mr. Trump was cavorting with prostitutes in a Russian hotel room (which he has denied), the country deserves to know. But if Congress has evidence that the FBI used unproven opposition-research as an excuse to spy on a presidential campaign, or was in any way duped by Russian disinformation, Americans also should know.
Florida Rep. Ron DeSantis has called on House Speaker Paul Ryan to declassify all the documents, and Congress could do so. The better precedent would be for the executive branch to retain the declassification power, and for the White House to step in and order an immediate process for public transparency. President Trump has declassification authority and can deputize a national security professional to work with Congress to protect sources, methods and current investigations.
Speculation over the Trump-Russia probe, the dossier and Robert Mueller’s investigation has become politically polarizing, and the country needs the real facts. Now that Senator Feinstein has set the disclosure precedent, Republicans should see her transparency bet and raise.
Appeared in the January 11, 2018, print edition.