Transcript Released Of Fusion GPS Founder's Testimony Before Senate Judiciary Committee

Jan 9, 2018
Originally published on January 9, 2018 9:53 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

More news in the Russia investigation - the author of the infamous Russia dossier on Donald Trump thought Trump was being blackmailed. That detail is one of many in a transcript released today by Senator Dianne Feinstein. NPR's justice reporter Ryan Lucas has been following this and is here to tell us more. Hey, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Howdy.

MCEVERS: First off, what is this transcript?

LUCAS: Well, it comes from a 10-hour interview that the Senate Judiciary Committee did with Glenn Simpson behind closed doors in August. Now, Simpson of course is the founder of Fusion GPS. That's the research firm behind the infamous Trump dossier. The transcript is more than 300 pages, so there's a lot in there. But it really does make for fascinating reading, and it's kind of a behind-the-scenes look at political research and the 2016 campaign.

MCEVERS: What else is in it?

LUCAS: Well, Simpson says that the former British agent who compiled the information in the dossier - it was a man by the name of Christopher Steele - went to the FBI after writing his initial memo in June of 2016. And Simpson said Steele did so because he was concerned about whether Trump was being blackmailed. He says Steele met with an FBI official in Rome in September to discuss his findings. And then as Simpson tells it, Steele told him that the FBI had other information about Trump-Russia links from an individual within the Trump campaign itself.

MCEVERS: An individual within the Trump campaign - do we know who that was?

LUCAS: We don't. Simpson doesn't say. But what he does tell investigators is that the individual approached the FBI with similar concerns as Steele. Simpson's understanding is that the FBI thought Steele's information was credible because it aligned with what the FBI was hearing from this individual within the campaign. Steele ultimately broke off with the FBI shortly before the election because he was concerned that the FBI wasn't handling the issue as he believed it ought have been.

MCEVERS: The dossier's also of course been the target of some pretty consistent political attacks from the president's allies. How does the release of this transcript tie into that?

LUCAS: Well, Republicans on the Hill and conservative pundits have attacked the credibility of Fusion GPS and Simpson and Steele. Just last week, two Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee including the chairman, Charles Grassley, referred Steele to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation, alleging that he had lied to the FBI about his contacts with journalists. So yes, the release of the transcript by the committee's top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein, is in a sense kind of returned fire. In a statement today, she says that the, quote, "innuendo and misinformation," as she describes it, around the transcript are part of an ongoing effort to undermine the special counsel's investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.

MCEVERS: Have the Republicans responded?

LUCAS: Grassley, the Republican chairman, has. He put out a statement calling Feinstein's decision to release the transcript totally confounding. He also says that he wasn't consulted beforehand. It's worth noting here that Feinstein says that Grassley didn't consult with her before referring Steele for investigation. So basically it boils down to this - that this is an indication of just how the committee's Russia investigation is really unraveling on a partisan basis. And it's become as much about politics in many cases as it has about substance.

MCEVERS: Let's get back to the substance, though. I mean, does Simpson address any of the allegations that Republicans have raised with this dossier?

LUCAS: He does, yes. Perhaps the most important one is the question of whether the FBI's investigation was founded - based upon the dossier, which is what some Republicans allege. Simpson says it wasn't. He says that it wasn't because the FBI had been hearing the same thing from that voluntary informant inside the Trump campaign. There's also an exchange in which Simpson says that neither he nor Steele asked for anyone's approval to go to the FBI. They weren't encouraged, discouraged. He says that decision to talk to the FBI was like driving to work and seeing something happening, and then you call 911.

MCEVERS: NPR's Ryan Lucas, thanks a lot.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.