- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2018

Christopher Steele, creator of the discredited Democrat-financed dossier, is continuing his Trump-Russia collusion chase with new partisan funding, a House report says.

The disclosure means the FBI has relied on at least two Democrat-tied groups — Fusion GPS and now the Penn Quarter Group — to collect accusations against President Trump.

The majority Republican report by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence says a former top aide to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, has secured millions of dollars from unidentified donors, some of it to pay Mr. Steele and Fusion.

The arrangement is one of several cases of behind-the-scenes moves against Mr. Trump by Democrats and Obama officials, according to the report.

In the Feinstein connection, Daniel J. Jones, her former top investigator on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, operates Penn Quarter Group, a private investigative firm.

The House report, released Friday, says Mr. Jones, a former FBI investigator, met with the FBI in March 2017 and told agents that his firm had acquired $50 million from seven to 10 “wealthy donors” to hire Mr. Steele and Fusion GPS to keep investigating Mr. Trump and ties to Russia.

The report said Mr. Jones “planned to share the information he obtained with policymakers on Capitol Hill and with the press and also offered to provide [Penn Quarter’s] entire holdings to the FBI.”

The Jones-FBI meeting marks at least the second time that the bureau apparently has gotten into bed with an anti-Trump partisan in an effort to gain derogatory information about the president.

The FBI formed a close alliance with Mr. Steele in the summer and fall of 2016 as he churned out 16 dossier memos. The former British spy’s dossier was funded by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign. The Democrats paid Fusion GPS and co-founder Glenn Simpson, who then gave Mr. Steele $160,000. Total Democratic payments to Fusion reached $1 million.

The FBI used the dossier to obtain a court-approved wiretap on Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page.

Rep. Devin Nunes, California Republican and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, uncovered the FBI-dossier operation and termed the use of partisan material to spy on a political rival as a violation of the spirit of surveillance laws.

The FBI relied extensively on Mr. Steele and his dossier to run down leads and conduct interviews.

Mr. Steele, relying on unidentified Kremlin intelligence sources, said there was an “extensive conspiracy” between the Trump campaign and Moscow to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. This and other collusion charges have not been confirmed publicly as special counsel Robert Mueller continues an investigation.

At one time, the FBI’s devotion to Mr. Steele reached the point where the bureau committed to paying him $50,000 to keep investigating Mr. Trump. The timing meant that Mr. Steele would be a paid FBI source during the transition and possibly the presidency.

Two Republican senators sent a criminal referral to the Justice Department asking it to investigate Mr. Steele for misleading the FBI. Mr. Steele told the bureau that he had not spoken to reporters about the dossier when in fact he had briefed a number of them in September 2016 in Washington, according to the wiretap application and court documents filed by Mr. Steele in London, where he is being sued for libel.

The FBI relied on a Yahoo News story to buttress the dossier before a judge on Mr. Steele’s word that he did not brief reporters. In fact, Mr. Steele had provided the story to Yahoo.

The FBI fired Mr. Steele, who told a contact that he was “desperate” to sink Mr. Trump’s campaign. This was after he openly broke protocol and pitched his dossier to Mother Jones magazine days before the Nov. 8 election. The subsequent story tipped off the bureau to Mr. Steele’s way of operating.

Yet the agency continued to rely on Mr. Steele’s dossier to acquire a year’s worth of wiretaps on Mr. Page, who has not been charged.

Former FBI Director James B. Comey, now on a book tour, has declined to criticize any part of the dossier or how the FBI used it during his command.

Penn Quarter Group operates a sparse website. Under “our team,” it lists only Mr. Jones, with his biography touting his work as a former FBI and Senate investigator.

Mrs. Feinstein, as the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has been conducting her own Trump-Russia investigation and has summoned Trump people for private staff interviews. She defends the Steele dossier, saying none of it has been disproved.

Mr. Jones, Mrs. Feinstein’s office and the special counsel’s office didn’t return messages seeking comment on the House report. The FBI public affairs office declined to comment.

The House report contains information on other Trump activities.

James Clapper

President Obama’s top intelligence officer, James R. Clapper, admitted to the committee that he leaked salacious material about the dossier and Mr. Trump to CNN’s Jake Tapper.

The House report said Mr. Clapper, an ardent Trump critic, first denied that he leaked any details.

Mr. Clapper discussed the dossier with Mr. Tapper in early January 2017. On Jan. 10, CNN reported that Mr. Trump was briefed privately on the dossier section that claimed he frolicked with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room and that Russia could have compromising information.

The CNN story legitimized the dossier as a news story and prompted BuzzFeed to post the entire document that day, forcing the White House to rebut a series of unverified charges.

The next day, Mr. Clapper issued a statement condemning the leak. CNN hired him in August 2017 as a national security analyst. He again denied on CNN in April that he was the leaker.

He said he didn’t talk to reporters until he left office — an assertion disproved by his own testimony to the intelligence committee in July.

Mr. Comey directly briefed President-elect Trump but never told him that the material came from Democratic Party-collected smut.

State Department

Mr. Clapper was not the only Obama appointee working behind the scenes against Mr. Trump.

During the election campaign, State Department adviser Jonathan Winer established a line of communication with Mr. Steele and introduced him to Hillary Clinton operative Sidney Blumenthal, who provided more smutty gossip on Mr. Trump. Mr. Steele gave the information to the FBI.

State Department official Victoria Nuland gave the OK for an FBI agent to travel from Italy to England to meet with Mr. Steele and receive his data in early July. The agent passed the material to the Washington headquarters.

Justice Department

Obama appointees had a chance to warn the campaign about possible counterintelligence problems with some campaign workers but did not.

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch discussed warning the Trump campaign about Mr. Page and his links to Russians. Mr. Page, an energy investor, lived in Moscow in the 2000s and became acquainted with a wide collection of Russians. He was a volunteer national security adviser but never met or spoke with candidate Trump.

Mr. Page, who is generally pro-Russia, traveled to Moscow in early July 2016 to deliver a public commencement speech. The Steele dossier said he met with two high-ranking Kremlin figures and discussed bribes in exchange for loosened U.S. economic sanctions.

Mr. Page, under oath, has denied all of the dossier’s charges.

On this issue, the House committee report said:

“The Committee found that the Trump campaign was not notified that members of the campaign were potential counterintelligence concerns. This lack of notification meant that the campaign was unable to address the problems with each campaign member and was ignorant about the potential national security concerns. AG Lynch recalled that, during her first meeting with Director Comey and [Deputy FBI Director Andrew] McCabe about Page, ‘one of the possibilities the three of us discussed was whether or not to provide what is called a defensive briefing to the campaign, wherein there would be a meeting with a senior person with the Trump campaign to alert them to the fact that … there may be efforts to compromise someone with their campaign.’

“Such a defensive briefing would not have been unusual. According to Lynch, ‘[i]t is not an uncommon thing to do … in intelligence matters.’ However, the FBI did not provide any such warning about Page, although it was again discussed by the administration’s most senior policymakers after Director Comey briefed the National Security Council Principals about the Page information in “late spring 2016.”

The House report criticized the Trump campaign for not thoroughly vetting political consultant Paul Manafort before bringing him on as a convention delegate counter and then as campaign manager.

The campaign fired Mr. Manafort in August 2016 after reports surfaced that he might have received illicit payments from pro-Russia Ukrainian officials.

A federal grand jury indicted Mr. Manafort on charges of money laundering and failing to disclose payments on his tax returns.

“If the accusations against Manafort are true, he should have never served as a senior official with a campaign for the U.S. presidency, much less campaign chairman or manager,” the report said.

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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