- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 3, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In a new effort at damage control over the growing toxicity of the so-called Russian dossier, the founders of Fusion GPS - the firm that engineered the unverified political report - have penned a New York Times op-ed and they’re targeting Congressional Republicans. 

Comparing today’s GOP senators to Republicans in the Nixon/Watergate era, journalists-turned-political smear merchants Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch refer to Republican probes into the dossier and how it may have been used by the FBI and Obama Justice Department to justify domestic surveillance of members of the Trump campaign as “fake investigations” and “mendacious conspiracy theories.”

One of the biggest claims made in the fascinating bit of political damage control is that the dossier was not the trigger for the FBI investigations into Trump’s campaign and alleged collusion with the Russian government.  

Although, Simpson and Fritsch use weasel words to sort of make that claim, and sort of not: 

We don’t believe the Steele dossier was the trigger for the F.B.I.’s investigation into Russian meddling. As we told the Senate Judiciary Committee in August, our sources said the dossier was taken so seriously because it corroborated reports the bureau had received from other sources, including one inside the Trump camp.

“We don’t believe…?” Well gentlemen, that’s terrific to know, but it means nothing. I don’t believe Georgis is a better football team than Oklahoma, but that doesn’t change the score of Monday’s Rose Bowl. 

The fact is, the Fusion boys don’t know whether their bogus dossier was used by Obama’s DOJ or not. 

Strangely, in March of 2017 the BBC reported that the dossier was, in fact, used as a “road map” for the initial FBI probe. If the Fusion boys didn’t “believe” that was the case, why did they wait 10 months to say so?  Why now?

Another interesting tidbit raised in the piece is that for the first time, Fusion GPS denies that former British agent Christopher Steele did not pay any of his Russian sources for the dirt that ended up in the dossier. 

“Mr. Steele’s sources in Russia (who were not paid) reported on an extensive — and now confirmed — effort by the Kremlin to help elect Mr. Trump president,” the two claim. 

But wait a second on that. An exchange between Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and then-FBI Director James Comey in May suggests otherwise, as Byron York details: 

A few days later in an oversight hearing on May 3, Comey refused to answer again — at least in public — when Grassley asked whether Steele paid his sources. But at Grassley’s prodding, Comey did concede that it was a “vital” issue.

“Was the FBI aware that Mr. Steele reportedly paid his sources who in turn paid their sub-sources to make the claim in the dossier?” Grassley asked.

“Same answer, sir,” Comey said, referring to earlier refusals to answer.

“Here’s one you ought to be able to answer,” Grassley said. “Is it vital to know whether or not sources have been paid in order to evaluate their credibility and if they have been paid doesn’t that information need to be disclosed if you’re relying on that information in seeking approval for investigative authority?”

“I think in general yes,” Comey answered. “I think it is vital to know.”

And, again, it’s important to point out that Messrs. Simpson and Fritsch don’t actually know Steele didn’t pay his sources. Only Steele knows that for sure. The Fusion duo are merely making that claim because it serves their political (and, perhaps legal) purposes today. 

After all, the Clinton campaign reportedly paid law firms nearly $10 million for services that included hiring Fusion GPS for the dossier. It’s unclear how much of that went to Steele for “expenses” but there is no way Simpson and Fritsch know for certain that none of that money made its way to Steele’s sources, and Grassley certainly seems to have a hunch about it. 

In the next news cycle the Times column will be treated by many in the pundit class and Beltway media as “The Gospel According to Simpson & Fritsch” and will be quoted and regurgitated as “known fact” and not the political screed that it is. But the entire purpose of the op-ed is to salvage the firm’s reputation and to deflect the recent criticism and pending congressional investigation into Fusion GPS, the dossier and FBI’s use of the unverified portfolio.

When viewed with a critical and skeptical eye, one can only read the piece and come away with the sneaking feeling that the gentleman protest a bit too much. 

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