- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 25, 2019

Former special counsel Robert Mueller drew a blank on the Democrats’ opposition research firm Fusion GPS, which penetrated the upper reaches of the FBI to feed the Trump-Russia conspiracy theory.

Fusion GPS, with money from the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, hired Christopher Steele, a former British spy who tapped Kremlin intelligence officials to weave a dossier filled with allegations against Donald Trump, including that he led an “extensive conspiracy” to have Russia intervene in the election.

Mr. Mueller’s 22-month investigation found no such conspiracy.

At the House Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday, Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio Republican, asked Mr. Mueller: “When you talk about the firm that produced the Steele reporting, the name of the firm that produced that was Fusion GPS. Is that correct?”

“I’m not familiar with that,” Mr. Mueller answered.

His answer added to reviews by liberal and conservative pundits that the special counsel appeared somewhat disconnected from his own investigation.

His report mentions Mr. Steele 13 times. It refers to “Steele reporting” in an uncritical way and how candidate and President Trump reacted to it.

The report does not mention Mr. Steele’s employer, Fusion GPS, by name or its co-founder, Glenn R. Simpson.

Mr. Simpson, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, orchestrated the dossier’s circulation deep into Washington power centers, including the FBI, the White House, the State Department and journalists working for the nation’s most influential news sites.

Mr. Mueller may not be aware of Fusion, but Senate and House Republicans conducted a number of interviews and hearings after the election to create a historical record of what Fusion did to try to bring down Mr. Trump.

A review of transcripts by The Washington Times showed that at least 10 Clinton supporters directly or through middlemen fed Russian-Trump conspiracies to the FBI.

James Baker, a former FBI general counsel, told a House Republican task force: “I had a jaundiced eye about everything, yes. I had skepticism about all this stuff. I was concerned about all of this. This whole situation was horrible, and it was novel and we were trying to figure out what to do, and it was highly unusual.”

Fusion launched four major initiatives to insert the dossier and its conspiracy allegations into the hands of people who could thwart Mr. Trump.

First, Mr. Steele organized a meeting in England with a senior FBI agent in early July 2016. For the first time, the bureau learned that Mr. Steele was alleging a major conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin for election meddling. The agent said he would report back to headquarters.

Second, Fusion capitalized on its hiring of a Russia researcher, Nellie Ohr, to hook up the firm with her husband, Bruce Ohr. In 2016, Mr. Ohr served as an associate deputy attorney general, one of the Justice Department’s most senior lawyers.

Mr. Ohr then took on the unofficial job of Fusion messenger to reach the FBI’s hierarchy. He met with Mr. Steele that summer and took his dossier material to Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe and his counsel, Lisa Page, in August.

Ms. Page was having an affair with FBI agent Peter Strzok, who had opened the investigation into the Trump campaign. Both expressed in texts a deep dislike for Mr. Trump and vowed to “stop” his ascent.

Mr. Ohr also briefed Andrew Weissmann, who headed the Justice Department’s fraud division. Mr. Weissmann would later be recruited by Mr. Mueller, his old boss at the FBI, as a senior prosecutor for the special counsel.

Working with Fusion, Mr. Ohr continued to brief the FBI for months after the election. He even had his own special FBI handler.

In other words, Mr. Steele’s tale of a vast conspiracy and criminal wrongdoing by Mr. Trump had permeated FBI headquarters as the agency made critical decisions to go after the president.

Former FBI Director James B. Comey said he used the dossier as a guide to try to confirm Mr. Steele’s allegations, which the bureau never did.

After Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey in May 2017, Mr. McCabe opened an investigation into the president to determine whether he was a Russian agent — a charge right out of the Steele dossier.

As FBI director, Mr. Comey embraced the dossier. He briefed the White House on it, as well as President-elect Trump.

The FBI also included the dossier as the main piece of evidence in a year’s worth of wiretaps on former Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page and decided to pay Mr. Steele $50,000 to continue investigating Mr. Trump after his election. The FBI fired Mr. Steele for talking to the press but continued to receive his material via Mr. Ohr.

Third, Fusion organized meetings between Mr. Steele and reporters in Washington.

And fourth, Fusion arranged for Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, to receive a dossier copy through his associate, David J. Kramer. Mr. Kramer in December 2016 spread the completed dossier to the White House and to reporters.

BuzzFeed posted the dossier’s entire 17 memos in January 2017 and forever changed history. McCain, who died last August, hand-delivered a copy to Mr. Comey.

In all, the Democratic opposition research firm that Mr. Mueller said Wednesday that he didn’t know was the driving force in creating the dossier and spreading it around Washington. The dossier became a constant source of suspicion that Mr. Trump and his associates were felons.

Republicans wondered why Mr. Mueller didn’t investigate the dossier as Russian interference in the election, just as he did Russian computer hacking and social media ranting.

Mr. Mueller declined to answer.

When Mr. Mueller later testified before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Republicans knew he could not or would not talk about Fusion GPS or Mr. Simpson.

Instead, they postured.

“There is collusion in plain sight,” said Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the committee’s ranking Republican. “Collusion between Russia and the Democratic Party. The Democrats colluded with Russian sources to develop the Steele dossier.”

Then there was the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.

The Mueller report narrated the 20-minute meeting but didn’t explore at all Ms. Veselnitskaya’s relationship with Mr. Simpson, a paid Clinton operative. She got the meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and other campaign officials by promising dirt on Mrs. Clinton but actually wanted to talk about removing U.S. sanctions on Russian businesses.

Ms. Veselnitskaya hired Mr. Simpson to work for a wealthy Russian and met with him at least three times during her U.S. visit.

“Natalia Veselnitskaya colluded with the dossier’s key architect, Fusion GPS head Glenn Simpson,” Mr. Nunes said. “The Democrats have already admitted both in interviews.

“Would it surprise you that the Clinton campaign dirty ops arm met with Natalia Veselnitskaya more times than the Trump campaign did?” he added.

Mr. Mueller’s standard answer was, “Outside my purview.”

Intelligence committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff, California Democrat, was a big fan of Mr. Steele’s Russian-sourced dossier and quoted from it at public events.

But to him, the Russia story is all Mr. Trump.

“Disloyalty to country those are strong words, but how else are we to describe a presidential campaign which did not inform the authorities of a foreign offer of dirt on their opponent, which did not publicly shun it or turn it away but which instead invited it, encouraged it and made full use of it?” Mr. Schiff said Wednesday.

Republicans said this is exactly what the Clinton campaign did: pay for Russian dirt on Mr. Trump from a foreign national, Mr. Steele, and spread it around Washington.

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

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