- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Donald Trump supporters caught up, but not charged, in a 34-month Russia investigation point to March 20, 2017, as the day their troubles really started.

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence opened its most publicized hearing into Russia election interference.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, then the committee’s ranking Democrat, quickly turned the session into a sort of coming-out party for the Democratic Party-financed dossier as he quoted its unsubstantiated felony charges.

Said Michael Caputo, a campaign media adviser who went through congressional and prosecutorial questioning: “I’ve always believed the March 2017 House intel hearings got this whole hoax rolling and lit dozens of families on fire.”

Today, a number of Republicans are calling on Mr. Schiff, now committee chairman, to resign because he continues to level conspiracy charges. Special counsel Robert Mueller ended his investigation last week by saying he did not find evidence to establish such criminal charges.

“There is no question he should step down from the intel chairmanship,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican.

Mr. Schiff met the resignation demands by repeating this week that there was Russia-Trump collusion, but he didn’t spell it out.

At the witness table on March 20 two years ago were two of Washington’s most powerful: FBI Director James B. Comey and Adm. Mike Rogers, who headed the National Security Agency, the government’s premier wiretapper.

Mr. Comey stunned Trump associates by announcing that the entire presidential campaign was under investigation for suspected collusion.

It got worse for Trump aides. Mr. Schiff began reading dossier charges and naming names. Other Democrats followed suit. It gave the dossier, written by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, extra weight as Washington reporters churned out scores of stories accusing Mr. Trump of election conspiracy with Russia.

J.D. Gordon, a retired Navy officer who directed national security policy for the Trump campaign, said the March hearing was the catalyst for months of death threats and harassment.

Mr. Gordon said those “driving the Trump-Russia collusion hoax should be investigated with the same vigor as Trump associates have been for the past three years.”

Donald Trump Jr., who has been through 27 hours of congressional testimony, said Mr. Schiff has been lying for two years, yet the liberal media “carry his water.”

“You’ve got the leader of the tinfoil-hat brigade out there every day talking about the evidence of collusion that he’s seen,” Mr. Trump told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson. “He’s fragrantly lying to the American people. He’s doing it every day on national television. … There’s no accountability for that, Tucker.”

The public, and presumedly lawmakers, didn’t know a key fact in March 2017. Mr. Steele was funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee via middleman Glenn Simpson, co-founder of the investigative firm Fusion GPS. The dossier, in other words, was political opposition research, not an intelligence report.

Mr. Schiff moved on from that hearing to accuse Trump people scores of times of colluding with Russia, though he never gave exact examples. He has said it is in “plain sight.”

In need of ‘further research’

Attorney General William Barr on Sunday quoted Mr. Mueller in a letter to Congress summarizing the special counsel’s findings: “The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

As committee chairman, Mr. Schiff has opened his own investigation of the same people questioned over the past two years by his committee, under Republican rule, and Mr. Mueller.

What’s more, he has hired as chief investigator a former federal prosecutor who as recently as December vouched for the dossier’s complete accuracy.

Mr. Steele made at least 10 collusion charges that Mr. Mueller’s investigation, in effect, rejected. Mr. Steele went so far as to say that Mr. Trump oversaw the Russian computer hacking and social media attacks on Mrs. Clinton. He told of an “extensive conspiracy” not confirmed by Mr. Mueller.

Mr. Schiff’s allies also are continuing to embrace the dossier.

Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, an intelligence committee member, said Tuesday on Fox News that the dossier has not been disproved.

“I stand by what I said about seeing evidence of collusion. If [Mr. Trump] has a problem with that, he can sue me. And I promise you I would win in court,” Mr. Swalwell said on MSNBC.

Mr. Steele has filed declarations in libel lawsuit cases in London in which he said he told Washington reporters that his allegations needed “further research.”

Trump people say the dossier is filled with inaccuracies. For example, the dossier says campaign volunteer Carter Page and campaign manager Paul Manafort worked as a team to coordinate election interference with the Kremlin.

But the two have said they don’t know each other and have never communicated. There is no evidence to contradict their statements.

Mr. Schiff specifically cited the dossier’s supposed Page-Manafort conspiracy at the March 2017 hearing. Other Democrats joined him.

Rep. Andre Carson of Indiana: “There’s a lot in the dossier that is yet to be proven, but increasingly as we’ll hear throughout the day, allegations are checking out. And this one seems to be as accurate as they come.”

Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas: “I want to take a moment to turn to the Christopher Steele dossier, which was first mentioned in the media just before the election and published in full by media outlets in January. My focus today is to explore how many claims within Steele’s dossier are looking more and more likely, as though they are accurate.”

Mr. Castro attempted to coax Mr. Comey into confirming Mr. Steele’s charge that Mr. Trump cavorted with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room.

After Mr. Comey testified that Russian intelligence tries to obtain compromising information on people it wants to blackmail, Mr. Castro said, “Does that include private places, including places such as hotels that are wired for audio and video?”

Mr. Swalwell declared that Mr. Trump has all sorts of money ties to Russia. He also teased at the dossier’s salacious allegations of prostitutes in Moscow, where Mr. Trump and NBC Universal staged the 2013 Miss Universe pageant.

“You said that it’s likely or somebody should assume they’re being surveilled when they were in Russia. Would you assume that Donald Trump was being surveilled in 2013 when he was in Moscow?” he asked Mr. Comey.

He also said, “Would it be safe to say that if Donald Trump was doing something he shouldn’t have been doing while he was in Russia, the Russians probably saw it?”

Mr. Trump has denied the prostitute story and called the FBI’s and Democrats’ reliance on the dossier a “disgrace.”

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