Presumptive President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s national security adviser has held favorable views of the Hillary Clinton campaign-financed dossier that proved to be highly inaccurate with its various felony allegations against President Trump.
Jake Sullivan, who served as the Clinton campaign’s senior policy adviser, attended a postelection meeting in February 2017 with Glenn R. Simpson, co-founder of the investigative firm Fusion GPS. Mr. Simpson orchestrated the dossier’s distribution to the FBI, other government agencies and Washington reporters in an effort to try to bring down Mr. Trump.
The meeting, also attended by campaign chairman John Podesta, showed that Mrs. Clinton’s operatives had not relinquished their “get Trump” goal.
Mr. Sullivan was asked about the meeting in December 2017 during a closed-door appearance before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
“So this is after the dossier had come out and after everything was out publicly,” Mr. Sullivan testified, according to a publicly posted transcript. “I don’t remember who raised having the meeting, but Podesta and I went and sat down with him basically just to say, like, now that we’ve learned you were doing this and you commissioned this dossier and so forth, like how — kind of look him in the eye and say: What do you make of all this? And what do you have to say about it? That was the purpose of the meeting.”
When Mr. Podesta testified before the same committee, he provided a more detailed description. He said Mr. Simpson was seeking funds to keep his anti-Trump project going in an alliance with Daniel J. Jones, a former staffer to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat.
“They were actively trying to raise resources and funds for this,” Mr. Podesta testified. “And people who I knew from kind of the donor world asked me, you know, what did I think, was this on the level, did they do good work? … They wanted to know that. They wanted to continue that effort. And, as I said, they were trying to raise money for it and were hoping that I would, if someone asked me, would say that they were, you know, responsible journalists who had now gone into a different line of work, but that they were on the level.”
Mr. Simpson once worked for The Wall Street Journal. Mr. Jones told the FBI that he eventually raised $50 million from liberal donors to pursue Mr. Trump.
The dossier that Mr. Simpson promoted was compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. He relied greatly on one source: a Russia-born U.S. resident named Igor Danchenko, who had collected anti-Trump gossip from Kremlin friends and contacts repeating second- and thirdhand accounts from Russians.
Mr. Danchenko, whom the FBI at one time suspected of being a Kremlin agent, regularly fed stories to Mr. Steele in London. Mr. Steele put the grab bag of unverified claims and gossip into a 35-page dossier and shipped it to Mr. Simpson, who used former Justice Department lawyer Bruce Ohr as a messenger to deliver the dossier to Crossfire Hurricane, the FBI team investigating Mr. Trump.
Former agent Peter Strzok, the team leader, told The Atlantic earlier this year that the dossier was inaccurate and contained disinformation that sent him on “wild-goose chases.” The FBI greatly relied on the dossier to wiretap a Trump volunteer and pursue other Trump allies. No Trump-Kremlin conspiracy was found.
Mr. Sullivan gave his seal of approval to another Fusion GPS pet project. This one claimed that Mr. Trump maintained a secret computer server at Trump Tower that communicated directly with Alfa Bank, Russia’s largest commercial lender. It was, so the theory goes, evidence of collusion.
Mr. Simpson failed to persuade The New York Times to write the story about it, but he had better luck with Slate.com, which ran an Alfa story on Oct. 31, 2016.
The Clinton-planted story then drew a reaction from the candidate herself, in a now-famous tweet: “Computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank.”
Her tweet was buttressed by the imprimatur for Mr. Sullivan, who issued a statement with Mrs. Clinton’s tweet: “New Report Exposing Trump’s Secret Line of Communication to Russia.”
“This could be the most direct link yet between Donald Trump and Moscow,” Mr. Sullivan said. “Computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank.
“This secret hotline may be the key to unlocking the mystery of Trump’s ties to Russia. It certainly seems the Trump Organization felt it had something to hide, given that it apparently took steps to conceal the link when it was discovered by journalists.”
In February 2017, the FBI concluded that such a Trump-Alfa server did not exist, according to Justice Department Inspector General Michael D. Horowitz’s December 2019 report on bureau wiretap abuses.
Mr. Sullivan maintained a liking for the dossier even as its claims remained unverified. In late 2017, he told the House intelligence committee that a Democratic attorney “would share certain things” and “I would also hear very similar things from reporters around town.”
“So, from my perspective, a lot of these kinds of things were floating out there,” he testified. “And my basic take on them was most of this is pretty consistent with everything else we know to be true about Donald Trump. So I can’t say that I was shocked by almost any of it.”
He considered Mr. Steele to be reliable: “Other people I know who have worked with Steele in the past in various contexts have said over the course of this year, ‘You know, this guy is serious business. He knows what he’s up to.’”
By the end of 2017, none of Mr. Steele’s key claims had been proved and most were discredited.
The FBI had found no evidence of a wide conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, as reported by Mr. Steele. The bureau discounted Mr. Steele’s story about Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s secretly travel to Prague in August 2016 to meet with aides of Russian President Vladimir Putin and orchestrate a cover-up of Russian computer hacking. Cohen always denied the Steele claim.
The Daily Caller unearthed comments by Mr. Sullivan a month after his House testimony in January 2018. He said on Democratic strategist David Axelrod’s podcast that he didn’t know at first that the campaign had paid Mr. Steele.
“I certainly don’t want my saying that I didn’t know who paid for the dossier to suggest I’m saying I want to distance myself from it,” Mr. Sullivan said. “By no means am I saying that.
“I believe that it is perfectly appropriate and responsible if we get wind, or if people associated with the campaign get wind, that there may be real questions about the connections between Donald Trump, his organization, his campaign and Russia that that be explored fully,” he said.
The Biden transition team did not respond to a query from The Washington Times about how Mr. Sullivan views the dossier today.