Source inside Trump campaign reported concerns to FBI, new transcript reveals
A source within the Trump campaign reported concerns to the FBI, according to the man behind a controversial dossier on Donald Trump, a new transcript reveals.
Senator Dianne Feinstein on Tuesday unilaterally released the transcript of a congressional interview with Glenn Simpson, whose research firm, Fusion GPS, was behind the dossier on alleged contacts between Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.
The dossier makes an allegation that there was a “conspiracy of cooperation” between Russian agents and the Trump campaign, and the president has frequently scorned it since its publication last January.
According to the transcript, Simpson told the senators that “an internal Trump campaign source” or “a human source from inside the Trump organization” reported his or her concerns to the FBI.
Simpson said that this information was drawn from Christopher Steele, the former British spy who compiled the dossier during the 2016 presidential campaign, after the FBI “had debriefed him” that fall.
Steele approached the FBI earlier in 2016, according to Simpson, because “he thought from his perspective there was an issue – a security issue about whether a presidential candidate was being blackmailed”.
“He honed in on this issue of blackmail as being a significant national security issue,” Simpson said.
Simpson cautioned that he was paraphrasing Steele’s account, and added: “we did not have the detailed conversations where he would debrief me on his discussions with the FBI.”
He added: “I think it was a voluntary source, someone who was concerned about the same concerns we had. It was someone who decided to pick up the phone and report something.”
He said that Steele did not rely on this source for his work with the firm.
According to Simpson, Steele “severed his relationship with the FBI” after the New York Times published a story in late October that said agents had not found “any conclusive or direct link between Mr Trump and the Russian government”.
Steele was concerned “that the FBI was being manipulated for political ends by the Trump people and that we didn’t really understand what was going on”, Simpson said. “So he stopped dealing with them.”
Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate judiciary committee, said she released the transcript because “the American people deserve the opportunity to see what he said and judge for themselves”.
“The innuendo and misinformation circulating about the transcript are part of a deeply troubling effort to undermine the investigation into potential collusion and obstruction of justice,” Feinstein said in a statement. “The only way to set the record straight is to make the transcript public.”
The Senate and House intelligence committees have also interviewed Simpson, but have not released any transcripts. Last week Simpson, a former journalist, requested in an op-ed in the New York Times that the committee release the transcript. The Republican head of the Senate judiciary committee, Chuck Grassley, declined to release the document and instead asked Simpson to testify in public.
In his 10-hour 22 August interview with the Senate committee, Simpson said that the firm’s research into Trump’s past began as “a kind of holistic examination” of his business record. “It evolved somewhat quickly into issues of his relationships to organized crime figures, but you know, really the gamut of Donald Trump,” Simpson said.
Simpson also defended Steele, saying that the well-respected former intelligence officer “has a sterling reputation as a person who doesn’t exaggerate, doesn’t make things up, doesn’t sell baloney”.
By late September 2016, Simpson said, he had asked Steele about contacts with the FBI, with whom the British researcher had spoken. “By then it was obvious there was a crime in progress,” Simpson said. “So I was curious whether he’d heard back.”
Pressed about this claim, Simpson said: “Espionage. They were hacking into the computers of Democrats and thinktanks. That’s a computer crime.”
Steele has said he reported his concerns to the FBI in the summer of 2016.
Simpson said that it was Steele’s decision to take what he had discovered to the FBI in early July, explaining that the former MI6 officer felt a sense of responsibility.
“Chris said he was very concerned about whether this represented a national security threat and … he said he thought we were obligated to tell someone in government, in our government about this information,” Simpson said. “He thought from his perspective there was an issue – a security issue about whether a presidential candidate was being blackmailed.”
In his testimony, Simpson repeatedly praised Steele, his skills and his reliability, pointing out that the former British intelligence officer was the “lead Russianist at MI6” who was “extremely well regarded”.
He described Steele, who he said he hired in May or June of 2016, as “basically a boy scout”.
“He worked for the government for a very long time. He lives a very modest, quiet life, and this is his specialty,” Simpson said.
“We got along very well because my speciality is public information. So he was comfortable working with me and I was comfortable working with him and, you know, we’ve both been around a lot of criminal investigations and national security stuff.”
Simpson said that while he and his colleagues at Fusion focused on the analysis of documents, Steele’s strength was his personal contacts to sources in Moscow and the Trump camp, drawing on his intelligence background. He said that at the time Steele was hired, the alleged Trump links to the Kremlin were an open secret in Moscow.
“The thing that people forget about what was going on in June of 2016 was that no one was really focused on sort of this question of whether Donald Trump had a relationship with the Kremlin. So, you know, when Chris started asking around in Moscow about this the information was sitting there. It wasn’t a giant secret,” Simpson said.
“People were talking about it freely. It was only later that it became a subject of great controversy and people clammed up, and at that time the whole issue of the hacking was also, you know, not really focused on Russia. So these things eventually converged into, you know, a major issue, but at the time it wasn’t one.”
In a statement, Grassley’s office excoriated Feinstein for the release, saying she had not consulted with him. Her decision “undermines the integrity” of the investigation, he said, and “jeopardizes its ability to secure candid voluntary testimony”, including from the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.