The Big WaPo Story & Why Everyone Needs to Thank Marc Elias

President Donald Trump speaks to the winners from the National Minority Enterprise Development Week Awards Program, in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
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I was offline for a few hours early this evening and returned to the media stream to find a new story reporting that the Steele Dossier and Fusion GPS’s research into Donald Trump and Russia was originally funded by a GOP campaign funder and then later funded by Democrats. In other words, we now know what we knew literally a year ago. Or to put it differently, Democrats agreed to fund continued research into Russia possibly owning Donald Trump after Republicans decided they didn’t care anymore.

Is this hyperbole? Not really. This is exactly what happened. And this has been known, widely reported, since before election day.

Look back at almost countless articles on the so-called Steele Dossier and you’ll find the same basic account. The project began as an opposition research project funded by Republicans during the GOP primaries when, of course, there were Republicans with an interest in finding damaging information about Donald Trump. After Trump sealed the GOP nomination, Republicans had no desire or interest in funding this research. So Democrats agreed to start footing the bill.

Here’s the key passage from tonight’s story from The Washington Post (emphasis added) …

Fusion GPS’s work researching Trump began during the Republican presidential primaries, when the GOP donor paid for the firm to investigate the real estate magnate’s background.

Fusion GPS did not start off looking at Trump’s Russia ties but quickly realized that those relationships were extensive, according to the people familiar with the matter.

When the Republican donor stopped paying for the research, Elias, acting on behalf of the Clinton campaign and the DNC, agreed to pay for the work to continue. The Democrats paid for research, including by Fusion GPS, because of concerns that little was known about Trump and his business interests, according to the people familiar with the matter.

Is this new? Not really. Here is I believe the first reporting on what we now know as the Steele Dossier. It’s an October 31st report from David Corn in Mother Jones, reporting how a veteran spy had provided information to the FBI about a Russian operation to cultivate Donald Trump.

In June, the former Western intelligence officer—who spent almost two decades on Russian intelligence matters and who now works with a US firm that gathers information on Russia for corporate clients—was assigned the task of researching Trump’s dealings in Russia and elsewhere, according to the former spy and his associates in this American firm. This was for an opposition research project originally financed by a Republican client critical of the celebrity mogul. (Before the former spy was retained, the project’s financing switched to a client allied with Democrats.) “It started off as a fairly general inquiry,” says the former spook, who asks not to be identified. But when he dug into Trump, he notes, he came across troubling information indicating connections between Trump and the Russian government. According to his sources, he says, “there was an established exchange of information between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin of mutual benefit.”

This is only the first report. A wealth of reporting over the last year has filled out the details.

Now, this doesn’t mean there’s anything bad about this new reporting. I’ve heard some people say the Post is trying to pass off old news. That’s not fair or true. This is significant new detail. The key point being that Marc Elias, perhaps the top campaign lawyer for the Democrats in recent years, was the one who contracted with Fusion GPS to continue the Trump research which later involved hiring Steele.

Elias used money from the Clinton campaign and the DNC. That’s new. Does it change the story? Not really. That’s who the Democrats are. The DNC and the party’s presidential campaign. This is opposition research. It’s what parties and campaigns do.

Now, one key part of this is that someone working in Elias’ position is basically representing the entirety of the Democratic party, often doing work for various committees and institutions that make up the party apparatus. That’s what seems to have been the case here. Elias’s firm Perkins Coie was working on behalf of both the DNC and the Clinton campaign going back far into 2015.

What isn’t clear is how much of the Steele material Elias shared with the campaign or the DNC. Given how things turned out I get he sense he maybe didn’t share nearly as much as he should have. Numerous critical parts of the Steele Dossier have been confirmed. The FBI thought enough of Steele’s work (and Steele himself, long before he started looking into Trump) to continue funding his research after the Democrats stopped, once the election was over. Lots of information contained in Steele’s research was (or would have been) critically important to allowing voters to make an informed decision about Donald Trump. Voters didn’t get any of it. So I get the sense it wasn’t widely shared or shared enough even though it really should have been.

In any case, there’s a big effort now to present this as somehow being a scandal in itself, or discrediting Steele’s sleuthing. That is ridiculous. Is it really a scandal that Democrats helped fund research into Donald Trump’s illicit ties to Russia after Republicans donors decided they didn’t care anymore?

Not really.

The country owes the Democrats a debt of gratitude for keeping Steele’s research going. The FBI had apparently missed a lot of what he found.

I’ve heard some suggest that the Clinton campaign had denied that it helped fund Steele’s work. Or maybe that Elias had. I don’t know if that’s the case or not. It’s possible that the Clinton camp or the DNC didn’t know they had. The Post piece suggests they didn’t know that Fusion GPS was involved.

If someone lied, then by all means identify that person as lying. Even call them a liar. But in the big picture, who cares? Even in the small picture who cares. It was a service to the country. Donald Trump and his campaign knowingly accepted assistance from a foreign adversary power. There’s good reason to believe, though as yet no hard proof, that they agreed to help Russia in exchange for assistance subverting the 2016 campaign. The President is still actively covering up for the Russian effort, as of this week.

Whether the execs at top of the Clinton campaign knew about it, Marc Elias may have helped save his country by making the decision to fund this critical research. Thank you, Marc Elias! I know that sounds a bit hyperbolic but it’s really not. Here’s why.

Remember, the Trump plan was to hit the ground running in January with a series of policy pay offs to Russia. It was the mounting FBI investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia, helped along significantly by information Steele uncovered, that got into the spokes of the Trump effort during the transition and hobbled the efforts to make the pay off. It’s what led to the rapid and chaotic series of events that forced the firing of Mike Flynn, the revelations about clandestine communications between Trump associates and the Russian Ambassador and finally to Trump’s decision to fire James Comey.

The Trump team wanted to deliver for Russia right out of the gate in January, a quick series of accommodations and a ‘grand bargain’ with Vladimir Putin. It was the investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia that got in the way and mainly prevented it. It’s clear that Steele’s research played a major role in that. Remember, the FBI found it so critical it agreed to continue funding Steele’s research. Without Marc Elias’s decision, that research may never have been conducted. The country owes him a debt of gratitude.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.
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