What’s Up With The Times Piece on Elias, Steele and Fusion GPS?

October 25, 2017 10:30 a.m.

I wanted to follow up on my post from last night about the latest news on the Steele Dossier. As I explained last night, the Democratic party’s top election lawyer, Marc Elias, deserves some kind of vast national, public thank you since his decision to fund the Fusion GPS/Steele research likely played a key role in blocking the ‘grand bargain’ and policy payoffs to Russia which President Trump was hoping to make in January and February of this year.

But let’s look at the follow-up story in The New York Times.

As I explained last night, almost everything we learned last night had been known for roughly a year: specifically, that after Republican funders lost interest in probing President Trump’s ties to Russia, Democrats began funding the on-going research by Fusion GPS. What we learned last night was specifically which Democrats. A new filing from the law firm of Perkins Coie showed that it was Marc Elias who contracted Fusion GPS with funds from the Clinton campaign and the DNC.

Last night on Twitter the two Times reporters who wrote the overnight story went on Twitter and said that Elias had earlier denied all of this. One of the two reporters, Maggie Haberman, went so far as to say that Elias and others had not only lied but “lied about it, and with sanctimony, for a year.”

Ken Vogel, the lead on the Times piece, suggested that Elias had given a more general but adamant denial. “When I tried to report this story, Clinton campaign lawyer @marceelias pushed back vigorously, saying ‘You (or your sources) are wrong.'”

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(Just in the interest of full visibility and transparency, Vogel’s a great investigative reporter.)

The Times article suggests that it was less a flat denial than some misleading but lawyerly language on Elias’s part. Citing Anita Dunn, longtime Democratic communications hand, the Times says this …

Anita Dunn, a veteran Democratic operative working with Perkins Coie, said on Tuesday that Mr. Elias “was certainly familiar with some of, but not all, of the information” in the dossier. But, she said “he didn’t have and hadn’t seen the full document, nor was he involved in pitching it to reporters.” And Mr. Elias “was not at liberty to confirm Perkins Coie as the client at that point,” Ms. Dunn said.

As I wrote last night, whether Elias lied about his role funding the Fusion GPS research is really his problem. It seems clear, even based on the Times reporting, that the Clinton campaign did not know about Fusion GPS or what subcontractor was working on an oppo research project (nor would it have been routine for them to know). The key point as a story is that we already knew that the project began with funding from Republicans. Republicans lost interest after Trump won the nomination. Then Elias agreed to fund continuing the work. As I noted last night, Elias deserves some kind of big national security award from the US government for this.

But here’s what jumps out at me about the Times story: what’s not included. Let me list a few points.

* The fact that it has been publicly known for more than a year that the Fusion GPS investigation of Trump’s ties to Russia began with funding from Republicans and was later funded by Democrats. This has been known since David Corn’s report in October 2016 and reported in numerous other reports since. This is never mentioned in the Times article.

* The fact that the Fusion GPS’s investigation into Russia began as a project funded by Republicans. This is never mentioned in the Times report, although it’s alluded to in the letter from Perkins Coie Managing Partner Matthew J. Gehringer. (The precise timeline is this: Republicans hire Fusion GPS to investigate Trump business. Investigation quickly turns to focus on Trump’s ties to Russia. Republicans lose interest. Elias agrees to continue the funding with money from DNC/HRC campaign. Steele brought in to go deeper into Russia ties.)

* The Times report can be read to suggest that the Clinton campaign and the DNC paid $12.4 million for the Fusion GPS research. But as the Post notes, these tabulations date back to June and November 2015, fully a year before Elias signed up Fusion GPS. So by definition, it can’t all be for that research.

* Leaving out the first two points makes the Times piece seem quite misleading to me. In a different category is another detail left out. As the Post notes, the Democrats stopped funding the Fusion GPS the day before the election. But Steele had already shared his findings with the FBI because he was so alarmed by what he had found. The FBI was sufficiently disturbed and confident in Steele’s work that they agreed to continue funding his work. (They eventually stopped once Steele’s name became public.) This is highly relevant information for determining the quality and credibility of Steele’s findings. But it doesn’t appear in the Times report even though the lede of the Times report focuses squarely on Republican accusations about Steele and Fusion GPS.

Let me quote the third and fourth paragraphs of the Times piece …

The revelation, which emerged from a letter filed in court on Tuesday, is likely to fuel new partisan attacks over federal and congressional investigations into Russia’s attempts to disrupt last year’s election and whether any of Mr. Trump’s associates assisted in the effort.

The president and his allies have argued for months that the investigations are politically motivated. They have challenged the information contained in the dossier, which was compiled by a former British spy who had been contracted by the Washington research firm Fusion GPS.

The FBI’s confidence in Steele’s work and going so far as to agree to keep funding it seems highly relevant information in evaluating those attacks. At the end of the day, what seems relevant to me is that the funding behind the Steele/Fusion GPS effort has been known since last year. It had details about at least the outlines of the Russian subversion campaign long before they were publicly known. How there’s anything bad about money from the campaign and the DNC helping to fund it is a complete mystery. The only problem is why they didn’t do more with it since this was critical information for the public to know. But the public was left in the dark.

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