Dossier Firm’s Bank Dragged Into Spat With Nunes Over Russia Probe

Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Devin Nunes, R-Calif., joined at left by Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the ranking member talk to reporters about their investigation Russian influence on the American presidential election, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March, 15, 2017.  Both lawmakers said thy have no evidence to back up President Trump's claim that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Plaza during the 2016 campaign.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The tussle between the private research firm behind the so-called Trump dossier, and House Intel Chairman Devin Nunes — who in theory but not in practice has recused himself from the Russia probe — has escalated, with Nunes subpoenaing the firm’s bank and the firm going to court to block the subpoena.

The subpoena sought information about all assets held by Fusion GPS and its associates, including balances, transactions and other types of activities dating back the last two years. It comes as the firm has faced increasing pressure to reveal the clients that financed the dossier.

On Friday, the firm, Fusion GPS filed a lawsuit claiming that subpoena was a “blatant attempt to chill” political speech and a “fishing expedition.” The lawsuit was technically against the unnamed bank, but by Saturday the House Intel Committee  had sought to intervene in the case to defend Nunes’ subpoena.

The committee is expected to file by Monday evening a response to Fusion GPS’ request to the court that it place a temporary restraining order on the bank from releasing the records.

Nunes’ office responded to TPM’s inquiry by sending over the motion to intervene filed Saturday.

The proxy war over the bank records comes after representatives from Fusion GPS were required last week to appear in front of House Intel staff, even though the firm had already signaled that it would be invoking constitutional privileges and refusing to testify.

In a letter to Nunes that Fusion GPS’ lawyers released before the appearance, the firm accused the chairman of “professional misconduct” and argued that his “unilateral issuance” of subpoenas “further undermines the legitimacy of this investigation.” They also argued that Nunes’ subpoenas did not include the Committee’s rules, as is typically included on subpoenas, nor did they include a formal public resolution, which has not been passed by the Committee.

Fusion GPS made similar allegations in its court filings related to the bank subpoena.

Nunes officially recused himself from the committee’s investigation in April, after he was accused of mishandling classified data. He continues to be under an Ethics Committee investigation.

Yet Nunes continues to sign off unilaterally on subpoenas — subpoenas that the committee’s Democrats say they have no idea he’s issuing — including the subpoenas he issued against Fusion GPS and its bank. The subpoena issued against the bank sought information not just on the dossier’s financiers, but a broad swath of Fusion GPS’ financial records dating back to August 2015.

Nunes first issued the subpoena against Fusion GPS’ bank on Oct. 4, according to the recent court filings. The bank informed Fusion GPS of the subpoena on Oct. 13 and, even after Fusion GPS informed House Intel its objections to the subpoena, the bank indicated last week that it intended to comply by Monday morning’s deadline. According to Fusion GPS’ lawyers, their request for an extension on that deadline so that a solution could be worked out was turned down by House Intel lawyers, and thus the firm felt the need to take legal action to block the subpoena.

According to an ABC News report on a conference call the parties had with the judge on Friday, Fusion GPS’ lawyer, William W. Taylor, signaled a willingness to find some compromise to turn over information about the dossier’s benefactor in order to shield the rest of the firm’s clients.

“Let’s see if we can’t work this out,” Taylor said to U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan, according to ABC News.

A Fusion GPS spokesperson did not respond to TPM’s request for clarification.

The dossier — and who funded it — has become a key focus for the various entities investigating Russia’s 2016 election meddling. It was put together by ex-British spy, Christopher Steele and makes a number of allegations about President Trump’s ties to Russia. Some of its broad claims about Russian election interference have indeed panned out, while other specific allegations about Trump’s associates remain unproven.

According to reports, its financing was first spearheaded by a Republican donor seeking to stop Trump in the primary and then taken over by Democratic Hillary Clinton-supporters during the general election.