Two Republicans leading the Senate Judiciary Committee probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election have referred to the Justice Department for criminal charges the ex-British spy who compiled a dossier alleging ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.
The move was first reported by the New York Times and quickly confirmed with a press release from Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who chairs a Judiciary subcommittee. It comes as the congressional committees probing Russia have become increasingly partisan, and President Trump himself has made wild claims the dossier was evidence of Democratic collusion with Russia and the FBI to smear his presidency.
In a letter dated Thursday and sent Friday to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray, the senators claimed to have evidence that the ex-spy, Christopher Steele had violated a law prohibiting the making of false or misleading statements to federal authorities.
The attached memorandum was classified and thus not released to the press, but the senators in their letter said it was “related to certain communications between Christopher Steele and multiple U.S. news outlets regarding the so-called ‘Trump dossier’ that Mr. Steele compiled on behalf of Fusion GPS for the Clinton Campaign and the Democratic National Committee and also provided to the FBI.”
Fusion GPS, the private intelligence firm that had paid Steele to compile the dossier, said in a statement to the New York Times that the publicizing of the referral “raises serious questions about whether this letter is nothing more than another attempt to discredit government sources, in the midst of an ongoing criminal investigation.”
“We should all be skeptical in the extreme,” Joshua A. Levy, the lawyer for the firm, said in the statement.
In their press release announcing the referral, the senators defended the move.
“I don’t take lightly making a referral for criminal investigation,” Grassley said. “But, as I would with any credible evidence of a crime unearthed in the course of our investigations, I feel obliged to pass that information along to the Justice Department for appropriate review.”
Graham, meanwhile, called for a special counsel to investigate the dossier.
Republicans have alleged that that the dossier was used to spur the federal investigation into Russia election meddling, which is now being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
According to the New York Times, officials have said their probe was not launched by the dossier, nor have they depended on it.
In a statement, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the top Democrat on the Judiciary committee, said that neither she nor the other Dems on the committee were consulted about the referral.
“I think this referral is unfortunate as it’s clearly another effort to deflect attention from what should be the committee’s top priority: determining whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the election and whether there was subsequent obstruction of justice,” she said.