The ex-British spy hired to investigate President Trump’s Russia ties walked away from a meeting with the FBI in September 2016 with the sense that the bureau had its own independent sourcing prompting its interest in the matter, according to congressional testimony from the co-founder of the firm that hired him.
When Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson spoke privately to Senate Judiciary Committee investigators last year, he detailed the firm’s months-long oppo project looking into then-candidate Trump. The transcript was released unexpectedly Tuesday by the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), to the objection of its chair, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA).
Simpson said that the ex-spy, Christopher Steele, told him after the meeting that the FBI’s questions made him believe “they have another source” independent of Steele’s own that had delivered them intelligence from inside Trump world.
The claim undermines the smear job Trump and other Republicans have launched against the federal probe, now led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, into the campaign’s Russia ties: that it was hoax with that was launched by the Democrats who paid for Fusion GPS’ Trump research.
It also fills in the timeline of what Fusion GPS and Steele knew when about the federal government’s own investigation, and what it chose to do with that knowledge.
According to Simpson’s interview, Steele — who had been hired by Fusion GPS in May or June 2016 to look into Trump’s relationship with Russia — first took his concerns to the FBI in late June or early July.
Simpson said he was not involved in that decision, and that he did not recall Steele telling him about the July contact with the FBI at the time. Simpson did not put together who exactly Steele talked to at the FBI then until November or December 2016, Simpson said.
Steele did tell Simpson that the FBI had asked him to talk to them about his research in September, in a meeting they held in Rome. It’s unclear from the transcript at what point between July and September Simpson became aware Steele had reached out to the FBI.
“You know, my understanding was that they would have gotten into who his sources were, how he knew certain things, and, you know, other details based on their own intelligence,” Simpson said. “Essentially, what he told me was they had other intelligence about this matter from an internal Trump campaign source and that — that they — my understanding was that they believed Chris at this point — that they believed Chris’s information might be credible because they had other intelligence that indicated the same thing and one of those pieces of intelligence was a human source from inside the Trump organization.”
Simpson would not say who the FBI’s source was, but confirmed that it was someone seperate from Steele’s own sources and said that, “It was someone like us who decided to pick up the phone and report something.”
Simpson later clarified that he wasn’t sure if the intelligence that the FBI had received had come from the Trump campaign or the Trump Organization (i.e. Trump’s businesses).
“[W]e did not have the detailed conversations where he would debrief me on his discussions with the FBI,” Simpson said. “He would say very generic things like, ‘I saw them, they asked me a lot of questions, sounds like they have another source or they have another source.’ He wouldn’t put words in their mouth.”
Steele told Simpson about the Rome meeting in early October. That month, Steele would also brief reporters about his findings, according to filings in lawsuits that have been filed against Fusion GPS and Steele. Among those reporters was Mother Jones’ David Corn, who published on October 31, 2016 the spy’s account of his outreach to the FBI with his allegations. (Neither Steele nor Fusion GPS were named in the original MoJo report.)
In a New York Times op-ed earlier this month, Simpson indicated that he had told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Fusion GPS’ investigations were being corroborated by information the FBI was receiving from its own sources, including information from “inside the Trump camp.”
The op-ed pilloried Republicans on the committees probing Russia for suggesting that the Fusion GPS oppo project, known as the Trump dossier, was what launched the federal investigation.
The New York Times reported in late December that the federal inquiry began after Australian officials informed the U.S. government in July 2016 that a Trump campaign advisor drunkenly bragged about his Russian contacts to an Australian diplomat in London that May.
The advisor, George Papadopoulos, has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about Russia-related communications during the campaign, and has been cooperating with Mueller’s probe since last July.