WASHINGTON (AP) — The co-founder of a political research firm that was behind a dossier of allegations about President Donald Trump’s connections to Russia refused to speak to two House committees during a closed-door interview Tuesday.
A lawyer for Glenn Simpson said in a statement that he had exercised his Fifth Amendment rights and refused to answer questions from the GOP-led House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees, which are investigating decisions made by the Justice Department in the run-up to the 2016 election. Republicans on the committee have criticized the department, echoing Trump’s repeated claims that officials there were conspiring against him as they investigated his ties to Russia and cleared his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, in a separate email probe.
The dossier — which was researched by former British spy Christopher Steele, compiled by Simpson’s firm Fusion GPS and paid for by Democrats — contends that the Russian government amassed compromising information about Trump and had been engaged in a yearslong effort to support and assist him. Republicans have argued that the dossier was inappropriately used by the Justice Department before the election as investigators obtained a warrant to put one of Trump’s campaign advisers under surveillance.
Simpson’s lawyer, Joshua Levy, said the committees’ investigation is a partisan attempt to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. He compared it to Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist hearings in the 1950s.
“Rather than participate any further in this charade, Mr. Simpson today stood on his constitutional rights,” Levy wrote.
Levy also criticized the committee for forcing Simpson to come in even though he had said he wouldn’t testify. Simpson has already cooperated with three congressional investigations into Russian intervention into the 2016 elections, and two of those committees, the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee, have published transcripts of his interviews.
The Judiciary Committee had subpoenaed Simpson to appear on Tuesday. The questioners were mostly staff as the House is on recess before the midterm elections.
House Judiciary Chairman Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., said in a statement after the meeting that it was disappointing that Simpson wouldn’t talk to the committee. He said he was “uniquely qualified” to answer questions about the dossier.
Trump tweeted about Simpson after the meeting, quoting a Fox News report about Simpson pleading the Fifth and asking why a Justice Department official who met with Simpson before the presidential election, Bruce Ohr, was still employed at Justice. Republicans have seized on that meeting, noting that Ohr’s wife, Nellie, worked for Simpson’s firm and implying that the Justice Department officials were somehow coordinating with Fusion GPS to use the Democratic-funded research.
Simpson has said he met with Ohr because he was anxious that federal investigators were not taking seriously enough the threat of Russian election interference and the information that Steele had accumulated.
Trump tweeted: “Is it really possible that Bruce Ohr, whose wife Nellie was paid by Simpson and GPS Fusion for work done on the Fake Dossier, and who was used as a Pawn in this whole SCAM (WITCH HUNT), is still working for the Department of Justice????? Can this really be so?????”
The two committees interviewed Ohr in August and are expected to interview his wife on Friday, according to four people familiar with the meeting. The people declined to be named because the investigation’s schedule isn’t public.
The two committees have been investigating partisan bias at the Justice Department for several months, bringing in several current and former Justice Department officials. Democrats have strongly objected to the probe, saying it is an effort to undermine Mueller’s investigation.