Congressional Republicans want the Justice Department to open a criminal inquiry into how the Democratic Party funded the infamous Trump-Russia dossier.
They also say the investigation should determine whether the FBI paid the dossier’s author and whether agents relied on his sensational allegations to target President Trump’s campaign and obtain warrants.
In other words, to what degree did an unverified opposition research paper become the spark for starting a Trump-Russia collusion investigation now in the hands of special counsel Robert Mueller?
Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, charged Tuesday that FBI officials used the dossier so “they could then get a warrant to spy on Americans associated with President Trump’s campaign. That’s what it looks like.”
The GOP demands came Tuesday during House Judiciary Committee testimony by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has recused himself from any decision-making in the Trump-Russia probe. Mr. Sessions said it is up to Mr. Mueller to do any inquiry.
Mr. Trump’s associates have told The Washington Times they believe Mr. Mueller is relying on but not investigating the dossier, because FBI agents have used it as a principal guide in questioning witnesses.
The dossier was funded by the Democratic Party and the Hillary Clinton campaign. They funneled the money through the D.C. law firm Perkins Coie to the opposition research firm Fusion GPS.
Starting June 2016, Fusion used the money to pay British ex-spy Christopher Steele, who handed out money to Kremlin ex-spies and Moscow officials to dish salacious charges against Mr. Trump and his people.
Mr. Steele acknowledged in a court filing that his allegations were unverified. The Trump team calls the document fiction.
Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, especially ranking member Adam Schiff of California, stand by Mr. Steele and his dossier, and cite it frequently.
Republicans, however, have begun using the Steele file as a talking point to blast the investigation’s motives.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Mr. Jordan said it appears that the FBI was in collusion with a Democratic Party opposition research paper.
“It sure looks like the FBI was paying the author of that document,” the Ohio Republican said. “And it sure looks like a major political party was working with the federal government to then turn an opposition research document, the equivalent of some National Enquirer story, into an intelligence document, take that to the FISA Court, so that they could then get a warrant to spy on Americans associated with President Trump’s campaign. That’s what it looks like.”
According to press reports, the FBI in late 2016 offered Mr. Steele money to continue investigating then-President-elect Trump, but no money changed hands.
Press reports also say the FBI used the dossier to obtain Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) eavesdropping warrants.
Mr. Sessions refused to comment Tuesday, as did then-FBI director James Comey when he was questioned by the Senate Judicial Committee in June 2016.
The FBI earlier this month relented and allowed the House Intelligence Committee staff to view some secret records related to its use of the dossier. But the contents remain classified, and the committee declined to comment.
Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio Republican, said he believes Democrats violated campaign finance laws by funneling money through middlemen to foreign operatives.
“I’m not and never was a prosecutor, but I did some criminal defense work back in the day when I practiced law for almost 20 years,” he said. “It seems to me that a presidential campaign using a law firm as a conduit to pay for activities with which the campaign itself doesn’t want to be directly associated is more than just dirty politics, it’s also quite possibly illegal. ”
He added: “To me, it seems that this is at least a violation of campaign finance laws for failure to accurately disclose the actual recipients of campaign disbursements. However, this type of arrangement is not illegal, if it’s not illegal under current law, I fear that we’re risking opening Pandora’s box with all sorts of underhanded activities by campaigns being laundered through law firms and shielded under attorney-client privilege.”
Rep. Ron DeSantis, Florida Republican, made a plea for any dossier information that Mr. Sessions could share.
“Final question. Why can’t you just tell us whether or not the FBI expended resources to give money to Christopher Steele?” Mr. DeSantis said. “It’s not about going into the investigation. We have oversight over your department. Were taxpayer dollars used to give to Christopher Steele? Yes or no?”
Mr. Sessions: “I’m not able to do that. I think that for several reasons. There’s an ongoing matter and also it may well involve classified information.”
Mr. Steele wrote the dossier in a series of memos from June to December 2016. Fusion GPS and Mr. Steele briefed reporters during the summer. Some of the unverified information made its way into press reports and Clinton campaign allegations against Mr. Trump, though the dossier itself was not cited.
The news website BuzzFeed posted the entire 35-page file in January, prompting Mr. Steele to go into hiding.
In the dossier, Mr. Steele makes a series of related and unrelated charges against Trump associates and three Russians. All the people named have denied the charges. Three have filed libel lawsuits.
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