Revelations that the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) were the financiers of a dossier containing Russian disinformation against Donald Trump is evidence of collusion, the White House said.
“There’s clear evidence of the Clinton campaign colluding with Russian intelligence to spread disinformation and smear the president to influence the election,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said on Oct. 30.
The company behind the dossier, Fusion GPS, had commissioned former British spy Christopher Steele and his UK-based company Orbis Business Intelligence to produce the report on Trump. Steele had previously worked on the Russia desk of MI6, the UK’s equivalent to the CIA.
The 35-page report, marked as classified, relies almost exclusively on Kremlin-linked sources. These include a senior Kremlin official, a senior Russian official in the Russian Foreign Ministry, and a former top-level Russian intelligence officer still active in the Kremlin.
Law professor Ronald Rychlak, a leading expert on Russian disinformation operations, said the Trump dossier had all the hallmarks of a classic Russian disinformation campaign.
“It does seem to fit with some of the crazy ideas that have come from the high levels within the Russian government,” said Rychlak, in an earlier interview.
According to National Public Radio, the dossier was given to the FBI in August. It was also spread among major media organizations and politicians in an attempt to discredit Trump during the election campaign and might have formed the basis of the media narrative that Trump colluded with Russia.
Court documents from the UK, where Steele and his company are currently being sued for libel by a Russian businessman mentioned in the report, show that the former spy had given briefings to journalists on the contents of the dossier.
Steele’s defense attorney says in the court documents that Steele was instructed by Fusion GPS to brief reporters of The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, CNN, and Yahoo News on the contents of the dossier. The briefings were done in person and verbally.
Steele also “participated in further meetings at Fusion’s instruction with Fusion and The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Yahoo News,” the court documents say.
The documents show that a representative of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) met with Steele to discuss the contents of the documents. McCain admitted in a statement in January to having personally delivered the document to then-FBI Director James Comey.
Lawmakers are currently probing whether the unsubstantiated dossier was used by the Obama administration to obtain an approval under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to unmask the identities of members of the Trump campaign and transition team, in order to monitor their communications. House investigators say that hundreds of such requests involving the Trump team were made. Several former Obama officials, including former national security adviser Susan Rice, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, and former deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes, have been forced to testify before the House intelligence committee in recent months.
The dossier was eventually published by BuzzFeed News in its entirety in January. Since then, much of its contents, including for instance the claim that Trump’s longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, traveled to Prague to meet with Russian officials, has been discredited.
The funding of the dossier by the Clinton campaign and the DNC had been repeatedly denied by both organizations.
The fact that both organizations paid for the dossier was first reported by The Washington Post on Oct. 24. According to the Post, the Clinton campaign and the DNC hid the payments to Fusion GPS from Federal Election Commission filings by routing the money through law firm Perkins Coie and declaring it as “legal services” rather than “research.”
The nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging that the Clinton campaign and the DNC violated federal election laws by not accurately reporting these payments.
The Clinton campaign paid Perkins Coie $5.6 million in legal fees between June 2015 and December 2016, while the DNC paid the firm $3.6 million from November 2015, according to campaign finance records reviewed by the Post.
Fusion GPS had jealously guarded this information, and it was only after the House intelligence committee issued a subpoena for the firm’s bank records that the Post report appeared. On Oct. 28, a federal judge in Washington authorized a settlement between Fusion GPS and the House committee.
When press secretary Sanders was asked by a reporter whether the Clinton campaign funding of the Fusion GPS report was equivalent to Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer in June 2016, Sanders said they were two distinctly different things.
“The big difference here is you have a meeting that took place versus millions of dollars being sent to create fake information to actually influence the election. You compare those two, those are apples and oranges,” Sanders said.
“One is pretty common practice in any campaign, to take a meeting. The other one is actually paying money for false information. That’s a big deal and a big difference.”
Special Counsel Indictments
Sanders said, in response to three indictments made by special counsel Robert Mueller on Oct. 30, that the charges have “nothing to do with the president’s campaign or campaign activity.”
Charges were filed against Paul Manafort and business partner Richard Gates related to their political consulting and lobbying work for Ukraine between 2006 and 2015.
According to the indictment, the two did not register as foreign agents for their work and tried to hide tens of millions of dollars in payments.
However, the charges against the two date back to before they joined the Trump campaign.
Manafort was forced to resign as campaign chair only months after being appointed, due to a report that he had received $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments from Ukraine between 2007 and 2012.
“These were seasoned operatives that worked on a number of campaigns. Paul Manafort was brought in to lead the delegate process, which he did. And he was dismissed not long after that,” Sanders said.
A third person who has been indicted is George Papadopoulos, who worked for the campaign in a volunteer capacity.
Papadopoulos was indicted for lying to the FBI about his contact with a Russian professor, a female Russian national, and someone described as an official in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The indictment said that Papadopoulos was in contact with these Russians. It also said that he had boasted during a foreign policy meeting that Trump attended that he had contacts that could help set up a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
However, Papadopoulos was not taken up on his offer, and no meeting between Trump and Putin occurred during the campaign.
“He [Papadopoulos] reached out and nothing happened beyond that, which I think shows, one, his level of importance in the campaign, and two, shows what little role he had in coordinating anything officially for the campaign,” Sanders said.
Sanders said that Papadopoulos was not paid by the campaign and that his involvement was “extremely limited.”
“This individual was a volunteer on an advisory council that met one time over the course of a year,” Sanders said.
The advisory council met only once, on March 31, 2016.
‘Uranium One’ Deal
Separate from the Fusion GPS dossier on Trump, Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have come under renewed scrutiny over their involvement in a Russian deal to acquire control over 20 percent of uranium mining in the United States.
The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), has called for a special counsel to be appointed to investigate the deal.
The Hill reported on Oct. 17 that the FBI had knowledge of a Russian bribery campaign surrounding the uranium deal. According to the report, Russian officials were engaged in “bribery, kickbacks, extortion, and money laundering” intended to grow Putin’s “atomic energy business inside the United States.”
Bill Clinton received $500,000 from a Kremlin-linked Russian investment bank to speak at an event while the deal was being negotiated and while Hillary Clinton served as secretary of state.
Russian investors linked to the uranium deal also made more than $10 million in donations to the Clinton Foundation, The New York Times reported in April 2015.
According to The Hill, the Obama administration passed the deal, despite the FBI being aware of the Russian bribery campaign.
Mueller served as FBI director at the time. He flew to Moscow in 2009 to personally provide Russia with a sample of 10 grams of highly enriched uranium.
Joshua Philipp contributed to this report.