The Senate Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat Tuesday made a unilateral decision to release a transcript of the panel’s closed-door interview with Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson, whose company helped compile the now-infamous dossier accusing Donald Trump’s presidential campaign of colluding with Russia.
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In his interview with lawmakers and their staffs, Simpson insisted it’s “political rhetoric to call the dossier phony".
Upon releasing the 306-page document, Sen. Dianne Feinstein – a California Democrat – said, “After speaking with majority and minority committee staff for 10 hours, Glenn Simpson requested the transcript of his interview be released publicly. The American people deserve the opportunity to see what he said and judge for themselves.”
Feinstein added, “The innuendo and misinformation circulating about the transcript are part of a deeply troubling effort to undermine the investigation into potential collusion and obstruction of justice. The only way to set the record straight is to make the transcript public.”
In a statement today, Fusion GPS praised Feinstein “for her courage.”
A spokesman for Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said Feinstein had overstepped her authority and the transcript release undermines the committee's work.
Steele, a former British intelligence officer, was first hired by Fusion GPS around June 2016, with Simpson asking him to look into Trump’s dealings in Russia.
Simpson and Steele had worked together for several years, and he had “a sterling reputation as a person who doesn’t exaggerate, doesn’t make things up, doesn’t sell baloney,” Simpson told lawmakers. “It’s political rhetoric to call the dossier phony. The memos are field reports of real interviews that Chris’ network conducted, and there’s nothing phony about it. We can argue what’s prudent and what’s not, but it’s not a fabrication.”
In fact, Steele was so shocked by what he was hearing after beginning to dig into possible Trump-Russia connections that he contacted the FBI.
“Chris said he was very concerned about whether this represented a national security threat and said … he though we were obligated to tell someone in government,” Simpson told lawmakers and their staffs. “He thought from his perspective there was … a security issue about whether a presidential candidate was being blackmailed.”
In the fall of 2016, the FBI contacted Steele, who met with an FBI official in Rome.
“They believed Chris’s information might be credible because they had other intelligence that indicated the same thing," Simpson told lawmakers and their staffs.
Simpson said Steele and the FBI had a falling out and stopped communicating just before Election Day because Steele felt the FBI wasn’t taking his findings seriously enough.
This all comes on the heels of last week’s congressional referral to the Department of Justice for possible criminal prosecution of Steele.
Judiciary chairman Grassley and panel Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina sent a letter last week to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is in charge of the special counsel’s Russia investigation, and FBI Director Christopher Wray asking the DOJ to launch a criminal investigation into whether Steele made false statements about the distribution of claims from the dossier to reporters.
“I don’t take lightly making a referral for criminal investigation. 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,” Grassley said in a statement released to reporters.
“After reviewing how Mr. Steele conducted himself in distributing information contained in the dossier and how many stop signs the DOJ ignored in its use of the dossier, I believe that a special counsel needs to review this matter," Graham said.
Feinstein was not consulted before Grassley and Graham reached out to Rosenstein and Wray, and in a statement said, “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.”
Joshua Levy, counsel for Fusion GPS, in a statement to ABC News said, “After a year of investigations into Donald Trump's ties to Russia, the only person Republicans seek to accuse of wrongdoing is one who reported on these matters to law enforcement in the first place. Publicizing a criminal referral based on classified information 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.”
The unusual, high-profile partisan squabbling in the Judiciary panel has only increased in recent months. Republicans and Democrats parted ways in their investigation, each calling for separate witnesses and documents.