The week before the American Carnage speech by Donald Trump, the FBI director of the time met with members of Congress for classified briefings. Immediately after, a flood of House Democrats rushed to their offices. They were angry. The distressed reaction of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is still etched in my mind. She is not a woman who fumes, yet that day, her countenance and refusal to speak with the press had all the signs of inchoate rage. One member stopped briefly at a press spray. This was Rep. Maxine Waters, who told the press that James Comey had “no credibility.”
We may never know what transpired during that closed-door meeting. However, the just-released testimony by Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS to the House Intelligence Committee reveals his company’s repeated efforts to alert the FBI and the American press about Russian intrusion, and the startling lack of response by James Comey’s FBI.
Early on, Christopher Steele, an acknowledged Russianist and former MI6 spy, was alarmed by what he saw as a “crime in progress” – the deliberate sabotage of the American electoral system by the Kremlin. Steele, the primary source of Fusion’s oppositional research operation, relied on intelligence gathered from his sources.
The Fusion transcript shows that in the summer of 2016, after writing his very first memo, Steele “raised the issue of going to the FBI” with Simpson (page 76). He brought it up again a few days later and Simpson okayed his request.
Testimony of Simpson from page 77 of the transcript:
Four months before the election, Steele made contact with the FBI and revealed his first intel. At that time, Trump was the acknowledged nominee of the Republican Party. He would formally accept that status on July 21, a few weeks after Steele disclosed his raw data to the FBI.
Christopher Steele believed that active Russian measures to interfere in the presidential election was a priority of the highest order, a “national security issue,” and something the FBI, as the defender of America’s domestic security, would act on post-haste.
Indeed, both Simpson and Steele believed the FBI was investigating. But there was “a long period” before the FBI requested a second meeting with Steele. Meanwhile, he continued collecting his human intelligence and sending memos to Fusion.
The gravity of their effort is put in sharp focus when reliving the events of the time. Shortly after Steele first met with his FBI contacts, the Democratic National Committee was hacked by an entity known as Guccifer (Konstantin Kozlovsky), who would later confess in court that he was working for Russian intelligence. His email hack was one step in a concerted Kremlin campaign. Next, those emails were funneled to WikiLeaks, a known Russian cutout, and then delivered to the world via social media outlets.
At the end of July, Donald Trump publicly asked Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s email.
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”
At some unspecified time, the FBI contacted Steele for a second meeting. Again, as the election drew nearer, both Simpson and Steele understood that the FBI was investigating the data in the dossier.
Another month passed. And another. In mid-September or early October, Simpson began leaking info from the dossier to a few select news organizations. He felt compelled to tell the press about a Russian operation that was “more than just hacking” but a coordinated effort to interfere in the election and, stated Simpson, “allegedly involved The Trump Organization.” Their liaison with media outlets had limited success. He recalls a few stories about Carter Page but nothing to break through as a top headline.
And then, just as Simpson-Steele were trying to alert journalists, Jim Comey made his announcement.
On October 28, 2016, one week before the General Election, the head of the FBI shattered all precedent by declaring that his agency was reopening an inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s email.
A few days later, the NY Times broke an alarming story in which the FBI denied any investigation into Trump’s connections with Russia. Rather than present the data sourced to them by Simpson and Steele, media were reinforcing the FBI narrative.
Glenn Simpson and Christopher Steele knew that something was amiss.
Chris was concerned that something was happening at the FBI that we didn’t understand, and that there may be some political maneuvering or improper influence. And so, we were very concerned that the information that we had about the Russians trying to interfere in the election was going to be covered up. (Page 103)
Simpson and Steele then launched a second attempt with the American media. Again, they hoped to balance Comey’s short-lived investigation of Clinton with its investigation of Trump.
Simpson tried to contact “high level members of the national security press” and defined his motivation. “I thought that this was historic and that it was something the press needed to investigate and know about and ask the Intelligence Community about.”
David Corn wrote a blockbuster of an article for Mother Jones on 31 October. Titled: A Veteran Spy Has Given The FBI Information Alleging a Russian Operation to Cultivate Donald Trump. Has the bureau investigated this material?, the words are clearly sourced from Christropher Streele, although his name is never identified.
Rather than send shock waves across the country, Corn’s expose rang true only among the partisan audience of Hillary Clinton. The Bureau continued to publicly maintain that Trump was not the subject of any probe, a sentiment that mimed the Republican candidate.
November 8 arrived. By midnight, the numbers showed that Hillary Clinton had captured the popular vote but Donald Trump garnered the majority of electoral college votes.
Trump was about to be installed as President of the United States.
During the five-month period in which Steele compiled his dossier and the team released it to the Bureau, Simpson was never contacted by anyone at the Justice Department. His only communication came after the election, and that was initiated by Steele, whose career with British intelligence built a network with the Bureau. Steele met with Bruce Ohr, a career prosecutor with the Department of Justice. Glenn Simpson also knew this individual from his own background in organized crime and met him at a coffee shop sometime after Thanksgiving 2016 (pages 78-9). The transcript does not follow up on that meeting.
However, news reports from December 2017 do tell what happened. Ohr, who was the associate deputy attorney general at Justice, was demoted when his meetings with Steele were revealed. The Republican chair of the House Intelligence committee, Devin Nunes, issued a subpoena to Ohr. There were accusations of bias and calls for a new special prosecutor to investigate him. Also swept up in the backlash was Nellie Ohr, his spouse, who worked for Fusion GPS during the summer of 2016.
Bruce Ohr was never involved in the current Mueller investigation of Russia and Trump. Nellie Ohr, says Glenn Simpson, is a veteran expert on Russia and valued research analyst. Nonetheless, allies of Trump have maligned both, turning their activity into evidence of a deep state, anti-Trump plot.
Glenn Simpson and Christopher Steele repeatedly contacted the FBI. Repeatedly, their credible intel was suppressed. The Bureau led them to believe an investigation was underway and then refuted that when the media made inquiries.
When confronted with his announcement of an inquiry into Clinton’s email, Comey said: “It makes me mildly nauseous to think we might have had some impact on the election. But honestly it wouldn’t change the decision.”
Comey’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary committee was in May 2017. It was one of the very few publicized hearings. A few days later, Trump fired the FBI Director. Comey left for a lengthy vacation before emerging on Twitter, where he is inclined to quote moralist verses. His direct interference in the election, that which made him “mildly nauseous” has not enraged the Trump base. That he withheld the FBI investigation on Trump seems a dead matter with no repercussions.
Jim Comey is now teaching ethics to college students – a task that may well be the greatest challenge of his life.