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Evidence continues to mount that the Hillary Clinton campaign paid former MI6 agent Christopher Steele to launder fraudulent opposition research through U.S. intelligence agencies.
Newly published internal emails reveal that before Fusion GPS hired Steele on behalf of the Clinton campaign to dig up dirt on Donald Trump, the opposition-research firm began peddling several of the same Russia collusion lies that the former MI6 agent would later detail in the Steele dossier. This fact highlights a significant aspect of the Spygate scandal that deserves further focus and condemnation: Democrats’ outrageous exploitation of intelligence credentials and connections to launder scurrilous accusations against a political enemy.
Since early 2018, when the then-Chair of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes exposed in a four-page memorandum evidence that the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had abused the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act during the 2016 presidential election cycle, Americans open to reality have been slowly learning of the breadth of the Spygate scandal.
Attention during this time rightly focused first on FISA abuse and the FBI’s use of unverified “intel” to obtain a court order to surveil former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page. As the scandal continued to unravel, the categories of impropriety multiplied, from deep-staters illegally leaking to the media to build the collusion narrative and later to force the appointment of a special counsel, to the selection of the “right people” in the form of rabid partisans to staff the Crossfire Hurricane team.
Another underlying aspect of the scandal only became clear recently with the prosecution of former Clinton campaign attorney Michael Sussmann. Proceedings in Special Counsel John Durham’s false statement criminal case against Sussmann reveal Democrats paid credentialed individuals connected to U.S. intelligence agencies to pass, to both the press and the government, invented evidence of Trump colluding with Russia.
Sussmann, who previously worked for the DOJ, represents one such connected individual whose credentials served to hide the Clinton campaign’s responsibility for creating the Russia-collusion disinformation. Over the last several months, filings in the special counsel’s criminal case against Sussmann have exposed how he played his relationships with FBI and CIA agents to score meetings to pass on data and “white papers” related to the Alfa Bank and Yota phone Russia hoaxes, while hiding their origins.
Now, a batch of emails between Fusion GPS and journalists made public earlier this week in the Sussmann case after the special counsel’s office inadvertently filed them on the public docket suggest Steele was paid for the same reason: his credentials and connections would hide the political nature of the hit.
Those emails reveal that the month before Fusion GPS hired Steele, it had begun spinning the tale that the Trump campaign-connected Carter Page served Russian interests. In mid-May 2016, Fusion GPS’s Jake Berkowitz emailed Slate reporter Franklin Foer about Page. The note, which includes several links with prefatory sentences about Page, reads as a collaborative effort to investigate the Trump advisor.
Peter Fritsch, the co-founder of Fusion GPS, also joined in the email thread. It continued a few days later, with Berkowitz sharing with Fritsch and Foer his latest “research” on Page. That email included a couple of names of “former partners” of Page and a link to a Medium.com article critical of Page. The Medium article also attacked Trump’s then-volunteer campaign advisor George Papadopoulos, whom the FBI would later claim prompted the launching of Crossfire Hurricane when Papadopoulos supposedly bragged that the Russians had dirt on Hillary.
The Fusion GPS researchers continued to share the results of their probe into Page with Foer. Berkowitz on May 19, 2016 told his Fusion GPS boss and the reporter that “some Merrill bond issuances during Page’s tenure” at the investment banking firm of Merrill Lynch involved some “interesting characters,” including Alfa Bank and its founders. To that email, Foer responded that he is “going to do some work on Rick Burt,” whom he bets “does some work for the Russians.” Foer would then claim in a follow-up email that Burt was on the Alfa Bank board.
Foer incorporated the early research he exchanged with Fusion GPS in his Slate piece, “Vladimir Putin has a Plan for Destroying the West—and It Looks a Lot Like Donald Trump,” which cast Page, Papadopoulos, and the Alfa-Bank-connected Burt as Russian-compromised associates of Trump. Foer was also the “journalist” who ran the Alfa Bank tale at Slate just two weeks before the presidential election. Emails exchanged in late June between Fritsch and Foer also show Fusion GPS focusing on Sergei Millian, with Fritsch declaring that Millian is “clearly kgb.”
Fusion GPS continued to exchange emails over the next three months with Foer and other Democrat scribes, such as the Washington Post’s Tom Hamburger and Mark Hosenball from Reuters. Millian was a subject of a July 24, 2016 email sent by Fusion GPS’s other founder, Glenn Simpson, to Hamburger. In that late-July email, Simpson provided the Post’s “journalist” three email addresses for Millian, suggesting a push by Fusion GPS to have reporters focus on Millian as part of the Russia-collusion hoax.
These emails prove significant much beyond exposing the symbiotic relationship that existed between the Clinton-funded Fusion GPS and the unpaid propagandists in the press. That’s because the timing and targets of the communications indicate Democrats paid for Steele to stamp their opposition research with an MI6 imprimatur.
The law firm of Perkins Coie first hired Fusion GPS in April 2016 to conduct opposition research on Trump on behalf of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. But Fusion GPS did not retain Steele until June 2016, with Steele’s initial memorandum being first dated June 20, 2016. By then, however, Fusion GPS had already targeted Page and highlighted Alfa Bank as suspect. Fusion GPS’s communications with the press pre-Steele also focused on Page’s role as an advisor for the Trump campaign and various connections to Alfa Bank.
Steele’s dossier would later seemingly confirm Fusion GPS’s framing of Page as a Russian agent based on the numerous lies Steele’s “primary sub-source,” Igor Danchenko, fed the former MI6 agent. Among his other lies, Danchenko, who is currently under indictment for making false statements to the FBI, falsely claimed that Millian had provided detailed intel related to the Trump campaign and Page.
While Steele did not name Danchenko or Millian in his memoranda, his dossier not only identified Page but framed Page as a Russian agent. The Steele dossier then served as the basis for the FBI to obtain a FISA court order to surveil Page, and in turn, the Trump campaign.
The DOJ’s Office of Inspector General has already excoriated the DOJ and FBI agents involved in obtaining FISA surveillance orders for Page for misconduct, but the blame extends further to the FISA court. It issued the unconstitutional surveillance orders based on Steele’s work as a former MI6 agent.
No wonder Fusion GPS paid Steele. They needed his credential as an MI6 agent to provide gravitas to their opposition research and to hide the Clinton-campaign roots of the attacks on Trump. The Clinton campaign also needed Steele to exploit his government contacts, which the former spy did by passing the dossier off to his handler, his pal Bruce Ohr, and later the U.S. State Department. Steele thus served as a facade for Democrats’ attempt to frame Trump as a Russian patsy.
The email dump earlier this week, which represents but a fraction of “the hundreds” of emails between Fusion GPS and reporters, further reveals this reality by showing that Fusion GPS already had the storyline it paid Steele to compile well in hand before they retained the former MI6 agent. The same could be said for the journalists.
Margot Cleveland is The Federalist’s senior legal correspondent. She is also a contributor to National Review Online, the Washington Examiner, Aleteia, and Townhall.com, and has been published in the Wall Street Journal and USA Today.
Cleveland is a lawyer and a graduate of the Notre Dame Law School, where she earned the Hoynes Prize—the law school’s highest honor. She later served for nearly 25 years as a permanent law clerk for a federal appellate judge on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Cleveland is a former full-time university faculty member and now teaches as an adjunct from time to time.
As a stay-at-home homeschooling mom of a young son with cystic fibrosis, Cleveland frequently writes on cultural issues related to parenting and special-needs children. Cleveland is on Twitter at @ProfMJCleveland. The views expressed here are those of Cleveland in her private capacity.