Trump pulls off trifecta of disruption on European trip
For now, Trump dossier creates more questions than answers
The Trump dossier was compiled by ex-British spy Christopher Steele of London-based Orbis International and was commissioned by the D.C. opposition-research firm, Fusion GPS, headed by Glen Simpson.
The dossier has been cited by Trump's opponents as a "road map" to his presumed collusion with the Russians that, they say, stole the election from Hillary Clinton. Among the dossier's collusion claims are sexual perversion, the exchange of intelligence, an offer of a hundred-million-dollar bribe and the dispatch of Trump's lawyer to Prague to pay off DNC hackers.
The dossier itself cannot be evaluated until Steele and Fusion GPS come clean on who funded it and its intelligence sources. Both Steele and Fusion GPS have, so far, refused to answer these two basic questions before Congress and London and Florida courts.
We do not know who paid Fusion GPS to commission Steele's search for Trump dirty linen. In closed testimony before the Senate committee, Fusion's Glen Simpson refused to identify his paymaster. Similarly, in a London court, Steele argued that the identity of the funder was "neither reasonably necessary nor appropriate."
An investigative writer for Vanity Fair claims that a well-heeled Clinton donor funded Fusion GPS at more than a million dollars. The identity of the funder, however, remains wide open, and we cannot even rule out a foreign source.
Who funded the dossier is a key question. Fusion and Orbis, as consulting companies, would likely shape their work to the wishes of the client. Funding by a prominent Democrat opens the possibility, as Kimberly Strassel of the Wall Street Journal writes, that Washington and the media have the Russia collusion story backward: "What if it wasn't the Trump campaign playing footsie with the Vladimir Putin regime, but Democrats?"
Fusion GPS's role in the Trump dossier is being investigated by, among others, Sen. Charles Grassley's (R-Iowa) Senate Judiciary Committee. In a complaint letter to the Justice Department, Grassley branded Fusion GPS as an unregistered foreign agent, working together with a team of Russian lobbyists to repeal or water down the 2012 Magnitsky sanctions.
The Magnitsky Act threatens Russian officials, linked to the prison death of anti-corruption lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, with a freeze of their foreign assets. Given that the Kremlin inner circle has substantial assets parked in the U.S., the defeat of the Magnitsky sanctions has been a top Kremlin priority. Magnitsky provides a possible platform for targeting the assets of the Kremlin elite, including Putin himself.
As Grassley writes: "It is highly troubling that Fusion GPS appears to have been working with someone with ties to Russian intelligence - let alone someone alleged to have conducted political disinformation campaigns - as part of a pro-Russia lobbying effort while also simultaneously overseeing the creation of the Trump/Russia dossier. The relationship casts further doubt on an already highly dubious dossier."
Fusion GPS is known to represent Russian interests of the highest priority. How could it turn around and commission a dirt-raking investigation of Trump, if the Putin regime is really rooting for Trump to win? This conflict of interest would have been more than apparent when Fusion's anti-Magnitsky Russian colleagues appeared for a meeting in Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr. and other campaign officials as work on the dossier was starting. Something does not add up.
Christopher Steele purportedly served as an undercover MI6 agent in Russia for two years (1990-1992) and headed the MI6 Russia desk from 2004-2009. His reputation lends a certain credibility to the dossier. But Steele no longer works for the British government. Instead, he heads a for-profit consulting firm that must satisfy paying clients.
Steele claims, improbably, to have sources who work within earshot of Putin and a "who's-who" of the Kremlin inner circle, such as the former head of the presidential administration (Sergei Ivanov), the CEO of the Russian National Oil Company and Putin confidante (Igor Sechin), the prime minister (Dmitry Medvedev) and Putin's press secretary (Dmitry Peskov).
How did Steele persuade intimates of Putin's inner circle to reveal some of the Kremlin's deepest secrets? It apparently was not money. The Vanity Fair investigation ventures that Fusion GPS paid Orbis normal consulting fees plus expenses.
If these Kremlin insiders truly occupied such elevated positions (and the wealth associated therewith), they would have required astronomical bribes, at a minimum, for their toxic information.
One possible explanation is that Steele's sources were really lower-level officials passing on made-up stories or idle gossip. If they were truly intimates of the ruling elite, the most likely explanation is that they were passing along disinformation that Putin and the Kremlin wanted disseminated. Indeed, to experienced observers, the dossier reads like a standard disinformation campaign of the Kremlin.
Kremlin disinformation directed against candidate Trump would be consistent with Putin's overarching goal of discrediting the American political system. Candidate Clinton had already discredited herself with contradictory statements, Benghazi evasions, mistreatment of Bernie Sanders and a general reputation for dishonesty.
Now, the Trump dossier reveals that candidate Trump is also deeply flawed, subject to blackmail and a pervert. With both candidates discredited, the Kremlin propaganda machine could sit back and reprint negative American news stories about both Clinton and Trump. The message to Russia: At least Russian voters have old-reliable Vladimir Putin when they go to the polling stations in March.
Until Steele and Fusion GPS answer who funded the Trump dossier and address the veracity of its sources, we are left with four options:
First, the Trump dossier is a legitimate account of a Trump-Russia collusion, despite key parts of it being discredited. Second, the dossier is an initiative of influential Democrats to destroy Trump with fake intelligence fabricated without help of the Kremlin.
Third, the dossier is a joint product of Democratic and Kremlin interests with which the Democrats destroy Trump and the Russians discredit American electoral politics. Fourth, the dossier is a standard disinformation attack by the Kremlin to discredit not only Trump but American democracy in general.
Let's hope the dossier's authors will come clean so the American people know the truth.
Paul Gregory is a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. The holder of a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University, Gregory has written extensively on Russia and the former Soviet Union. His most recent books are, "Women of the Gulag: Portraits of Five Remarkable Lives,"(Hoover Institution Press, 2013); "Politics, Murder, and Love in Stalin's Kremlin: The Story of Nikolai Bukharin and Anna Larina," (Hoover Institution Press, 2010), "Lenin's Brain and Other Tales from the Secret Soviet Archives," (Hoover Institution Press, 2008) and "The Political Economy of Stalinism," (Cambridge, 2004), which won the Hewett Prize.