Adam Schiff, Glenn Simpson and their Forrest Gump-like encounter in Aspen

By John Solomon
Opinion Contributor

The new House Intelligence Committee chairman, Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffAre Democrats turning Trump-like? Schiff offers bill to make domestic terrorism a federal crime New intel chief inherits host of challenges MORE (D-Calif.), has proven to be his party’s most effective antagonist toward President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump pushes back on recent polling data, says internal numbers are 'strongest we've had so far' Illinois state lawmaker apologizes for photos depicting mock assassination of Trump Scaramucci assembling team of former Cabinet members to speak out against Trump MORE. And now, with the new powers of being chairman, he is drawing both new weapons and new scrutiny.

Sometimes such scrutiny inevitably turns to questions of hypocrisy.

Which bring us to the issue of some photographs taken at the prestigious Aspen security conference last July.

They show Schiff meeting at the event with Fusion GPS Founder Glenn Simpson, one of the key and most controversial figures in the Russia collusion scandal. Both men insisted to me through spokesmen that they met only briefly last July.

At the time of the encounter, Simpson was an important witness in the House Intelligence Committee probe who had given sworn testimony about alleged, but still unproven, collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Simpson ran the firm hired by Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTop Sanders adviser: Warren isn't competing for 'same pool of voters' Anti-Trump vets join Steyer group in pressing Democrats to impeach Trump Republicans plot comeback in New Jersey MORE’s campaign and the Democratic Party to find dirt on Trump in Moscow. He employed retired British intelligence operative Christopher Steele, whose infamous and unverified dossier became the main evidence for the FBI’s probe of the Trump campaign, particularly the surveillance warrant against Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

And by the time of the meeting, the House Intelligence Committee had already received evidence from a senior Justice Department official, Bruce Ohr, that called into question Simpson’s testimony to lawmakers.

Specifically, Simpson claimed he had not begun meeting with Ohr until after Thanksgiving 2016, well after the FBI had begun investigating Trump-Russia collusion and after the presidential election in which Simpson's client, Clinton, lost to Trump.

But Ohr provided compelling evidence, including calendar notations, testimony and handwritten notes, showing that Simpson met with him in August 2016, well before the election and during a time when Steele was helping the FBI start an investigation into Trump.

When confronted with the Aspen conference photos of Schiff, in sport coat and open-neck dress shirt, and Simpson, wearing casual attire, representatives for both men tried to minimize their discussion, insisting nothing substantive about the Russia case was discussed.

“In the summer of 2018, Mr. Simpson attended a media-sponsored social event where he exchanged small talk with Rep. Schiff and many other people who were in attendance,” Fusion GPS said in a statement to me. “The conversation between the two was brief and did not cover anything substantive. There has been no subsequent contact between Mr. Simpson and Rep. Schiff.”

The congressman’s response was even more vague: “The chairman did not have any pre-planned meeting with Glenn Simpson, and any conversation with him at the Aspen conference would have been brief and social in nature,” Schiff spokesman Patrick Boland said.

Translation: This was just a Forrest Gump-like moment in which the Democrats’ chief defender of the dossier and the man whose firm produced it met serendipitously.

There is nothing illegal or technically improper about a congressman meeting, intentionally or unintentionally, with a witness in an investigation. At least not under the law or the House Intelligence Committee’s rules.

But Schiff created a far higher standard two years ago when he demanded that his Republican counterpart on the committee, then-Chairman Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesJuan Williams: Trump, his allies and the betrayal of America Trump expected to nominate Texas GOP lawmaker to replace Dan Coats: report House Republicans claim victory after Mueller hearings MORE (R-Calif.), be investigated for having meetings with national security council officials at the Trump White House without telling the committee. Schiff’s attacks led Nunes to temporarily recuse himself from the Russia probe.

Schiff assailed Nunes’s contacts with a source outside the committee confines as “a dead-of-night excursion” and said it called into question the impartiality of the inquiry because the committee wasn’t informed.

“I believe the public cannot have the necessary confidence that matters involving the president’s campaign or transition team can be objectively investigated or overseen by the chairman,” Schiff said at the time.

So how did Schiff meet his own standards? Boland declined to say if his boss told the committee about his Simpson contact.

But both GOP and Democratic officials on the committee, including some lawmakers, said there is no evidence that Schiff disclosed his contact with Simpson to committee members.

“I don't know if they’re under any obligation to disclose it but, certainly if we were conspiracy theorists the way that my Democrat colleagues appear to be, we could weave an awful tale into that and weave all kinds of nonsense about it,” Rep. Mike ConawayKenneth (Mike) Michael ConawayTexas faces turbulent political moment Democratic Party official: Texas is 'biggest battleground state in the country' Another Texas congressman planning to retire MORE, the Texas Republican who took over the Russia probe when Nunes recused himself, told Hill.TV.

“Had the tables been turned and I had been seen at a circumstance like that, my guess is [Schiff] would have demanded I had a full conversation as to what I did,” he added.

Conaway touched on another observation.

Simpson has become a Gump-like character who keeps showing up in so many different places in the Russia scandal: He’s the owner of the company that was paid by Clinton for the Steele dossier, the guy who hired Steele to create the dossier, the one who met with Ohr at the Justice Department, who pitched reporters writing Trump dirt at the end of the campaign and who met with the Russian woman and an American lobbyist at the heart of the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting.

And then, he shows up with Schiff in Aspen.

“It’s interesting that Simpson is at the heart of the dossier and the dossier played a mighty role in not only going after Carter Page but in much of Adam’s and Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellHickenlooper ends presidential bid Scenes from Iowa State Fair: Surging Warren, Harris draw big crowds Nadler hits gas on impeachment MORE’s [D-Calif.] quest to find collusion, that [Schiff] would in fact in that exact same conversation, or time frame, be in conversation or appear to be in conversation with the guy who’s principally responsible for the dossier,” Conaway said.

Whatever happened in Aspen won’t stay in Aspen much longer. Expect Republicans in Washington to launch some questions at the House’s new Intelligence Committee chairman.

John Solomon is an award-winning investigative journalist whose work over the years has exposed U.S. and FBI intelligence failures before the Sept. 11 attacks, federal scientists’ misuse of foster children and veterans in drug experiments, and numerous cases of political corruption. He is The Hill’s executive vice president for video.