Trump, GOP fire back over Fusion GPS testimony

Trump, GOP fire back over Fusion GPS testimony
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic field begins to shrink ahead of critical stretch To ward off recession, Trump should keep his mouth and smartphone shut Trump: 'Who is our bigger enemy,' Fed chief or Chinese leader? MORE attacked “sneaky” Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinTrailer shows first look at Annette Bening as Dianne Feinstein Trump administration urges Congress to reauthorize NSA surveillance program The Hill's Morning Report - More talk on guns; many questions on Epstein's death MORE (D-Calif.) on Wednesday as Republicans furiously beat back at suggestions that testimony from the founder of Fusion GPS undermined their claims that the FBI had improperly used a controversial dossier to launch an investigation into Trump and his officials.
 
Trump said Feinstein’s decision to unilaterally release the transcript of Glenn Simpson’s closed-door testimony about allegations detailed in an opposition research memo was “underhanded” and “possibly illegal.”
 
While Feinstein’s release of the material was unexpected and unorthodox, Republicans did not back up Trump’s assertion that she may have broken the law.
 

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Rather, the president’s allies argued that Simpson’s testimony did nothing to undercut their core claim that the FBI had used the dossier — compiled by British spy Christopher Steele and paid for in part by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe road not taken: Another FBI failure involving the Clintons surfaces DHS cyber agency to prioritize election security, Chinese threats ABC chose a debate moderator who hates Trump MORE’s campaign — to investigate Trump and possibly to secure a FISA warrant to spy on Trump officials during the campaign and transition.
 
“Steele talked to the FBI in July of 2016, so whether they had the full dossier at that point or just initial installments, it looks like the dossier was at least a significant part of securing the FISA warrant,” Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanDemocratic Women's Caucus calls for investigation into Epstein plea deal DOJ releases notes from official Bruce Ohr's Russia probe interviews CNN slams GOP for not appearing on network after mass shootings, conservatives fire back MORE (R-Ohio) said in a phone interview.
 
In his testimony, Simpson told lawmakers that Steele had became so alarmed by his investigation into Trump that he took his findings to the FBI, only to be told that law enforcement officials had already begun investigating Trump and his campaign officials.
 
Republicans called Simpson’s claims nonsense and pointed to his own testimony to discredit it. Simpson said Steele contacted the FBI in the first week of July 2016. Former FBI director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyThe road not taken: Another FBI failure involving the Clintons surfaces Sarah Huckabee Sanders becomes Fox News contributor 3 real problems Republicans need to address to win in 2020 MORE has testified the FBI investigation started in late July.
 
Democrats responded by declaring that Simpson’s testimony bolstered allegations in the dossier, which Comey previously dismissed as “salacious and unverified.”
 
And they rallied around Steele, a week after Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamWhite House won't move forward with billions in foreign aid cuts GOP group calls on Republican senators to stand up to McConnell on election security in new ads Cindy McCain says no one in Republican Party carries 'voice of reason' after husband's death MORE (R-S.C.) referred the former MI6 agent to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation.
 
“Christopher Steele was acting in the best interests of the country in reporting this information to the FBI and his reward is having a couple of the GOP senators call for him to be investigated,” Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffHillicon Valley: YouTube disables 200+ accounts over Hong Kong misinformation | Lawmakers sound alarm over Chinese influence efforts | DHS cyber agency details priorities | State AGs get tough on robocalls | DOJ busts online scammers Nadler asks other House chairs to provide records that would help panel in making impeachment decision YouTube disables over 200 accounts amid protests in Hong Kong MORE (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, told The Hill. “By all accounts, [Steele] is a very well respected former British intelligence officer, and I think he certainly expected that the raw intelligence he was gathering would be vetted but felt the need to report it.” 

Republicans have mined Simpson’s testimony for new lines of attack aimed at discrediting the dossier, alleging the FBI and Democratic political operatives worked hand-in-hand to tar Trump and those around him with allegations of corruption and collusion involving the Russians.
 
Rep. Pete KingPeter (Pete) Thomas KingFirst House Republican backs bill banning assault weapons The 9 House Republicans who support background checks Progressive gun control activist on NRA: 'Don't count them out' MORE (R-N.Y.) told The Hill that it’s possible Steele was deceived by his Russian sources and that Simpson’s testimony is further evidence that “there’s been nothing in [the dossier] of significance that’s been proven.”
 
Republicans also noted that Simpson admitted to being in touch with nearly a dozen media outlets in 2016, which they say is evidence he engineered an election-year smear campaign that served as the basis of the “Russian collusion” narrative.
 
Now, Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill are demanding answers about why the FBI would spill details of its investigations to a British spy who was being paid by Democrats to dig up dirt on Trump at the height of the campaign.
 
“It appears that Russia's most willing partner was the Democratic National Committee and potentially the FBI working with Glenn Simpson and Christopher Steele,” Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzCapitol Police advised Gaetz against holding open events I'm not a Nazi, I'm just a dude: What it's like to be the other Steve King Gaetz cleared by Florida Bar after Cohen tweet probe MORE (R-Fla.) said on Fox News.
 
In his testimony, Simpson said Steele was in touch with the FBI on several occasions between July and September 2016.
 
But he also gave a full-throated defense of Steele’s sources and methods, calling him a “Boy Scout” who consistently “delivered quality work in very appropriate ways.”
 
Democrats seized on Simpson’s testimony to paint Steele as an unimpeachable source who had been compelled to notify law enforcement officials about his concern that Trump could be “blackmailed” by Russians.
 
“I haven’t seen anything disproven in this document yet so take that for what it is worth,” Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichOvernight Defense: Dems talk Afghanistan, nukes at Detroit debate | Senate panel advances Hyten nomination | Iranian foreign minister hit with sanctions | Senate confirms UN ambassador Senate committee advances nomination of general accused of sexual assault House passes bill requiring CBP to enact safety, hygiene standards MORE (D-N.M.) told The Hill.

One new point of contention centers on a New York Times story that claims the FBI launched its investigation into Trump only after an Australian official approached them to say  George PapadopoulosGeorge Demetrios Papadopoulos10 declassified Russia collusion revelations that could rock Washington this fall Flynn, Papadopoulos to speak at event preparing 'social media warriors' for 'digital civil war' Judge dismisses DNC lawsuit against Trump campaign, Russia over election interference MORE, a former Trump adviser who has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, drunkenly told him the Russians had reached out to express an interest in helping to get Trump elected.
 
Republicans are furiously dismissing that report, saying Democrats and the media are promoting those claims because they realize the political peril of acknowledging that the dossier was the catalyst for the investigation.
 
King said Papadopoulos wasn’t even interviewed by the FBI until January 2017, months after the investigation had been underway.
 
"It seems the story is shifting," King said.

Meanwhile, debate over Feinstein’s decision to release the Simpson transcript dominated Capitol Hill, driven by Trump’s allegation that she may have broken the law.
 
Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the move would make it more difficult for his panel to convince potential witnesses, including Trump’s son-in-law Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerPresident tweets 'few work harder' than Ivanka, Jared PETA billboard in Baltimore calls Kushner a 'rich pest' Top immigration aide experienced 'jolt of electricity to my soul' when Trump announced campaign MORE, to voluntarily testify before the committee.
 
Still, he expressed optimism that the committee could continue with its work.
 
"I was a little disappointed because I had an understanding ahead of time that it would be released when we both agreed to release it, and I think I've showed my cooperation with the other side by just yesterday agreeing to two interviews that they want at their request,” Grassley said. “So I think we're going to move forward without any glitch." 
 
Liberals cheered the release of the transcript by Feinstein, who could face a primary challenger from the left as she seeks reelection this year. Democrats had argued that Republicans were making ominous claims about Fusion GPS that were not backed up by Simpson’s testimony.
 
None of the Republicans interviewed by The Hill agreed with Trump’s claim that Feinstein may have broken the law.
 
And some Republicans acknowledged that the release might have been in the public interest.
 
“I don’t like it when one side does that but here’s my point — it doesn’t bother me for the public to know as much as they can,” said Graham.
 
Graham also pushed for declassifying other government reports pertaining to the dossier and how it was used.
 
“I want the public to understand what the [Justice Department] did,” Graham said. “I’ll protect sources and methods but now that you have Fusion GPS testimony out there, let’s get the entire picture of what Fusion GPS did.”

Olivia Beavers contributed.