Feud erupts between Grassley, Fusion GPS over transcripts

Feud erupts between Grassley, Fusion GPS over transcripts
© Greg Nash

An intense public battle has erupted between Fusion GPS, the firm behind a controversial dossier of opposition research on on President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Republican threatens to push for Rosenstein impeachment unless he testifies Judge suggests Trump’s tweet about Stormy Daniels was ‘hyperbole’ not defamation Rosenstein faces Trump showdown MORE, and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Executives at the opposition research firm are accusing Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyFord's lawyer: Hearing doesn't appear to be designed for 'fair', 'respectful' treatment GOP opens door to holding Kavanaugh committee vote this week Press: Judge Kavanaugh must withdraw MORE (R-Iowa) and panel Republicans of selectively leaking snippets of their testimony to paint a distorted picture of their work and the FBI's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

The feud spilled into public view on Tuesday, when Fusion GPS co-founders Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch published a scathing op-ed for the New York Times, titled “The Republicans’ Fake Investigations.”

In the op-ed, Simpson and Fritsch called on Republicans to release the full transcripts of their testimony to three congressional panels, including the Senate Judiciary Committee, "so that the American people can learn the truth."

That drew a swift rebuke from Grassley. A spokesman for the senator said it was Simpson that had insisted “that the transcript be kept confidential,” adding that an invitation for Simpson to testify in public “remains on the table.”

"Senator Grassley provided Fusion GPS an opportunity for transparency six months ago when he invited the firm to publicly testify at an open committee hearing. Mr. Simpson declined," said Grassley spokesman Taylor Foy in a statement.

"When faced with a subpoena from the Chairman and Ranking Member, Mr. Simpson refused to provide public testimony, using his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to negotiate for a closed-door interview," he added. 

Grassley said in August that he believed the transcripts would ultimately be released, while cautioning that "it takes a long time for the court reporter to get it ready to go."

Fusion GPS has been a target of scrutiny for months, with Republican lawmakers questioning whether the firm's dossier was the spark for the FBI's investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The firm had mostly stayed silent in the face of those attacks, but it appears to be going on the offensive now that the integrity of the FBI's work is being questioned on Capitol Hill.

A lawyer for Simpson in a statement Wednesday said his client had already submitted himself to a long interview with Grassley's panel and emphasized that the committee should release the transcript.

“The Chairman’s office misstates the history of Mr. Simpson’s cooperation with its investigation,” said Fusion GPS attorney Joshua Levy in a statement.

"Should the Committee choose to release his testimony, the public will see a 300-page transcript covering 10 hours of questions and answers," he added.

Levy also suggested the chairman is singling out Simpson, asking why Grassley has not sought to subpoena Donald Trump Jr.Donald (Don) John TrumpCould President Trump's talk of a 'red wave' cause his supporters to stay home in midterms? Trump Jr. defends James Woods over Twitter lockout: 'The bias continues!' Goldstone regrets setting up Trump Tower meeting with Russians MORE, former Trump campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortDem warns Trump: 'Obstruction of justice' to fire Rosenstein Ex-White House official revises statement to Mueller after Flynn guilty plea: report Former White House lawyer sought to pay Manafort, Gates legal fees: report MORE or other campaign aides.

In response, Foy noted that Trump Jr. already appeared before the panel and that the committee dropped a subpoena against Manafort “at the request of the committee’s minority.”

“Surely, Fusion GPS is not suggesting that committee Democrats are protecting ‘the President’s men,’ ” Foy said. 

Foy also pushed back on the assertion that Fusion GPS complied with the panel's requests, saying they handed over thousands of pages of public news clippings as well as blank pages.

“It has still not responded to dozens of follow-up questions or responded sufficiently to document requests. Without that cooperation, the record is incomplete. And it took a bipartisan subpoena from Chairman Grassley and Ranking Member [Dianne] Feinstein to achieve what little cooperation the committee has received through a transcribed interview,” Foy said in a statement to The Hill.

“Second, it is false that Fusion GPS has ‘consistently supported the release of the transcript’. Mr. Levy is recorded by the court reporter as saying during the interview, ‘We'd like to make a request that it be kept confidential given the sensitivity of the matters discussed today,’” Grassley's spokesman continued.

Foy added that it is "disappointing that the attorneys for Fusion GPS choose to spend their time issuing press statements instead of cooperating with the committee."

Simpson and Fusion GPS were catapulted into the Russia frenzy over their role in the dossier, a compilation of memos containing salacious allegations about Trump's ties to Russia. The firm hired former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele to compile the controversial dossier.

Simpson and Fritsch in the op-ed said they hired Steele to look into why Trump repeatedly sought deals in Russia, "a notoriously corrupt police state that most serious investors shun."

"What came back shocked us. Mr. Steele’s sources in Russia (who were not paid) reported on an extensive — and now confirmed — effort by the Kremlin to help elect Mr. Trump president," they wrote.

Republicans are trying to track down who Steele used as his sources, as well as how the memos have been used in the FBI's probe of Russia's election interference.

Democrats, meanwhile, have accused their GOP colleagues of trying to discredit Steele while arguing they should prioritize investigating whether the dossier's assertions about the Trump are true.

Some of the allegations contained in the memos have been shown to be false, while others have either been supported by public evidence or remain unproven. 

The trail of clients who funded the dossier has also come under intense scrutiny.

Reports revealed that Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee funded the opposition research against her Republican opponent. The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative website, has also acknowledged that it hired Fusion GPS to look into Trump during the 2016 Republican presidential primary before Steele became involved. 

Simpso also appeared before the House Intelligence Committee in November for a voluntary, closed-door interview in which he made the same deal with the Senate Judiciary Committee — maintaining his to right decline to answer the panel's questions.