Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinFederal watchdog calls on Congress, Energy Dept. to overhaul nuclear waste storage process Senate advances Biden consumer bureau pick after panel logjam Republicans caught in California's recall trap MORE (Calif.), the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Tuesday unilaterally released more than 300 pages documenting an interview the panel conducted in August with the founder of the opposition research firm that commissioned a controversial dossier on President TrumpDonald TrumpTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Schumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe MORE.
In that interview, Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson said the dossier’s author, a former British intelligence officer named Christopher Steele, told him that the FBI already had “other intelligence” backing up claims in the dossier when he met with an agent in September.
The document has been a partisan flashpoint in the congressional investigations into Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election, with some Republicans suggesting that the bureau may have used unverified information to launch a baseless investigation into Trump.
Here are five takeaways from Simpson’s 10-hour testimony.
Simpson defends veracity of the dossier
The salacious details included in the dossier have become a partisan flashpoint in the debate over whether Trump campaign officials had improper contacts with Russia.
The dossiers’ supporters have pointed to confirmed details — like a meeting that former Trump adviser Carter Page had in Moscow — to argue that it gives credibility to the document as a whole.
Republicans argue that the dossier was funded by Democrats and includes wild accusations about sexual impropriety by Trump. The core claims of collusion and corruption have not been borne out by the special investigation at this point, they say.
Simpson was clear about what side of the debate he’s on, describing Steele as a “boy scout” who “delivered quality work in very appropriate ways.”
“This is his specialty,” Simpson said.
But while Simpson described his own opposition research work as dealing with hard facts laid out in public records and court filings, he acknowledged that Steele’s endeavors were more subjective and murky and open to interpretation.
“When you evaluate human intelligence, human reporting, field reporting, source reporting, you know, it’s sort of like when you’re a journalist and you’re trying to figure out who’s telling the truth,” he said. “You don’t really decide who’s telling the truth. You decide whether the person is credible, whether there’s other reasons to believe what they’re saying, whether anything they’ve said factually matches up with something in public record.”
Steele “severed” relationship with FBI after questionable New York Times story: Simpson
According to Simpson, Steele was so concerned by the possibility that a presidential candidate might be “blackmailed” by Russia that he reached out to the FBI of his own accord to share what he knew was “a security issue.”
Steele first met with the bureau in the first week of July 2016. He later met an agent in Rome in the fall, a trip that the bureau reimbursed. The bureau launched its investigation into the Trump campaign in late July.
But according to Simpson, Steele cut off his contact with the bureau after the Times ran a story in the fall alleging that the Trump campaign was not under investigation. The former spy was concerned that “the FBI was being manipulated for political ends by the Trump people and that we didn't really understand what was going on.”
“So he stopped dealing with them,” Simpson said.
Partisan rift on Judiciary Committee widens
A spokesman for Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyCongress facing shutdown, debt crisis with no plan B Biden confronts sinking poll numbers Congress needs to push for more accountability in gymnasts' tragic sex abuse MORE (R-Iowa) immediately blasted the release of the transcript as “totally confounding,” citing the damage to the ongoing investigation.
“Feinstein’s unilateral decision was made as the committee is still trying to secure testimony from other witnesses, including Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerHouse panel tees up Trump executive privilege fight in Jan. 6 probe The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - US prepares vaccine booster plan House panel probing Jan. 6 attack seeks Trump records MORE,” spokesman Taylor Foy said in a statement. “Her action undermines the integrity of the committee’s oversight work and jeopardizes its ability to secure candid voluntary testimony relating to the independent recollections of future witnesses.”
Feinstein for weeks has been sending out requests for interviews and documents related to the Russia investigation without Grassley’s sign-off, and the incident exposes a new low in a deepening partisan rift on the Judiciary panel.
The panel is the latest bout of partisan infighting in one of the several Capitol Hill committees probing Russian interference.
Criminal referral against Steele remains a mystery
Last week, Grassley and Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump pushes back on book claims, says he spent 'virtually no time' discussing election with Lee, Graham The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden meets with lawmakers amid domestic agenda panic The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - House Democrats plagued by Biden agenda troubles MORE (R-S.C.) asked the Department of Justice to open a criminal investigation into Steele, with Graham accusing the former spy of “shopping this dossier all over the world” while acting as an informant for the FBI.
The referral appears to suggest that Steele may have misled the FBI. It cites a law prohibiting individuals from lying to federal authorities, asking the Justice Department to probe whether Steele made false statements about “the distribution of claims from the dossier.”
Simpson acknowledged in his testimony that he had Steele brief a small group of reporters on his findings. The briefings took place before the election and after Steele had first reached out to the FBI. He did not provide copies of the memoranda to those journalists.
But what, precisely, Grassley and Graham are accusing Steele of misleading investigators about remains unclear.
A dossier-related death?
The Fusion GPS chief was at one point asked by investigators if he had taken steps to “assess the credibility” of Steele’s sources.
“Yes, but I’m not going to get into sourcing information,” Simpson replied.
When asked why not, Simpson’s lawyer, Joshua Levy, intervened.
“Somebody’s already been killed as a result of the publication of this dossier, and no harm should come to anybody related to this honest work,” Levy said.
In January of 2017, BuzzFeed published the dossier in full, saying that the memo had been circulating in Washington and that in the interests of transparency it would put it online so that the public could decide whether it’s true or not.
Later in his testimony, Simpson again declined to reveal a source associated with the dossier.
“I just don't feel comfortable sharing because obviously it's been in the news a lot lately that people who get in the way of the Russians tend to get hurt,” he said.