'Steele dossier' firm suspected Trump-Russia money laundering

In more than 150 pages of testimony released by the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday, Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of the firm behind the so-called “Steele dossier,” alleged a constellation of business deals that he said suggested the Russians could be laundering money through then-candidate Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpAvenatti ‘still considering’ presidential run despite domestic violence arrest Mulvaney positioning himself to be Commerce Secretary: report Kasich: Wouldn’t want presidential run to ‘diminish my voice’ MORE

Simpson stopped short of saying the firm had found definitive proof of such dealings, telling investigators that, “evidence, I think, is a strong word.”

Some of Trump’s dealings, Simpson told lawmakers, showed “patterns of buying and selling that we thought were suggestive of money laundering.” 

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The testimony is likely to reinforce battle lines surrounding the dossier, a compendium of opposition research memos compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele as part of the firm’s research into the real estate mogul.

Some of the allegations in the memos have been disproven, and Republicans have largely argued that the document is a politically motivated hit job on the president. 

Democrats, meanwhile, have argued that the dossier could provide the framework for meaningful inquiry into Trump’s alleged ties to Russia, citing Steele’s credibility in the intelligence community. Other elements of the dossier have been confirmed and supporters of the document say it broadly describes an observable pattern of concerning contacts between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

Simpson’s firm, Fusion GPS, was contracted initially by the conservative organization Washington Free Beacon and later by the law firm Perkins Coie acting on behalf of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), as he confirmed in his testimony to the Intelligence Committee.

The testimony provided a handful of new details about the production of the dossier.

Simpson told investigators that, to his knowledge, Steele did not pay any of his sources for the memos.

He revealed that Fusion was paid about $50,000 a month by Perkins Coie, a fee he described as a flat rate. Steele was paid $160,000 he said, with an original engagement of about $20,000 to $30,000. 

Democrats immediately used the release of the transcript to urge further investigation of what Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffHeads up, GOP: Elections have consequences Top Dems: DOJ position on Whitaker appointment 'fatally flawed' House Dems launching probe into Whitaker's role in company government deemed a 'scam' MORE (D-Calif.) described as “serious allegations that the Trump Organization may have engaged in money laundering with Russian nationals.”

“Thus far, Committee Republicans have refused to look into this key area and we hope the release of this transcript will reinforce the importance of these critical questions to our investigation,” Schiff said.

Rep. Mike ConawayKenneth (Mike) Michael ConawayMcCarthy defeats Jordan for minority leader in 159-to-43 vote House GOP returns to Washington after sobering midterm losses Lawmakers fail to pass annual intel bill after key Dem objects MORE (R-Texas), who is leading the investigation, declined to comment through a spokesperson.

Some committee Republicans, including chairman Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesHeads up, GOP: Elections have consequences Overnight Energy: Trump, California leaders clash over fires | Trump says oil prices should be 'much lower' | Zinke criticizes media coverage | Officials consider new truck pollution rule Trump, California battle over climate and cause of fires MORE (R-Calif.), have consistently said they have seen no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. The interview with Simpson took place in November. 

Simpson pointed to a series of Trump’s business dealings that he viewed as particularly suspicious, suggesting that some of his previous property sales could have potentially been used as leverage against him. 

“Generally speaking, the patterns of activity that we thought might be suggestive of money laundering were, you know, fast turnover deals and deals where there seemed to have been efforts to disguise the identity of the buyer,” Simpson told the lawmakers. 

Those patterns, Simpson said, first came to his attention when the project was funded by the Washington Free Beacon.

Simpson suggested that the business mogul did deals with Russian oligarchs, who doubled as mafia members, who remain largely under the control of Putin.

“If people who seem to be associated with the Russian mafia are buying Trump properties or arranging for other people to buy Trump properties, it does raise a question about whether they're doing it on behalf of the government," he continued.

The document is the second congressional interview with Simpson to be released to the public. The top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinTop Dems: DOJ position on Whitaker appointment 'fatally flawed' Congress needs to wake up to nuclear security threat Democrats in murky legal water with Whitaker lawsuits MORE (D-Calif.), earlier in the month bypassed Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to release the transcript of that committee’s 10-hour interview with Simpson.

In the Intelligence Committee testimony, as in the Senate document, Simpson put forward a full-throated defense of Fusion’s work, and described the decision by Steele to brief the FBI on his findings out of “a citizenship obligation.”

The release of the transcript comes as the political fight over the dossier continues to roil Capitol Hill. Some Republicans have suggested that the bureau inappropriately used the dossier — once described by former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyFeinstein requests Senate hearings with Whitaker, Sessions If Mueller were fired, could he — would he — go public? The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Trump says Florida races should be called for GOP | Latest on California wildfires | Congress set for dramatic lame duck MORE as “salacious and unverified” — as the sole basis for the federal investigation into possible Trump campaign ties to Russia.

Earlier this month, Grassley and Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham: Trump’s new AG has ‘concerns’ about criminal justice bill Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Border deployment 'peaked' at 5,800 troops | Trump sanctions 17 Saudis over Khashoggi killing | Senators offer bill to press Trump on Saudis | Paul effort to block Bahrain arms sale fails Senators introduce Trump-backed criminal justice bill 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.