In a letter to the House Intelligence Committee on Monday, an opposition research firm behind an infamous dossier about then-candidate Donald Trump said it refuses to comply with subpoenas for testimony and documents that were issued earlier this month by the committee. Compiled by a former British intelligence operative for opposition research firm Fusion GPS, it discusses supposed Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The unproven dossier has been embraced by progressives to appoint an independent commission to investigate President Donald Trump’s ties with Russian officials. President Trump has denounced the dossier as "fake news" and "phony."
According to the testimony in July of William Browder to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and other reports, Fusion GPS was hired by Russians to defend Russian government officials from allegations of fraud. Fusion GPS was also employed by Russians to fight against the Magnitsky Act and has worked on issues with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, whose meeting with Donald Trump Jr. during the campaign has also come under scrutiny. Fusion GPS has ties to the Democratic party and Democrats, and was retained by Planned Parenthood.
‘Violates the First Amendment’
Attorney Joshua Levy is leading the legal team representing Fusion GPS. In the letter, Fusion’s legal counsels said that the subpoena violates the First Amendment and would force the firm to violate attorney-client privilege and contractual obligations. Levy wrote that by forcing Fusion to comply, the committee would thereby “chill any American running for office” from conducting political opposition research. “We cannot in good conscience do anything but advise our clients to stand on their constitutional privileges, the attorney work product doctrine and contractual obligations,” wrote Levy to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), who chairs the committee.
The subpoena demanded testimony from Fusion GPS co-founders Glenn Simpson, Tom Catan, and Peter Fritsch. Levy vowed that they will not testify. “Should you compel any of our three clients to appear at the scheduled deposition, they will invoke their constitutional privileges not to testify,” Levy wrote.
Levy argued that Nunes, who recused himself from the Russia probe in April after briefing Trump and reporters on classified intelligence, had violated his recusal and undermined the legitimacy of the investigation by issuing the subpoenas. “Based on this Committee’s bad faith interactions with the undersigned counsel and its pattern of unprofessional conduct exhibited during different points throughout this investigation, you have left us with no choice but to advise our clients to assert their privileges in the face of these subpoenas,” Levy wrote.
“Despite your recusal from the Committee’s Russia investigation after falling under scrutiny by the House Ethics Committee, your unilateral issuance of these subpoenas violates your recusal and further undermines the legitimacy of this investigation,” the letter said. The letter asserts that the subpoenas may have included instructions for the CIA instead of Fusion GPS, which according to the lawyers for Fusion GPS shows Nunes’ “haste to circumvent your own Committee’s investigation, rules, process and Ranking Member.”
“The subpoenas here seek to expose the confidential internal records of an organization involved in political activity merely to harass a group whose work you as Chairman want to discredit for political reasons,” the lawyers said.
Who hired Christopher Steele?
It was at the request of an unidentified anti-Trump Republican that Fusion GPS began an investigation of Trump’s activities. Once Trump won the Republican presidential nomination, it was then that an unidentified Democrat, an ally of Hillary Clinton, who hired the firm. Fusion GPS then hired a former British intelligence operative, Christopher Steele, to look into Trump. What resulted was the uncorroborated dossier, which contains lurid accounts alleged sexual romps by Trump in a Moscow hotel, among other issues. Among the various accusations contained in the dossier was the following: "Kremlin had been feeding Trump and his team valuable intelligence on his opponents, including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, for several years...The Kremlin's cultivation operation on Trump also had comprised offering him various lucrative real estate development business deals in Russia, especially in relation to the ongoing 2018 World Cup soccer tournament. However, so far, for reasons unknown, Trump had not taken up any of these."
Fusion GPS will not speak to Congress
In August, Fusion GPS first ignored congressional subpoenas relating to the dossier. The Senate Judiciary Committee is investigating aspects of the dossier, which was made public on January 10. Glenn Simpson at first refused to testify, but eventually agreed to a closed door session on August 22. In a statement the firm released in July, Fusion GPS declared, "Let's be clear about what's really happening: the President's political allies are targeting Fusion GPS because the firm was reported to be the first to raise the alarm over (the) Trump campaign's links to Russia." Documents that Fusion GPS eventually turned over to the Senate Judiciary Committee consisted mostly of news clippings, and were deemed useless.
Nunes and Senate Judiciary Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) have pushed Fusion GPS to identify its clients, and whether federal investigators relied on the dossier in forming the basis of supposed collusion by Trump’s associates with Russian officials. Grassley has expressed concern that the FBI used on the dossier in order to start its investigation into the Trump campaign.
Federal government officials have reportedly cited the dossier when they applied for a warrant before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court against Carter Page, a former adviser to Trump. There are also reports that the FBI agreed to pay $50,000 to Steele to continue his Trump investigation. While Grassley has asked the bureau for information about that agreement, that information has yet to be submitted.
Steele says dossier is ‘unverified’
Steele himself said in a court filing that the dossier is unverified and blamed Buzzfeed for publicizing it. In April, he said that that he was betrayed by his client and that he followed proper channels by giving it to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) to alert the U.S. government.
Democrats have accused Republicans of smearing Fusion GPS and Steele to divert attention away from Trump. Republicans, for their part, question why Democrats now appear reluctant to find out if the notorious dossier was or was not vetted by the FBI. According to The Daily Caller, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) -- who sits on the House Intelligence Committee -- said, “...it is relevant to ask whether or not a law enforcement agency relied on this dossier -- or any evidence -- without vetting it.”
Mueller interviews Christopher Steele
British operative Steele reportedly met with representatives of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is probing Russian election meddling. According to CNN, the meeting took place this summer in Europe. According to CNN, the intelligence community and law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and CIA -- took the Steele report seriously enough to exclude it from the report on Russian political interference that was published in January in order to conceal which allegations had been corroborated and how. Last week, there were reports that Mueller had taken over the probe on the dossier from the FBI.
Rachel Maddow: Steele claims he offered to testify to GOP senators
While leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee claimed that they had “hit a wall” with Steele, who had refused to be interviewed. Chairman Sen. Richard Burr, a Republican, said the committee had tried many times to meet Steele but had been turned down. However, on October 6, Rachel Maddow of MSNBC said that she had learned that Steele had offered to meet with Burr and other members of the committee. Meanwhile, three Russian businessmen named in the Steele dossier have filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Washington against Fusion GPS for libel. The three men -- Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven, and German Khan - claimed that the dossier has been “gravely damaging” to them. The same men filed a libel suit in a New York state court in May against BuzzFeed, which published the dossier.