Monday, October 30, 2017

Who made the Trump dossier: Meet the reporters of Fusion GPS

Who made the Trump dossier: Meet the reporters of Fusion GPS: STEEL

What happened with the Trump investigation

In September 2015, the Washington Free Beacon, whose main funder is Republican hedge fund manager Paul Singer — a top bundler who during the campaign cycle publicly endorsed Rubio and became a fierce Trump critic — hired Simpson and Fritsch to look at Trump, according to a person familiar with the investigation. They began with a document dump — collecting all the voluminous legal papers related to Trump's six bankruptcies. Using Pacer, the federal government's repository for legal cases, they began to track lawsuits naming Trump, and companies and people close to him. And they tracked cases and firms to Iceland, the Cayman Islands and Ukraine.
  • Among the key companies that surfaced was Bayrock, a Kazakh- and Russia-connected New York-based real estate firm with an intriguing Trump connection: its former chief operating officer, Felix Sater, was a mob-connected, Russian-born Trump adviser, and former manager of Trump Soho, a later foreclosed condominium project on Spring Street.
  • Help from a former British intelligence agent came in spring 2016, when Simpson and Fritsch sought some more specialized expertise on Russia, and hired an old acquaintance — Christopher Steele, the former premier Russia expert for British intelligence, and now a private investigator. The documents were suggesting that Trump's businesses were heavily weighted to Russia and Russians; could Steele ask around for some details?
Within weeks, though, it became clear to Fusion's client that Trump was going to be the Republican nominee; for the Free Beacon and Singer, there was no use investigating him anymore. Not so much for the Democrats though: Trump now became their clear target, and Perkins Coie, deeply connected to the Democratic Party, became the paying client for the Simpson-Fritsch investigation.
The dossier and a meeting with reporters: What Steele emerged with makes up what is now known as the Trump dossier: a 35-page document of raw intelligence out of Moscow on Trump and his businesses. In September 2016, Fusion summoned reporters from top media organizations. Before them was Steele, visiting the U.S. from London. They introduced him by his credentials, and let him explain what he had found.
  • Among other separate meetings with reporters, Fusion met for two hours with NYT executive editor Dean Baquet and Matt Purdy, the paper's deputy managing editor in charge of investigations, to brief them on their Russia findings.
  • No immediate stories resulted from these meetings, namely because no one could confirm what Steele had written. That is not surprising: the nature of such commercial intelligence reports is to offer up everything of possible interest, with the assumption that next-stage research can either substantiate or knock down the detail. In an email exchange yesterday, Baquet declined to comment on any meetings he and Purdy held with anyone, but added, "I can say without hesitation that we were never told anything reportable about Russia that we held back at any point."
  • Last January, BuzzFeed broke open the story by publishing the dossier. That disclosure focused attention on all of Russia's ties to Trump and his companies and helped get us to where we are today, where indictments are expected tomorrow in the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.
The bottom line: Simpson and Fritsch have moved from behind-the-scenes gumshoes to leading figures in the investigation, as Republican members of the Senate and House say variously that they are lobbyists and instruments of Democratic hate of Trump. In closed congressional hearings, Fritsch invoked his 5th amendment rights so as not to disclose what he said was confidential information involving Fusion clients. I have no inside information on this but it can't be bad for business.

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