By Lee Smith
Court filings released last month by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence suggest growing evidence of a pay-to-publish scandal that may shake large parts of the Washington press corps.
At the center of the controversy is the Washington DC-based communications shop Fusion GPS, which assembled and distributed the so-called “Steele dossier.” It’s named after former British spy Christopher Steele, who is believed to have authored the document alleging that Donald Trump and members of his campaign colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election. Steele acknowledges that some of the dossier’s information is sourced to Russian officials, including a “top-level intelligence officer.”
In its other Russia-related work, Fusion GPS engaged in a media campaign opposing a law targeting foreign nationals across the globe for human rights abuses. In its advocacy against the Global Magnitsky Act, a worldwide extension of the U.S. legislation imposing sanctions on Russian officials and other figures associated with the Russian government for their involvement in the detention and death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, Fusion GPS mirrored Kremlin talking points.
Now the court filing from the U.S. district court for DC shows that Fusion GPS paid several journalists, including three who reported on “Russia issues relevant to [the committee’s] investigation,” the House Intelligence Committee said in a court filing.
The documents did not release the names of the journalists and media organization.
How Fusion GPS Used Media Contacts
To understand the role Fusion GPS played in promoting and distributing the Steele dossier as well as the company’s work to undermine the Magnitsky Act, we’ll need a fuller account of Fusion GPS’s relationship with the journalism industry its principals left and then cultivated.
The story starts at the Wall Street Journal, which is taking fire from the rest of the profession, plunging the paper into what some have described as a civil war between its traditionally right-wing editorial page and left-leaning news desk.
“I don’t know a single WSJ alum who’s not agog at where that edit page is heading,” tweeted former Wall Street Journal reporter Neil King, reacting to a Journal editorial calling for the firing of Robert Mueller. “WSJ edit page has gone full bats–t, now hosting an op-ed suggesting Trump pardon everyone, including himself,” tweeted former high-ranking Wall Street Journal editor Bill Grueskin, now a professor at the Columbia School of Journalism.
When the Journal’s Kimberley Strassel wrote on the editorial page that plenty of bombshells are to come in the Trump-Russia narrative—about the FBI, the Democratic National Committee, and Fusion GPS—Journal alums told Politico reporter Jason Schwartz that was all crazy talk. The real story, they suggested, was that News Corp owner Rupert Murdoch had whispered in Journal editor Gerard Baker’s ear that the paper better support Trump or else.
The Journal took the unusual step of responding to the Politico article, chastising the publication for omitting key details—like the fact that King is now employed by Fusion GPS. “Mr. Schwartz,” the editorial continued, “also failed to point out that Mr. King’s wife, Shailagh Murray, also a former Journal reporter, worked in the Obama White House. Perhaps Mr. Schwartz understands that this kind of political incestuousness is so routine in Washington that even to mention it would get him drummed out of the club.”
That is, the Journal suggested the Politicowriter was in on a game whose major players include Fusion GPS and Democratic operatives like Murray, in which the press’s role is to credential the fruits of Fusion GPS’s oppo research as legitimate news stories.
“Our reporting on Fusion GPS is unrelated to where its employees used to work,” Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Paul Gigot wrote me in an email. “We think the story of Russian meddling in the 2016 election is important, and where we differ with the rest of the press corps is that we think the story of Fusion’s ties to Russia and the Steele dossier, as well as the dossier’s influence on the FBI, are also important to investigate. Let’s get the full Russia story.”
Former WSJ Reporters Now Push Russiagate Story
Fusion GPS’s principals—Glenn Simpson, Peter Fritsch, Thomas Catan, and King—are all Journal alumni. Moreover, several other former Journal hands employed throughout the Washington DC press corps to cover the Russiagate beat have teamed with the Fusion four. Because Journal alums played a key role not only in creating the Great Kremlin Conspiracy but also in disseminating it, it is natural that the Journal would find itself in the middle of the story. It appears its newsroom is still influenced by the former staffers driving the Russiagate story.
William Browder, the driving force behind the Magnitsky Act, told me recently about his experience with the Journal’s newsroom and its relationship with the firm four former WSJreporters have founded. “When I was trying to get journalists interested in a story about the role Fusion GPS was playing in trying to undo the Magnitsky Act,” said Browder, “I found that the Wall Street Journal was one of the places where Glenn Simpson and Fusion GPS were deeply entrenched in the newsroom.” Wall Street Journal editor Gerard Baker did not reply to a request for comment on Browder’s assertions.
The Fusion GPS story doesn’t end with the Wall Street Journal. It only started there. Recently The Daily Caller reported on CNN reporter Evan Perez’s ties to Fusion GPS, showing photographs of Perez with Fritsch and King, with whom he shared bylines at the Wall Street Journal before they went to Fusion GPS and he moved to CNN. Perez had the lead byline on CNN’s January 10, 2017 story that broke how four U.S. intelligence chiefs briefed incoming president Trump and outgoing President Obama on the Steele dossier. The CNN story made no mention of Perez’s friends and former colleagues who produced and distributed the dossier that was the subject of the story.
Former WSJ reporter Adam Entous, recently hired by the New Yorker, had the lead byline on the Washington Post article breaking the newsthat Marc Elias, a lawyer from the DC law firm Perkins Coie, hired Fusion GPS to compile an opposition research file on Trump for the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Clinton campaign. After the story broke, New York Times reporters Maggie Haberman and Ken Vogel expressed their professional frustration on Twitter. They were after the story, and someone else nailed it.
“Folks involved in funding this lied about it, and with sanctimony, for a year,” tweetedHaberman. “When I tried to report this story,” wrote Vogel, “Clinton campaign lawyer @marceelias pushed back vigorously, saying ‘You (or your sources) are wrong.’”
So how did the Post get the Clinton campaign, DNC, or Elias to confirm the story? There’s no evidence they did. A former Clinton spokesman told the paper he wasn’t aware Fusion GPS was hired. A DNC spokesperson said the new leadership was not part of the decision-making. “Elias and Fusion GPS,” according to the Post report, “declined to comment on the arrangement.”
That leaves the firm’s principals as Entous’ most likely sources. Why? Because Fusion GPS and its principals had an interest in dumping information to deter the House Permanent Select Committee in Intelligence from successfully subpoenaing the company’s bank records for evidence that Fusion GPS paid journalists. “Entous,” said one veteran journalist familiar with the national security beat, “is tight with Fusion GPS.”
Feeding Friendly Media Anti-Trump Smears
Carol Lee of NBC News is another WSJ alum. At her new job she has worked on Russiagate stories with Ken Dilanian, a reporter Browder believes to be a regular and reliable purveyor of Fusion GPS-manufactured talking points. In September, for instance, Lee and Dilanian broke a story about the June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, which also included Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort.
The network of journalists who take dossiers from Fusion GPS is rich and deep.
Lee and Dilanian reported, “Two sources tell NBC News that Manafort’s smartphone notes from the meeting included the words ‘donations’ in close proximity to the reference to the Republican National Committee.” NBC News was eventually forced to walk back the story when it turned out the word on Manafort’s phone was “donors,” not “donations,” a difference that nullified the thrust of the story, which was to suggest that Russia was funneling money directly to the Trump campaign.
But who fed Lee and Dilanian their story? It seems likely from the list of people at the meeting that their sources included Veselnitskaya herself and another Russian at the meeting, Rinat Akhmetshin—who both had partnered with Fusion GPS to try to undo the Magnitsky Act on behalf of pro-Putin elements. Indeed, Simpson met with Veselnitskayabefore and after her meeting with Trump Jr.—a meeting Simpson says he didn’t know about until it was later reported.
The network of journalists who take dossiers from Fusion GPS is rich and deep, which is how the company manages to seed so many stories around the media and make its money. Others whose tenure at the Wall Street Journal intersected with those of Fusion GPS principals and who have filed numerous stories on the Trump-Russia narrative that originated with Fusion GPS’s “Steele” dossier include, among others, Devlin Barrett and Tom Hamburger of the Washington Post, and Matthew Rosenberg of the New York Times.
Paid Mouthpieces for Unknown Interests
Journalism is hardly the only industry networked not just by the work it produces, but also the values and professional ethic it reproduces. Thus the picture of the American news media that emerges from all this hush-hush, buddy-buddy back and forth isn’t pretty.
With the briefing, Obama’s intelligence chiefs had re-credentialed Fusion GPS’s oppo research as a news story.
Much of the fourth estate, it seems, is a world of Renfields, grotesque courtiers gorging on scraps left at the master’s table: reporters who conceal the for-profit sources that pay them and coordinate campaigns of political warfare with the partisan operatives and intelligence officials they’re supposed to be reporting on; and editors who publish conspiracies drawn from a platform for a Russian-manufactured disinformation operation furnished by former colleagues advocating on behalf of a pro-Kremlin interests to undermine American law. Why have they pushed a narrative based on a dossier that they couldn’t verify? Because they couldn’t abide the results of an American election.
For nearly a year most of the press—with the exception of Yahoo News and Mother Jones—held off from reporting on the dossier because they couldn’t discern how much, if any, of it was true. It was Barack Obama who put it back in play when, as CNN reported, his four intelligence chiefs briefed the newly elected Trump in early January 2017.
“One reason the nation’s intelligence chiefs took the extraordinary step of including the synopsis in the briefing documents was to make the President-elect aware that such allegations involving him are circulating among intelligence agencies,” reported CNN.
No, the point was to provide a pretext for a press that before the election had refrained from publishing the dossier to now put it out in the open. With the briefing, Obama’s intelligence chiefs had re-credentialed Fusion GPS’s oppo research as a news story. Now it was legitimate. Then the feeding frenzy began.
Corrupt Institutions Can’t Stop Corruption
Who knows how editors and journalists justify to themselves promoting a storyline based on a dossier that their journalistic ethics had previously rejected. Maybe they convinced themselves that the fate of the American press, or America itself, actually depended on promoting the dossier to jam a spike in Trump’s wheels. There was really no telling what the mad, press-hating tweeter-in-chief might do once in office.
If it weren’t for the Trump-Russia narrative, maybe digital subscriptions wouldn’t have surged at the Timesand elsewhere over the last quarter.
And if it weren’t for the Trump-Russia narrative, maybe digital subscriptions wouldn’t have surged at the Times and elsewhere over the last quarter. Sure, it would be bad if the tables were turned, and the other side had a noble public servant of its own like Robert Mueller coming after Hillary Clinton on the basis of some “dossier” of hogwash that a Trump donor paid $10 million for then leaked to Steve Bannon at Breitbart —but, well, that’s not happening. Not this time, anyway.
Journalists can try to pretend that none of this actually happened, and that in fact they are all still the heroes of their own imaginations, bravely fighting Nazis and fascists. That the choices they made while playing dress-up are fully justified by Trump’s awfulness, even if they also weakened the badly damaged structures of an institution that for the past century has been central to the American form of government.
Our political institutions, including the press, are designed to check the power that any one group accrues as a consequence of its sociological dynamics, and make it difficult for them to advance their narrow interests, friendships, or whims at the expense of the public. The scandal that now threatens to put a stake through the heart of the media is that it may have been paid to publicize what it knows and has known for more than a year: The Great Kremlin Conspiracy Theory is a hoax.
Lee Smith is the media columnist at Tablet and a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.
WASHINGTON — The Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya who set up Don Trump Jr. for a meeting in Trump Tower as part of a Fusion GPS plot was operating out of the Washington offices of Cozen O’Connor, a law firm run by an anti-Trump former Obama administration official whose super PAC donated to Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush in the 2016 presidential election.
Veselnitskaya’s work from the Cozen O’Connor office provides more evidence of a Democrat and establishment Republican effort to set up the Trump campaign for a future Russian collusion case. Veselnitskaya was allowed into the United States by the Obama Department of Justice while the former Obama official who runs Cozen O’Connor publicly warned then-candidate Trump that if he became president he would be investigated by the DOJ for contacts with foreign leaders. Veselnitskaya reportedly had dinner meetings with Fusion GPS chief Glenn Simpson the day before she met in Trump Tower and also the day after she went inside Trump Tower.
Big League Politics has confirmed that a Cozen O’Connor partner who lives in the same apartment building as James Comey’s friend Daniel Richman — who leaked classified information to the press on Comey’s behalf — spoke with Richman during the period that Comey and the Fusion GPS team were trying to obtain FISA warrants on Trump Tower.
Let’s break down the facts of an Obama administration official’s involvement in the Trump Tower plot:
Russian and U.S. citizen Rinat Akhmetshin, a Soviet military veteran, was present at Veselnitskaya’s meeting with Don Jr. in Trump Tower after leading a lobbying push supposedly to repeal the Magnitsky Act. Akhmestshin is believed by insiders to be linked to Russian government intelligence, a fact that the Washington Post seized on when reporting that he met with Don Jr. and Jared Kushner in Trump Tower. A nonprofit group focused on promoting Akhmetshin and Veselnitskaya’s cause to lawmakers actually hired Cozen O’Connor, which the law firm confirms.
The Washington Post reported (emphasis added):
“In the spring of 2016, as the presidential race was heating up, Akhmetshin and lobbyists he hired sought meetings on Capitol Hill to make their case against the sanctions law. Akhmetshin hired former Democratic congressman Ron Dellums, along with a team of lobbyists from the law firm of Cozen O’Connor.
Steve Pruitt, a business colleague speaking on Dellums’s behalf, said his involvement was brief and ended when he determined that Congress was unlikely to change the law.
In June, after visiting Trump Tower in New York, Veselnitskaya came to Washington to lend a hand in the lobbying effort.
She attended a meeting of the team at the downtown offices of Cozen O’Connor, where she spoke at length in Russian about the issues but confused many in the room, who had not been told previously about her involvement, according to several participants.”
Washington Post passage ends
Cozen O’Connor managing partner Howard Schweitzer is listed here on a DOJ form from an investigation into the breaking of lobbying laws by Russians trying to repeal the Magnitsky Act — which was just a front to get Russians in the room with Don Jr. We know now that Natalia Veselnitskaya was actually operating out of the Cozen O’Connor offices.
Schweitzer worked as general counsel for the Export-Import Bank under George W. Bush and was chief operating officer of the TARP bailout program under both Bush and Obama from 2008-2009.
“In October 2008, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson appointed Howard as the first COO of TARP. In this position, Howard led program execution and built the TARP infrastructure. He served as a key point person regarding the financial crisis through the presidential transition and continued to serve as TARP COO under Secretary Timothy Geithner until August 2009,” reads Schweitzer’s Cozen O’Connor bio.
“He served as chief operating officer of the TARP in the George W. Bush and Obama administrations,” reads Schweitzer’s bio for a Politico piece he wrote in August 2016 headlined “7 Reasons Why Trump Would Hate Being President.”
Schweitzer’s virulently anti-Trump piece for Politico tries to make the case that Trump was “sabotaging his own bid for the White House.” Schweitzer said that if Trump became president then “He’ll be investigated to death” by Congress and the Justice Department for his business dealings and “relationships with foreign leaders.”
The narrative was being set.
The Philadelphia-based Cozen O’Connor law firm also has a political action committee that donated to Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election, in addition to Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, John Kasich, and Martin O’Malley. In the 2018 election cycle, the Cozen O’Connor PAC donated more money to Hillary Clinton’s dormant campaign.
Here is Veselnitskaya seated behind Obama ambassador to Russia Mike McFaul at a June 2016 congressional hearing focused on Russia.
Cozen O’Connor’s connections to the anti-Trump “Operation Crossfire Hurricane” plot are wide-ranging, and show up in unexpected places.
James Comey’s friend, Columbia University professor Daniel Richman, leaked classified information that Comey gave him. During this leaking period, Richman was apartment-building neighbors with a partner at the Cozen O’Connor law firm that strategized with Fusion GPS operative Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian plant who set up Don Jr. in Trump Tower.
Veselnitskaya and Fusion GPS, led by Glenn Simpson, were part of John Brennan and Peter Strzok’s CIA-led “Operation Crossfire Hurricane” plot aimed at President Donald Trump and the Trump campaign.
“Yes, he is my neighbor,” Amy Wenzel, a partner at Cozen O’Connor, confirmed in a phone conversation with Big League Politics, confirming that they spoke. They live near each other in a Brooklyn high-rise.
The Washington Post’s release of Trump Tower documents shows the crowd surrounding non-sexual honeypot Natalia Veselnitskaya. The crowd of conspirators knew they were damaging Trump by setting up the meeting.
The Post confirms British-citizen music promoter Rob Goldstone’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, in which he described the conspirators’ push to get the meeting despite the fact that they knew it would create trouble for the Trump campaign.
“Rob Goldstone told the committee that his client, the Russian pop star and developer Emin Agalarov, had insisted he help set up the meeting between President Trump’s son and the lawyer during the campaign to pass along material on Clinton, overriding Goldstone’s own warnings that the meeting would be a bad idea.
“He said, ‘it doesn’t matter. You just have to get the meeting,’ ” Goldstone, a British citizen, testified.
The intensity with which Agalarov and his father, the billionaire Aras Agalarov, sought the Trump Tower meeting, which has become a key point of scrutiny for congressional inquiries and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, was revealed in more than 2,500 pages of congressional testimony and exhibits released by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday morning.”
Washington Post passage ends
Natalia Veselnitskaya is also inextricably linked to the case against Paul Manafort.
The Russian attorney partner of Paul Manafort who was named as a defendant in new Robert Mueller charges is also linked to the Russian spy Natalia Vesenilskaya, who attended a meeting with Don Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner in Trump Tower.
According to Mueller’s new charges, Manafort’s Russian partner Konstantin Kilimnik tried to intimidate or coerce witnesses in Manafort’s upcoming money laundering trial. That puts Konstantin Kilimnik at the center of the Mueller effort to find obstruction of justice in Trump-World (Mueller is giving himself until September 1 to try to find obstruction of justice, after finding no Russian collusion involving Trump).
So who is Konstantine Kilimnik? It turns out that Kilimnik is linked to Veselnitskaya, the Fusion GPS agent, according to Senate documents.
Here is how ProPublica described Kilimnik: “Konstantin Kilimnik: Manafort, who worked for the pro-Russian party in Ukraine before running Trump’s campaign, had an employee in Kiev named Konstantin Kilimnik who U.S. and Ukrainian authorities have suspected of having ties to Russian intelligence, according to Politico. Kilimnik served in the Russian army and learned English at a school that experts say often trains spies. Kilimnik denied being a spy to The Washington Post. Manafort had dinner with Kilimnik last August in New York, just before he was forced out of the Trump campaign amid growing questions about his work in the Ukraine, the Post reported.”
Documents reveal Kilimnik’s ties to Veselniskaya. Let’s take a look at United States Senate Judiciary Committee documents questioning Veselniskaya in October. Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley and Ranking Member Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked Veselniskaya if she knew a handful of characters believed to be conspirators in the case.
Grassley and Feinstein specifically asked Veselnitskaya if she knew Konstantin Kilimnik.
Here is page 4 of the documents, naming Kilimnik:
Current Attorney General Jeff Sessions was a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee as senator from Alabama.
Veselnitskaya’s meeting with Don Jr. in Trump Tower provided some of the basis for warrants to surveil Trump Tower and for other FBI surveillance measures on the Trump campaign.
The fact that Veselnitskaya, a lawyer herself, was in the meeting with Trump Jr. and Kushner opened the president’s son and son-in-law up to being qualified as “target associations” for law enforcement under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, passed during the Bush administration.
Veselniskaya’s link to suspected conspirator Kilimnik is now coming under scrutiny.
Patrick Howley is the founder and editor-in-chief of Big League Politics. He previously served as Lead Hillary Clinton Reporter for Breitbart News during the 2016 election, where his coverage of the Clinton email scandal drove the national news cycle. In his years reporting in Washington, he has appeared on Fox News, Fox Business, C-Span, Newsmax TV, One America News, Sky News, BBC Radio, and The Alex Jones Show.
Fusion GPS *Still* Taking Money From Secret Donors For Trump-Russia Witch Hunt
THE CHARACTER ASSASSINATION SERVICE: FUSION GPS, SHOULD BE ILLEGAL TO OPERATE
by Joshua Caplan Comments
Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm behind the discredited Steele dossier, is still investigating alleged ties between President Trump and Russia, reports Fox News contributor Sara A. Carter.
Sara Carter reports:
What’s not known is who is paying for the continuing research? Fusion GPS officials could not be reached immediately for comment. […]
Rep. Ron DeSantis, a Florida Republican and Chairman of the National Security Subcommittee, sent a letter last week to House Speaker Paul Ryan, asking him to direct Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes , R-CA to declassify documents given to the committee related to the dossier. […]
DeSantis told this reporter that releasing the information on the dossier and the classified FISA applications is the first step in getting the truth to the public.
“Congress needs to determine the role played by Fusion GPS in the Russia matter and that includes any current Fusion activity,” said DeSantis.
Congressional investigators probing the origins of the Steele dossier have set their sights on a brand new target — The Obama State Department.
Were Obama State Department officials responsible for spreading discredited tidbits compiled in the dossier through the media? Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes may soon find out.
Byron York of the Washington Examiner reports the Obama State Department is now being probed as to whether or not they had a hand in the dossier. York notes Steele was viewed inside the Obama State Department as a valuable source for intelligence on all things Russia. Obama State officials made a habit of disseminating reports the former British spy authored for private clients around the Department.
Last week, Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson’s explosive testimony was released by ranking Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). The lawmaker claimed she was ‘pressured’ to release the transcript. Feinstein said a ‘bad cold’ led to her decision to unilaterally release the transcript. However, it was Fusion GPS’s lawyers that demanded the documents be released, reports the Daily Caller.