In a speech delivered on the Senate floor Wednesday, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) accused the Department of Justice (DOJ) of actively obstructing ongoing congressional oversight of the agency and its probes involving former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s secret e-mail server and President Donald Trump’s alleged illegal campaign coordination with the Russian government.
Grassley said the available evidence suggests that an operation to fund, compile, and distribute a dossier of salacious and unverified allegations against Trump was itself a Russia-influenced scheme to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
“Steele, who was working for Fusion GPS, who was working for the [Democratic National Committee] and the Clinton campaign, was working with the Russians,” Grassley said. “So, who was actually colluding with Russians? It’s becoming more clear.”
Christopher Steele is the British ex-spy who put together the infamous and discredited Donald Trump dossier for Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm funded by the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Clinton presidential campaign, and potentially others. It’s still an open question whether federal intelligence agencies used the dossier as a basis for secret surveillance of people connected to Trump’s presidential campaign.
There is thus far no evidence that any of the substantive allegations of collusion in the dossier have been independently verified by anyone. In British court filings, Steele himself would not even vouch for his dossier’s accuracy, instead claiming that his work product was merely a collection of raw, unverified intelligence transmitted to him by sources in Russia.
Grassley said keeping many aspects of the Steele dossier hidden from the public has enabled the DNC and others to obscure whether Russian officials colluded with American politicians throughout the 2016 campaign. He called for the release of not just the House Intelligence Committee report on alleged abuse of surveillance tools by U.S. law enforcement, which he says the full Senate cannot review pre-release since the information is classified, but also the underlying DOJ documents supporting the House report, with necessary redactions to protect national security.
Grassley said he and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who both sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee, believe that statements Steele has made in public contradict DOJ information unearthed during the course of their investigation. Earlier this month, those contradictions spurred the two senators to refer to DOJ a criminal investigation of Steele for providing false information to federal authorities.
“We saw Mr. Steele swearing one thing in a public libel suit against him in London,” Grassley said. “Then we saw contradictory things in documents that I am not going to talk about in an open setting. And from everything we’ve learned so far, we believe these discrepancies are significant.”
Grassley said DOJ may even be inappropriately using its classification powers to prevent the American public from learning the truth about DOJ’s use of the Steele dossier. According to Grassley, DOJ was objecting to the public release of portions of the Grassley-Graham criminal referral due to a single fact DOJ claims is classified. But the Iowa senator also said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had personally shared that same fact with him “more than once in unsecure space and on an unsecure phone line,” calling into doubt DOJ’s assertion that the information is of such dire importance to national security that it cannot be publicly released.
“If FBI really believed this fact was classified, then the FBI and the Department should take better care to act consistent with that belief,” Grassley said. “Unfortunately, I suspect something else is really going on here. It sure looks like a bureaucratic game of hide the ball, rather than a genuine concern about national security.”
Grassley also complained that the conversation surrounding Steele and his infamous dossier on TV and in the media is sorely lacking in facts, which prohibits Americans from having the information to hold their government accountable.
“Stale, recycled media spin from journalists and pundits who do not have all the facts is not enough,” he said. “The country is filled with frenzy and speculation, but hungry for facts.”