In a lengthy letter to the inspector general of the Department of Justice (DOJ), two key senators demanded answers on whether anti-Trump dossier author Christopher Steele was ever paid by the Russian government or other Russian sources. The letter from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked Michael E. Horowitz, the DOJ inspector general, for answers to 31 sets of detailed questions related to DOJ’s handling of various Russia-related probes in 2016 and 2017.
“What connections are there between Mr. Steele and the Russian government or Russian intelligence community?” the senators asked. “Has Mr. Steele ever been paid directly or indirectly by the Russian government, Russian intelligence community, or other Russian sources?”
Steele is the former British intelligence agent hired by Democrat research firm Fusion GPS on behalf of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign. Concerns about Steele’s relationship to questionable Russian figures were initially raised after encrypted text messages between Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Adam Waldman, a registered foreign agent for Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, were leaked to the media. In those texts, Waldman repeatedly tried to broker access between Steele and Warner, who serves as the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. It is unclear why a registered foreign agent for a Russian oligarch would be running interference on Steele’s behalf.
As The Federalist reported last month, during interactions between Warner and Waldman, which included encrypted messages, phone calls, and private, in-person meetings, Waldman offered Warner access not just to Steele but also Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks who has been holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London since 2012 and whom Hillary Clinton described as “a tool of Russian intelligence.”
“Chris Steele asked me to call you,” Waldman wrote to Warner on March 16, 2017, sparking a conversation about how Warner could get access to Steele, a key witness in an ongoing congressional investigation. Waldman, who collected nearly $1.1 million from Deripaska in 2016 and 2017, also sought to put Warner in touch with Daniel Jones, a controversial former Senate staffer who is directing Fusion GPS’s post-election dossier vindication operation.
The letter to DOJ from Graham and Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, appears to be the first formal demand of the DOJ inspector general to disclose whether the author of a dossier that alleged nefarious connections between Donald Trump and the Russians was himself a tool of the Russian government, its intelligence community, or its oligarch allies.
Fusion GPS, a firm the Clinton campaign hired through its lawyers, also has well-known ties to shady Russian firms and officials, as it was hired on behalf of a Russian firm accused of evading U.S. sanctions. Bill Browder is a well-known anti-Putin whistleblower and activist whose attorney, Sergei Magnitsky, was killed in Russian custody, leading to the U.S. enactment of sanctions against Russia. He has accused Fusion GPS of illegally serving as an unregistered foreign agent for Russian individuals and institutions.
In a Senate hearing in July of 2017, Browder repeated the accusation and testified that Fusion GPS was receiving money from Russian sources.
“The group that did the dossier on President Trump hired this British spy, wound up getting it to the FBI,” Graham said to Browder during the hearing. “You believe they were working for the Russians?”
“And in the spring and summer of 2016 they were receiving money indirectly from a senior Russian government official,” Browder replied.
Months earlier, in May 2017, Graham similarly asked former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey whether Fusion GPS, which hired Steele to produce his dossier of allegations against Trump, was itself a Russian operation. Comey repeatedly refused to deny that Fusion GPS was working on behalf of Russian sources during the presidential campaign:
Graham: Are you familiar with Fusion?
Comey: I know the name.
Graham: Are they part of the Russian intelligence apparatus?
Comey: I can’t say.
Graham: Do you agree with me that if Fusion was involved in preparing a dossier against Donald Trump, that would be interfering in our election by the Russians?
Comey: I don’t want to say.
In February, Grassley sent a letter to Paul Hauser, an attorney for Deripaska, asking whether Hauser was aware of “any business or financial relationships between Mr. Steele and Russian government officials, Russian oligarchs, or Russian businesses.” Grassley’s office did not respond when asked by The Federalist if Hauser had replied to this inquiry.