In April, when the special counsel’s report on Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election was released to the public, a glaring omission quickly made clear indicating Robert Mueller was either incompetent or a political hack. As I wrote at the time: “Not once in the 448-page tome does Mueller mention an investigation into whether Russia interfered with the U.S. presidential election by feeding dossier author Christopher Steele misinformation.”
Today’s release of Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch’s book on the Steele dossier, “Crime in Progress: Inside the Steele Dossier and the Fusion GPS Investigation of Donald Trump,” has put the former MI6’s collection of anti-Trump memoranda back in the news. The renewed focus on the Steele dossier are cementing the case that the special counsel probe served as a taxpayer-funded political hit on President Trump and not a true investigation into Russia’s election interference.
A Serious Investigation Would Have Included the Dossier
Former Wall Street Journal reporters who co-founded Fusion GPS, Simpson and Fritsch appeared Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” The bit was intended as a PR push to increase sales for their new book on Steele. Whether the media blitz that began in stride over the weekend will prove successful is unclear. But one thing the interview made clear is that a serious investigation into Russia’s interference in our elections would have focused on the Steele dossier.
This point became evident when host Chuck Todd confronted the Fusion founders with a video of the impeachment testimony of Fiona Hill. Hill, an expert on Europe and Russia and a former member of Trump’s National Security Council, testified that the Steele dossier was a “rabbit hole” and “very likely” contained Russian disinformation. Hill also testified that she “thought he got played.”
Simpson responded that Hill is entitled to her opinion and that while Hill is a Russia expert, she is not a disinformation specialist, like Steele. The Fusion GPS founders sought to further bolster Steele’s work during the interview by stressing that he ran the Russian desk for MI6. “This is one of the most capable and one of the most knowledgeable experts on Russia in the world today,” Fritsch said, adding that Steele “spent a lot of time going through the dossier to separate information from disinformation, credible facts from non-credible facts.”
That Fusion GPS continues to sell the dossier and Steele as solid is baffling. After all, the dossier got a pretty straightforward and easily verified (or refuted) detail wrong—that Michael Cohen was in Prague in August of 2016. Steele also bought into the “pee tapes” scene painted by the Russian sources. So much for separating “information from disinformation” and “credible facts from non-credible facts.”
Mueller Was Curiously Uninterested in Steele
Given that “one of the most knowledgeable experts on Russia in the world today” got these facts (and others) wrong, the question remains: Why? Was Steele pushing a disinformation campaign on behalf of Hillary Clinton in his dossier? Or was Steele “played” by the Russians, as Hill thought?
It’s hard to know. But you know who should have found out? Robert Mueller!
Yet, as I wrote shortly after the release of the special council’s report: “Even though Mueller was authorized, as he put it in the special counsel report, to investigate ‘the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election,’ the report is silent of efforts to investigate Russia’s role in feeding Steele misinformation.”
Hill made this same point in her closed-door deposition testimony before the House Intelligence Committee last month. During her October appearance before that Democratic-controlled Committee, Rep. Jim Jordan asked Hill whether she though the Steele dossier was Russian propaganda.
The Russian expert said that she was not “in a position to assess that,” but “that I felt that it [should] also be looked at and investigated.” Hill added that she believed “that the Mueller report and Mr. Mueller and his team did look at some of this information.”
But Hill then noted that she would “have much preferred to see . . . [the] Mueller report focusing at the outset on what was in [the Steele] dossier that the Russians were doing and then, as the course of that, following the ‘investigative leads, which, you did in any case to find out what doors were opened for them into our political system.”
Was Steele Played by the Russians?
While Mueller ignored these questions, in her deposition testimony Hill also expanded on why she believed Steele had been “played” by the Russians. After seeing the dossier in BuzzFeed, “I expressed the misgivings and concern that he could have been played,” Hill told the House Committee.
“If you also think about it,” the Russian expert explained, “the Russians would have an ax to grind against [Steele] given the job that he had previously. And if he started going back through his old contacts and asking about, that would be a perfect opportunity for people to feed some kind of misinformation. He’s obviously out there soliciting information. What a great opportunity to, basically, you know, present him with information that he’s looking for that can be couched—some truth and some misinformation.”
Hill then illustrated how this works by explaining that when she was working on a book, her phone was hacked repeatedly and that it became clear that a draft of her manuscript had been accessed. “After this, I started to get emails from people who purported to have met me at different points in my career. . . . And they’d start offering me information, you know, that somehow pertained to, strangely enough, some of the chapters that I was actually working on.”
They were trying to play me, Hill explained to the House Intelligence Community, and from her testimony that’s what Hill believed the Russians had done to Steele. But after nearly two years and more than $30 million wasted, Mueller’s team didn’t even consider these questions.
Mueller Didn’t Only Ignore Steele
While the absence of any discussion concerning whether Steele had been played by the Russians was an obvious omission in the special counsel report, Simpson and Fritsch’s Sunday sit-down with Todd revealed another area of inquiry ignored by Mueller’s crack team.
In that interview, Todd quizzed the Fusion GPS founders about Natalia Veselnitskaya. Veselnitskaya is a former Russian prosecutor who served as a lawyer for the Russian company Prevezon. After the DOJ instituted a civil forfeiture case against Prevezon in New York, Veselnitskaya hired an American law firm to represent her client. In turn, the American law firm hired Fusion GPS to assist in their representation of Prevezon.
As Todd noted in last weekend’s “Meet the Press” interview, Simpson saw Veselnitskaya on the same day as the “infamous Trump Tower meeting.” That was the June 2016 meeting which Trump Jr., Jared Kushner (Trump’s son-in-law), and then-Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort attended in hopes of obtaining “some information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia.” And the supposed source of that information? The same Veselnitskaya.
The promised dirt, however, merely served as “a pretext to provide Veselnitskaya access to Trump Jr. so she could lobby against the Magnitsky Act—a law establishing sanctions against Russian human rights abusers—and to discuss Russian adoptions.” Yet Veselnitskaya’s connection with Fusion GPS and the fact that the evening before the Trump Tower meeting she had dinner with Simpson and then dined with him again after the Trump Tower meeting seems entirely too coincidental.
Was Veselnitskaya Playing Simpson?
Simpson has long maintained that he did not know of the Trump Tower meeting and had never discussed with Veselnitskaya Fusion GPS’s investigation into Trump. He repeated that claim on Sunday, prompting Todd to note, “You even write in the book that now you’re starting to wonder that maybe you were drawn in and worked in a way,” by Veselnitskaya.
If Simpson truly did not know of the Trump Tower meeting and Veselnitskaya’s efforts to meet with Trump Jr., his reaction makes sense. Maybe Veselnitskaya was playing Simpson.
And you know who else should have pondered Veselnitskaya’s connection to Simpson and Fusion GPS? Robert Mueller!
Yet for all the investigation into the Trump Tower meeting and for all the many references to Veselnitskaya in the special counsel report, no mention is made of this dual role. There is also no suggestion that Mueller’s team even considered the possibility that Veselnitskaya was somehow “working Fusion GPS” while other Russians were “playing Steele,” with the possible goal being to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
Notwithstanding Mueller’s incompetence or partisanship, we may nonetheless find out the truth when the various Department of Justice investigations into the Russia collusion hoax conclude. We may also learn more about what Mueller did—and did not—deign to investigate, as shortly after his confirmation, Attorney General William Barr told the Senate Judiciary committee that he was also reviewing the special counsel investigation to determine what the special counsel looked at.
The public and the legacy press may have forgotten that pledge, but here’s hoping Barr hasn’t.