President Trump attacked “sneaky” Sen.
President Trump attacked “sneaky” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Wednesday as Republicans furiously beat back at suggestions that testimony from the founder of Fusion GPS undermined their claims that the FBI had improperly used a controversial dossier to launch an investigation into Trump and his officials. Trump said Feinstein’s decision to unilaterally release the transcript of Glenn Simpson’s closed-door testimony about allegations detailed in an opposition research memo was “underhanded” and “possibly illegal.” While Feinstein’s release of the material was unexpected and unorthodox, Republicans did not back up Trump’s assertion that she may have broken the law. Rather, the president’s allies argued that Simpson’s testimony did nothing to undercut their core claim that the FBI had used the dossier — compiled by British spy Christopher Steele and paid for in part by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton ’s campaign — to investigate Trump and possibly to secure a FISA warrant to spy on Trump officials during the campaign and transition. “Steele talked to the FBI in July of 2016, so whether they had the full dossier at that point or just initial installments, it looks like the dossier was at least a significant part of securing the FISA warrant,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said in a phone interview. In his testimony, Simpson told lawmakers that Steele had became so alarmed by his investigation into Trump that he took his findings to the FBI, only to be told that law enforcement officials had already begun investigating Trump and his campaign officials. Republicans called Simpson’s claims nonsense and pointed to his own testimony to discredit it. Simpson said Steele contacted the FBI in the first week of July 2016. Former FBI director James Comey has testified the FBI investigation started in late July. Democrats responded by declaring that Simpson’s testimony bolstered allegations in the dossier, which Comey previously dismissed as “salacious and unverified.” And they rallied around Steele, a week after Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Lindsey Graham (R-S. C.) referred the former MI6 agent to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation. “Christopher Steele was acting in the best interests of the country in reporting this information to the FBI and his reward is having a couple of the GOP senators call for him to be investigated,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, told The Hill. “By all accounts, [Steele] is a very well respected former British intelligence officer, and I think he certainly expected that the raw intelligence he was gathering would be vetted but felt the need to report it.”
Republicans have mined Simpson’s testimony for new lines of attack aimed at discrediting the dossier, alleging the FBI and Democratic political operatives worked hand-in-hand to tar Trump and those around him with allegations of corruption and collusion involving the Russians. Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) told The Hill that it’s possible Steele was deceived by his Russian sources and that Simpson’s testimony is further evidence that “there’s been nothing in [the dossier] of significance that’s been proven.” Republicans also noted that Simpson admitted to being in touch with nearly a dozen media outlets in 2016, which they say is evidence he engineered an election-year smear campaign that served as the basis of the “Russian collusion” narrative. Now, Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill are demanding answers about why the FBI would spill details of its investigations to a British spy who was being paid by Democrats to dig up dirt on Trump at the height of the campaign. “It appears that Russia’s most willing partner was the Democratic National Committee and potentially the FBI working with Glenn Simpson and Christopher Steele,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said on Fox News. In his testimony, Simpson said Steele was in touch with the FBI on several occasions between July and September 2016. But he also gave a full-throated defense of Steele’s sources and methods, calling him a “Boy Scout” who consistently “delivered quality work in very appropriate ways.” Democrats seized on Simpson’s testimony to paint Steele as an unimpeachable source who had been compelled to notify law enforcement officials about his concern that Trump could be “blackmailed” by Russians. “I haven’t seen anything disproven in this document yet so take that for what it is worth,” Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N. M.) told The Hill. One new point of contention centers on a New York Times story that claims the FBI launched its investigation into Trump only after an Australian official approached them to say George Papadopoulos, a former Trump adviser who has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, drunkenly told him the Russians had reached out to express an interest in helping to get Trump elected. Republicans are furiously dismissing that report, saying Democrats and the media are promoting those claims because they realize the political peril of acknowledging that the dossier was the catalyst for the investigation. King said Papadopoulos wasn’t even interviewed by the FBI until January 2017, months after the investigation had been underway. “It seems the story is shifting,” King said. Meanwhile, debate over Feinstein’s decision to release the Simpson transcript dominated Capitol Hill, driven by Trump’s allegation that she may have broken the law. Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the move would make it more difficult for his panel to convince potential witnesses, including Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, to voluntarily testify before the committee. Still, he expressed optimism that the committee could continue with its work. “I was a little disappointed because I had an understanding ahead of time that it would be released when we both agreed to release it, and I think I’ve showed my cooperation with the other side by just yesterday agreeing to two interviews that they want at their request,” Grassley said. “So I think we’re going to move forward without any glitch.” Liberals cheered the release of the transcript by Feinstein, who could face a primary challenger from the left as she seeks reelection this year. Democrats had argued that Republicans were making ominous claims about Fusion GPS that were not backed up by Simpson’s testimony. None of the Republicans interviewed by The Hill agreed with Trump’s claim that Feinstein may have broken the law.

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