The links between Donald Trump and the Russian government exploded into a major scandal during the 2016 presidential election campaign — a scandal that has only accelerated as 2018 begins. But in Moscow, the “relationship” between Trump and the Kremlin was common knowledge among Russians in political circles and did not become a scandal until the story broke in the United States media, according to newly released testimony by the founder of the firm that commissioned retired British intelligence agent Christopher Steele to investigate the Trump-Russia ties.
Steele was subcontracted by Washington D.C. political research firm Fusion GPS to research Trump’s connections to Russia. Steele ultimately compiled what has come to be known as the “Steele Dossier,” which alleges numerous and deep ties between Trump and Russia. The dossier is best known for the so-called “pee tape” story, alleging that Trump is subject to blackmail by the Russians, who secretly recorded him watching prostitutes perform a “golden shower” urination show in a Moscow hotel suite.
But when Fusion GPS first hired Steele, few of the details that have since become public regarding the Trump-Russia connections were widely reported. According to Fusion GPS Founder Glenn Simpson’s congressional testimony, however, inside Russia, Trump’s ties there were widely known and considered to be no big deal.
“The thing that people forget about what was going on in June of 2016 was that no one was really focused on sort of this question of whether Donald Trump had a relationship with the Kremlin. So, you know, when Chris started asking around in Moscow about this the information was sitting there. It wasn’t a giant secret,” Simpson told investigators during the August 22, 2017, testimony.
“People were talking about it freely,” he said.
“It was only later that it became a subject of great controversy and people clammed up, and at that time the whole issue of the hacking was also, you know, not really focused on Russia. So these things eventually converged into, you know, a major issue, but at the time it wasn’t one.”
Simpson’s comments occur on pages 87 and 88 of the transcript released Tuesday of his previously confidential testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The entire 312-page document may be accessed at this link.
The transcript was released by the ranking Democratic member of the Judiciary Committee, California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who said that Republican attempts to mischaracterize the Steele Dossier and Simpson’s testimony about it prompted her to make the testimony public. The committee’s Republican chair, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, had refused to release the Simpson transcript, despite earlier promises to do so.
“The innuendo and misinformation circulating about the transcript are part of a deeply troubling effort to undermine the investigation into potential collusion and obstruction of justice,” said Feinstein. “The only way to set the record straight is to make the transcript public.”
Fusion GPS had also demanded public release of the transcript, saying that it would clear the firm of allegations that it hired Steele to compile the dossier as part of a partisan smear campaign against Trump, a charge being heavily promoted and endorsed by congressional Republicans and conservative media outlets.
But according to Simpson’s testimony, the firm had no idea what, if anything, Steele would find when Fusion GPS hired him to dig deeper into allegations in some media reports about Trump’s Russian business endeavors. It was only when Steele started asking questions of his sources in Russia about Trump’s business deals, that the direction of his investigation suddenly took a darker turn.
“What came back was something, you know, very different and obviously more alarming, which had to do with… a political conspiracy and a much broader set of issues than the ones that we basically went looking for,” Simpson said in the closed-door testimony. “You know, initially we didn’t know what to do with this.”
But Simpson and Steele soon agreed that the former British spy’s findings should be reported to the FBI, a step that Steele subsequently took because they believed that they were witnessing what was “potentially a crime in progress,” Simpson said in his testimony.