Trump dossier author went to FBI over blackmail fears
Christopher Steele, a former MI6 officer, was concerned that Russians would compromise the 2016 election
The former MI6 officer who compiled a dossier of intelligence on Donald Trump and Russia said he feared the then US presidential candidate was being blackmailed, according to the head of the political research company that employed him.
Glenn Simpson, co-founder of Fusion GPS, had told a Senate investigation that Christopher Steele, the former British spy, was acting on his own volition when he took his evidence to the FBI.
A testimony of Simpson's transcript was published on Tuesday by a Democrat senator apparently as part of an effort to show that the dossier was not part of a plot by Democrats to bring down Mr Trump.
“Chris said he was very concerned about whether this represented a national security threat and said he wanted to – he said he thought we were obligated to tell someone in government, in our government about this information,” said Mr Simpson, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, during his appearance before the committee in August.
“He thought from his perspective there was an issue – a security issue about whether a presidential candidate was being blackmailed.”
Mr Simpson also said that Mr Steele was told the FBI had an informant within the Trump campaign who was able to corroborate his research.
Mr Steele’s dossier – comprising several memos – contained details of alleged links between Mr Trump and the Kremlin.
“Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for at least 5 years,” it began, before alleging that Mr Trump’s campaign was receiving intelligence from the Kremlin.
In addition, it included details that eastern European intelligence officers believed they had incriminating evidence about Mr Trump’s private life, alleging that he spent time with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel during a 2013 visit.
Much of the material remains unverified but some of its claims are central to the multiple ongoing investigations into the Trump campaign’s alleged links to Russia.
For his part, Mr Trump has always dismissed the dossier as nothing more than a politically motivated smear.
Mr Simpson said he neither encouraged nor discouraged Mr Steele from going to the FBI.
The former spy eventually met the FBI legal attache in Rome in September 2016 to raise his concerns. Afterwards he told Mr Simpson that the FBI considered his intelligence to be credible because it had corroborating information, including from a source inside the Trump team. However, CNN reports a source close to Fusion saying that he was mistaken and the information came from outside the campaign.
Mr Simpson also added that Mr Steele was particularly concerned about the possibility that Russians had kompromat – compromising material.
“It’s well known in intelligence circles that the Russians have cameras in all their luxury hotel rooms… So the problem of kompromat is just endemic to east-west relations,” he told the committee.
Fusion GPS was hired by a conservative donor in 2015 to investigate Mr Trump’s background during the time he was running for the Republican presidential nomination. Once he was on course to become the nominee, Hillary Clinton’s campaign stepped in to continue funding.
Fusion GPS took on Mr Steele, the former head of MI6’s Russia desk, to conduct the research.
His dossier began circulating among journalists during the second half of 2016 before exploding into public view in January last year when it emerged that Mr Trump had been told of its existence.
It is already linked to death of a Russian intelligence chief suspected of helping Mr Steele. Oleg Erovinkin, a former general in both the KGB and its successor the FSB, was found dead in the back of his car in Moscow in December 2016 in mysterious circumstances.
That death was on the mind of Mr Simpson’s attorney Josh Levy as he gave evidence in writing to a subpoena issued.
“Somebody's already been killed as a result of the publication of this dossier and no harm should come to anybody related to this honest work,” said Levy, according to the transcript.
Mr Simpson has testified for more than 20 hours before multiple investigations and has urged publication of his evidence to thwart Republican efforts to discredit his company’s findings.
It was released on Tuesday by Dianne Feinstein, the most senior Democrat on the judiciary committee. She said Americans deserved to see what Mr Simpson said.
“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,” she said.
However, the move infuriated Republicans who say it risks undermining their investigation.
Last week they asked the justice department to investigate Mr Steele, alleging that he made false statements to the government.
Updated: January 10, 2018 10:20 AM