Efforts by congressional investigators to contact Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence agent who prepared the salacious dossier on Donald Trump’s supposed activities in Russia, appear to be bearing fruit with the news that two House intelligence committee staffers recently traveled to England to try and meet with Mr. Steele at his office in London.
The trip reflects a battle for control of the Russian meddling probe that has long divided the House intelligence committee.
Reacting to the trip, California Rep. Adam B. Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the panel, expressed frustration over what some claimed was an independent effort to broker a deal for Mr. Steele’s testimony.
But a veteran GOP congressional staffer familiar with the committee’s inner workings told The Washington Times that the move was done to spur action on a front that has been seriously bogged down: the investigation into Mr. Steele and who was behind the effort to dig up dirt on Mr. Trump as a candidate.
“The way we see this is doing our job,” the source said. “While they were in London on other [committee] business, two staffers made an effort to get a point of contact for Steele’s lawyer, and they got it.”
The source told The Times that because of the trip, preliminary negotiations for the spy-turned-private investigator’s congressional testimony are now underway.
The trip was described initially in the media as driven by the controversial chairman of the House intelligence committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, California Republican. GOP committee sources told The Times the actions were sanctioned not by Mr. Nunes but by the panel’s staff director, Damon Nelson, who previously worked as deputy chief of staff for Mr. Nunes.
Earlier this year Mr. Nunes stepped down from heading the Russia meddling probe because of an ethics review into his handling of classified information. There was also controversy over a White House visit he took to view supposedly secret information without telling other committee members.
While Democrats and a bipartisan Senate investigation have focused mostly on Russian hacking efforts and possible links to the Trump campaign, Mr. Nunes has been an outspoken proponent of a vastly different side of the story — the possibility that the Obama White House spied on Trump campaign and transition personnel to aid Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
This line of inquiry raises the possibility that Obama-era officials, including former National Security Adviser Susan E. Rice and former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, inappropriately asked to identify or “unmask” American citizens caught up in U.S. intelligence intercepts of foreign figures. Ms. Rice has insisted she never unmasked anyone for political purposes, but her opponents suggest that Trump campaign staff were targeted. The recent London trip has brought the spotlight back on the bizarre saga of the dossier, which included lurid sex tales and allegations of extensive secret collusion between Mr. Trump and the Kremlin. The 35-page document has been the subject of extraordinary media and investigatory scrutiny, including serving as a key point of contention in the conflict between fired FBI director James B. Comey and Mr. Trump.
Late last month, just before Congress broke for its summer recess, the Senate Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena for Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of Fusion GPS, the Washington-based political firm that subcontracted Mr. Steele to compile the dossier. The subpoena prompted Mr. Simpson to agree to testify in private.
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing criminal investigation is also said to be exploring multiple aspects of the dossier.
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