A federal judge will this week consider whether to allow a congressional committee access to banking records from the company behind the anti-Trump intelligence dossier that rocked last year’s U.S. election — an effort the committee hopes will identify those paid for the salacious document.
The opposition research company, Fusion GPS, filed a complaint in federal court Friday seeking to prevent its bank from turning over financial records subpoenaed by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
The committee issued a subpoena for Fusion’s banking records on Oct. 4 in an effort to determine who financed former British spy Christopher Steele’s work to write the dossier during the summer and fall of 2016, a source with knowledge of the situation told The Washington Times.
The subpoena, a copy of which is included among the documents filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, requests documents dating back to August 2015 from the company’s bank — including records of current account balances and past transaction activity.
Lingering questions about who paid for the dossier have sparked a partisan battle as lawmakers investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and any possible coordination with members of the Trump campaign. House Democrats have freely repeated in public the dossier’s unverified allegations against Trump and his people, and have said efforts to discredit Mr. Steele and the dossier are part of an effort to distract focus from the broader Russia probe. But Republicans have said it’s important to find out who paid for the opposition research as well as how heavily the FBI relied on the information in it as agents pursued their own investigations.
President Trump weighed in on the dossier matter over the weekend, tweeting, “Officials behind the now discredited ‘Dossier’ plead the Fifth. Justice Department and/or FBI should immediately release who paid for it.”
Fusion, headed by former Wall Street Journal reporter Glenn Simpson, has resisted efforts to uncover the identities of the people who paid for the dossier, saying it guarantees client confidentiality and a breach such as the one sought by the intelligence committee would greatly harm its business.
In court filings, Fusion’s lawyers wrote that the House Committee Chairman Devin Nunes’ broad subpoena for all the company’s banking records violates financial privacy laws. It would result in revealing “the identities of all of Plaintiff’s clients, contractors and vendors, most of whom have zero relevance or pertinency to HSPCI’s ‘Russia investigation.’”
“The Trump Dossier appears to have deeply upset President Trump and some of his allies, including Mr. Nunes, who served on President Trump’s campaign,” one Fusion filing states. “The purpose of the subpoena is to obtain Plaintiff’s entire confidential list of clients and contractors — regardless of any nexus to the ‘Russia investigation.’”
The filings did not disclose the name of bank, which was referred to as “John Doe Bank.”
The general counsel for the House of Representatives filed a motion Saturday to intervene in the Fusion dispute, writing that “the key” to answering a number of outstanding questions about the dossier lies with information held by Fusion.
The committee has sought to understand “all facets of the ‘dossier,’” including who paid for it, any steps taken to collaborate its allegations, and the degree to which the FBI relied on the dossier as part of its own investigation into Russian interference, wrote General Counsel Thomas G. Hungar.
“The records sought by the subpoena will allow the Committee to fully understand and perhaps conclusively determine who paid for the ‘dossier’ and the amount of funds that Fusion GPS paid to Mr. Steele for the performance of his work, as well as determine whether Fusion GPS engaged in other Russia-related work within the scope of the Committee’s pending investigation,” Mr. Hungar wrote. “Such information is crucial for the Committee to fully investigate not only the ‘dossier’ and its relevance to the question of whether there was possible ‘collusion’ between the Russian Government and the Trump campaign but also other aspects of the Committee’s investigation.”
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan granted the House motion to intervene and has delayed the due date for the bank to comply with the subpoena until Wednesday while she evaluates the complaint.
Part of Fusion’s complaint over the subpoena hinges on the involvement of Mr. Nunes, California Republican, who previously stepped back from the committee’s investigation into Russian interference because of an ethics review into his handling of classified information.
Fusion GPS argues that the chairman’s subpoena violates his recusal from the probe and they asked the court to declare the subpoena “unauthorized, invalid, and not a legitimate legislative activity” and to enjoin the unnamed bank from releasing the company’s financial records to Mr. Nunes or the committee.
The House Intelligence Committee has been unable to verify any of the major allegations that Mr. Steele made in the dossier against Mr. Trump and others. The 35-page document, the contents or which was circulated among liberal reporters during the campaign, purportedly found evidence that the Russian government had damaging financial and personal information on Mr. Trump that could be used to blackmail the then-Republican presidential candidate.
Who, or what organization financed the dossier remains a closely guarded secret. Reports indicate that Fusion GPS was commissioned by a third-party to conduct political opposition research on Mr. Trump in the fall of 2015, but that the party withdrew from the contract in the spring of 2016. A different client is said to have taken over the contract with Fusion to continue to research.
Fusion’s court filings also give contradicting views, with the attorneys seeming to indicate that only one entity bankrolled the project.
“The identity of the client who paid for opposition research on Mr. Trump is not relevant to the investigation, and disclosure of every single one of the firm’s clients over the past two years certainly has no possible relevance to the investigation,” one court document states.
But in other filings, the attorneys referred to “clients.”
Fusion has resisted numerous efforts by congressional investigators to obtain more information about the dossier as part of the ongoing Russia probe.
Company officials Thomas Cantan and Peter Fritsch invoked the Fifth Amendment last week rather than testify on Capitol Hill about Fusion’s role in commissioning and compiling the dossier. Though Mr. Simpson spoke privately with the Senate Judiciary Committee during a 10-hour session held over the summer, the company has also refused to provide the committee certain documents, citing its First Amendment rights.
Mr. Fritsch signed a court declaration that said, “As a result of the publicity around the Trump Dossier, Fusion GPS has been the subject of extensive and inflammatory media coverage. It has been maligned in the media as ‘a disinformation firm,’ as improperly receiving money from Russians, as a professional smear organization, as partisan operatives, and far worse. The organization and its principals have received threatening communications, including death threats.”
He also said, “Our financial information is intensely private and confidential, as are the identities of our clients. Requiring us to reveal this information would chill our and our clients’ First Amendment.”
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