Rep. Adam Schiff in 2017 kicked off the House’s most publicized hearing into Russia election interference by leveling a number of felony charges against President Trump’s associates, citing news reports and a former British intelligence officer’s dossier on the Trump campaign.
Two years later, the California Democrat’s supposition of a deep Trump-Russia conspiracy has failed to materialize. No Trump person has been charged with collusion 30 months after the FBI launched its probe. And the dossier on which Mr. Schiff relied turned out to be unverified claims paid for by the Democratic Party.
The final Republican report of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence heard no witness who testified to collusion. Sen. Richard Burr, North Carolina Republican and chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, told CBS News last week that his panel’s long bipartisan Russia probe also has the same conclusion to date.
His scope is so wide open that staffers say they can’t remember a House or Senate intelligence committee ever embarking on such a mission.
Mr. Schiff plans to investigate Mr. Trump and his “family.” The use of the word family can be interpreted as his sons, daughters and first lady Melania Trump. He plans to look at Trump the businessman, the candidate and the president. He wants information on virtually all of the Trump Organization’s real estate deals and discussions with foreigners. Mr. Trump has been an international hotel builder for four decades, meaning he has had a number of contacts with foreigners.
The Schiff focus is on money laundering, according to his Feb. 6 war plan. This focus dovetails with testimony in 2017 from Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of the investigative firm Fusion GPS, which engineered the unverified dossier that claimed a huge conspiracy between the Kremlin and Trump campaign. Mr. Simpson testified to Mr. Schiff and the committee about his money-laundering suspicions but provided no evidence.
The Washington Times analyzed Mr. Schiff’s track record over the last two years as the House committee’s ranking Democrat as an indication of how he will proceed against Trump people. The Times looked at his statements at the committee’s first big hearing, at Democratic leaks to the news media and at a 2018 memo he wrote challenging a report from Mr. Nunes on FBI spying.
The Times found that Mr. Schiff has made or insinuated a number of unsubstantiated charges. Most recently, he pitched the theory that Donald Trump Jr.’s private phone calls were to his father as part of a Russian conspiracy. Evidence revealed this month showed the phone numbers belong to two business associates.
Republicans say it was important for two main reasons. Mr. Schiff and his allies began leveling charges and naming names before the investigation had hardly gotten underway.
Mr. Schiff repeatedly cited the unverified dossier. The public didn’t know at the time that the dossier was actually opposition research on Mr. Trump paid for by the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
Ex-spy Christopher Steele was paid via a law firm and Fusion GPS. Fusion tried to sell Mr. Steele’s charges of a massive Trump-Kremlin conspiracy to the late Sen. John McCain, the Justice Department, the FBI and news reporters.
To Republicans, the irony was clear. Mr. Steele said he based his charges on Russian spies. This meant that Democrats were repeating Kremlin gossip bought by Democrats and designed to damage Mr. Trump’s campaign. A form of election interference, Republican argue, as Democrats investigated Russian meddling against their candidate, Mrs. Clinton.
At the time of the hearing, Mr. Schiff knew that a bombshell report that February in The New York Times was wrong. Quoting former Obama officials, The New York Times said U.S. intelligence owned phone records and wiretap transcripts of the Trump campaign talking to Russian spies for a year leading up to the election.
Mr. Comey immediately alerted Mr. Schiff and other lawmakers that the story was wrong; he had no such incriminating data.
“If the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it aided or abetted the Russians, it would not only be a serious crime, it would also represent one of the most shocking betrayals of democracy in history,” Mr. Schiff said at the March hearing.
Some of Mr. Schiff’s charges that day:
⦁ Reading from the dossier, Mr. Schiff said Carter Page, a Trump campaign volunteer, while in Moscow for a public speech, met with two senior associates of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mr. Page discussed receiving bribes in return for pushing sanctions relief.
Mr. Page repeatedly has denied to the FBI and Congress ever meeting the men. He has filed several lawsuits in an effort to clear his name. He has not been charged with any offense by special counsel Robert Mueller.
There has been no public evidence supporting this charge. U.S. intelligence says WikiLeaks received stolen Democratic Party emails from Russian hackers.
⦁ Paul Manafort, one of several Trump campaign managers, teamed up with Mr. Page to coordinate Russian hacking.
There has been no public evidence that the two knew each other or ever talked. Manafort has been convicted of tax and bank fraud, but he has not been charged with any offense directly related to the election.
The amendment to which Mr. Schiff referred was never in the platform at the 2016 Republican National Convention. During drafting, a single delegate offered the lethal aid language. Trump advisers decided it would be too strong a commitment before taking office. So the Ukraine language was changed to a promise to provide aid the Ukraine armed forces. The Ukraine language ended up stronger. The Trump administration did opt to send lethal aid in the form of anti-armor missiles to fight pro-Russian forces.
There has been no confirming evidence and Mr. Trump denies it ever happened.
“My focus today is to explore how many claims within Steele’s dossier are looking more and more likely, as though they are accurate,” Mr. Castro said.
(On CNN, Mr. Castro alleged in October without evidence that White House adviser Jared Kushner maintains a list of Saudi Arabian dissidents for assassination. The White House vehemently denied this.)
⦁ Mr. Schiff used the word “coincidence” several times as he listed contacts between a Trump person and a Russian, such as the Russian ambassador attending the GOP convention or conducting phone calls with retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn during the presidential transition.
“Is it possible that all of these events and reports are completely unrelated and nothing more than an entirely unhappy coincidence?” Mr. Schiff said. “Yes, it is possible. But it is also possible, maybe more than possible, that they are not coincidental, not disconnected and not unrelated.”
The Russian ambassador was part of a group of about 50 foreign diplomats sponsored by the State Department to attend the convention.
Mr. Schiff’s spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Leaks, et cetera
The House Intelligence Committee’s Democratic side leaked nearly 50 items to the news media in 2017-18, according to an analysis of various publications. Conservatives asserted that some key leaks were deliberately worded to damage Trump people.
⦁ In a supposed bombshell, CNN reported that Donald Trump Jr. received a heads-up on Sept. 4, 2016, before WikiLeaks published more Democratic emails. CNN cited two sources.
But the email actually was dated Sept. 14, after WikiLeaks had released the emails.
⦁ CNN reported in October 2017 that committee evidence showed Russia bought Facebook ads to target Michigan and Wisconsin for anti-Clinton Facebook ads. In a shocking upset, Mr. Trump narrowly carried both states, though he would have won the presidency anyway.
Mr. Burr, the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, challenged that report at a Nov. 1 hearing. He said the ads were limited in those two states. More ads ran in deep-blue Maryland.
Facebook said more than half the ads in Michigan and Wisconsin ran after the election.
When Mr. Mueller brought an indictment against two Russian trolling firms, the Justice Department said no American knowingly coordinated with the Kremlin on social media trolling.
⦁ At the same time as her testimony, news websites reported that Hope Hicks, then-White House communications chief, told the committee she lied for Mr. Trump. Republicans quickly emerged to say she had said she occasionally told a “white lie,” such as telling a caller Mr. Trump was not in, when in fact he was.
A transcript shows that he did deny the charge.
⦁ Mr. Schiff strongly suggested that two private calls Mr. Trump Jr. conducted after meeting with a Russian attorney in June 2016 were with his father.
“Republicans refused to look at the phone records so that we could find out [who the caller was] because they were afraid of what the answer might be,” he told USA Today.
The New York Times subsequently reported that Senate investigators got phone records that show the private calls were with two Trump Jr. business associates, not his father.
“Actually, no, Chuck. I can tell you that the case is more than that,” Mr. Schiff said. “I can’t go into the particulars, but there is more than circumstantial evidence now.”
Republicans say Mr. Schiff has failed to produce such conclusive evidence over the next two years and stopped making the claim.
Mr. Schiff insinuated that Mr. Trump appointed Matthew G. Whitaker as acting attorney general because they have a secret deal to ignore Justice Department ethics standards regarding the special counsel.
There has been no evidence of this. Mr. Whitaker testified Friday that he has not discussed the Russia probe with the president.
⦁ After BuzzFeed published a story in January saying Mr. Trump ordered former personal attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, Mr. Schiff tweeted, “The allegation that the President of the United States may have suborned perjury before our committee in an effort to curtail the investigation and cover up his business dealings with Russia is among the most serious to date. We will do what’s necessary to find out if it’s true.”
Mr. Mueller took the extraordinary step that day to say the story was “not accurate.”
Mr. Nunes took the committee in a new direction in 2018. He wanted to know who financed the dossier, especially since the FBI testified it had not confirmed any of Mr. Steele’s collusion charges. And he asked if the FBI relied on the dossier to persuade a judge to approve a year’s worth of wiretaps on Carter Page.
Mr. Nunes hit pay dirt. His subpoenas for Fusion GPS bank records forced Democrats to disclose that they had funded the dossier. His demands on the FBI forced the bureau to cough up the warrant application. It revealed what Mr. Nunes suspected — the FBI had cited the dossier as its single best piece of evidence.
He then issued a January 2018 memo hitting the FBI hard for using opposition research — the dossier — to spy on the other political party. And he criticized the FBI for citing a Yahoo News story as dossier corroboration when in fact the story had the same source — Mr. Steele, the dossier’s author.
There the two memos stood until two things happened: Mr. Nunes won permission to release a redacted FBI warrant application. And secret congressional testimony emerged from Bruce Ohr, a Justice Department attorney. He testified about funneling information to the FBI from his wife, who worked for Fusion GPS; Mr. Simpson; and Mr. Steele.
Those two developments cast a harsher light on Mr. Schiff’s version of events.
Mr. Ohr’s own testimony showed he was the key to getting Democratic Party research to the FBI. He provided dossier memos, as well as his wife’s anti-Trump research, in a thumb drive and Mr. Steele’s spin. They continued talking for another year.
Mr. Ohr’s testimony showed Mr. Schiff was wrong. He personally conveyed Steele allegations to Andrew McCabe, then the bureau’s No. 2 agent, in August. He met with Peter Strzok, the former FBI agent who expressed a deep dislike of Mr. Trump, in October before the FBI submitted the warrant application. Mr. Ohr also met with Lisa Page, Mr. Strzok’s adulterous lover and Mr. McCabe’s legal counsel.
Mr. Page refused to comment to the reporter for that story.
It showed the FBI did use the Yahoo story as corroboration by telling the judge that Mr. Steele wasn’t the news site’s source. In effect, the FBI was telling the judge that Yahoo’s information came from sources independent of Mr. Steele. The story’s author has acknowledged Mr. Steele was his source for the material on Mr. Page.
Mr. Schiff’s new probe
His suspicions have been fed by the same person who delivered the dossier — Fusion GPS’ Mr. Simpson.
He said of wealthy Russian Aras Agalarov and his family, through whom Mr. Trump and NBC staged the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow, “They have been involved in a lot of money laundering and that some of it goes back to suspected KGB money laundering. So, I think that is a rich area.”
“‘Evidence’ I think, is a strong word,” Mr. Simpson said. “I think we saw patterns of buying and selling that we thought were suggestive of money laundering.”
An FBI report of an interview, known as a 302, said that Daniel Jones, a former aide to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, said in 2017 that he raised $50 million from liberal donors to continue investigating Mr. Trump. He hired Mr. Simpson and Christopher Steele, the same opposition research team hired by the Clinton campaign.
Mr. Schiff’s new five-point plan to investigation the Trump family is broad. It encompasses not only Mr. Trump’s businesses, but also his diplomacy in dealing with other countries. Perhaps hundreds of people could be drawn into the inquiry.
“The extent of any links and/or coordination between the Russian government, or related foreign actors, and individuals associated with Donald Trump’s campaign, transition, administration, or business interests, in furtherance of the Russian government’s interests,” the plan states.
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