Fusion GPS, the intelligence firm behind the controversial Trump dossier, asked a federal court on Friday to stop its bank from turning over financial records subpoenaed by the House intelligence committee.
In its filing, the firm asserted that the subpoena exceeds the committee’s legal authority and said the release of the records would reveal the names of its clients and therefore violate its and their First Amendment rights to free speech and free association.
The intelligence committee has subpoenaed the bank information as part of its investigation into Russia’s attempts to influence last year’s election, including allegations in the dossier of collusion by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Trump has repeatedly denied the allegations of collusion with Russia during the campaign.
The intelligence panel said in its court filing related to the firm’s request that it sought the banking information as part of its effort “to understand all facets of the ‘dossier’ written by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, including who paid for it, who received it, what steps were taken to corroborate it and whether the FBI relied on it in its investigation of the allegations of collusion.
“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,” the committee’s response said. “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.”
Californian Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, who chairs the panel, signed the subpoenas, which included the request for Fusion GPS’s financial records from TD Bank and were sent to the firm October 4, according to the court documents.
Fusion GPS asserted in its filing Friday that Nunes did not give the firm required notice that he was subpoenaing the bank for its records.
On Saturday, a judge on the US District Court for the District of Columbia, Tanya Chutkan, extended the bank’s deadline to respond to the subpoena for its records until Wednesday. Chutkan also told the intelligence committee to file its response to a request by Fusion GPS for a restraining order from the court by 6 p.m. Monday.
The subpoenas also requested depositions of key members of the private intelligence firm. Two partners at Fusion GPS, Peter Fritsch and Thomas Catán, invoked their Fifth Amendment rights not to answer questions during their closed-door appearance before the committee Wednesday, according to their attorney, Joshua Levy.
After the session, which lasted more than an hour, Levy charged that the committee broke with its past practices by requiring them to physically appear to plead the Fifth.
“No American should have to experience the indignity that occurred today,” Levy told reporters. “No American should be required to appear before a congressional committee just to invoke his constitutional privileges. But that is what Chairman (Devin) Nunes required of our clients at Fusion GPS today, in a sharp departure from even the past practice of this committee’s investigation, where witnesses under the exact same circumstances were excused from appearing.”
Florida Rep. Tom Rooney, a senior Republican on the committee, defended the decision to hold a hearing for the Fusion GPS partners.
“We didn’t require them to come in and plead the Fifth. We asked them to come in to answer questions with regard to our investigation, as we have with numerous, numerous witnesses over the last several months,” Rooney said after the session concluded.
“The fact that they did plead the Fifth obviously is their right, but I think it is important that we hear from them directly, especially with regard to their extremely lengthy response to our request and in part, partially, because their response was that the investigation and subpoena was illegitimate. I think by the very fact that they were here shows its legitimacy and I think that’s important,” Rooney added.
Nunes did not attend Wednesday’s hearing, Levy said. A spokesperson for Nunes did not respond to requests for comment at the time.
On Saturday, Trump called for his own Justice Department and FBI to release information on who paid for the dossier.
Nunes stepped aside from the House intelligence committee’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the election in April following an ethics investigation into his handling of classified information. Nunes delegated authority on the Russia matter to Republican Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas. A source familiar with the matter previously told CNN that all Russia-related subpoenas have been approved by Conaway. Conaway at the time confirmed to CNN that he had signed off on the recent subpoenas.
In a 17-page letter to Nunes, attorneys for Fusion GPS said they object to the subpoenas, charging, as they did in their court filing on Friday, that the subpoenas violate First Amendment rights to engage in free speech and political activity.
“Fusion GPS has cooperated with all legitimate inquiries into Russian interference in the 2016 election,” Levy said following the subpoena. “Through his improper actions and bad faith, Mr. Nunes has demonstrated that this is not such an inquiry. His subpoenas are a clear abuse of power: They are designed to obfuscate the facts and conjure up rank conspiracy theories at the behest of the president and his most obsequious allies in Congress.”