Editor’s Note: Michael Weiss is a national security analyst for CNN and author of “ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror.” The views expressed in this commentary are his own.
Michael Weiss: Dossier story wasn't the bombshell Republicans made it out to be
Regardless of who paid for it, the accuracy of the contents must still be fully analyzed and properly vetted
Well, now we know what we already knew – that Democrats paid for opposition research into Donald Trump which eventually yielded the notorious “dossier” on his alleged ties to Moscow. On Wednesday, CNN reported that Perkins Coie, the law firm representing both the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, entered “into an engagement for research services that began in April 2016 and concluded before the election in early November” with Fusion GPS, the Washington-based private intelligence firm that produced the dossier.
Former DNC chairperson Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and former Clinton campaign head John Podesta both privately told congressional investigators that they had no knowledge of their respective organization’s hiring of the company to to dig up dirt on Donald Trump.
The fact that Democrats were connected to the salacious and scandalous document suggesting Trump campaign collusion with Russian intelligence operatives and Russian government officials has been the worst-kept secret in US politics since October 2016. That’s when David Corn of the liberal magazine Mother Jones reported that Fusion GPS was originally commissioned and financed by an unidentified Republican client who wanted to sink the New York real estate mogul’s chances of clinching the nomination during the GOP primary season.
In January of this year, CNN broke the news that classified documents presented to President Barack Obama and then-President-elect Trump included allegations that Russian operatives claimed to have compromising personal and financial information about Trump. Buzzfeed published the dossier in full and CNN reported that the documents “originated as opposition research, first commissioned by anti-Trump Republicans, and later by Democrats.”
These memos were taken seriously enough by US intelligence officials that they briefed President Obama and the then President-elect on them. And given that Clinton’s only rival for her party’s nomination was Sen. Bernie Sanders, who only became a Democrat to run for president, it had always seemed unlikely that the “Democrats” referred to above would have been working on behalf of the independent socialist from Vermont, although I suppose that’d have been one way to interpret these disclosures.
What is now established is that the bankrolling of the intelligence firm’s investigation changed from one political party to another in April 2016, before Christopher Steele, a former British MI6 officer, was subcontracted by Fusion GPS to conduct a deep dive into the Eastern tilt of Trump’s financial and personal behavior. It was Steele’s spadework that culminated in the dossier.
Absent from these new revelations, however, is anything that would confirm or disconfirm the contents of the dossier, the manufacture of which merits scrutiny and skepticism – albeit divorced from who cut the checks for it.
Headed by Glenn Simpson, a former Wall Street Journal journalist, Fusion GPS has retained both Republican and Democratic clients. It’s also been accused of conducting a “smear campaign” against William Browder, a British hedge fund manager who has persuaded the US Congress and now the Canadian parliament to sanction and blacklist Russian officials for what he insists was a state-sponsored scheme to defraud Russian taxpayers of $230 million and then cover it up by imprisoning the whistleblower who exposed it all, Browder’s Russian attorney Sergei Magnitsky.
Magnitsky died under dubious circumstances in a Moscow prison in 2009, which many students of this sordid affair believe to have been murder – a claim Russian authorities deny. Nothing before the last US election had so focused Vladimir Putin’s attention on domestic American politics quite like that lawyer’s legacy, the Magnitsky Act, which Congress passed in 2012 after herculean efforts by Moscow to stop it. The act names and shames the Russian state law enforcement agents, tax officials and mobsters complicit in the affair.
The Russian lawyer
Since then, some of the $230 million keeps turning up outside of Russia – including in offshore companies owned by a man accused of helping Bashar al-Assad manufacture chemical weapons in Syria. Earlier this year, the Department of Justice settled a civil asset forfeiture case out of court, in which it alleged that a Cyprus-registered company called Prevezon Holdings, Ltd. had laundered some of the stolen $230 million via the Manhattan real estate market. (Prevezon denied doing any such thing but agreed to pay close to $6 million in damages as part of the settlement.)
The Russian lawyer defending Prevezon in that case has become famous in her own right: Nataliya Veselnitskaya, a former Moscow regional prosecutor turned private practitioner who managed to meet with Jared Kushner, Donald Trump, Jr. and Paul Manafort at Trump Tower in New York in June 2016. Having arranged the meeting through an intermediary who said she would be offering opposition dirt on Clinton, Veselnitskaya apparently spent the majorit