Start your political engines, folks. Here comes the misleading ideological hypocrisy.
For months there has been speculation about who paid Fusion GPS to conduct opposition research that ultimately resulted in the creation of the now-infamous “Steele Dossier.” Late-night media reports Tuesday by The Washington Post and Politico confirmed what many have suspected from the beginning, namely that funding was derived in some fashion (at least after the Republican primaries had concluded) from the Clinton presidential campaign. Specifically, Marc Elias, a lawyer who was representing both the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, provided the funding (through his law firm) to Fusion GPS that enabled Christopher Steele to continue the opposition research into President Donald Trump that had originally been funded by a Republican donor.
It’s a bombshell! The real story is Clinton campaign collusion with a former British spy who used foreign intelligence source to dig up dirt on Donald Trump, and how some of that information was later used by the FBI against Donald Trump’s associates, right? That’s what the president’s supporters have been screaming, after all.
Not so fast.
Unlike the Trump campaign’s June 2016 meeting to secure what had been promised as opposition research on Hillary Clinton by way of the Russian government itself, the Steele Dossier has always reflected something more akin to traditional opposition research gathered through private means. It was a privately-funded effort, by way of a private research firm relying upon work by a private subcontractor, gathering raw and unverified intelligence from various sources on a political candidate. Per the media reports from last night confirming the new details about Marc Elias’ involvement, neither the Clinton campaign nor the DNC played any role in directing or guiding Mr. Steele’s research. Indeed, in the wake of the new reports, former Clinton campaign press spokesperson Brian Fallon stated he was not even aware of Mr. Steele or his research until after the election. The Steele Dossier itself was not made public by the Clinton campaign or the DNC; it was ultimately released independently by Buzzfeed after the election.
Nor are past media reports indicating the FBI has relied in some fashion upon the Steele Dossier in the context of its “Russian collusion” investigation somehow impacted by the fact that part of the funding for the dossier came from the Clinton campaign’s lawyer. The Steele Dossier itself is not something that the FBI (or any law enforcement agency) could merely rely upon by itself as the basis to secure search warrants or authorization to conduct surveillance; the document would be rejected by a judge as inadmissible hearsay if submitted as part of an application for a warrant.
The Steele Dossier on its own could serve no value to the FBI beyond acting as a starting point for possible investigative leads which the Bureau might pursue in the context of the already-ongoing Russian collusion investigation. So if media reports are accurate, and for example the FBI did secure authorization for a FISA warrant against a Trump associate like Carter Page or Paul Manafort relying in part upon information from the Steele Dossier, it means the Bureau was able to sufficiently and independently corroborate – with its own documented sources and evidence, and its own subsequent analysis – at least parts of the Steele Dossier for the purpose of persuading a federal judge that there was probable cause to conclude either of those former Trump associates were agents of a foreign power. The information provided to the Federal judge by way of an affidavit from the FBI would document its investigation, its sources, and its evidence to justify the probable cause determination; it would not be pointing to the Steele Dossier as its evidentiary source. Needless to say, if that is the case the fact that the original raw intelligence was funded by way of the Clinton campaign appears to be the least interesting part of this story.
To be completely fair and impartial, there is a measure of shadiness at play here by Clinton associates. Assuming Mr. Elias did not simply “go rogue,” he presumably had authorization from certain individuals in the Clinton campaign and the DNC to provide replacement funding to Fusion GPS to allow Mr. Steele to continue his work. That work necessarily entailed cultivating questionable and salacious information from international sources, some of which plausibly would be foreign government officials, about President Trump’s activities (personal or business) overseas. Completely traditional opposition research this was not.
President Trump, however, was not a traditional presidential candidate, something he made a point of repeating on the campaign trail and that he has continued to espouse now as the president of the United States. Does this new reporting suggest the need for further scrutiny? Absolutely, including the question of why Mr. Elias was denying his involvement for so long. Does it mean that the real story of the 2016 campaign is Clinton campaign “collusion” with Mr. Steele and the FBI?
Not a chance.