One interesting line of questions in Thursday’s Intelligence Committee hearings was an exchange between Rep. Devin Nunes and the witnesses, David Holmes and Fiona Hill, about the Steele “dossier” (actually a private intelligence report that contained allegations of misconduct and conspiracy by Donald Trump and the Russian government). Here is the relevant part of the questioning:
And you’re aware that the … you heard Dr. Hill’s testimony, but the Steele Dossier that contained initially that initial information that was fed in the F.B.I., were you aware that the Democrats had paid for that information?
So sir, I never had any involvement directly with—
I’m not accusing of involvement, I’m just asking if you, not even if you knew at the time, but you now know today that the Democrats had paid for that information.
So I do want to be clear that all that happened before I arrived in Ukraine. So I don’t have any firsthand—
Not accusing any involvement of you with the Steele Dossier.
Understood, but I do want to be clear about that. And then in addition, I have read about those issues, but I’m not an expert on them.
But you’re not disputing that the Democrat and the Clinton campaign were the source of funds that funded the Steele Dossier.
I wouldn’t be in a position to dispute that, sir.
Do you think it’s appropriate for political parties to run operatives in foreign countries to dig up dirt on their opponents?
Dr. Hill, do you think it’s appropriate for political parties to pay operatives to dig up dirt on their opponents?
I do not.
[From the transcript at Rev, starting near minute 19.]
In this exchange, Nunes asserts “the Democrats had paid for that information.” This isn’t quite true. I’m in a position to dispute that.
The Trump-Russia dossier, as it is known on Wikipedia, was produced by Fusion GPS, which is actually based in Washington, D.C. This opposition research was originally funded by “conservative political website The Washington Free Beacon to provide general opposition research on Trump and other Republican presidential candidates.” It was only later that “an attorney for Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the DNC separately hired Fusion GPS to investigate Trump”.
So, an accurate statement about this collection of memos originally from Christopher Steele is that it was funded by both a conservative website and Democrats. But that doesn’t fit Nunes’s narrative, which is that the Democrats went overseas to research their political opponent. What’s more true is that the Clinton campaign hired a private domestic intelligence service to research Trump and they included information they obtained overseas.
This goes to the second deception in Nunes’s questioning: that it is inappropriate for political parties “to run operatives in foreign countries to dig up dirt on their opponents”. The implication is that Trump wasn’t doing anything unusual by obtaining help from the Russians to get information on Hillary Clinton. He’s also stating, falsely, that the Clinton campaign “ran operatives in a foreign country”.
His assertions repeatedly fail any serious examination. The DNC and the Clinton campaign went to a domestic source for oppo research. They did not “run operatives in a foreign country”. So the questions to Holmes and Hill about whether “it’s appropriate for political parties to pay operatives to dig up dirt on their opponents” is a nonsense question. A better question is whether any candidate should coordinate with a foreign government to fabricate and disseminate false information about their opponent, as Trump apparently did with Russia against Hillary Clinton.
The Democrats also were not alone in paying for this information on Trump—actually a conservative organization started this research, which I believe was intended to help Trump’s primary opponents.
This is part of a broader effort by Reps. Nunes and Jim Jordan to create a false narrative that the Ukrainians collaborated with the Clinton campaign to fabricate the Steele report, and that specific things, like Clinton’s e-mail server, have been secreted away to Ukraine. There are many reasons to doubt such a narrative, not the least is because it was created by two people seemingly bent on lying and distortion to attack their opponents.
Each part of the Republican’s strategy in questioning witnesses needs to be thoroughly vetted. They aren’t in this to get to the truth. They are just in it to save Donald Trump—and in the process save their own skins.