Kimberley A. Strassel
There’s no such thing as a coincidence in Washington, so why the sudden, furious effort by Democrats and the media to give cover to the Steele dossier? As in, the sudden, furious effort that happens to coincide with congressional investigators’ finally being given access to FBI records about the Trump-Russia probe.
This scandal’s pivotal day was Jan. 3. That’s the deadline House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes gave the Federal Bureau of Investigation to turn over documents it had been holding for months. Speaker Paul Ryan backed Mr. Nunes’s threat to cite officials for contempt of Congress. Everyone who played a part in encouraging the FBI’s colonoscopy of the Trump campaign—congressional Democrats, FBI and Justice Department senior career staff, the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama political mobs, dossier commissioner Fusion GPS, the press corps—knew about the deadline and clearly had been tipped to the likelihood that the FBI would have to comply. Thus the dossier rehabilitation campaign.
Weeks before, the same crew had taken a desperate shot at running away from the dossier, with a New York Times special that attempted to play down its significance in the FBI probe. You can see why. In the year since BuzzFeed published the salacious dossier, we’ve discovered it was a work product of the Clinton campaign, commissioned by an oppo-research firm (Fusion), compiled by a British ex-spook on the basis of anonymous sources, and rolled out to the media in the runup to the election. Oh, and it appears to continue to be almost entirely false. When the best you’ve got is that a campaign orbiter made a public trip to Russia, you haven’t got much.
But with Congress about to obtain documents that show the dossier did matter, it was time for a new line. And so the day before the Nunes deadline, Fusion co-founders Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch broke their public silence to explain in a New York Times op-ed that what really matters was their noble intention—to highlight Donald Trump’s misdeeds. The duo took credit for alerting the “national security community” to a Russian “attack.”
Meanwhile, Dianne Feinstein, ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, decided it was suddenly a matter of urgency that the nation see Mr. Simpson’s testimony, which he gave back in August. That move provided the cable news channels with more than 300 pages of self-serving material. Mr. Simpson extols his journalistic chops, praises the integrity of dossier author Christopher Steele (a “Boy Scout”), professes his love of country and his distaste for Russians (other than those paying him), and ladles on more disinformation about Mr. Trump. Democrats and the media have spun this into a new contention: What mattered were the motives and credentials of the dossier’s creators, which were sufficient to give the FBI good cause to run with the document.
Which you have to admit sounds a lot better than “Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Conjured Up an Opposition-Research Document That Was Fed to the Obama FBI, Which Then Used It to Spy on the Trump Campaign.” Even if that’s a more accurate headline.
We don’t know exactly what Congress has seen, but it’s a safe bet it’s hot. The media and Democrats are trashing Sens. Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham for their criminal referral of Mr. Steele to the Justice Department. But neither man would make such a move without good—and documented—cause. If anything, the referral is suggestive of FBI misbehavior. Evidently whatever Messrs. Grassley and Graham found came only at this late stage, after the bureau reluctantly made key documents available to lawmakers. The implication is that the FBI and Justice Department knew they had a problem and were concealing it from investigators.
The risk for anti-Trumpers—especially those doubling down on the dossier—is that the black-and-white documents will blow their latest narrative to oblivion. It isn’t as if there is much in the record to date to support it. If Mr. Steele was such a professional, why was he out spreading national-security “intelligence” through the media? If Mr. Simpson was so worried for his country, why did he spend months dodging congressional requests for testimony, and refuse to name his client? If Mr. Steele was confident enough in his document to spool it to the FBI, why has he ducked every congressional request that he explain his work? And that’s before Mr. Grassley’s claim to have credible evidence that Mr. Steele lied to the government.
You can bet that the dossier spin is going to get even crazier, which is why it is so urgent that Congress move quickly to declassify core documents and release them to the public. So long as those documents remain secret, dossier proponents can concoct whatever story they choose. It’s time to end the season of silly spin and begin one of accountability.
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