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How the anti-Trump dossier came to be

The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative site based in Washington, D.C., confirmed that it hired the firm Fusion GPS to unearth damaging information about President Donald Trump in the run-up to the election. GOP donor and billionaire Paul Singer is one of the site’s key backers. Associated Press reporter Tom LoBianco joins Hari Sreenivasan from Washington, D.C., for more.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    The secret funder of a once secret dossier of opposition research on Donald Trump has been unmasked. The dossier, produced during last year’s presidential campaign, purported to document possible connections between Russians and Trump Organization business or the Trump campaign.

    The Washington firm Fusion GPS had been hired to produce the dossier during the Republican primary season, and it eventually assigned the task to a British former intelligence officer named Christopher Steele. That’s all been known for months.

    Now, we know who originally hired Fusion GPS. The chairman and the editor of the conservative website Washington Free Beacon confirm they did so for information on “multiple Republican candidates.”

    At the same time, Free Beacon denied paying for the Steele dossier or having any contact with him.

    Free Beacon said its research ended before Steele began his work.

    A key financial backer of Free Beacon is Paul Singer, a billionaire New York investor who is among the country’s most active Republican donors. Since 2012, Singer has given more than 40 million dollars to Republican and conservative candidates for federal office, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Recipients included Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, who competed with Trump for the Republican nomination.

    Earlier this week, another Washington law firm, Perkins Coie, which represented the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, said it continued to pay Steele for his work after Trump secured the nomination. The Steele dossier, published after the campaign by Buzzfeed, contained salacious and unverified information about Mister Trump and his 2013 visit to Moscow.

    The White House had no comment today on the revelations about the original funding of the dossier.

    Yesterday, Trump press secretary Sarah Sanders said if there was any collusion with Russia, it was the Democratic National Committee and the Clintons who colluded.

    The House of Representatives’ Intelligence Committee says The Free Beacon has agreed to cooperate with its probe into Russian meddling into the election. The committee has also subpoenaed bank records from Fusion GPS.

    For more on the mystery and controversy surrounding the trump dossier, I am joined by Associated Press reporter Tom Lobianco.

    The House of Representatives Intelligence Committee says the Free Beacon has agreed to cooperate with its probe into Russian meddling into the election. The committee is also subpoenaed bank records from Fusion GPS. For more on the mystery and controversy surrounding the Trump dossier, I am joined by Associated Press reporter Tom LoBianco. So for people who haven’t been following this closely, this is something, this is a document that we started hearing about really in the fall of last year as the campaigns were in full swing.

  • Tom Lobianco:

    That’s right. I mean there’s some great reporting by Mother Jones where they interviewed who would later turn out to be Christopher Steele himself. It got lost in the mix at that point. But you know as we’ve see here it’s just an ever, ever-growing importance behind this document. And you know the latest revelation was a big one. This connection with Free Beacon and potentially Paul Singer, the Republican billionaire, Republican donor, mega-donor. So you know tons of drama involved here an incredible amount of importance. And you know ties of course right back into all the Russia investigations that we’re seeing.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Now the Trump administration, a lot of conservatives, say this document was the basis for the entire Mueller investigation.

  • Tom Lobianco:

    Right. Yeah. So obviously there’s a lot of spin and tugging and pulling from both sides on this so that, you know, for their part, that’s probably overstating it a little bit. But there is, you know, clearly there’s been some interest in this document and they do appear to be following certain threads out of this document.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Even if the sort of impetus for why this investigation by Christopher Steele or why this was even created or who funded it, the contents of what that dossier had in it. Is that something that the Mueller investigation is looking into?

  • Tom Lobianco:

    Well here’s what we know about the Mueller investigation right now. And it’s, it’s interesting to put this in context here. So what, we’re at the end of the end of October right now. We have had this investigation for about five or six months now. Mueller’s investigation, which takes over the federal investigation that has been going on for about a year. This thing has amped up significantly. We’ve seen interviews with Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, by Mueller’s investigators. We have seen him speak with Keith Kellog, somebody who is very close with Michael Flynn. The grand jury interviewed Paul Manafort’s spokesman. There was the FBI raid of Paul Manafort’s home in Virginia. A lot has been going on and how much of this ties back directly to that dossier, it’s hard to say right now. Flynn and Manafort are definitely two key players that they’re investigating.

  • Tom Lobianco:

    You know, there’s a lot of extraneous threads that we see in this whole thing. You’ll see a lot, multiple House and Senate investigations going on. Some will claim to be Russia, the Russia investigation. There’s a lot of political back and forth on this. But in terms of keeping your eye on the ball really watch what Muller is doing and he’s become much more active in the last month or so publicly so.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    So there were salacious bits in the dossier that haven’t been verified or confirmed. But one of the overarching themes of the dossier is that the Russians meddled in the American election and that, intelligence agencies have said, is a fact.

  • Tom Lobianco:

    Yeah. I mean that seems to be you pretty much universally accepted at this point, with the stark exception of the president of course. Of course he has a political reason to fight back against that. But for everyone else there seems to be a pretty wide acceptance that that is the case. And we’ve seen evidence to that effect. We had the meeting that we discovered with Trump Jr., Paul Manafort for it and Jared Kushner and the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and we found that a little bit more about that this past week, learned that the document that she had handed over to them in the meeting was very similar to a document put together by the Kremlin for Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, someone who U.S. intelligence had alerted Dana Rohrabacher himself that that they were trying to basically court him as a spy, trying to groom him.

    So, you know, look there’s, we find out more and more the longer this goes on. Now you know was it effective? Did it swing the election? The White House will often say well you know no votes were changed, and that’s not one of the the accusations that’s out there. But the bigger question, did this influence the election? And was it collusion in the campaign between the Trump campaign and the Russian operatives? We don’t have definitive answers on those yet. What we do know is that people are still pulling on these threads and we constantly find out more. So you know is this at the beginning, the finish, the middle? It’s hard to tell but it sure feels like this could go on for a while.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Right. Associated Press reporter Tom LoBianco joining us from Washington today. Thanks so much.

  • Tom Lobianco:

    Thank you.

  • Correction:

    The headline of this story has been updated to more accurately reflect the history of the dossier.

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