Earlier in the week, I wrote about new strands of the Russia story coming into public view, reiterating my belief that a thorough accounting of Moscow's malign influence requires exploring all aspects of the controversy -- including those that have nothing to do with Donald Trump, and may even cause heartburn among Democrats. Late last night, the Washington Post reported that an infamous (and unsubstantiated/dubious) anti-Trump dossier featuring salacious Russia-related allegations was, in fact, funded by the DNC and Clinton campaigns. A few thoughts on this development:
(1) At the very least, this is an embarrassment for Democrats, especially those who lied to reporters about the provenance of the dossier, including who paid for it:
(2) Clinton campaign and DNC officials are now claiming they had no idea that their lawyer funneled money to Democratic firm Fusion GPS to subsidize the 'Steele dossier.' Count me as seriously skeptical. Robert Mueller's special counsel team, which is now separately probing the Podesta Group (and which partially owes its very existence to this shady dossier), should investigate whether or not that's true. So should Congressional investigators, whom Fusion GPS leaders have stymied and stonewalled at every turn thus far, aided by Democrats.
(3) Democrats are now essentially parroting the Trump campaign's excuse -- "pursuing opposition research is standard procedure!" -- offered after this attempted collusion episode. There are obvious differences between the two scenarios, but the abrupt turnabout is nevertheless striking. And certain media hacks on this issue are hacking hard.
(4) It's inaccurate and misleading to claim that the 'Steele dossier' was first funded by a Republican donor. Fusion GPS' oppo work against Trump was initiated by rival Republican forces during the GOP primary, but it shifted into a Democratic operation by the summer of 2016, before Christopher Steele was brought on to compile an anti-Trump file, which quickly became Russia-focused:
Some of the pushback on the left has focused on the fact that a still-unidentified Republican client retained Fusion GPS to do research on Trump before the Clinton campaign and the DNC did. Thus, they argue, it's wrong to say the dossier was just funded by Democrats. But The Post is reporting that the dossier's author, Steele, wasn't brought into the mix until after Democrats retained Fusion GPS. So while both sides paid Fusion GPS, Steele was only funded by Democrats.
(5) Prior to the new WaPo piece, we already had some indication that the FBI had paid Steele in some capacity related to this story. (Are any of the journalists who ridiculed Trump's tweet asking if the dossier had been paid for by Democrats and/or the FBI going to admit that he's been vindicated?) The new report confirms it: "After the election, the FBI agreed to pay Steele to continue gathering intelligence about Trump and Russia, but the bureau pulled out of the arrangement after Steele was publicly identified in news reports." Federal investigators were paying a foreign ex-spook to gather dodgy information (including from Russians) about an American presidential nominee, and then cut off the money spigot as soon as that relationship became public knowledge? That seems...really strange, doesn't it? That element of this ongoing story, summarized very well by Andy McCarthy, is still mysterious and confounding.
(6) Some conservatives, understandably eager to turn the Left's Russia obsession against them, are claiming these new revelations point to Democratic collusion with the Russians. This is premature, and assumes facts not in evidence. Yes, some of Steele's sources were reportedly senior Russian officials. And yes, Fusion GPS worked on behalf of the Russians on what they say was a separate and unrelated (but definitely overlapping, time-wise) project. The fact that Democrats paid for the dossier and weren't forthcoming about that fact raises new questions and invites fresh scrutiny. There could be much more to this story, and anyone who purports to care about the Russia matter should favor the truth being pursued, regardless of where it leads.
But we don't yet know nearly enough information to conclude with any degree of confidence that "Democrats colluded with the Russians." We can say that Democrats didn't own up to funding a sketchy anti-Trump dossier, researched by a former British spy who relied on connected Russian sources. And that he was hired by a Democratic attack-dog firm that also had an active business relationship with the Kremlin. That may be smoke, but it's not fire. Yet. Republicans have spent the better part of the last year rightly complaining about breathless Democrat-media hysteria and unsupported assertions and endless speculation regarding "collusion." The urge to force-feed the Left some of its own medicine now that this opening has presented itself is obviously tempting. But those who've insisted that we must follow the facts -- instead of hyping conjecture and "fake news" -- should continue to hold that position.
(7) Via this National Review piece, how and why was this the case?
"Rather than do its own investigation, the FBI relied on a contractor retained by the DNC’s lawyers." It's still mystifying that an investigation into Russia's election meddling -- a major element of which is the hacking of DNC emails -- never resulted in the FBI seeking or receiving full access to...the DNC's emails. Why? Parting thought: Did these undisclosed payments violate campaign finance law?