Multiple U.S. senators are now demanding that FBI Director James Comey disclose whether Fusion GPS, the Democratic opposition research firm that produced the debunked dossier on President Trump’s alleged Russia ties, was itself a Russian agent working on behalf of Vladimir Putin’s regime. In a letter sent to Comey in March, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) dropped a bombshell and disclosed that a complaint against Fusion GPS had been filed with the Department of Justice alleging that the oppo firm “violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act by working on behalf of Russian principals to undermine U.S. sanctions against Russians.”
On Wednesday, another senator joined the mix with pointed questions for the embattled FBI head. Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.), who has been a vocal critic of President Trump, peppered Comey with questions about ties between Fusion GPS and what Graham termed “the Russian intelligence apparatus”:
Graham: Are you familiar with Fusion?
Comey: I know the name.
Graham: Are they part of the Russian intelligence apparatus?
Comey: I can’t say.
Graham: Do you agree with me that if Fusion was involved in preparing a dossier against Donald Trump, that would be interfering in our election by the Russians?
Comey: I don’t want to say.
It was a surprising question about information that has not been well reported in the media. Graham referenced an April 28 letter from Grassley to Comey. Grassley noted a pattern of FBI obstruction into the committee’s investigation of Russian interference, at least when that investigation touched on decisions made by the FBI.
Grassley asked for information on March 6 about the FBI’s relationship to Christopher Steele, author of a political opposition research dossier that alleged collusion between associates of Donald Trump and the Russian government. The FBI failed to respond, despite a March 20 deadline.
On February 15, Grassley and ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked for a briefing and documents related to the resignation of Trump National Security Advisor Mike Flynn and the leaks of classified info involving him. There was a “startling lack of responsiveness” to the request, Grassley wrote. Comey finally briefed Grassley and Feinstein in mid-March, addressing also a small number of the questions about Steele.
On April 19, the FBI claimed that the meeting addressed the concerns of both letters. “That is incorrect,” Grassley noted. Not only has the FBI failed to provide the documents requested in the March letter or answer the vast majority of its questions, there appear to be “material inconsistencies” between the description of the FBI’s relationship with Steele that Comey gave in the briefing and information contained in Justice Department documents made available to the committee after the briefing.
Grassley wrote that whether those inconsistencies were honest mistakes or an attempt to downplay the FBI’s relationship with Steele, he still needs the answers and documents he requested. But then he noted this new information:
Fusion GPS is the subject of a complaint to the Justice Department, which alleges that the company violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act by working on behalf of Russian principals to undermine U.S. sanctions against Russians. That unregistered work was reportedly conducted with a former Russian intelligence operative, Mr. Rinat Akhmetshin, and appears to have been occurring simultaneously to Fusion GPS’s work overseeing the creation of the dossier.
Grassley said he requested information about this on March 31 but that Justice failed to respond. He is now demanding answers to all of his questions, along with new questions about what the FBI knew about Russian involvement with Fusion GPS, by May 12. The earlier letter, discussed here, included questions about whether the dossier was used to seek a FISA warrant against anyone. Spoiler: It was strategically leaked that it was.
Now Grassley is demanding documentation of all payments made to Steele, as well as disclosure about whether the FBI was aware that Fusion GPS was at the same time allegedly working as an unregistered agent for Russian interests, when the FBI became aware of this allegation, and whether this information was included in FISA warrant requests or any other related documents.
Comey refused to answer Grassley’s questions along these lines during the hearing, causing Grassley to be visibly and audibly frustrated at the obstruction.