Oct 30, 2017

The big questions surrounding the Trump-Russia dossier

Moscow's Red Square and Kremlin towers at dusk. Photo: Ivan Sekretarev / AP

The controversial dossier on President Trump's links to Russia has resurfaced with new reports that the Clinton campaign and the DNC, as well as conservative news outlet the Washington Free Beacon, were involved in funding the research behind it.

The big picture: The dossier is reportedly playing a role in Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, but opinions on how credible and explosive it is vary widely. Trump and his supporters say it's a "fake" and the real scandal is Democratic involvement in funding it. Many of his critics embraced it immediately upon its publication by Buzzfeed News in January.

What is it?

The dossier is a set of 17 memos on Trump's alleged interactions with Russians, dated between June and December of 2016 and prepared by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer. Steele's services were contracted by Fusion GPS, a Washington-based investigative firm.

What's in it?

The dossier includes salacious but unverified claims about Russian intelligence officers possessing video tapes of Trump's conduct in a Moscow hotel room, which Steele contends could make him liable to blackmail, as well as claims about ties between his associates and Russia.

Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen wrote a letter to House investigators in August denying the claims about him in the dossier, which included that he traveled to Prague for meetings with Kremlin officials. Cohen said he has never been to Prague. Mueller's team met with Steele during the summer to discuss his findings.

Who paid for it?

Fusion GPS was hired by the Free Beacon, whose owner supported Marco Rubio's candidacy, to collect damaging information about Trump. After it became clear Trump would be the nominee, a lawyer representing Clinton and the DNC enlisted Fusion GPS, which in turn sought out Steele's services. The FBI agreed to pay Steele to continue his work after the election, but ultimately backed out when Steele was identified publicly.

Note: Trump tweeted this morning that Clinton paid $12 million for the information, but is "unclear how Trump arrived at" that figure, per the Post. The campaign paid the law firm that hired Fusion GPS a total of $9.2 million, but it's unclear how much of that was paid to Fusion GPS.

What's Trump saying?

Trump's claims that the dossier contains fake information and that the Russia investigation is a "witch hunt" have been emboldened by the revelation that a lawyer linked to Democrats bankrolled Fusion GPS. Sunday morning, he tweeted, "Never seen such Republican ANGER & UNITY as I have concerning the lack of investigation on Clinton made Fake Dossier ... Instead they look at phony Trump/Russia, / "collusion," which doesn't exist."

What's the Free Beacon saying?

The Free Beacon's chairman told the New York Times they had nothing to do with the dossier that was ultimately produced. "The Free Beacon had no knowledge of or connection to the Steele dossier, did not pay for the dossier, and never had contact with, knowledge of, or provided payment for any work performed by Christopher Steele," they said in a statement.

What's the DNC saying?

"Tom Perez and the new leadership of the DNC were not involved in the decision-making regarding Fusion GPS, nor were they aware that Perkins Coie was working with the organization," said spokesman Xochitl Hinojosa said in statement.

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