Who made the Trump dossier: Meet the reporters of Fusion GPS
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Meet the reporters behind the Trump dossier

Glenn Simpson, founder of Fusion GPS. Screenshot: Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival and Symposium in 2016

In fall 2015, Fusion GPS, an investigative firm run by former senior reporters at the Wall Street Journal, began working on a new assignment — a deep dive into Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. The Washington Free Beacon, funded by a Republican backer of Trump rival Sen. Marco Rubio, was the client. Quickly, Fusion's researchers understood one big thing about Trump's business empire: It seemed inordinately weighted to Russia, and so they turned much effort to untangling that part of his business story.

Why it matters: Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress have sought to discredit Fusion as a tool of the Democratic Party. But the history of the firm's principals suggests no motive apart from the thrill of the chase, and of course earning serious money. The focus on Russia appears to have been a natural course of what they found.

I worked on international investigative stories with Fusion's two principals — Glenn Simpson (pictured above) and Peter Fritsch — when we were all at the WSJ in the early 2000s, and I was the paper's Central Asia correspondent. Some of the projects were about corruption in Kazakhstan and elsewhere, and the jihadi movement in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In addition, in 2010, I did one paid assignment for Simpson on Saudi Arabia after we had both left the WSJ.

  • Simpson left the Journal at a time two forces were changing what he did as an investigative reporter: the distressed economics of journalism was shrinking the budgets available for the free-wheeling, spend-anything fly-anywhere style of investigative reporting for which he was known; and Rupert Murdoch, the paper's new owner, wanted spot scoops and not the deeply reported investigations that were his trademark. Fritsch, by now an editor in the Journal's Washington bureau after coming home from abroad, followed and joined up with Simpson for the same reasons.

I have no idea what Simpson and Fritsch charge, but I understand it's a lot, and that seems to be driven by the market: They are seriously savvy at finding extremely hard-to-locate — and even more difficult to understand and contextualize — documents and other intelligence on globally powerful people and organizations. People who know what they are talking about want to speak with them, in large part because they understand that — either immediately or some time in the future — they themselves can learn something from them.

Their expertise is rare. Most people in the investigative game, whether reporters or former government agents, are more skilled at name-dropping or sounding scary than at actually knowing something telling. Not that Simpson and Fritsch themselves are unskilled raconteurs: Simpson especially is extremely good at sounding like he knows more than he does; it's a technique for pulling more information out of who he is talking to, and, I would guess, winning over potential clients.

What happened with the Trump investigation

In September 2015, the Washington Free Beacon, whose main funder is Republican hedge fund manager Paul Singer — a top bundler who during the campaign cycle publicly endorsed Rubio and became a fierce Trump critic — hired Simpson and Fritsch to look at Trump, according to a person familiar with the investigation. They began with a document dump — collecting all the voluminous legal papers related to Trump's six bankruptcies. Using Pacer, the federal government's repository for legal cases, they began to track lawsuits naming Trump, and companies and people close to him. And they tracked cases and firms to Iceland, the Cayman Islands and Ukraine.

  • Among the key companies that surfaced was Bayrock, a Kazakh- and Russia-connected New York-based real estate firm with an intriguing Trump connection: its former chief operating officer, Felix Sater, was a mob-connected, Russian-born Trump adviser, and former manager of Trump Soho, a later foreclosed condominium project on Spring Street.
  • Help from a former British intelligence agent came in spring 2016, when Simpson and Fritsch sought some more specialized expertise on Russia, and hired an old acquaintance — Christopher Steele, the former premier Russia expert for British intelligence, and now a private investigator. The documents were suggesting that Trump's businesses were heavily weighted to Russia and Russians; could Steele ask around for some details?

Within weeks, though, it became clear to Fusion's client that Trump was going to be the Republican nominee; for the Free Beacon and Singer, there was no use investigating him anymore. Not so much for the Democrats though: Trump now became their clear target, and Perkins Coie, deeply connected to the Democratic Party, became the paying client for the Simpson-Fritsch investigation.

The dossier and a meeting with reporters: What Steele emerged with makes up what is now known as the Trump dossier: a 35-page document of raw intelligence out of Moscow on Trump and his businesses. In September 2016, Fusion summoned reporters from top media organizations. Before them was Steele, visiting the U.S. from London. They introduced him by his credentials, and let him explain what he had found.

  • Among other separate meetings with reporters, Fusion met for two hours with NYT executive editor Dean Baquet and Matt Purdy, the paper's deputy managing editor in charge of investigations, to brief them on their Russia findings.
  • No immediate stories resulted from these meetings, namely because no one could confirm what Steele had written. That is not surprising: the nature of such commercial intelligence reports is to offer up everything of possible interest, with the assumption that next-stage research can either substantiate or knock down the detail. In an email exchange yesterday, Baquet declined to comment on any meetings he and Purdy held with anyone, but added, "I can say without hesitation that we were never told anything reportable about Russia that we held back at any point."
  • Last January, BuzzFeed broke open the story by publishing the dossier. That disclosure focused attention on all of Russia's ties to Trump and his companies and helped get us to where we are today, where indictments are expected tomorrow in the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.

The bottom line: Simpson and Fritsch have moved from behind-the-scenes gumshoes to leading figures in the investigation, as Republican members of the Senate and House say variously that they are lobbyists and instruments of Democratic hate of Trump. In closed congressional hearings, Fritsch invoked his 5th amendment rights so as not to disclose what he said was confidential information involving Fusion clients. I have no inside information on this but it can't be bad for business.

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Turkey claims Trump promised to stop arming Syrian Kurds

Photo; Pool Photo / AP

The Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu claims President Trump promised to stop arming the Syrian Kurds during a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, AP reports.

Why it matters: The White House has yet to comment on the claim, but some U.S. officials told the AP they were caught off guard by the announcement. Turkey views Kurdish fighters in Syria as terrorists because of the affiliation with the Kurdish fighters in their own country, but the Kurds have been effective in the anti-ISIS fight.

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Barbie through the years

An arrangement of Fashionista Barbies, by Mattel, is shown at Toy Fair in New York. Photo: Photo: Mark Lennihan / AP

In the nearly six decades of Barbie's reign as a cultural icon (she turns 59 in March), little girls' perception of beauty and success have evolved dramatically. As a result, Barbie's creator, Mattel, has repeatedly revamped the doll to keep her relevant.

Why it matters: In the past few years alone, the iconic blonde doll with its unrealistic body proportions has undergone massive changes. One of Barbie's biggest breakthroughs was as recent as 2016, when Mattel unveiled curvy, petite and tall dolls in an assortment of different skin tones and hairstyles. And the latest Barbie, set to hit stores in 2018, will don a hijab, in honor of Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad.

Business impact: Mattel credited their 2016 collection with boosting worldwide sales by 7%, revealing that the continued diversity push is largely a business decision for the company, which has been trying to turn its core business around for years.

Yes, but: Despite the spike in sales earlier this year, Mattel has been hard-pressed to maintain the momentum. In its most recent quarter, Mattel said Barbie sales were down 13% worldwide, and 22% in North America in large part due to the bankruptcy of one of its biggest customers, Toys R Us.

What's next: With sales lagging again, Mattel will likely continue its evolution of debuting new dolls with distinctive characteristics that attempt to break its previous cultural boundaries.

Barbie through the years

1965

Barbie encourages fad dieting. The Slumber Party-themed doll came equipped with a small plastic scale set to 110 lbs. and a diet book titled "How to Lose Weight" with the advice, "DON'T EAT!"

1992

Barbie speaks. Her first words included phrases like "I love shopping" and "Math class is tough." The latter phrase received backlash from several female advocates accusing Mattel of perpetuating gender stereotypes.

Barbie gets presidential. Mattel introduced the first president Barbie in 1992, donning a patriotic inauguration gown. In the following years she was upgraded to a dress suit.

The new "President 2000 Barbie" doll is shown Tuesday, April 25, 2000, in Los Angeles. Photo: Reed Saxon / AP

1994

Oreo Barbie. Mattel unveiled an Oreo Fun Barbie edition in partnership with Oreo-producer Nabisco. However, the African American version was quickly recalled after criticism that the word "Oreo" can refer to someone as being "black on the outside, and white on the inside."

1997

Barbie in a wheelchair. Mattel's "Share a Smile" Becky was its first handicapped doll. However, the company discontinued the doll after receiving criticism for not making Barbie's other accessories wheelchair accessible. Customers complained that the doll's wheelchair didn't fit in Barbie's Dream house elevator or her cars. The doll's long hair also got stuck in the wheels.

Mattel's Share a Smile Becky doll is shown during a news conference in Washington Wednesday, May 21, 1997. Photo: Susan Walsh / AP

1998

"Really Rad Barbie" gets a new, idolized body shape. The new body type was based on the fashion of the time. Barbie got a tighter smile, straighter hair, smaller hips, a smaller chest, a slightly wider waist and flatter feet. "They wanted Barbie to be cooler," Sean Fitzgerald, then-vice president of corporate communications for Mattel told SF Gate.

2015

Barbie gets inspired. In 2015, Mattel launched its Shero collection, based on women who have broken boundaries. Some of the Shero dolls include plus-size model Ashley Graham; groundbreaking African American ballerina Misty Copeland; Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas and Asian-American fashion editor Eva Chen.

Artificial Intelligence Barbie. This Barbie was the world's first AI-enabled doll, and designed to have conversations with children, much like one Siri would have with its iPhone users. And although many kids were excited to have a techy Barbie, several parents were concerned about the doll's ability to store data from recordings.

Hello Barbie is displayed at the Mattel showroom during the North American International Toy Fair in New York. Photo: Mark Lennihan / AP

2016

Barbie gets more realistic body shapes. Mattel debuted their new line of Barbies with three different body shapes — petite, tall, and curvy — in March 2016, alongside the hashtag #TheDollEvolves. The doll also comes in seven different skin tones, 22 eye colors, 33 hairstyles, and new clothing options.

A "curvy" Barbie, left, by Mattel, is shown at Toy Fair in New York in 2016. Photo: Mark Lennihan / AP

2017

Barbie's boyfriend, Ken, becomes more diverse: In June 2017, Mattel unveiled a collection of 15 racially and stylistically diverse Ken dolls with different body types and skin tones. They also have different hair colors and styles, including a man bun.

2018

Barbie will get a hijab. Influenced by Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, who became the first American to compete in the games while wearing a hijab. The doll will go on sale in 2018.

Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad holds a hijab-wearing "Barbie Shero" in her likeness at the 2017 Glamour Women of the Year Awards. Photo: Evan Agostini / Invision via AP

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Bharara: Cooperation with Mueller is "only sane move" for Flynn

Photo: Evan Vucci / AP

Former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara tweeted on Friday that the only "rational move" for former national security adviser Mike Flynn is to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller. The tweet follows a NY Times report that Flynn's lawyers have cut ties with Trump's, possibly in order to cut a deal with Mueller.

"If you're dead to rights, flipping on others and cooperating with the prosecution is the only sane and rational move. Also, prosecutors accept cooperation only if you can provide 'substantial assistance.' Higher up in the food chain."

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Trump administration backs Obama-led climate effort

Obama and Trump meet at the White House after Trump's election. Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

A career State Department official speaking at a conference Thursday on behalf of the Trump administration backed a climate policy then-President Obama pursued shortly before he left office.

The policy phases down powerful greenhouse gases found in a range of everyday appliances. This is the most explicit and public the Trump administration has been about supporting it.

The big picture: The conference, held this week in Montreal, is about a recent amendment to the Montreal Protocol, a global treaty created 30 years ago to fix the hole in the Earth's ozone layer, which is now it's achieving its goal. World leaders, led by the Obama administration, agreed in October 2016 to the Kigali amendment, which would phase down emissions of powerful greenhouse gases in refrigerants called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). HFCs are used in many appliances from air conditioners to refrigerators.

Quoted: "The United States believes the Kigali Amendment represents a pragmatic and balanced approach to phasing down the production and consumption of HFCs, and therefore we support the goals and approach of the Amendment," said Judith Garber, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the State Department's Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs.

What's next: Rhetorical backing for the amendment is one thing, but to have it actually take effect, the administration needs to send it over to the Senate so it can vote on its official ratification, as the Senate has done on other amendments and the original treaty 30 years ago. "There is no timeline currently determined for these steps, but we have initiated the process to consider U.S. ratification of the Amendment," Garber said.

Fast facts: The Montreal Protocol is a treaty about the ozone layer, but this latest amendment from Kigali represents an evolution to concerns about climate change. The 2015 Paris climate deal, which is a non-binding treaty that didn't require congressional input, is mostly about cutting other greenhouse gases from energy and land use. It's wholly separate from the Montreal Protocol.

Bottom line: Process matters a lot here. One of the biggest complaints of Trump administration officials about the Paris deal is that Obama circumvented Congress (because he knew he wouldn't get support from the GOP-controlled Senate). The Kigali amendment backers, which include chemical makers like Honeywell and Chemours, are emphasizing how this is a collaborative process with Congress and is about the Montreal Protocol, not climate change per se.

What we're hearing: "These remarks in support of the Kigali Amendment are very significant. Obviously, they were cleared by the White House," said David Doniger, who directs the climate change program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, by email. "The contrast with Trump's rejection of Paris is striking. But the Montreal Protocol and all of its amendments have enjoyed support from presidents and members of Congress from both parties."

My thought bubble: If/when you see this process unfold further, don't expect congressional Republicans and administration officials, most of whom don't acknowledge climate change is a problem, to focus on the climate angle. It'll be all about collaboration and protecting the environment and creating business opportunities for industry.


Go deeper:

  • Read my two Harder Line columns on this topic: Why industry is backing the policy, and how your air conditioner is caught up in all this.
  • The amendment is set to go into force (for those that have officially signed onto it) in January 2019, thanks to Sweden just recently signing on and meeting the ratification threshold, per the NYT.
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A new bird species is seen emerging in real-time

A medium ground finch, one of the two Galapagos finches that led to the new lineage.

Photo: Uwe-Bergwitz / iStock

Scientists have directly documented a new species evolving in the wild for the first time, according to the BBC. Fittingly, the event was seen in Galapagos Island finches, the same group of birds that helped Darwin solidify his theory of evolution. The research, published Thursday in the journal Science, started in 1981, when a single male from a different finch species came to the tiny island of Daphne Major.

Why it matters: This is the first time the formation of a new species has been observed in real-time in the wild. More than that, it shows how just a single individual can breed with one from another species, leading to the creation of a new species.

For several decades, scientists have been meticulously documenting minute changes in different finch species on the Galapagos Islands, an archipelago that's been referred to as a "natural laboratory for evolution."

How it started: The initial hybridization event happened in 1981 on the Galapagos island of Daphne Major, where evolutionary biologists Peter and Rosemary Grant conducted most of their research. They studied the group so closely that they noticed when a male large cactus finch, native to a different island 65 miles away, arrived on the island and began breeding with a local population.

What happened: Native females didn't recognize the songs of the new hybrid males, so instead of breeding with the local population as expected, the hybrids bred within their population. This paper shows that after just two generations, they stopped breeding with other populations and have remained reproductively isolated ever since.

Taking off: "In most cases, the offspring of cross-species matings are poorly adapted to their environment," writes Rory Galloway for the BBC. But the large size of these hybrids has allowed them to exploit resources the native birds weren't using, so the birds have flourished.

Go deeper: It just so happens that Darwin's personally annotated copy of The Origin of Species is up for auction. The Guardian has the story.

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Swedish power plant burning H&M clothes instead of coal

Frenzied customers grab clothes, shortly after H&M opened a new store in Los Angeles. Photo: Damian Dovarganes / AP

A Swedish power plant is burning H&M clothing as a way to move closer to becoming "a fossil-fuel free facility by 2020," according to Bloomberg.

Why it matters: Per Bloomberg, Sweden runs on "an almost entirely emission free-power system," and moving plants to burning only trash and biofuels will hopefully "edge out the last of its fossil fuel units."

  • Head of Communications for H&M in Sweden, Johanna Dahl, told Bloomberg: "H&M does not burn any clothes that are safe to use...However it is our legal obligation to make sure that clothes that contain mold or do not comply with our strict restriction on chemicals are destroyed."
  • The Swedish plant has reportedly burned 15 tons of H&M clothing in 2017 thus far.
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More young people are becoming farmers

Photo: LM Otero / AP

"For only the second time in the last century, the number of farmers under 35 years old is increasing, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's latest Census of Agriculture," the WashPost's Caitlin Downey reports in a front-pager with the lovely headline, "A growing movement":

  • 69% of the surveyed young farmers had college degrees — significantly higher than the general population.
  • Why it matters: "This new generation can't hope to replace the numbers that farming is losing to age. But it is already contributing to the growth of the local-food movement and could help preserve the place of midsize farms in the rural landscape."
  • Where it's happening: "In some states, such as California, Nebraska and South Dakota, the number of beginning farmers has grown by 20 percent or more."
  • The millennials are "far more likely than the general farming population to grow organically, limit pesticide and fertilizer use, diversify their crops or animals, and be deeply involved in... farmers markets."
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Uber's data breach cover-up could be the last straw for some riders

Photo: Richard Vogel / AP

Uber's "latest misbehavior involving a data breach cover-up revealed this week could be the impetus for people to ride elsewhere," according to AP's Tom Krisher in Detroit and tech writer Barbara Ortutay:

  • "[R]iders have fled from the service before, but enough have stayed because of the Uber's convenience."
  • "[T]his week the state of Colorado fined Uber $8.9 million for allowing employees with serious criminal or motor vehicle offenses to drive for the company. Then came the stolen data, which has touched off more government inquiries."
  • Why it matters: Polling by Brand Keys Inc., a New York-based customer research firm, "found that in 2015 Lyft passed Uber as the most trusted of ride-hailing brands, and trust in Uber has been eroding ever since."
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How Trump risked a key intel relationship

Trump meets with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, left, and Russian Ambassador Kislyak at the White House in May. Photo: Russian Foreign Ministry Photo via AP

Astonishing reporting from Vanity Fair's The Hive, by Howard Blum ... "What Trump ... told Kisylak after Comey was canned ... During a May 10 meeting in the Oval Office, the president betrayed his intelligence community by leaking the content of a classified, and highly sensitive, Israeli intelligence operation to two high-ranking Russian envoys, Sergey Kislyak and Sergey Lavrov":

  • Israeli spies and counterterrorism forces had discovered that "ISIS terrorists were working on transforming laptop computers into bombs that could pass undetected through airport security." That led to new U.S. and British restrictions on flights from abroad.
  • "[T]he Israeli mission was praised by [the American espionage community] as a casebook example of a valued ally's hard-won field intelligence being put to good, arguably even lifesaving, use."
  • "Yet this triumph would be overshadowed ... when ... Trump revealed details about the classified mission" to the Russian officials in the Oval.
  • Why it matters: "[F]resh blood was spilled in [Trump's] long-running combative relationship with the nation's clandestine services. Israel ... would rethink its willingness to share raw intelligence, and pretty much the entire Free World was left shaking its collective head in bewilderment."
  • Listen in.

P.S. Paul Manafort took at least 138 trips to Ukraine between 2004 and 2015 while consulting for Russian and pro-Russian oligarchs, McClatchy'sPeter Stone and Greg Gordon report:

  • "As the GOP platform committee drew up party positions a week before the Republican National Convention, a plank calling for the United States to provide 'lethal weapons' for Ukraine's defense was altered in a controversial and mysterious move."
  • An "American consultant in Ukraine said that Manafort ... had boasted he played a role in easing the language."
  • "Charlie Black, a onetime partner of Manafort's, says he remains baffled by the change. 'It was inexplicable to me that a majority of platform members would have taken a pro-Russian position on Ukraine.'"
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More than 620,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar

Photo: Bernat Armangue / AP

This aerial photo shows the Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh, housing Rohingya Muslims who fled across the border to escape violence. More than 620,000 Rohingya have fled from Myanmar into Bangladesh since Aug. 25, when the army began what it called "clearance operations" following an attack on police posts by a group of Rohingya insurgents.

Go deeper: The big picture on the crisis