A released Senate transcript shows dossier paymaster Glenn Simpson had pure praise for the work of dossier writer Christopher Steele — an assessment disputed by intelligence professionals who have studied the product.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, took the unusual step Tuesday of unilaterally releasing a partially redacted 312-page transcript of his testimony.
“I hope you won’t be insulted, but he’s basically a Boy Scout,” said Mr. Simpson, who paid Mr. Steele with money from the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. “You know, he worked for the government for a very long time. He lives a very modest, quiet life, and, you know, this is his specialty. We got along very well because my specialty is public information.”
As to the quality of Mr. Steele’s work since meeting him in 2009, Mr. Simpson said: “Quality is a really important issue in the business intelligence industry. There’s a lot of poor quality work and a lot of people make a lot of promises about what they can do and who they know and what they can find out and then there’s just a lot of people who operate in sort of improper questionable ways. Chris was, you know, a person who delivered quality work in very appropriate ways.”
Since BuzzFeed posted the full Trump–Russia dossier one year ago, a number of intelligence experts have opined that, in this case, Mr. Steele — a former MI-6 officer posted to Moscow from 1990 to 1993 — failed to adhere to basic intelligence analysis standards of verification.
Investigative journalist Bob Woodward, who has written about the intelligence community for four decades, said shortly after the dossier’s publication that Mr. Steele had produced a “garbage document.”
More recently, Rep. Jim Himes, a Connecticut Democrat who has been trying to bolster the dossier as a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, delivered a harsh critique.
“There may very well be errors in the dossier,” Mr. Himes told CNN this month. “It is not finished intelligence. It is a collection of information that would not pass muster with the CIA or the FBI. But there are still very many open questions about some of the allegations in that dossier.”
President Obama appointees gave the document low marks too:
• Former acting CIA director Michael J. Morell spoke in March about how Mr. Steele performed his work. He said the British ex-spy left himself open to disinformation, a Moscow specialty.
Mr. Morell said he did some digging after reading the dossier’s 35 pages, which alleged a massive conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence.
“I have subsequently learned that he used intermediaries,” Mr. Morell said at conference sponsored by the intelligence website Cipher Brief. “And then I asked myself, ‘why did these guys provide this information, what was their motivation?’ And I subsequently learned that he paid them. That the intermediaries paid the sources and the intermediaries got the money from Chris. And that kind of worries me a little bit because if you’re paying somebody, particularly former FSB [Russian intelligence] officers, they are going to tell you truth and innuendo and rumor, and they’re going to call you up and say, ‘Hey, let’s have another meeting, I have more information for you.’ I think you’ve got to take all that into consideration when you consider the dossier.”
• When former CIA director John Brennan appeared before the House intelligence committee, Rep. Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Republican, asked if the agency relied on the dossier.
“No,” was his curt answer.
• When former FBI Director James B. Comey testified in June before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, he recounted the time in January he briefed President-elect Trump at Trump Tower in New York City. Mr. Comey referred to the dossier as “salacious and unverified material.”
‘Was this credible?’
Mr. Simpson himself expressed doubts about the first of Mr. Steele’s 16 pre-election memos. Full of scandalous charges, the June 20 memo said the Trump campaign team and the Kremlin conspired to exchange anti-Clinton research. Mr. Steele, who briefed the FBI on the memo, also wrote of a supposed Trump encounter with prostitutes in 2013 at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton hotel.
Neither assertion has been substantiated by public evidence 18 months later.
Mr. Simpson testified in August that “because it was human source intelligence and some of it was of a personal nature, it was not particularly useful for the kind of things that are, you know, useful in politics, which are things that you can prove, things that you can say, things people will believe … In the initial round of this that was the big question, was this credible?”
“Chris, as I say, has a sterling reputation as a person who doesn’t exaggerate, doesn’t make things up, doesn’t sell baloney,” said Mr. Simpson, who founded Fusion with other former Wall Street Journal scribes. “In my business, I mean, there are a lot of people who make stuff up and sell baloney.”
The latest to file was Michael Cohen, President Trump’s personal attorney. Mr. Steele accused Mr. Cohen of traveling to Prague in August 2016 to arrange a cover-up of election-year computer hacking with aides to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mr. Cohen has said he’s never been to Prague and that the charge is ridiculous.
In his Senate session, Mr. Simpson maintained that he never ordered Mr. Steele to investigate collusion. Instead, he asked him to simply look at Trump–Russia business ties and was shocked by what the ex-spy produced.
But in a London libel case, Mr. Steele said he was expressly told to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
Mr. Steele, his court filing says, “was engaged by Fusion to prepare a series of confidential memoranda based on the intelligence concerning Russian efforts to influence the U.S. presidential process and links between Russia and Donald Trump.”
The FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump team in late July.
Asked why he went to the FBI, Mr. Simpson said, “For both of us it was citizenship. You know, people report crimes all the time.”
At the time Mr. Simpson sat down with SenateJudiciary Committee investigators, it was not known that the dossier was funded by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. He declined to name his clients.
Whether Mr. Steele knew he was a Democratic Party agent when he was writing his memos is unclear. He declined to answer that question in the London libel case brought by a Russian entrepreneur whom Mr. Steele accused of hacking the Democrats’ computers. Mr. Steele acknowledged those charges were raw gossip and not verified in any way, and he blamed BuzzFeed for posting his work.