Former FBI Director James Comey falsely claimed throughout two recently congressional interviews that Republicans were the initial backers of the infamous Steele dossier, which alleges a vast conspiracy between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and the Russian government to influence the 2016 election.
Comey claimed twice in an interview Monday with the House Judiciary and House Oversight committees that Republicans initially commissioned the work of Christopher Steele, the former British spy behind the dossier. He made similar claims twice more in an interview with the same committees on Dec. 7.
“I remember being told that Steele’s work had been funded first by Republicans opposed to Trump, then by Democrats opposed to Trump,” Comey said at one point during Monday’s interview, according to a transcript of the session.
“It was Republicans opposed to Trump, and then it was Democrats opposed to Trump,” he said later in the same interview.
Comey, who was fired as FBI chief on May 9, 2017, made the same false statement in his interview earlier this month.
“I thought (Steele) was retained as part of a Republican-financed effort — retained by Republicans adverse to Mr. Trump during the primary season, and then his work was underwritten after that by Democrats opposed to Mr. Trump during 110 the general election season,” Comey said during his Dec. 7 interview.
Later, he said he believed that it was important for investigators to understand that the dossier was “a politically motivated effort, first by Republicans, then by Democrats.”
It is clear from the transcripts of Comey’s interviews that he was unfamiliar with details of the dossier and how it was handled within the FBI.
He was fuzzy on dates and said that he was not familiar with Fusion GPS, the firm that hired Steele, or Perkins Coie, the law firm that hired Fusion on behalf of Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
Comey is not the only Trump opponent to falsely claim that Republicans were involved in the dossier. Democrats and many journalists have repeated the inaccurate claim.
The source of confusion revolves around the timeline of Fusion GPS’s investigation into Trump.
The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative website owned by Republican donor Paul Singer, paid Fusion GPS during the 2016 primary season to investigate Trump. But executives with the website and with Fusion GPS have said that they discontinued the Trump research effort after it became apparent that the real estate baron would win the GOP nomination.
“I think we started in September or October, and I think it wound down in April (2016), sometime in the spring,” Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson testified to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on Nov. 14, 2017. “As the Republican primaries came to an end, it became obvious that that work was going to end.”
Fusion went looking for a new client soon after to continue its investigation of Trump. The firm found Perkins Coie.
With a new client funding its anti-Trump effort, Fusion GPS hired Steele in June 2016. Perkins Coie paid Fusion around $1 million through November 2016, and Fusion paid Steele around $170,000.
Steele, a former MI6 officer who worked in Russia before retiring, relied on intermediaries to obtain information about Trump and his campaign advisers.
Steele would go on to produce 17 memos with dates from June 20, 2016, to Dec. 13, 2016.
The FBI relied on his unverified memos to obtain four Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants against former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
Republicans have accused the FBI and Comey of misleading the FISA Court by relying so heavily on the dossier, which was unverified when the FBI included information from it in FISA applications.
Republicans have also argued that the FBI should have told FISA judges that the Clinton campaign and DNC were the ultimate funders of the dossier.
Comey rejected that idea in his House interviews.
“Whether it was Sally Smith or Joe Jones, Republican, or Sally Smith, Democrat … to me, it didn’t matter,” Comey said in an exchange with North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, a Republican on the Oversight Committee.
The FBI did disclose in its FISA applications that Steele’s information was funded by a client that opposed Trump’s campaign.
Comey claimed that he believed it was important only that the FISA Court knew that “there was potential bias in this information.”
“That’s really important,” he said.
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