The backlash continues this week against an inflammatory dossier containing damaging allegations against then-candidate Donald Trump that surfaced during the 2016 presidential campaign.
As The Hill reported Friday, Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina joined forces to draft a request that the Justice Department launch a criminal investigation into the document’s author, Christopher Steele.
They reportedly sent the letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray and included allegations that Steele, a former British spy, lied to federal authorities during questioning about the dossier.
Included with the referral was a classified memorandum the senators wrote was related to “certain communications between Christopher Steele and multiple U.S. news outlets.”
The New York Times reported that Steele is accused of lying to investigators about his prior contacts with reporters while compiling the research used in his report.
The dossier caused a splash when it was released, but a number of its more salacious details have been widely disputed by those close to Trump and his campaign.
“I don’t take lightly making a referral for criminal investigation,” Grassley said in response to the request. “But, as I would with any credible evidence of a crime unearthed in the course of our investigations, I feel obliged to pass that information along to the Justice Department for appropriate review.”
Graham also confirmed that he believes “a special counsel needs to review this matter” in the wake of troubling discoveries during the congressional probe by the Senate Judiciary Committee into Russia’s alleged interference in the presidential election.
Several prominent Republicans, including Trump himself, have taken aim at Steele and his dossier on both a factual basis and over alleged ties to Democrat operatives.
The latest move by Grassley and Graham, however, has been criticized by some Democrats — including those on the committee — who see it as a political ploy.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, for example, described the recommendation as a partisan sleight of hand meant to take the spotlight off of Trump as the investigation moves forward.
“I think this referral is unfortunate as it’s clearly another effort to deflect attention from what should be the committee’s top priority: determining whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the election and whether there was subsequent obstruction of justice,” Feinstein said in response to the letter.
The California Democrat is her party’s highest-ranking member on the committee.
She said Democrat members were not advised of the request prior to its issuance.
Fusion GPS, the research firm for which Steele drafted the dossier, has also reacted to the latest development with hostility.
“Publicizing a criminal referral based on classified information raises serious questions about whether this letter is nothing more than another attempt to discredit government sources, in the midst of an ongoing investigation,” Fusion GPS said in a statement through its attorneys.
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