Glenn Simpson Interview Analysis: Part 2 - by Greer Clem
When we left off at the end of my last article, we were just getting to Christopher Steele's further investigation into Donald Trump. What had begun as a routine check on a presidential candidate had evolved into a crisis involving potential interference by a foreign government. Now we really get to the meat of the interview, because at the time of Steele's investigation, American journalists were also breaking stories on Russian interference. This breaking news was uncovering similarities that corroborated much of the information provided by Steele. With that, let's dive in to how the fall of 2016 progressed.
Simpson, while working for the Wall Street Journal, had previously done research into Russian oligarchs and their relationships with American politicians, specifically looking at a Russian oligarch who met with Senator John McCain shortly before the 2008 election. Reminder: John McCain is the Senator who pushed the Magnitsky Act to Hillary Clinton's desk, ensuring it would be made law. He personally met with Bill Browder (see part 1 for context) to help create sanctions against Russian oligarchs who had contributed to Magnitsky's death. However, the meeting with Browder did not occur until 2012, 4 years after McCain lost the election to Barack Obama and four years after the 2008 meeting Simpson investigated. The timing and context of this shows just how muddy the waters get when it comes to Russia. Simpson had also done extensive reporting on Paul Manafort and his ties to pro-Russian Ukranian politicians. When Manafort was made campaign manager of the Trump campaign, Simpson and Steele made a note.
The first memo composed by Christopher Steele says of Trump, "He and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his democratic and other political rivals...Trump people were eager to accept intelligence from a foreign government about their political rivals and that is, you know, I would say a form of interference"(page 154-155). This investigation could merely have uncovered a Russian attempt and failure to interfere in our election had they not found a candidate eager to get their hands dirty. The Trump campaign was more than willing to accept help from a foreign government, thereby bringing everyone's favorite word into the equation: collusion.
Steele's second memo was prompted by the public reporting on the hack of the Democratic National Committee. Simpson said, "So by this time Debbie Wasserman Schultz has been the subject of a very aggressive hacking campaign, weaponized hack, the likes of which have never really been seen... So the question by now of whether this was Russia and whether this might have something to do with the other information that we'd received was the immediate question"(page 158-159). By the time of the second memo, Steele had already met with the FBI, having decided after his initial investigation that he may have stumbled upon a national security threat. He had a connection in the FBI, someone he knew would listen to him, and so he made arrangements to meet with an agent. As Simpson put it, "His concern, which is something counterintelligence people deal with a lot, is whether or not there was blackmail going on, whether a political candidate was being blackmailed or had been compromised... Russians have cameras in all the luxury hotel rooms and there are memoirs written about this by former Russian intelligence agents I could quote you. So the problem of kompromat (compromising material) is just endemic to east-west intelligence work"(page 160-163). Steele was concerned that Trump, who he knew to have relationships with Russian criminals, was in a position to be blackmailed by their government.
This concern could have been inconsequential, a mere potential that something could happen, if not for our old friend Carter Page. Simpson said, "Carter Page shows up in Moscow and gives a speech. He's a campaign advisor and he gives a speech about dropping sanctions. Trump continues to say mysterious things about what a great guy Putin is"(page 170). By this point, Steele and Simpson begin to get confused; is the FBI looking into this? Why haven't they heard anything further? Then, towards the end of September, Steele hears from the FBI and goes to Rome to debrief their agents on the entirety of his findings. Steele then reports that, when he met with the FBI, “Essentially what they told me was they had other intelligence about this matter from an internal Trump campaign source and that - my understanding was that they believed Chris at this point - that they believed Chris's information might be credible because they had other intelligence that indicated the same thing and one of those pieces of intelligence was a human source from inside the Trump organization"(page 175). Over the past 24 hours, this statement has caused speculation among journalists and pundits alike: was this someone within the campaign or within the Trump organization? Both are mentioned, but it's thought to be someone inside the campaign itself. Simpson clarifies later in his interview that he does not know which one the source came from (page 195). However, he does say that this person had not been a source for Steele but was a voluntary source within the Trump web. "It was someone like us who decided to pick up the phone and report something"(page 176).
There has been speculation that this person is George Papadopoulos. It's an understandable assumption, as Papadopoulos has plead guilty to making false statements to the FBI regarding contacts he had made with Russian governmental agents while working for the Trump campaign. However, the image Simpson paints is of a person who independently decided to contact the authorities. Papadopoulos plead guilty because he had been caught in the lie. Though he has been cooperating with Mueller since his arrest at the end of July, it's unlikely he is the same person as the one Simpson describes. What's more, the timeline does not match up. Steele's account indicates that someone had come forward in the early fall to the FBI, over a month after Papadopoulos's arrest. Who that person is remains to be seen.
Now we've arrived at the Comey letter bomb drop, after which Steele has a conversation with his FBI contact. Simpson relayed, "That episode, you know, obviously created some concern that the FBI was intervening in a political campaign in contravention of long-standing Justice Department regulation. So it made a lot of people, including us, concerned about what the heck was going on at the FBI" (page 178). Shortly after the letter's release, Steele severed ties with the FBI and the agent he was in contact with, feeling unsure as to whether or not the FBI was being "manipulated for political ends by the Trump people."
Shortly after the election, Steele tells Simpson that he had run into David Kramer, a long-time adviser to John McCain, at a security Conference. Kramer had run into Sir Andrew Wood, who had previously worked for the UK government, specializing in Russia. Among Kramer and Wood, the subject of potential Russian intervention in the US election came up. Kramer and McCain had discussed this and McCain wanted a follow-up, intending to ultimately ask the leadership of the FBI. Simpson gives Steele the go-ahead to work with Kramer, saying, "We just wanted people in an official position to ascertain whether it was accurate or not"(page 222). You can see from what Simpson calls a "chance encounter at a security conference" just how tangled the Russia web is. McCain himself had been researched by Simpson earlier, as noted above, for working with a former Russian oligarch. That being said, he also pushed the Magnitsky Bill through when other politicians would have certainly been reluctant. It thus becomes apparent just how entangled these various issues are, something Simpson and Steele both clearly appreciated and were cautious of.
Simpson then returned to the subject of potentially compromised people within the Trump campaign, namely, Carter Page. Simpson said, "Carter Page seemed to us to be a typical person who the Russians would attempt to co-opt or compromise or manipulate...there was a fair amount of open source on his consulting firm, his complaint that he'd lost money on Russian investments and he owned stock in Gazprom and he was really mad about the sanctions...There's a lot of skepticism in the press about whether he could be linked between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign because he seemed like a zero, a lightweight... that's exactly why he would end up as someone they would try to co-opt...Chris (Steele) identified Carter Page as someone who seemed to be in the middle of the campaign, between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, and he later turned out to be an espionage suspect who was, in fact, someone the FBI had been investigating for years... We had reason to believe he had, in fact, been offered business deals that would tend to influence him, business arrangements"(page 240-242). Phew. There's a lot in here, but the true significance of this testimony is that it supplants speculation already made regarding Page. It also confirms that Page, a relative nobody to the American public, was the perfect link between the Kremlin and Trump. He testified to the House Intelligence Committee that, during his trip to Moscow, he met with Russian government officials and reported this back to the Trump campaign. Page's testimony, which I discussed in a previous article, combined with Simpson's interview provide some of the most substantial evidence of collusion yet seen in this investigation.
Towards the end of his interview, Simpson discusses recent attempts to hack his own company (recent as of August, 2017). He's asked a question about journalists and credibility and declines to answer, saying, "Somebody's already been killed as a result of the publication of this dossier and no harm should come to anybody related to this honest work"(page 280). I want to highlight this point quickly because, to devoted followers of Donald Trump, people who continue to pursue the true events of the 2016 election are called "snowflakes." I was called one today. If that dig is meant to indicate that one is oversensitive, it is misplaced. It has long been documented that the Russian government kills people it believes to be a threat to its system of misconduct and corruption. The fact that someone has been killed as a result of information published that is related to an American presidential election should shock everyone. We are not Russia; this should not be swept under the rug, but should be a reminder why decades of past presidents have kept a watchful eye on our relationship with the Kremlin. Sergei Magnitsky died alone in a Russian prison because he uncovered information related to the financial corruption of Russian officials. Someone else, potentially from our own country, has been killed because of uncovered truth. That's not a biased opinion, that is fact.
I'll wrap up this piece by addressing the bias Trump supporters will claim Simpson has. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has already targeted his firm as being a left-leaning organization that dispells fake news. To questions of his own opinion of Trump and how it factored into his research, Simpson said, "My concerns were in the category of character and competence rather than - I didn't have any specific concerns for much of the time about his views, which I don't share, but that wasn't really the issue. Most of what we do has to do with do people have integrity and whether they've been involved in illicit activity. So those were the things I focused on"(page 292). This is the same standard to which we should hold all people running for public office. Everyone is entitled to their own views. Our government, in theory, is designed to enforce compromise between viewpoints. The question of Donald Trump and Russia has never been of his views; it has been of his integrity, of which he has none. He has been irrefutably linked to corruption and crime. He is subject to sway and influence from those who wish to cause harm to our democracy. This interview is clear evidence that our nation is at a crossroads in terms of how we value truth, and it is my hope that, despite differing viewpoints, we can make the truth a place of common ground.