Glenn Simpson Interview Analysis: Part 1 - by Greer Clem
Okay, guys: this one is big, so bear with me. I'm going to walk you through the key notes from Glenn Simpson's interview, who he is, and why this is relevant. I've broken this down into two parts, the first of which will cover the beginning of Simpson's investigation into Trump through to just after revelations about the Trump Tower meeting. Buckle up.
Glenn Simpson is a former journalist who spent years doing investigative reporting for the Wall Street Journal. After leaving the Journal in 2009, he cofounded a research and business intelligence firm, SNS Global, which then ceased operations in 2010. He subsequently formed Fusion GPS, another business intelligence firm that exists today. Fusion GPS was contracted during the American presidential election to do investigative work into Donald Trump. They were first hired to do so by a Republican candidate and later hired by another client, allegedly a Democratic candidate. Glenn Simpson subsequently contracted ex MI6 agent Christopher Steele to do research into Donald Trump's relationship with Russia.
Steele began composing memos, the collection of which ultimately became known as the "Steele Dossier." After growing concerned that some information obtained was relevant to a national security threat to the United States, Steele began communicating with the FBI. Simpson was aware of this and told Steele to do what he felt was right in the interest of security. After James Comey's letter declaring he would be reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton, Steele became concerned that he did not fully understand the landscape of events at the FBI. He was unsure if Comey or others within the FBI were being swayed by partisan pull, so he ended communication with them. The "Steele Dossier" was subsequently published by Buzzfeed in January, 2017.
Simpson was asked to be interviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he agreed to voluntarily. He was interviewed for over nine hours on August 22, 2017. Until today, that interview was not available to the public. However, Senator Diane Feinstein, a member of the Committee, released the full interview today for the public to read.
Before we dig into the meat of the interview itself, let's first go over how Simpson and Fusion GPS has been portrayed. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has categorized the firm as being a Democratic propaganda organization that has lead to fake news regarding collusion between Trump and Russia. Fusion GPS is just a research firm; there are no sides. They are contracted to look into people's backgrounds and what they find is what dictates their opinions. This will be important to remember when reading Simpson's answers on Trump as a person.
Simpson historically had done much work on Russian corruption and financial dealings. So, when Prevezon Holdings Limited, a real-estate company based in Cyprus, was being sued by the Justice Department and came to Simpson to do background research, he was well within his wheelhouse. Prevezon was being investigated for laundering millions of dollars into New York City real estate, much of that money belonging to Russian oligarchs. This was part of what Sergei Magnitsky uncovered during his research for Hermitage Capital's CEO, Bill Browder. Simpson was retained by the law firm representing Prevezon to do research into the case being made against them.
Prevezon's initial explanation as to the Justice Department's law suit was that they were being extorted by a Russian organized crime figure (page 38). They claimed they had reported this to the police and that the mobster was convicted and jailed. Simpson initially looked into whether this claim made by Prevezon was factually true. When interviewing the agent who had reported this laundering scheme to the DOJ, that agent said they got all of their information from Bill Browder, CEO of Hermitage Capital and the founder and guiding force behind the Magnitsky Sanctions. Simpson then elaborates on trying to interview Browder, which Browder refused. (Browder has since contended this narrative via Twitter). I know this is a tangled web, but hang in there guys; we're getting to Trump.
Prevezon, the Magnitsky Act, Bill Browder, all these issues surround what brought Simpson to investigate Trump as a businessman and what lead him to his conclusions. Simpson is particularly well-versed in the area of Russian corruption, having extensively studied the subject and worked on issues directly involving it. So, when he was approached by a candidate to investigate Trump, it naturally lead to Russia. Simpson says: "It was, broadly speaking, a kind of holistic examination of Donald Trump's business records and his associations, his bankruptcies, his supplies, you know, offshore or third-world suppliers of products that he was selling. you know it evolve somewhat quickly into issues of his relationships to organized crime figures but, you know, really the gamut of Donald Trump" (page 62).
He began his investigation in the fall of 2015. Simpson said, "The very first weekend that I started boning up on Donald Trump, you know, I found various references to him having connections to Italian organized crime and later to a Russian organized crime figure named Felix Sater... So from the very beginning of this, organized crime was - Russian organized crime was a focus of interest" (pages 67-68). Felix Sater, the Russian crime boss mentioned above, also had ties to the Prevezon case and belongs to a Russian crime family with extensive US presence. He was on the FBI's most wanted list and is a fugitive from US law. When asked the significance of the discovery of Trump's ties to Sater, Simpson said, "I found it notable this was something he didn't want to talk about and testified under oath he wouldn't know Felix if he ran into him in the street. That was not true. He knew him well and, in fact, continued to associate with him long after he learned of Felix's organized crime ties. So, you know. That tells you something about somebody... We began to look at where his (Trump's) money came from and, you know, that raised a lot of questions" (page 70).
Initially, this investigation was not focused on Russia. In ascertaining Trump's actual monetary value, his reputation as a businessman, who he dealt with, the facts lead themselves to Russia. In the early months of 2016, Simpson's engagement with the Republican client ended. He was subsequently retained by another client, speculated to be a democratic candidate, to do work on Candidate Trump. In the spring of 2016, Simpson then engaged Christopher Steele to do opposition research on Trump for the new client. When asked why he retained Steele, Simpson said, "We had done an enormous amount of work on Donald Trump generally at this point and we began to drill down on specific areas... I had known Chris since I left the Wall Street Journal. He was the lead Russianist at MI6 prior to leaving the government...that's broadly why I asked him to see what he could find about Donald Trump's business activities in Russia"(page 78). Simpson continues, "We did all kinds of stuff on public information about Donald Trump's business trips to Russia and business dealings with Russians. I mean, Chris's role was specifically to do the thing that we couldn't do, which was arrange to talk to people" (page 87).
There are, of course, obvious flaws to human intelligence. Simpson discusses how evaluting human intelligence is different from document-based research; you can't really rely on human intelligence to the same degree when filing a lawsuit. Therein reside the complications of the Steele Dossier, which was in large part based on conversations Chris had with Trump associates and those familiar with his dealings with Russians.
As time passed, speculation began over the now infamous Trump Tower meeting at which Don Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner all met with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer who had promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. Veselnitskaya was the Russian lawyer who retained the law firm that represented Prevezon, so Simpson knew her in that capacity. This then leads the SJC to ask Simpson questions about the extent to which he knew her (limited) and whether or not he knew of the Trump Tower meeting (he did not). Simpson said he did not have evidence she was a Russian government agent other than what he has read in the papers, but, "as we sit here today, the jury's kind of out" (page 119). Veselnitskaya had trouble getting a visa to the US to appear at a hearing on behalf of Prevezon. It just so happened that this hearing took place the day before the Trump tower meeting, thereby creating a credible opportunity for Veselnitskaya to be in New York.
So, this brings us back to Chris Steele's investigation into Trump's potential business affairs with Russian organized crime. Of Steele's investigation, Simpson said, "So the purpose of this was to see if we could learn more about his business dealings in Russia. What came back was something, you know, very different and obviously more alarming, which had to do with - you know, which outlined a political conspiracy and a much broader set of issues than the ones that we basically went looking for"(page 143). Simpson notes that, while this information was coming in, Trump was making strange remarks about the Russians and Putin - "things that are very atypical for a Republican and that people found to be odd." Simpson then says that of all the research he has done into Russia, he has never before been involved in something this sensitive. The magnitude of that statement is alarming.
When asked if Simpson was able to verify the validity of this information, he responded, "We were aware of some of these trips and we were obviously aware of the hostility towards Hillary Clinton and there was a lot of general knowledge that we had that fit with this just in terms of dates and places and roles of people in the Kremlin. So on a surface level, you know, it was credible too, but the thing that most concerned me at this point was my own familiarity with foreign meddling in American elections, which is a subject I've dealt with for a long time...I also new because I've done a lot of reporting on Russia about the Kremlin's interest in American politics... one of the last things I did when I was a reporter at the Wall Street Journal was report on several stories of government investigations, FBI investigations into American politicians who had been corrupted allegedly by the Russians" (page 149). With two top experts on Russian corruption now looking into Trump, things began to heat up... stay tuned for part 2.