The former British spy who compiled a dossier of allegations about US President Donald Trump’s election campaign and Russia took the document to the FBI in July 2016 because he was worried about “whether a political candidate was being blackmailed,” according to a congressional interview transcript released on Tuesday.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the US Senate Judiciary Committee, revealed the transcript from an August last year closed-door interview with Glenn Simpson, a cofounder of the political opposition research firm Fusion GPS.
The firm commissioned the dossier, which was initially paid for by a conservative Web site and then later by Democrats, including Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Feinstein made the transcript public over the objections of Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, who called the move “confounding” in a statement shortly after Feinstein made it public.
Grassley said the release could undermine attempts to interview other witnesses in the committee’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
In the transcript, Simpson said Christopher Steele, the former British spy who wrote the dossier, took it to the FBI and said his concern was “whether or not there was blackmail going on, whether a political candidate was being blackmailed or had been compromised.”
The dossier is a compilation of memos written by Steele during the 2016 campaign that contained allegations of connections between Trump and Russia, including that Trump had been compromised by the Kremlin.
Trump has derided the dossier as a politically motivated hit job.
Following his lead, several Republican-led committees are now investigating whether the dossier formed the basis for the FBI’s initial investigations.
Simpson has denied that it did and, according to the transcript, told investigators that the FBI told Steele that the US government also had intelligence from “an internal Trump campaign source.”
Simpson would not name the source.
Simpson said Steele flew to Rome to meet an FBI agent stationed there for his second debriefing before the November 2016 election. He said the FBI contact told Steele that there was renewed interest in his research because the bureau had corroborated some of the material.
Simpson told investigators it was his understanding that the FBI “believed Chris’ 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.”
According to a person familiar with Simpson’s testimony who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, Simpson did not mean to suggest the FBI had a direct, or witting, source of information from within the Trump campaign.
Instead, the person said the episode Simpson was apparently referring to involved communication between George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser for the Trump campaign who has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, and an Australian diplomat.
The New York Times reported last month that Papadopoulos told the diplomat that Russia had thousands of e-mails that would embarrass Clinton and that the Australians’ subsequent tip to the FBI about the conversation helped persuade the bureau to investigate potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Simpson also said Steele severed his contacts with the FBI before the election following disclosures that the bureau’s inquiry had found no connection between the Trump campaign and Russia, and concerns that it was being “manipulated for political ends by the Trump people.”
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