The Simpson Transcript: The Dossier as Predicate

I’m working towards a big post (or a series of small ones) on the Glenn Simpson transcript. I address some of my impressions in this Real News Network video with Aaron Maté from the other day.

Before I do that larger post, however, I want to address something Maté asked me about: whether the Simpson transcript — in which he says that Christopher Steele learned from the FBI about (what independent reporting confirms) the Papadopoulos tip from the Australians — supports or refutes the sharply contested arguments about whether the Steele dossier started the counterintelligence investigation or served as a key source for a FISA warrant against either Carter Page or Paul Manafort. Skeptics of the report that the investigation actually arose from the George Papadopoulos tip have argued that the latest PR effort around the dossier is an attempt to paper over the dossier as the true source of either the investigation or the FISA orders.

As I noted on RNN, the dossier doesn’t actually help the anti-Trump narrative as much as people have made out. Simpson testified that Steele decided to reach out to the FBI towards the end of June or beginning of July (after only the first dossier report had been done), and the conversation actually happened the first week of July (a questioner later refers to it as occurring July 5).

Q. And do you recall when you — when you and Mr. Steele decided kind of that he could or should take this to the FBI, approximately the time frame of that?

A. I believe it was sometime around the turn of the month. It would have been in late June or at latest early July. That’s my recollection.

[snip]

Q. Do you have any knowledge of when that first conversation actually then took place?

A. Over the last several months that this has become a public controversy I’ve learned the general date and I believe it was if first week of July, but I don’t believe he told me — if he told me the time, I don’t remember when he told me.

Simpson later admits his certainty about these dates comes from Fusion’s response to speculation and other reporting.

Q. And that information about that time, that first week of July, where does that come from?

A. It comes from news accounts of these events and conversations between Chris and I and some of my — presumably my business partners too. Generally speaking, we have, as you know, not been eager to discuss any of this in public and there’s been a lot of speculation and guessing and stories, many of which are wrong. So when an incorrect story comes out we would, you know, talk about it. So, you know, in the course of those kinds of things I generally obtained a sense of when things occurred that I might otherwise not be able to provide you.

Regardless of how accurate or not this report, it means that Steele spoke with the FBI weeks before the Australian tip is supposed to have come in, which was after Wikileaks started dumping the emails on July 22 (though as I noted with Maté, there are aspects of that story that are sketchy as well). The reference to Steele learning about what he now believes was the Papadopoulos tip reflects feedback from mid to late September, when the FBI told him his story had been corroborated by a human source, not from that first FBI meeting.

Essentially what he told me was they had other intelligence about this matter from an internal Trump campaign source and that — that they — 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.

Later in the transcript Simpson responds in a way that suggests Steele was reading the FBI response rather than learning actual details of the tip; certainly he might have been able to corroborate it back in London.

Q. And did Mr. Steele tell you that the FBI had relayed this information to him?

A. He didn’t specifically say that.

Q. I’m going to have you take a look at one of the filings —

MR. FOSTER: I thought you said earlier that he did say the FBI told him.

MR. SIMPSON: I think I was saying we did not have the detailed conversations where he would debrief me on his discussions with the FBI. He would say very generic things like I saw them, they asked me a lot of questions, sounds like they have another source or they have another source. He wouldn’t put words in their mouth.

In other words, the record shows that (unless the public story about the Australian tip is really inaccurate) the pee tape report came in first, and then the Oz tip did.

That said, both of these tips came in before late July, which is when Jim Comey testified the CI investigation started.

Which is where this predicate debate has always gone wrong. It imagines that the FBI opened an investigation into one and only one thing. In addition to those two things, there were the actual hack and the Guccifer 2.0 persona — already perceived to be a Russian operation before the first Steele report came in — along with clear indications Wikileaks was involved with it. There was Carter Page’s publicly reported trip and speech in Russia, and the beginnings of the reawakening Paul Manafort scandal. And there were the concerns raised about the change in the GOP platform (though I think that got more press than the evidence justified).

So there were a whole bunch of things leading up to the opening of the investigation. And there’s no reason to believe just one predicated the investigation.

Similarly, the case on the FISA orders is mixed (though this is an area, in particular, where the FBI would have an incentive to release partial stories). One of the first reports on Carter Page’s FISA order dates it to late summer, when the Trump campaign was distancing itself from him. But later reporting said he had been tapped even before he joined the campaign, in conjunction with his earlier recruitment by Russian spies.

Manafort, too, was reportedly targeted under FISA because of his earlier dalliances with Russia. In his case, the wiretap had lapsed, but was restarted after new details of his corruption forced him off the campaign in August.

As I’ll write in my larger post on the Simpson transcript, I don’t think all this means the tie between the dossier and the FBI investigation is above reproach. But it does seem clear that, even if the dossier is one thing that justified the investigation, it was neither the earliest thing nor the only thing.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

16 replies
  1. Charles says:

    I agree, you are wearing Aaron Mate down, which is a very good thing. In your previous interview, he was rude. This time, he was better behaved. I hope Paul Jay had a word with him or, better yet, that he realized that being a journalist means more than hassling your interviewees.

     

    I’m not convinced that Papadopoulos was the FBI source in the Trump organization. Philip Bump, WaPo:

    ” . . . I think it was a voluntary source, someone who was concerned about the same concerns we had,” Simpson explained. “It was someone like us who decided to pick up the phone and report something.”

    [but] Business Insider’s Natasha Bertrand reported being told by a source that “it was a reference to George Papadopoulos….

     

    Obviously, we’re all just guessing. But I wonder whether Carter Page hasn’t been a long-term FBI source. Page was on their radar because of his earlier escapades with Russian intelligence (which just happened to end with convictions against some of their spies). Russian intelligence had dismissed him as being a fool, which he may indeed be…but being thought a fool is a great way to pick up information. Page strikes me as just the sort of unstable personality that law enforcement cultivates.

    • Rugger9 says:

      Page is the sort of name-dropper that could easily be turned.  Like others have noted about the Kaiser, he also doesn’t know when to shut up (although I still think DJT is a probable FBI snitch, otherwise, why the kid gloves in October 2016?) and that raises the possibility of the wrong word in the right ear.

  2. Bay State LIbrul says:

    If “dossier” is the predicate, what is the direct object?
    The direct object, in my opinion is “treason”, not in the legal sense, but in the objective sense………..

  3. dalloway says:

    Regardless of when the FBI investigation began or what triggered it, Trump must have been a concern, if not an investigative target, for our intelligence agencies long before he ran for president.  If the CIA wasn’t aware of his many links to Russian money-laundering, I’ll eat a Trump Tower Taco Bowl in the middle of 5th Avenue.  With the “firewall” between foreign and domestic intelligence having become more porous since 9/11, I wouldn’t be surprised if the CIA put Trump on the FBI’s radar right after he announced his candidacy — not that any whisper of that would ever be made public.

    • Charles says:

      The FBI became aware of Trump’s Mob ties in about 1980. The only surprise in the 2016 campaign is that they apparently didn’t have him wiretapped.

      • Rugger9 says:

        They probably did as an incidental collection on the other taps.  It is all the more interesting why they did nothing in October – November 2016 except leak about Clinton emails that the NYC Feebs knew (because they didn’t ask to see them and also didn’t have a warrant) that they had no idea what Huma Abedin’s computer had on it.  That did not stop them from all sorts of sinister insinuations that it was bad bad bad, abetted by the New York Times which to this date has neither apologized nor accepted their responsibility in saddling us with the Kaiser.

  4. earlofuntingdon says:

    The superficiality of the WaPo never ceases to amaze. Typical is, “Trump’s Vulgarity: Overt Racism or a President Who Says What Many Think?” As Digby says, the answer is, “Yes”.

    We know by now that Trump says what comes into his head. And being ugly is his way of being “effective”. Of course the ugly things Trump says are popular with people who think the same thoughts he does. That’s how it works. But racism is ugly and uncomfortable. So the WaPo uses a euphemism that distracts and conveys less information. The WaPo also chooses the safest of perspectives: Beltway horse racing. Political advantage matters, not the meaning of Trump’s words or their global effect. No stretching of minds at the WaPo.

    The foreign press is less driven by the need to be safe or superficial. It states the obvious: Trump is racist. He embarrasses himself, his government, and the United States. A slew of Trump’s ambassadors were made to listen to that message. Trump’s character, the consistency of his behavior, undercuts every contrary message he attempts to send, such as his less than heartfelt “congratulations” about Martin Luther King. He won’t change. Will we?

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      An example, from the Observer in the UK:  The President is a Disgrace to his Country on So Many Levels:

      “How much longer will Americans tolerate his embarrassing presence in the White House? His tenancy runs until November 2020, when he could seek a second term. But the problem is getting worse, not better. A series of scenarios, fuelled by his endlessly damaging, unacceptable words and actions, is beginning to unfold that could bring about his early departure.”

      It includes a photo of Roy Moore, trying to ride his pony to an Alabama polling booth, without knowing how to ride.  Its faux theatricality (“Welcome back to the Studio”), incompetence, and ignorance-masquerading-as-stubbornness makes it a potent symbol of the Trump presidency.

  5. Rugger9 says:

    There is also the example today from Hawaii. Perhaps I’m getting too cynical, but it was just this week that the Kaiser’s palace was mulling whether to do a limited preemptive strike (and hoping / assuming that KJU wouldn’t respond in kind when presented with many dead North Koreans) on the DPRK military sites (the WSJ ran the story on January 9). Charlie Pierce has his take on it, but the events today make me wonder whether Kaiser Donaldus or one of his toadies seeking to curry favor are trying to goad KJU into firing first. The “quietly” aspect was blown by leaking it to the WSJ, but IMHO this is intended to be a message of sorts.

    http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/politics/a14854376/north-korea-attack/

    https://www.wsj.com/articles/amid-signs-of-a-thaw-in-north-korea-tensions-bubble-up-1515427541

    The thing to keep in mind here is that Trump has decided on war as his ticket to get good ratings again, and as a side benefit be able as a “war president” to impose all sorts of restrictions on speech, dissent, elections, etc. (even if unconstitutional, recall we’ve run elections during wars before) to get rid of the bad press. However, if the Kaiser fires first in a full-blown preemptive strike then the world would clearly turn against the USA and may involve China (and Russia) as allies against us. Even Tricky Dick knew enough during the Cold War to keep the Soviets and the PRC apart (hence the visit to the PRC), and he was as rabid an anticommunist as they come. DJT will not grasp this fundamental requirement for success.

    According to the WH, they did not act in those 38 minutes because they said that they knew it was a drill, which was news to the Hawaii FEMA people. The HI government story is that one person pressed the “wrong button” in a single point failure, and more to the point that it was never a drill, it was a mistake. I find this extremely hard to believe that anyone but the governor would be able on their own to initiate this action without any other cross-reference to (for example) the local DoD assets for coordination and defense. Something else was the trigger here and the fact it wasn’t stopped immediately by the “button-pusher” points to some other reason to keep the story going because something was saying there were missiles inbound.

    I would not be surprised to find out later there was a WH connection to today’s events, either as a Trumpie in HI or by leakage of information to the person who started this. Let’s hope I’m wrong here. Perhaps (and it is scary) the latest idea is that if Kim Jong Un won’t fire first, then Trump will just say he did and launch in “self defense” anyway. It worked for the Nazis in Poland (well, as a story line in Germany anyway) as well as the Japanese at Mukden for their domestic press (the rest of the world wasn’t fooled in either case). Let’s hope the HI FEMA gets to the bottom of this, because if it is anything we do not need it is the Kaiser having any plausible reason to start his war that he thinks will save his administration.

  6. Arbed says:

    “In addition to those two things, there were the actual hack and the Guccifer 2.0 persona — already perceived to be a Russian operation before the first Steele report came in — along with clear indications Wikileaks was involved with it.”

    What are the “clear indications” of Wikileaks’ involvement with Guccifer2.0, please?

    • Charles says:

      Joseph Cox, Motherboard:

      “Yeah man,” Guccifer 2.0 told Motherboard in a Twitter message when asked to confirm whether he was responsible. Guccifer 2.0 also tweeted, “Wikileaks published #DNCHack docs I’d given them!!!”

      Is that good enough for you?

      Net search time expended to obtain link: 12 seconds.

      • Arbed says:

        That’s it? A Twitter message from the anonymous Guccifer 2.0? (Hey, isn’t it strange that NSA has the capability to track just about everyone and yet the US DoJ still hasn’t arrested Guccifer 2.0 or put in an extradition request for him?) I’m afraid I’m going to need a little more proof than that to conclude “clear indications” of WikiLeaks’ involvement with Guccifer 2.0. Didn’t US cyber-security firm Threat Connect catch out Guccifer 2.0 in some fairly whopping lies?

        • Charles says:

          You asked for proof of a connection between Guccifer 2.0. You got it. Now you want something else. Conclusion: you are not here to discuss issues or learn something.

          Please waste your time somewhere where it doesn’t also waste mine.

  7. Mitchell says:

    And more or less at the same time, Comey was running scared (to oversimplify) from the FBI NYC office reacting accordingly. And for that matter, even if Donald didn’t want to be elected, some of his hangers on surely wanted him to win for their own benefit.

    And here’s a minor mystery connected to the above: If Donald didn’t want to win, if all he wanted to do was to look credible enough for his loss not to be an embarrassing one, then why did he kick back some money to the former chief of the FBI NYC office’s very minor Vietnam vet charity — charity as a scam like Donald’s own tax dodge foundation or Roy Moore’s.

Comments are closed.