Trump says Clinton camp funding for Russia dossier 'a disgrace'
Allegations about U.S. president's ties to Russia were turned over to FBI for review
U.S. President Donald Trump and other Republicans latched onto revelations tying Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign to a dossier of allegations about his ties to Russia, saying it's a "disgrace" that Democrats had helped pay for research that produced the document.
"It's just really — it's a very sad commentary on politics in this country," Trump said.
Trump addressed reporters one day after news reports revealed that the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, for several months last year, helped fund research that ultimately ended up in the dossier.
Trump has called the material "phoney stuff" and "fake news," and on Wednesday he portrayed himself as the aggrieved party, posting on Twitter a quote he said was from Fox News that referred to him as "the victim."
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The new disclosure is likely to fuel his complaints that the document is a collection of salacious and uncorroborated claims, yet the FBI has been investigating it. And as part of the probe into possible co-ordination last year between Russia and the Trump campaign, special counsel Robert Mueller's team has spoken in recent weeks with Christopher Steele, the former British spy who helped compile the material.
A lawyer with the campaign and the DNC, Marc Elias, hired the Washington research firm Fusion GPS to conduct the research, according to unnamed sources who spoke to the Washington Post.
Similar stories, also citing anonymous sources, were reported late Tuesday night by The Associated Press and Fox News. Another story in the New York Times included a letter, filed in court earlier that day, from Elias's law firm to the lawyers representing Fusion GPS.
The earliest reports about the dossier said it was paid for by Clinton supporters, who picked up the bill after the effort was dropped by an unidentified Republican.
A more direct connection to Clinton's campaign and the DNC is likely to fuel complaints by Trump that the dossier, which he has derided as "phoney stuff," is a politically motivated collection of salacious claims.
Yet the FBI has worked to corroborate the document, and in a sign of its ongoing relevance to investigators, Mueller's team — which is probing potential co-ordination between Russia and the Trump campaign — weeks ago questioned the former British spy who helped compile the claims in the dossier for Fusion.
Trump acknowledged the news early Wednesday morning, tweeting a quote — apparently from Fox News — that described him as the "victim" in the matter. The exact source of the quote was not immediately clear. Trump moved on minutes later, tweeting remarks about Tuesday's meeting with Senate Republicans.
The dossier, which circulated in Washington last year and was turned over to the FBI for its review, contends that Russia was engaged in a long-standing effort to aid Trump and had amassed compromising information about him. Trump has repeatedly dismissed the document as false, and in recent days has questioned on Twitter whether Democrats or the FBI had helped fund it.
Trump has also attacked the findings of the FBI, NSA and CIA that Russia waged a large-scale influence campaign to interfere in the election. The FBI and the CIA have said with high confidence that the effort was aimed at hurting Clinton's candidacy and helping Trump. The NSA found the same with "moderate" confidence.
A person familiar with the matter, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential client matters, said the arrangement to pay for the dossier research was brokered by Elias and his law firm of Perkins Coie.
The deal began in the spring of 2016, when the firm was approached by Fusion GPS, the political research firm behind the dossier, and lasted until right before Election Day, according to the person. When Fusion approached Elias, it had already been doing research work on Trump for a client during the Republican primary.
The identity of the original client has not been revealed. The New York Times, the Washington Post and CNN have said the research was originally paid for by a Republican.
'Money well spent'
It's unclear what Fusion GPS had dug up by the time the law firm hired it in April 2016. According to a copy of the dossier published by BuzzFeed last year, the earliest report from Steele dates to June 2016, two months later. It was not immediately known how much money Fusion was paid or how many others in the Clinton campaign or DNC were aware that the firm had been retained.
Elias did not immediately return an email seeking comment, and representatives of Fusion GPS declined to comment.
Clinton campaign officials did not immediately comment, but in a statement, a DNC spokesperson said chair Tom Perez was not part of the decision-making and was unaware that Perkins Coie was working with Fusion GPS.
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"But let's be clear, there is a serious federal investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia, and the American public deserves to know what happened," the statement said.
Former Clinton campaign spokesperson Brian Fallon said on Twitter that he regretted not knowing about Steele's hiring before the election, and that had he known, "I would have volunteered to go to Europe and try to help him."
"I have no idea what Fusion or Steele were paid but if even a shred of that dossier ends up helping Mueller, it will prove money well spent," he wrote in another tweet.
According to a letter obtained by the AP Tuesday night, representatives of Fusion GPS reached out to the firm in early March 2016 to express interest in continuing research on Trump it had begun "for one or more other clients during the Republican primary contest."
At that time, the Clinton campaign was looking toward the general election and was pivoting attention toward Trump, who was emerging as the Republican front-runner. The person said Trump, by virtue of his extensive international business dealings, was seen as a natural target for complicated opposition research abroad.
Perkins Coie then engaged Fusion GPS in April 2016 "to perform a variety of research services during the 2016 election cycle," according to the letter.
The dossier created a political firestorm when it was revealed that then FBI director James Comey had alerted Trump to the existence of allegations about him and Russia. Since then, Trump has repeatedly attacked it and Republicans in Congress have worked to discredit it, even issuing a subpoena to force the disclosure of Fusion GPS's bank records.
The letter, sent Tuesday by the law firm's general counsel to a lawyer for Fusion GPS, was intended to release the research firm from its obligation to keep confidential the identity of its client.