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Politics & Policy

Retracting the Retraction, Fusion’s Simpson Stands by Testimony that FBI Had Spy in Trump Campaign

Donald Trump greets attendees at a campaign event in Muscatine, Iowa, January 24, 2016. (Jim Young/Reuters)

My weekend column dealt with the claim by Glenn Simpson that the FBI had a confidential informant embedded in the Trump campaign.

Simpson is the co-founder of Fusion GPS. In August 2017, he related to the Senate Judiciary Committee that the former British intelligence officer, Christopher Steele, told him that the FBI had a spy in the Trump campaign. Steele, of course, is the former British spy who collaborated with Simpson in 2016 on a Clinton campaign anti-Trump research project, now known as the Steele dossier. The document sets forth sensational allegations of a Trump-Putin conspiracy. These claims, multiple hearsay accounts from anonymous Russian sources, have never been verified, according to statements by government officials. Major media outlets that were aware of the dossier allegations refrained from publishing them because they could not be corroborated.

Steele had good FBI contacts from his MI-6 days, and Simpson assented to his sharing the dossier information with the Bureau. Steele met with FBI agents in London in July 2016, and again in Rome three months later. According to Simpson, Steele told him that one of the reasons the FBI believed his allegations was that the Bureau had an informant inside the Trump campaign, leading Steele (and thus Simpson) to infer that his reports were being verified.

As my column elaborates, Simpson’s July 2017 Senate interview did not become public until January 9, 2018. When his claim about the FBI’s spy in the Trump campaign proved explosive, Simpson appeared to walk it back. A spokesperson for Fusion told friendly media sources that Simpson may have “mischaracterized” the FBI’s source — suggesting that Simpson was actually referring to George Papadopoulos, not an informant but a Trump-campaign adviser. Papadopoulos had heard from a British-based academic, who claimed Kremlin contacts, that the Russians had thousands of emails that could embarrass Hillary Clinton; he had then passed that information to an Australian diplomat over drinks in a London bar. The information was later passed to the FBI (although exactly who passed it remains a mystery).

Fusion’s reliance on Papadopoulos to explain Simpson’s “mischaracterization” did not add up. At the time of Simpson’s August 2017 Judiciary Committee interview, the story about Papadopoulos and the Australian diplomat was not public — it was broken by the New York Times around New Year’s Eve, just a few days before Simpson’s interview transcript was released. It was highly unlikely that Simpson could have known about it when he spoke to the Committee, much less when he was talking to Steele about the FBI a year earlier.

As noted above, the retraction of Simpson’s representation about an FBI informant in the Trump campaign was floated by an unidentifiable Fusion GPS source. Simpson himself does not appear ever to have clearly and personally retracted his statement. But back in January, a few days after reports of the retraction appeared, Judiciary Committee chairman Charles Grassley (R., Iowa) sent Simpson and his counsel a letter asking whether Simpson was retracting and, if so, why he had not contacted the Committee to correct the record in the five months since his interview.

On the same day, Simpson’s lawyer, Joshua Levy, sent a short reply letter to Senator Grassley, stating:

I am writing in response to your letter, dated January 11, 2018, in which you have asked about the August 22, 2017 testimony from our client Glenn Simpson that Christopher Steele in the fall of 2016 said he believed the FBI had another source within the Trump organization/campaign. Mr. Simpson stands by his testimony.

If there ever was a retraction, it has been retracted.

Editor’s Note: This post has been amended since it was published.

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