The decade's most triggering comedy
During Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s congressional testimony on Wednesday, he was asked by Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) about Fusion GPS, the firm that hired Christopher Steele to produce the infamous and dubious “Steele Dossier” that helped spark the investigation into President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Despite the fact that the Steele Dossier was mentioned throughout Mueller’s final report, the origins of that report were not. Glenn Simpson, the founder of Fusion and a key player in creating the “evidence” against Trump, was not mentioned once. Fusion’s involvement in the alleged Russia collusion was also not investigated.
At the hearing, Chabot asked Mueller a simple question. Chabot referred Mueller to page 103 of Volume 2 of his final report, in which he describes “the firm that produced the Steele reporting,” but does not name the firm. Chabot asked Mueller: “The name of that firm was Fusion GPS, is that correct?”
Mueller, who has appeared confused at numerous questions so far during this hearing, looked at his binder, which contained a copy of his report, and asked: “And you’re on page 103?”
Chabot asked the same question again.
“When you talk about the firm that produced the Steele reporting. The name of the firm that produced that was Fusion GPS. Is that correct?” Chabot asked.
Mueller responded: “I’m not familiar with that.”
As my former editor at The Washington Examiner, Phil Klein, asked, “How is that even possible?”
“It’s one thing to argue that he isn’t going to answer questions with reference to Fusion GPS (something he did in follow up questions, with the phrase ‘it’s outside my purview’), but how on earth could he not be familiar with the firm that has played such a key role in the Russia story?” Klein wrote.
Chabot also grilled Mueller on why the special counsel didn’t dig into Fusion GPS’s own collusion with Russia during the 2016 election.
“At the same time Fusion GPS was working to collect opposition research on Donald Trump from foreign sources on behalf of the [Hillary] Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, it also was representing a Russian-based company which had been sanctioned by the U.S. Government. Are you aware of that?” Chabot asked.
Mueller said it was “outside my purview.”
Chabot went on to bring up that Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who met with top members of the Trump campaign — including Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner — had been working with Fusion GPS since “at least early 2014.”
“You didn’t mention that or her connections to Glenn Simpson and Fusion GPS in your report at all,” Chabot said. “NBC News reported the following: Russian lawyer says she first received supposedly incriminating information she brought to Trump Tower describing alleged tax evasion and donations to Democrats from none other than Glenn Simpson, the Fusion GPS owner.”
Mueller said the “matter was being handled by others at the Department of Justice,” but did not go into detail.
Chabot then explained that Mueller’s report spent “14 pages discussing the June 9th, 2016 Trump Tower meeting” and asked about the resources spent on that part of the investigation, leaving the impression that despite the resources spent on investigating the Trump Tower meeting, Mueller’s team ignored Fusion GPS’s role in that meeting.
“Now in stark contrast to the actions of the Trump campaign we know the Clinton campaign did pay Fusion GPS to gather dirt on the Trump campaign from persons associated with foreign governments. But your report doesn’t mention a thing about Fusion GPS in it and you didn’t investigate their connections to Russia,” Chabot said. “Let me ask you this, can you see that neglecting to mention that with the Clinton campaign and focusing on a Trump Tower meeting that produced nothing and ignoring the Clinton’s own ties to Fusion GPS why some view your report as a one-sided attack on the president?”
Mueller responded: “I tell you this is still outside my purview.”
In a later exchange, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) asked if Mueller could say that the Steele Dossier wasn’t itself Russian disinformation, since many of its central claims have either been debunked or have been uncorroborated.
Mueller claimed the report predated his investigation. Gaetz reminded him that Manafort’s crimes also predated the investigation, to which Mueller claimed the Steele Dossier’s origins were outside his purview, even though he references the dossier throughout the report.