For all the talk of obstruction and interference by the Trump camp, it's neither Donald Trump Jr. nor Paul Manafort who are challenging their scheduled testimony in the Senate next Wednesday, but rather the man who according to many started the whole "Trump Russia collusion" narrative, who is doing everything in his power to avoid testifying next week.
FUSION GPS head Glenn Simpson won't testify before Senate Judiciary next week, his rep attacks "partisan" hearing and vows to plead Fifth— Manu Raju (@mkraju) July 21, 2017
On Friday, attorneys for Glenn Simpson, a former WSJ reporter who now runs the infamous Washington political intelligence firm Fusion GPS - best known for compiling the salacious "dossier" of unverified research about President Trump - told the Senate Judiciary Committee in a letter that their client was on vacation through July 31 and traveling abroad through August 3, and would be unavailable for next week’s hearing. Perhaps for writers of opposition research fiction, vacations take precedence over being summoned to Congress.
As a reminder, Simpson’s Fusion GPS is the firm which hired former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, and his London-based Orbis Business Intelligence, to conduct opposition research on then presidential candidate Donald Trump, resulting in a 35-page dossier that was widely shared in political and media circles during and after the 2016 election. Steele and Orbis are currently being sued in the U.S. and U.K. by Aleksej Gubarev, a Russian tech executive who says he was falsely accused in the dossier of hacking the Democratic National Committee’s email systems.
McClatchy News recently reported that Steele filed new documents in that lawsuit. In one, dated May 18, Steele says that he was instructed by Fusion GPS to meet with reporters at various outlets in order to publicize some of the allegations made in the dossier. It has been widely known that Fusion GPS and Steele were in contact with reporters to discuss the dossier. It has been reported that rumors of the dossier were floating around in Washington, D.C. political and journalist circles for months prior to BuzzFeed’s decision to publish it on Jan. 10.
Intelligence agencies made the existence of the dossier known to Trump in a January meeting. The dossier contains unverified, hyperbolic and in some cases, disproven, information about Trump’s activities and engagement with Russians. It served as a the basis for many of the ongoing allegations of Trump camp collusion with Russia.
In any case, Simpson's attorneys asked that their client be excused from appearing, adding that allegations he had failed to register as a foreign agent were "nothing more than an effort to smear him." The lawyers also said that they were "profoundly disturbed" that the hearing had been expanded due to "partisan agendas" to include allegations of Russian meddling in the U.S. election and possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. The letter also said they were prepared to fight a subpoena and invoke Mr. Simpson’s constitutional right not to give testimony if compelled to appear.
According to the WSJ, the letter explaining Simpson’s refusal to appear cites his obligations to keep his client information confidential and his First Amendment right under the Constitution to engage in political speech and political activity, as well as his Fifth Amendment reight to refuse self-incriminating testimony, also known as the "I admit I am guilty" option.
His gambit did not work however, and late on Friday the Committee issued a subpoena to compel Simpson to testify next Wednesday.
Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and the committee’s top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein, in a joint statement said: “Glenn Simpson, through his attorney, has declined to voluntarily attend Wednesday’s Judiciary Committee hearing regarding compliance with the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Therefore, a subpoena has been issued to compel his attendance. Simpson’s attorney has asserted that his client will invoke his Fifth Amendment rights in response to the subpoena.”
Yet while the vacation-challenged Simpson is afraid of revealing the true identity of his "client(s)" who commission the Trump smear piece, also on Wednesday appearing in the Senate will be Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort, along with Russia sanctions activist and businessman Bill Browder. The Judiciary Committee said Messrs. Trump Jr. and Manafort are providing documents to the committee and are still negotiating the terms of their testimonies.
As the WSJ adds, in addition to the dossier compiled on Trump, Grassley has alleged that Simpson’s firm has worked with a Russian-American lobbyist on a campaign against a package of Russian sanctions that was being considered by Congress. That lobbyist was present in a meeting in Trump Tower in June 2016 with the younger Mr. Trump. Grassley has raised questions about whether Simpson’s firm should have registered as a foreign agent for its work on the Russia sanctions.
And while Simpson’s attorney called those questions and allegations “nothing more than an effort to smear him and his firm”, many are curious to find out just who it was that worked with Fusion GPS to launch the narrative that Trump's victory in the elections was the result of Kremlin interference.