Glenn Simpson is a former Wall Street Journal reporter who gained notoriety thanks to his dogged reporting on financial malfeasance—especially when he helped expose the the Keating savings and loan scandal that wrapped up several Senators, including John McCain. His specialty lies in document recovery, and he is an expert on money laundering and other financial crimes. After leaving the WSJ, he started his own opposition research consulting firm. Eventually he would come to create Fusion GPS, whose name has become synonymous with the infamous dossier compiled by former British secret agent Christopher Steele. On August 22nd of last year, Simpson testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Republican chairman Chuck Grassley said that he was not planning to release the transcript yet, despite saying in August that the committee would vote on whether to release the text of Simpson’s testimony. The committee never voted on that matter. Grassley and Lindsey Graham issued a criminal referral to the Justice Department for Steele last week—escalating an already testy situation between Senate Democrats and Republicans. Seemingly in response, yesterday, Dianne Feinstein released the entire 312-page transcript of Glenn Simpson’s testimony (this is my way of letting you know that this article will be long).
“The American people deserve the opportunity to see what he said and judge for themselves,” Feinstein asserted. “The innuendo and misinformation circulating about the transcript are part of a deeply troubling effort to undermine the investigation into potential collusion and obstruction of justice. The only way to set the record straight is to make the transcript public.”
“It’s totally confounding that Senator Feinstein would unilaterally release a transcript of a witness interview in the middle” of an investigation, Grassley told CNN’s Manu Raju. President Trump isn’t too happy either.
The questioning in this unclassified session centered on Fusion GPS' activity, including both the Trump dossier as well as the work they did to reveal Bill Browder's financial conflicts. Browder is a name you may know thanks to his lobbying on behalf of the Magnitsky Act. He made gobs of money in Vladimir Putin's Russia (red flag), and Simpson dug into Browder's hedge fund to reveal some dirty tricks. This is important because Browder is ostensibly a U.S. ally in this fight, and Simpson was working on behalf of Baker Hostetler—a law firm representing Prevezon—a Russian company who was supposed to appear in a U.S. court in the largest money laundering case in Russian history (the case was settled because U.S. prosecutors were worried they may lose in court or win a pyrrhic victory).
If you came here for simplicity, well, sorry. Simpson finds himself on both sides of this feud between Russia and the United States. He helped to discredit a man working to impose sanctions on Russia (and perhaps, the sanctions themselves), while digging in to the connections between Russia and the President of the United States. Simpson is very much an old-school journalist and tries to hide behind his bona fides on that front, while dismissing the uncomfortable reality that arises from the fact that he now operates in the shadows that he once was dedicated to exposing for the public's benefit. Now he exposes them to the highest bidder.
Here are the 13 most important excerpts of this nearly ten-hour interview.
MR. DAVIS (Deputy Chief Investigative Counsel, Chairman Grassley): Did Fusion ever work with subcontractors on its Prevezon or Magnitsky efforts?
MR. SIMPSON: Yes.
MR. DAVIS: Who were they?
MR. LEVY (Simpson's lawyer): Just to clarify that, your question was — can you repeat the question, please?
MR. DAVIS: Sure. Did Fusion ever work with subcontractors on its Prevezon or Magnitsky efforts?
MR. LEVY: What do you mean by “Magnitsky efforts”?
MR. DAVIS: I mean all matters related to the efforts with the media, government officials, and campaigns — or campaigns to overturn the Magnitsky Act, prevent the passage of the global Magnitsky Act, remove the word Magnitsky from the law — from either law, as well as the Russian ban on U.S. adoptions of Russian children.
MR. LEVY: And you were also asking about subcontractors for Prevezon as well?
MR. DAVIS: I'm asking whether Fusion ever worked with subcontractors on those issues.
MR. SIMPSON: Well, I object to the question the way the question is framed. You've sort of built into the question the sort of inference that we were doing something other than working on a legal case, and there's extensive public record, documentation in Pacer of the work that we did and it was a legal case. So I don't — it's going to be difficult because it's really hard for me to answer questions where you lump in all these things that other people were doing and impute them to me.
MR. SIMPSON: [Browder] was willing to, you know, hand stuff off to the DOJ anonymously in the beginning and cause them to launch a court case against somebody, but he wasn't interesting in speaking under oath about, you know, why he did that, his own activities in Russia.
So looking at the public record we determined that he did come to the United States frequently, and I discovered through public records that he seemed to own a house in Aspen, Colorado, a very expensive mansion, over $10 million, which he had registered in the name of a shell company in a clear attempt to disguise the ownership of the property. We were able to ascertain that he does use that property because he registered cars to that property with the Colorado DMV in the name of William Browder.
So we began looking for public information about when he might be in Aspen, Colorado, and I found a listing on the Aspen Institute Website about an appearance he was going to make there in the summer of 2014. So we — I served him a subpoena in the parking lot of the Aspen Institute in the summer of 2014 using two people — two subcontractors. Actually, those other subcontractors were — their names escape me, but I forgot about those. We can get you that. This is all in the Pacer court record, the public court record.
In any event, the three of us served — there was another subcontractor working for the law firm whose name I also forget. I did not retain him, but I was asked to work with him on this. He is a private investigator and we can get you his name. In any event, we served him the subpoena and he ran away. He dropped it on the ground and he ran away. He jumped in his car and went back to his mansion.
MS. SAWYER (Chief Oversight Counsel, Senator Feinstein): So you had mentioned a few minutes ago that you had done some political or campaign research in the course of the 2016 presidential election and you clarified that that was work related to then Candidate and now President Trump. What can you tell us about that work? Can you just describe it first generally and then I'll ask you some follow-up.
MR. SIMPSON: It was, broadly speaking, a kind of holistic examination of Donald Trump's business record and his associations, his bankruptcies, his suppliers, you know, offshore or third-world suppliers of products that he was selling. You know, it evolved somewhat quickly into issues of his relationships to organized crime figures but, you know, really the gamut of Donald Trump.
(later in this round of questioning)
MS. SAWYER: So with regard to this engagement in September — that began initially in September or October 2015, what were you asked specifically to do by the client?
MR. SIMPSON: I don't have specific recollection of there being a specific tasking. I believe it was why don't you take a look at Donald Trump, it looks like he may, you know, be more successful than people think, something — there was some level of insight that he had a better shot than people were giving him at the time, but it was on open-ended request like most of the things that we get.
MS. SAWYER: Were you in any way limited in the research that you did or the facts that you wanted to pursue?
MR. SIMPSON: I mean, in general it's very rare for someone to tell me look here, don't look there. For the most part we are looking at — you know, we're trying to understand something big. So it's really counterproductive for somebody to tell you look here, don't look there, I'm interested in X but not Y. So we generally sort of push back when that happens, but I have to say we sort of set the rules at the beginning and people, you know, accepted those terms. So generally that's what we explain to people in the beginning of our engagements, you know, let us do our jobs and that's the way it works best.
4. Trump's Relationship with Felix Sater (That I Detailed in My Deep Dive in to Trump's Businesses) Raised Tons of Red Flags for Simpson
MR. SIMPSON: As it happens, Felix Sater was, you know, connected to the same Russian crime family that was at issue in the Prevezon case, which is the dominant Russian crime family in Russia and has a robust U.S. presence and is involved in a lot of crime and criminal activity in the United States and for many years was the — the leader of this family was on the FBI most wanted list and lives openly in Moscow as a fugitive from U.S. law for a very elaborate stock fraud.
MS. SAWYER: Who is that individual and family?
MR. SIMPSON: The first name is Semyon, the last name is Mogilevich. Mogilevich is sometimes referred to as the brainy Don because he runs very sophisticated schemes including, according to the FBI, involving natural gas pipelines in Europe, and he's wanted in connection with an elaborate stock fraud called YBM Magnex that was took place in the Philadelphia area.
You know, Russian organized crime is very different from Italian organized crime. It's much more sort of a hybrid kind of thing where they're involved in politics and banking and there's even a lot of connections between the mafia and the KGB or the FSB and cyber crime, things that the Italians sort of never figured out. Stock fraud in particular was the big thing in the U.S. In any event, all of that entered into my thinking when I saw that Donald Trump was in business with Felix Sater in the Trump Soho project and a number of other controversial condo projects.
MS. SAWYER: And what, if anything, did you conclude about the connection between and in the business dealings that then Candidate Trump had had with Mr. Sater?
MR. SIMPSON: Well, somewhat analogous to the Browder situation I found it notable this was something he didn't want to talk about and testified under oath he wouldn't know Felix if he ran into him in the street. That was not true. He knew him well and, in fact, continued to associate with him long after he learned of Felix's organized crime ties. So, you know, that tells you something about somebody. So I concluded that he was okay with that and that was a troubling thing. I also, you know, began to — I keep saying I, but we as a company began to look at where his money came from and, you know, that raised a lot of questions. We saw indications that some of the money came from Kazakhstan, among other places, and that some of it you just couldn't account for.
You know, we also conducted a much broader sort of look at his entire career and his overseas investments in places like Europe and Latin America. You know, it wasn't really a Russia focused investigation for the first half of it. That was just one component of a broader look at his business career, his finances.
MS. SAWYER: So in May or June 2016 you hired Christopher Steele to, as you've just indicated, find out what he could about Donald Trump's business activities in Russia. Did something in particular trigger that assignment?
MR. SIMPSON: No, I don't think I could point to something in particular as a trigger. I mean, the basis for the request was he had made a number of trips to Russia and talked about doing a number of business deals but never did one, and that struck me as a little bit odd and calling for an explanation.
You know, in the background of all international business is questions about corruption. The Trump organization had branched out all over the world in like the four to eight years prior to 2016. So in any kind of investigation you would naturally want to know whether there was some issue with improper business relationships.
I'll just stress that we weren't looking for — at least it wasn't at the forefront of my mind there was going to be anything involving the Russian government per se, at least not that I recall.
MR. DAVIS: Do you know Natalia Veselnitskaya?
MR. SIMPSON: Yes.
MR. DAVIS: When did you first interact with Ms. Veselnitskaya?
MR. SIMPSON: I believe it was sometime in 2014.
MR. DAVIS: Has Fusion ever worked with Ms. Veselnitskaya?
MR. SIMPSON: Didn't I just answer that? Yes. I mean, she was the lawyer, the Russian lawyer who retained Baker Hostetler who retained us. So when you say “worked with,” I don't know that as a technical meaning, but we interacted with her as part of the Prevezon litigation.
(later in the testimony)
MR. DAVIS: Do you have any reasons to believe that Ms. Veselnitskaya has ties to the Russian government?
MR. SIMPSON: I know what I've read in the newspaper.
MR. DAVIS: Beyond that?
MR. SIMPSON: Beyond that my impression of her was of someone who, you know, was a very smart and ambitious lawyer, but not like a big political player in the Kremlin. Of course given to wonder given all the recent events and disclosures that I was unaware of whether my assessment of her was right or wrong. As we sit here today, the jury's kind of out. I honestly can tell you all I knew is she didn't seem to be a heavy hitter in the Kremlin world.
MR. SIMPSON: We've seen hacking in politics before, but this kind of, you know, mass theft of e-mail and then to dump it all into, you know, the public sphere was extraordinary and it was criminal.
So the question by now of whether this was Russia and whether this might have something to do with the other information that we'd received was, you know, the immediate question, and I think this is also — by the time this memo was written Chris had already met with the FBI about the first memo. So he's — if I can interpret a little bit here. In his mind this is already a criminal matter, there's already a potential national security matter here.
I mean, this is basically about a month later and there's a lot of events that occurred in between. You know, after the first memo, you know, Chris said he was very concerned about whether this represented a national security threat and said he wanted to — he said he thought we were obligated to tell someone in government, in our government about this information. He thought from his perspective there was an issue — a security issue about whether a presidential candidate was being blackmailed.
8. Simpson Confirmed the NYT Report Saying the FBI's Inquiry Began Thanks to a Source in the Trump Camp
MS. SAWYER: You said that [Steele] told you of the meeting with the FBI in Rome in mid or late September, that he “gave them a full briefing”?
MR. SIMPSON: A debrief I think is what he probably said, they had debriefed him. I don't remember him articulating the specifics of that. You know, my understanding was that they would have gotten into who his sources were, how he knew certain things, and, you know, other details based on their own intelligence. 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.
MS. SAWYER: And did you have any understanding then or now as to who that human intelligence source from inside the Trump campaign might have been?
MR. LEVY: He's going to decline to answer that question.
MS. SAWYER: On what basis?
MR. SIMPSON: Security.
9. The NYT Was Briefed by Steele, yet Still Published a an Article a Week before the Election Saying the FBI Concluded There Was Nothing to Trump-Russia
MR. DAVIS: So with the second one on page 8 of Exhibit 5, under the response to Steele’s attorneys state “The journalists initially briefed at the end of September 2016 by the second Defendant and Fusion at Fusion’s instruction were from the New York Times, the Washington Post, Yahoo News, the New Yorker, and CNN. The second Defendant” — that would be Mr. Steele — “subsequently participated in further meetings at Fusion’s instruction with Fusion and the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Yahoo News which took place in mid-October 2016.”
MR. DAVIS: Now, with regard to — just to finish up on the interactions with FBI, do you know were there any additional interactions between Mr. Steele and the FBI?
MR. SIMPSON: There was some sort of interaction, I think it was probably telephonic that occurred after Director Comey sent his letter to Congress reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails. That episode, you know, obviously created some concern that the FBI was intervening in a political campaign in contravention of long-standing Justice Department regulation.
So it made a lot of people, including us, concerned about what the heck was going on at the FBI. So, you know, we began getting questions from the press about, you know, whether they were also investigating Trump and, you know, we encouraged them to ask the FBI that question. You know, I think — I’m not sure we’ve covered this fully, but, you know, we just encouraged them to ask the FBI that question.
On October 31st the New York Times posed a story saying that the FBI is investigating Trump and found no connections to Russia and, you know, it was a real Halloween special. Sometime thereafter the FBI — I understand Chris severed his relationship with the FBI out of concern that he didn’t know what was happening inside the FBI and there was a concern that the FBI was being manipulated for political ends by the Trump people and that we didn’t really understand what was going on. So he stopped dealing with them.
MS. SAWYER: And did he ever tell you that information in any of these memos, that he had concerns that any of it was disinformation?
MR. SIMPSON: No. What he said was disinformation is an issue in my profession, that is a central concern and that we are trained to spot disinformation, and if I believed this was disinformation or I had concerns about that I would tell you that and I’m not telling you that. I’m telling you that I don’t believe this is disinformation.
MR. FOSTER (Chief Investigative Counsel, Senator Grassley): Earlier you talked about evaluating the credibility of the information in the memoranda that you were being provided by Mr. Steele and, by way of summary, you talked about your belief that he was credible and that you had worked with him before and the information he had provided you had been reliable in the past. Did you take any steps to try to assess the credibility of his sources, his unnamed sources in the material that he was providing to you?
MR. SIMPSON: Yes, but I’m not going to get into sourcing information.
MR. FOSTER: So without getting into naming the sources or anything like that, what steps did you take to try to verify their credibility?
MR. SIMPSON: I’m going to decline to answer that.
MR. FOSTER: Why?
MR. LEVY: It’s a voluntary interview, and in addition to that he wants to be very careful to protect his sources. Somebody’s already been killed as a result of the publication of this dossier and no harm should come to anybody related to this honest work.
MR. DAVIS: Has Fusion GPS ever offered directly or indirectly to pay journalists to publish information?
MR. SIMPSON: No.
MR. DAVIS: Are you aware of any Fusion clients offering directly or indirectly to pay journalists to publish information from Fusion?
MR. LEVY: While working for Fusion on a Fusion matter or as a general matter?
MR. FOSTER: Can you let the witness answer.
MR. LEVY: Well, if the question’s clear he can answer any question —
MR. FOSTER: I think the question was clear.
MR. LEVY: — within the scope of the interview —
MR. DAVIS: Are there any of Fusion’s clients offering —
THE REPORTER: Guys.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.