Hillary Clinton and her associates are in a bad spot.
The Democratic National Committee and Clinton's presidential campaign financed the infamous Trump-Russia dossier, the Washington Post reported this week. True, the dossier was launched by a still-unknown GOP donor during the 2016 Republican primaries, but Clinton's team and the DNC took it from there and gave us what we know today as the highly contested 35-page document containing supposedly damning financial and personal information about President Trump that is allegedly in the hands of the Russians.
The revelation that Clinton's people funded the dossier, which was put together by a former British intelligence officer, is notable for a number of reasons, including the fact that the former secretary of state and her people have treated the document as a genuine surprise.
But Clinton's team knew, according to the Post. It's unclear who on her staff was in on it, but people in her orbit definitely knew.
This suggests two possibilities:
First, Clinton knew nothing about her campaign's role in financing the dossier. She is guilty of nothing worse than ignorance. Select members of her team, on the other hand, knew about the former intelligence officer's opposition research efforts. They kept their actions a secret from Clinton and they all went about discussing the document as if their fingerprints weren't all over it. Sneaky and dishonest.
The second possibility is this: Clinton has known about the dossier this entire time and she has been misrepresenting what she knows.
Any way you cut it, it doesn't reflect well on Clinton or her team.
If she did know about the dossier, it would certainly recast how she discusses it in her new book, What Happened, in a different light:
In the summer of 2016, according to the Washington Post, the FBI convinced a special Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that there was probable cause to believe that Trump advisor Carter Page was acting as a Russian agent, and they received a warrant to monitor his communications. The FBI also began investigating a dossier prepared by a well-respected former British spy that contained explosive and salacious allegations about compromising information the Russians had on Trump. The Intelligence Community took the dossier seriously enough that it briefed both President Obama and President Elect Trump on its contents before the inauguration. By the spring of 2017, a federal grand jury was issuing subpoenas to business associates of Michael Flynn, who resigned as Trump's national security advisor after lying about his Russian contacts.
Her language here is very specific. It gives the distinct impression that a "well-respected" intelligence official acted alone to compile supposedly damning information on the then-GOP nominee. It certainly doesn't suggest that the former spy was, in fact, on the Clinton and DNC payroll. The language suggests that the dossier was simply a thing that happened and that Clinton and her team were legitimately outraged — outraged! — that more attention wasn't given to the 35-page document when it was first made available to media before the 2016 election.
But they knew. Specific people on her team knew. Clinton's former spokesman, Brian Fallon, said as much Wednesday, though he denied he personally knew anything about the dossier's funding.
"I'm sure that there's a small group of [Clinton] folks that were aware, but it was kept, for reasons that I can understand, to a very select group," he said.
As to whether Clinton herself knew, he added she "may have known, but the degree of exactly what she knew is beyond my knowledge."
The problem here, as noted by the Washington Post's Callum Borchers, is that even if Clinton didn't know about the dossier, her campaign did — and they did nothing to stop her or other operatives in her orbit from treating the document as something for which they weren't responsible.
"Fallon might be right," the Post columnist writes, "but ignorance is a pretty weak excuse here. At minimum, some people within the campaign were aware of funding the dossier, yet the campaign allowed spokesmen and the candidate herself to make public statements that were misleading by omission."