Newly filed court documents confirm that Fusion GPS, the company mostly responsible for the controversial “Trump dossier” on presidential candidate Donald Trump, made payments to three journalists between June 2016 until February 2017.
The revelation could be a breakthrough for House Republicans, who are exploring whether Fusion GPS used the dossier, which was later criticized for having inaccurate information on Trump, to feed anti-Trump stories to the press during and after the presidential campaign. The three journalists who were paid by Fusion GPS are known to have reported on "Russia issues relevant to [the committee's] investigation," the House Intelligence Committee said in a court filing.
But the recipients' names, the amounts, and purposes of those payments were either redacted from the documents that Fusion GPS filed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia or were not disclosed.
Fusion has asked the court to issue a restraining order against the House committee, which is demanding documents from the company that, among other things, explain the payments it made to reporters. Most of the documents sought are banking records.
One of the documents filed by the company this week was an affidavit from one of Fusion GPS’s co-founders, Peter Fritsch. That affidavit said, in part, “[The House Intelligence Committee] has also demanded records related to transactions between Fusion GPS and certain journalists — i.e., Request Nos. 66, 68-69, 107-112. Those requested records involve transactions that are not pertinent to work related to Russia or Donald Trump.”
The numbered “requests” correspond to a list of payments made by Fusion GPS being examined by the committee, which was also among the documents filed Tuesday, although the list was heavily redacted.
Fusion GPS didn't deny that some payments went to reporters, but argues that these payments were made to help the company with research.
“Fusion GPS is a research firm set up by former investigative journalists,” Fusion GPS’s lawyer, Josh Levy, said in a statement to the Washington Examiner. “As such, it sometimes works with contractors that have specialized skills seeking public information. Contractors are not permitted to publish any articles based on that work, and Fusion GPS does not pay journalists to write stories.”
Levy also dismissed the Republican idea that these payments were somehow aimed at or otherwise used to help get anti-Trump stories written by the press.
"This is simply another desperate attempt by the president’s political allies to discredit Fusion GPS's work and divert attention from the question these committees are supposed to be investigating: the Trump campaign's knowledge of Russian interference in the election," Levy said.
But House Republicans still have their doubts. One of the documents filed by lawyers for the House Intelligence Committee said each of the three reporters who received payments had written about the Russia probe, which could indicate that reporters were using Fusion GPS's work to write their stories.
“Additionally, the Committee seeks transactions related to three individual journalists, [names redacted], each of whom have reported on and/or been quoted in articles regarding topics related to the Committee's investigation, some of which were published as recently as October 2017," the committee wrote.
Additionally, a filing by lawyers for the House Intelligence Committee asserts that Fusion GPS “brokered meetings for dossier author Christopher Steele with at least five major media outlets in September 2016, including Yahoo news.”
The meeting by Yahoo resulted in one of the first media reports based on the dossier, which specifically mentioned Trump adviser Carter Page. After seeing the latest court filings, Page heaped praise on the committee.
"While many politicians and bureaucrats in the U.S. Congress remain distracted by irrelevant sideshows such as the minuscule amounts of money spent on Facebook ads that no one paid attention to last year or how various perverted members might have once amused themselves, the determined leaders and hard working staff with the House Intelligence Committee have once again remained on the tip of the spear as they drive toward essential answers regarding the real government interference in the 2016 election," Page said in an email to the Washington Examiner.
Page currently has a defamation suit against the parent company of Yahoo for the article published in September of last year.
At least two people have accused Fusion GPS of running smear campaigns by planting stories in the media with friendly journalists. Bill Browder, who was instrumental in initiating and promoting passage of the Magnitsky Act through Congress, has made that accusation. The Magnitsky Act is essentially a sanctions bill against dozens of Russian oligarchs and limits their access to Western banks.
The dossier has become one of the central components of the investigations being carried out by the House and Senate Intelligence committees, as well as the Senate Judiciary Committee. Investigators are trying to determine how the dossier may have influence the intelligence agencies during the 2016 election.
The Washington Examiner reported that “FBI and Justice Department officials have told congressional investigators in recent days that they have not been able to verify or corroborate the substantive allegations of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign outlined in the Trump dossier.”