While many Democrats are downplaying the Washington Post’s report that the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee funded the controversial anti-Trump dossier, a prominent party figure – a former chief of staff to Bill Clinton and CIA director under Barack Obama – believes an investigation is warranted.
Leon Panetta, who also served as secretary of defense, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and a congressman from California, was asked by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Thursday night how it was possible that neither “the chair of the DNC and the Clinton campaign” knew about payments for the dossier.
“Well, it’s obviously something that the Intelligence Committee is going to have to look at,” Panetta said. “You know, knowing presidential campaigns, they’re big operations and somehow the left hand may not know what the right hand is doing. And that could be the case here.”
Panetta said the committee “is going to have to get into this, determine just exactly what happened, who knew what and when.”
Blitzer asked Panetta why Clinton campaign attorney Marc Elias didn’t tell Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta that the campaign had paid for the dossier. The report was included by then-FBI Director James Comey in the intelligence community’s January report on Russian meddling in the election, even though Comey described it as “salacious and unverified.”
Elias, who also represented the DNC during the election, is alleged to have paid the opposition-research firm Fusion GPS for the dossier.
The lawyer was sitting next to Podesta, representing the campaign chairman, when Podesta told congressional investigators in September that he had no knowledge of the hiring of Fusion GPS, which deployed former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele to compile the dossier, according to three sources familiar with the matter who spoke to CNN.
“Well, it certainly makes the situation very awkward,” Panetta said. “If you’re testifying and saying you have no knowledge, and the attorney sitting next to you is one of those that knew what was involved here, I think it does raise an issue that the committee is going to have to look at and determine just exactly who knew what.”
Then-DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz also denied any knowledge of the hiring in a closed-door interview with congressional investigators earlier this month.
CNN noted the denials by Podesta and Wasserman Schultz “raise the stakes” because it’s against the law to make false statements to Congress.
Potentially ‘criminal’ allegation
Hillary Clinton is at the center of another scandal that has gained legs in the past week: her approval of the sale of Uranium One, which holds 20 percent of U.S. uranium reserves, to Russia while millions of donations from interested parties flowed to the Clinton Foundation and her husband received a $500,000 speaking fee from a Kremlin-backed bank.
The latest revelation is that the Obama administration squelched FBI evidence that, at the time of the Uranium One sale, Russian nuclear industry officials were engaged in bribery, kickbacks, extortion and money laundering designed to expand Moscow’s nuclear business in the U.S.
George Washington Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley said in a Fox News interview Thursday that the allegations against the Clintons regarding the Uranium One deal and the Trump dossier are “more recognizable as a criminal allegation” than the allegations of Russian collusion against the Trump campaign.
“Quite frankly, it’s good to have something that’s more recognizable as a criminal allegation,” Turley said.
The professor noted he’s been “very skeptical” that past Russian-collusion allegations were a criminal matter, even though he supported the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller after Comey was fired.
“I’ve been cautioning, and many others have, that it really isn’t a crime to collude. And in the same sense, it wouldn’t be a crime to receive information on the Trump side from a foreign national,” he said.
“But the allegation against the Clintons could potentially be criminal. It doesn’t mean that they are criminal.”
He said the $500,000 given to Bill Clinton might have been a coincidence.
“But that would be a cognizable crime if a linkage was found,” he said. “In the same way, the allegation over the dossier does involve a potential violation of federal law.”
He cited the Federal Election Commission Act, which requires campaigns to state a purpose for any money spent over about $200.
There is no item description for Fusion GPS, he pointed out, for the amount of money alleged to be given the firm to do the dossier research.
Other Democrats have downplayed the allegations. Asked about Clinton’s role in funding the dossier research, Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, offered a common response: “We all engage in opposition research.”
But Washington Post reporter Callum Borchers and two New York Times reporters are pointing to the denials by Clinton and her camp over the past year regarding the dossier.
Borchers noted that when BuzzFeed published the dossier and its unproven claims about Donald Trump and Russia in January, Clinton campaign aides expressed outrage that news outlets didn’t make its contents public in time to influence voters.
Clinton said the same in her book about the presidential race, “What Happened,” Borchers said.
“It turns out that the reaction of the Democratic presidential nominee and her team was disingenuous,” he wrote.
Times reporter Kenneth Vogel tweeted that when he tried to report the Clinton campaign’s connection to the dossier, campaign lawyer Elias “pushed back vigorously,” saying, “You (or your sources) are wrong.”
The White House correspondent for the Times, Maggie Haberman, tweeted: “Folks involved in funding this lied about it, and with sanctimony, for a year.”
Late Wednesday, a complaint was filed with the Federal Election Commission charging Clinton’s campaign and the DNC violated campaign finance law by failing to disclose payments for the Trump dossier.
Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, on a tour to promote her new book, hasn’t spoken on the record about the Post’s revelations.
Her former campaign spokesman Brian Fallon, however, has left open the possibility that she knew. Fallon told CNN on Wednesday: “She may have known, but the degree of exactly what she knew is beyond my knowledge.”
In an editorial Thursday, the Washington Examiner pointed out that Clinton wrote about the dossier in “What Happened.”
She wrote that the intelligence community “took the dossier seriously enough that it briefed both President Obama and President Elect Trump on its contents before the inauguration.”
Clinton said the FBI “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.”
“More bombshells” in the dossier scandal are to come, according to the Wall Street Journal’s Kimberly A. Strassel.
It’s now known where Fusion GPS got some of its cash, she wrote, but the next question is how the firm used it.
“With whom did it work beyond former British spy Christopher Steele? Whom did it pay? Who else was paying it?” she asked.
The answers are in Fusion’s bank records, she said, but the firm “has doggedly refused to divulge the names of its clients for months now, despite extraordinary pressure.”
She asked rhetorically, then, why Fusion suddenly insisted that middleman law firm Perkins Coie release Fusion from confidentiality agreements and reveal who hired it to produce the dossier.
It’s because Fusion has an even greater interest in keeping secret its bank records, which could include money connected to Russians.
Strassel noted Fusion has worked with Russians in the past, including Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who got a meeting with Donald Trump Jr. by promising dirt, which never materialized, on Hillary Clinton.
“FBI bombshells are also yet to come,” Strassel said, pointing out the bureau stonewalled congressional subpoenas for documents related to the dossier.
That was before House Speaker Paul Ryan, two days after the Washington Post’s report of the dossier funding, announced the FBI had finally pledged to turn over its dossier file.
Strassel also noted that while senior Democrats are disclaiming knowledge of the dossier deal, Perkins Coie must have documents showing who signed off on the bills, which aren’t protected by attorney-client privilege.
“Those names will matter, since someone at the DNC and at the Clinton campaign will need to explain how they somehow both forgot to list Fusion as a vendor in their campaign-finance filings.”
Strassel believes it’s possible the Steele dossier was the premise for Obama political appointees monitoring the Trump campaign and abusing unmasking.
“They were looking for a ‘gotcha,’ something to disqualify a Trump presidency,” she wrote.
“Of course, they were doing so on the basis of ‘salacious and unverified’ accusations made by anonymous Russians, but never mind,” said Strassel.
“No, this probe of the Democratic Party’s Russian dalliance has a long, long way to go. And, let us hope, with revelations too big for even the media to ignore.”