Within the last days, two surprising news reports in the sprawling, surging octopus of the Russiagate investigation have reintroduced the probability that we are much closer to the beginning than to the end of the scandal.
First, on Friday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein of California demonstrated their impatience with Glenn Simpson, founder of the opposition research company Fusion GPS.
“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.”
Second, on Friday, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina reawakened interest in the suspicion that the Obama administration abused its authority by using surveillance information in order to unmask and leak the names of Trump campaign members, particularly Gen. Michael Flynn.
After interviewing Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice in a session closed to the media and public, Burr remarked ambiguously: “The unmasking thing was all created by Devin Nunes, and I’ll wait to go through our full evaluation to see if there was anything improper that happened. But clearly there were individuals unmasked. Some of that became public, which it’s not supposed to, and our business is to understand that, and explain it.”
Both these puzzles need to be solved in public before there can be a complete understanding of the threatening allegation that the Trump administration colluded with Russian intelligence operatives in what former Obama administration CIA and NSA directors Michael Hayden has called the “most successful covert influence operation in history.”
Teasing out these two large-scaled unknowns in order, Fusion GPS looms as a crossroads in the inquiry into Russian meddling by both the Trump and Clinton campaigns.
What Republican partisan hired Fusion GPS in 2015 in order to develop what became the former MI6 agent Christopher Steele’s dossier of alleged conduct by Donald Trump long before the 2016 campaign?
What Democratic partisan then paid Fusion GPS in order to take over and to exploit the Steele dossier beginning in June 2016?
Then again, Fusion GPS is also involved in the suspect conduct of Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
In 2013, well-connected Russian citizen Denis Katsyv turned to his attorney, Veselnitskaya, in order to refute money-laundering charges brought by then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. Veselnitskaya, not licensed in the United States, hired American law firm BakerHostetler. BakerHostetler hired Fusion GPS to develop information to help defend Katsyv and his enterprise, Prevezon Holdings.
The entanglement also included Fusion GPS investigating information about principals in the Magnitsky Act of 2012.
The now controversial meeting in June 2016 at Trump Tower, including Donald Trump Jr. and Veselnitskaya, is said to have turned on a discussion of the Magnitsky Act.
There is new information that Veselnitskaya has in the past represented the Russian intelligence service FSB.
All these connections lead back to Fusion GPS, its client list, its sources, its refusal so far to provide Congress with documents of its activity with and for Russian actors since 2013.
The unanswered questions about the alleged leaking of the unmasking and leaking of Michael Flynn’s name also involves documents that have yet to be seen by the public.
Senator Burr’s ambiguous remark that Congressman Nunes “created” the “unmasking thing” does not clarify the questions raised these last weeks about how the Obama administration used surveillance during the 2016 campaign.
For example, in late May, news reports confirmed that the Nunes-chaired House Intelligence Committee had issued subpoenas to three national security agencies, the CIA, the FBI, and the NSA. The committee was said to be seeking documents related to the improper unmasking allegations and three Obama administration officials, former CIA director John Brennan, former national security adviser Susan Rice, and former UN ambassador Samantha Power.
At the time, the question was what does Power have to do with the unmasking and leaking of Flynn’s name?
The questions about Power only darkened when Nunes announced in mid-July that the House Intelligence Committee soon intends to make a “criminal referral” to the Department of Justice about Obama administration officials who leaked names of Trump campaign members that were gathered in U.S. intelligence surveillance.
Of all the theatrical Russiagate elements that are unlikely to be explained in the near future—Michael Flynn; John Brennan; Susan Rice; James Comey; the cross-purposes of the NSA, CIA, FBI, FSB, GRU; not to mention John Podesta and Julian Assange—it would be a satisfying start just to have clarity about the striking role played by Fusion GPS in the 2016 election.
Of all the alarming Russiagate allegations—collusion, treason, blackmail, money-laundering, obstruction—it would be a satisfying start to learn how the unlikely name of Samantha Power turned up in the widening gyre of blameworthiness.