If you are the karma-believing type, this week is filled with events that should nourish your political soul. A few of the masterminds behind the bogus Trump-Russia collusion tale finally are getting some payback—and one of their targets is going to court to get his reputation back.
Two years ago this week, the Obama Administration’s FBI sought and received an order to spy on Carter Page, a private citizen who briefly volunteered for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. On October 21, 2016, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved an application to wiretap the former Naval officer amid suspicions he was a working for Russia and engaged in “clandestine intelligence activities…on behalf of a foreign power.”
Although the information was presented to the secret court as legitimate intelligence from reliable sources, it actually was nothing more than manufactured political dirt on the Trump campaign commissioned by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign. The shady opposition research was produced by Fusion GPS, a consulting firm headed by Glenn Simpson, retained in mid-2016 by the DNC and Clinton team to sabotage Trump’s campaign.
The sketchy allegations about Page’s ties to Russia—contained in the so-called Steele dossier—made several unsubstantiated but explosive claims; it nonetheless was peddled to top law enforcement officials, lawmakers, and journalists as credible material just weeks before the election.
During the same time period, the dossier’s author, ex-British spy turned hired gun Christopher Steele, and Simpson personally were meeting with reporters to seed the story that the Trump campaign nefariously was conspiring with the Kremlin to influence the election. News articles about the FBI’s interest in Page began appearing in the media in late September, and continued until Election Day.
Thus, the Trump-Russia election collusion “crime” was born.
Now, two years later, Page is seeking redemption while the perpetrators of the case against him run for cover. On Monday, Page filed a lawsuit in federal court against the DNC and Perkins Coie, the connected law firm that was the payment conduit between the DNC, Clinton campaign and Fusion. (Law firms are hired in order to circumvent election reporting laws that would reveal which political consulting shops are being paid.) Two Perkins Coie principals are individually named as defendants.
Page’s defamation lawsuit accuses the parties of “directly expos[ing] Dr. Page to public hatred, contempt, ridicule and obloquy, which severely deprived him of public confidence, and injured him severely in all his occupations, and tended to scandalize both his colleagues and friends.”
The complaint refutes the accusations in the Steele dossier and details the harassment Page has endured for two years, including relentless negative media coverage based on illegally-leaked information to journalists by top government officials. (Simpson is a former Wall Street Journal reporter with deep ties to the D.C. media claque. His firm also has admitted to paying unnamed journalists.)
Page has been the target of death threats and, according to the 37-page lawsuit, has not been able to locate to a permanent residence due to safety concerns. Banks have refused to do business with the global energy financier.
Meanwhile, Perkins Coie was paid more than $12 million by the DNC and Clinton campaign during the 2016 election cycle partially at his expense. “Perkins Coie should not be permitted to profit from the vast portfolio of defamatory articles printed about Dr. Page with malice and with the knowledge that the falsehoods first originating through their defamatory and life-threatening misstatements to a wide array of media outlets.” He’s seeking at least $75,000 in damages.
But as Page fights back, Simpson is fighting Congressional investigators. Appearing under subpoena before a joint meeting of the House Judiciary and House Oversight Committees on Tuesday, Simpson invoked his Fifth Amendment rights and refused for nearly an hour to answer any questions.
At issue are discrepancies in his previous congressional testimony, and new information about Fusion’s ties to Justice Department officials. (Simpson hired Nellie Ohr, the wife of top DOJ lawyer Bruce Ohr, in 2015 to work on the Trump-Russia opposition research.) Congress suspects Simpson has not been truthful about his firm’s communication with the DOJ before the election and that the Ohrs were used as a “back channel” to get the dossier to top Obama officials.
Without any sense of irony, Simpson’s lawyer blasted House Republicans for continuing an investigation that “is a political exercise, not a serious inquiry” designed to “ruin the reputations” of people involved, and that it’s comparable to McCarthyism.
But committee members will continue to compel testimony from Simpson. “He is not entitled to use the Fifth to not answer questions that were validly asked,” Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) told me by phone Tuesday afternoon. “The members will look at what questions he refused to answer and call him back. If he still refuses, he could be held in contempt of Congress.” If that happens, Biggs said, the sergeant at arms could immediately arrest Simpson.
Meanwhile, Congress is being stonewalled by Nellie Ohr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who signed the final FISA renewal on Page in the summer of 2017, and has defied Congressional demands to unredact key passages of the FISA application on Page. President Trump pledged earlier this month to use his executive authority to declassify the documents, but has since backpedaled.
The president, however, continues closely to follow the unfolding scandal. On Tuesday afternoon, Trump twice tweeted about Simpson, raising questions about his conflicting testimony and why Bruce Ohr is still employed at the Justice Department since his wife “was paid by Simpson and GPS Fusion (sic) for work done on the Fake Dossier, and who was used as a Pawn in this whole SCAM (WITCH HUNT).”
There was another small victory for Page this week: A top staffer for the Senate Intelligence Committee pleaded guilty this week to one count of lying to federal officials about illegally leaking nonpublic information about Page to reporters. James Wolfe in 2017 also gave classified information to reporter Ali Watkins, his much-younger mistress, about a committee subpoena for Page.
While other political crises take center stage, efforts to expose this scandal are “moving slowly” Biggs said, undoubtedly echoing the frustration of lawmakers and rank-and-file Republicans who want to see justice served before it’s too late.
But some measure of payback and karma are emerging and both, as they say, are a bitch. Couldn’t happen to a more deserving crowd.
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