Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson passed along a hot tip to the FBI regarding never-Trumper Rick Wilson in December of 2016, and the Bureau for some reason neglected to check it out.
The claim, recently made public through Judicial Watch litigation, had the potential to be explosive: “A former Trump campaign official, possibly Rick Wilson, was talking about some of the Trump ties to Russia and the Trump Campaign tried to sue him for violating his non-disclosure agreement,” Simpson said, according to the FBI File.
The Bureau could have easily tracked down Rick Wilson—a veteran political strategist and Republican operative— to verify that claim, but according to RealClearInvestigations’ Eric Felten, the FBI passed.
When asked whether he ever heard from the Bureau, Wilson told Fenten, “nope. Not a word.”
Asked why the FBI never contacted Wilson, Bureau spokeswoman Carol Cratty replied, “The FBI has no comment.”
It’s not like the claim wasn’t easy to debunk. As Fenten notes, Wilson at that time was already a well-known “Never-Trump” Republican.
He not only didn’t work for the campaign; Wilson had told CNN in the early presidential primary days of 2015 that he was gathering opposition research of his own on Trump. He bragged that his file on Trump was going to be “the most magnificent document in history.”
The FBI’s lack of curiosity may say more about its eagerness to work with Steele and company than anything else. Bureau officials had been so eager that they made Steele a “confidential human source,” promising to pay him for information, even though it knew he was already being paid by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. In October 2016, the FBI and Department of Justice vouched for Steele’s credibility in using his claims to help secure a spy warrant on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
FBI records uncovered by Judicial Watch show that Steele was cut off as a “confidential human source” in November 2016 after he disclosed his relationship with the FBI to the media.
Despite this, Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr communicated with Steele regularly for another full year, transferring information from Steele and Fusion GPS to the FBI until November 2017. This workaround allowed Ohr and his wife Nellie—who worked for Fusion GPS—to keep the bureau in the loop on their anti-Trump allegations.
In the ensuing years, current and former FBI officials insisted that the bureau had aggressively vetted all of Steele and Simpson’s claims.
On Dec. 7, 2018, for instance, disgraced former FBI Director James Comey told lawmakers on the House Judiciary and Oversight committees that “an effort was under way to try to replicate, either rule in or rule out, as much of that collection of reports that’s commonly now called the Steele dossier as possible.”
Fenten points out that most of the dossier’s claims were impossible to verify.
Take the infamous “golden shower” assertion. That’s when Trump, staying at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton in 2013, supposedly hired “a number of prostitutes” to urinate “in front of him” on a bed that President Obama had slept on. Steele said it was likely Russia state security services had taped the incident, leaving Trump open to blackmail. This lewd anecdote is attributed to a couple of unnamed sources, one of whom (Source F) is at least described: “a female staffer at the hotel when TRUMP had stayed there.”
Imagine the degree of difficulty for even the most determined and dedicated G-man given the task of corroborating such a claim. Where would the agent start in trying to track down a woman who worked at the hotel three years before, knowing nothing else about her? How would he find the right prostitutes in a town with a large number of them?
On the other hand, the allegation about Rick Wilson would have been easy to “either rule in or rule out” by simply picking up the phone and giving the Republican strategist a call. It would have been a good way to test the reliability of Steele and Simpson’s claims.
But no. Instead, Comey set up a private briefing with Trump at Trump Tower in January 2017, in which he told the president-elect about the unverifiable “golden shower” allegation, in an apparent effort to collect evidence on the then-president-elect. During this one-on-one meeting, Comey told Trump he was not a subject of the investigation.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report reveals that Comey and senior FBI officials—including supervisors of the counterintelligence inquiry—discussed the briefing ahead of time, hoping that Trump would “make statements about or provide information of value to the pending Russia interference investigation.”
The “hot tip” about Rick Wilson, meanwhile, was filed away and forgotten.