Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the new House Intelligence Committee chairman, is facing calls to recuse himself from the Russia investigation after photos emerged of him at an undisclosed meeting (colluding?) with Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson, a key figure in the Russia collusion scandal.
Perhaps Schiff should recuse himself from his Potemkin Russian Doll investigation https://t.co/FCVWTtEPK2
— Benjamin Weingarten (@bhweingarten) February 8, 2019
This comes as the Democrat-led committee is massively expanding the Russia probe to include Trump’s business dealings.
The photos in question were taken at a prestigious Aspen security conference last July, The Hill’s John Solomon reported. They show Schiff wearing a “sport coat and open-neck dress shirt, and Simpson wearing casual attire,” according to Solomon, who has seen the pics.
Fusion GPS, which was hired on behalf of the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to find dirt on then-candidate Donald Trump, has a long history of smearing Republicans for profit. In 2012, for instance, Barack Obama’s presidential campaign hired Fusion GPS to dig up dirt on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, as well as his donors, to literally create an enemies list.
During a November 14, 2017, closed-door deposition before the House Intelligence Committee, Simpson said Fusion GPS was originally hired in the fall of 2015 by the Free Beacon to take “an open-ended look at Donald Trump’s business career and his litigation history and his relationships with questionable people, how much he was really worth, how he ran his casinos, what kind of performance he had in other lines of work.”
Work for the Free Beacon ceased in spring 2016, he said. Fusion GPS was later hired by law firm Perkins Cole, which had been retained by the DNC. “We began to review what we had learned over the previous months and talk about what we would do, you know, now that we would have resources to pursue this – some of these matters further,” Simpson said.
“Specific lines of inquiry” into the GOP presidential candidate “were a lot of Mr. Trump’s overseas business deals, his history with regard to tax disputes” and labor practices with his clothing line.
Simpson hired former British spy Christopher Steele, who compiled the unverified anti-Trump dossier and went on to work closely with the FBI and DOJ official Bruce Ohr before, during, and after the 2016 presidential election. The Steele dossier was used by the FBI to obtain FISA warrants to spy on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
After the FBI officially stopped using Steele as a confidential source (because he had leaked to the media), they used then-associate deputy attorney general Ohr as a backchannel to Steele.
As Solomon notes, Simpson was an important witness in the House Intelligence Committee’s Russia probe at the time of his encounter with Schiff in Aspen.
And by the time of the meeting, the House Intelligence Committee had already received evidence from a senior Justice Department official, Bruce Ohr, that called into question Simpson’s testimony to lawmakers.
Specifically, Simpson claimed he had not begun meeting with Ohr until after Thanksgiving 2016, well after the FBI had begun investigating Trump-Russia collusion and after the presidential election in which Simpson’s client, Clinton, lost to Trump.
But Ohr provided compelling evidence, including calendar notations, testimony and handwritten notes, showing that Simpson met with him in August 2016, well before the election and during a time when Steele was helping the FBI start an investigation into Trump.
When asked about the Aspen conference photos, representatives for both men insisted that nothing substantive about the Russia case was discussed.
“In the summer of 2018, Mr. Simpson attended a media-sponsored social event where he exchanged small talk with Rep. Schiff and many other people who were in attendance,” Fusion GPS said in a statement to Solomon. “The conversation between the two was brief and did not cover anything substantive. There has been no subsequent contact between Mr. Simpson and Rep. Schiff.”
Schiff spokesman Patrick Boland said: “The chairman did not have any pre-planned meeting with Glenn Simpson, and any conversation with him at the Aspen conference would have been brief and social in nature.”
One wonders what they talked about. Their grandkids, perhaps? Aspen’s beautiful golf courses?
Solomon called the problematic encounter a case of “Forrest Gump-like” serendipity. “This was just a Forrest Gump-like moment in which the Democrats’ chief defender of the dossier and the man whose firm produced it met serendipitously,” he writes.
There is nothing illegal or technically improper about a congressman meeting, intentionally or unintentionally, with a witness in an investigation. At least not under the law or the House Intelligence Committee’s rules.
But Schiff created a far higher standard two years ago when he demanded that his Republican counterpart on the committee, then-Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), be investigated for having meetings with national security council officials at the Trump White House without telling the committee. Schiff’s attacks led Nunes to temporarily recuse himself from the Russia probe.
Schiff assailed Nunes’s contacts with a source outside the committee confines as “a dead-of-night excursion” and said it called into question the impartiality of the inquiry because the committee wasn’t informed.
“I believe the public cannot have the necessary confidence that matters involving the president’s campaign or transition team can be objectively investigated or overseen by the chairman,” Schiff said at the time.
Fast-forward two years: According to Solomon, Schiff’s spokesman declined to say if his boss told the committee about his contact with Simpson. And both GOP and Democratic officials on the panel told Solomon there was no evidence that Schiff informed committee members about his contact with Simpson.
“I don’t know if they’re under any obligation to disclose it but, certainly if we were conspiracy theorists the way that my Democrat colleagues appear to be, we could weave an awful tale into that and weave all kinds of nonsense about it,” Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) told Hill.TV.
“Had the tables been turned and I had been seen at a circumstance like that, my guess is [Schiff] would have demanded I had a full conversation as to what I did,” he added.
Nunes was forced to recuse himself from the Russia probe in April 2017 amid ethics accusations, only to return at the end of December 2017 after he was cleared by the ethics investigation.
“It’s interesting that Simpson is at the heart of the dossier and the dossier played a mighty role in not only going after Carter Page but in much of Adam’s and Eric Swalwell’s (D-Calif.) quest to find collusion, that [Schiff] would in fact in that exact same conversation, or time frame, be in conversation or appear to be in conversation with the guy who’s principally responsible for the dossier,” Conaway told The Hill.
Solomon writes: “whatever happened in Aspen won’t stay in Aspen much longer. Expect Republicans in Washington to launch some questions at the House’s new Intelligence Committee chairman.”
Republicans should do a lot more than ask questions. They should be pounding the table just like the Democrats would and demand an ethics investigation into Schiff’s secret meeting with a key RussiaGate witness. Democrats play hardball. Republicans “launch questions.”
And if his contact(s) with Simpson are investigated, Schiff should recuse himself from leading the House Intelligence Committee probe into Trump’s finances.
After all, his secret contact with a Democrat opposition researcher whose “specific lines of inquiry” into Trump in 2016 were his overseas business deals calls into question the impartiality of the committee’s expanded inquiry into Trump’s business deals. The Intelligence committee isn’t supposed to be used as an opposition research firm for Democrats.