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politics

Fusion GPS Fails to Block Congressional Bid for Bank Records

Updated on
  • Intelligence committee says info is needed for Russia probe
  • Judge says committee can protect sensitivity of information

The research firm that compiled a dossier that included salacious allegations about U.S. President Donald Trump’s contacts with Russians failed to block a congressional bid to see its banking records.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon in Washington agreed on Thursday that information sought by the House Intelligence Committee is pertinent to its probe of Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election. The judge rejected Fusion GPS’s argument that disclosure of the data could reveal secrets about the firm’s clients and devastate its business.

Leon ruled the committee’s subpoena was issued “pursuant to a constitutionally authorized investigation by a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives with jurisdiction over intelligence and intelligence-related activities -- activities designed to protect us from potential cyber-attacks now and in the future.”

The judge said the committee’s procedures designed to ensure the confidentiality of the records “more than adequately protect the sensitivity of that information.”

Theodore Boutrous Jr., a lawyer for Fusion, said the firm planned to appeal the ruling and accused the committee of misusing its authority to smear the company.

“The Committee is violating Fusion’s First Amendment and due process rights and we intend to continue seeking to protect those rights,” Boutrous said in an email.

Jack Langer, a spokesman for the committee chairman, California Republican Devin Nunes, said he had no immediate comment.

Political Work

Fusion, founded by former Wall Street Journal reporter Glenn Simpson and others, initially was hired through a conservative website, the Washington Free Beacon, during the Republican primaries to dig up dirt on Trump. Later in the campaign, Trump’s opponent Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee paid Fusion GPS through a law firm for some of the research that resulted in the dossier.

The 35-page report, compiled in part by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, drew on information from Russian contacts and concluded that Russia had been “cultivating, supporting and assisting” Trump for at least five years and fed his campaign “valuable intelligence” about Clinton.

Trump has derided the findings, as recently as Dec. 26 when he wrote on Twitter: “‘Dossier is bogus. Clinton Campaign, DNC funded Dossier. FBI CANNOT (after all of this time) VERIFY CLAIMS IN DOSSIER OF RUSSIA/TRUMP COLLUSION. FBI TAINTED.’ And they used this Crooked Hillary pile of garbage as the basis for going after the Trump Campaign!”

Russia Contacts

Current and former U.S. intelligence officials said Steele was respected in the intelligence community. Some of the information in the dossier, including that there were contacts between Russians and members of the Trump campaign, have since been confirmed. Other allegations never have been verified.

Nunes, an ally of Trump’s, has been seeking the banking records since October.

In a Jan. 2 op-ed in the New York Times, Simpson and Fusion co-founder Peter Fritsch said the firm’s bank records were the only ones subpoenaed by the committee, even though they had urged lawmakers to look into the bank records of Deutsche Bank and others who had been funding Trump.

Simpson and Fritsch also urged the committee to release the transcripts of their testimony to the panel.

Legal Arguments

Thomas Hungar, an attorney for the committee, told Leon at a Nov. 30 hearing that Fusion’s request to block the House subpoena was "unprecedented." For Fusion to prevail, it would need to convince the court there was "no reasonable possibility that the information sought by the subpoena could produce relevant material to the committee’s investigation," he said.

Fusion lawyer Steven Salky told Leon it was his client’s Trump opposition research that made it of interest to the Republican-led committee.

“Congress cannot, without any relevance or relationship to an investigation, simply roam around in a party’s private affairs,” Salky said. “There’s no real mystery here, your honor, that the leadership of this committee wishes to discredit Fusion and the work it did on the dossier.”

Separately, Nunes on Thursday released details of an agreement reached with the Justice Department to provide the Intelligence Committee several witnesses and documents -- including those involving the dossier.  

Nunes has been pursuing since August information about the FBI’s involvement with or even reliance on the dossier in 2016, including whether the bureau may have dressed it up as an intelligence document to obtain surveillance warrants on Trump associates.

Included in the deal reached late Wednesday night is a commitment by the Justice Department to provide committee access for interviews in January of former DOJ Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr, FBI Supervisory Special Agent Peter Strzok, as well as several other FBI officials.

The case is Bean LLC v. John Doe Bank, 17-cv-2187, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

(Updates with details from ruling beginning in third paragraph. An earlier version of this story was corrected to change the day of the week in the second paragraph.)
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