GOP Senators Ask Justice Department for Criminal Probe of Trump Dossier Author

Updated on
  • An innocent explanation ‘seems unlikely,’ Grassley says
  • Dossier by former spy Christopher Steele is Republican focus

Christopher Steele

Photographer: Victoria Jones/PA Wire via AP

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley asked the Justice Department to investigate whether the author of a disputed dossier on Donald Trump made false statements to federal investigators, prompting the panel’s Democrats to slam the move as an attempt to distract from the broader Russia investigation.

Grassley and fellow Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina took the unusual step Friday of asking Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to investigate former British spy Christopher Steele, the author of the report filled with allegations that are unverified and in some cases salacious.

“As I would with any credible evidence of a crime unearthed in the course of our investigations, I feel obliged to pass that information along to the Justice Department for appropriate review,” Grassley of Iowa said. “Maybe there is some innocent explanation for the inconsistencies we have seen, but it seems unlikely. In any event, it’s up to the Justice Department to figure that out.”

Graham said that he wants a special counsel to review how Steele conducted himself in distributing information contained in the dossier and how the Justice Department used it. The senators’ concerns in this case center around Steele’s answers about the distribution of details from his report.

“The rule of law depends on the government and all who work on its behalf playing by the rules themselves,” Graham said. “I hope the Department of Justice will carefully review our letter and take appropriate action.”

Read a QuickTake Q&A on the power and limits of the special counsel role

But Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Judiciary panel, ripped the move in an emailed statement, saying neither she nor other Democrats were consulted.

“I think this referral is unfortunate as it’s clearly another effort to deflect attention from what should be the committee’s top priority: determining whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the election and whether there was subsequent obstruction of justice,” she said.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat who serves on Judiciary, said in a statement that “the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in our election – and Trump campaign collaboration with it – was triggered by information completely independent from the dossier or Christopher Steele or Fusion GPS,” the firm that commissioned the report.

Joshua Levy, a lawyer for Fusion GPS, also questioned the referral.

“After a year of investigations into Donald Trump’s ties to Russia, the only person Republicans seek to accuse of wrongdoing is one who reported on these matters to law enforcement in the first place,” Levy said. “Publicizing a criminal referral based on classified information raises serious questions about whether this letter is nothing more than another attempt to discredit government sources, in the midst of an ongoing criminal investigation.”

Classified Memo

Grassley and Graham wrote a letter and a separate classified memorandum Thursday evening to Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray containing information that forms the basis of their criminal referral.

The dossier has long been a focus of Republican congressional investigators, who have sought to get answers on who helped pay for it, who received copies of it and how the Justice Department used it as part of its investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign and any links to the Trump campaign.

The dossier was paid for in part by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign through a law firm.

The Justice Department isn’t obligated to do anything with the referral from Grassley, but its response is subject to congressional oversight. 

A congressional Republican familiar with the questions raised about Steele say the move by Grassley and Graham could put the Justice Department and the FBI under pressure to acknowledge a source involved in the opening of their Russia investigation was known to them to not be truthful.

A separate, long-running dispute between the department and the House Intelligence Committee was resolved this week after Rosenstein agreed to produce witnesses and documents sought by Chairman Devin Nunes following a meeting with Speaker Paul Ryan. Some of the documents at issue related to the dossier.

— With assistance by Billy House

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