Friday, October 6, 2017

About That Trump Dossier ‘Wall’Did Russia plant wild allegations? Questions from Congress are blocked at every turn.


Kimberley A. Strasse lOct. 5, 2017

More non-news on the Russia-collusion front came Wednesday, when the Senate Intelligence Committee said it has now verified what everyone knew nine months ago: Russia worked to sow chaos during the 2016 election; vote totals weren’t affected; and no evidence has emerged that Donald Trump was in cahoots with Moscow.

That was the infamous list of accusations compiled starting in the summer of 2016 by a former British spook, Christopher Steele, who had been hired by the liberal opposition-research firm Fusion GPS. The discredited rumors about Mr. Trump came from anonymous Russian sources. This is notable, since it turns out Fusion was separately—or maybe not so separately—working with entities tied to the Kremlin.

How close was Fusion’s leader, Glenn Simpson, to Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Kremlin-linked lawyer? Did the Russians know about the dossier all along and help plant the information in it? Were American law-enforcement agencies relying on Russian-directed disinformation when they obtained secret warrants against Trump associates? Chaos, indeed.

Witness how hard the Federal Bureau of Investigation is fighting to avoid divulging any information about the dossier. More than a month ago the House Intelligence Committee issued subpoenas to the FBI and the Justice Department, asking for dossier-related documents. Lawmakers were told to go swivel.

A little more than a week ago, the committee’s frustrated chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, took the case all the way to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who finally offered to make an FBI official available for a briefing. But the bureau is still withholding all documents. To date, Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Judiciary Committee has not received any paper from the FBI on Russia matters, despite numerous requests, some countersigned by the Democratic ranking member, Dianne Feinstein.

Increasingly, one name is popping up: Gregory Brower, who leads the FBI’s Office of Congressional Affairs. Mr. Brower is an odd man for the job. These gigs tend to go to more-junior people, since they involve the drudgery of answering calls from grumpy congressional staffers. Yet Mr. Brower is a former U.S. attorney—a job that requires Senate confirmation—and a former Nevada state senator.

Before his latest role, he was the deputy general counsel of the FBI. In that post he was described as a confidant of former FBI Director James Comey. It was Mr. Comey who installed Mr. Brower in the congressional affairs job, just a few days before President Trump fired the director.

Mr. Brower has been shutting down congressional requests and stonewalling ever since. He has even tried appealing directly to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office to squelch committee demands for documents. The FBI keeps justifying its intransigence by saying it doesn’t want to interfere with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. But Mr. Grassley recently announced that Mr. Mueller’s separate inquiry would no longer be considered a legitimate reason for the FBI to withhold information from Congress.

Now here’s the surprise: Reuters reported Wednesday that Mr. Mueller “has taken over FBI inquiries into a former British spy’s dossier” against Mr. Trump. How very convenient. The Mueller team has leaked all manner of details from its probe, even as it had avoided the dossier. But just as Congress is ratcheting up pressure on the FBI, anonymous sources say that it’s out of the bureau’s hands.

Some Republicans might be tempted to cheer news that the special counsel is looking into the dossier. They shouldn’t. A Mueller takeover will make it even harder for Congress to conduct an independent investigation—which may well have been the reason for the move. Mr. Mueller has had months to look into the document, and his lack of curiosity so far speaks volumes. As a friend of Mr. Comey and a former FBI director himself, Mr. Mueller cannot be counted on to examine impartially whether the FBI was duped.

Sen. Richard Burr, who leads his chamber’s Intelligence Committee, noted on Wednesday that his dossier investigation has “hit a wall.” Mr. Steele has gone underground. Mr. Simpson won’t hand over relevant documents or say who paid him. The FBI is stiff-arming lawmakers. No one wants to talk about a dossier that Paul Roderick Gregory, a Russia expert at the Hoover Institution, found to read like something “compiled by a Russian, whose command of English is far from perfect and who follows the KGB (now FSB) practice of writing intelligence reports.” No one wants to discuss an array of Russian lawyers, lobbyists and Kremlin officials who may have been involved in its creation.

All of this is a lot more shady than Facebook ads. If Congress wants to produce the answers it has promised, it has to break through the dossier “wall.”

Write to kim@wsj.com.