Fusion’s Russian Dirty Work
The Editorial Board Wall Street Journal
Jan. 28, 2018
How the firm sought to discredit an anti-Kremlin activist.
Media defenders of Fusion GPS and the FBI are criticizing as friends of the Kremlin anyone who dares raise questions about their behavior during the 2016 campaign. You almost have to admire their loyalty to sources, if not to readers. We’ll wait for the evidence, thanks, including the memo that the House Intelligence Committee understandably wants to make public.
Meantime, regarding Russia, the recent Congressional testimony by Fusion founder Glenn Simpson deserves more attention—specifically for what it reveals about Fusion’s campaign against Bill Browder, the human-rights and anti-Kremlin activist.
Mr. Browder hired Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky to investigate a 2007 Russian raid on Mr. Browder’s investment company. Magnitsky ultimately exposed a financial fraud perpetrated by corrupt officials and the mafia. Russia responded by arresting Magnitsky and keeping him in pre-trial detention for 358 days, where he was tortured and denied vital medical care. He was found dead on a cell floor in 2009.
Magnitsky and his lawyers meticulously documented his abuse while in prison. His evidence was affirmed by multiple governments and outside organizations, including U.S. prosecutors. In a rare instance of bipartisanship, Congress in 2012 passed the Magnitsky Act, which sanctioned individuals involved in Magnitsky’s death and other Russian rights abusers.
Russian President Vladimir Putin responded by banning U.S. adoptions of Russian children. The Kremlin then embarked on a disinformation campaign against Mr. Browder and Magnitsky, claiming they had defrauded the Kremlin and lied about abuse. A Russian filmmaker produced a “documentary” that spread the Kremlin lies.
Fusion was hired in 2014 to flog this Russian propaganda to help a Russian company named Prevezon that was the focus of a federal civil money-laundering case tied to the fraud Magnitsky uncovered. (Prevezon ultimately settled with the U.S. government for $5.9 million, without admitting wrongdoing.) In his Senate testimony Mr. Simpson embraced his role as a Kremlin megaphone, confirming that he sought to question Mr. Browder’s “credibility” and hound him with subpoenas, chasing him in public places and digging through his business records.
He accuses Mr. Browder of an elaborate scheme (albeit without evidence) to defraud the poor Kremlin and of engaging in “unsupported wild allegations.” He complains about Mr. Browder’s refusal to answer questions from Prevezon (which is run by the son of a Putin crony). And he explains that he planted information about Mr. Browder’s “activities in Russia” and his “history of tax avoidance” with U.S. media.
Mr. Simpson also speaks up for Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Kremlin-linked lawyer who worked for Prevezon and has headed the Russian lobbying campaign to repeal the Magnitsky Act. Recall that Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner have been roundly and rightly criticized for meeting with Ms. Veselnitskaya in June 2016.
Yet Mr. Simpson accuses the Justice Department of interfering with her visa “to inhibit her from collaborating with us on the case.” He admits to knowing she and others were engaged in anti-Magnitsky lobbying in Washington and that he helped get the anti-Browder documentary attention in Washington, D.C.
All of this goes to the question of Mr. Simpson’s credibility and that of the Christopher Steele dossier he commissioned. Mr. Simpson in a recent op-ed claims he was motivated to protect the U.S. against a Russian “attack” and by his worry that Donald Trump was willing to engage with a “notoriously corrupt police state.”
Yet Mr. Simpson admits to abetting one of the uglier Russian disinformation campaigns of recent years. Asked by investigators if he understood he was helping Mr. Putin, Mr. Simpson said it had been “presented” to him that he was working for a “successful real estate investor.” He admits to knowing Ms. Veselnitskaya had worked for Russia’s government but guesses that she was “not like a big political player in the Kremlin.”
Mr. Simpson was doing this Kremlin dirty work at the same time he was working with Mr. Steele to compile the Steele dossier. He says he didn’t share information about the dossier with Ms. Veselnitskaya or other Russians but he can’t guarantee there was a “Chinese wall of separation” at his firm between the cases.
All of this is worth keeping in mind the next time you hear defenders say Fusion was merely a patriotic outfit trying to protect America from the Kremlin. Mr. Simpson admits that Fusion was paid to spread Kremlin disinformation to smear a critic and change U.S. law. Who was really serving Mr. Putin’s interests?