Glenn Simpson and the Trump Investigation
Disclaimer: This is an in-depth look at the Fusion GPS Trump-research-related parts of Glenn Simpson’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on August 17, 2017 and before the House Intelligence Committee on November 14, 2017. The information below was presented by Glenn Simpson in his testimony, and is not being represented here as either fact or as the opinion of the webmaster unless specifically stated. All statements and assertions should be read as if prefaced by “Glenn Simpson states that …” Any content that I add will be surrounded by [brackets] and will likely include a link or reference to the source.
What is the narrative that Glenn Simpson told the Senate Judiciary Committee about his Trump research?
Glenn Simpson’s research firm, Fusion GPS, was hired by a Republican client to investigate Donald Trump as part of an opposition research campaign. After Trump won the primary, Fusion continued doing the research for a Democratic client. Simpson declined to disclose whether either client paid him directly for the work or if he was paid through an intermediary. [The Committee and Simpson’s attorneys had apparently agreed in advance that certain topics – names of his clients, communications with his clients, and naming sources of information – would not be pursued in any questions.]
Fusion’s research into Trump began in September or October of 2015 with a general exploration of public records regarding Trump’s businesses, associates, finances, bankruptcies, and “offshore or third world suppliers of products that he was selling.” The research “evolved somewhat quickly into issues of his relationships with organized crime figures,” including connections to Italian organized crime and a relationship with Russian organized crime figure Felix Sater.
Some of Trump’s money seemed to be coming from Kazakhstan and other unusual places, and the money couldn’t be accounted for. Trump also seemed to take a lot of business trips to Russia, but little if anything seemed to come from them, which Simpson found odd.
After the Prevezon case ended, Fusion hired Edward Baumgartner – who had worked on the Prevezon case and spoke Russian – as a subcontractor to do work such as researching Russian language newspapers for information about Paul Manafort and his work in Ukraine for now-exiled pro-Russian Ukrainian President Yanukovych. There were no other subcontractors who worked on both the Trump and Prevezon projects.
In May or June of 2016, once Trump was clearly the Republican nominee, Fusion’s Trump research ended for the Republican client and then resumed for a Democratic client. By that time, the research that could be done via public records had largely been exhausted, and a handful of areas of interest had also emerged, one of which was Trump’s business dealings in Russia.
Fusion hired former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele as a subcontractor to do “human intelligence” (interviewing people), a skill that is generally outside of Fusion’s data-and-document-driven strengths. Steele was hired specifically to obtain more in-depth information than could be determined from public records regarding Trump’s activities in Russia and other former Soviet countries, where Trump appeared to have relationships with Russian organized crime figures and other “colorful characters.”
Steele was the former “lead Russianist” with MI6 (Britain’s equivalent of the CIA), was a highly regarded investigator and an expert at identifying Russian disinformation. Simpson and Steele had worked together on other projects since 2009. Steele was known as “a person who delivered quality work in very appropriate ways … he’s basically a Boy Scout.” He “has a sterling reputation as a person who doesn’t exaggerate, doesn’t make things up, doesn’t sell baloney …. Everyone I know who’s ever dealt with him thinks he’s quite good. That would include people from the U.S. government.” Asked if credibility with the FBI was one reason for Fusion hiring Steele, Simpson said no. Consistent with Fusion practices to ensure integrity of gathered information, Christopher Steele and Ed Baumgartner were unaware that each other was working on the case.
Between June-October 2016, Steele created 16 memos that he sent to Simpson, as well as a 17th memo in December 2016, after the election. Steele told Simpson that he did not believe that what he had reported in the memos was disinformation.
The 17th memo was created after Steele’s engagement with Fusion GPS had ended, because Steele’s sources were still continuing to provide him with information. It is unclear whether that 17th memo was sent to Simpson or to someone else. Steele’s attorneys had apparently stated in the past that this 17th memo had been given to a “senior United Kingdom government national security official” although Simpson expressed ignorance of this.
Whenever Steele sent in a memo, Simpson would generally verify it against information that Fusion had already gathered through other sources such as public documents, and Steele’s information matched up. Neither Simpson nor Fusion edited or altered Steele’s memos in any way. Steele did not name the human sources of his information for the memos, and Simpson does not believe that he paid them for information.
Simpson had expected that Steele’s memos might reveal evidence of corruption in Trump’s overseas dealings. Instead, Steele’s first memo raised alarms that the Russian government had been “cultivating and supporting” Trump for at least 5 years, that Trump and his inner circle had been accepting a “regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his democratic and other political rivals,” and that Trump was also sufficiently compromised by the FSB (under direction of Putin) that he could be blackmailed, particularly with regards to a potentially videotaped sexual act in the Presidential Suite of the Moscow Ritz Carlton Hotel.
Russian intelligence is known to have recording devices in many Russian luxury hotel rooms to gather “kompromat” – compromising material – on political and business leaders. [This practice dates back to the Soviet Union and KGB, and is believed to have been used by Putin for political advancement early in his career] [New York Times]. Such a situation poses a profound danger to the national security of the United States if a U.S. President or other major U.S. political figure can be blackmailed by a hostile foreign power.
Steele’s first memo also noted that the Kremlin had compiled a dossier of years of recorded phone conversations and other records of Hillary Clinton, mainly revealing her expressing opinions that differed from her public positions.
Simpson was aware of the Kremlin’s hostility toward Hillary Clinton and of Russia’s interference in recent European elections, and was also aware of the possibility of meddling in a U.S. election by a foreign government. While an investigative reporter at the Wall Street Journal, Simpson had exposed a Chinese effort to swing the 1996 Presidential election to Bill Clinton.
Additionally, Simpson recalled a story that he had written as a WSJ journalist about Oleg Daripaska (Russian oligarch suspected to have ties to organized crime) meeting with John McCain (R-AZ) before the 2008 election. And as a journalist, Simpson had written stories about Paul Manafort’s connections to the (pro-Putin) Party of Regions in Ukraine, to pro-Putin ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, and to Russian oligarchs suspected of corruption. The Manafort stories had sprung from earlier stories that Simpson had written about the Kremlin collaborating with the Russian mafia to skim money from the gas trade between Ukraine and Russia. All of these things came to mind for Simpson as he pondered Steele’s first memo.
Steele believed the information in this memo to be potentially evidence of a crime in progress and a matter of national security concern to the United States. He considered it his professional obligation to report it to U.S. authorities, and expressed this to Simpson. Simpson was hesitant at first, but eventually said that Steele should report it if he felt that it was his obligation. Steele reached out to a contact that he had at the FBI. Simpson’s perspective was “to me this was like, you know, you’re driving to work and you see something happen and you call 911.” Simpson did not seek anyone else’s approval [one would assume that “anyone else” would include Fusion’s Democratic client] to authorize Steele to go to the FBI.
Simpson did not know if Steele gave the FBI the actual written memo, and did not know if Steele had actually requested that the FBI open an investigation. Simpson only later learned from news reports that Steele first contacted the FBI in the first week of July [a few days after Simpson had agreed that he should do so]. Simpson wondered for months if the FBI had actually done anything with the information: he knew that the Department of Justice has rules against law enforcement getting involved in the middle of a campaign, but he also increasingly believed that a serious crime was in progress regarding the hacking of the DNC and others.
In mid to late September, the FBI contacted Steele and said that they wanted all of the information that he had, so Steele met with them in Rome (at FBI expense) and debriefed them. Simpson testified that the FBI told Steele that they “had other intelligence about this matter from an internal Trump Campaign source” independent of Steele’s sources, and that they believed that Steele’s information was credible. Later in the testimony, Simpson said that it was unclear if the FBI was the one who told Steele about this, and that he was also unclear if the FBI’s other source was someone in the Trump Campaign or the Trump Organization.
Simpson was nonetheless uncertain and deeply concerned about how seriously the FBI was in investigating Steele’s findings. This concern came to a head when the New York Times ran a story on October 31, 2016 stating that the FBI had been investigating Trump-Russia connections and had found nothing. [New York Times] Shortly after that, Steele cut off his relationship with the FBI, believing that the FBI was possibly somehow being influenced by the Trump Campaign for political purposes. After the election, the FBI contacted Steele about possibly being paid by them to continue his investigative work, but he declined.
Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee had a back and forth with Simpson and his attorneys regarding whether the non-disclosure agreement between Fusion and Orbis (the company that Steele worked for) forbade Simpson and/or Steele from giving the memos and/or the information in them to the press or to law enforcement. Republicans also pointed out that in a lawsuit against Steele, Steele’s attorneys had stated that Steele and Fusion, at Fusion’s instruction, had given “off-the-record briefings” in September and October 2016 to journalists from the New York Times, the Washington Post, Yahoo News, the New Yorker, ABC, and others.
Simpson was asked if he or Fusion has provided Steele’s actual memos to their Democratic client or to Buzzfeed, the news outlet that first publicly released them. Simpson’s attorney told Simpson not to answer that question verbally, but the attorney had apparently provided a written statement to the Judiciary Committee stating that they had not provided the actual memos to those entities.
Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans asked a number of questions implying that Fusion’s Trump investigation was unethical, and Simpson responded:
- No, the amount of Fusion’s pay or Orbis’s pay was not contingent on whether or not the FBI started an investigation.
- No, to Simpson’s knowledge, Christopher Steele and Rinat Akhmetshin (HRAGI lobbyist employed by Natalia Veselnitskaya and who was at the Trump Tower meeting) did not know each other, and Akhmetshin did not work for Orbis.
- No, Simpson does not believe that he discussed the existence of Fusion’s Trump investigation with Natalia Veselnitskaya, Rinat Akhmetshin, or anyone involved in the Prevezon case including anyone at Baker Hostetler, and does not believe that Steele did so either. Doing so would have been a violation of their non-disclosure agreements.
- No, Simpson was not influenced in his actions on the Trump project by Veselnitskaya or Akhmetshin, and does not believe Steele to have been either.
After the election, Sir Andrew Wood, Britain’s former ambassador to Russia, had a chance encounter with U.S. Senator John McCain and his adviser, David Kramer, at a security conference in Nova Scotia, and informed them of the dossier. Rinat Akhmetshin was listed in conference records as being in attendance at that conference, a fact of which Simpson was unaware until the Senate hearing.
It is unclear how Wood had learned of the dossier: nobody at Fusion had provided any information about it to any foreign governments. After the conference, Kramer reached out to Steele to get more information for McCain to bring to the FBI’s attention. At this point, Simpson and Steele were still unclear how seriously the FBI was taking the information or if the information had been conveyed to anyone of high rank in the FBI, so the idea of having a U.S. Senator take the information to the FBI was appealing.
Some miscellaneous information from Simpson’s testimony included:
- Simpson researched Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page, as well as Russian government officials Sergei Ivanov and Igor Sechin. Simpson believed Carter Page to be potentially compromised by the Kremlin.
- Simpson observed that most Russians work to some degree for the Russian government and receive pensions. Simpson speculated that if those Russians were to move to the U.S., the Russian government disbursing their pensions would be an ideal way for the Russian government to launder money and get money out of Russia – a concept suggested in Steele memos #4 (2016/095) and #10 (2016/111). Simpson encouraged the House Judiciary Committee to look further into this, because there is a large amount of Russian money coming into the U.S. through what Simpson believes are fake or inflated pensions. However, such payments might not be easily traceable and would fall under diplomatic privileges.
- Simpson explained that “Russian organized crime is …. involved in politics and banking and there’s even a lot of connections between the mafia and the KGB or FSB and cyber crime …. Stock fraud in particular was the big thing in the U.S.”
- Simpson learned of a New York court case in which the government of Kazakhstan was trying to recover billions of dollars that had allegedly been stolen during the failure of a major bank called BTA Bank. The money was allegedly laundered in Europe and the United States. Felix Sater, a real estate developer who at one time had an office in Trump Tower, appeared to be involved in some way, and there were media reports that some of the money went into Sater’s company in the building of Trump Soho.
- Simpson’s review of estate taxes on Trump’s properties indicated that Trump publicly estimated his individual properties to be worth far more than he says that they are worth on his taxes, and a number of his golf courses don’t make any money.
- Toward the end of testimony, Simpson was asked about Alfa Bank and its founders, Pyotr Aven, Mikhail Fridman and German Khan. Simpson had little information about them.
Prompted by his attorney, who cited the terms agreed upon by the Senate Committee prior to the testimony, Simpson did not answer a small handful of questions, mainly pertaining to names of his clients, communications with his clients, and naming sources of information. In general, he appeared to be extremely forthcoming in his 10-hour testimony.
What did Glenn Simpson tell the House Intelligence Committee about Fusion’s Trump research that he did not already say in his Senate testimony?
The Republican client who initially engaged Fusion to research Presidential candidate Donald Trump was a conservative web publication called the Washington Free Beacon. [The Beacon’s benefactor, Paul Singer, was a supporter of (then-Presidential hopeful) U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL)]. [New York Times] Simpson did not believe that the Beacon was acting as a proxy for any specific candidate, but believed that they were generally from the wing of the Republican Party that was concerned about a takeover of the GOP by Trump and his supporters. Simpson also researched (then-Presidential hopeful) U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) for the Beacon during the 2016 Republican Primary.
The Beacon would sometimes ask Fusion to pass researched information on to reporters. Other times, reporters would reach out to Fusion for information, and Fusion would make sure that the Beacon authorized sharing the information with that reporter. The Beacon also provided some of Fusion’s research to reporters without necessarily notifying Fusion.
During the period when the (conservative) Beacon was Fusion’s client, the issues that surfaced about Trump with regard to Russia that raised enough questions in Simpson’s mind to warrant further exploration included:
- Trump’s relationship with Felix Sater and Sater’s real estate development company Bayrock – a company that Simpson believed had ties to Russian organized crime and received “opaque” funding from Russia and other former Soviet countries. Alexander Mashkevich, a financial backer of Bayrock, is a Central Asian organized crime figure who has been involved in money laundering, the mining industry, and Kazakhstan.
- The Trump campaign’s hiring of Paul Manafort, who Simpson knew had worked for Ukraine’s pro-Russia political party, and who had also successfully worked to get pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych (now exiled in Russia) elected President of Ukraine.
- The “amazing number of people from the former Soviet Union who had purchased properties from Mr. Trump.” [One of them was Dmitry Rybolovlev. Rybolovlev was a wealthy Russian oligarch who purchased a Palm Beach mansion from Trump for a staggering $95 million in 2008. Trump had paid around $41 million for it just two years earlier and had made very few improvements to it, raising questions about why Ryoboloviev had paid so much for it. The current U.S. Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross (former Vice Chair of the Bank of Cyprus) connected Rybolovlev and Trump to do the transaction.] [MSNBC]
- The number of Trump properties where it was not easy to determine who the buyer was.
- Various criminals buying Trump properties, including one who was running a high stakes gambling ring out of Trump Tower.
- The number of Trump properties that were sold at a loss shortly after they were bought.
- “Patterns of buying and selling that we thought were suggestive of money laundering”
- The number of trips that Trump had taken to Russia.
All of these activities started surfacing in a period in Trump’s career beginning in about 2005. Recent Trump projects that also raised questions for Simpson included a Trump development in Panama, one in Toronto, and Trump’s golf courses in Scotland and Ireland, which seemed to have a lot of opaque money coming into them and were not making any money.
The numerous Russia connections got Simpson wondering about possible connections between Trump and the Russian mafia. Simpson had learned as an investigative reporter at the Wall Street Journal that the Russian mafia is more sophisticated and more global in their activities than the Italian mafia – “[the Russian mafia] understand finance a lot better” – and they often create very elaborate money laundering schemes, including fake court arbitrations, commodities deals, and “securities straits” [this was probably incorrectly transcribed during testimony and was supposed to be “securities trades”] in order to make the source of the money harder to trace: “if you can think of a way to launder money, the Russians are pretty good at it.”
The Russian mafia is also involved in legitimate American businesses and the American government. Simpson had actually left the Wall Street Journal in 2009 in part because he wanted to investigate Russian involvement in Washington DC, but the Journal had lost interest in the topic. In talking to his sources at the time, Simpson found that “everyone said the Russians are back, and they are buying influence in Washington left and right, and they are trying to bribe all these Congressmen.”
The Russian mafia is “essentially under the dominion of the Russian Government and Russian Intelligence Services. And many of the oligarchs are also mafia figures.”
Putin’s rise to power basically included gaining control over the oligarchs and the Russia mafia [this account by Simpson is consistent with William Browder’s description of Putin’s rise to power, and corroborates why Putin might have initially been supportive of Browder’s efforts to expose how oligarchs were ripping off shareholders]. Everyone in Russia essentially works for Putin, and U.S. law enforcement believes this to be true of Russian mafia figures in the United States as well.
Because of this connection between organized crime and the Kremlin, if Trump’s businesses were taking in large amounts of illicit money from Russian mafia figures, the Kremlin would certainly know about it. “If people who seem to be associated with the Russian mafia are buying Trump properties or arranging for other people to buy Trump properties, it does raise a question about whether they’re doing it on behalf of the Russian government.” Knowledge by the Kremlin of such dealings by Trump or his businesses could also be used as “kompromat,” potentially giving the Kremlin leverage over Trump, particularly once Trump began running for President, and even more so once he became President.
After the Republican Primary ended and Trump was the Republican candidate, Fusion was hired by Seattle-based international law firm Perkins Cole – whose clients include the DNC – to continue researching Donald Trump. Peter Fritsch, Simpson’s business partner at Fusion, originally spoke with Perkins Cole about doing Trump research for them. Simpson was unaware if Fritsch approached Perkins about the project or vice-versa. Simpson understood his client to be Perkins Cole, and also understood that the DNC was Perkins Cole’s client in the opposition research that Fusion was doing into Trump.
By the time Perkins Cole hired Fusion, Fusion had already explored a wealth of documents and public records on Trump, and was now at a point to “develop more specific lines of inquiry.” Because Fusion was already familiar with the information gathered thus far, Fusion decided which areas were worthy of deeper investigation: “we were the architects of the research.” Simpson asserts that having Fusion determine what to research generally ensures that a client’s preconceived ideas don’t get in the way of producing an accurate picture.
Fusion’s lines of inquiry included Trump’s overseas business dealings, labor practices in his overseas factories, his tax disputes, his bankruptcies, and who some of his business partners were. Simpson stated that “We never set out to investigate whether Donald Trump or anyone else was engaged in sexual activity for the sort of practical reason that I just didn’t think it was a useful subject to investigate. I investigate business stuff and financial crime and corruption and those kind of things. That’s my gig. So people came to us with stories that we never pursued.”
Regarding Simpson’s relationship with Christopher Steele, Simpson originally met Steele while living in Brussels, Belgium – a location that facilitated Simpson’s reporting on one of his biggest areas of interest, organized crime and corruption in the former Soviet Union. This interest had continued after Simpson left the Wall Street Journal in 2009. By then, Simpson’s Russia/ex-Soviet focus had become a rather obscure topic in an age where most U.S. media attention abroad focused on al-Qaeida and the Middle East. A mutual friend, who knew that Steele shared this interest in Russia, introduced Simpson to Steele.
Steele was paid by Fusion for his work on the Trump project. Fusion billed Perkins Cole for Steele’s time as one of the expenses of Fusion’s work (in other words, as an outside consultant, not as a full-time Fusion employee).
Christopher Steele can speak Russian, and told Simpson that when he gathers information, he is aware that he is being given some misinformation, and does his best to filter that out before passing it on to his client (in this case, Fusion).
Simpson believes that Steele did not personally go to Russia to do his research for the Trump project. Steele had not billed Fusion for any trips to Russia, and it would also be dangerous for Steele to go there, because he had been previously exposed as a former member of British intelligence who had worked in Moscow. So instead, Simpson believes that Steele hired paid subcontractors in or from Russia who could travel around and ask questions without raising suspicion. The people that those subcontractors spoke to (in bars, etc.) were not paid for information, and were likely not told that they were being asked questions as part of a paid project.
Simpson did not know who Steele’s subcontractors were, and Simpson did not thoroughly verify their information. He trusted Steele’s expertise in filtering out disinformation and Steele’s reputation for obtaining quality information. Verification by Simpson consisted of checking Steele’s information against Simpson’s knowledge of events from public documents that Fusion had researched for the case. Simpson found nothing in Steele’s reports that was contradicted by publicly available information.
While Simpson normally edits and provides analysis of field memos from a subcontractor and incorporate it into an overall report, the information provided by Steele was so shocking and concerning that Simpson just left it raw: all of the memos are exactly what Steele sent him. The 17th Steele memo came in after the election, and Fusion was not paid for it.
Fusion’s client did not direct or authorize Simpson or Steele to go to the FBI: that was Steele’s decision, which Simpson had assented to.
Going to the FBI
Because Steele’s information, by its nature, could not be conclusively and definitively proven with official documents, Simpson was not certain at first whether Steele’s information rose to the level of certainty to take it to law enforcement, but after consideration, on July 1 or 2 Simpson consented to Steele taking his info to the FBI. Describing the situation in which he and Steele found themselves, Simpson said “We threw a line in the water and Moby Dick came back, and we didn’t know what to do with it at first.”
On July 4, Steele went to the FBI, and informed Simpson of this shortly thereafter. Steele told Simpson that the FBI thanked him and said that they would be in touch if they needed to follow up. Simpson believes that Steele likely mentioned to the FBI that he had uncovered the information in the course of work for Fusion GPS on behalf of a Democratic client, but does not know for certain if that disclosure was made.
The FBI contacted Steele before the election, but did not contact Fusion before the election.
After FBI Director Janes Comey’s October 29, 2016 announcement that the FBI was reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton, and the October 31, 2016 New York Times story that the FBI had found no ties between Trump and Russia, Steele and Simpson “were, frankly, you know, very scared for the country and for ourselves and felt that if we could give it to someone else, we should, higher up.”
After the election, Steele told a friend – a U.S. Prosecutor named Bruce Ohr – about what he had uncovered during his work for Fusion, and suggested that Ohr contact Simpson. Around Thanksgiving, Ohr did contact Fusion to get information for the Department of Justice. [According to Fox News, Ohr’s wife Nellie Ohr worked for Fusion on Trump-related issues during the summer of 2016.] [Fox News]
Concerned that the FBI was possibly being unduly influenced behind the scenes and that Russia, a hostile foreign power, was in the process of swaying the election, Steele and Simpson also decided to go to the major media again with their Trump-Russia info.
The Meeting With Journalists
The journalists that Simpson and Steele had met with in September 2016 were generally national security reporters, not political reporters, because Simpson and Steele were concerned that they had stumbled on a national security issue. At the time, Simpson assumed that Clinton was going to win the election, so there was “no urgency to it” – he just wanted reporters to start looking into it because it was concerning. He was aware that the reporters would likely not be doing a story on it before the election, because “when you get past Labor Day, people stop publishing stories that could be perceived as a late hit or an October surprise.”
And in fact there was little coverage of it.
Simpson believes that Perkins Cole would generally have known that his conversations with reporters in the summer of 2016 were informed by the Steele dossier, but he would not have needed to clear every such conversation with Perkins Cole.
Regarding Buzzfeed getting the Steele dossier, Simpson said (under oath) “Well, to just put it on the record, we were not the ones that gave this document to Buzzfeed, and I was not happy when this was published. I was very upset. I thought it was a very dangerous thing and that someone had violated my confidences.” Simpson said that he had his suspicions about who might have passed the dossier to Buzzfeed, but would not share that speculation in his testimony.
Republicans asked Simpson if he believed that, based on the evidence that he and Steele had gathered, Simpson “could conclusively say as fact that the Russian Government and the Trump Campaign were colluding with each other to beat Hillary Clinton.” Simpson said no, and that even with information publicly known now, such an assertion cannot be made, but since the election, there has been a clear pattern of secretive contacts and other odd behavior that “supports the broad allegation of some sort of an undisclosed political or financial relationship between the Trump Organization and people in Russia.”
Trump’s Russian Connections
In Simpson’s deeper research of Trump associates, he found more key Russian connections, including:
- A Trump-linked Russian linguist named Sergei Millian (aka Siarhei Kukuts – his name before moving to Atlanta). Millian ran the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce (Russians have used such groups as intelligence operations), and claimed to have worked for the Russian Foreign Ministry in the past. He boasted of being an exclusive agent for Trump in Russia, and claimed to have sold hundreds of million of dollars in Trump properties to Russians. He was also connected with Russotrudnichestvo, believed by the FBI to be a front for the Russia’s foreign intelligence agency SVR. Millian was also linked to Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, who appeared to have a lot of connections in the former Soviet Union and to Russian organized crime figures in New York and Florida.
- Around 2003/2004, Trump was having trouble getting bank loans for buying or developing property, but was able to get credit if he could show that he had already pre-sold a certain percentage of units. Russians were willing to vouch for those pre-sales. For a project in Panama, a number of Russian gangsters agreed in advance to purchase condos there, which enabled Trump to get a bond from Bear Stearns. In addition to getting funding, the goal of such “pre-sales” was to hook in additional legitimate condo buyers who would believe that the project already had a lot of committed interest from other buyers. In Panama, the alleged Russian buyers signed paperwork, but never paid. Simpson believes that the project was built, but went “belly up.” A similar arrangement with pre-sales to Russians took place with Trump’s Toronto project.
- The Agalarovs (who organized the Trump Tower meeting) appeared to be associated with people involved in major money laundering activity in New York in the 1990s. The Agalarovs had come to the United States from Russia around the fall of the Soviet Union, during which period, many powerful Russians came to the United States to launder money.
- Based on what Simpson knows about the Agalarovs and Russian intelligence, he now believes that it is reasonable to assume that the Trump Tower meeting, organized by Aras Agalarov, was part of a Russian intelligence operation.
- The Kushners are ethnic Russian and have a number of connections with Russians who immigrated to New York in the 1970s during the Refusenik era.
- Howard Lorber, a real estate investor who did a lot of deals in Russia when things were fairly “wild” after the fall of the Soviet Union, is someone who Trump considers a good friend. Lorber and Bennett LeBow “introduced Trump to Russia.”
- Trump had been to Russia a minimum of 4-5 times since the late Soviet years. Simpson found it odd that Trump made a number of “opaque” trips to Russia without coming back with a deal. Simpson initially thought that perhaps Trump’s lawyers were preventing him from going through with any deals out of concern that he would be violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), which makes it unlawful for U.S. citizens to bribe foreign government officials to get business. Simpson later concluded that money was actually coming out of Russia and being invested in Trump’s properties in the U.S. and elsewhere.
- Simpson believed that Felix Sater, a friend of Trump, had connections to Russian organized crime. Simpson also believed that Sater’s company, Bayrock – which developed the Trump Soho Hotel – was involved in “illicit financial business activity and had organized crime connections.” Simpson had also noticed a general shift from Trump being associated with Italian mafia figures early in his career to Russian mafia figures starting in the 1990s. Notably, despite Sater’s involvement with developing Trump Soho and having an office in Trump Tower, Donald Trump has said that he is not sure that he would recognize Sater if he saw him.
- Trump Jr. had gone to Russia a number of times, and had also gone to Kazakhstan for reasons that could not be determined. He had also gone to Latvia.
- Regarding Dmitry Rybolovlev, the Russian oligarch who had inexplicably bought a run-down Palm Beach mansion from Trump for over twice what Trump had paid for it just two years earlier, Simpson had initially believed that that transaction was part of an overall pattern of excessive spending by Rybolovlev in order to prevent his ex-wife from accessing his money. However, Simpson later learned that Rybolovlev was closely connected to Igor Sechin, described by Simpson as “Putin’s No. 1 compadre in the kleptocracy.” Sechin apparently helped Rybolovlev leave Russia with billions of dollars.
Simpson’s conclusions about Trump possibly being involved in organized crime resulted from a large amount of factual evidence that was suggestive of an organized crime connection. However, due to Simpson’s lack of legal authority to subpoena people, etc., his conclusions not completely provable through documents and data.
Simpson’s Suggestions for Further Investigation
Simpson was asked for his thoughts on areas that the House Intelligence Committee should explore further. His response included:
- Records (potentially subpoenaed if necessary) from banks, real estate agents, and title companies. Simpson had not gone after bank records because doing so would be illegal due to financial privacy laws, and because he did not have governmental subpoena power. Such records could help determine if Trump properties had been used for money laundering, which Russia could be using to blackmail the President.
- Of particular interest would be Deutsche Bank’s records related to the characters involved. [Deutsche Bank had been one of the only financial institutions willing to loan money to Trump after he filed for bankruptcy.] [Business Insider]
- The possibility of an “unacknowledged relationship between the Trump people and the UKIP people and that the path to WikiLeaks ran through that.”
- A U.S. think tank called Center for the Public Interest, as well as it’s President Dimitri Simes, who Simpson said is believed to be a Russian agent.
- Russian intelligence defectors living in the United States: ask what they think is going on.
- The travel records of people in Trump’s circle.
- The “Manafort-Stone-Trump relationship.” Roger Stone and Manafort worked in Ukraine for some “bad guys” with Arthur Finkelstein around 2005-2006. Finkelstein went on to work for pro-Putin Prime Minister of Hungary, Victor Orban.
- Irakle Kaveladze, a Russian who was at the Trump Tower meeting. Simpson believes that Kaveladze and the Agalarovs have been involved in money laundering since the 1990s, and have laundered KGB money.
- A couple weeks in August 2016 when Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and Donald Trump were in the Hamptons. Dmitry Rybolovlev’s plane was close by, and Ivanka and Jared disappeared for a few days. Rybolovlev’s plane landed in Dubrovnik (Croatia), on August 12, and Jared and Ivanka reappeared in Dubrovnik. “There had been rumors of meetings between Trump people and Russians on yachts off Dubrovnik.”
- The relationship between Jared/Ivanka and Roman Abramovich, a Russian billionaire.
- A female attorney in Florida [whose name Simpson could not recall during testimony] who used to work for Gazprom, had ties to Michael Cohen, and played some role in distributing Russian pension payments.
- The oligarchs associated with the school in Russia where Carter Page spoke in July 7, 2016. Simpson believed that a Russian intelligence agent named Evgeny Buryakov had tried to recruit Carter Page, and that Page had been a long-time target of Russian intelligence.
- Alex Shnaider, a Russian-born Canadian national who was a partner of Trump in developing Trump International Hotel and Tower in Toronto. Simpson says that Shnaider’s father-in-law, Boris Birshtein, was important in the history of the alliance between the KGB and the Russian mafia, and managed the KGB’s offshore funds after the fall of the Soviet Union, mainly at Romania-based Raiffeisen Bank.
The Intersection of Prevezon and Trump
Questions inevitably were asked of Simpson about his having worked with Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who met with Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner at Trump Tower.
Simpson never shared any of Christopher Steele’s info with Natalia Veselnitskaya or even with most of his own staff at Fusion. None of the info that Fusion used in its Trump research came from Veselnitskaya.
“I would certainly agree with the observation that for these matters to have intersected in the way that they did is, you know, remarkable. And it caught me totally by surprise, and I have spent a lot of time thinking about what it means, if it means anything.”
- Simpson found that Trump estimated his property values very low for tax purposes. However, Simpson believed that Trump was not low-balling to save money, but was in fact giving an accurate record of those property values.
- Simpson believed that Nigel Farange went to the Ecuadorian Embassy more than the one time reported in the press and provided data to Julian Assange on a thumb drive.
- In one of Steele’s reports, Simpson learned that the Kremlin’s the U.S. Presidential election operation was run by Sergei Ivanov, a former KGB agent.
- “Putin seems to be very interested in the Jewish diaspora,” ie, Jewish Russians who have emigrated to other countries.
- “The Orthodox church is an arm of the Russian state now.” A lot of senior church officials are ex-KGB, and they use the church as a way to move money around.
- Russia has been working on infiltrating “soft” conservative organizations, including the NRA. Alexander Torshin and Maria Butina were names that came up.
- Nobody asked Simpson to research Hillary Clinton in 2015 or 2016, but she came up in the course of some of his investigative work. Simpson said that nothing in his research into the Clinton Foundation was relevant to the Russia investigation.
- Simpson was asked if someone had been killed as a result of the information in the Steele dossier, and Simpson said that that was not the case. This contradicted a statement by Simpson’s attorney, Levy, during the Senate Judiciary testimony.
- U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) mentioned that Republicans on the Committee are not letting Committee Dems in the loop on documents that are being requested from witnesses, etc.
- Simpson was asked if he was currently being paid by anyone to continue the Trump research. He refused to answer.
Simpson’s testimony about Fusion’s Trump research provides a wealth of leads for journalists and law enforcement to pursue, and seems to make abundantly clear that Trump’s statement that “I have nothing to do with Russia” is false.
If Simpson’s research is accurate, it is well within the realm of possibility that Donald Trump was knowingly or unknowingly involved in money laundering during his real estate career, and in particular, money laundering for Russian oligarchs and Russian mafia figures. Because of the interconnectedness in Russia of the mafia, the oligarchs, and the Kremlin, it is likely that such activities would have come to the attention of Vladimir Putin, who would no doubt be eager to use such “kompromat” as blackmail fodder/leverage over the President of a country that Putin viewed as responsible for the fall of the Soviet Union. It follows that Putin would be supportive of such an individual’s 2016 Presidential candidacy, knowing that he could make use of such an individual in the Oval Office to sow discord and chaos, and to undermine the foundations of America’s institutions.
A particular highlight of Simpson’s testimony was the interactions with the FBI. Steele had brought the information from his first memo to the FBI in early July, 2016, after which there were apparently months that Simpson and Steele had no idea if the FBI had done anything with that information. In mid-late September, the FBI asked Steele for all of his Trump-related research, and Steele provided it, again, not knowing what, if anything, was going to be done with it. Then, less than two weeks before the election, FBI Director James Comey broke with precedent and policy to announce on October 28 that he was reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, and three days later, on October 31, Simpson and Steele read in the New York Times that the FBI had been investigating Trump for Russian connections but had found nothing – a conclusion that completely contradicted the information that Steele knew that he had given to the FBI.
At that point, one can imagine the fear and confusion that Simpson and Steele must have felt. They had provided the FBI with a large amount of credible information pointing to a huge, active operation by a hostile foreign power (with a history of deep government corruption, organized crime, and political assassinations) to support one U.S. Presidential candidate over the other. Yet bewilderingly, the FBI seemed to be publicly denying that any such operation was happening, and was instead taking unprecedented actions that would almost certainly undermine the campaign of the candidate that Russia hoped to defeat. At that moment, it certainly must have crossed the minds of Simpson and Steele that the FBI could possibly be somehow complicit in Russia’s operation or complicit with Trump’s Campaign. Realizing that the FBI knew the identities of the two men who could expose the operation – Simpson and Steele – must have resulted in an absolutely terrifying time for those two men.
Of course, the obvious questions concern the intersection of the Trump investigation and the Prevezon case. The fact that Fusion was doing paid work as part of opposition research campaign against Trump (with attention to Russia) at the same time that the Russian lawyer of Fusion’s client on another project met with Trump Campaign officials at Trump Tower to pass on research gathered by Fusion seems like an incredible coincidence. My gut tells me that it is exactly that – a coincidence – but it is certainly enough to reasonably warrant some of the “conspiracy theory” lines of questioning engaged in by House and Senate Republicans.
Another area that seems odd is the chance meeting between British citizen Sir Andrew Wood and U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) after the election. According to a U.S. Representative questioning Simpson, Wood was an associate of Orbis, the company that Steele worked for. Wood bumped into McCain at a security conference in Nova Scotia and notified him of Fusion’s Trump investigation.
It seems reasonable to assume that Steele was the one who had informed Wood about the Trump research. Not knowing Wood’s role at Orbis, it may also have been reasonable for Wood to have been attending a security conference. However, the fact that Rinat Akhmetshin (Natalia Veselnitskaya‘s hired lobbyist who had been at the Trump Tower meeting) was on the roster of attendees at that same conference seems highly coincidental. Akhmetshin might have seen the event as a place to meet U.S. legislators and lobby them on behalf of HRAGI, but his surfacing at this particular event under these particular circumstances raises additional questions.
Despite these oddities, Simpson truly comes across as a credible and forthcoming witness, and it is difficult to be suspicious of him given how thoroughly and readily he responded to questions. At times, he seemed to be pushing back against his lawyers’ advice because he wanted to give even more information. It is also difficult to believe that the information that Fusion uncovered about Donald Trump does not point to an undisclosed history of potentially illegal or unethical activities between Trump and the Russians, knowledge of which would almost certainly have made its way back to the Kremlin for blackmail purposes.
– rob rünt
Read more of this special series:
The Trump-Russia Web
- Part 1: Introduction
- Part 2: What’s What (Glossary)
- Part 3: Who’s Who (Glossary)
- Part 4: Timeline, Key Relationships, Key Places
- Part 5: High-Level Summaries
- Part 6: William Browder
- Part 7: Natalia Veselnitskaya
- Part 8: The Steele Dossier
- Part 9: Fusion GPS
- Part 10: Glenn Simpson and the Prevezon Case
- Part 11: Glenn Simpson and the Trump Investigation