The founder of the firm that assembled a political dossier alleging ties between Russia and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign defended its credibility before a U.S. House panel, according to people familiar with his testimony.
Glenn Simpson, the founder of Fusion GPS, declined to answer, though, when asked whether the FBI had relied on the dossier in the early stages of its own investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s presidential campaign, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing his 6 1/2 hours of testimony behind closed doors on Tuesday.
The House Intelligence Committee has yet to decide whether to release a transcript of Simpson’s testimony, and his lawyer, Joshua Levy, said Wednesday, “I hope that it does.”
The top Democrat on the panel, Representative Adam Schiff of California, called Simpson’s one of “the most productive interviews” of witnesses the committee has conducted so far. “I think we learned a great deal from him,” said Schiff, who declined to discuss specifics.
Trump has denied the unverified assertions in the 35-page dossier, some of them salacious allegations about his activities during a visit to Russia as a businessman. The report was written largely by former British spy Christopher Steele under contract by Fusion GPS, a Washington-based business intelligence firm founded by Simpson, a former Wall Street Journal reporter.
Beyond questions about its accuracy, the dossier’s provenance has become a subject of fierce partisan dispute.
Fusion GPS was originally retained by Republican donors to gather opposition research on Trump during last year’s Republican presidential primaries. 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 Steele’s dossier.
Republicans in Congress have been pressing Attorney General Jeff Sessions to investigate whether the FBI may have used some of the information in the dossier to justify federal surveillance warrants that Trump associates were caught up in, without independently verifying details in the document.
The disputed dossier is a collection of 17 memos written by Steele from June 20 to Dec. 13, 2016, which Steele attributed largely to interviews he said he had with Russian sources.
Simpson tended to use the word “credible” to describe the dossier in his testimony, rather than calling it accurate or verified.
Democrats portrayed Simpson as thoughtful and knowledgeable. But one of the Intelligence Committee’s Republican members described his testimony as rambling and a collection of conspiracy theories, including at one point talking about the Mafia. The lawmakers spoke on condition of anonymity.
In a statement Tuesday night, Levy, Simpson’s attorney, said, “The White House and its political allies have attempted at every turn to smear Fusion GPS because of its connection to the Steele dossier.”
Emily Hytha, a spokeswoman for Representative Michael Conaway of Texas, the Republican heading the Intelligence Committee probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election, said she will inquire whether the committee wants to release the transcript.
Democrat Schiff said that while he thinks such information might ultimately be good to release, it’s not a good “practice” to do so in the middle of an investigation as it might cause other witnesses to alter their testimony.