It is now widely known that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election to weaken Hillary Clinton, both by hacking and releasing emails and by spreading disinformation on social media and state-funded news outlets.
But yesterday’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearings suggest that this may not be the whole story.
In the clip below, Senator Lindsay Graham asks Bill Browder—American businessman who has successfully lobbied for sanctions against Russia after his attorney was abused and likely murdered in a Moscow jail—about Russian involvement in the 2016 election. Browder notes that Fusion GPS—the opposition research behind the infamous “pee tape” dossier about Donald Trump—was at the time being paid by Russians to produce opposition research about him and undermine support for the Magnitsky Act, the bill Browder backed that froze the assets of a few dozen Russian oligarchs.
Fusion GPS is relevant to the Russia investigation for two reasons. First, as Browder says above, it was under contract by Russian oligarchs at the same time that it produced “dirt” on Trump. Second, Christopher Steele—the British former spy who produced the dossier on Fusion’s behalf—gathered much of his information from Russians.
The web of connections involved in this whole affair can get convoluted (if you want to be more confused, recall that the Russian firm that hired Fusion GPS, Prevezon Holdings, also retained Natalia Veselnitskaya—the lawyer who met with Don Jr. in Trump Tower last July). But the information we have now at least raises the possibility that powerful Russians were involved—as sources of information or money or both—in the creation of the Steele Dossier, perhaps the most influential piece of opposition research in history.
As Damir Marusic and Karina Orlova showed in their report on Trump and Kushner’s Russian business networks, it is too simplistic to think about Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election as the product of a single, streamlined campaign with a clear objective devised by the Kremlin. Competing Russian oligarchs, government officials, and intelligence agencies have different interests and are prone to freelancing.
As Graham says, it’s quite possible that the Russians were collecting dirt on both sides in a bid to sow chaos above all else. We are likely to learn more as the Congressional investigations proceed.