Looks like pretty much a nothingburger, in the end. This discovery isn’t going to sidetrack the real issue, which is that the Steele dossier — which was commissioned and produced entirely after the Democrats started paying Fusion GPS for opposition research on Trump — appears to have been used to justify FBI surveillance and other investigation of Trump and his associates.
(Nor should it sidetrack the equally important issue of Hillary’s and Bill Clinton’s potential complicity in the Russian bribery scheme to gain leverage over the U.S. uranium industry.)
So who was the original customer of Fusion GPS’s opposition research on Trump? The Washington Free Beacon has now “confessed” on that.
The Washington Examiner reported on the matter earlier on Friday, after WFB informed the House Intelligence Committee that it had commissioned the original research on Trump — along with the other GOP primary candidates — starting in 2015:
Lawyers for the conservative publication Washington Free Beacon informed the House Intelligence Committee Friday that the organization was the original funder for the anti-Trump opposition research project with Fusion GPS.
The Free Beacon funded the project from the fall of 2015 through the spring of 2016, whereupon it withdrew funding and the project was picked up by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign.
WFB responded quickly with a letter from Editor in Chief Matthew Continetti and Chairman Michael Goldfarb.
As Washington Examiner observes, WFB is funded in large part by conservative super-donor Paul Singer, a known early opponent of Donald Trump’s candidacy. In November 2015, Singer made his specific support for [score]Marco Rubio[/score] explicit.
Washington Examiner elaborates on Singer’s connection to the media outlet.
The Free Beacon was founded in 2012. Its founders included Michael Goldfarb, who has moved back and forth between conservative journalism, politics, and activism. The Free Beacon was originally part of a 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organization called the Center for American Freedom, but in 2014 became a for-profit organization. It has never revealed its ownership.
Conservative billionaire Paul Singer, a major funder of the Free Beacon, strongly opposed Trump at the time of the opposition research project.
The Center for American Freedom’s original board of directors included William Kristol, the former editor of the Weekly Standard, a sister publication of the Washington Examiner and where both Goldfarb and Free Beacon editor Matthew Continetti worked. Kristol is one of the nation’s most prominent “Never Trump” activists and during the Republican primary campaign worked to recruit a candidate to challenge Trump for the GOP nomination.
There will presumably be a lot more to say about all this in the days ahead. (I know the Trump supporters out there will be gobsmacked to see Kristol’s name come up. Be clear, however, that there is nothing to suggest he had anything to do with WFB commissioning oppo research on Trump — or any other GOP candidate — either backed by Paul Singer or otherwise.)
And to be clear on another point: we know that Singer is a backer of WFB, but there is nothing that indicates he was specifically behind the contract with Fusion GPS.
One of the obvious questions will be what to make of the claim aired by BBC in January 2017 that Jeb Bush had funded Christopher Steele to compile the dossier?
The evident problem with the claim is that nothing in the dossier was apparently assembled much earlier than the date of its first entry, which was in June 2016. The Democrats hired Fusion in April 2016, and nothing indicates that Steele was working on the Trump dossier prior to that.
So any payments from Jeb Bush or an interest connected to him would have come either after the Democrats hired Fusion, and Fusion hired Steele — or would have been made to Steele on a completely separate basis. The latter is not impossible, but it wouldn’t be my first guess. (My first guess would be that the fellow passing information to BBC just wasn’t correct.)
However it all shakes out, this appears to answer one outstanding question. The anti-Trump conservative reportedly behind the original opposition research — before the Steele contract was made in 2016; before the dossier was even started — could by process of deduction have been Paul Singer. The agent was the Washington Free Beacon, which was seeking, as a matter of standard journalistic practice, to know everything it could about the candidates it was covering.