After a year of Beltway focus on accusations of Trump-campaign collusion with Russia to rig the 2016 election, the Washington Post's bombshell report that the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee funded opposition research that led to the infamous "Russia dossier" on President Trump has dampened talk of impeachment and raised a new question.
What did Hillary Clinton know and when did she know it?
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Posed the question in a CNN interview, former Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon said he didn't know whether or not Clinton was aware that her campaign and the DNC were funding the contracting of former British spy Christopher Steele's salacious report by the firm Fusion GPS through the law firm Perkins Coie.
"Oh I don't know, I don't know, I haven't spoken to her," Fallon said.
"She may have known, but the degree of exactly what she knew is beyond my knowledge."
Fallon downplayed the Post's revelations, arguing opposition research goes on all the time. But some political analysts immediately pointed out Wednesday that Donald Trump Jr. was accused by Democrats of treason and criticized when he offered the same explanation for his June 2016 meeting with Kremlin-connected operatives who promised to divulge dirt on Hillary Clinton.
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Meanwhile, a complaint filed Wednesday with the Federal Election Commission charged Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee violated campaign finance law by failing to disclose payments for the Trump dossier.
The Russia investigation, indeed, has become a focal point on Capitol Hill, leading to the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel in May. Mueller, who was criticized by the White House for hiring a bevy of pro-Clinton and anti-Trump powerhouse lawyers, has been targeting veteran Republican campaign adviser Paul Manafort, who served as President Trump’s campaign manager before he was forced to step aside amid accusations of collusion with Russia because of his financial dealings and lobbying work with Ukrainian and pro-Russian officials.
But Tuesday night, news broke of a source familiar with the Mueller investigation claiming the special counsel's focus isn't Trump – and it's not Manafort alone – it's Manafort and the Podesta Group, run by Clinton ally Tony Podesta, the brother of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign manager. Manafort's role as a liaison between Russia and the Podesta Group is drawing the scrutiny in Mueller's investigation, the source said. NBC News reported Monday the Mueller probe had expanded to the Podesta Group.
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Yet the the dossier-funding and the probe of the Podesta Group aren't the only allegations of Clinton collusion with Russia that have surfaced in recent days.
Last Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee acknowledged it was investigating new claims reported by The Hill regarding the 2010 Uranium One deal approved by Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration that coincided with millions in donations from uranium interests flowing to the Clinton Foundation. The Senate panel – which wants to examine Clinton "conflicts of interest" in the deal – has demanded that several federal agencies disclose whether they knew the FBI had uncovered the corruption before the sale was completed.
The Hill found that before a federal-government committee in which Hillary Clinton was a member approved the sale, the FBI was sitting on evidence Russian nuclear industry officials were engaged in bribery, kickbacks, extortion and money-laundering designed to expand Moscow's nuclear business in the U.S.
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On Wednesday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, called for a special counsel to look into the Uranium One sale.
Hillary Clinton told C-SPAN in an interview Monday that the Uranium One story is "the same baloney they’ve been peddling for years, and there’s been no credible evidence by anyone."
"In fact, it's been debunked repeatedly and will continue to be debunked," she said without addressing the specific allegations.
See Hillary Clinton's comments to C-SPAN:
But the Justice Department said Wednesday night it has lifted the gag order on an FBI informant who says he was blocked by the Obama administration from testifying to Congress regarding the uranium deal.
The Podesta Group has a tie to Uranium One, having received $180,000 from the company to lobby Hillary Clinton's State Department, according to Open Secrets. Meanwhile, the Daily Caller News Foundation reported Monday the secretive, Kremlin-linked, green-energy company for which John Podesta served as a board member, Joule Unlimited, apparently met its demise because of Hillary Clinton's 2016 election loss.
WND reported last year that Joule received $35 million from a Putin-connected Russian government fund at the same time Hillary Clinton spearheaded the transfer of U.S. advanced technology, some with military uses, as part of her "reset" strategy with Russia.
Mueller was given wide authority to investigate whether Trump or his associates colluded with the Kremlin. Sources said he expanded the probe to include investigating Trump for obstruction of justice because of his firing of FBI Director James Comey in May. In August, Mueller impaneled a grand jury to investigate Russia’s influence on the election, giving prosecutors the ability to subpoena documents, gather on-the-record witness testimonies and seek indictments.
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said Wednesday on "The Laura Ingraham Show" that the revelation that the DNC and the Clinton campaign paid for the dossier "is just the tip of the iceberg."
"The press did everything they could to bury this. As you know, I've been relentlessly attacked for months. And now finally we're just beginning to get the truth," he said. "This is just the tip of the iceberg, in my opinion."
Talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh said on his show Wednesday the dossier matter may be "the scandal of all scandals."
There was further bad news for Hillary Clinton on Wednesday, when the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the House Judiciary Committee announced a joint investigation of Comey's decision-making regarding the investigation of her mishandling of classified information via an unsecure email server.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., the chairman of the oversight committee is particularly concerned that "the decision to charge or not charge [Clinton] was made before all the witnesses were interviewed," the Washington Examiner reported.
'Explosive but unverified'
Fusion GPS was already working on the anti-Trump dossier in 2016 when the Democrats and the Clinton campaign began funding the effort through the Seattle-headquartered international law firm Perkins Coie.
The FBI apparently never examined the servers, and there was no corroboration of CrowdStrike's conclusion that it was the Russians who carried out the hacking and turned over thousands of embarrassing and politically damaging Democratic Party emails to Wikileaks, which published them.
Fusion, which has been resisting congressional efforts to investigate the dossier – company officials have taken the Fifth – was paid by the Kremlin to lobby against the U.S. sanctions imposed against Russia through the Magnitsky Act, named for the Russian whistleblower tortured and killed in Moscow for exposing fraud by Russian tax officials.
In January, the left-leaning website Buzzfeed was widely criticized for publishing the anti-Trump dossier in full without confirming many of it accusations, which later were easily debunked.
The dossier, a collection of memos, Buzzfeed said, makes "explosive – but unverified – allegations that the Russian government has been 'cultivating, supporting and assisting' President-elect Donald Trump for years and gained compromising information about him has been circulating among elected officials, intelligence agents, and journalists for weeks." Buzzfeed said the dossier "includes specific, unverified, and potentially unverifiable allegations of contact between Trump aides and Russian operatives, and graphic claims of sexual acts documented by the Russians."
Despite the dossier's dubious claims, it was used by Comey to convince a judge to grant the FBI a warrant to secretly monitor Trump campaign official Carter Page.
CNN reported in April that Comey had been citing the dossier in briefings with lawmakers as a source used by his bureau to bolster its investigation.
The FBI, in fact, was approached by the British spy Steele in October 2016, at the height of the campaign, with information the foreign agent had gleaned during the project, notes Byron York of the Washington Examiner.
Steele, formerly the head of the Russia desk for Britain's MI6 spy agency, then "reached an agreement with the FBI a few weeks before the election for the bureau to pay him to continue his work," the Washington Post reported in February.
The FBI briefly funded the work on the dossier to enable it to continue even after Election Day, but the bureau dropped the effort after Steele's identity was made public.
In March, seeking details of the FBI's hiring of Steele, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, fired off a letter to Comey requesting a briefing on the agreement and details about the FBI's use of the dossier. Grassley also wanted to know whether or not the FBI ever independently verified the dossier's claims.
"The idea that the FBI and associates of the Clinton campaign would pay Mr. Steele to investigate the Republican nominee for president in the run-up to the election raises further questions about the FBI's independence from politics, as well as the Obama administration's use of law enforcement and intelligence agencies for political ends," Grassley wrote.
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Nunes, issued a subpoena for the Trump dossier months ago with no response from the FBI. But House Speaker Paul Ryan put his weight behind the request Wednesday, accusing the FBI of "stonewalling."
"The FBI and the Justice Department need to give Congress the documents it has been requesting, and they need to do so immediately," Ryan said in an interview with Reuters.
Ryan said it was "frustrating" to learn of the source of the dossier funding through a newspaper report Tuesday night rather than directly from the FBI.
Trump: 'Hoax is turned around'
Speaking to reporters on the south lawn of the White House before departing Wednesday for Dallas, President Trump said the "Russia hoax" has turned against the Democrats.
"They’re embarrassed by it, but I think it’s a disgrace,” Trump said. "It's a very sad commentary on politics in this country."
Trump emphasized that the information came out only because a court case threatened to reveal the funding source.
"The whole Russia thing … this was the Democrats coming up with an excuse for losing the election," Trump told reporters. "They lost it and they lost it very badly. And they didn’t know what to say, so they made up the whole Russia hoax."
Trump said it's now "turning out that the hoax is turned around, and you look at what’s happened with Russia and the uranium deal and the fake dossier, and it’s all turned around."
The DNC, meanwhile, issued a statement in response to Tuesday's Washington Post report, distancing the current DNC leadership – Chairman Tom Perez and Vice Chairman Rep. Keith Ellison – from the leadership in place when the dossier was funded.
The Daily Wire noted the "circumspect phrasing of the statement," which makes clear that "neither Perez, who was elected to the position in late February 2017, nor the DNC's 'new leadership' are willing to deny what the former leadership did or didn't do regarding the dossier."
The statement said:
Tom Perez and the new leadership of the DNC were not involved in any decision-making regarding Fusion GPS, nor were they aware that Perkins Coie was working with the organization.
But let's be clear, there is a serious federal investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia, and the American public deserves to know what happened.
A spokesman for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., who led the DNC at the time, told Fox News on Wednesday, "She did not have any knowledge of this arrangement.”"
Russia 'sought ties with Hillary'
The Podesta Group was in regular contact with Manafort, who was "representing" Russian business and political interests at a time when Barack Obama was president and Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, according to the source who spoke to the Fox News Channel's Tucker Carlson.
The source said Manafort made it clear that Russia wanted to cultivate ties to Hillary Clinton, who at that time was expected to succeed Obama in the White House.
The report said that in 2013, long before President Trump was considered a presidential contender, the Podesta organization hired David Adams, a former Clinton deputy, setting up a channel between the company and Clinton.
It was during that time that the Uranium One deal was being facilitated by the White House, FoxNews.com said.
Rep. Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, announced Tuesday he is working with the House Oversight Committee to learn whether an FBI investigation was under way when the Obama administration signed off on the 2010 deal, the Washington Times reported.
"One of the things we are concerned about is whether or not there was an FBI investigation, was there a DOJ investigation and if so, why was Congress not informed of this matter," Nunes said.
At a Tuesday news conference, Nunes insisted he could carry out the inquiry despite his pledge in April to step back from the Russia election-interference investigation. Nunes did not recuse himself, but said he would separate himself from the investigation because of ethics complaints initiated by two left-wing groups charging him with making improper disclosures, which prompted a House Ethics Committee probe.
"Clinton Cash" author Peter Schweizer was the first to report nine foreign investors in the Uranium One deal gave $145 million to the Clinton Foundation, and the New York Times confirmed in an April 2015 story Uranium One's chairman used his family foundation to make four donations totaling $2.35 million to the Clinton Foundation. The Times found that the Clintons, however, did not publicly disclose the contributions, despite an agreement Hillary Clinton had struck with the Obama White House to publicly identify all donors. In addition, Bill Clinton received a $500,000 fee from a Russian bank tied to the Kremlin for a 20-minute speech in 2010, when Hillary Clinton opposed sanctions on Moscow. She reversed her position the following year.
'An Obama scandal'
Former assistant U.S. attorney Andrew McCarthy wrote Tuesday for National Review that the Uranium One sale is an Obama-administration scandal as well as a Clinton scandal.
"The Clintons were just doing what the Clintons do: cashing in on their 'public service,'" he writes. "The Obama administration, with Secretary Clinton at the forefront but hardly alone, was knowingly compromising American national-security interests."
The administration, he says, "green-lighted the transfer of control over one-fifth of American uranium-mining capacity to Russia, a hostile regime — and specifically to Russia’s state-controlled nuclear-energy conglomerate, Rosatom."
"Worse, at the time the administration approved the transfer, it knew that Rosatom’s American subsidiary was engaged in a lucrative racketeering enterprise that had already committed felony extortion, fraud, and money-laundering offenses."
McCarthy points out that the $500,000 "the Putin regime funneled to Bill Clinton" was five times the amount the Russians spent on Facebook ads "the media-Democrat complex ludicrously suggests swung the 2016 presidential election to Donald Trump."
The Facebook-ad buy, which began in June 2015, before Donald Trump entered the race, was "more left-wing agitprop (ads pushing hysteria on racism, immigration, guns, etc.) than electioneering."
The Clintons’ own long-time political strategist Mark Penn estimates that just $6,500 went to actual electioneering, McCarthy notes.
"By contrast, the staggering $500,000 payday from a Kremlin-tied Russian bank for a single speech was part of a multi-million-dollar influence-peddling scheme to enrich the former president and his wife, then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton."