- Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Tuesday released Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson Judiciary Committee testimony
- Simpson said Russians had cameras in 'all the luxury hotel rooms'
- He considered ex-British intelligence officer Steele highly credible
- Steele told him FBI had 'human source' inside the Trump campaign
- His firm Fusion GPS commissioned the dirty dossier on Donald Trump
- The dossier was filled with salacious allegations and probed Russia connections
- Simpson is still investigating Trump's Russia ties, sources said
- Feinstein put out the transcript without consent of GOP Sen. Charles Grassley
Published: 10:49 EST, 10 January 2018 | Updated: 10:51 EST, 10 January 2018
President Donald Trump blasted California Democrat Dianne Feinstein on Wednesday for releasing the sealed transcript of an opposition research boss' testimony to a Senate committee.
The transcript revealed that Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson was disposed to believe the salacious golden showers claim in the Trump dossier because Russians have cameras in 'all the luxury hotel rooms.'
Trump said in morning tweet that Feinstein may have broken the law when she made the transcript public yesterday, bucking Republican leadership.
'The fact that Sneaky Dianne Feinstein, who has on numerous occasions stated that collusion between Trump/Russia has not been found, would release testimony in such an underhanded and possibly illegal way, totally without authorization, is a disgrace,' Trump said. 'Must have tough Primary!'
President Donald Trump blasted California Democrat Dianne Feinstein on Wednesday for releasing the sealed transcript of an opposition research boss' testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Feinstein is pictured yesterday at the White House in a meeting with Trump
Trump said in morning tweet that Feinstein may have broken the law when she made the transcript public yesterday, bucking Republican leadership
The transcript the president is so upset about revealed that Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson was disposed to believe the salacious golden showers claim in the Trump dossier because Russians have cameras in 'all the luxury hotel rooms.'
Feinstein, who's up for reelection this year in liberal California, unilaterally released the transcript of Simpson, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, on Tuesday.
Simpson had asked that Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Republican head of the committee, approve the release as he worked to clear his name in the scandal. Grassley instead invited him to testify again publicly.
Feinstein said in a statement as she released the Judiciary Committee transcript that 'the innuendo and misinformation circulating about the transcript are part of a deeply troubling effort to undermine the investigation into potential collusion and obstruction of justice.'
'The only way to set the record straight is to make the transcript public.'
A spokesperson for Grassley charged in a statement that her action was 'totally confounding,' however, and 'undermines the integrity of the committee’s oversight work.'
'Chairman Grassley has said on many occasions that he wants to be as transparent as possible,' said spokesperson Taylor Foy. 'He is committed to making information public at the appropriate time, and would welcome Mr. Simpson’s testimony before a public hearing, as he did last July.'
Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson. The firm continues its research into Trump and Russia, according to a report
In the testimony that Feinstein released, Simpson relayed how he came to hire former British intelligence officer Chris Steele, with whom he had worked previously – and said it was Steele's decision to bring material he uncovered to the FBI in the summer of 2016.
The former reporter took efforts to protect sources for the dossier in the conversation, and his lawyer claimed during his client's testimony that a source had been killed as a result of publication.
He told investigative lawyers that he found Steele's memos 'really serious and really credible' both because of Steele's reputation and his own prior reporting on the Russians and their work with western lobbyists.
With respect to the salacious and unproven claim about Donald Trump's conduct in a Moscow hotel room during the Miss Universe pageant, Simpson said he didn't have any 'additional facts' beyond what Steele included in the dossier without verification.
'I mean, it's probably in here somewhere actually, but it's well known in intelligence circles that the Russians have cameras in all the luxury hotel rooms and there are memoirs written about this by former Russian intelligence agents I could quote you,' Simpson told the committee.
'So the problem of kompromat and kompromating is just endemic to east-west intelligence work. So that's what I'm referring to. That's what he's referring to,' he said.
Simpson defended the dossier, and was asked about a portion relating to Donald Trump's trip to Moscow
About nine hours into Simpson's grilling, his attorney, Josh Levy, objected to questioning about a source – and said that someone had been 'killed' after the the publication of the dossier. Buzzfeed published it in January, 2017.
'It's a voluntary interview, and in addition to that he wants to be very careful to protect his sources. Somebody's already been killed as a result of the publication of this dossier and no harm should come to anybody related to this honest work,' Levy said.
Earlier, Simpson expressed his own concerns about revealing information that could endanger someone.
One salacious and unverified claim dealt with Donald Trump's alleged conduct in a Moscow hotel room
The unverified incident described in the dossier was at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Moscow
'There are some things I know that I just don't feel comfortable sharing because obviously it's been in the news a lot lately that people who get in the way of the Russians tend to get hurt,' he said.
Neither Simpson or his lawyer offered any information during the testimony on a specific person who had been killed as a result of the dossier.
There were reports in 2016 about a string of Russian diplomats who turned up dead, including ambassadors to Greece and India and Russia's ambassador to the UN. A diplomat at the Russian consulate in New York was found dead on election day.
At another point, when asked about which employees and associates of the firm worked on researching Trump, Levy said he would convey the information but did not want it to be part of a transcript.
'I just want to make sure that employees involved in this matter are protected. We've had death threats come to the company,' he said.
Simpson said it was Steele's idea to bring what he found to a contact he had at the FBI.
'He said he was professionally obligated to do it. Like if you're a lawyer and, you know, you find out about a crime, in a lot of countries you must report that. So it was like that,' Simpson said.
Fusion GPS hired ex-British intelligence officer Christopher Steele
Simpson defended the credibility and reliability of ex MI6 agent Christopher Steele
'Chris said he was very concerned about whether this represented a national security threat and said he wanted to — he said he thought we were obligated to tell someone in government, in our government about this information,' Simpson said.
'He thought from his perspective there was an issue — a security issue about whether a presidential candidate was being blackmailed.'
After a delay of Months, Steele heard back from the FBI, meeting with an agent in Rome.
Simpson says Steele told him the FBI had a source within the Trump campaign.
'Essentially what he told me was they had other intelligence about this matter from an internal Trump campaign source and that – that they — my understanding was that they believed Chris at this point — that they believed Chris's information might be credible because they had other intelligence that indicated the same thing and one of those pieces of intelligence was a human source from inside the Trump organization,' he said.
After the Oct. 31 publication of a New York Times story which stated the FBI had not proved any collusion with the Trump campaign, Steele backed off his cooperation, Simpson said.
'Sometime thereafter the FBI — I understand Chris severed his relationship with the FBI out of concern that he didn't know what was happening inside the FBI and there was a concern that the FBI was being manipulated for political ends by the Trump people and that we didn't really understand what was going on. So he stopped dealing with them,' he said.
Simpson had done previous work reporting on Paul Manafort's work on behalf of a pro-Russia Ukrainian president. Manafort went on to chair Trump's presidential campaign
Feinstein put out the transcript without consent of Grassley of Iowa, who last week, with fellow Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina provided a criminal referral of Steele matter to the FBI for prosecution. Both actions highlight the breakdown of bipartisan cooperation on the panel.
Grassley spokesman Taylor Foy called the release 'totally confounding,' saying: 'Her action undermines the integrity of the committee's oversight work and jeopardizes its ability to secure candid voluntary testimony relating to the independent recollections of future witnesses.
However Simpson ultimately wanted the transcript released, and also wants the House Intelligence panel to release his testimony.
Fusion GPS continues to probe ties between President Trump and Russia, according to a new report.
Simpson finds himself caught in the crosshairs as Republican congressional committees probe the origins of the dossier and his firm's role in its creation – in addition to simultaneously representing other clients like a Russian lawyer who attended an infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting withDonald Trump Jr.
Simpson says Steele decided to bring his findings to the attention of the FBI. Former FBI director Robert Mueller was later named special counsel and picked up the bureau's Russia probe
The dossier compiled by ex-British intelligence officer Christopher Steele remains an area of intense scrutiny in Congress.
Republicans want to know if it formed the basis of the FBI's Russia probe, although there have been reports that it was other strands of information that got things started, including information revealed by a foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign about Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton that made its way back to the FBI.
Even with all the unwelcome attention, Fusion GPS' work on Russia work continues, the New York Times reported. The paper wrote that it continues to explore ties between Trump and Russia, citing several people briefed on its research.
Simpson's firm began conducting opposition research on Trump after getting hired by the conservative Washington Free Beacon.
After Trump won the Republican primary, it took payment from the Perkins Coie law firm on behalf of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
The dossier, which Simpson has described as more of a series of memos, went on to describe a web of relationships between Trump associates and Russians, as well as an infamous unverified passage about Trump's supposed conduct in a Moscow hotel room.
Fusion attorney Theodore J. Boutrous Jr. says the firm now has a legal defense fund and that its legal fees have spiraled.
Fusion, in a statement to the Times, defended the firm's work – which anti-Putin crusader William Browder has described as smears for hire.
'We collect facts,” Fusion said in a statement. 'Occasionally, the facts turn out to be helpful to people we deplore, like Vladimir Putin, or undermine people for whom we have considerable sympathy, like William Browder,' who pushed for the Magnitsky Act sanctions.
Said Browder of Simpson: 'He’s a professional smear campaigner and liar for money. The credibility of anything that he does is in question.'
Ben Roberts-Smith: Top soldier won’t apologise for alleged war crimes
Ben Roberts-Smith is proud of his actions in Afghanistan, the former Australian soldier said in his first comments since a judge ruled claims he committed war crimes were true.
A landmark defamation case this month found Mr Roberts-Smith was responsible for the murders of four Afghans.
The Victoria Cross recipient says he is innocent and will consider an appeal.
“I’m devastated… It’s a terrible outcome and it’s the incorrect outcome,” he said on Wednesday.
Speaking to reporters from Nine as he returned to Australia for the first time since the judgement was delivered, Mr Roberts-Smith also said he would not apologise to those affected by his alleged crimes.
“We haven’t done anything wrong, so we won’t be making any apologies,” he said.
Mr Roberts-Smith sued three Australian newspapers over a series of articles alleging he had carried out unlawful killings and bullied fellow soldiers while deployed in Afghanistan between 2009-2012.
But Federal Court Judge Anthony Besanko threw out the former special forces corporal’s case against The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, and The Canberra Times, ruling it was “substantially true” that Mr Roberts-Smith had murdered unarmed Afghan prisoners and civilians, and bullied peers.
The 44-year-old, who remains Australia’s most-decorated living soldier, was not present for the civil court ruling, having spent the days leading up to it on the Indonesian resort island of Bali.
Mr Roberts-Smith, who left the defence force in 2013, has not been charged over any of the claims in a criminal court, where there is a higher burden of proof.
None of the evidence presented in the civil defamation case against Mr Roberts-Smith can be used in any criminal proceedings, meaning investigators must gather their own independently.
This week it was confirmed that the Office of the Special Investigator (OSI) – which is responsible for addressing criminal matters related to the Australian Defence Force in Afghanistan – would work alongside Australian Federal Police (AFP) to examine three alleged murders local media say involve the former soldier.
The killings allegedly took place at a compound codenamed Whiskey 108 and in the southern Afghan village of Darwan.
The OSI was set up following a landmark inquiry in 2020, known as the Brereton Inquiry, which found “credible evidence” that Australia’s special forces unlawfully killed 39 people in Afghanistan.
There are currently 40 matters that are being jointly investigated by the OSI and the AFP.
Earlier this year former SAS soldier Oliver Schulz became the first Australian defence force member to ever be charged by police with the war crime of murder.
Why Australia decided to quit its vaping habit
He’s talking about students in his class, teenagers, who can’t stop vaping.
He sees the effect of the candy-flavoured, nicotine-packed e-cigarettes on young minds every day, with children even vaping in class.
“The ones who are deepest into it will just get up out of their seat, or they’ll be fidgeting or nervous. The worst offenders will just walk out because they’re literally in withdrawal.”
Those who are most addicted need nicotine patches or rehabilitation, he says, talking about 13 and 14-year-olds.
is enough and introduced a range of new restrictions. Despite vapes already being illegal for many, under new legislation they will become available by prescription only.
The number of vaping teenagers in Australia has soared in recent years and authorities say it is the “number one behavioural issue” in schools across the country.
And they blame disposable vapes – which some experts say could be more addictive than heroin and cocaine – but for now are available in Australia in every convenience store, next to the chocolate bars at the counter.
For concerned teachers like Chris, their hands have been tied.
“If we suspect they have a vape, all we can really do is tell them to go to the principal’s office.
“At my old school, my head teacher told me he wanted to install vape detector alarms in the toilet, but apparently we weren’t allowed to because that would be an invasion of privacy.”
E-cigarettes have been sold as a safer alternative to tobacco, as they do not produce tar – the primary cause of lung cancer.
Some countries continue to promote them with public health initiatives to help cigarette smokers switch to a less deadly habit.
Last month, the UK government announced plans to hand out free vaping starter kits to one million smokers in England to get smoking rates below 5% by 2030.
But Australia’s government says that evidence that e-cigarettes help smokers quit is insufficient for now. Instead, research shows it may push young vapers into taking up smoking later in life.
Vapes, or e-cigarettes, are lithium battery-powered devices that have cartridges filled with liquids containing nicotine, artificial flavourings, and other chemicals.
The liquid is heated and turned into a vapour and inhaled into the user’s lungs.
Vaping took off from the mid-2000s and there were some 81 million vapers worldwide in 2021, according to the Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction group.
Fuelling the rise is the mushrooming popularity of flavoured vapes designed to appeal to the young.
These products can contain far higher volumes of nicotine than regular cigarettes, while some devices sold as ‘nicotine-free’ can actually hold large amounts.
The chemical cocktail also contains formaldehyde, and acetaldehyde – which have been linked to lung disease, heart disease, and cancer.
There’s also a suggestion of an increased risk of stroke, respiratory infection, and impaired lung function.
Experts warn not enough is known about the long-term health effects. But some alarming data has already been drawn out.
In 2020, US health authorities identified more than 2,800 cases of e-cigarette or vaping-related lung injury. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 68 deaths attributed to that injury.
In Australia, a major study by leading charity The Cancer Council found more than half of all children who had ever vaped had used an e-cigarette they knew contained nicotine and thought that vaping was a socially acceptable behaviour.
School-age children were being supplied with e-cigarettes through friends or “dealers” inside and outside school, or from convenience stores and tobacconists, the report said.
Teens also reported purchasing vapes through social media, websites and at pop-up vape stores, the Generation Vape project found.
“Whichever way teenagers obtain e-cigarettes, they are all illegal, yet it’s happening under the noses of federal and state authorities”, report author and Cancer Council chair Anita Dessaix said.
“All Australian governments say they’re committed to ensuring e-cigarettes are only accessed by smokers with a prescription trying to quit – yet a crisis in youth e-cigarette use is unfolding in plain view.”
In addition to the government’s move to ban the import of all non-pharmaceutical vaping products – meaning they can now only be bought with a prescription – all single-use disposable vapes will be made illegal.
The volume and concentration of nicotine in e-cigarettes will also be restricted, and both flavours and packaging must be plain and carrying warning labels.
But these new measures are not actually all that drastic, says public health physician Professor Emily Banks from the Australian National University.
“Australia is not an outlier. It is unique to have a prescription-only model, but other places actually ban them completely, and that includes almost all of Latin America, India, Thailand and Japan.”
‘We have been duped’
Health Minister Mark Butler said the new vaping regulations will close the “biggest loophole in Australian healthcare history”.
“Just like they did with smoking… ‘Big Tobacco’ has taken another addictive product, wrapped it in shiny packaging and added sweet flavours to create a new generation of nicotine addicts.”
“We have been duped”, he said.
Medical experts agree. Prof Banks argues that the promotion of e-cigarettes as a “healthier” alternative was a classic “sleight-of-hand” from the tobacco industry.
As such vaping has become “normalised” in Australia, and in the UK too.
“There’s over 17,000 flavours, and the majority of use is not for smoking cessation”, she tells the BBC.
“They’re being heavily marketed towards children and adolescents. People who are smoking and using e-cigarettes – that’s the most common pattern of use, dual use.”
Professor Banks says authorities need to “de-normalise” vaping among teenagers and make vapes much harder to get hold of.
“Kids are interpreting the fact that they can very easily get hold of [vapes] as evidence [they’re safe], and they’re actually saying, ‘well, if they were that unsafe, I wouldn’t be able to buy one at the coffee shop’.
But could stricter controls make it harder for people who do turn to vapes hoping to quit or cut down on tobacco?
“It is important to bear in mind that for some people, e-cigarettes have really helped. But we shouldn’t say ‘this is great for smokers to quit’, says Prof Banks.
“We know from
Australia, from the US, from Europe, that two-thirds to three-quarters of people who quit smoking successfully, do so unaided.”
“You’re trying to bring these [vapes] in saying they’re a great way to quit smoking, but actually we’ve got bubble gum flavoured vapes being used by 13-year-olds in the school toilets. That is not what the community signed up for.”
Australia: Scott Morrison saga casts scrutiny on Queen’s representative
In the past fortnight, Australia has been gripped by revelations that former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison secretly appointed himself to several additional ministries.
The move has been labelled a “power grab” by his successor as prime minister, and Mr Morrison has been scolded by many – even his own colleagues.
But the scandal has also dragged Australia’s governor-general into the fray – sparking one of the biggest controversies involving the Queen’s representative in Australia in 50 years.
So does Governor-General David Hurley have questions to answer, or is he just collateral damage?
Governors-general have fulfilled the practical duties as Australia’s head of state since the country’s 1901 federation.
Candidates for the role were initially chosen by the monarch but are now recommended by the Australian government.
The job is largely ceremonial – a governor-general in almost every circumstance must act on the advice of the government of the day. But conventions allow them the right to “encourage” and “warn” politicians.
Key duties include signing bills into law, issuing writs for elections, and swearing in ministers.
Mr Hurley has run into trouble on the latter. At Mr Morrison’s request, he swore the prime minister in as joint minister for health in March 2020, in case the existing minister became incapacitated by Covid.
Over the next 14 months, he also signed off Mr Morrison as an additional minister in the finance, treasury, home affairs and resources portfolios.
Mr Morrison already had ministerial powers, so Mr Hurley was basically just giving him authority over extra departments.
It’s a request the governor-general “would not have any kind of power to override or reject”, constitutional law professor Anne Twomey tells the BBC.
“This wasn’t even a meeting between the prime minister and the governor-general, it was just paperwork.”
But Mr Morrison’s appointments were not publicly announced, disclosed to the parliament, or even communicated to most of the ministers he was job-sharing with.
Australia’s solicitor-general found Mr Morrison’s actions were not illegal but had “fundamentally undermined” responsible government.
But the governor-general had done the right thing, the solicitor-general said in his advice this week.
It would have been “a clear breach” for him to refuse the prime minister, regardless of whether he knew the appointments would be kept secret, Stephen Donaghue said.
Critics push for investigation
Ultimately, Mr Hurley had to sign off on Mr Morrison’s requests, but critics say he could have counselled him against it and he could have publicised it himself.
But representatives for the governor-general say these types of appointments – giving ministers the right to administer other departments – are not unusual.
And it falls to the government of the day to decide if they should be announced to the public. They often opt not to.
Mr Hurley himself announcing the appointments would be unprecedented. He had “no reason to believe that appointments would not be communicated”, his spokesperson said.
Emeritus professor Jenny Hocking finds the suggestion Mr Hurley didn’t know the ministries had been kept secret “ridiculous”.
“The last of these bizarre, duplicated ministry appointments… were made more than a year after the first, so clearly by then the governor-general did know that they weren’t being made public,” she says.
“I don’t agree for a moment that the governor-general has a lot of things on his plate and might not have noticed.”
The historian says it’s one of the biggest controversies surrounding a governor-general since John Kerr caused a constitutional crisis by sacking Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1975.
Prof Hocking famously fought for transparency around that matter – waging a lengthy and costly legal battle that culminated in the release of Mr Kerr’s correspondence with the Queen.
And she says the same transparency is needed here.
The Australian public need to know whether Mr Hurley counselled the prime minister against the moves, and why he didn’t disclose them
The government has already announced an inquiry into Mr Morrison’s actions, but she wants it to look at the governor-general and his office too.
“If the inquiry is to find out what happened in order to fix what happened, it would be extremely problematic to leave out a key part of that equation.”
Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull – Mr Morrison’s predecessor – has also voiced support for an inquiry.
“Something has gone seriously wrong at Government House,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“It is the passive compliance along the chain… that did undermine our constitution and our democracy… that troubles me the most. This is how tyranny gets under way.”
PM defends governor-general
Prof Twomey says the criticism of Mr Hurley is unfair – there’s was no “conspiracy” on his part to keep things secret.
“I don’t think it’s reasonable for anyone to expect that he could have guessed that the prime minister was keeping things secret from his own ministers, for example.
“Nobody really thought that was a possibility until about two weeks ago.”
Even if he had taken the unprecedented step to publicise the appointments or to reject Mr Morrison’s request, he’d have been criticised, she says.
“There’d be even more people saying ‘how outrageous!'” she says. “The role of governor-general is awkward because people are going to attack you either way.”
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has also defended Mr Hurley, saying he was just doing his job.
“I have no intention of undertaking any criticism of [him].”
A role fit for purpose?
Prof Hocking says it’s a timely moment to look at the role of the governor-general more broadly.
She points out it’s possible the Queen may have been informed about Mr Morrison’s extra ministries when Australia’s parliament and people were not.
“It does raise questions about whether this is fit for purpose, as we have for decades been a fully independent nation, but we still have… ‘the relics of colonialism’ alive and well.”
Momentum for a fresh referendum on an Australian republic has been growing and advocates have seized on the controversy.
“The idea that the Queen and her representative can be relied upon to uphold our system of government has been debunked once and for all,” the Australian Republic Movement’s Sandy Biar says.
“It’s time we had an Australian head of state, chosen by Australians and accountable to them to safeguard and uphold Australia’s constitution.”
But Prof Twomey says republicans are “clutching at straws” – under their proposals, the head of state would also have been bound to follow the prime minister’s advice.
“It wouldn’t result in any changes that would have made one iota of difference.”
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