White House: 'Real Russia scandal' is Clinton camp's ties to controversial dossier

President Trump; White House press secretary Sarah Sanders; former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele; former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. (Yahoo News photo illustration; photos: AP, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP, Spencer Platt/Getty Images, AP, Victoria Jones/PA via AP, David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)

President Trump, the White House and Fox News are seizing upon a Washington Post report that the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee helped pay for the controversial dossier that made salacious but unverified claims about Trump’s ties to Russia.

“The real Russia scandal?” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted on Tuesday night, shortly after the Post’s story was published online. “Clinton campaign paid for the fake Russia dossier, then lied about it & covered it up.”

The White House and Trump have long sought to deflect attention away from investigations — by a Justice Department special counsel and multiple congressional committees — into whether Trump campaign associates colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election.

On Wednesday morning, Trump reacted to the Post’s report himself, relaying an apparent quote from a Fox News segment about the article on Wednesday morning. “The victim here is the President,” Trump shared.

According to the Post, Marc E. Elias, a lawyer representing the Clinton campaign and the DNC, retained Fusion GPS, a Washington firm, in April 2016 to produce the dossier.

The document was prepared by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer, who had been looking into the Trump campaign’s ties to the Kremlin for Fusion on behalf of an unknown Republican client during the GOP primary, the Post said. The Clinton campaign and the DNC reportedly paid for Fusion GPS’s research of Trump through the end of October 2016.

Brian Fallon, a former spokesman for the Clinton campaign, told the newspaper he was unaware of the research that was being conducted — but would have supported it.

“The first I learned of Christopher Steele or saw any dossier was after the election,” Fallon said. “But if I had gotten handed it last fall, I would have had no problem passing it along and urging reporters to look into it. Opposition research happens on every campaign, and here you had probably the most shadowy guy ever running for president, and the FBI certainly has seen fit to look into it. I probably would have volunteered to go to Europe myself to try and verify if it would have helped get more of this out there before the election.”

A spokeswoman for the DNC said that the committee’s new leadership, including chairman Tom Perez, was likewise unaware Elias had retained Fusion to produce the dossier.

Hillary Clinton waves as she arrives onstage to accept the nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 28, 2016. (Photo: Gary Cameron/Reuters)
Hillary Clinton waves as she arrives onstage to accept the nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 28, 2016. (Photo: Gary Cameron/Reuters)

Speaking to reporters outside the White House on Wednesday afternoon, Trump described the dossier as “fake” and “made up.”

“I understand they paid a tremendous amount of money,” he said. “And Hillary Clinton always denied it. The Democrats always denied it and now only because it’s going to come out in a court case did they say, yes, they did it, they admitted it and they’re embarrassed by it. But I think it’s a disgrace. It’s a very sad commentary on politics in this country.”

Last week, a pair of Fusion executives met privately with the House Intelligence Committee probing Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, but the two refused to answer its questions. According to Bloomberg News, Fusion partners Peter Fritsch and Thomas Catan invoked their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination during their session with the House panel.

That report led Trump to wonder aloud who paid for the dossier.

“Workers of firm involved with the discredited and Fake Dossier take the 5th,” Trump tweeted on Thursday. “Who paid for it, Russia, the FBI or the Dems (or all)?”

In February, the Post reported that the FBI — which had previously hired Steele to research corruption in professional soccer — had reached an agreement shortly before the election to pay him to continue his work on Trump. But the bureau ultimately did not pay Steele, and the dossier leaked online shortly before Trump’s inauguration.

The dossier, which was published by Buzzfeed on Jan. 10, contained allegations that Trump’s associates colluded with the Kremlin and claimed that Russians held compromising material on Trump. After it was published, Trump vigorously denied the allegations, calling them “fake news.”

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