WASHINGTON — The so-called Steele dossier of research into President Trump’s connections to Russia is back in the news, with the revelation that it was at least partly funded by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
What is the dossier?
It is a 35-page collection of research memos written by Christopher Steele, a respected former British intelligence agent, primarily during the 2016 presidential campaign. The memos allege a multifaceted conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government to help Mr. Trump defeat Mrs. Clinton. The memos also detail unsubstantiated accounts of encounters between Mr. Trump and Russian prostitutes, and real estate deals that were intended as bribes, among other claims about Mr. Trump’s businesses.
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Who paid for it?
During the Republican primaries, a donor opposed to Mr. Trump becoming the party’s presidential candidate retained a research firm called Fusion GPS to unearth potentially damaging information about Mr. Trump. The donor has never been identified, but several possible suspects have denied responsibility, including officials from the so-called super PACs that supported the rival campaigns of Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida.
After Mr. Trump secured the nomination, Fusion GPS was hired on behalf of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign and the D.N.C. by their law firm, Perkins Coie, to compile research about Mr. Trump, his businesses and associates — including possible connections with Russia. It was at that point that Fusion GPS hired Mr. Steele, who has deep sourcing in Russia, to gather information.
Does it matter who paid for it?
That depends on your politics.
Republicans have criticized the dossier since it was first publicly disseminated when Buzzfeed published it in January. Mr. Trump has blasted it as “fake news” and “phony stuff,” and alleged that it is part of a broader witch hunt intended to cast doubt on his victory. His allies now contend that the allegations in the dossier are discredited by the fact that it was funded at least partially by the Clinton campaign and the D.N.C. Mr. Trump asserted on Wednesday in an interview with Fox Business Network’s “Lou Dobbs Tonight” that the Democrats’ payments for the research were “the real collusion.”
Democrats argue that who paid for the research is irrelevant to the veracity of its claims, which they say should be thoroughly investigated. Yet some of the Democrats who funded the dossier have been leery about being associated with it. The lead Perkins Coie lawyer representing both the campaign and the D.N.C., Marc Elias, pushed back earlier this year when asked whether his firm was the client for the dossier, whether he possessed it before the election and whether he was involved in efforts to encourage media outlets to write about its contents.
On Tuesday, the veteran Democratic consultant Anita Dunn, who is working with Perkins Coie, explained Mr. Elias’s earlier response. “Obviously, he was not at liberty to confirm Perkins Coie as the client at that point, and should perhaps have ‘no commented’ more artfully,” Ms. Dunn wrote in an email.
Is this sort of research common or legal?
Campaigns and party committees frequently pay companies to assemble what’s known in politics as opposition research — essentially damaging information about their opponents — and nothing is illegal about the practice.
However, Republicans and campaign watchdogs have accused the Clinton campaign and the D.N.C. of violating campaign finance laws by disguising the payments to Fusion GPS on mandatory disclosures to the Federal Election Commission. Their disclosure reports do not list any payments from the Clinton campaign or the D.N.C. to Fusion GPS. They do list a total of $12.4 million in payments to Perkins Coie, but that’s almost entirely for legal consulting, with only one payment — of $66,500 — for “research consulting” from the D.N.C.
In a complaint filed with the F.E.C. on Wednesday, the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit group that urges stricter enforcement of election laws, alleged that “at least some of those payments were earmarked for Fusion GPS, with the purpose of conducting opposition research on Donald Trump.” The complaint asserts that the failure to list the ultimate purpose of that money “undermined the vital public information role that reporting is intended to serve.”
Graham M. Wilson, a partner at Perkins Coie, called the complaint “patently baseless,” in part because, he said, the research was done “to support the provision of legal services, and payments made by vendors to sub-vendors are not required to be disclosed in circumstances like this.”
Who else knew about Mr. Steele’s research during the campaign?
Officials from the Clinton campaign and the D.N.C. have said they were unaware that Perkins Coie facilitated the research on their behalf, even though the law firm was using their money to pay for it. Even Mrs. Clinton only found about Mr. Steele’s research after Buzzfeed published the dossier, according to two associates who discussed the matter with her. They said that she was disappointed that the research — as well as the fact that the F.B.I. was looking into connections between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia — was not made public before Election Day.
But word of the memos and their contents had circulated in Washington political and media circles before the election. In British court filings, Mr. Steele’s lawyers said that he and Fusion GPS briefed journalists from a range of media outlets, including The New York Times, on his research starting in September of 2016.
Yet the research and even the existence of the dossier were not reported by the media, with the exception of Mother Jones magazine, which published a story in the days before the election that described the dossier, its origin and significance, while omitting the salacious claims.
How much of the dossier has been substantiated?
There has been no public corroboration of the salacious allegations against Mr. Trump, nor of the specific claims about coordination between his associates and the Russians. In fact, some of those claims have been challenged with supporting evidence. For instance, Mr. Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, produced his passport to rebut the dossier’s claim that he had secret meetings in Prague with a Russian official last year.
Where does the dossier fit in with the government’s Russia investigations?
James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director whose firing by Mr. Trump prompted the appointment of a special counsel to oversee the Justice Department’s Russia investigation, received a copy of the memos after Election Day from Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona. Mr. McCain had dispatched David J. Kramer, a former top State Department official, to obtain the dossier directly from Mr. Steele. And before Election Day, the F.B.I. reached an agreement to pay Mr. Steele to continue his research, though that plan was scrapped after the dossier was published. During the presidential transition, senior American intelligence officials briefed Mr. Trump and President Barack Obama on the dossier.
Investigators from the House and Senate intelligence committees and Mr. Mueller’s team have been exploring claims made in the dossier. Mr. Mueller’s team reportedly interviewed Mr. Steele over the summer.