New evidence suggests that a former top staffer for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) may be directing the post-election efforts of Fusion GPS, a Democrat-linked political opposition research firm, to vindicate a series of memos alleging illegal collusion between the Donald Trump campaign and Russian officials.
Congressional documents and recently leaked texts between Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and a registered foreign agent for a Russian aluminum oligarch indicate that Daniel J. Jones is intimately involved with ongoing efforts to retroactively validate a series of salacious and unverified memos produced by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence agent, and Fusion GPS. The dossier, which declassified documents show was used as a basis for securing secret wiretaps on Trump campaign affiliates, was reportedly jointly funded by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Jones, a former Feinstein staffer who wrote a controversial top-secret report on alleged torture by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), currently runs the Penn Quarter Group, which bills itself as a “research and investigative advisory” and is inconspicuously named after the downtown Washington DC neighborhood where its office is located. Jones was intensively spied on by the CIA during his multi-year congressional investigation of the agency’s interrogation practices, providing an ironic prelude to U.S. intelligence agencies’ use of an unverified dossier produced by Jones’s post-election compatriots as a pretext to spy on their political opponents in 2016.
Jones did not respond to requests by The Federalist to describe the extent of his work with Fusion GPS or Steele. Representatives of Fusion GPS also refused to respond to requests for information on the firm’s work with Jones and Penn Quarter Group.
The former Feinstein staffer’s participation in ongoing efforts to retroactively validate the dossier was first publicly hinted at in January in several inquiry letters from Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to various Democratic party leaders who were likely responsible for funding Fusion GPS’s 2016 dossier work, including John Podesta, Donna Brazile, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
“Understanding the extent of the DNC’s knowledge of, and interactions with, Mr. Steele and others involved in Fusion GPS’s work is essential to this inquiry,” the two senators wrote. “In light of this, by February 8, 2018, please answer the following questions and provide the following requested documents.” The twelfth item the lawmakers requested, which appears to be the first time Jones’s name was publicly mentioned in connection with the dossier, was all communications between the letters’ recipients and a host of characters involved with the dossier and its financing, creation, and dissemination:
For the period from March 2016 through January 2017, please provide all communications to, from, copying, or relating to: Fusion GPS; Bean LLC; Glenn Simpson; Mary Jacoby; Peter Fritsch; Tom Catan; Jason Felch; Neil King; David Michaels; Taylor Sears; Patrick Corcoran; Laura Sego; Jay Bagwell; Erica Castro; Nellie Ohr; Rinat Akhmetshin; Ed Lieberman; Edward Baumgartner; Orbis Business Intelligence Limited; Orbis Business International Limited.; Walsingham Training Limited; Walsingham Partners Limited; Christopher Steele; Christopher Burrows; Sir Andrew Wood, Paul Hauser;4 Oleg Deripaska; Cody Shearer; Sidney Blumenthal; Jon Winer; Kathleen Kavalec; Victoria Nuland; Daniel Jones; Bruce Ohr; Peter Strzok; Andrew McCabe; James Baker; Sally Yates; Loretta Lynch; John Brennan.
The grouping of the names is a story in itself: the first 15 names (through Nellie Ohr) are those of Fusion GPS’s principals and key staff in 2016; the next 12 (through Deripaska) are connected to Steele and a Russian oligarch sanctioned by the United States, the next two (Shearer and Blumenthal) are longtime Clinton hangers-on who reportedly wrote and disseminated their own dossier of unverified allegations; the next three are key Obama-era State Department officials who likely spread allegations about the Trump campaign throughout the government; then Jones; the next six are top Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or Department of Justice (DOJ) officials who used the dossier to secure secret wiretaps on Trump affiliates; and the final name belongs to Obama’s CIA director.
To those who have closely followed the dossier saga, all but one of those names was familiar. The inclusion of Jones, who appears to have no meaningful public or social media profile beyond his association with the so-called CIA torture report and who had never before been publicly mentioned in connection with the Steele dossier and Fusion GPS, was noteworthy.
Prior to founding Penn Quarter group, Jones spent nearly nine years working on Capitol Hill, where he was one of Feinstein’s top investigators on the Senate Intelligence Committee. He also worked at the FBI from 2003 to 2007 and did a short stint working for a lobbying firm run by former Democratic Senate leader Tom Daschle, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Congressional records show that Jones left his congressional job on December 4, 2015. He achieved significant acclaim in that role as the author of an explosive Senate report on alleged illegal torture of terrorists by America’s intelligence agencies. Feinstein profusely praised Jones by name from the Senate floor the day before his official departure, a rare honor generally reserved only for individuals with extremely close relationships with lawmakers.
According to public records, Jones completed the legal paperwork to establish Penn Quarter Group in April of 2016. Jones registered the firm’s website just days before Steele delivered his first memo on alleged illegal ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, and the firm received its Washington DC business license in the early summer of 2016.
Although his Twitter activity is scant (he has posted only 249 times since tweeting for the first time in July of 2016), Jones began tweeting out articles suggesting illicit ties between the Trump campaign and Russians in early 2017, a significant break in pattern from his previous social media postings. A January 8 New York Times profile of Glenn Simpson, the Fusion GPS exec who ran the dossier operation during the 2016 campaign, confirmed that the secretive research company’s dossier-related work continued after the election and was ongoing through 2018.
“But the work has not stopped,” the paper noted in the profile. “Fusion continues to look into ties between Mr. Trump and Russia, according to several people briefed on the research. Mr. Simpson’s specific areas of focus, and information about any current benefactors, are closely guarded.” When asked point-blank by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) last November whether he was still being paid to work on anything related to the dossier, Simpson refused to answer.
If Grassley and Graham’s passing mention of Jones was a red flag potentially signifying something important, Jones’s name being dropped as a point-of-contact for Steele in leaked encrypted text messages to Warner, the vice-chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, was a flashing red spotlight. Those messages, which were leaked to Fox News, reveal a long-running conversation between Warner and Adam Waldman, a DC lawyer and registered foreign agent for Oleg Deripaska, a Kremlin-connected Russian oligarch, and for Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister (federal records show that Waldman’s representation of Lavrov ended on May 31, 2017).
Federal disclosures required by the Foreign Agents Registration Act show that Waldman collected nearly $1.1 million from Deripaska in 2016 and 2017.
During the course of the interaction between Warner and Waldman, which included encrypted messages, phone calls, and private, in-person meetings, Waldman offered Warner access not just to Steele but also Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks who has been holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London since 2012 and whom Hillary Clinton described as “a tool of Russian intelligence.”
As strange as it is for Waldman, a Russian oligarch’s foreign agent, to be the official cutout for a U.S. senator and the now-reclusive author of a bombshell document that touched off an investigation of a sitting president, it is stranger still that Jones was also offered to Warner as a point of contact for Steele.
“Chris Steele asked me to call you,” Waldman wrote to Warner on March 16, 2017. That text touched off a back-and-forth conversation about how Warner could get access to Steele, a key witness in an ongoing congressional investigation. According to Waldman, Steele demanded a bipartisan letter from Warner and Burr requesting that he present himself for questioning.
“I spoke w Steele,” Waldman wrote on April 25, 2017. “He repeated the same position which is that he wants to be helpful but is fearful of the triumvirate of cost, time suck and reputation.”
“He asked me what your concern was about a letter first and I explained it but he would still like as a first protective step from you and [Sen. Richard] Burr asking him and his partner to assist w the investigation by answering questions,” Waldman added. “He said he will also speak w Dan Jones whom he says is talking to you.”
“I pointed out there is no privilege in that discussion although Dan [Jones] is a good guy and very trustworthy guy. I encouraged him again to engage with you for the sake of the truth and of vindication of the dossier,” he wrote.
“Gotta tell u makes no sense he won’t do a call first tell him call will only be ten minutes,” Warner wrote.
“I can’t get him to do a call first,” Waldman responded. “He said Dan Jones is coming to see you. I suggest you explain to Dan why a call is the necessary first step rather than a letter from your perspective.”
Warner’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the extent of his conversations with Jones about Steele or the nature of his relationship with Waldman, Deripaska’s registered foreign agent in the United States.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who serves on the Senate intelligence committee with Warner and Burr, directly asked FBI Director Christopher Wray during a hearing last week whether Steele ever worked directly for the Russian oligarch Waldman represents. Wray refused to answer, but noted that he might be able to provide information responsive to Cotton’s question during a closed committee session, which would better protect potentially classified information.
Along those same lines, Grassley sent a formal letter earlier this month to Paul Hauser, a British national who reportedly serves as Deripaska’s attorney, asking whether Hauser had ever hired or otherwise worked with Steele on Deripaska’s behalf.
“Have you ever hired or otherwise worked with Mr. Christopher Steele, Orbis Business Intelligence Limited, Orbis Business International Limited, Walsingham Training Limited, or Walsingham Partners Limited?” Grassley asked. “If so, when, and what was the nature of the arrangement?”
Grassley also explicitly asked Hauser whether Steele has ever worked for Deripaska or his businesses. Grassley’s office did not respond when asked if Hauser had replied to the February 9 letter asking about his or Deripaska’s connections with Steele.
If Steele, the author of a dossier that kicked off an investigation of a major political campaign, is or was in any way professionally involved with a controversial Russian oligarch, it would have significant implications regarding the dossier, the people who funded it, and the federal investigations that relied on it. If it turned out that the dossier operation was the result of Russian chicanery — or even willful collusion with powerful, Kremlin-connected Russian oligarchs — it would also have implications for members of Congress who went out of their way to flack for Fusion GPS, the firm that put the whole thing together.
Jones’ apparent involvement in brokering access to Steele raises serious questions not just about Warner’s role in the ongoing intelligence committee investigation, but also about Feinstein’s role in the judiciary committee’s ongoing investigation of Steele, Russian interference, and Fusion GPS.
Did Jones, Feinstein’s former top intel committee staffer, have any contact with Feinstein on the matter? Was she aware of any potential business relationship between Jones and individuals or organizations such as Fusion GPS being investigated by her committee? If so, did Feinstein ever disclose to the committee the possibility that she may have a significant conflict of interest given Jones’s involvement? If not, why not?
The connection between Jones and Steele, who authored his dossier memos at the direction of Fusion GPS, may also shed light on Feinstein’s bizarre decision to not only unilaterally release Simpson’s Senate testimony, but also the curious redactions in that transcript of the names of all of Fusion GPS employees, information that is not only not classified, but publicly available.
After her office released the transcript, Feinstein noted to a number of reporters that she was “pressured” to unilaterally release the transcript without even notifying Grassley, the chairman of the committee. When asked who pressured her to release the transcript, Feinstein first claimed that nobody pressured her, only to later claim that she never said anyone pressured her (her initial claims were captured on tape).
Jones’s role in pursuing “vindication of the dossier,” in Waldman’s words, on Steele’s behalf may also explain Grassley and Graham’s decision to withhold from Feinstein prior notice of their criminal referral of Steele to the FBI for making false statements about his dossier work to federal agents. If they believed Feinstein or her staff were directly working with a Fusion GPS client or contractor to vindicate their private work on behalf of Democratic clients, it would make sense to remove her and her staff from the information loop, lest their potential collusion with the target of a congressional investigation and a potential criminal investigation spoil those efforts’ integrity and impartiality.
Feinstein’s office did not respond to a request for comment on her interactions with Jones or whether she had informed her colleagues on the judiciary committee of her past relationship or ongoing interactions with a potential target of the committee’s investigation into foreign interference in U.S. political matters.
Rather than putting to bed questions about the veracity of the dossier that touched off multiple investigations by America’s top law enforcement and intelligence agencies, recently revealed information about the dossier’s origins, authors, and benefactors has only raised more questions about what exactly happened in 2016. As the investigations into the matter continue, it appears more and more likely that the DNC- and Clinton-funded operatives paid to dig up evidence of shady Russian collusion were themselves guilty of the same behavior they purported to expose.