- In addition to their work on the Steele dossier, former British spy Christopher Steele and Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson also investigated now-debunked allegations of Russian meddling in British elections.
- Steele and Simpson met in 2018 with a former employee of Cambridge Analytica, according to a book from the employee, Christopher Wylie.
- Wylie, who also met with Rep. Adam Schiff, claimed that he had information that could link together Russian intelligence operatives, Cambridge Analytica, the Trump campaign and supporters of the Brexit vote.
- But the conspiracy theories have largely been debunked with the findings of investigations in the U.K. and the U.S.
Following on the heels of their work on the infamous Steele dossier, the operatives behind the controversial document began investigating possible links between the Russian government, supporters of the Brexit campaign and the now-defunct data firm, Cambridge Analytica.
As with their dossier work, the dirt-digging effort led by former MI6 officer Christopher Steele and Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson has turned up little evidence to support their initial collusion conspiracy theory.
A British information commissioner concluded her investigation into Cambridge Analytica last week, issuing a report that found that the firm played a minimal role in the Brexit campaign. The commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, also said that she did not find “any additional evidence” of Russian links to Cambridge Analytica.
Steele and Simpson’s work on the dossier, which accused the Trump campaign of conspiring with the Kremlin, has been a prominent fixture in the news in the three-plus years since the document was published. But lesser known are their efforts to uncover links between Russia, Cambridge Analytica, the Brexit vote and the Trump campaign.
Christopher Wylie, the former Cambridge Analytica employee, wrote in a little noticed passage in his autobiography last year, “Mindf*ck,” that he met with Steele and Simpson in 2018 in the offices of Damian Collins, a member of parliament.
Wylie said that he had obtained a trove of documents and recordings from inside the Leave.EU campaign, which supported the Brexit referendum. Wylie discussed the information during an interview in June 2018 with Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
“Steele’s firm had learned about the documents and recordings I had through a British source, and Fusion GPS told us they had documents and information of their own that illuminated the same set of connections—between the Russians, Brexit, and Trump’s campaign,” Wylie wrote in his book.
“Like a jigsaw, Collins, Fusion GPS, and I had each acquired different sets of documents about the same events, and we began piecing everything together.”
Wylie, who worked as a data analyst for Cambridge Analytica through 2014, said that he was contacted by Fusion GPS shortly after he was interviewed by Schiff.
Wylie gave a nod to both Schiff and Simpson in his book.
He thanked Schiff and the Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee “for all the unseen work you do).” He also shouted out “Glenn Simpson and Fusion GPS (for your brilliant investigative work).”
Rep. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said he is not surprised to learn that Schiff, Steele and Fusion GPS were pursuing yet another collusion story.
“This newly revealed connection is unsurprising,” he told the DCNF. “There clearly was a cabal of bad actors centered around Fusion GPS who propelled the Russia hoax, both for political purposes and for their own financial gain.”
It is unclear if Schiff and Simpson exchanged information about Cambridge Analytica. Schiff was spotted meeting with Simpson in June 2018, but it is unclear what they discussed.
It is also unclear what Fusion GPS or Steele did with any information about Cambridge Analytica. During their dossier work, Fusion GPS served as a public relations conduit for Steele and multiple news outlets. The firm arranged for Steele to brief reporters, and worked with journalists on various stories pushing the collusion conspiracy theory.
Simpson and his Fusion GPS partner Peter Fritsch described their investigation of the Brexit campaign in their book, “Crime in Progress,” but did not mention Wylie.
They wrote that on March 4, 2017, they met with Daniel Jones, a former FBI agent and former staffer on the Senate Intelligence Committee, to develop a list of leads related to Russian meddling in Western democracies.
Jones, Fusion GPS and Steele worked together on a non-profit group that Jones formed on Jan. 31, 2017 called The Democracy Integrity Project (TDIP).
Jones told the FBI in March 2017 that he formed TDIP with the financial backing of between seven and 10 wealthy progressive donors who had pledged $50 million. He said that he worked with Fusion GPS and Steele to collect evidence about Russian meddling in Western politics that they planned to give federal investigators, lawmakers and media outlets.
Tax filings show that TDIP paid Fusion GPS more than $3.3 million and Steele’s firm more than $250,000 in 2017. Billionaire progressive financier George Soros has contributed at least $1 million to TDIP, according to publicly available records.
TDIP also paid a British consulting firm, Istok Associates, nearly $150,000. The founder of Istok, Neil Barnett, pushed the Brexit-Russia conspiracy theory in a series of reports from 2016 to 2018, including in a study for The Atlantic Council, a prominent Washington, D.C. think tank.
Wylie’s lawyer in the U.S. was Adam Kaufmann, a former prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office who is a founding board member of TDIP.
One item of interest for the consortium of investigators was “Moscow’s ties to the key financial backers of Brexit in the U.K.,” according to the Fusion GPS founders.
They wrote that in collaboration with Steele, they “began giving Britain’s vote to leave the European Union the thorough scrub it so clearly needed.”
Much as with Donald Trump’s election victory over Hillary Clinton, the Brexit vote, held on June 23, 2016, came as a shock in the U.K. And as with the U.S. presidential election, that shock gave way to allegations that Russian interference influenced the outcome of the vote.
“The vote to depart the EU faced many of the same questions of outside meddling and dubious funding streams as Trump’s election, yet it was not getting much investigative attention,” the Fusion GPS founders asserted in their book.
“Steele and the Fusion team had spent much of the past year delving into links between Trump and a group of Britons with curious ties to Russia who had backed Brexit.”
They identified three people they believed were at the center of a Trump-Brexit-Russia conspiracy: Robert Mercer, Steve Bannon and Arron Banks.
Mercer, a conservative billionaire donor, was the majority owner of Cambridge Analytica. Bannon, who took over as the Trump campaign manager in August 2016, was a vice president on the firm’s board. Banks is an insurance executive who loaned the equivalent of $10 million to Leave.EU, which supported the Brexit referendum.
Cambridge Analytica had consulted for several Republican presidential campaigns, including for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, before doing work for Trump after he won the GOP nomination.
In his book, Wylie asserted that Russia, Cambridge Analytica and the Trump campaign were somehow linked together in a grand conspiracy to influence elections in the U.S. and U.K.
“If my hunch was correct, Cambridge Analytica was not only using the data tool I had worked on to manipulate American voters into supporting [Trump], it may have been knowingly or unknowingly working with Russians to sway the election,” Wylie wrote.
Wylie said that he provided U.S. investigators with “evidence tying Cambridge Analytica to Donald Trump, Facebook, Russian intelligence, international hackers and Brexit.”
He claimed he had documents which demonstrated that the Trump and Brexit campaigns “deployed the same strategies…all under the spectre of covert Russian involvement.
Schiff interviewed Wylie in June 2018 in the offices of then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as part of his investigation into whether the firm improperly helped the Trump campaign, possibly with Russian assistance.
Cambridge Analytica executives and Banks have had contacts with Russians, though investigators have not found evidence of any conspiracy to influence elections.
Alexander Nix, who served as CEO of Cambridge Analytica, reached out to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in 2016 seeking help in tracking down emails that Hillary Clinton deleted from her private server. Assange has said that he rejected Nix’s request. WikiLeaks released emails that were hacked from the DNC and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, but not any of Clinton’s deleted emails.
The special counsel’s office indicted Russian intelligence operatives on charges that they hacked the Democrats’ emails and used WikiLeaks as a conduit to release the documents. Cambridge Analytica was not named in the indictment.
Last week, Denham, the U.K.’s information commissioner, closed an investigation into Cambridge Analytica that she opened in May 2017.
The Financial Times noted in a story last week that Denham’s report shattered some of the early theories about Cambridge Analytica.
In September 2019, the National Crime Agency (NCA), the British equivalent of the FBI, cleared Banks of any wrongdoing in connection with his funding for Leave.EU.
The NCA found that Banks loaned his own money to the group.
The special counsel’s office, which investigated possible links between the Trump campaign and Russia, did not mention Cambridge Analytica in its 448-page report.
The Senate Intelligence Committee detailed Cambridge Analytica’s work for the Trump campaign, but did not reveal any evidence that the company worked with Russia to help Trump.
The dossier, which Steele and Fusion GPS compiled on behalf of the DNC and Clinton campaign, has all but fallen apart over the past 18 months. The special counsel’s report said investigators found no evidence of a Trump-Russia conspiracy, which was the dossier’s core claim.
A report from the Justice Department inspector general undercut the credibility of the dossier and Steele. The report said that Steele’s primary source, Igor Danchenko, provided the FBI with statements that undercut the dossier’s credibility.
It also said that the FBI received evidence in early 2017 that Russian intelligence operatives may have fed disinformation to Steele, who operates out of London.
A lawyer for Wylie did not respond to a request for comment. Nor did Fusion GPS, Steele’s firm, Orbis Business International, or Schiff’s office.
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