For a reporter, it’s a heart-stopping moment. You’re in an interview and suddenly a source offers up something you never expected anyone to unearth: video evidence of the president’s perverse pleasures.
“You were going to ask about the pee tape?” Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of the research firm Fusion GPS, which commissioned the infamous Steele dossier, asks me. “We’re going to screen it for you right now.” He motions to a TV on the wall of his conference room. I turn to look, taken in by Simpson’s deadpan expression and convinced for a half second that he and his partner, Peter Fritsch, somehow possess the alleged clandestine video of Russian prostitutes urinating on a bed at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Moscow for the delectation of future President Donald Trump.
But, no—he is kidding. No one has yet proved the existence of the pee tape, the most lurid allegation in a dossier that still reverberates through Washington nearly three years after its public release. Dossier is a word forever chiseled into Washington’s political lexicon. During the ongoing impeachment hearings on Capitol Hill, Devin Nunes, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, has repeatedly invoked the dossier, saying its reliance on Russian sources points to Democratic collusion with that country.
Simpson’s joke was a dark one, but at least he and Fritsch can still laugh. The dossier upended their lives, making the former journalists a piñata for conservatives, who depicted them as masterminds of a vast left-wing conspiracy to topple the president. Now Simpson and Fritsch are offering a full rebuttal and defense of their work in a new book they co-wrote, Crime in Progress: Inside the Steele Dossier and the Fusion GPS Investigation of Donald Trump, which will be released Tuesday. I reviewed an advance copy. “We got a little bit tired of having our story told for us by people who were not telling it faithfully,” Fritsch told me during my recent visit to their office. But retelling a story that had proved so painful to them personally wasn’t easy, Simpson said: “I thought writing the book would be cathartic, and it turned out to be more like reliving a nightmare.”
Embedded in Washington’s professional class is a loose network of opposition researchers, journalists, ex-journalists, and past and present government officials. They’ve known one another as sources and reporters, clients and contractors, friends and neighbors, colleagues and co-workers. They’re part of an ecosystem in which tips and inside information flow back and forth. Participants have different motivations for taking part: ideological, financial, moral, or journalistic, to name a few. Crime in Progress is, at one level, a master class in how this network operates. [Continue reading…]