Senate Democrats used a parliamentary maneuver Wednesday to cut short a high-profile hearing central to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s probe into Russian meddling.
Bill Browder, the CEO and co-founder of Hermitage Capital, was set to testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee about Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and her relationship to the company responsible for the infamous Trump—Russia dossier, Fox News reported.
Browder’s public remarks were delayed when Democrats invoked the "two-hour rule" to protest Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare. The seldom-used rule bars committees from meeting longer than two hours after the full Senate begins a session.
Browder was expected to discuss how the co-founder of Fusion GPS was hired to conduct a "smear campaign" against him. Fusion GPS is the Washington D.C.-based firm responsible for producing the dossier.
Browder said in a written testimony that the smear campaign was orchestrated by Veselnitskaya, the Russian attorney who orchestrated the highly criticized Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump Jr., White House senior advisor Jared Kushner, and then Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in June 2016.
Browder is now expected to testify Thursday to discuss his experience dealing with Fusion GPS. The intelligence firm was founded by a pair of former Wall Street Journal reporters, including Glenn Simpson.
"Veselnitskaya, through Baker Hostetler, hired Glenn Simpson of the firm Fusion GPS to conduct a smear campaign against me and Sergei Magnitsky in advance of congressional hearings on the Global Magnitsy Act," Browder said in his prepared testimony.
"While they were conducting these operations in Washington D.C., at no time did they indicate that they were acting on behalf of Russian government interests, nor did they file disclosures under the Foreign Agent Registration Act," Browder said. "This was one of the best examples of Putin’s propaganda."
The late Sergei Magnitsky was hired by Browder to uncover details of financial fraud involving corrupt Russian government officials. Magnitsky was imprisoned and ultimately beaten to death in 2009 by Russian officers in Moscow. In the wake of his death, the United States passed the so-called "Magnitsky Act" which brought sanctions against Russian oligarchs suspected of money laundering.
Before the Democrats shut down the hearing, THE Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R, Iowa) noted that he had been asking about the Russians working with Fusion GPS since March 2017. He cited the widely discredited dossier compiled about President Donald Trump that circulated during the latter stages of the 2016 presidential campaign.
"Mr. Simpson’s company, Fusion GPS, is the same firm that oversaw the creation of the unverified Trump Dossier," Grassley said in his opening statement. "It is vital for the Committee to fully understand Fusion’s failure to register under FARA and its role in the creating and spreading of the dossier."
Grassley explained that during the time Fusion GPS worked to "orchestrate a propaganda campaign" to repeal the Magnitsky Act, the firm also "appears to have been involved in the creation of the dirty Trump Dossier."
"There are public reports that the FBI used the dossier to kickstart its Russia investigation—Did the FBI know that Fusion pitched Russian propaganda for another client as it pushed the Trump dossier?" Grassley asked.
Grassley also questioned Veselnitskaya’s meeting at Trump Tower.
"Was it just a clumsy bait-and-switch effort in their unregistered propaganda and influence campaign? They offered dirt on the opponent to get the meeting and then made their pitch against the Magnitsky Act?" Grassley asked. "Or was it an offer of collusion? Or maybe both?"
Grassley and ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D, Calif.) called for Trump Jr., along with Manafort, and Fusion GPS’s Simpson, to testify in the Committee’s oversight hearing on the FARA. All three witnesses have reached arrangements to interview with the Committee in private.
Browder is expected to more thoroughly discuss Veselnitskaya, Fusion GPS, the Russian government, and FARA when he testifies Thursday.
"There was no mystery of who Natalia Veselnitskaya was. A simple Google search would have shown that she was the main in house lawyer for a high level Russian government official whose son was accused by the U.S. DOJ [Department of Justice] of money laundering from the Magnitsky case in the US," Browder told Fox News.
"Either the people in that meeting didn't do any due diligence in advance or someone made an error in judgement agreeing to meet with her in the first place."
With regard to Fusion GPS, Browder told Fox News that he didn’t know what else Simpson was involved with, but that the group did not register under FARA.
"Natalia engaged Glenn Simpson and Fusion GPS in order to run an anti-Magnitsky Act smear campaign in Washington, D.C. which was funded by sources connected to the Russian government," Browder told Fox News.
Thor Halvorsson, a human rights advocate with the Human Rights Foundation who has also been the subject of a Fusion GPS’s attack, did not testify before the committee but submitted statements for the record.
Halvorssen said in his statement that Fusion GPS targeted him and several others because of their criticism of Derwick Associates, according to Fox News. The Venezuelan energy company was reportedly being investigated for an alleged multi-billion dollar bribe.
"It’s the sort of thing they specialize in—mainstreaming false smears, allegations that are so salacious and over the top that people assume they must be true," Halvorsson told Fox News.
He said in regards to the Trump-Russia dossier, "They did this with Browder, they did this with two other whistleblowers and they did this with me – there are outrageous accusations where innocence just isn’t enough."
Halvorssen said public exposure is key to combatting Fusion GPS, a company that he said has been active in international smear campaigns. When it comes to FARA, Halvarsson said Fusion GPS "purposely, and quite deliberately" disregarded regulations.
"I think it’s clear that this is not the case of a company that forgot to register, or didn’t know that they had to register," Halvorsson told Fox News. "Fusion GPS purposely, and quite deliberately, chose not to register so that their activity would fly under the radar, leading people to see the result of their work as organic and real, pushing a noble vision of truth, instead of what it actually is – smear campaigns in return for large enough retainers."‘
In a statement earlier this month, Fusion GPS said it was in no way connected to the Trump Jr. meeting with Veselnitskaya.
"Fusion GPS learned about this meeting from news reports and had no prior knowledge of it. Any claim that Fusion GPS arranged or facilitated this meeting in any way is absolutely false," the statement said.
EDITOR'S NOTE, October 30, 2017.
Prior to October 27, 2017, the Washington Free Beacon published several articles referencing the research firm Fusion GPS that did not disclose the relationship between Fusion GPS and the Washington Free Beacon. The reason for this omission is that the authors of these articles, and the particular editors who reviewed them, were unaware of this relationship.
The articles in question tended to be aggregated stories relying on the reporting done by other media outlets. This type of article undergoes a different editorial process from the original investigative pieces that appear on our website. Beginning today, all articles referencing Fusion GPS will mention its history with the Washington Free Beacon. The Free Beacon is also reviewing its editorial process with respect to aggregated news sources to consider ways to avoid similar issues in the future. We regret the error.