The Senate Judiciary Committee is threatening to issue a subpoena against the political opposition research firm that hired former British spy Christopher Steele to investigate Donald Trump.
In a letter sent Wednesday to Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, noted that Fusion GPS had provided an insufficient explanation for why it is refusing to turn over documents requested by the committee.
On March 24, Grassley sent a letter to Fusion GPS requesting information about its contracts with Steele as well as with its client, an unidentified supporter of Hillary Clinton’s.
Grassley is giving Simpson, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, until June 14 to hand over the documents before taking further action.
“If you refuse to comply voluntarily, the Committee will begin consideration of compulsory process under its rules,” Grassley writes in the letter.
Fusion GPS was hired by the Clinton ally last June to continue a research project on Trump’s business activities in Russia. The firm hired Steele, a former MI6 agent based in London, to complete the work. Steele would go on to produce a 35-page dossier full of salacious allegations about Trump and members of his campaign.
BuzzFeed News published the document in January.
Grassley has pressed the FBI and Fusion GPS about the interactions with Steele. He has said he is troubled by the prospect that the bureau relied on investigative materials compiled by a partisan research firm.
In September, FBI agents reportedly cited the dossier in an application for a surveillance warrant against former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. The next month, FBI agents offered Steele $50,000 to continue his research into Trump. The money was reportedly never paid, though it is unclear why.
In response to Grassley’s initial letter, Fusion GPS’s lawyers refused to hand over any information about its contacts with its client or Steele, claiming that the firm has protections under the First Amendment, through attorney-client privilege as well as through confidentiality agreements.
But Grassley claims that Fusion’s lawyers have failed to “provide a clear explanation of the basis for the claimed privileges and rights, and has failed to provide any privilege log describing the withheld documents.”
“Based on the minimal and vague explanations your attorney has provided, the Committee cannot adequately assess your claims. Thus, we must presume that they are unfounded,” he added.
Even if Fusion was once protected by confidentiality agreements and through attorney-client privilege, Grassley asserts that the firm waved those protections by sharing Steele’s dossier with news outlets.
“Information that a client intends to disclose is not privileged, and once-privileged information loses its protection if shared,” Grassley asserts.
“It hardly seems plausible that Fusion’s client funded opposition research with the intention of keeping the discovered information confidential, especially based on Fusion’s efforts to share the dossier with journalists and members of Congress.”
Several reporters have revealed that Fusion GPS provided them with the Steele dossier. BuzzFeed’s source has still not been revealed.