Current and past leaders of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) say they had no knowledge that the national party was helping to fund a dossier compiled by a British spy that contained scandalous accusations about President Trump.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the DNC paid millions to the law firm Perkins Coie, where Democratic lawyer Marc Elias worked with the opposition research firm Fusion GPS to construct the memo, which was compiled by British spy Christopher Steele.
The memo is at the center of several investigations into Russian meddling and it may have been used by the FBI as part of its investigation into allegations that Trump campaign officials had improper contacts with Russian officials. Former FBI Director James Comey has said none of the allegations in the memo have been verified.
The bombshell Washington Post report has emboldened President Trump, who on Wednesday lashed out at the “fake dossier” and described it as the cornerstone of “the whole Russia hoax.”DNC communications director Xochitl Hinojosa said chairman Tom Perez, who only became the Democratic leader in April, had nothing to do with the arrangement. The law firm Perkins Coie handles a range of issues for the DNC.
“Tom Perez and the new leadership of the DNC were not involved in any decision-making regarding Fusion GPS, nor were they aware that Perkins Coie was working with the organization,” Hinojosa said. “But let’s be clear, there is a serious federal investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, and the American public deserves to know what happened.”
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the DNC’s deputy chairman, emphasized that both he and Perez came to the DNC long after the contract with Fusion GPS had ended.
“Tom and me, we weren’t even there at the time,” Ellison told The Hill. “I know as much about it as you guys who have reported it.”
A spokesman for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (R-Fla.), who was forced out as DNC chairwoman at the party’s national convention in 2016, also denied knowing about the arrangement.
“She was not aware of anything related to this research arrangement,” spokesman David Damron said.
Democratic officials said that the national party was not empowered to make campaign decisions, particularly at a time when it was racked by controversy over leaked emails and while its chairwoman was being forced out.
“I doubt that any of the leadership at the DNC was even aware,” a Democratic official said.
The denials are likely to increase focus on the Clinton campaign.
Former Clinton officials kicked back at the controversy over Twitter and cable news on Wednesday, arguing that compiling opposition research is standard for all political campaigns.
Former Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon said on CNN on Wednesday that Clinton “may have known” about the dossier, but “the degree of exactly what she knew is beyond my knowledge.”
He also downplayed the significance of the memo.Republicans fired back, noting that the Clinton campaign paid a foreign spy for opposition research that got published online, while Donald Trump Jr. has been at the center of controversy for trying and failing to get opposition research from a Russian lawyer.