Parts of the book seem straight out of Spy vs. Spy. After the election, an adviser to Senator John McCain of Arizona, David Kramer, flew to London to meet Steele. When his plane landed at Heathrow Airport, he got a text message from Steele telling him to look for a man in a blue coat holding a copy of the Financial Times. That was Steele. He drove Kramer to his house, showed him a copy of the dossier, took him to lunch, and drove him back to Heathrow for his flight home. Simpson would later give Kramer a copy of the dossier, which McCain turned over to James Comey, the then-director of the FBI. Comey would go on to brief President-elect Trump on some of the dossier’s allegations in the days before he was sworn in.
In leaky Washington, it was only a matter of time before the dossier got out. Kramer would later say in a deposition that he gave it to multiple reporters, though he cautioned them that it needed to be verified and shouldn’t be published. BuzzFeed ultimately posted it on January 10, 2017, 10 days before the inauguration. Soon afterward, news reports would out Steele and Fusion, setting in motion a conservative counterattack that continues to this day.
Mueller dealt with Steele’s claims during the Russia investigation, too. His report includes a footnote showing that intelligence-community leaders at the time traded notes about Trump’s request that they issue a statement refuting the dossier. James Clapper, who was then the director of national intelligence, sent an email to Comey the day after BuzzFeed’s posting, saying that Trump “asked if I could put out a statement. He would prefer of course that I say the documents are bogus, which, of course, I can’t do.”
Read: Trump is surrounded
Accustomed to writing the story, the two ex-journalists, Simpson and Fritsch, had now become one. Since the dossier’s publication, they have been sued and hauled before Congress. They’ve had company bank records examined by Republican-controlled congressional committees and been targets of sustained attacks by the opinion writers at their old newspaper (and my old newspaper), The Wall Street Journal. They feared the firm would be bankrupted by legal fees, and they worried for their safety. That wasn’t paranoia: Trump used his Twitter feed to repeatedly attack the firm by name and discredit the dossier. “If you want to visit Glenn, this is his office,” someone wrote on Twitter, posting the company’s address. As a precaution, Simpson installed a fence around his house; Fritsch let his dog wander his home more freely in case of intruders.
Events move quickly in Donald Trump’s Washington. Today, the city is consumed by an impeachment probe that poses the most perilous threat to Trump’s presidency to date. In a sense, though, the impeachment saga echoes one of the dossier’s main takeaways: the dangers of foreign meddling in American elections. The Democrats are building the case that Trump actively sought foreign interference in the 2020 election when he asked his Ukrainian counterpart to help dig up dirt on a potential rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. “There’s an element of Shakespearean or Greek tragedy to it,” Simpson told me.