In what could become a possible issue for James Comey, the former FBI director repeatedly stated in testimony to the House Judiciary Committee that he “never” knew the author of the infamous anti-Trump dossier had been retained to do his work by a U.S.-based law firm.
The law firm in question, Perkins Coie, reportedly funded the controversial Fusion GPS to conduct the anti-Trump work on behalf of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Those efforts resulted in the largely-discredited dossier written by former British spy Christopher Steele.
Despite saying he did not know Steele had been hired by Perkins Coie, the FISA warrant to spy on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page signed three times by Comey stated the FBI had information that Steele had been hired by a “U.S.-based law firm.”
It specifically stated the FBI “was approached by an identified U.S. person who indicated to Source #1 [Steele] that a U.S.-based law firm had hired the identified U.S. person to conduct research regarding Candidate #1’s ties to Russia.”
Comey made his remarks during testimony on Friday Here is a transcript of the relevant portions of Comey’s latest testimony as it relates to Perkins Coie:
Mr. Gowdy: When did you learn that Fusion GPS was hired by Perkins Coie?
Mr. Comey: I never learned that, certainly not while I was Director.
Mr. Gowdy: Well, when did you learn the DNC had hired Perkins Coie?
Mr. Comey: I never learned that. Again, while I was Director. I think I’ve read it in the media, but, yeah, even today, I don’t know whether it’s true.
Mr. Gowdy: While you were the Director, you never knew that the DNC hired a law firm that hired an oppo research firm that hired Christopher Steele?
Mr. Comey: No, I don’t think so. I don’t have any recollection of being told that or reading that or learning that while I was Director.
Comey was not asked to explain how he could sign three FISA warrants stating that Steele was hired by a “U.S.-based law firm” yet claim not to know Steele was hired by Perkins Coie.
Later in the testimony, a skeptical Mark Meadows (R-NC) asked Comey to explain his claim that he didn’t know Steele was being paid via Perkins Coie considering testimony from Comey’s own legal counsel, FBI official James Baker, that Baker was contacted by an attorney for Perkins Coie and was provided documents related to the Russia probe.
Here is the relevant portion of that testimony:
Mr. Meadows: Let me ask one clarifying question, if you don’t mind. Director Comey, you were saying that you had no knowledge that Perkins Coie was actually involved with the Democrat National Committee and involved in this particular investigation that ultimately was initiated. Is that correct?
Mr. Comey: I, when I was FBI Director, don’t remember ever being told anything about Perkins Coie. I think I’ve since read stuff in the media, but not when I was Director.
Mr. Meadows: So are you saying that James Baker, your general counsel, who received direct information from Perkins Coie, did so and conveyed that to your team without your knowledge?
Mr. Comey: I don’t know.
Mr. Meadows: What do you mean you don’t know? I mean, did he tell you or not?
Mr. Comey: Oh, I — well —
Mr. Meadows: James Baker, we have testimony that would indicate that he received information directly from Perkins Coie; he had knowledge that they were representing the Democrat National Committee and, indeed, collected that information and conveyed it to the investigative team. Did he tell you that he received that information from them? And I can give you a name if you want to know who he received it from.
Mr. Comey: I don’t remember the name Perkins Coie at all.
Another issue for Comey is that the former FBI director also stated in the same testimony that he was aware the dossier was financed by Democrats who opposed Trump. According to Democratic and Republican House Intelligence memos, however, that information was not specifically included in the FISA application, which in part relied on Steele’s work to obtain warrants to monitor Page.
Asked about his knowledge of Steele’s political patrons, Comey told the House Intelligence Committee on Friday:
I thought he was retained as part of a Republican-financed effort — retained by Republicans adverse to Mr. Trump during the primary season, and then his work was underwritten after that by Democrats opposed to Mr. Trump during the general election season.
“When did you learn that his work went from being financed by what you described as Republicans to what you described as Democrats?” Comey was asked.
The former FBI director was also asked whether he learned about political actors financing Steele “before there were any court filings” — a clear reference to the FISA application, which Comey first signed in late October 2016.
Comey replied: “I certainly learned of it before the end of October. And I think the filing that you’re referring to obliquely was at the end of October sometime. So, it was before that.”
Comey’s FISA application to conduct surveillance did not specifically state that the FBI had information that Steele was being paid in connection with any U.S. political party, according to House documents.
A House Intelligence Committee memo released last February documented that as FBI director, Comey signed three FISA applications to spy on Page with the dossier serving as part of the basis for the warrant requests.
“Neither the initial application in October 2016, nor any of the renewals, disclose or reference the role of the DNC, Clinton campaign, or any party/campaign in funding Steele’s efforts, even though the political origins of the Steele dossier were then known to senior and FBI officials,” the memo states.
That detail was further confirmed when the Trump administration released a redacted version of the FISA applications last July.
The FISA application states thar Steele:
was approached by an identified U.S. person who indicated to Source #1 [Steele] that a U.S.-based law firm had hired the identified U.S. person to conduct research regarding Candidate #1’s ties to Russia. (The identified U.S. person and Source #1 have a long-standing business relationship.) The identified U.S. person hired Source #1 to conduct this research. The identified U.S. person never advised Source #1 as to the motivation behind the research into candidate #1’s ties to Russia. The FBI speculates that the identified U.S. person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit Candidate #1’s campaign.
The statement in Comey’s FISA application that “the FBI speculates” that Steele “was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit” Trump’s campaign is a far cry from informing the court that the dossier utilized in the FISA warrant was paid for by Trump’s primary political opponents, namely Clinton and the DNC.
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.
Joshua Klein contributed research to this article.