It Begins: Axios' Revolting Bid to Rehabilitate Fusion GPS
How do you defend the indefensible? Start with Axios.
The news outfit founded by former Politico mainstay Mike Allen has a front-page feature by Steve LeVine that attempts to defend and rehabilitate Fusion GPS, the group that produced the phony Trump dossier. In the piece, Levine recasts the notorious smear outfit as just a group of smart investigative reporters turned gumshoes.
Axios portrays their principals, Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, as intelligent, ultra-competent, and rather incredibly, only in their line of business "with no motive apart from the thrill of the chase." (Which is to say they take anyone's dollars.)
They are seriously savvy at finding extremely hard-to-locate — and even more difficult to understand and contextualize — documents and other intelligence on globally powerful people and organizations. People who know what they are talking about want to speak with them, in large part because they understand that — either immediately or some time in the future — they themselves can learn something from them.
LeVine notes that the pair of them only got into their seamy line of work smearing people because Rupert Murdoch, the new owner of the Wall Street Journal, their former outfit, didn't want to pay for their open-checkbook speculative investigative projects when they were at that paper and wanted spot scoops that sell papers instead. It's Rupert's fault, see.
Amid all LeVine's justifications and rationalizations for the firm, which he tries to pass off as just professional conduct, or going where the facts lead, LeVine leaves out one thing:
They produce junk.
Useless things. Things that blow up in a client's face. They're not in the business of truth, they're smear artists, as Sharyl Attkisson (a real investigative reporter) showed. Fusion GPS's procured Trump dossier is in the news because it's fake, the product of climbing in bed with Russian agents feeding disinformation from abroad. And it's so fake, the purveyors had trouble shopping it around to reporters, until a meeting with then-FBI Director James Comey was arranged with the dossier, so that the news of the meeting could be reported instead. The one news outfit that ran the phony dossier, without confirming any of it, Buzzfeed, is in deep doo-doo with the lawyers for it now. Other agencies, such as CNN's Jake Tapper, focused on reporting the meeting rather than the sordid, mendacious contents of the dossier itself, via leaks.
Are these really investigative aces? Investigative aces worth the $9 milllion they were reportedly paid for this? They trusted an "old acquaintance," former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, who seems to have run a similar firm in London with putting the dossier together, given his pals in the Russian intelligence services, and what they ended up buying was likely Russian disinformation. What they ended up with was a mass of lies about "golden showers" and non-existent meetings in Prague written so badly the only people who were fooled by it were people who wanted to be fooled.
American Spectator summed up the picture pretty well here:
Clinton’s campaign hired a Democrat opposition research firm called Fusion GPS to dig up dirt on you, and in turn they hired a former British Intelligence agent named Christopher Steele to compile a sensational “dossier” on you. It turns out, however, that all of Steele’s sources were Russians whom he never even spoke with. The dossier was widely discredited by the intelligence community with many suggesting the information in question was disinformation fed to Steele by Russian intelligence.
And this wasn't just one big-dollar operation that went bad. Fusion GPS has a horrid history of producing bad information with no passing acquaintance with the truth.
Taking cash from Venezuela's sleazy rulers, Fusion GPS came up with filthy false stories about two Venezuelan dissidents, Thor Halvorssen of the Human Rights Foundation and Alek Boyd, whose own investigative research into Chavista corruption enraged the Venezuelan government and its cronies. I have known these two men for years and am certain none of the sleazy claims have a scintilla of truth. Halvorssen testified in Congress on the appallingness of Fusion GPS and how it took cash from the corrupt Venezuelan tyrants to spread the most heinous lies to the press as well as intimidate reporters into spiking stories, just as the Chavistas wanted.
Fox News also reports that they attempted to smear and discredit William Browder, a former hedge fund manager who got out of the business to defend his Russian legal-firm accountant, a man named Sergei Magnitsky who uncovered a $230 million tax-refund fraud in 2009 and was hauled off to prison where he was tortured to death. Browder's efforts led to the Magnitsky Act which sanctions Russian officials who had a role in the still-unpunished crime.
According to the Weekly Standard, the firm also produced misleading information about the Planned Parenthood undercover videos, attempting to succor their client into making the claim for the press that the videos were "altered" while to read their fine print, it turns out they were not.
Their great expertise touted by LeVine seems to amount to digging around trash cans in Idaho, where they smeared a man who donated money to Mitt Romney during the 2012 campaign, splattering all his personal information out there. The Wall Street Journal's Kimberly Strassel did some excellent reporting on the awfulness of the operation. It doesn't take great expertise to do these kinds of operations, just a lot of money and a willingness to swim in the sewer.
All of these things are a day in the life of a smear operation. Crawl into bed with Russian propaganda operatives and pass off their lies as truth. Make up fake accusations against Venezuelan dissidents and muscle reporters into spiking stories. Spin the truth on Planned Parenthood videos. Violate the privacy of a political donor to scare him away. The worst of it is that they don't even produce anything of enduring value. They just manipulate the truth.
And in the case of Fusion GPS's Trump dossier and the lies about the Venezuelans, they outright negate the truth. Now they're getting rehabbed as smart cookies by Axios. One hand washes the other in this reporter-smear firm racket.
It only works so long as it doesn't get found out. Well, it's been found out - in Congress and among ethical reporters and columnists. That makes Fusion GPS's competence zero. The only question now is why Axios wants to save them.