The complicated relationship between the FBI's director, James Comey, and both major political parties is growing even more awkward as it's now emerged that his agency attempted to pay the author of a controversial collection of documents alleging improper contact between President Donald Trump and the Russian government.
That question is one of several asked by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley in a letter sent to FBI director James Comey earlier this month after The Washington Post reported that the law enforcement agency had entered into negotiations with Christopher Steele, a former agent for the U.K.’s foreign intelligence service, MI6.
Steele had been commissioned by an opposition research firm — at the behest of Republican opponents of Trump — to dig into allegations that the Russian government had a substantial amount of compromising information on Trump during his effort to win the GOP presidential nomination. After Trump became the party nominee, a backer of the 2016 Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, continued to pay for Steele’s investigations.
In October just a few weeks before the election, the FBI agreed to fund Steele’s investigations even as it remained unsure about their veracity. No payments were ever exchanged, however, after Steele’s work became public knowledge and the dossier was attacked for repeating unsubstantiated and false claims.
“The idea that the FBI and associates of the Clinton campaign would pay Mr. Steele to investigate the Republican nominee for president in the run-up to the election raises further questions about the FBI’s independence from politics,” Grassley wrote in a March 6 letter to Comey.
The Iowa senator asked the FBI to provide detailed documentation about its contacts with Steele as well as information about the agency’s policies on using investigatory work commissioned by opposition research companies. He sent a similar letter to Fusion GPS, the firm that had hired Steele.
The FBI has come under intense criticism from both parties regarding its activities during the 2016 presidential election. Democrats have criticized Comey for departing from agency protocol in October by announcing that the FBI had found additional emails that may be pertinent to its closed investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server. Normally, the agency does not comment on its activities.
Democrats have criticized Comey for not similarly informing the public and members of Congress that his agency had opened an investigation of possible connections between associates of Donald Trump and the government of Russia.